Fallen Grace (The Death Dealer Book 1) (6 page)

BOOK: Fallen Grace (The Death Dealer Book 1)
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If Grace had listened more carefully to George’s teachings, she would have understood that what was uncommon for Cesernan was not so uncommon in Sera. Elanor wasn’t breaking tradition, because hers were a proud, willful people who valued courage and honor above anything else in their leaders. To them no one, not even the beloved King Philip, embodied these ideals better than Elanor. However, the image of the warrior Queen provided inspiration to Grace for a long time after hearing Henry’s story. That fact alone was more important than the truth behind the matter.

~*~*~

Henry and Grace watched the first round of the joust before heading to the sword fighting ring. A few lesser nobles were watching, but no one of high status had come to see the competition. The two watched as Sir Gerald and Sir Tomas squared off in the ring.


I say Tomas wins,” Grace whispered to Henry as the two men began circling each other.


Oh? Everyone else thinks Gerald will win this round. He is the more seasoned knight, and has become renowned among the lesser nobles as a fine swordsman. He’s taken first in the sword at least five, maybe even six times. What makes you say Tomas?”


It is in their stances. Gerald watches his face, but Tomas watches his body movement to try and predict Gerald’s next maneuver. And look how Tomas moves his feet; he has excellent balance. Besides, Gerald thinks he has nothing to fear. He has won this tournament before, and Tomas is too new to have won much of anything. Arrogance against a smaller, less experienced opponent is often the downfall of the strongest. Just watch – Tomas will win.”

The crowds cheered as the two knights clashed swords. Henry watched their movements with great interest. Tomas seemed to dance around Gerald, who stayed flatfooted and used his upper body more than his legs. The two threw themselves at one another again and again. Tomas caught Gerald under his sword arm, quickly disarmed him and put his own sword to Gerald’s throat. He had won.

Henry looked at Grace carefully. She did not look at him, but wore a smug smile on her face as Tomas was declared the victor. Henry was amazed the young woman had successfully named the winner and accurately critiqued their fighting styles. Most third year pages wouldn’t have been able to do that.


Know much about swordplay?”

Grace blushed a little. “Arganis has been subjected to bandits and pirates in the past. My Uncle Leon wanted to make sure I was safe, and so I learned a little bit of the sword while Calvin trained for his shield.”

Henry nodded to make Grace believe he was satisfied with her response, but she had a little more than just ‘basic’ knowledge of the fighting. He could tell she was holding back. It was easy to teach swordplay, but it took interest on a pupil’s part to invest much into critiquing others. Henry hoped she never started such a conversation with anyone else in court. Though the men found her beautiful now, no one would want a wife who could tell him what he was doing wrong with his weapons. Henry would have to probe Grace more, though. He didn’t mind conversing on the subject with such a bright young lady.

~*~*~

The Death Dealer hid in the shadows along the side of the road. Word spread fast that The Death Dealer was in Ursana, so only a few bold criminals came out. So far, Grace had already stopped two roadside robberies. She needed only to emerge from the shadows and the men set off running. That was a favorable response, but also a boring one. It was nice to have a challenge once in a while.

Footfalls filled Grace’s ears. People were approaching.

“We’ll make them pay for what they did. No one throws lamp oil on one of my men,” a gruff voice whispered in the dark. Grace squatted down and gripped her sword hilt.


What about The Death Dealer? They say he’s in Ursana. He could be protecting Wilson and his family. There are plenty of families to steal from in other places. Let’s just go.”


No one bests me or my men, you coward.” Grace saw the larger man hit his companion across the back of the head. “I’m not scared of a little boy wearing a hood and playing with a sword. We’re going to do what we set out to do.”

Grace stepped into their path and both men stopped. The smaller one, the one who was afraid of The Death Dealer, looked at his boss and took off running the way they had come.

              “Damn coward. Well, I guess it’s just you and me. You don’t look so strong, boy. How about I let you run, and I’ll not say a word?” Grace held her ground and unsheathed her sword to show him she wasn’t going to turn tail and run. The man let out a primal yell and lunged at Grace.

Thrown off guard, she stumbled backwards against the force of the man’s body. Grace had never encountered someone who jumped into a fight like this. Many people she stood against hesitated a little, and she relied on that hesitation to ready herself for a fight; to move first. She made to slice at him with her sword, but he hit her with the full force of his body before she was ready. The larger man was suddenly on top of her and he gave her a few solid punches in the gut, as well as a few to her face. He knocked the sword clear from her hand. Grace squirmed underneath him and bit his knuckles as he tried to punch her face again. She was lucky the impact didn’t break any of her teeth, and for all the effort, she only managed to peel away some of the skin on his knuckles.

“You whelp!” he screamed and held Grace down. His hand reached down and produced a dagger. “Not so tough without your little sword are you?” He pinned her down and taunted her with the dagger. “How to start with ya...how to start...?”

Grace took a deep breath. With every bit of strength she had, she flung her head forward and made contact with the man’s nose. There was a loud crack, he squeaked once, and then fell on top of her heavily. Blood rushed from his nose into Grace’s face as she struggled to get him off of her. Her Uncle Leon once told her that if she was unarmed and in grave danger, the best thing to do was go for the nose. He stated often times it would end in a broken nose, but on rare occasions and with the right amount of force, it could end in death.

Grace’s hit forced the man’s nasal bones into his brain and he died instantly. Now she had no idea what to do. She sat by the body and shook over the gravity of what she had just done. There was a rush running through her body, but it wasn’t fear; it was something else. She had no idea how long she sat there, but finally Grace dragged herself to her feet and set off running for the castle. By the time she climbed back into her room, the adrenaline wore off and she crashed.

~*~*~

Cassandra entered Grace’s chambers early the next morning, when the sun barely began to show itself to the world. She was still in bed with the covers drawn over her face. “You complain about this heat and here you are, wrapped up in those blankets like it was about to start snowing. Now get up and let’s get you ready for the tournament. You do not want to miss Calvin in the sword competition today.”


I am not going,” Grace muttered from under the blankets. “Tell everyone I am ill.”


Of course you are going! Now get up.” Cassandra pulled the covers clear off Grace. She yelped a little and quickly clapped a hand over her own mouth.

Grace’s face was covered in dried blood, the entire right side of her face was one blue and purple bruise, and her right eye was swollen shut. Grace let out a pained whimper and lifted up her jerkin a bit. Her midsection was covered in the same kinds of bruises.

“All the blood—” Cassandra could hardly find the words. Her voice became nothing more than a raspy whisper.


It is not mine. The man…he pulled a dagger. I had to kill him. He just bled all over me and stared at me with these unseeing eyes.” The memory rushed back like a flood. Those eyes would always have the look of surprise in them.

Cassandra sat on the bed next to Grace and took her hand. “You? You killed him?”

Grace nodded and her servant looked aghast. How could she explain to her friend that there was barely any regret for killing a man who was going to harm an entire family? She felt remorse for ending another’s life, but not so much knowing she helped a family escape his wrath. Not to mention the fact that he intended to kill her. Cassandra would never understand, but then again, Grace barely understood it herself. After fleeing from the body, she vomited along the side of the road. She killed a man. Trying to justify all the reasons she felt guilty and all the reasons she didn’t caused her a headache. She shivered and Cassandra held her fast.

The maid stroked her hair. “He’d have killed you,” was all she said.

Grace didn’t want to ever feel like this again. Next time a man pulled a knife on her, she’d knock him unconscious and tie him to a tree. Killing again was not an option. Her stomach churned at the thought. And to think earlier that evening she found scaring brigands off boring. She would take boring over the alternative now.


You cannot just stay in bed all day. Word will get out that The Death Dealer has killed, and when you suddenly do not show up, people will talk. No – you have to go out.” Grace wanted to roll her eyes. Cassandra was playing the fatalist. No one would put those pieces together. However, Grace knew her maid would be on edge all day with paranoia if she didn’t go out. A nervous Cassandra was a greater danger to her than someone figuring out who The Death Dealer was.

Cassandra rooted through Grace’s things until she found her riding tunic and gown. She ripped bits and pieces off of it and wiped Grace’s face with the rest. “We will take you to the healer, say you were on a ride last night and were thrown into a ditch.”

“What if the stable hands are questioned?”


A few pieces of silver will get them to say anything you like. Hurry up and get dressed and then it is off to the healer with you.”

~*~*~

Calvin’s manservant and Grace’s friend, Donald, went to the stables to talk with the stable hands about Grace’s “fall.” The stable hands did not question Donald or his need for them to lie. They assumed only that this young Grace woman had spoken out of turn and a male relative put her in her place, and now the family was trying to cover it up. These things weren’t all that uncommon. Plenty of other court ladies had suffered from “falls” in the past. While Donald handled one situation, Cassandra took Grace to see the castle healer to handle another.

He was an old man who looked as though he had lived through every king of Cesernan. He grabbed Grace’s face with his icy hands and she was reminded of death, which brought up the image of those dead eyes again. Her heart beat faster. The healer moved her head this way and that, looking over her bruises carefully.

“You should have come to me last night when your horse threw you. I could have stopped the swelling on your eye.” He released her face and walked to a cabinet.


I did not want to inconvenience you since all your candles were already out. I had no idea I would wake up looking like this.”

He mumbled to himself as he looked about his cabinets. “When I was young, ladies didn’t go riding after dark. Probably went to meet a lover.” Grace rolled her eyes. The healer turned back to her, holding a small blue bottle. “Take this ointment, apply to your eye every few hours, and by tomorrow the swelling should go down. There’s nothing I can do for those bruises, but in a few days they won’t be as bad.” He handed her the ointment. “You are very lucky to have survived with only a few bruises. I suggest having something done with the horse you were riding.”

“Thank you, sir.” She curtsied and left his room.

Cassandra was waiting for her. “Well?”

“I do not see why I cannot stay in bed. No one will suspect a thing. You are being paranoid about this.”


I refuse to take a risk.” Cassandra took Grace by the arm and started to lead her down the hall. “I will do nothing that could possibly put you in the hangman’s sight. You will do as the healer said and you will go to the tournament today. I am going to see how Donald fared with the stable boys. Meanwhile, you stay out of trouble.” Cassandra patted Grace’s shoulder and was gone.

Grace looked at the blue bottle and sighed. She should have stayed in Arganis. The healer in Arganis wouldn’t have believed she was off seeing a lover. He’d have scolded her about proper riding techniques and handed over the ointment with a laugh and a smile.

              “I, for one, would like to see how Benjamin fares today against Calvin.” Grace heard voices down the hall. She looked around for a place to hide, but all the doors near her were closed and she didn’t want to discover what was behind them simply to escape conversation. Instead she walked toward the voices; head high, bruises showing proudly.

To her surprise, Prince Drake and Sir Tristan of Escion rounded the corner and the three came face to face.

“Good morning, Grace,” Drake said and bowed to her. “My dear lady, what happened to your lovely face?”


I was thrown from my horse last night, although it is really not as bad as it looks.”


Thrown from your horse?” Tristan said. “Then certainly the beast is not worthy to bear you. Escion is known for breeding the most noble of horses. If it pleases the lady, perhaps I could arrange for a nobler animal for you?” The young knight was looking for any morsel she would throw him. She was able to avoid him the day before, but there was no avoiding him now.

BOOK: Fallen Grace (The Death Dealer Book 1)
13.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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