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Authors: April Munday

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BOOK: The Winter Love
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When she had finished she sat and waited for Henry to come back. He had not told her to do anything else. When he
eventually returned, he was carrying some bread and a bowl of something that smelled delicious. “I’ll bring you some beer in a moment. Have you fed Solomon?”

“Yes. Thank you, this tastes very good.”

“I kept a couple of bits of meat from my meal for you.”

Eleanor smiled up at him. “That’s kind of you. We don’t eat much meat in the convent.”

“I suppose not. I don’t get much meat, either, even on meat days, but if I eat meat, so do you.”

She finished her food quickly, then Henry returned with a jug of beer for her. This was
also good. He left the balm with her and she found a place where she would not be seen to use it. She was very satisfied when she lay down in Solomon’s stall to sleep. It was only as she finally began to fall asleep that she realised that satisfied was the last thing she should be. She was far from the convent and she had sinned by wearing a man’s clothes and sharing a bed with that man.

Then
she was wide awake again. For many years she had taken it for granted that she would never have a husband or children. She was so certain of her vocation that she had not considered it a loss. Growing up in the convent, she had not seen a man who was not a priest or a monk or her brother for many years. There were usually some children in the convent, but they rarely stayed long. Now she was alone with a man she didn’t know, even sharing his bed. She blushed as she wondered how she would explain it to Mother Abbess. Mother was not the most sympathetic of women. Eleanor’s penance would be great.

With a sigh she turned over in the straw and Solomon nuzzled her shoulder.

 

Henry did not sleep well.
It wasn’t that the other travellers who shared his room disturbed him. In France he had slept through skirmishes and had slept with men who snored or were restless. It didn’t take him long to work out that he was worried about Eleanor.  She would be safe enough in the stable; Solomon could maim or kill an attacker. No, what worried him was what he was doing to Eleanor. She wanted to go back to the convent and he was taking her further away. Worse, he was preventing her from taking her vows. He was adding sin upon sin. Regardless of Philip’s reasons for keeping her there, Eleanor’s own sense of vocation was very clear and Henry prayed that he would do nothing to put doubt into her mind. He already had enough on his conscience without that and causing Eleanor to leave her chosen life was the last thing he wanted. He would have to make sure that Edward took care, as well. Women found Edward attractive and he liked them. Henry doubted Eleanor would last long if Edward decided he wanted her. She would have no way of protecting herself from him or even knowing that she needed to be protected. She could know none of the tricks that such a man could use and Henry wasn’t sure he could arm her against them in the time they had.

Edward could be checked if Henry
worked hard enough and if he warned Eleanor. She could hardly know the kind of danger she was in. Henry hadn’t known what he was taking on when he took Eleanor and now he was beginning to understand. Despite what it cost him, he would have done it again; he could not have left her to Philip’s murderer and his friends. He vowed that the next time he came across that man one of them would die and it wouldn’t just be for Philip’s sake.

He dreaded arriving at the coast tomorrow as much as he wanted to be there already. He wanted to
discuss his problems with Edward, but Edward was changed. They had never been as close as Henry was with his older brother, but the distance between them seemed so much greater now. At first, Henry had been overjoyed to think that he would be able to return home with his brother, but Edward had been poor company and had avoided him. The ship was small enough for this to be obvious. And now he was bringing a nun onto Edward’s ship - a nun who looked like a boy. He sighed as he tried to work out how Edward would react and how much help he would be. He sighed again; he had no choice. The only way he could get home quickly and get Eleanor to safety was to sail with Edward. Edward would have to become Eleanor’s protector as well, but he could not be allowed to seduce Eleanor.

Chapter Three

 

Eleanor wanted to ask Henry to stop the first time she saw the sea.
They had come over a hill and it lay before them, stretching out as far as the eye could see. It was so vast that she couldn’t comprehend it. Her mind was full of questions. How could people bear to get into ships to cross it? Weren’t they afraid when they could no longer see the land? How did they find their way? What happened when they ran out of sea? They were going on a ship; would they lose sight of the land? How long would they be at sea? She kept stretching to look around Henry to catch sight of it again.

“Keep still,” he said finally. “You’ll soon have more of the sea than you want.”

“You don’t like the sea.”

“No. You might as well know, I get seasick.
I was ill all the way back from France.” The feel of his body against her changed and she wondered if he was afraid. Then he straightened slightly. “It’s not very far now. When we’re on the ship you can look at it as much as you want.”

Eleanor thought t
he sea must be a terrible thing if it could make a strong man like Henry sick.

Elean
or tried not to fidget, but the sea was a very welcome distraction from constantly thinking about how uncomfortable she was. Even from this distance she could see that it was not the same everywhere and she had not expected it to move quite so much. Something so huge and so flat from a distance should be still. She knew from tales and sermons that there could be storms and shipwrecks, but had never thought very much about how they might happen. As they drew closer to the sea, she could see boats and ships moving on top of it. They were moved by the sea, rather than moving through it. It was wonderful.

They made their way through the small town until they arrived at the quayside. There was only one ship there and a young man, who was a plumper, shorter, clean-shaven version of Henry, came
onto the quayside to greet them. He looked angry. He was also extremely good looking. Eleanor’s idea of male beauty was mostly inspired by her brother, who she knew was regarded by some of the older nuns as a fine looking man, but this man was a different type entirely. Although shorter than Henry, he was still tall. He had more flesh on him than Henry, but there was no excess. She could see that he was muscular, but it was his face that pleased her most. He frowned now, but there was a symmetry about it that almost took her breath away. His face was more tanned than Henry’s. It struck her that its proportions were entirely what they should be and she knew that it would be a while before she tired of looking at it, if ever. At first she could not tell what colour his eyes were, for he never seemed to look directly at her or Henry, then she saw that they were the same grey as Henry’s.

“You brought a boy.”
The man’s tone was an accusation.

“I brought a nun.” Henry was angry,
too, but Eleanor couldn’t see his face as he let her down from Solomon.

“He looks like a boy.”

“SHE is a nun.” Henry was exasperated now. “I’ll explain how she comes here when we’re at sea.  Eleanor, can you see if you can get Solomon on board. He hates ships even more than I do and he might cause you less trouble.”

Eleanor took Solomon’s reigns and walked backwards onto the ship. Solomon followed her calmly and obediently. Henry followed both of them more reluctantly.

“Wait!” Henry’s brother signalled for one of his men to take Solomon, but the horse protested so much that the other man backed away, shaking his head. “You look like a boy.” The captain peered intently into her face. Eleanor stood her ground.

“I’m a nun. My name is Sister Margaret.”

The
captain nodded. “You sound like a woman, but a boy could easily do that.”

“I’m a woman.”

“I could ask you to prove it.”

“And I could kill you.” Eleanor’s hand went to the knife that she now wore on the loose belt around her tunic. She had noticed on the first
night that the other boys in the stable wore belts and knives and Henry had agreed that it would make her blend in better. She drew it an inch out of its sheath, even though she had no idea what to do if she must use it.

“What’s a nun doing threatening murder?”

“She’s defending her honour, Edward. It might not be something you’re used to.”

The younger man looked with disgust at his brother and turned back to Eleanor.

“I’m Edward Attewood and this is my ship. I assume you’re coming to Southampton with us.”

When Eleanor said nothing he looked at
Henry again, who nodded. He thought for a moment. “Dan, show Sister Margaret where to put that horse.”

When Eleanor was gone Edward turned to his brother. “Are you sure that’s a woman?”

“I’ve had her breasts pressed into my back for two days,” said Henry drily, “I’m sure.”

Edward grinned.
“I’d have enjoyed that. It was wasted on you.”

Henry made no reply and turned to go below deck, then he remembered what he had to
say to Edward. “Sister Margaret is not one of your women. She’s an innocent and I want her to be that way when I return her to her convent.”

Edward affected to be shocked. “
She says she’s a nun; she’s safe.”

“Promise me, Edward, or I’ll break your legs.”

“You won’t be able to do that once we’re at sea.” Edward’s face took on the sulky expression that he knew annoyed his brother.

Henry took a step towards his brother. “We’re not at sea yet
and we won’t always be at sea.”

Edward nodded. “I promise.
” He thought for a moment. “How long does my promise have to last?” His face became sly.

“Until I can get her back to the convent.”

“She won’t be such an innocent then.”

“If she’s not
, you’re a dead man.” Henry did not notice that his hand was on the pommel of his sword, but his brother did. Edward took a step back and tried not to look as if he were readying himself to fight back.

“Because she’s the sister of your brother-in-arms?
That is who she is, isn’t it? She had better not be some waif you picked up.”

Henry ignored the sneer in Edward’s voice. “
Because she’s a young woman whose only protector just died.”

“You want me to be her protector?”
Edward seemed almost smitten by the idea of being a woman’s protector. He grinned.

“Only while we’re at se
a. She doesn’t know, by the way, about Philip.”

“You’ve told her nothing? Why did you bring her?

“There were some men at the convent. They were armed and they were after her. One of them was the man who killed Philip.”

“What did they want?”

“I didn’t stop to ask them.”

“Very well. While she is on board my ship I’m her protector.”

Henry had to be satisfied with that. “She will be ba
ck in her habit, before we sail,” he said, as he turned to face a bigger challenge than what he should do with Eleanor.

 

When she had settled Solomon in his very makeshift stable Eleanor asked Dan to take her to Henry. She carried the saddle roll with her, hoping that she would soon be able to change into her own clothes, since they were no longer avoiding the men who had invaded the convent.

Henry was in his brother’s cabin and he
moved outside to wait while she changed. When she had finished he was still outside the door.

“I shall lie there,” he said, indicating the bed
, but making no move into the tiny space. “I can do nothing more for you on this journey, but Edward has promised to look after you.” He stepped into the room, then turned back, “But do not trust him.”

Eleanor’s heart sank. She barely trusted Henry and he was leaving her in the care of someone he did not trust. A sigh was not far from her lips, but she held it back. Nodding, she said,
“Very well. Should I stay with you?”

“No, you will probably feel better if you stay on deck.”

“Do not worry about me. I think I’m going to enjoy sailing.” Eleanor grinned. Everything she had so far discovered about the ship was pleasing. There were no familiar smells so she was trying to discover which object went with which smell. Dan had laughed at her as she had sniffed everything they passed. The ship moved slightly beneath her feet, but she had become used to its motion already. The very air itself felt different.

In
her own clothes once more, Eleanor now found it much more difficult to walk around the small ship. The crew stepped aside respectfully when she came across them and she constantly asked them what they were doing. Surprised by her interest, they told her. Her curiosity was insatiable and each new wonder was stored away in her memory to be taken out later and examined and understood. Some of what they told her made sense, most of it was incomprehensible. Henry would not be able to help her to understand this world, so she would have to make sense of it herself. She noticed that all the men wore beards and they all smelled as bad as Henry. From the motion of the ship she worked out that they would probably cut their throats if they tried to shave, but she could find no reason why they might not wash. She gave free rein to her curiosity until she realised that she was keeping the men from their work, then she stopped asking questions and found her way back to Solomon, watching everything as she passed and putting her new found knowledge to the test. The horse seemed comfortable enough, but she sat and talked to him for a few minutes. By the time she was back on deck they were under way. The motion of the ship had changed, but it was still gentle and she could see the land receding slowly. She felt a moment of the same fear she had felt when she had first sat on Solomon’s back; she was trapped on something out of her control. There was no way back to the land that did not involve the ship turning round and taking her there.

“Do you
know where everything is now, Sister Margaret?” She turned round to see Edward looking at her waiting for an answer.

“Yes, thank you.
Is Henry alright?”

“He’s a very poor sailor.”
Edward spat on the deck. Eleanor was slightly shocked by this lack of respect for his older brother.

“He told me.”

“Are you uncomfortable?”

“No, I’m quite enjoying it. Perhaps I
should not.” Eleanor looked out across the surface of the water where the wind was blowing up small waves that were getting larger even as she watched.

“It’s as well
that you do. It’s not a long voyage, but I can’t look after you as well as Henry.”

Eleanor was silent for a moment. She ought to go and sit with Henry and make sure that he was
not suffering, but she was enjoying herself too much. “Do you often have women on board?

“Never. Why would I? They are neithe
r merchants nor soldiers and those are the only kind of passengers that I carry.”

“I was
thinking about a wife.”

“I don’t have a wife.” Edward grinned. “
And if I had, I would not expect her to sail with me.”

“Even if she wanted to?

“Even then. My wife must stay
at home and look after my business when I am away.”

Eleanor nodded; this was
sensible.  “Then she will be lonely.”

“All wives are lonely
.”

“I’m
glad I shall not be a wife. I’m never lonely at the convent.” It was pleasant enough standing on the deck talking to Edward, but she did not feel as comfortable talking to him as she did with Henry. Despite herself, she remembered Henry’s warning not to trust his brother, but in what way his untrustworthiness would manifest itself she did not know, for Henry had not told her. “Now, I shall go and look after Henry,” she said decisively.

“Are you sure that you want to? He is not a sweet-tempered patient.
Nor a clean one.”

“I do
not mind him being ill-tempered.” She did not often work in the infirmary in the convent, but some of the sisters seemed to forget their vocation when they were confined to beds there. Sickness and pain had immense power over even the sweetest of tempers.

“Then I shall take you to him.”

Edward did not look very pleased about this, but Eleanor thought that despite all he said to the contrary, he enjoyed having a woman on board.

Edward’s
cabin was small and dark and mostly filled by the narrow bed and a large trunk. Edward lit a candle and gave it to her. Eleanor squeezed herself onto the bottom of the bed. As thin as he was, Henry was almost as wide as the bed. He was very pale. “Can I get anything for you?”

“No, just let me die.”

Eleanor turned anxiously to Edward, who shook his head. “He’s not going to die.”

“You’re not going to die,” she told
Henry softly and took hold of his hand. It was cold and clammy and she had a moment of doubt.

“No one die
s of sea sickness,” said Edward. “You only hope that you’re going to die.”

BOOK: The Winter Love
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