The Unveiling (Age of Faith) Online - Tamara Leigh

CHAPTER ONE

Lincolnshire, England, October 1149

A nightmare seized him from sleep, turned around his throat, and filled his mouth so full he could not cry out. Desperate for air, he opened his eyes onto a moonless night that denied him the face of his attacker.

By all the saints! Who dares?

He struck out, but a second attacker appeared and pitched him onto his belly. Though a foul cloth had been shoved in his mouth, the loosening of hands around his throat permitted him to wheeze breath through his nose. Then he was yanked up from the blanket on which he had made his bed distant from his lord’s tent.

Too late realizing the error of allowing dishonor to incite him to isolation, he thrust backward and nearly found his release.

Hands gripped him harder and dragged him toward the wood.

Who were these miscreants who spoke not a word? What did they intend? Would they beat him for a traitor? Worse?

A noose fell past his ears. Feeling death settle on his shoulders, he knew fear that surpassed any he had known. He shouted against the cloth, struggled to shrug out from beneath the rope, splayed and hooked his useless hands.

Lord, help me!

The cruel hands fell from him, but as he reached for the rope, it tightened and snapped his chin to his chest. An instant later, he was hoisted off his feet. He flailed and clawed at his trussed neck but was denied even the smallest breath of air.

Realizing that this night he would die for what he had intended to do...for what he had not done...for Henry, he would have sobbed like the boy he ever denied being had he the breath to do so.

Unworthy! The familiar rebuke sounded through him, though it was many months since he had been called such.

Aye, unworthy, for I cannot even die like a man.

He turned his trembling hands into fists and stilled as the lessons taught him by Lord Wulfrith numbered through his mind, the greatest being that refuge was found in God.

Feeling his life flicker like a flame taking its last sip of the wick, he embraced the calm that settled over him and set his darkening gaze on one of his attackers who stood to the right. Though he could not be certain, he thought the man’s back was turned to him. Then he heard the wheezing of one who also suffered a lack of breath.

A mute cry of disbelief parted his lips. Of all those who might have done this, never would he have believed—

Darkness stole his sight, swelled his heart, and brought to mind a beloved image. He had vowed he would not leave her, but now Annyn would be alone.

Forgive me, he pleaded across the leagues that separated them. Pray, forgive me.

As death tightened its hold, he could not help but weep inside himself for the foolishness that had sent him to the noose.

His body convulsed and, with his last presence of mind, he once more turned heavenward. Do not let her be too long alone, God. Pray, do not.

Castle Lillia

Annyn Bretanne lowered her gaze from the moonless mantle of stars. “Jonas...” She pressed a hand over her heart. Whence came this foreboding? And why this feeling it had something to do with her brother?

Because you were thinking of him. Because you wish him here not there.

“My lady?”

She pushed back from the battlements and swung around. It was William, though she knew it only by the man-at-arm’s gruff voice. The night fell too black for the torches at the end of the wall-walk to light his features.

He halted. “You ought to be abed, my lady.”

As always, there was a smile in the title he bestowed. Like the others, he knew she was a lady by noble birth only. That she had stolen from bed in the middle of night further confirmed what all thought of one who, at four and ten, ought to be betrothed—perhaps even wed.

Though in such circumstances Annyn was inclined to banter with William, worry continued to weight her.

“Good eve,” she said and hastened past. Continuing to hold a hand to her heart, she descended the steps and ran to the donjon. Not until she closed the door on her chamber did she drop her hand from her chest, and only then to drag off her man’s tunic.

Falling onto her bed, she called on the one her brother assured her was always near. “Dear Lord, do not let Jonas be ill. Or hurt. Or...”

She turned aside the thought that was