Authors: Margaret Mallory
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Historical
At the sound of his brother’s harrowing cry, Stephen jumped to his feet and ran to the bed. He sucked in his breath. At the
sight of so much blood, he nearly dropped the lamp. It was everywhere. Dark swaths of it covered the bed—and the limp body
cradled in William’s arms.
Casting a look back toward the door, he saw the men who crowded into the room behind them were backing out. He turned back
to the bed and saw what they saw: William hunched over Catherine, weeping; Catherine’s head lolling over his arm; her blood-soaked
tunic ripped asunder, gaping open.
Swiftly, Stephen swung his cape off and draped it over her exposed breasts and swollen belly.
“Thank you,” William whispered.
The misery in his brother’s eyes when he lifted his gaze for that brief moment would haunt Stephen always.
“Is she alive?” Stephen’s voice came out as a croak.
When William did not answer, he asked the question again, more insistently. Still, his brother did not respond.
Stephen reached out and touched Catherine’s cheek with the back of his fingers. A dead person should not feel so warm. Edmund
did not. With growing hope, he found her hand under the cloak and felt for a pulse at her wrist.
“She is alive!” When William stared blankly at him, Stephen gripped his arm and said in a louder voice, “William, I tell you,
Lady Catherine lives!”
Stephen turned to the men in the doorway. “Find Alys and bring her here. She will know what to do.”
Several of the men rushed from the room.
Stephen was used to his older brother taking charge, but it was obvious William would be of no help. He’d seen his mother
and Catherine deal with household illness and injury countless times. Biting his lip, he tried to recall what they did.
“Tell the servants to bring warm water and strips of clean cloth,” he told the other men. “I’m not sure which we’ll need,
so have them bring both spirits and hot broth.”
The men rushed out almost before he had the words out.
Relief washed over him when Alys burst into the room, raining curses on Edmund.
“That devil’s spawn locked us all in the kitchen!”
She took command the moment she entered. Ignoring the body on the floor, she hurried to where William still held Catherine
on the bed. She ran quick hands over Catherine.
“No wound!” she announced.
She left them to give direction to the servants setting up the washing tub in the solar. In no time, Stephen heard her shooing
the servants, “Out with you now, out, out.”
As she bustled back into the bedchamber, she called over her shoulder, “And shut that door behind you!”
“Lord FitzAlan, I need you to carry her to the solar,” she said in her no-nonsense voice. “I must wash the blood off and get
a better look at her.”
William cradled Catherine in his arms, rocking her as though he had not heard.
Alys got up on the step to the bed and put her face in front of his. “M’lord, this is not your wife’s blood. ’Tis only the
blood of that bastard friend of yours.”
When he only blinked at her, she raised her voice. “M’lord, you must get off your backside and help me. Now!”
Stephen could almost see the words penetrating William’s skull as he looked from Alys to Stephen and back again. When William
rose with Catherine from the bed, Stephen felt some of the tension go out of his shoulders.
The saints be praised, William was back with them.
In the solar, William sat on a bench next to the tub with Catherine on his lap. At Alys’s direction, Stephen picked up the
cup of broth from the table and knelt in front of Catherine. Holding the cup under her nose, he watched her draw in a deep
breath of the steam. He wanted to shout for joy when she opened her eyes a crack and took a small sip.
The broth seemed to revive her, for she took another sip and another. He darted a look at Alys, who smiled and nodded.
Catherine lifted her hand to touch his wrist and whispered, “Thank you.”
Stephen took her hand and kissed it, trying not to cry.
“Jamie?” Catherine asked.
“He is safe,” Stephen said. “He and Jacob hid in the stable.”
“Out with you now, Stephen,” Alys said. When he turned, prepared to argue, she said, “We must get her in the bath.”
Stephen leapt to his feet so quickly he nearly knocked over the bowl of broth. “I’ll be just outside if you need me.”
As soon as Stephen was gone, Alys directed William to put Catherine’s feet into the tub. “ ’Tis important we keep her warm.”
She began a thorough inspection then, washing off blood as she worked her way up Catherine’s legs. She nodded and murmured,
“Good, good,” as she went.
“The blood is not mine,” Catherine said in a voice so low William had to strain to hear it. “I do not think I am injured.”
He pressed his cheek against hers and closed his eyes.
Praise God. Praise God
“Shhh, do not talk yet, dear,” Alys crooned. “Now let us get this dirty gown off you and get you in this nice hot bath. That,
and another cup of broth, and you’ll feel much better.”
He lifted Catherine from his lap so Alys could pull the torn gown off, then eased her into the steaming tub of water before
she could get chilled. After tucking a folded linen cloth behind Catherine’s head, Alys refilled the cup of broth. She held
Catherine’s hands around the cup until she was sure Catherine could hold it on her own.
Alys touched his arm and jerked her head to the side. Reluctantly, he stood and stepped away with her.
“I see no outward injuries except the bruises around her wrists and the one on her cheek,” Alys said in a low voice. “Now
I must find out if the man forced himself upon her.”
“We find her in bed, covered in blood,” he hissed through clenched teeth, “and you doubt he did it?”
“What we know is that he tried,” Alys said in a calm voice. “Remember, it was him we found dead on the floor—and with her
blade in his heart.”
Alys cleared her throat and said, “Now, m’lord, ’tis best you leave for a bit. If the man did take her violently, she will
have injuries I must treat. And I need to check the babe.”
William rubbed his hands over his face, as if he could push the horrible thoughts away. “I am staying unless she wants me
Alys did not look pleased, but she did not argue when he took his seat beside his wife. He held Catherine’s hand under the
water while Alys spoke to her in a low voice.
When he felt Catherine’s fingers tighten on his hand, he said, “I will go if you wish.”
She gripped the side of the tub with her free hand and leaned toward him. “Nay, do not leave me!”
Choked with emotion, he could not speak at first. That she wanted him with her, in spite of how badly he had failed her, was
more than he had any right to hope. More than he deserved.
He lifted her hand from the water and kissed her wet fingers. “I will stay as long as you will have me.”
His penance for his sins against his wife began in earnest then. He held her hand and stared out the window into the blackness
of the night as Alys asked her terrible questions. Did Edmund strike her anywhere other than her face? Did he throw her to
the ground? Was she sure she suffered no blow to her belly?
Eventually, in her straightforward way, Alys asked if Edmund raped her.
Catherine’s answer, when she gave it, was indirect. “If I had been a virgin, I would yet have my maidenhood.”
William let out the breath he had been holding, though her careful answer left him worried about what did happen. Alys, however,
asked no more questions. Instead, she put her hands on Catherine’s rounded belly. After a time, she looked at Catherine and
then at William, a broad smile on her face.
“The babe is well!”
“God be praised!” William said, squeezing Catherine’s hand.
All the way to Ross Castle, he had prayed God would protect his wife, never once sparing a prayer for their unborn child.
But God, in his grace, had preserved the babe as well.
“Try to think of all you have to look forward to,” Alys said, touching Catherine’s cheek. “You have a fine husband and child,
and soon you shall have another babe in your arms.”
Catherine pressed her lips together and nodded.
“Active as this one is, I’ll wager it’s another boy,” Alys said as she got stiffly to her feet. “Now, it is off to bed with
you. Sleep is the best healer.”
Before she left, Alys pulled William aside once more. “Your lady is stronger than you know. She’s been through as bad as this
and worse before.” With a last pat on his arm, she said, “ ’Tis a blessing she has you to help her this time.”
William was grateful to be left alone to care for his wife. As he helped her out of the tub, he dried her quickly and pulled
a tunic over her head. He carried her to the bed in her chamber. After covering her, he shed his own clothes and crawled in
beside her. He wrapped his arms around her and held her close.
He stayed awake most of the night, listening to her steady breathing. No matter how many years God gave them, he would be
thankful for every night his wife fell asleep in his arms.
atherine awoke to the sound of voices outside the bedchamber door. She heard the low rumble of William’s voice, followed by
Jamie’s loud wail of complaint. Shivering as her bare feet hit the cold floor, she grabbed her robe and hurried to the door.
When she opened it, she found her four-year-old and her husband glaring at each other, hands on hips in identical poses. Stephen,
who was standing on the other side of them, caught her eye, making no effort to hide his amusement.
The boy flew at her and threw his arms around her legs. Laughing, she sank to her knees to embrace him.
“Be easy with your mother,” William said sharply, and took Catherine’s arm to help her up. “I am sorry. I tried to make him
wait until you were awake.”
She smiled at Jamie to let him know it was all right.
“I will meet you all for breakfast as soon as I have dressed,” she told them. “I had only broth for supper last night and
am near starved.”
The normalcy of sitting at table with her family soothed her soul. Although the others had long since eaten, the cook sent
out platters heaped high with bread and meats and bowls of stewed apricots and sugared nuts. While she ate, Jamie told her
about hiding with Jacob and the new kittens in the straw. To her relief, Jamie had thought it all a game.
At William’s signal, Jamie’s nursemaid collected her charge. “The dogs are jealous of the kittens now,” she told him. “They
are so unhappy they’ve ceased to wag their tails.”
“They have not!” Jamie protested, but he jumped up to go with her all the same.
“I thought it best not to tell the boy too much,” William said when they had gone.
Catherine nodded. Jamie needed no reassurance beyond seeing her. From the dark circles under William’s eyes and the pinched
skin between his brows, it was apparent her husband would need more.
Waving down William’s objections, she asked Stephen to recount their part of what happened the day before.
“You were clever to remember the tunnel,” she said when he had finished.
Stephen blushed at the compliment.
She patted his arm. “And cleverer still to get the secret out of Jacob. I’m sure no one has before.”
Still blushing, Stephen cast a sidelong glance at his brother. William jerked his head meaningfully toward the door. Taking
the hint, Stephen got to his feet.
“It brings me joy to see you safe and well,” Stephen said, sweeping her an elaborate bow. With that, he left the room.
Catherine shook her head, smiling. “That boy has enough gallantry and charm for two. Heaven help us.”
William had no interest in discussing his brother.
“Time for you to rest.” He stood and offered his hands to her. “Come, I’ll help you back upstairs.”
“But I have not been up an hour,” she protested.
In the end, she gave in and let him take her upstairs, but she adamantly refused to get into bed. He settled her on the window
seat with a stool propped under her feet and a blanket tucked tightly around her.
She tugged one arm free and patted the space beside her. “Sit with me a while.”
She leaned into the comfort of his arms and rested her head on his shoulder. After a time, she said, “You must want to know
She looked at the hard planes of his face and watched the muscles of his jaw tighten and release.
“Only if you wish to speak of it,” he said, his eyes fixed straight ahead. “And only when you are ready—not now.”
“I cannot help but think of it now,” she said. “Telling you may help me put it behind me.”
He nodded and took her hand. “If it will help.”
Once she began, she could not stop. She recounted the entire horror of it: every word, every look, every touch. The telling
was cathartic for her—and torture for William. She understood that he had to hear it. Reliving the nightmare with her was
a penance he needed to make before he could begin to forgive himself.
He kept his rage behind a careful mask. But when she told him what Edmund was doing to her when she stabbed him the first
time and then how terrified she was when he backhanded her, William jumped to his feet. Clenching his fists, he paced the
room, letting loose a rain of curses.
Then he collapsed beside her and covered his face in his hands. “I saw Edmund fight many, many times,” he whispered. “I do
not know another who gave him a second chance and survived.”
He pulled her into his arms again. “I was arrogant and foolish to ignore your concerns about him.”
Aye, he should have listened to her.
“Edmund was your friend,” she said, leaning back to look at him. “You could not know he would do this.”
“I pledged to protect you, and I failed—not once, but twice.” He faltered for a moment, then said, “I do not know how you
can ever forgive me.”
“I am glad I saved myself.”
“Please, Catherine. You don’t need to lie to excuse my failings.”