Roberta Gellis


by Roberta Gellis
Ellora's Cave
ISBN: 9781419931819

An exquisite beauty trapped in a deadly game of political intrigue, Gilliane is an innocent pawn of the ruthless, power-hungry barons swarming around her. Forced to marry a man she abhors, she soon becomes the helpless prisoner—and dazzling prize—of her husband’s most dangerous foe, Adam Lemagne—only to surrender her heart to her handsome captor. In a breathtaking tale of forbidden desire and smoldering temptation, the star-crossed lovers must survive pain and peril in their stormy quest for love.

Excerpt from GILLIAN

Fear! Gilliane could scarcely remember a time when there was no fear. There was a vague memory of a man with a deep, warm voice who had tossed her in the air until she shrieked with laughter and had then folded her in his arms, who had called her his dark rosebud. But that had been long ago. All of Gilliane’s more recent memories were of shrinking into corners, of hiding when possible if a man came into view.

Someone had said—that was long ago, too, soon after the warm, strong presence had gone out of Gilliane’s life—that patience and resignation brought an end to fear. It was true and yet false. Perhaps if the fear had stayed the same, it would be possible to become accustomed, to bec6me resigned. But it did not stay the same. It changed and changed, and with each change it pricked anew, so that again Gilliane was forced to try to avoid the pain. And there lay another source of her inability to become resigned. By and large, Gilliane had been successful in discovering ways to escape the fear—not completely, though, never completely.

Always the fear lay like a shadow over her heart and mind so that she could never be happy, really happy. Resignation might have been better than cleverness, Gilliane thought. The early fears, now that she thought back upon them, had been like pinpricks, although they had seemed huge terrors to a little girl. It was a black horror to have changed, in one day, from being the center of loving attention whose every action and word called forth delighted laughter and warm embraces, to being the focus of blows and curses. Cleverness had taught Gilliane to avoid drawing notice to herself and, more important, to read every nuance in the faces and voices around her. She had learned to efface herself when possible, and when forced momentarily into notice, to match her words and manner to the mood of others. The blows became less frequent, the curses changed to indifference. The agony of terror diminished to a dull misery.

Too soon the agony had been reawakened. Gilliane found she was no longer a child, that the dark rosebud was blossoming into a beautiful flower. She noted a new expression in the eyes of the men of the family and in the eyes of men who came to visit the keep. At first Gilliane had been pleased, thinking she had at last won approval. Her brief hope had been quickly dispelled.

It was the shock of disappointment, as much as the physical pain and shame, that had brought black terror into Gilliane’s days and filled her nights with nightmares. Desperate for affection, she had responded quickly and openly to the sly, whispered praises of a young visitor to the keep. When he had begged her to meet him in the little wood a half-mile from the keep, she had agreed happily, thinking that there they would have freedom to talk, to gather spring flowers.

It was not that she was ignorant of the facts of life. Beasts coupled freely in the keep and on the demesne farms, and the servants coupled almost as freely and publicly. Merely, at twelve, Gilliane did not associate the act with herself. She was unaware of the invitation implicit in the small breasts that pushed out the front of her cotte, or the waist that had narrowed to emphasize the soft curve of her hips.

Thus, Gilliane was totally unprepared when she was seized and kissed hungrily. Surprise and a tentative gladness at what seemed for the moment a display of affection kept her quiescent at first. It was not until the tie at her neck was undone and a hand was thrust into her bosom that Gilliane understood the young man’s intentions. Then she began to struggle. The delayed reaction communicated the wrong message. Because Gilliane had responded so eagerly to his words and to the suggestion that they meet, the young man bought at first that she was being playful. When it became clear that her struggles to free herself were in ernest, fury inflamed lust. This young man knew the right treatment for teases. He tripped her with a leg behind her knees, knowing that he would fall atop her, that she would be half stunned and bruised, while his fall would be cushioned by her body. In the few moments that Gilliane gasped helplessly for breath, paralyzed by shock and pain, he had her gown up, his chausses down to his thighs. Despite his success this far, however, the young man was not an experienced rapist. Before he could make good his threat and truly thrust home, Gilliane had recovered her strength and breath.

Until that moment she had fought in silence, more afraid of the punishment she would receive for having sneaked out of the keep and exposed herself to this situation than of the situation itself. The violence and pain tilted the balance of her fear in the other direction, however, and she began to scream for help. The sudden shrill cries and renewed frantic struggle disconcerted the would-be rapist enough so that Gilliane was able to twist out from under him, roll away, and leap to her feet.

Unfortunately, escape did not end the nightmare for Gilliane. Had it done so, the memory might have been more amusing than terrifying. She had been bruised, of course, but she was accustomed to being bruised, and fear had never destroyed her sense of the ridiculous. When the shock- was past, she would have remembered the outraged cries, the limping pursuit that ended in a fall. A last glimpse over her shoulder as she fled showed Gilliane her attacker’s hasty struggle to stuff himself back into his chausses and tie them. That, together with the satisfaction of having accomplished her escape, would have overlaid Gilliane’s fear and made her cautious rather than bitter.

The real anguish began when she fled into the keep. Her distraught manner, the stained and disheveled clothes, the dirt, leaves, and twigs in her hair, told too plain a story. Still too shocked to think of an adequate excuse, Gilliane confessed the truth. She endured the beating she received stoically—being beaten was nothing new. What sealed horror into her mind was what followed. The questions were not so bad. Gilliane could answer those with truth; nothing had really happened, she had won free. However, her word was not accepted. She was stripped, spread-eagled, and questing fingers were thrust into her.

Revulsion had overwhelmed fear. Revulsion, too, would not allow the horror to pass from her mind. It returned again and again until, desperate to fix her thoughts anywhere else and unable to remove them from the central shame, Gilliane began to wonder why it should matter whether or not she was a maiden.

Little by little, from a remembered sentence, from a snide remark made by the daughters of the house, from misty memories, Gilliane pieced together her condition. She was an heiress! Not a great heiress, probably—she had no way of estimating what by law was hers—but enough of an heiress to make her a valuable pawn. Her father—that was the deep, warm voice, the tender, loving hands. Tears came to her eyes, although by twelve she thought she had been wept dry. She had almost completely forgotten him, suppressing the memory because it gave her such pain to compare her present condition with what it had been. Never mind pain—her father had been Guillaume de Chaunay and he had been pledged to…to King John, who was both Duke of Poitou and King of England.

In the beginning, those were the only facts Gilliane had, but clever, seemingly pointless questions and assiduous attention to what she had ignored previously gave her the story over the months and years. When Richard, who had also been Duke of Poitou and King of England, had died in 1199—the year after her birth and her mother’s death—John had inherited the lands. But John was not able, as Richard had been, to keep the barons from fighting among themselves. Little wars had broken out all over Poitou, and in one of them Gilliane’s father had died. She, the sole surviving child, had inherited the property.

For his services to the Comte de la Marche, Saer de Cercy had been given Gilliane as a ward. That meant that Gilliane’s estate was managed by Saer, and that the revenues from that estate came completely into his hands, except for the amounts paid to the Comte de la Marche. That fact told Gilliane two things. First, her estate was not very large or she would have been taken into the comte’s own household; and second, her life, as long as she had no children, was perfectly safe. She could be beaten and left hungry and cold, but she could not be killed or starved or frozen to death. As long as she was alive, Saer had the lands; if she died, they would revert to the Duke of Poitou.

The key word, however, was children. That was why she had been so eagerly examined. If she had been secretly acting the whore—as the incident might have led people to think—she might be with child, and that child would be her heir. A brief, vicious notion flicked in Gilliane’s mind, but she knew it was hopeless. Saer would never allow any child of hers, except from a husband of his choice, to live. There was another key word—husband. By the time Gilliane had worked out her situation, she was well ripe for marriage—fifteen.

Fear—sharper, deeper fear than ever before stabbed her. Soon—soon Saer would choose a husband for her. Gilliane thought of the life his wife led and had to press her hands to her mouth to muffle her whimpers of terror.

For months after that revelation, Gilliane crept around the keep, trying harder than ever to be invisible. She also did her best to conceal the fact that she was now completely a woman. Previously, she had made her clothes to fit her neatly. Now she let out all the seams until the garments hung loosely upon her. No one seemed to notice. Marie de Cercy was too dull, too numb from years of ill-treatment and humiliation, to care what Gilliane did—unless, like the escapade in the wood, it brought her husband’s wrath down upon her.

However, more months passed and no husband was brought forward. As her fear receded, Gilliane realized that Saer had no intention of marrying her to anyone, for as soon as he did, her revenues would go to her husband. Worse, the husband could ask for an accounting if the estate had been damaged or diminished. Gilliane guessed that Saer did not look forward to that. She was safe from the threat of marriage.

Perversely, once she was sure Saer meant to keep her unwed, Gilliane began to dream of marriage, of a strong man with a deep, rich voice who would protect her from her cruel warden. But the months slid slowly past and changed to another year, and no such romantic knight even passed briefly through her life to give form to her dream. Only the sound of a bass voice and a vague image of bigness drifted in and out of her night thoughts.

By 1214, it was not for the lack of seeing men that Gilliane’s dream still had no form. In the spring of that year, King John came to France to win back the lands that had been lost to the French king since 1203. Saer and his sons rode out to war. Twice, battle was joined quite near the keep. The castle itself was not attacked, but after each battle the wounded were carried there for shelter, and Gilliane learned to sew and clean wounds and to brew medicines that cooled fever and dulled pain.

It was then that her ease with the lesser castlefolk and with the fighting men-at-arms developed fully. Gilliane had always liked them—they were the only people who did not hurt her or regard her with contempt. Now she learned how to deal with them. Because she was the least of the ladies of the keep, it fell to her to direct the servants who performed the foulest tasks and to treat the common foot soldiers. Fear had pricked her again when she was ordered to these tasks, but very soon she blessed her fate. The “gentle” knights cursed and struck their nurses, reviling them for clumsiness or slowness in attendance. The “brutal” men-at-arms knew their place. They might strike or revile the maids and womenservants, but for Gilliane—a lady of the keep—they had only soft words of thanks.

Warmed by appreciation from even so unworthy a source, Gilliane strove to deserve the thanks. She became deft and gentle and begged the leech and the priest to tell her the herbs that would best bring ease to her suffering patients. She learned to give orders with a kind of gentle authority that made the servants and men-at-arms desire to obey her and feel ashamed to be slack or coarse.

Gilliane was very sorry when she learned, in August of 1214, that King John had been driven off. It was not that she regretted the loss of her little power—she pitied the sufferings of those who had brought her the power too much to regret its loss. Her disappointment was only because she associated John with her father, who had been John’s liegeman. Also, she had had a tiny hope that, if John won, she would be taken out of Saer de Cercy’s hands. Perhaps she should have feared a change of guardians or a marriage to one of John’s supporters, but hate had grown strong over the years and it seemed to Gilliane that her suffering in other hands—if she should suffer—would be amply repaid by Saer’s loss.

Instead, it seemed that she had fallen even further into Saer’s power. Emboldened by the part he had played in the destruction of John’s initiative in Poitou, Saer applied to the Comte de la Marche for the right to marry Gilliane to his second son, Osbert. The fear that seized her when she heard this news made her past terrors shrink into insignificance. Of all that loathsome family, Osbert was the worst. The eldest son was like his father; he was cruel and brutal but not unintelligent, and he was a brave man with confidence in himself. Osbert, however, was a coward—stupid, incompetent, and insecure, which made him torture and bully those weaker than himself and snivel and abase himself before the strong.

Gilliane understood Saer’s purpose in choosing Osbert to be her husband. On the one hand, there was probably no other way to provide for him. He was not a good enough fighter to win a prize of war or make a living out of tourneys. No one, not even a poorer knight than Saer, would want him as a son-by-marriage, so there was no hope of gaining a wife with a dower for him. On the other hand, Osbert was much too afraid of his father to question the condition of Gilliane’s estate when it was his. In fact, by marrying her to Osbert, Saer could keep things exactly as they now were. Osbert would not even dare to suggest that he and Gilliane live in her father’s keep or that they manage the property themselves.

One of the reasons Gilliane regretted that she had not become resigned was that the habit of struggling would not permit her to take her own life. She did think of running away, but Saer thought of that, too, and she was closely watched. All she could do was pray, and at first it seemed that those prayers were answered.

Permission was withheld. The Comte de la Marche did not refuse, he merely put the request aside because he was much busied with affairs of state stemming from John’s withdrawal and the truce that was being negotiated between King John and King Philip. He would look to the lands, he said vaguely, as soon as he had time, and then give his decision. Saer cursed and raged and beat Gilliane until his eldest son intervened, pointing out that, if he killed the girl, Marche would be looking all the sooner at the property, and with a less indulgent eye. Gilliane was abed for a week but still considered herself blessed by God because she knew Saer would not press the marriage.

For a time, life seemed to grow somewhat better, except that Gilliane’s anxieties were kept in the forefront of her mind by her need to avoid Osbert. He regarded her as his property and could see no reason why he should not use her while he waited for the official sanction of ownership. Fortunately, Saer ordered Osbert not to take her by force. He did not discourage his son from pursuing Gilliane; if Osbert could win her agreement, it would be a strong point in his favor. However, there was enough of a chance that the Comte de la Marche would ask her if she was willing and remove her from Saer’s power if she complained to make Saer order that she be treated with consideration. The comte might not really care how Gilliane felt, but her objections would serve as an excellent excuse to give her to someone of his own choice;

Thus, 1215 passed in relative peace. Gilliane was no longer beaten or given the dullest work. She was taught to embroider and do other “lady’s” tasks. No doubt Saer thought she was an idiot and would overlook years of ill-usage; Gilliane did not forget, but she did not give anyone reason to believe her hate was unchanged. In 1216, Saer’s attention was diverted from Gilliane by the news from England. Ordinarily, he paid little attention to any political situation that did not affect him directly, but this one had interesting possibilities. The barons of England had become so dissatisfied with their king that they had sent messengers to appeal to King Philip of France to send his son, Prince Louis, to destroy John and take on the kingship of England.

Saer was indifferent to the relationship between John and his barons, but he knew, if Philip decided to let Louis go to England, the French king would be too wise to allow his son to depend on the good will of the rebellious English barons. Having broken their oath of loyalty once, they would find it easy to break it a second time and return to their allegiance to John. Thus, if Louis went to England, he would need a strong tail of good fighting men to back him. Moreover, it was those men in whom his trust would rest. When keeps were taken and men were needed to hold those keeps, it would be Louis’s French knights who would be given the lands. Throughout the spring of 1216, Saer paid close attention to the news from the French court and discussed the risks and advantages exhaustively with his eldest son. To Gilliane’s almost incredulous joy, when Louis went to England in late May, Saer and Osbert went with him.

During the spring and early summer of 1216, Roselynde keep lay tightly shut and doubled guards marched the great walls and watched land and sea for enemies. Within, Lady Alinor alternately cursed King John in language that brought admiration to the eyes of her foulest-mouthed man-at-arms and worried about her loved ones. Her husband, Lord Ian de Vipont, was with the king, who lay brooding in Winchester. Her daughter and son-by-marriage were locked into Hemel keep, far too close to the rebel stronghold of London. Worst of all, her eldest son, Adam—eldest by being the male first born of her but still very young in years—held his own lands centering on the castle at Kemp—a pocket of resistance to Louis, who controlled most of the southeast of England.

In fact, Lady Alinor had more to worry about in the case of Adam’s well-being than she knew. In July, Gilbert de Neville, Lord of Tarring, had abjured his oath to King John and sworn allegiance to Prince Louis. He had received the reward for his treachery rather more quickly and completely than most others, however. Within a month of shifting his loyalty, he had died in a tourney designed to entertain the idle hours of the French and English barons quartered in London. If some of the English lords had a faint suspicion that the accident was not totally accidental, their suspicion was lulled by the contrition of Saer de Cercy, at whose hand Gilbert had died, and by the urgent need to believe that Louis would not countenance murder by his men of his English supporters.

There was comfort, too, in the fact that Louis had promptly dispatched men to help Gilbert de Neville’s son when he sent word that he was being attacked. Anxiety was reawakened by the knowledge that Saer was chief of the men sent to help Neville and by the news that young Gilbert had been sorely wounded in the battle and was like to die. However, by the end of August, Saer was back in London, reporting triumphantly that he had redeemed his unintentional slaying of the father by saving the life of the son. It was true, he reported, that young Neville would never be a man. A severe blow on the head had addled his wits and he had lost his right hand and part of his left leg—but he was alive.

Now Saer proposed that, since young Neville’s virility was unimpaired, he should be married at once so that he could breed up children. Thus, the lands would remain with the blood of Neville, and the father’s death would bring no ultimate loss to the family. There were raised brows at this proposal, but Saer did not suggest a daughter of his own to be the bride, as many suspected he would. Instead he offered his ward, Gilliane de Chaunay, a girl of good estate and totally unconnected to him by blood.

There were grumblings and mumblings because it seemed to some that Saer would still be tied too closely to the Neville lands, but such questions faded into insignificance before the fact that King John was stirring again. There was word that the king was gathering men and supplies and would soon take the field. No one wanted the thankless task of defending Neville’s property, which all knew bordered on territory controlled by a family that staunchly supported the king. In spite of angry looks here and there, no other solution to Neville’s problem was offered. A marriage contract, which stated the case very clearly and bestowed the lands upon Neville’s children should any be born, and upon Neville’s wife should there be no children, was drawn up, signed and sealed with churchmen as its guarantors and witnesses.

His main purpose achieved, Saer returned to Tarring to survey his new domain. He found it incomplete. The port in a wide estuary some two miles south of the castle was endangered by a small keep on a rise of land called Telsey cliffs. No attack from Telsey had ever been launched on the harbor, but it was in the hands of a man opposed to Louis. Saer dispatched Osbert to bring Gilliane to England and determined to add a bit to the bride’s estate while he waited for her to arrive. He opened the strongboxes of Tarring and with that money hired mercenaries, who were plentiful. Then he rode out to invest the keep at Telsey cliffs.

Saer was surprised and, at first, somewhat amused by the resistance he met. The little keep could not possibly hold out for more than a week or two without help—and what help could come? Saer had already determined that the overlord of Telsey’s castellan was Adam Lemagne, a boy of eighteen who was shut up, apparently for his own safekeeping, in his major stronghold at Kemp. Saer knew also that the boy’s stepfather, Lord Ian de Vipont, and his brother-by-marriage, Lord Geoffrey FitzWilliam, had the reputation of being redoubtable warriors and battle leaders. But the stepfather was with King John and the brother-by-marriage was protecting his own lands north of London. By the time either of them could come, Telsey would be safely destroyed. Not discouraged by the fact that his orders to yield were ignored and his first attack was beaten off, Saer settled his men for the night, determined that they would take the castle by assault the next day.

It did not work out quite that way. About an hour before false dawn, when the night was darkest and the sentries in Saer’s camp were drowsy with watching and with confidence that no night attack would be launched from the keep, a whirlwind descended upon the besiegers. At its center was a giant with a voice like a trumpet.

“Lemagne!” the trumpet blared. “Lemagne!” The appellation, Saer thought when he had time to think, was all too appropriate. “The Strong” fulfilled the promise of voice and name only too completely, each time the sword he used was lifted, red streams ran down its blade, and each time it descended, a man died or was maimed. However, Saer and his men were not novices. In a few minutes, arms had been assumed, weapons snatched up, defensive groups formed. The toll taken by the whirlwind lessened.

As confusion in Saer’s party diminished, confidence was restored. It soon became apparent that they were by far the stronger. Slowly Adam and his men were forced back toward the walls of Telsey. Saer had a brief feeling of victory when it seemed that the castellan would not open the keep to take in his own overlord. At the last minute, however, the gates did swing wide— not, to Saer’s fury, to give entrance to the fighters and possibly also to their pursuers, but for the garrison to pour out and fall upon Saer’s force anew. So fierce was this second attack that Saer drew his men back to regroup and to offer the trap of seeming retreat. The bait was not taken. Instead, Adam and his castellan, Robert de Remy, called in their men and withdrew into the keep.

By then the sky was pink with the rising sun and Saer could judge the extent of his losses. He was furious and appalled. It was particularly galling because there was no way of hiding the damage done him and because it had been done by a mere boy. However, the dead were carried away, the wounded tended, and the camp put back in order. Before the work was quite complete, Saer was hailed from the walls. He hissed instructions to a group of men near him and rode forward, helmeted and mailed, with his shield raised to guard against arrows from the wall, to hear what the besieged had to say. The young giant stood on the wall, bareheaded, his straight black hair lifting in the morning breeze.

“You have made a mistake,” Adam said calmly to Saer, “and have been punished for your foolishness. Now take your men and go. I give you leave and pass my word I will not pursue you if you do not despoil my people further.”

Saer choked at the effrontery. Even considering his losses, the combined force inside Telsey was inferior to his own. The probability of his being able to take the keep was still high.

“Do not make another mistake,” Adam warned, “or think me a vainglorious boy child. My other men are summoned and will be here in two days’ time.”

Saer laughed aloud. “You must really think me a fool to believe I would swallow so plain a falsehood. If men were coming, would you tell me?”

Adam shrugged. “I have given you the benefit of the doubt. It so happens that I have more important bones to crack than yours. You have, as yet, done me no real harm, so I am willing to allow you to depart in peace. You will find—if you do not go—that I never lie.” A chuckle shook the mighty frame. “Sometimes I am not quite so open as I have been…”

Three things happened simultaneously. Saer made a small gesture with his right hand, which he was sure could not be seen from the castle wall. The crossbow-men who had accompanied him threw down the shields behind which they had concealed their wound bows, raised them and fired. Adam dropped to a crouch behind his own shield, which had been leaning against the facing of the wall. Several arrows thunked into the shield. Several more flew just above it, where Adam’s broad chest had been, and another few whirred by still higher, aimed at his head. Even while the arrows were In the air, Saer’s party had set spurs to their horses and galloped away out of range of reprisal. However, no shafts followed them—only the sound of merry, contemptuous laughter and the trumpet voice calling, “I warned you not to make another mistake.”

The laughter made Saer more uneasy than he would admit to himself. He kept his men hard at work through the rest of the day, finishing the scaling ladders and the ram for the gates, and he sent out small parties to scout the land to the west and north. To his captains, he said that one might know the cockerel was lying, but only an equally vainglorious fool would fail to take a cheap, easy precaution. It was most peculiar, however, that when the parties came back to report no sign of any force moving anywhere, Saer felt even less confident and sent other parties out to watch.

Within the keep there was also considerable activity, although some of it would have puzzled Saer had he a spy to tell him what was happening. Most of the men and women were occupied with the ordinary tasks of war. Weapons were checked and readied, oil and sand heated for pouring from the walls, poles prepared for pushing away ladders. However, other parties were more curiously employed. All day water was drawn from the deep wells in the bailey until every barrel, pot, pan, skin—anything that would hold liquid—was full. As fast as vessels were filled, they were emptied—slowly, carefully, so that as much water would soak in as possible and as little be wasted. The water was poured over every flammable thing, particularly the foot-thick planks and bars of the gates that dosed the walls.

Toward evening, Saer’s men had finished their work and gathered around the campfires for a well-deserved meal. They did not unarm or relax their vigilance. One surprise had taught them that much, and it was a common tactic of desperation to launch an attack when one’s enemy was concentrating on eating rather than on fighting. They would have been even warier had they seen, as the sun set and the breeze began to blow off the land and out toward the sea, Adam and about twenty of his men stringing six-foot bows.

When the bows were strung, each man took a handful of shafts tipped not with steel but with pitch-soaked heads of soft wood, and, carrying clay pots filled with red coals, they mounted the walls. The breeze freshened, faded, at last blew steadily offshore. On Adam’s signal, twenty shafts were thrust into twenty pots, lifted to the bows and sent flying out—out into the dry grass of the hillside on which Saer’s camp lay. The sentries called a warning when they saw the shafts black against the sky, but the flicker of flame at the tips did not show and the men snickered with contempt when they saw how far short of the camp the arrows had fallen.

For a while, they continued to laugh as four or five more volleys followed, not coming much closer. It seemed a remarkably silly waste of arrows. The laughter checked when smoke began to rise from the hillside and little tongues of fire could be seen licking up from amid the uncut hay. The horses began to stamp and whinny as the smoke rolled down toward them, driven by the breeze. Some ran to quiet the horses, others to wet blankets to beat out the fire. Saer came roaring and cursing from his tent.

In the midst of the confusion, trumpets could be heard blowing within the keep. The men fighting the fire rushed back to help saddle the horses. The fire was not really dangerous. Obviously it was a device to disorder the camp so that another surprise attack could be made. Horses, however, do not like fire. They kicked and sidled, delaying a process that ordinarily took only a few minutes. Meanwhile, the gates of the keep had opened and a substantial troop had ridden out. Saer’s men cursed but went on calmly enough with what they were doing. The fire worked both ways. If their horses were recalcitrant, so would those of Adam Lemagne’s men be. They could never drive the beasts across the widening band of smoking, scorching grass in any kind of organized charge.

Calm purpose held until, suddenly, flaming pitch-headed arrows began to fly into the camp itself, setting tents and supply wagons alight, here and there striking a man or a horse so that shrieks and wildly bucking animals turned organized activity into panicky chaos. Those who could leapt into their saddles, but there was no way they could come at their tormentors directly, and, as they rode northeast to get around the burning area, they heard the laughter of Adam and his men drifting with the smoke on the seaward breeze.

Long before any of Saer’s party could come upon them, Adam’s troop was safely back in Telsey keep. They had the pleasure of standing quietly on the walls and watching the besiegers lose at least half of their tents and supplies and all of their night’s rest while they fought the fires with inadequate means. Robert de Remy stamped his feet and slapped his overlord fondly on the shoulder.

“My lord, my lord,” he laughed, “how did you think of that?”

Adam smiled also, but his hazel eyes were bright and hard with anger. “The Earl of Leicester, who was my lord, God rest him, did not believe in expending men or money uselessly or in permitting his property to be damaged. If a subtlety could save lives or lands, he was not afraid to use it.”

“A subtlety,” de Remy chortled, “a sweet, hot subtlety, but I fear those who must eat of it will not be grateful for their dessert.”

He was punning on the use of the word subtlety to describe the towering food sculptures that customarily were constructed by cooks and bakers to signal the end of each course in great state dinners. Adam smiled again in acknowledgment of the pun, but his eyes narrowed with consideration as he watched the activity in Saer’s camp.

“Set a double watch,” he said to de Remy, “and bid the men use their ears as well as their eyes. This device can work two ways—both are to our advantage, but we must be ready with the right action for either one. Perhaps that French reaver will lose his temper and come upon us tonight, as soon as they are safe from the fire, or perhaps he will wait over tomorrow to rest his men. If they come tonight, they will be half dead already from their labor and we will have no trouble casting them off.”

“And if they do not come until tomorrow, we will have help from Devil’s Dyke and Trueleigh,” de Remy put in eagerly.

“So I hope. The weather has held well, but we must be ready to protect ourselves if some accident should hold back William and Hugh. Hmmm…I wonder…”

“Another subtlety, my lord?”

“Not so subtle and more dangerous, I am afraid, but if they do not come tonight, set some men to watch where they store the scaling ladders they have made. It may be, if they are not kept too deep in the camp, we can send men with skins of oil and set fire to those.”

Saer was livid with rage when he took account of the new damage Adam had done, but he was not so angry as to lose his common sense. Not only were his men exhausted from battling the fire while they kept one nervous eye on Telsey, lest more deviltry emerge to plague them, but they were beginning to feel inferior in spite of their greater numbers. It would be better to let them rest the next day while their captains inflamed their tempers and their greed with talk of the fact that they would be allowed to rape and loot unrestricted, owing to Saer’s anger. Nor did Saer forget, at mid-afternoon of the next day, to broadcast the news from his scouts that no force was approaching. Thus, either Lemagne had lied, thinking he could frighten them, or, better still, the men he had summoned had disappointed him.

About the same time that Saer was announcing that Adam’s hopes of help would certainly not be realized before the attack, Robert de Remy was slyly contesting his lord’s will. He had not been trained in diplomacy, but he had lived thirteen years longer than his young overlord and had younger brothers. Therefore, when Adam said he would lead the raid into Saer’s camp, Sir Robert did not exclaim that it was too dangerous. What he said was that Adam should have more consideration for his men than to expose them to instant recognition.

“No one,” he remarked dryly, “has seen any giants among the serfs carrying wood and water in de Cercy’s camp. Perhaps, had you hidden yourself in the fighting the night before last, or listened to me when I begged you to let me talk to him from the wall, the sudden appearance of a mammoth among their servants might be overlooked. I do not say it is likely, but…”

“Oh, I can bend over a bit, or…”

“Or walk upon your knees, perhaps?” Sir Robert asked tartly. “Assuredly, no one would notice that!”

Adam laughed, even while he frowned with irritation. He was considerably bigger than the usual run of well-fed noblemen; he was gigantic compared to the usual serf who, aside from the castle servants, suffered constant low-grade malnutrition and occasional semi-starvation, which stunted the growth. The plan they had devised was to creep down to Saer’s camp under cover of darkness dressed as servants, and try to fire the ladders at dawn in this guise. Meanwhile, another attack from the keep would divert Saer’s men and, they hoped, permit the arsonists to escape. Adam had to admit that he would be more a danger than a help to his men if one of Saer’s party noticed him—and he was hard to overlook. At last he conceded that Sir Robert must go, merely warning his castellan to keep his mouth shut because he did not speak English and his unaccented French would betray him as surely as Adam’s size would identify him.

Just before sunrise, Adam ordered the gates opened and led the castle garrison and his own men down on the camp with the greatest amount of noise and confusion he could manage. Under the circumstances, it was no surprise to anyone that the attack was expected. Adam and his men were met with a fury bred of frustration tinged with fear, and were thrown back toward the keep. Had Saer been less angry, perhaps he would have wondered why his enemies were so much less hardy in this attack than in the previous ones. However, an automatic mechanism that equated besieged with losses and weakness combined with his rage and his desire and blinded him to this new trap.

A chance view of his own camp marked by eddies of smoke and flame where neither smoke nor flame should be dispelled the illusion. The revelation of the trick did not alter Saer’s intention, as Adam had hoped. He did not rush back to his camp to put out the fires. He was old in war and knew he still had the advantage of numbers and situation. If his force could maintain close contact with Adam’s party, either they could defeat them on the field or follow them into the keep when the gates were opened, which was a far easier method of taking the place than going over the walls. The fact that Adam and his men began to fight with more efficiency and ferocity at the same time was more of an encouragement. Saer read desperation into that fact.

Adam was not unaware of the danger. If they should be beaten back under the walls of Telsey, his men would sustain greater losses than he had planned. As he roared encouragement to his followers, he wondered where Sir William from Devil’s Dyke and Sir Hugh from Trueleigh were. His instructions had been clear, and wind and weather had been consistent and favorable. Of course, there was always the possibility that another of Louis’s men had attacked Trueleigh or Devil’s Dyke at the same time de Cercy had attacked Telsey. If so, this was a concerted attempt to root out any opposition to Louis in the south of England—and it might well succeed.

In the end, Adam’s worst fears were dispelled. Horns called from the walls of the keep and Adam drew back from the fighting to look toward Saer’s camp and the sea. The camp was full of men, and the servants were fleeing it. In a few minutes, the men were through the camp and pounding up the slope toward the fighting. Aware of the cessation of Adam’s voice encouraging his men, Saer thrust away his opponent and also drew back to look around hopefully. Perhaps his infuriating adversary had been killed or wounded. Instead, he saw the young giant staring out over the battle.
Saer did not need to turn and look. He knew that Adam had redeemed his promise; his men had come to his support in two days, as he had said. Saer even knew how he had been fooled again. The men had come by sea rather than across the land where his patrols had watched for them. They had landed farther down the coast and had ridden up through territory Saer thought he had secured to attack from behind. Raging but impotent, Saer bellowed for retreat, spurring his horse frantically northeast into the narrowing area between Adam’s troops and the oncoming group led by Adam’s vassals.

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© Roberta Gellis      Wednesday May 04 2011 7517

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