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Edeyn’s scream cut off. Giles, his face blank, sank to the floor, gripping Lionel’s arm with both hands, the dagger still in his side, Lionel still holding it. Outside someone yelled to know what was happening, then thudded against the door, expecting it to open. It barely yielded, but more men and their voices were joining the first. Two more hard shoves like that one would have them in the room, and what they would see was Lionel over Giles with a dagger in his hand.

“Edeyn!” Frevisse cried. “Help me!”

Chapter 22

Edeyn understood, and as Frevisse caught Lionel by one bare shoulder, she came to catch him by the other, the both of them pulling him back from Giles, Edeyn pleading, “Lionel! Lionel, leave him!”

As they pulled him away, Giles lost his hold and slumped backward off the dagger, onto the floor, his mouth beginning to twist with the first realization of pain. The dagger still in his hand, Lionel gave only two steps to Edeyn’s and Frevisse’s pulling, staring down at Giles as if unable to see or hear anything but him, until Edeyn grabbed his face between her hands and turned it toward herself, begging, “Lionel, listen to me. They’re going to kill you! Come with me!”

The door gave inches more to another hard push. There were faces there now, able to see in, and the yelling was louder. Lionel flung his head around to stare at them.

“Lionel!” Edeyn begged, and finally he seemed to grasp his danger. Frevisse grabbed the dagger from his hand as he let Edeyn pull him away toward the farthest corner. She threw it across the room, backing away with him and Edeyn into the corner, herself and Edeyn between him and the door as the chest gave way to thrusting shoulders.

“Fidelitas!” Lionel called, and she came to him in a leap over Giles’ body. He scooped her up into his arms as the door was shoved wide. Frevisse and Edeyn closed together, shielding him from the men now crowding through, coming at him with their daggers out.

“No!” Edeyn cried at them, more fierce than afraid. “Leave him alone! He hasn’t done anything! There’s your murderer!” She pointed in fury at her husband on the floor, curled in on his pain.
“He
killed Martyn and he tried to kill us! He tried to kill all of us!”

The men stopped, confused by what she said, more confused at the sight of two women defending a nearly naked, blood-marked man with a white dog in his arms. Into their confusion Frevisse said with a desperately feigned calmness, trying to sound reasonable and as if she expected them to be reasonable with her, “Where’s Master Holt? We need him here.” To give them something to do, she added, pointing at Giles, “He needs help. Can you bring someone?”

Her assumption of authority and their uncertainty decided them. Men turned to explain over their shoulders to those behind them what was going on without being sure they understood it themselves, then to Frevisse’s great relief Master Holt was there, forcing his way among them to the front. From everything being said around him, he grasped what was toward, gave order for Giles to be carried out, and as men gathered around to do it, came to where Frevisse and Edeyn still guarded Lionel.

“Giles killed Martyn?” he asked. “Is that what I understand?”

“And tried to kill us,” Frevisse finished. “He meant to kill Lionel when he had him alone here, and then claim Lionel had gone into another killing frenzy and he’d done it to defend himself. When Edeyn and I -interfered, he turned to kill us, too, meaning to blame it on Lionel, to more justify killing him.”

“And you?” Master Holt demanded of Lionel. “How is it with you?”

Standing straightly, clear-eyed, Lionel answered, “Well. Unscathed.” He seemed unaware of the cut on his shoulder. He glanced past Master Holt to where Giles was being carried from the room. “I hope I’ve killed him.”

“It will save a deal of trouble if you have,” Master Holt said. He looked at Frevisse. “Because he did kill Martyn, didn’t he?”

She nodded, finding herself suddenly too exhausted for any word. She wanted to sit down before her suddenly weak legs gave out, but beside her Edeyn began to crumble first. Frevisse and Master Holt both reached for her, but Lionel dropped Fidelitas and had Edeyn in his arms before she was fully to the floor. As she clung to him, beginning to cry, he carried her to the bed, laid her gently down, and whispered something only she could hear. She clung to him more closely and he held her tightly in return.

When the while of explanations was over and there had been supper and the manor was settling into evening ways, habits taking hold even in the tide of tonight’s talk, Frevisse slipped away from company and questions to the dark garden. The nearer paths were a paleness in what faint light came from over the parlor shutters. Further from the hall there was only starlight under the clear night sky, but that was enough to care for her feet across the greensward among the birch trees to the arbor where she found her way through its deeper darkness to the rose garden and starlight again.

The evening damp was rising, and it was foolish to be out, she knew, but she needed solitude awhile, time for her thoughts to settle and new equilibrium to come. Eased by the silence, she looked up at the sky. So many stars there. Windows into a heaven unimaginably far. So long a way for a soul to go.

She said a prayer for Martyn’s soul, wherever on its journey it now was, and brought herself to make another prayer for Giles, whose soul was still in his body but probably not beyond tonight; he was expected to die before dawn. Sire Benedict had already given him Last Rites, so Master Holt had told her. He had tried to talk with him when what could be done for his wound had been done.

“And even now he’s raging that everyone’s stupidity interfered with what he meant to do. At you in particular for spoiling how cleverly he had managed Martyn’s death, and at you and Edeyn and Lionel altogether for crossing him at the end,” Master Holt had said coldly, in anger and disgust. “He’s better off dead, for everyone’s sake.”

For everyone’s sake but Giles‘. The devils that must have haunted him all his life were surely closing in now for the moment when his body could no longer hold his soul; having fallen back into rage, he had forfeited the safety the Last Rites had given him. Lionel’s demon had been the more obvious all these years, but Giles’ demons were the more deadly when all was said and done, destroying a soul instead of only flesh.

So there would be an end of Giles, and for Lionel and Edeyn a change in everything their lives had been. Edeyn still carried Giles’ heir but when Giles was dead, she would be that most independent of women, a widow, more in control of her own life than had ever been allowed her before. There was no chance of marriage between her and Lionel, not only because he had sworn never to marry but because she had been married to his cousin; man’s law and God’s barred any closer link between them. But the child to come was equally Lionel’s heir; there was a bond they could keep. Whatever they made of that and of whatever else there was between them would come in time’s fullness, Frevisse reflected, and all she could give them were her prayers, but those she would give gladly.

And for herself? More prayers because the angry questions there had been between her and Dame Claire were still there to be answered, and the answers had to do with more than only what she had done today. If she had succeeded in meeting Dame Claire’s challenge to hold her judgment in check, if she had drawn back instead of going on, it would have cost Lionel his life. If she had stood aside from what she was sure of, Giles would have been able to kill again.

So she could say she had been right. But so had Dame Claire. She had been driven as much by her dislike of Giles as anything else, and the good that had come of it could almost be called happenstance.

Judgment, justice, and fairness all existed. They were supposed to be one and the same, but they were not, not as often as they should be.

And there was what was commonly called common sense that was supposed to be the root of wisdom; but Frevisse had found too often before this that what was common was not necessarily sensible, nor what was sensible necessarily common. Common sense had seemed to make it clear to everyone how Martyn had been killed and common sense had been wrong. Had it been wisdom then that had taken her beyond that into her doubts? Or, as Dame Claire said, only her ill judgment based on no more than dislike?

She had no answers yet as to what she would do when she was once again in St. Frideswide’s, confronted with Domina Alys. She had hoped, had prayed she would be able to change, to become more accepting, but she doubted that she had. Not yet. Maybe she would simply have to live it through, finding her way day by day, no overwhelming answer given. Maybe it had to be enough that for here and now something had been made right, that two people had been saved from so much wrong.

The light wind whispering among the rose leaves said there would be rain before morning; the long run of fair days was ended. But in a pause before supper she and Dame Claire had talked and were already agreed there was no reason why they should not go on their way tomorrow, come what may, whatever weather. Assuredly, she was ready.

BOOK: The Murderer's Tale
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