Authors: E.M. Powell
She stood up to ease her legs further and paced the floor, arms folded tight across her chest.
Try as she might, she could not banish the images Gerald had
planted in her head. Ireland was a land of sin, of violence, of betrayal.
A land where Henry feared treachery from one of his own greatest lords, de Lacy of Meath. A land at the very edge of God’s earth, the last solid ground before the eternal ocean. Where Benedict might fall, an axe buried in his head or a sword in his chest, never to return to her, to lie next to her in life, then together for eternity.
Theodosia joined her hands and faced the gleam of the gold cross on the altar once more. ‘Devoutly with trust I pray to Thee, implore Thee for Your protection.’
Into the silence came a deep roar, like the advance of a huge wind. But the sun on the floor still shone bright.
The roar echoed and rumbled into a boom of loudest thunder.
The ground beneath her feet lost its substance in a heartbeat. She grasped uselessly at the air in abrupt dizziness, falling to the ground.
Every bell, near, far, rang out in a clamour of jagged jangles as mortar pinged down on her from the ceiling.
The whole world shook, creaked, rattled in terrifying sound as the contents clattered and smashed from the altar.
She tried to get to her knees, but the flagstones beneath her were soft as a swamp.
The bells pealed louder in a chorus that could not be being rung by human hand. Judgement must be upon the world. God was returning.
Theodosia gabbled a paternoster in terror, then half another.
A stone crashed from the roof, then
She ducked her head beneath her arms with a shriek.
Tom. Matilde. Benedict. Let us meet in Paradise.
Then the world stilled. The bells slowed, their last peals giving way to shouts, calls, screams from outside. Fine dust filled the air, dimming the sunlight from the windows.
Coughing, Theodosia sat up, every inch of her body trembling. The chapel looked as if it had been sacked by marauders.
‘All to the gatehouse! Quickly!’ A monk’s command echoing from the cloisters. ‘The earth may move again!’
Theodosia got to her feet, the stone flags beneath her shoes solid and cold as if nothing had happened.
But something had. No apocalypse, but a sign from God to her, shaking the earth beneath her to remind her that Benedict had gone to its perilous edge. She could not remain here.
She knew what she had to do.
The Port of Waterford, Ireland
5 April 118
‘A good crossing and still half the daylight left. God smiles on u
Palmer nodded in agreement with the young, heavy-set man next to him on the deck of the docking ship. ‘Still prefer dry land every time.’ He gave different, silent thanks to the Almighty.
had been his curse for many years. Though he no longer suffered as badly, he still couldn’t wait for the moment that his boots met a surface that stayed in one place.
He’d heard on the voyage how much Henry favoured this
port, with the King placing it under his rule during his first visit, in the year Tom had come into the world. It was still far finer than Palmer had expected, especially after witnessing the ravings of the royal clerk, Gerald. A rounded stone tower sat high above the well-built city walls, with many wooden quays reaching far out into the quiet water and lining the muddy lip o
nd outside the defences. Despite its good size, the number of vessels that had transported John and his men filled every landing space, while many other ships waited, all needing to dock and unload.
The low, grey cloud brought a damp coolness to the day as seagulls clamoured for the waste being thrown into the water. With whistles and shouts, the men on the quays threw ropes to the
, bringing ship after ship to rest. The arrival of so many in the name of the Lord John couldn’t fail to send a message to Ireland, just as Henry had planned.
Four men approached Palmer’s vessel, carrying the long, heavy, dirty wooden gangplank, and it finally thudded into place.
Palmer walked off with the others, his bundle of possessions heavy on one shoulder. Beneath his boots, wicker panels had been laid over the ground to provide dry passage. Even so, the wet oozed through from the clay underneath.
The man he’d docked with nudged him and pointed to a small group along the quayside. ‘Looks like they’re buying ale from th
‘You were right about God smiling on us.’ Palmer made his way there with the man, taking with thanks the cup from the woman selling it. The wooden cup of ale went down sweet and cold, and he paid for another.
A small, dirty boy ran past, hitting the barrel with a stick as he ducked through legs.
The ale seller saw him off with a swipe and a stream of interesting threats.
Palmer grinned. ‘We might have to step in if she catches th
‘True,’ the man replied. ‘She sounds like my wife.’ He took a drink with a long, satisfied sigh. ‘You married?’
Palmer shook his head. ‘Only have myself to worry about.’ The beer soured in his mouth with the ready lie. But he needed to stick to it. Theodosia was safe. No matter that he wished with every inch of his being that he could get straight back onto a boat to sail fo
‘Well, I’m going to find a whore,’ said the man. ‘It’s been weeks since I’ve cooled my loins. You joining me?’
‘Happy with my beer, my friend.’
‘Suit yourself.’ With a wave, the man was off.
A group of monks hustled along the quay from the direction o
e town gate, making for one of the ships that had pulled u
f course. They had come to greet Abbess Dymphna as she led her group of nuns off onto one of the best landings. Greetings floated on the still air as bundles and baskets were stacked off to one side, ready to be brought with her to the abbey that was her place of pilgrimage.
One of the nuns went to the pile and bent to untie a string that held two bags together, her pale hands working steadily in her
to unknot the thing. For a moment, the nun could have been his Theodosia, as he’d first encountered her all those years ago, robed in the dress of the Church. His Theodosia, who’d claimed his heart and who still stirred desire in him with a look, a touch. He smiled to himself, even as tears
his eyes. He took a huge gulp of beer to banish them. Any more feebleness and he’d stick his face in the seaweed-filled harbour instead.
Dymphna walked over to speak to the nun, who turned to answer.
Half the beer shot down Palmer’s nose.
Forcurse it to hell.
The woman didn’t only look like Theodosia: she
Palmer thrust the cup back at the beer seller and marched over to his wife and Dymphna, careless of
he pushed aside.
‘Can I help you with anything, sisters?’ His question came through clenched teeth.
Dymphna wouldn’t meet his eye. ‘I don’t think so, sir.’
‘No, thank, you, sir knight.’ Framed by her dark veil,
pale face flushed at his discovery of her even as joy lit her grey eyes. ‘We have all the assistance we need.’
‘Sisters.’ Palmer kept his tone low, polite, desires waging war within him. All he wanted was to pull her into his arms, crush her to him. Let loose a string of oaths at her foolhardiness. ‘If you don’t tell me what’s going on, I’ll put you over my shoulder and row you back to Milford Haven myself. And you will be with her, Abbess. King’s pilgrimage or not.’
‘You do not have to threaten me like a barbarian, Benedict.’ Theodosia’s voice came steady with defiance. ‘Or the Abbess. It is perfectly simple. I am not going to be left behind this time while you run into peril on behalf of the King, leaving me frantic with worry and not knowing if you are alive or dead, day in, day out.’
‘What of our children?’ A low blow, and he knew it.
She levelled her chin. ‘They are out of harm’s way and are surrounded by the most loyal protectors. And Tom knows how to wield a sword.’
‘Then your plan is to –
?’ he hissed. ‘To ride out for the Lord John, a holy sister on horseback, with a blade at the ready?’
The scream cut through every noise on the dockside, interrupting Theodosia’s response.
‘Who in God’s name is that?’ said Dymphna.
Palmer looked too.
A familiar robed figure writhed at the foot of the nearby
, yelling out a stream of pleas to God for help.
Theodosia grimaced. ‘It is the King’s clerk, Gerald.’
Gerald yelled louder. ‘My arm! Oh, Blessed Virgin and the choir of saints! My arm!’
One of the dockers bent to help him, but Gerald shoved the man away with his good hand. ‘Stay away. It was your plank that turned under my feet and sent me tumbling. Away, I tell you, away! You’ll not get the chance to harm me more.’ He shrieked again. ‘You there!’ He stretched a hand out to a group of open-mouthed knights who had stepped off another ship. ‘Protect me, bring me to the safety of Regnall’s Tower. Quickly.’
The knights complied, accepting an offer of an old sail from the docker. Manoeuvring a still shrieking Gerald onto it, they bore him away and headed off for the town gate.
Dymphna crossed herself. ‘The poor man. We shared his ship, and it could so easily have been one of us who fell and hurt
‘See?’ said Palmer to Theodosia. ‘What if it had been you?’ His heart quailed even at the thought of her injured, but he’d not show her. ‘This is no place for you.’
‘As I feel about you being here,’ said Theodosia, her respon
‘Theodosia will travel with me to my brother’s abbey at
,’ said Dymphna. ‘She will be perfectly safe there.’
‘More importantly,’ said Theodosia, ‘I can get news of you, Benedict, and can be with you in a short time if I have to be.’
Dymphna nodded. ‘She can travel from monastery to monastery, if necessary, to follow your progress with a prayerful one of h
He would love for it to be so, but he couldn’t allow it. ‘This is some of the greatest bilge I’ve ever heard,’ said Palmer. ‘You’ll stay at the abbey only until I can arrange to get you home. And that’s my final word.’
Theodosia’s cheeks flushed again, and he braced for her attempt at refusal. Then all colour left her face, as he knew it did from his own, at a male voice raised in query.
‘Which of you is Sister Theodosia?’
For a wild second, Palmer thought he could spirit her away through the crowd, but a monk walked up to them.
‘I am she,’ Theodosia replied with a panicked glance to Palmer.
‘Who makes such bold
of this holy sister?’ He took a step in front of her.
With a wary eye on Palmer, the monk bowed to her. ‘Not merely enquiries, sister. The royal clerk, Gerald, demands your
Palmer grabbed Theodosia’s bundle of belongings to add to his own. ‘Then let me carry these, so she can hurry.’ It was the first thing he could think of. An argument in this large crowd would only turn curious faces towards them.
‘You will wait for me, Mother?’ Theodosia asked Dymphna.
‘Indeed I shall.’ The Abbess turned to address the monk. ‘I am her superior, and I want to know what reason Gerald might have to seek her out. My permission for any requests he might make is not to be taken for granted.’
‘Of course, Abbess,’ said the monk. ‘Please, sister, make haste and come with me: the King’s clerk is in no fit state to be kept
Palmer didn’t care what state Gerald was in. All he cared about was getting Theodosia away from here to the security of the abbey and then home. They’d humour the clerk and then Palmer would make sure Theodosia left with Dymphna. At once.
Ushered in by the monk, Palmer followed Theodosia into Regnall’s Tower. It should have been quieter in there, but Gerald’s screams filled the large, circular stone room.
‘God release me from my agony!’ Henry’s clerk still lay on the sail in which he’d been carried, placed on a large chest as a makeshift bed. ‘My torment!’
‘May God grant you courage.’ Theodosia moved to his side with a hasty sign of the cross.
The monk who’d summoned them wrung his hands. ‘
out trying to find a barber-surgeon as we speak. But it’s so crowded. It could take much time.’
‘Make sure they do not bring me one who is from these shores. They will not be skilled unless it be in the dark arts.’
twitched, then howled again. ‘Mother of God, even to breathe i
‘That arm needs to be set as soon as possible.’ Palmer put down the two bundles he carried. ‘Theo—Sister, do you have some linen in your belongings that I can use?’
‘Yes, let me get some.’ She bent to her task as Palmer grabbed one of the stools set before the large lit fireplace. He bashed the stool against the stone hearth and freed two of the legs, stepping back quickly to Gerald’s side with the pieces of wood in on
‘Make a move and I’ll have your head.’
The hard-voiced threat came from behind him.
Theodosia took a step to Palmer as the clerk shrieked still louder. Palmer turned to see a shorter, muscular, dark-haired knight advancing on him, sword ready in one powerful hand, face drawn in a scowl. Or rather half his face. The
side was tight and red and shiny from a large, hideous scar.
The monk dropped to his knees in terror as Palmer’s free hand went for his own blade. ‘I mean the clerk no harm.’
The knight halted, appraising Palmer with his one good, dark, deep-set eye. His other eye would be no use, blank as a fish’s, with the red and watery lower lid pulled down by his scarred flesh. ‘Word reached me of an attack on Gerald.’
‘Let the man be, de Lacy,’ came Gerald’s sharp, breathless reply. ‘He is trying to fix me.’
De Lacy. Hugh de Lacy, Lord of Meath. Henry’s man in
. The one Henry suspected of treachery. The very reason Palmer was here. He released his grip on his sword.
‘Fix you? Why?’ De Lacy strode to Gerald’s side, sword lowered but still in a ready grip.
Theodosia helped the monk back to his feet, linen clutched in one of her hands. Her look to Palmer as she passed it to him showed
she recognised the name too.
‘My arm,’ moaned Gerald. ‘Broken by an ambush.’
‘Such a fall from the gangplank.’ Theodosia’s quick tact made Palmer proud.
‘We need to stop the bone from moving as soon as we can.’ Palmer bent to Gerald, aware of de Lacy’s stare on him.
‘You don’t look like a barber-surgeon to me, sir knight.’
‘Sir Benedict Palmer, my lord. And no, I’m not. But I’ve fixed enough bones on the battlefield in my time. Including my own wrist once. The more bones move, the more chance of inflamed flesh. We need to act quickly.’ Palmer held up the stool legs. ‘These will do for now.’
‘In the name of God’s love, stop delaying him, de Lacy,’ said the clerk.
‘Then do your work, Palmer,’ said de Lacy with a jerk of hi