Avice climbed the stairs to answer the knock at the door of the only place she’d known as home since she’d come to England. In this busy market town Damien had allowed her to make a home. Though they lived on the ground floor of the tower, he had made it into a palace almost matching the grandeur of the King’s suite, three stories above.
She liked their rooms better than the King’s suite. The space at the base of the tower was much bigger than the room at the top of the stairs. They could have an anteroom, where the King had only a bed chamber.
She pulled back the bolt and opened the door, but what she saw was wrong.
Nothing could have prepared her for what she saw.
Nothing would have made her ready to see Damian cradled in the arms of his best friend. It should have been the other way around.
Nothing would have prepared her for the red staining his tunic. She had just brought it from the laundress this morning.
Nothing should have kept her from crumpling to the floor in anguish. This should never have happened. He was…too good.
But she was prepared. Damian had told her a thousand times exactly what to do should this moment ever occur. And she would follow his commands to the letter.
Without a word she stepped aside and he carried Damien’s body down the stairs.
Damien’s friend—Damien’s student—Damien’s finest student followed her to the bed chamber. Set his body on their bed. The bed they had shared with Damien for five years. The bed where, tonight, she had planned to tell him.
He had accused her of getting fat. She had always been slender. He liked her that way. Tonight she would have said, “I am not getting fat Damien, I am getting ready to welcome your son.” She had hoped it would give him reason to consider retiring. He had money enough to live comfortably for the rest of his life. The masters had seen to that.
He stood back looking as if he had lost his way, swaying to and fro as though might fall dead as well. This thief who had stolen her life.
He handed her the key, the key Damian always wore around his neck, and she noticed the blood oozing from his arm.
She clutched the key tightly in her hand, wishing she could plunge it into his heart like he had plunged the knife into her beloved.
Could she kill him? Probably not. Damian had trained him. And if he was good enough to kill Damian, he could easily kill her, even in his current condition.
She placed the key in the wooden box atop the ornately carved cupboard standing next to the bed. Damien had had it sent over from outremer just because she said she missed the one she had in her old room. There was probably not another like it in all of England.
She pulled a roll of thinly stripped linen from the cupboard. Led the thief to the anteroom table. Poured the cup of whiskey she would have served to Damien.
He drank and she poured another, then unable to stand his presence any longer, she picked up the bowl and went to the cistern for water.
The faint scent of roses filled her nose as she crossed the yard, but the promise of their full bloom smelled salty, like the blood of her beloved that somewhere stained the ground. She faltered, nearly broke and cried as her reflection glared back at her in the moonlit pool.
Not yet. She must get through this. Everything now depended on her. Her ability to survive, the life of her child, the lives of a hundred men, all depended on her.
One despondent, forlorn spy.
I better get back to writing or I'll never get done by the 30th.