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Authors: April Munday

The Winter Love

BOOK: The Winter Love
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The Winter Love

 

by

 

April Munday

First published in 2014 by April Munday

 

Copyright © April Munday 2014

 

The moral right of April Munday to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner.

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination and not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities, is entirely coincidental.

 

Chapter One

 

October 1357

 

El
eanor stopped running when she slammed into a solid object that hadn’t been in the passageway earlier that morning. Although she had not been looking where she was running, she had spent most of her life in the convent and could have run all over it with her eyes shut and not run into anything, but here was something where there had been nothing before.

She put her hand out to touch the
object. To her surprise, it was covered in something soft and it was warm. Looking up she found herself staring into the face of a man. He had a wild, unkempt look about him. The expression on his face was hidden by a thick, uncared-for beard. His hair was long and dirty and he smelled as if he had not changed his clothes or washed for several weeks. He was not, however, a peasant. His grey eyes had a piercing intelligence and his clothes, though long unwashed, were well cut and of good material. Whoever he was, he should not be here and whatever he wanted could not be good for her.

Even as she tried to turn and run from him he wrapped his arms around her and
pulled her close against his chest. He was strong as well as tall. Knowing it was useless, she opened her mouth to scream for help, but, faster than she would have thought possible, he turned her head so that her mouth was against his tunic and no sound could escape. If she could not scream she must fight. Her legs were free, so she started kicking him. This he stopped easily enough by trapping her legs between his own. Held fast against his body, she realised how very much stronger than her he was and that there was no point in struggling. Once she was still he spoke.


Come with me. If I think you’re going to scream I will knock you out and I will take you anyway.” His voice was quiet and low against her ear.

Grabbing
her hair he pulled her head back so that she was looking into his face again. He meant what he said. She nodded; if she was unconscious she would have no chance to escape and she must escape.

He let go of her
hair and caught her arm, then he set off at a fast pace. Taken by surprise she had to run to keep up with him.

They met no one as they hasten
ed through the convent. Eleanor wasn’t surprised; the nuns would be afraid of all these men in the convent searching for her. She had no idea who they were or why they wanted her, but she knew that it was her they were after. The convent echoed with the sound of their shouting. “Eleanor, come here!” “Eleanor, we won’t hurt you!” “Eleanor, your brother sent us!” She knew this last wasn’t true. Philip would not have sent a horde of men into the convent to disturb the peace there; he had far too much self-esteem to do something this ill-mannered.

When the noise had started she had been
sitting with Sister Agnes. Sister Agnes had heard it first and had stopped spinning, signalling that Eleanor should do the same. They had listened to the unexpected sound of male voices within the walls of the convent. “You must hide.” Sister Agnes was an older nun who had come late to the convent when she alone of her family had survived the Big Death. Her understanding of the things of the outside world was unrivalled among the sisters and Eleanor had jumped up to obey her immediately. There had been so many men, though, that she knew she would not be able to hide. Running was her only hope. The men seemed to be concentrating on the convent itself, so she made for the orchard. What she had intended to do there she had had no idea; the orchard was just as enclosed as the convent. Now she had been captured. When her captor joined his companions she would have no chance. How could she get away from him now? She looked around to see what she could use to attack him or to slow him down, but lost her footing and stumbled against him. Impatiently he pulled her up and continued on his way, barely breaking his stride. She felt as if her arm had been pulled out of her shoulder and the pain brought tears to her eyes.

Humiliated
, she decided that she would not allow him or his companions to see her pain and distress. This she could do. Long years of hiding her feelings had made her proficient in mastering herself.

Very quickly they came to
the door set into the convent gate that gave out into the small town. The courtyard, which they had skirted around, was deserted save for the horses that the men had left there. The stranger looked around then stepped out through the door. He looked around again on the other side, then stepped back, bumping into her so hard that she fell down again.

He tutted, bent down to pick her up and threw her over his shoulder. Now he set off
even faster. Eleanor was winded and felt sick. She was being bounced up and down and had no idea where they were going. Why hadn’t he called for his friends? Why hadn’t he thrown her over one of the horses and waited for them? The man stopped running and set her on her feet next to a huge war horse tethered to a tree. Wobbling slightly she gritted her teeth with the effort of staying upright. Before she could catch her breath or take her bearings he had untethered the horse and thrown her up onto its back. He followed her up lightly and flicked the reins so that the horse set off at a run. Eleanor was almost unseated before the man grabbed her round the waist with his spare hand. She had lost her chance to escape. He had moved so fast that just thinking about it took her breath away.


Hold on to me,” he shouted, “or you’ll fall off.”

Terrified by the huge distance between the horse and the ground and the speed at which it was covering that grou
nd, she flung her arms around the man and grabbed hold of his tunic where she could. Now she didn’t want to scream for help, she just wanted to scream. The motion of the horse changed, became smoother and she managed to rest her forehead against his chest and take a breath. When she could breathe easily again she turned her head to see where they were going. They were moving even faster. A feeling of nausea overcame her and she gulped down great breaths of air.

“If you’re sick, you have to clean it up!”

There was humour in his voice and it calmed her immediately.

“I won’t be sick.”

“Good. Lean against me; you’ll be more comfortable.”

Eleanor
moved slightly and he pulled her roughly until she was more comfortable. She felt more secure, safe even. Then she remembered that she had no idea who he was, nor why he had taken her, nor where they were going. There was no hope of escape, but if she struggled and fell from the horse the fall might kill her. If the fall didn’t kill her, there was every chance that the horse would catch her head or her body with his hooves and that would kill her. For the moment she had to stay where she was.

“What do they call you at the convent?”
He had to shout to make himself heard above the noise of the horse’s hooves and the wind rushing in her ears.

“Why?”

“I know that your name is Eleanor, but that hardly seems polite.”

“Margaret,” she shouted back. She had never got used to being Margaret and had never felt any kinship to St Margaret.

“I like Eleanor more. Perhaps I’ll call you that, now that you’re not in the convent.”

Now she did scream and he turned her head back to his chest. But it felt more as if he were comforting her than silencing her. Remembering her resolution not to cry in front of him, she bit down on her lip until the pain distracted her from the fear. In eight years she had been no further from the convent than the fields where she worked with the other sisters. Now the convent must be some miles away. Never, during those eight years, had she had any wish to leave the convent. At first she had missed her home terribly, but had quickly grown to love the convent. She had not been sure of her vocation at first, but now she was and the abbess had accepted that it was time for her to make her final vows. She was ready, had been ready for some time. Philip had finally given his permission before he had left for France and now this stranger thought he was going to stand in her way.

“Take me back,” she
shouted when he released her again.

“I can’t do that,” he shouted back. “I don’t think I made any friends
back there by stealing you from under their noses.”

So he wasn’t with the other men. “Who are you? Who are they?”

“Later. Let’s put some distance between us and them.” Incredibly, the horse seemed to go even faster. Eleanor slumped against her captor. There seemed no point in trying to get away now. She had no idea where they were and no idea how to get back to the convent.

 

Eleanor was exhausted when they finally stopped. She had never managed to find a comfortable way of holding onto the stranger and had almost unseated him twice as she struggled to find her balance. She would almost rather have sat astride the horse; it felt always as if she were going to slide off him. The stranger never once let go of her, even as he lowered himself from the horse when they finally stopped. He had to lift her off, as fear had taken away control of her legs. Seeing her wobble, he helped her down to the ground, where she sat awkwardly. Eleanor felt his disapproval, but didn’t care. He had abducted her and this was where he would do to her whatever it was he had stolen her from the convent to do. She would not be able to defend herself; although very thin, he was tall and muscular. He had already demonstrated that he could overpower her without a moment’s thought and if he chose to rape her or kill her or both, there was nothing she would be able to do to stop him.

Determined not to make it easy for him she began to rub her legs and watched his every movement.

“It was too much to hope that a nun would be able to ride,” he muttered as he started to unpack the roll that was tied behind his saddle. “Eat this.”

He thrust some bread and cheese at her.
This was unexpected, why feed her first? He motioned again that she should take it. Eleanor didn’t feel hungry, but her last meal had been several hours before. She took it hesitantly.

“It’s poor quality,” he said, “b
ut it’s not going to kill you.”

He said it as a man might make a joke with a friend to excuse the quality of the
meal, not as a man who had gauged her fear and was trying to reassure her or threaten her. It had apparently not even crossed his mind that she might believe he intended to kill her. That either meant that he had underestimated her or did not intend to kill her. She hesitated too long and he seemed to understand why.

“It
really won’t kill you. That is not my intent.” He was irritated, but not angry. “If you don’t want to eat it, I will. I did not bring enough to feed two.”

Did that mean he
hadn’t intended to take her from the convent? Had he meant to kill her there? Frightened again, she watched him carefully. He was waiting for an answer, but she could think of none, could think of nothing except that she must get away from him.

He started to eat his own portion of the bread and cheese, then held it out to her indicating that she should exchange it for
what he had given her at first. As she did so, his expression did not change. He was disappointed, but that was nothing to her. Angrily she bit into the bread.

The bread was indeed poor and would not have lasted t
o the end of the day. The cheese was slightly better. Both gave her some comfort. She watched him carefully as he ate. Even if she could not run yet, she might find some weakness that she could use to her advantage. It did not seem that he was going to rape or kill her right away. Now that she was no longer dizzy from the fear of falling from the horse she could think more clearly and it seemed that they had travelled far, if that had been his aim. He could have ridden a short distance from the convent and raped her; he did not have to have the inconvenience of carrying her or feeding her.

The ground was cold, but she remained seated even though she felt as if she could now stand. Let him think she was weak
er than she was; she might find some way to escape him.

The man stood over her and frowned at her as he ate his
own bread and cheese. Even as he took his last bite he turned back to the horse. “Don’t bother running,” he said over his shoulder, “I’d catch you before you got beyond that tree.”

Eleanor
followed the direction in which he’d jerked his head and was surprised he thought she’d get that far before he caught her. Her first thought had been to run into the wood; a man on horseback would find it difficult to follow her there. Her next thought was that he would catch her quickly enough without the horse. Now he returned from the horse and threw a tied bundle of what seemed to be rags at her feet. “Put these on.”

She prodded the bundle. “What is it?”

“Clothes.”

“I’m wearing clothes.”

He sighed. “You’re wearing a habit.”

“I’m a nun.”
She stared up at him and tried to out scowl him. This seemed better than allowing him to see how scared she was.

“And what will those men be
scouring the countryside for?” He must have noticed the scowl, because his expression changed to one of patient forbearance.

She bit back the first thing that occurred to her
and said, “Why should I care whether they take me or you keep me?”

BOOK: The Winter Love
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