Lion's Bride

Lion's Bride

Lion s Bride 22

  Thea knew the horror her sister felt. She was experiencing the same cold terror as memories of Nicholas’s House of Women flooded back to her.

  “It will be fine,” Kadar said as he lifted Selene to the ground. “It’s not like the House of Nicholas. You’ll work only when you wish. Your every need will be met. You’re likely to go fat with sloth in Kemal’s harem.”

  “Harem,” Thea repeated numbly. She could not believe it.

  “Go with Kadar,” Ware repeated. “I’ll come to you and explain after Kemal and I settle the details.”

  “You’re selling me to him,” she whispered in disbelief. “It was all a lie. You never intended to take me to Damascus.”

  “I didn’t lie. I never said you were going to Damascus.”

  “It was a lie.” Her hands clenched into fists. “You let me believe—”

  “Be silent, slave.” Kemal was shaking his head in disapproval. “Have you no respect for your master?”

  “Slave,” Thea whispered.

  “No, I’m not selling you to Kemal. It’s to keep you safe.” He gazed at her pale face for another instant before he whirled on his heel. “For God’s sake, take her, Kadar.”

  “You always leave me with the easy tasks,” Kadar said wryly. He gestured to the eunuch. “Lead on, Domo.”

  Thea gazed after Ware as he crossed the courtyard with Kemal. “Slavery.”

  Selene drew closer to her. “I don’t understand, Thea.”

  Thea understood all too well. Her worst nightmare realized. Betrayal.

  She put her arm around Selene’s shoulders. “It will be all right. We’ll find a way.”

  Selene whirled on Kadar. “You did this.”

  He flinched. “I admit that I helped. Ware told me to find a different solution to keep you safe. I couldn’t do it.”

  “I was free.” Selene’s eyes blazed at him. “You set me free and then put me back in a cage.”

  “Please, my master says you must come with me,” the young eunuch said gently as he started across the courtyard.

  Master. Slave. Thea shuddered, then straightened and braced herself. “We have to go with him, Selene. For now.”

  Kadar fell into step beside them. “It’s not forever, you know.”

  Thea regarded him coldly. “I know that very well. But only because I will not permit it.”

  “Ware didn’t sell you. He only made a bargain with Kemal. The sheikh is to keep you safe, and in return Ware is to guard his southern border.”

  “He called me slave.”

  “Ware had to make sure Kemal knew you weren’t free to go, so he told him you were his slave.” Kadar went on quickly, “It will be very pleasant here. You’ll still have your bolts of silk and do your embroidery, and when it’s time for you to leave this place, you’ll have a commodity with which to bargain.”

  “It’s time to leave now.”

  Kadar went on as if she had not spoken. “Ware is even having Abdul fetch some young mulberry trees to be planted in the palace garden.”

  “How kind.” Betrayed. Her fury was building higher by the second. “And why this Arab for a jailer?”

  Kadar shrugged. “You wouldn’t have been safe with a Frankish lord. Ware couldn’t be certain that the Templars wouldn’t be able to influence them. Kemal would rather slit your throat than hand you over to the Templars.”

  “Is that supposed to comfort me?”

  “I don’t think anything would comfort you at the moment.”

  “Then you’re wiser than you are kind.”

  “I’m trying to be kind.” He paused. “And so is Ware. If we can find any way of releasing you, we will do so. It’s just not possible now.”

  “So we’re to remain prisoners until Ware deigns to release us.”

  “Not prisoners. Guests.” When he met her outraged stare, he sighed. “Prisoners.”

  “Truth, at last.”

  “I won’t stay here,” Selene said fiercely.

  “You have no choice. Ware has chosen this fortress well. Kemal may not look like a soldier, but he’s a very able leader. Even if you got over the walls, his men would catch you before you found your way out of the hills.” Kadar added with a coaxing smile, “Why not look upon this as a brief interruption? Stay here, do your embroideries, and be safe.”

  The eunuch threw open the door and led them into a long gleaming foyer. He said over his shoulder, “You are very favored. My master says you are to have quarters of your own instead of living with the rest of the harem.” He opened a fretted door and stepped aside. “Enter.”

  Thea was assaulted by the spicy scent of incense as she crossed the threshold. Her gaze raked the mosaic-tiled floor, silken couches, arched windows blocked by fretted shutters, tasseled and brocade-draped beds.

  “This wing has many beautiful rooms.” The eunuch nodded toward a door across the room. “Is it not splendid?”

  Thea moved slowly across the floor toward the two windows. She could see blue sky through the beautiful fretting, but when she reached the shutters, she saw they were as sturdy and confining as metal bars. “No prison is splendid.”

  “Any woman in the harem would be grateful for such fine chambers,” Domo chided.

  Thea fixed him with an icy stare. “I am not grateful.”

  Kadar stepped between them. “He is not to blame.”

  “I know who is to blame.” Thea turned her back on him and gazed blindly out the window. “Get out. I don’t want to look at you anymore. I don’t want to see your face or hear your voice.”

  “Thea…” He stopped and said, “I’m still your friend.”

  “You are not our friend,” Selene said. “A friend would not betray us.”

  “It was not—” Kadar gave up the battle. “Believe me, I’m still your friend. Someday you will see it.” He turned to the eunuch. “Come, Domo, it’s best we leave them alone. Ware will be here shortly, Thea.”

  “Why? To make sure I can’t escape this prison?”

  Kadar sighed. “He knows you can’t escape. A warrior always knows how to secure prisoners. He wishes to reassure you.”

  Thea heard the door shut behind him. No key turned in the lock. They must feel very secure, Thea thought bitterly.

  “What are we to do, Thea?” Selene asked.

  Uncharacteristic uncertainty trembled in Selene’s tone. Thea must put aside her own frustration and despair and give strength to her. She turned away from the window. “First, we’ll make sure Kadar told the truth about the fortifications. Then we’ll make our plans.” She forced a smile. “There will be some way out. This is a delay, not an end.”

  Selene looked past Thea to the fretted windows. “This is not fair. We were free….”

  “We’ll be free again. It may take a long time, but we will never be slaves again.”

  “Goddammit, I told you that you weren’t slaves.” Ware stood in the doorway. “Why the devil won’t you believe me?”

  Thea stiffened as she turned to face him. “Because you lie. Look around you. Do free women live behind bars?”

  “If their husbands so decree.” He held up his hand to stop the barrage of words he knew would come. “I told you once that no woman is really free. I can’t give you freedom, but you’ll have every comfort here.”

  “You didn’t give me freedom, I took it. Now you’re trying to take it away.” She said between gritted teeth, “I won’t have it.”

  “Yes, you will. I’ve made certain—” He broke off and said to someone over his shoulder, “Yes, bring them in.” He stepped aside to allow four soldiers to enter carrying the bolts of silk. “Where do you want these? Here?”

  Selene jumped to her feet. “No, I’ll find a place.” She moved toward the door Domo had indicated as leading to other chambers. “Come with me.”

  Selene’s moment of uncertainty was clearly over, Thea thought. She watched her sister lead the soldiers into the adjoining room before she turned back to Ware. “She’s only a child. She doesn’t unde
rstand this. Find her a place in Damascus and set her free.”

  He shook his head. “It’s not safe. Why do you think I had her brought from Constantinople?”

  “To make my prison more bearable.” It was all clear now. Why hadn’t she seen it sooner? “You intended to keep me at Dundragon, didn’t you?”

  “Yes, until Vaden gave me warning. Then I realized I’d have to find somewhere else to secrete you.”

  “For how long?”

  “Until it’s safe.”

  Rage surged through her in a dizzying tide. “I won’t let you do this. I’ll make my own decisions and protect myself. You have no right.”

  “I take the right.”

  “I’ll never forgive you for this. I’ll curse you every day of my life.”

  “I know you will.” His face was a shade paler as he smiled mirthlessly. “But perhaps this action will assure that your death will be a long time from now.” He turned way. “I’ll send Kadar here from time to time to make sure all goes well with you.”

  “I don’t want him here.”

  “He’ll still come. After all, I have to make sure Kemal is keeping to his side of the bargain. My services as a war lord are very valuable.” He suddenly turned around and looked at her, searching for words. He finally said hoarsely, “I could do nothing else. I couldn’t let you die. I couldn’t bear it if—” He broke off and made a helpless gesture with his hand. “I could do nothing else.” He whirled and strode out of the room.

  He was gone and she was a prisoner. She wanted to run after him and rave at him, tell him that he could not do this to them.

  But he could—he had already done it.

  “Now, begone.” Selene was ushering the soldiers from the anteroom. “We want nothing more to do with you.”

  The soldiers fled the chamber as if pursued. Selene must have given them a tongue-lashing. Thea would have smiled at such stalwarts being intimidated by one small girl if she had not been so enraged. “The silk is unharmed?”

  Selene nodded. “Should I unpack our boxes?”

  It would be good for Selene to be busy. “Yes.” Thea moved back to the window. Ware had mounted his horse and was looking down at Kemal. They were speaking, probably discussing her and Selene’s imprisonment, Thea thought bitterly. Then Kemal stepped back and Ware lifted his hand and moved toward the open gates.

  Thea’s fingers gripped the keyhole openings in the fretting. He was leaving. He was riding through the gates.

  A wave of despair and desolation rocked her. She knew now she had not believed it would happen, that he would really desert them in this alien place.

  “Thea?” Selene was standing beside her. “Don’t worry. I was frightened at first, but we’re together and that makes it better. Everything will be all right.”

  She should be the one comforting Selene, she realized dimly. She took her sister in her arms. “We’ll see that it is.”

  After a moment Selene stepped back and disengaged herself. “I’ve put our clothing in the chest across the room.” She nodded at the bundle of folded silk on the table by the door. “I found the banner in your box. What shall I do with it?”

  The banner. Ware’s banner. “Burn it.”

  Selene gazed at her in astonishment. “I will not. I can see why you wouldn’t give it to him, but you labored too long and hard to create it. I’ll not see your work wasted.”

  “Then do with it what you will. I never want to see it again.” She turned back to the window. The gates were closing. They were alone. “But I’d rather you burn—”

  “I bid you welcome to my home.” The door had been thrown open, and Kemal ben Jakara stood beaming at them. He swept into the room and closed the door behind him. “I have thought about it, and I believe your boldness was caused by your surprise at my friend Ware’s decision to leave you in my care.” He added magnanimously, “I forgive you.”

  “Oh, do you?” Thea asked softly. She wanted to slap his plump, dimpled cheeks.

  “But you must realize that I will not tolerate such rebellion in my household. Lord Ware has won certain privileges for you already, but I’m a peaceful man and I will have peace. You will be allowed the freedom of the women’s quarters and the garden as long as you cause me no disturbance.” He frowned “Though this business of hundreds of worms crawling about doesn’t please me. I may seek to renegotiate that portion of my bargain with Lord Ware.” His face cleared. “But I’ve no complaint about your sewing. Such tasks are proper women’s work. Now, have I not been generous?”

  She wondered what he would do if she pulled his be-jeweled silk turban down over his eyes and kicked him in the stomach. She opened her lips to speak, then thought better of the scathing words she had been about to utter. It would do no good to antagonize their jailer. If she was to escape from this place, the little freedom he was offering might be of advantage.

  Kemal’s smile widened. “I can see you’re speechless at my kindness. Now, that is how a proper slave should behave.” He started to turn away. “It is good we’ve come to an understanding. Lord Ware will be—What is this?” His gaze had fallen on the gleaming silk bundle on the table.

  He reached out and shook out the cloth. “A banner? Let me see if your work has val—” He broke off, his eyes widening as he stared at the red-and-gold design. “By Allah’s sword,” he murmured. One plump finger reached out and reverently traced the design. “Magnificent. You did this for your master?”

  Master. She felt another surge of rage. “Yes.”

  “Perhaps I will permit you to do one for me. In truth, I have never seen such a fine banner.”

  “Then take it.” She felt Selene’s startled gaze on her face. “Lord Ware doesn’t want it.”

  “Any warrior would want such a banner.”

  “Would he have left it with me if he’d wanted it?”

  Kemal doubtfully shook his head. “You’re sure he would not mind?”

  “He told me before we left Dundragon that he wished I hadn’t made it. Leave it with me and I’ll finish hemming it.”

  “Today? I’ll want it tomorrow.” He looked eagerly at the design. “It will bring me great good fortune. I can feel it.”

  “You’ll have the banner tomorrow morning.”

  He gave her a brilliant toothy smile as he handed her the banner. “I can see now why Lord Ware bargained to keep you safe. Such willingness and skill are rare qualities in a woman. You can be taught the rest.” He moved toward the door. “I’ll send a servant to get the banner tomorrow.”

  “Pompous rooster,” Selene muttered as the door closed behind him.

  Thea nodded. “But the rooster rules this fortress. It will do no harm for him to think us less than we are until we’re ready to escape from this place.” She sat down on the cushions. “Bring me thread and needle, Selene. I wish this banner out of my sight.”

  “I BELIEVE YOU’VE MADE a more bitter enemy than the Grand Master this day,” Kadar said as he glanced over his shoulder at the gates of El Sunan. “You won’t change your mind?”

  “I cannot change my mind.” Ware’s tone was fierce with leashed frustration. “How many times must I tell you? You wouldn’t have helped me if you hadn’t realized there was no other way out.” He kept his gaze straight ahead. No use looking back. Don’t think about her face when she realized she had been betrayed. It was done. “Unless you can offer a solution, be silent.”

  “I’ve been thinking about that. You could take her far away from this land.”

  “I’ll not leave here.”

  “Don’t you think it’s time to forget pride and remember good sense?”

  “Pride?” He gave him a weary glance. “My God, do you still think I’d care if anyone thought they’d chased me away?”

  Kadar studied him and then slowly shook his head. “No, I do believe you may have changed. I wonder why?”

  “Jedha. Isn’t that enough?”

  Kadar seemed about to argue but held his peace. “So why not leave the H
oly Land?”

  “It would do no good. The Templars are everywhere.”

  “But not in such numbers. The world is wide. You might be able to find a pocket of land where you’d be safe.”

  “And would Thea be content to hide herself away? You know she would not. She has a dream. She’d fly away to the nearest city to set up her silk house. Sooner or later Vaden would find her.”

  Kadar gave a low whistle. “Then it’s Thea who keeps you here.”

  “It’s my fault she’s in danger. She’s my responsibility.”

  “A responsibility that may cause you to be slaughtered like those poor souls at Jedha. Protecting Kemal’s borders isn’t going to be an easy task.” Kadar again glanced over his shoulder at the gates. “One wonders which one of you is the real prisoner.”

  “Ask Thea. She has no doubt.”

  “I fear her judgment is clouded at the moment.”

  Clouded by anger and bitterness and hatred, Ware thought. She had looked at him with the same horror and distrust as the night he had found her in the desert. No, it was not the same; it was far worse. “Then you’ll have to make your own decisions. She’s not likely to change her mind.” Christ, he had to get away from Kadar. He would keep talking, and each word was like a blow from a mailed fist. He spurred ahead and left Kadar and El Sunan far behind.

  Ware kept a brutal pace for the rest of the journey, and Dundragon came into view near dawn of the next day.

  Ware reined in his horse and called over his shoulder, “Kadar.”

  Kadar rode forward. “You’ve decided I’m worthy of conversation? You’ve been very rude, you know. I should ignore you completely and—”

  “If I don’t return in three days’ time, tell everyone to leave Dundragon and scatter to the four winds. Then go to El Sunan and take Thea and Selene away.”

  “Return? Where are you going?”

  Ware’s gaze lifted to the third mountain.

  Kadar instantly shook his head. “From what you’ve told me, it will do no good to offer yourself as sacrifice.”

  “I’m no martyr. I’ve no intention of letting Vaden kill me. I only need to talk to him.”

  “Because he’ll know you took Thea to El Sunan? You don’t think Kemal could protect her?”