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Lion's Bride

Lion's Bride

Lion s Bride 31


  “No!” Thea lunged toward Sinan, but Kadar stepped swiftly between them.

  “She means no disrespect. She is concerned for her safety if you become ill.”

  Sinan frowned. “Ill?”

  “The child was raped by Kemal and his soldiers at El Sunan and shows signs of having the whore’s disease.”

  Sinan’s cold, speculative glance moved over Selene. “Pity. There is so much life in the young ones. I would have enjoyed her.”

  “But not the aftermath,” Kadar said. “I’ve heard it’s a lingering illness that ends in madness and death.”

  “And not one I’d choose.” Sinan smiled meaningfully at Kadar. “As I believe you know.” He moved toward the door. “But I’ve often thought if one wanted to kill without suspicion, and immediacy was not important, sending such a diseased woman to an enemy would bring great satisfaction. Perhaps we will have use for the child later.”

  Thea whirled fiercely on Kadar as soon as the door closed behind Sinan. “He will not use her.”

  He held up his hand to halt the angry outburst. “No, he won’t. Sinan is always thinking of new ways to kill. This is just another. Besides, his assassins are all men. He would not trust a woman.”

  “How comforting,” Selene said. “But he clearly trusts you.”

  “Of course—he looks at me and sees himself as a young man. He once told me he wished he had a son like me, that I was a reflection of him. He doesn’t realize almost all mirrors are distorted.”

  Astonished, Ware said, “He thinks of you as a son?”

  “He flatters himself. I’m much more clever than Sinan will ever be.” He moved across the chamber. “Come along. I’ll take you to your quarters. I’ll keep Selene with me in my chamber in case Sinan changes his mind. It’s best Thea stay with you for her protection, Ware.”

  “I had every intention of staying with him,” Thea said. “He needs me. He’s far from well yet. He was practically stumbling on his feet when he issued that foolish challenge.”

  “It was not foolish. A man cannot be called weak.”

  “Even when he is.” Thea turned to Kadar. “How long do you think we must stay here?”

  He shrugged. “Until Sinan becomes bored and wants to put an end to the situation. I hope to persuade him that the most felicitous conclusion would be to crush Kemal and get him off his doorstep.”

  “Is there a way we can increase his boredom?” Ware asked.

  “Not without risk.” He smiled. “And I’m a cowardly soul. I prefer to gain our objective without danger. Let me work at it for a few days and see if I can mold events to our advantage.” He stopped before a brass-bound oak door. “You won’t be guarded. Sinan knows we have no place to go but Kemal’s arms. You’ll find life here very simple. Meals will be brought to you in the morning and evening. On no account should Selene or Thea be permitted to wander alone about the fortress. I doubt if Sinan will issue orders protecting their safety.”

  “Since we’re mere beasts of the field,” Selene said.

  Kadar smiled. “On second thought, you may be safe, since you’re a diseased beast of the field. But I don’t believe we’ll chance it.” He took her elbow and urged her toward another door down the hall. “I’ll call for hot water and clean garments for all of you. I’ll bid you good night now. I’ll not see you again this evening. We’ll meet in the morning and talk then.”

  “Why won’t you see us this evening?” Ware asked. “It’s barely sunset.”

  “I must sleep now. I have a few things to do later.” He shut the door before any other questions could be asked.

  Thea hesitated, staring at the closed door. “I don’t like this.”

  “Kadar will not harm her.”

  At first, she did not understand, and then she gazed at him in amazement. “You think I worry about Selene’s virtue?”

  “It occurred to me. She is older now.”

  “Kadar is still Kadar. Because she has begun to have breasts does not necessarily turn a man mad.” She entered the chamber. “No, I worry about Kadar. He’s too secretive.”

  “He will not betray us.”

  “I know he won’t. I just don’t want him—” She broke off in helpless frustration. She could not express the uneasiness she had felt when she had watched Kadar and Sinan together. But it was no use worrying now when she could do nothing about it. “You should rest.” She glanced around the chamber and found it as austere as the rest of the castle. A simple table, a bed, two stools, and a washstand were the only furniture in the room. She spied a bellpull on the far wall and moved toward it. “There are not enough covers on the bed. It grows chill at night. I’ll call for more.” She shivered. “This entire castle is over-cool.”

  “Perhaps Sinan doesn’t feel the chill,” Ware said. He moved toward the window and gazed out at the mountains. “It wouldn’t surprise me.”

  It would not surprise her either, Thea thought. She forced herself to dismiss the Old Man from her thoughts. “You’ll take the bed. I’ll curl up on a blanket on the floor.”

  Ware shook his head. “I let no woman sleep on the floor.”

  “You’ve been ill. You must have a good night’s sleep.”

  “I’m not ill now.”

  She sighed in exasperation as she realized the obstinate man would not be dissuaded. “Very well, we will take turns. I’ll sleep half the night in the bed and then you’ll wake me. Come, I’ll help you with your armor.”

  KADAR ROSE FROM HIS PALLET, cast a quick look at Selene sleeping on the bed before moving silently toward the door in the darkness.

  “Where are you going?” Selene asked, wide-awake. “It must be the middle of the night.”

  Kadar shook his head ruefully as he stopped and turned to face her. She had been watching him all evening; he should have known she was only pretending to slumber. “Go back to sleep. I’ll return soon.”

  She raised herself on one elbow. “If they don’t catch you.”

  He raised his brows. “I beg pardon? Sinan gives me free run of the fortress.”

  She sat up in bed, her cotton robe a white blur in the darkness. “I don’t want you to go.”

  “You’ll be quite safe. If you’re disturbed, run down the hall to Thea and Ware.”

  “You think I fear for myself?” she asked fiercely. “I’m not such a coward.”

  “I must go.” He started to turn away.

  “Not two,” she said. “One is dangerous, two would be folly.”

  He went still. Then he turned back to her, waiting.

  “It’s not Sinan’s assassins who kill one of Kemal’s men each night. It’s you.”

  “Is it?”

  “It’s part of the game you play with Sinan. You keep him interested and retain his respect in the only way you can. You creep into Kemal’s camp and kill one man a night. But today, to distract Sinan from Lord Ware, you had to promise him a bonus. Two instead of one.” She said desperately, “You cannot do it.”

  “I have great talent. Ask Sinan.”

  “He would not talk to a beast of the field.” She swung her feet to the floor. “You know they’ll be expecting you. Don’t go.”

  “Perhaps you’re wrong. It could be I’m only going for a walk in the courtyard. Thea and Ware seem to have no suspicions.”

  “Thea can think only of Lord Ware, and he is still not well.” She was suddenly there before him, her hands grasping his arms. “Find another way.”

  Her face appeared pinched and pale in the moonlight, but her eyes glittered with their usual indomitable spirit. He had always found it fascinating to watch the emotions flickering behind the outward boldness of those huge green eyes. “There is no other way.” He gently extricated himself from her grasp. “We need Sinan.”

  “It’s not only Sinan. You want to go.”

  “I would be mad to want to put my head in Kemal’s hands.”

  “But you do.” Her gaze searched his expression. “I can see it. You’re…excited.”

&n
bsp; “Am I?” He smiled. “Then it would be useless to persuade me not to go, wouldn’t it?”

  “Oh, go away. Let them kill you. See if I care.” She whirled and stomped back to the bed. “I’ll think no more about you.”

  “Excellent idea.” He left the chamber and moved quickly down the hall. He knew she would not sleep. She would lie there and worry…and curse him for making her worry.

  Then he closed all thought of Selene from his awareness with the discipline and focus he had been taught. She was right, he was excited. At these times excitement always made his blood pump through his veins with exhilarating speed. He allowed himself that excitement because it made his mind sharp and his responses swift. But no other emotion must be present; he must wrap himself in the concentration of the act to come.

  Nothing must intrude as he walked the dark path.

  Footsteps echoed on the stone outside the door.

  Instantly awake, Thea lifted her head from the pillow.

  The footsteps passed and faded in the distance.

  “It was probably only a guard.” Ware turned away from the window, a dark silhouette framed by the moonlight.

  She sat up in bed. “Kadar said we wouldn’t be guarded.”

  “That doesn’t mean Sinan doesn’t have other treasures he wishes to keep safe. The Old Man is paid very well for his services.”

  She didn’t wish to dwell on those deadly services. She glanced at the window; the sliver of moon was now high in the sky. “You let me sleep. Why didn’t you wake me?”

  “I wasn’t tired. I had to think.” He lit the candle on the table. “We have to decide what we’re to do after we leave here.”

  “Dear God, we haven’t even escaped from Kemal yet.”

  “We have to have a plan. After Kemal there will be the Knights Templar. We cannot run forever.”

  “So you must rob yourself of sleep now.”

  “We must come to an agreement.” He paused, as if bracing himself. “You must leave this land. I’m going to tell Kadar he’s to take you and Selene to a safe port and take passage.”

  “To where?”

  He scowled. “You won’t like it.”

  “Where?”

  “Scotland.”

  She stared at him in amazement. “That barbarian land?”

  “It’s safer than anywhere else. The highlands are wild and barren, and the Knights Templar hold no power there.”

  “And what would I do in this barren place?”

  “Live,” he said fiercely.

  “And who would buy my silks?”

  “I don’t care.” He frowned. “Well, I do care, but I’d rather see you alive than prosper in your trade.”

  “Why that chill Scotland? Why not send me to the wilds of China? At least it’s civilized, and that’s where the silk trade began.”

  “I have no familiarity with that place.”

  “What difference does that make?”

  He didn’t answer at once. He finally said jerkily, “When I think of you, I’d like to imagine you in the land of my birth. It would be…pleasant.”

  She felt a melting deep inside. She forced herself to say brusquely, “That is very selfish of you.”

  “I know.” His gaze shifted to the flame of the candle. “But if you go to Scotland, I can tell Kadar where it’s safe and where there is danger. I’d like you to buy my father’s lands, but that might be too dangerous. You must have no connection with me.”

  “Then you don’t intend to go with us?” she asked, though she knew the answer.

  He shook his head. “Perhaps I’ll go to Rome. Vaden lived there for a time, and he told me it’s a vast city. A man could lose himself in such a place.” His lips curled. “And the Templars would not expect to have me crouch on the Pope’s doorstep.”

  “And you’ll live in civilized comfort while we shiver in your highlands.” She shook her head. “I think not.”

  “You will go.” His gaze flew to her face. “For God’s sake, can’t you see? What does it take to make you accept that the danger is real?”

  “I know the danger. I just don’t agree with your plan.”

  “You can’t go to Damascus.”

  “Nor to Rome?”

  “No.”

  “Because it’s too dangerous?”

  He didn’t answer.

  “Dangerous for me but not for you? You see, it’s a faulty plan.”

  “It’s not a faulty plan, and you’ll go to Scotland if I have to stuff you in a trunk and send you there in the cargo hold.”

  “Oh, I have every intention of going to your Scotland.” She paused deliberately. “As long as you go with me.”

  He went still. “You know I cannot go.”

  “I know I won’t go without you. Make a choice.”

  “They’ll never stop searching for me. I can’t stay with you.”

  “Because you fear they’ll scoop me up too, if they find you. Well, I believe we’re more clever than they are. I think we can lose ourselves and live a fine, full life.”

  “I hope you can. Kadar will make sure you have funds and the opportunity to—”

  “Together.” She stood up and moved toward him. “We go together or not at all.” Mother of God, his expression was tormented. Why wouldn’t the stubborn man see reason? “For I will not live without you.”

  He smiled bitterly. “After you assured me you’d never forgive me, I didn’t expect this kindness. It is very noble of you to—”

  “I’m not noble and I won’t forgive your betrayal.” She paused. “Be sure that I’ll make you pay for it in any number of ways in the years to come. Every time I wish something you find unreasonable, I’ll remind you of it.” She stepped forward and laid her head on his chest. She could feel the beat of his heart through the cloth of his tunic. How strange that all her fears were vanishing as she battled Ware’s. She whispered, “And the first thing I wish is that you wed me.”

  His muscles went rigid. “Wed? You know I cannot wed you.”

  “I’m tired of your ‘cannots.’ You cannot go to Scotland, you cannot wed me.” She rubbed against him. It was like rubbing against the unyielding trunk of a tree, she thought ruefully. “It seems you will do both. For I’ll have it no other way.”

  “Why?” he said harshly. “Has your life so little value to you that you wish to join it with mine?”

  “It has great value and grows richer every day. It’s truly amazing, when you’re always seeking to make it more difficult.”

  “Stop touching me.” His voice was hoarse.

  “It’s necessary that I touch you. Your mind is not working properly, but your body is always ready.” She brushed her lips along his collarbone. “And I wish to be with child by the time we board this ship for Scotland.”

  “No!”

  She leaned back and looked into his face. “I will wed you and have your child. This I swear. It will do you no good to fight me. I’ll have my way in this.”

  His voice shook. “I will not be the death of you.”

  “No, you will be the life of me.” She cupped his face in her hands and stared straight into his eyes. “I love you and I think you have love for me. Don’t try to tell me it’s guilt or duty; it is love.”

  “If I tell you I don’t love you, will you leave me?”

  “No, for you would be lying. Wouldn’t you?”

  “Yes.” His voice broke as he buried his face in her hair. “God help you.”

  His arms were crushing the breath out of her, but she didn’t complain. “God did help me. I prayed and He answered. He kept you alive. I’ll ask nothing else from Him.”

  She could feel something warm and wet on her temple. “I will,” he said. “I’ll ask Him to do what I cannot do. I’ll ask Him to send you away from me.”

  “He won’t listen. He obviously prefers me. I was the one He chose to make a banner for Him.”

  He gazed wonderingly down at her. “You’re jesting. You’re not afraid any longer?”
/>  “I cannot believe in this magic banner, but the God who answered my prayer listened to a woman. I did not believe that possible. I didn’t think He paid any attention to a woman’s needs.” Her eyes glowed luminously. “This is a thing of wonder. If Asherah is the part of Him that gave you back to me, then there’s nothing to fear.”

  “Except Sinan and Kemal and Vaden and the Knights Templar.”

  “We can do nothing about them now.” She smiled. “But we can do something about the babe I’m to have.”

  He shook his head. “I risked your life before. I will not do it again.”

  She took a step back, pulled her robe over her head, and dropped it onto the floor. “You keep repeating the mistake of thinking that you’re the one who chooses the risks I take. It’s my right alone.” She moved naked to the bed and lay down. “Just as it’s your choice to be foolish and stand there all night when we could give and take pleasure.”

  “Cover yourself,” he said hoarsely.

  She didn’t move. “You cover me.”

  His muscles were knotted with a terrible tension. He moved slowly, heavily, toward her as if drawn by a magnet. “I cannot do it. Why do you wish this child so much?”

  “Life. With such a stubborn man I must do everything possible to keep you with me. You wanted a child because you were sure you couldn’t have life. I want one because I believe you’ll do everything possible to stay alive to protect your child.” He was beside the bed now and she reached out and took his hand. “It wasn’t only that the risk was great, I think you believed you didn’t deserve life. Too many people had died because you found the lion throne.” She lifted his hand to her cheek. “You do deserve to live. God could have taken you, and He did not. Doesn’t that prove something to you?”

  His hand was shaking. “I cannot—Cover yourself.”

  She moved over on the bed. “Lie with me. I’ll not do more than hold your hand if that’s your will.”

  “My will?” He laughed desperately. “I seem to have no will.”