|Castle of Najac, France|
The door latch clicked and the door creaked open. Percy looked over expectantly and smiled at the old man who entered. He knew that this was the man who had saved his life, set his legs and was responsible for the care he had received.
Geoffrey stopped short at the sight of the blue eyes looking at him. “Brother! You look better today.”
“I am better. How long have I been here?”
“Three days.” Geoffrey told him, advancing to the bed and looking at his patient with satisfaction. He had never really feared for Percy’s life, but the Templar had been feverish and it was good to see that the fever had broken.
“How can I ever thank you?”
“By surviving, by getting well, by taking up the fight against those that did this to you — to us: to the Temple.”
Percy didn’t answer. Three days ago he had not wanted to survive. Now he was content to lay here in this cocoon of good will, but if he got well he would have to leave. And where would he go? He could not face anyone who had known him before, and the Temple had been destroyed in any case. But if he could face getting well only with uneasiness, he had absolutely no desire to go on fighting. He did not think there was any point in fighting. The men who had done this to him had not only the King of France but Holy Church behind them. They would surely do it all again if he tried to defy them. Percy knew he could not face the torture chamber again. He would rather kill himself.
Geoffrey sensed some of what was going on in his mind and he laid a thin, wiry hand on Percy’s. “Don’t worry about that now. You did not ask my help, so you owe me nothing. I helped you because I could not do otherwise. I vowed to help my brothers and I intend to do the best I can. I regret only that I am so old and feeble. I’m hardly a figure to strike fear into the heart of the King or Norgoret, much less the Inquisition.” Geoffrey gave a self-mocking laugh, and Percy was ashamed.
“My lord, I think you would make the King and even the Pope burn with shame.”
“My name is Geoffrey. I should prefer you call me that.” The intensity of Percy’s admiration embarrassed Geoffrey, and he drew a wooden chair beside the bed and sat down, explaining chattily, “This castle and lordship belonged to my wife. I am nothing but a landless Cypriot knight who had the undeserved good fortune to win the hand of my lady from Saint Louis, who was her guardian.”
There was a knock on the door and Geoffrey called, “Come in.”
The girl who entered had masses of curly auburn hair confined only by a ribbon around the crown of her head. She had wide-set, golden eyes under clean, black brows, a long, fine noes and well-shaped lips in a heart-shaped face. She wore a gown of cream-colored wool and over this a loose pleated burgundy surcoat that ended at her knee with a broad band of embroidery. She was not the kind of bright, shimmering beauty who took away one’s breath, much less the kind of succulent, voluptuous female to inspire instant lust, but no normal young man could have failed to feel an instinctive attraction. The freshness of her skin and the litheness of her motions as she stepped lightly into the chamber reinforced those instincts.
Percy unconsciously tried to sit up and at the same time keep the blankets tucked protectively around a chest that had grown thin and frail from inadequate diet and lack of exercise. He surmised from her free hair and the quality of her gown that she was a daughter of the house.
She broke into a smile as their eyes met, and Sir Geoffrey reported, “The fever has broken. Sir Percy and I have been having a very pleasant conversation.” Then he turned to Percy. “You remember my grand-daughter Felice.”
Percy froze. He started to remember. Before Sir Geoffrey had found him there had been someone else, a woman. Just after the prisoners’ transport had continued without him, he had heard hooves. He had thought they had come back for him. Instead he found himself looking at a stranger, a woman. She had dismounted and covered him with a blanket. Then she had wrapped his hands and feet in rags. He stared at the enchantingly innocent maiden before him with open horror. He could remember the condition he had been in. As good as naked from the hips down and stinking with his own excrement. He turned his head away and closed his eyes in humiliation.
Hurt, Felice turned on her grandfather with a bewildered and outraged expression.
Geoffrey put his finger to his lips. “Come, my dear. I’ve evidently talked too long and wearied our guest. His fever may have broken but he needs rest.”
Geoffrey pushed himself to his feet and, taking Felice by the elbow, led her back out of the room, closing the door behind them.
“Why does he scorn me?” Felice demanded in outrage.
“He is ashamed of what you saw, that is all. It is a good sign. It means he is recovering — not just his strength but his pride. That is something to be grateful for,” Geoffrey insisted, firmly escorting her down the spiral stairs.
“You mean he would rather I had not seen him at all? That I had ridden by?” Felice asked indignantly.
“No, he would rather that I had found him — or Niki or Hugh.”
The English Templar is available for sale here.
The English Templar is available for sale here.