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The Exiled : War of the Roses Series : Book 2 - Posie Graeme-Evans

The Exiled

War of the Roses Series : Book 2

Paperback

Published: 1st October 2010
Ships: 10 to 14 business days
10 to 14 business days
RRP $22.99
$21.50

In this windswept story set in the lusty fifteenth century, the enchanting Anne faces the challenge of raising her child in exile. Always resourceful, she flourishes as a merchant and is able to support her household. But the local businessmen aren't pleased about competing with a woman and her foes are multiplying around her, desperate to put her back in what they believe is her rightful place.

Anne has a secret that her enemies could use to destroy her. Her beloved son is the product of a passionate affair with the king, Edward IV, who knows nothing of his existence. If this information were to fall into the wrong hands, it could prove lethal for Anne and her child. She struggles to find peace in a world of duplicity and suspicion, where adversaries masquerade as allies, and someone very powerful wants her dead. Yet, despite the pressure of her enemies, what pains Anne the most is that she is unsure when or if she will see her darling Edward again.

About the Author

Posie Graeme-Evans is the author of five novels, most recently The Island House. She has worked in the Australian film and television industry for the last thirty years as an editor, director, and producer on hundreds of primetime television programs, including "McLeod's Daughters" and "Hi-5." She lives in Tasmania with her husband and creative partner, Andrew Blaxland.

Chapter 1

Chapter One


"Enough. Rest now. You must be stiff."

The girl kneeling in front of the casement window stretched and sighed, easing her clenched muscles. It was true she was stiff, and cold also, from holding the pose. The charcoal braziers had burned out long ago and the room was frigid.

"We have worked well today, you and I." The painter, oblivious to the temperature and happy to chat as he ground pigment in his mortar -- it would yield rich scarlet when bound with boiled linseed oil and powdered gum arabica -- spoke truthfully, for the girl had knelt uncomplainingly for several hours. That was unusual among his clients, and he was grateful.

Satisfied, finally, with the consistency of the bloody paint he'd now mixed in an oyster shell, he took some to the tip of his brush and smiled apologetically.

"If you are ready, I must use this light, mistress; perhaps a little more padding for the knees?" He smiled encouragingly as she knelt again, but then frowned as he leaned toward his canvas, lost once more in catching that annoyingly elusive highlight on one small fold of the velvet that was giving him trouble, such trouble...

Sound traveled well in that still, icy dusk. The shouts of children playing on the frozen canal outside the painter's narrow house bounced off the walls inside the studio when, finally, the man put his brush down and stood back from the picture.

He flicked a glance toward his sitter, obediently kneeling still. She was rimmed by the last of the light outside his casement and he could barely see her face, for the red sky in the west was darkening; soon the oil lamps, the tallow dips, and the candles would be lit against shadows all over his city.

"That is all for today, mistress. The light is gone."

Gratefully, Anne de Bohun sat back on her heels, allowing her body to slump, as she flexed stiffened fingers one by one.

"Maestro? May I look?"

"Not yet, mistress. Bad luck to look on it unfinished. Perhaps tomorrow."

She understood his reluctance perfectly. It would be hard letting something out into the world, even when it was finished, if you'd brought it into being. Very well, she could wait a little longer.

Without fuss, Anne picked up a winter cloak and draped it around her shoulders. Best to cover the garnet-red velvet of the dress she was wearing, for it was the most valuable thing she owned and there were strangers on the streets this winter. She did not want to invite robbery -- or worse.

"Lotta! Bring light!" The painter's voice was shockingly loud as he yelled for his servant, not even bothering to open the door and call down the stairs. She would hear him.

As they waited, Hans Memlinc, the German painter, watched Anne covertly while he cleaned his brushes -- those ivory hands with their long, capable fingers pinning her cloak together, smoothing the folds of the stiffened veiling surmounting the embroidered cap that hid her hair. He'd never seen her hair. He was sad about that.

Anne de Bohun was a mystery. His paintings cost a great deal of money, but she'd not balked at the price when they'd struck the contract. Yet, if gossip was correct, she was not, herself, personally wealthy, even if her guardian, Mathew Cuttifer, the English merchant, was. Perhaps he had paid.

There was a timid little thump at the door. Suppressing irritation, Memlinc leaned over and flicked the iron latch up. The door swung into the room, revealing the anxious face of his servant, Lotta. She was holding a branch of lit candles in one hand, a small, sputtering oil lamp in the other. She was very young and flustered, and her anxiety to please her master made her clumsy. She dripped oil from the lamp onto her kirtle as she curtsied to her master and his guest.

"Set the candles down, girl. Not there!" Lotta had hurried to comply, putting the branched lights down on the first available surface, his worktable cluttered with mortars for grinding pigment and pots full of brushes. "How many times? No! Put the candles in front of the mirror; it will double the light."

Anne took pity on the harried child. It had been only so little time since she, too, had been a servant. "There, Lotta, give me the lamp for your master. And please let Ivan know I am ready to go home."

Gratefully, Lotta scuttled out of the studio, and Anne glanced at the painter as he dropped a fine muslin cloth over the face of his work. The material was held away from the surface by a delicate wire prop. Delicate things pleased them both. They smiled at each other.

"Thank you, Maestro. Today was a good day. I shall look forward to our final session together tomorrow." Such a subtle stress on the word "final," but the painter heard her, heard what she meant, and surprised himself by nodding. Yes, they would finish tomorrow.

Anne reached up and carefully placed the little terra-cotta lamp on a shelf above his worktable, where the uncertain light spilled down to the painter's best advantage, then began fastening iron-shod wooden pattens over her soft shoes.

"Until tomorrow, then."

She was grateful that tomorrow would bring completion, for it had been a lengthy process, sitting for the painter, and she was impatient to have the picture home.

Hans Memlinc had no idea how important his work was to Anne. It was only paint, canvas, and the skill of his hands, but this picture was Anne's private, tangible symbol of hope, hope for her future, and her future success in this city, and as such was worth every one of the carefully hoarded gold angels she would pay.

Anne's pattens clicked on the painter's tiled floor as she left his studio smiling happily. Belated conscience struck him and he called after her, "I've kept you late, mistress. You must be careful going home. There are too many mercenaries in town this winter. Wild and silly, most of them, but no one is safe after the curfew bell."

She laughed. "I'm not worried. The Watch'll have chained the streets by now. Soldiers all drink too much anyway. I can outrun them, Maestro!" He heard her giggle as she clattered happily down his staircase and he found himself grinning.

Anne was still smiling as Ivan, her guardian's Magyar manservant, closed the front door of the painter's house behind them. He'd been waiting in Master Memlinc's warm kitchen, quite happy to while away another winter's day chaffing little, shy Lotta and flirting with Eva, the cook-housekeeper. She was substantial, Eva, with an abundance of good flesh packed tightly into a pretty skin. He liked that. She liked him. They had been pleasant times.

"The picture will be finished tomorrow, Ivan, so no more happy days with Eva." Spooked by Anne's prescience, the man nearly dropped his flambeau. He crossed himself quickly, but she saw it.

"What's this, Ivan? A prayer? Who for? Eva?"

Her laughter was so unforced, so clear in the dark, sharp air that Ivan was ashamed. She was not a witch, this girl, just clever -- for a woman. Cautiously he smiled, and held the light higher.

Anne pulled on her one winter indulgence -- fleece-lined mittens -- as she breathed deeply of the wood-smoke air. A few minutes' brisk walk beside the frozen canal and she would reach her guardian's new house with its warehouse near the Kruispoort -- one of the nine fortified gates of the city of Brugge -- but Ivan would have his hand on the hilt of a short stabbing sword the whole way.

It was a good feeling, if she was honest, that he was her protector, for the town was filled with outlanders this winter: mostly mercenaries in the service of the Duke of Burgundy who roamed the streets waiting for the end of winter and the certainty of the coming spring campaigns. The Lowlands were still restless and their new duke had much to do to secure his duchy, let alone deal with the French. Mercenaries are only ever half tame, everyone knew that, and winter made them dangerous: too much time on their hands and too much blood from rich food and good beer.

Ivan understood. As a very young man he, too, had been dangerous -- still was, in a more controlled way -- which was why he'd been hired by Sir Mathew Cuttifer, Anne's patron and guardian, to help protect his interests in this city. Anne fell into that category for reasons Ivan was not paid to understand.

Brugge, this Venice of the North, was booming and there were rich pickings to be had, and not just for English merchants with interests outside Britain, like Sir Mathew. Young, landless men are always attracted to wealth, and many here had more ambition than a short lifetime's service as one of the Duke of Burgundy's paid fighters.

And it was hard to be poor in such a place, hard not to be envious of other people's good fortune -- if you had none yourself -- for wool, spices, and jewels arrived daily in barges down the Zwijn from the coast. More wealth to add to that already stuffed in behind the sturdy walls of this dynamic city -- and Sir Mathew and his friends, the English Merchant Adventurers, commanded much of it.

Thus it was Ivan's job to see that his master, and his master's ward, Lady Anne de Bohun, lived in peace, the peace he could help give them in dangerous times when so many coveted Sir Mathew's rich possessions, this girl included. He took the office seriously as a matter of professional pride.

Anne was a realist, too, for all the joking with Meinheer Memlinc. It was the darkest time of the year and she was grateful to have this short, powerfully squat man pacing at her side, alert as a hunting dog.

Cold air breathed up from the ice of the canal as she walked. Anne shivered, though she and Ivan were moving briskly, her pattens clicking on the cobbles, he pacing beside her in good leather boots, matching his stride to hers.

Around them, houses crowded thick and tight, and warm light bloomed from some proud windows, though much of the town was dark. It was the wealthy who kept lights burning on into the night: the merchants, nobles, and priests who thronged around the new Duke of Burgundy as his court formed, eager for advancement.

Sensible people went to bed even before the curfew bell, however, for heat and light were expensive in winter and it was easier, and cheaper, to stay warm under the covers. You didn't need light in bed.

Nearly there now, nearly there. Anne could see Mathew's house on the other side of the frozen canal just past the bridge. It was well lit for her homecoming and that was good: her toes were burning, tingling with the cold, pattens or no pattens to keep them out of the muck.

"Mistress?"

Ivan had slowed his pace and spoke softly.

"Hold the light, lady."

He was always calm in a crisis, Ivan, for he'd survived far too many bloody turns to get excited, but even he, now, was tense, because ahead of them, blocking the narrow bridge across the canal that led to Sir Mathew's house, was a compact group of silent men. Faint light from the stars caught the movement as they silently drew swords.

"Behind me. Drop the light when I tell you." Ivan breathed the words and Anne slid quietly into his shadow.

"Now!"

The flambeau's light hissed out into the dirty, banked snow at the lane's edge, but as it died, the flame showed Anne another three men behind them.

"Ivan, behind us. Three more!"

"The canal. Jump when I yell." It was the only choice and so, as he sprang toward the men on the bridge screaming, "A moi, Sainte George!" Anne kicked off her pattens, scooped up her skirts, and ran to the edge of the canal.

Too late to think, too late to judge the drop from bank to ice, she half fell, half dropped down, and though she rolled as soon as she hit the hard surface, to cushion the jolt, she knew she'd soon feel the shock in her muscles -- if she survived.

Above her there were shouts from the bridge as Ivan fought his way into the midst of the attackers. The men had seen her drop and someone was yelling, "Get the girl, get the girl!" but Anne still had an advantage of seconds, though she was encumbered by long skirts.

Breathing raggedly, heart jolting, she scrabbled to her feet and blessed the lessons of moving over the ice that Ivan had made her practice this winter -- one foot, next foot, striving for balance. Then fear turned to panicked acid in her throat: she had to cross the fragile, new ice in the center of the canal if she was to reach Sir Mathew's frozen water gate ahead of her attackers. On the bridge, Ivan was fighting with the fury of his berserk ancestors, but he could not, single-handedly, hold them all away from her. She must do it, must move on.

With a yell, two men dropped down off the center of the bridge, but the freeze was only two days old and the ice was not as thick as it soon would be. Their yells changed to screams as they fell through into the frigid black waters of the Zwijn.

Anne saw the cracks in the ice shoot out from the hole they'd made as she slid on toward the farther side of the canal, but she was far enough away from them, and so much lighter, that the ice held together under her soft shoes. Breathing hard, she reached the other bank and scrambled toward Sir Mathew's water gate -- it was frozen shut but it was close, closer. Perhaps she could climb it.

Now she was yelling, too, "Help us, help us!" as lights flared in houses above the canal. No one liked another's dispute, especially if it was just a fight among drunken mercenaries, but they had heard her calling out and a woman's voice stirred the conscience -- a little.

Blessedly, torchlight suddenly shone down and willing hands reached out to haul her up -- Sir Mathew's steward, Maxim, and two of the stable boys. "Help Ivan! There, the bridge." She could hardly gasp the words as her arms were wrenched above her head, but then they had her onto the roadway and Maxim was hurrying her inside, into the warm hall, while he shouted for more men.

It was over very soon. Maxim and Sir Mathew's servants rushed the bridge where Ivan was viciously defending the honor of his master's house. Two assailants, lethally slashed, were groaning at his feet and one man was dead, his blood a black steaming puddle in the snow. Of the two who had jumped from the bridge, one was lying on the cracked ice half drowned and gasping, while his companion hadn't surfaced. The other men, the followers, had disappeared.

Now Anne stood in front of the expensive new fireplace in Sir Mathew's hallhouse under a painted panel of Saint George destroying the dragon; it was an apt expression of her life: she must slay the dragon of fear here, tonight. Holding out her hands to the flames, she swallowed hard, trying to control her breathing, trying to banish the burning vomit in her throat.

It was a shock. All she had been warned about was true. And if this was more than it seemed -- a kidnap for ransom -- then she had enemies and it was time to face these facts, time to think her way through her situation very carefully.

"Mistress? Are you harmed?" It was her foster mother's anguished voice Anne heard now and she turned slowly, giving herself enough time to gather a smile to her face.

"Not at all, Deborah. As you see. Where's Edward?" She must not give in to the fear; must not. Shakily she forced herself to breathe slowly and deeply as she tried to unfasten her cloak with suddenly useless fingers.

Deborah answered the unasked question. "He's fine. Just fine. Here. Let me." Deborah hurried to help, gently detaching the cloak from Anne's shoulders and unpinning the crushed and distorted headdress. "He's asleep, bless him. We've got his cradle near the fire in the kitchen. He fed well again tonight -- I'm very pleased with the new nurse; she's a fine strong girl, abundant milk."

Routine. Reassuring, safe routine. All was well -- Deborah could always do that for her. Anne summoned another smile and carefully smoothed the folds of her expensive red dress. She grimaced. It would never be the same. The hem was dragged and dirty and there were dark wet patches where she'd fallen on her knees; it would have to be carefully dried and brushed if the fabric was not to be completely ruined. Hans Memlinc would see her in another dress tomorrow.

"I shall see how my nephew fares." She needed to see the baby, needed to hold him. Deborah smiled at her, touched her hand gently. "Yes, it's nice and cozy in the kitchen. I'll see to warming the solar."

Anne was calmer now, soothed as always by Deborah's care of her. Tremulously the girl smiled in return and would have leaned against her foster mother for strength, except that Maxim or one of the other servants might see the moment of weakness and be curious.

She was too new to Brugge, too new to the role she'd been given -- that of Mathew Cuttifer's ward -- to be anything but careful; too much was at stake. She and Deborah must always retain the appearance of servant and mistress in front of the household, yet both women found the constant role-playing a strain, especially now. They'd get used to it, they had to. For the moment, it was their only safety for they had nowhere else to go.

Anne sighed, then consciously relaxing her rigid shoulders, folded her hands at her waist, and stepped down the wooden staircase to the kitchens without fuss, breathing deeply as the peace of being home and safe clothed her softly as a cloak.

The kitchen was always busy in a large household, especially now as it was close to suppertime, but as Anne appeared, all work stopped. She was well liked, their master's ward.

"Lady, are you harmed?" The Flemish cook, Maître Flaireau, hurried forward. "Please, please, sit here by the warmth."

Anne nodded brightly in return for the relieved smiles from Ralph, the filthy scullion; Henri, the spit boy; and Herve, the Maître's meat man. She allowed herself to be led to the ingle seat beside the largest of the cooking fires. She must not let them know how strange she still felt or let them see how hard it was to keep her tightly clasped hands from shaking. She had one aim now.

"Is Edward...where is he?" As Maître Flaireau pressed her to sit. "There, mistress, do you see?"

They had moved his cradle into the shadows, out of the light of the cooking fires into a warm corner of the cheerful tiled room. And he slept on, oblivious to all the bustle around him in the busy kitchen.

Anne yearned to pick him up, to kiss him awake, to hug him tightly to her breasts -- the breasts that had never fed this child, but she restrained herself. Time for that later, when she was alone again with Deborah, the baby safely in the little annex of her solar.

"Wine! Hot wine for our mistress. Herve, hurry now!" Anne smiled slightly at the courtesy title "Mistress." Lady Margaret Cuttifer, Mathew's wife, was mistress in this house, even though she was so rarely here.

Four months since Edward's birth, four months of lies. She sipped the hot, rich wine; they'd spiced it with honey and nutmeg and beaten an egg yolk into it for strength. She was tired now, and aching. Leaning into the ingle seat, she closed her eyes, just closed them and...

"Sssh! Herve, move quietly!" The cook hissed at his assistant as he pantomimed creeping silently around the girl, who seemed to have fallen into a deep sleep. Chastened, Herve took care to sharpen the wicked boning knife as quietly as he could. He would be mortified to wake her, poor lady.

But Anne was not asleep. She smelled the blood again; it was animal blood from the carcass Herve was butchering, but it was enough, she was back there....

His birth, Edward's birth. Four months ago and a long, long way from Brugge. A tiny, suffocatingly hot room in the convent she'd been sent to by Sir Mathew to await the labor well away from prying eyes, away from gossip.

Blood. Blood everywhere. On the straw-stuffed mattress, the whitewashed wall beside the bed, all over her. But he'd been born, alive and strong. Deborah had taken him from her belly and given him to a woman who'd been hired to suckle him, immediately, not even wiping the wax and the blood off his little body.

It was best this way, said Deborah, best that Anne never suckled him for if she did, to give him to another would be unbearable. It would be easier with time. These words were muttered as a prayer by her foster mother as she bound Anne's breasts with bruised arnica and mallow to help with the pain when her milk let down, the milk that would not be given to her child.

And now she and the Cuttifers called the baby her sister's son. Her dear dead "sister," Aveline.

Anne frowned in the strange half sleep as the light from the fire flickered on her face, her eyelids. Aveline...her name was a breath, not even a sound. For Aveline was indeed dead, and she, too, had borne a child named Edward. Yet she was never a sister of Anne's, although, in the end, in that other life lived as the Cuttifers' servant in London, Anne had loved her like one.

Aveline, who'd served in the Cuttifer household as Lady Margaret's maid; Aveline, raped and made pregnant by Piers, Mathew Cuttifer's only son; Aveline, who'd endured a forced and dreadful marriage to Piers Cuttifer, finally killing both her repellent husband, then herself, and leaving her own child an orphan to be raised by his grandparents Sir Mathew and Lady Margaret.

The tears were genuine when Anne spoke of the sadness of Aveline's life and death, and perhaps it was easier to believe, for others, that Anne's baby was Aveline's son for he was not much like his "aunt;" his skin was olive and he had speedwell-blue eyes, his father's eyes in truth, where her own were some strange amalgam of green and blue. Jewels, he'd called them, sea topaz, kingfisher bright.

Anne remembered too well every word they'd spoken, every moment they'd ever had together. But it was useless to dream. Dreaming would not bring Edward's father to Brugge and she had her own way to make in life without him -- an aching, lonely thought.

But then Anne's courage rose a little as she dismissed the image of her lover's face. She had much, so much, to be thankful for in comparison to many others. She'd been left a small estate in Somerset, gifted to her mother, Alyce de Bohun, and that provided a small income faithfully accounted to her each quarter day. She had good, warm clothes, a house to live in -- even if it was not hers -- and a small number of jewels, if all else failed her: a topaz brooch, a great ruby ring (a precious keepsake given her by Edward's father), and the little pearl-and-garnet cross presented to her by the Cuttifers when she'd left their house for the Court of Edward IV and his queen, Elizabeth Wydeville.

Anne shifted uneasily in her chair, frowning as, unbidden, the images came; pictures from that time as Elizabeth Wydeville's body servant when dread and joy were her constant companions.

For it was at court she'd fallen in love with Edward the King, and it was at court she'd found out who she really was: the natural daughter of the old king, Henry VI. Thus the man she loved, adulterously, had usurped her father's throne.

That knowledge had brought fear, and sudden clarity. Yes, Anne was illegitimate, but she was the illegitimate daughter of a king. Sighing, almost groaning, Anne shook her head. It hurt, it still hurt like a deep, deep burn, the choice she'd made: self-exile to Brugge rather than remain in England. For if she'd stayed, she'd have to have chosen a side, eventually, as the old king's daughter.

A terrible choice, for how could she support her father's natural enemy, the man who'd taken his throne, driven him into hiding, even if she loved him?

But then, she'd not known she was pregnant when she'd sailed from Dover into exile. Perhaps Edward might have wanted her to stay if she could have told him, even with the risk to his throne. He'd had only daughters with Elizabeth Wydeville, the queen -- but she, Anne, had a son. England desperately needed a male heir if Edward was to consolidate his reign. Perhaps he'd have forgiven Anne her ancestry for the sake of their child -- this combination of York and Lancaster.

Forgive her? Better she should think of forgiving him! He was her father's usurper! And how could she allow herself to contemplate, for even one moment, allowing her own child to be engulfed by the vicious game of English politics just because she loved his father still?

Anne's eyes snapped open with the turmoil of her anguished thoughts and she sat up. England was in her past forever, and life must continue if she, little Edward, and Deborah were to find a real home for themselves, a place not dependent on the kindness of others. There was a lesson in this attack -- she must plan, seriously, for their future. If she did not, others would do it for her. Perhaps after she had eaten, clarity of thought might return and the tide of emotion recede. For now, though, she was tired, very tired, and her knees ached, for the ice on the canal had been hard and jagged as thorns in places.

"Thank you, Maître." Courteously she sipped a little more of the wine he had prepared for her. "Delicious. I shall enjoy this with supper."

Gently, Anne kissed the sleeping baby in his cradle, tucking one small hand under the velvet counterpane. How much she yearned to pick him up, but his sleep was so peaceful, it would not be kind.

"Please call me when he wakes, Maître Flaireau."

"Of course, lady. This so dear baby delights us all, but truly, his heart is in his aunt's keeping." The cook bowed gallantly, understanding how much Anne loved the little boy. Fear touched her heart for a moment. Perhaps he knew, perhaps they all knew that he was truly her son.

She must be careful, and go on being careful, if they were all to survive.

Tonight was the tolling of a bell: a tocsin, a warning. From her brief time in Brugge, Anne had begun to believe that she could make a new life for herself here -- and for little Edward. The Cuttifers had been very kind in their support, but she was a guest in their house; she would not, could not, allow herself to live on their goodwill forever. She had a choice. She must find a way to make her own living independently or...marry.

But if she was to have a husband, let him be one of her own choosing, not someone who came at the point of a sword.

Anne shivered as she stopped near the top of the stairs outside her solar; dark images from the attack forced themselves behind her eyes. Breathing faster, she let the pictures come, trying to understand. Perhaps a calculating young bravo had been watching her -- the ward of a powerful, wealthy man -- and decided to improve his fortune. She wouldn't be the first.

But was there another explanation?

Had someone paid to have her killed? Someone eager to remove her from the board of European politics? Someone who knew about her -- her relationship with Edward, King of England -- and, perhaps, also, knew about her son?

Anne's hand shook as she pushed open the door into her own private solar -- yet another kindness from the Cuttifers. The pretty room was softly lit by a hanging brass candelabrum whose six fat wax candles burned clear and bright, a very great extravagance, but one she was happy to pay for from her own modest means; the smell of burning tallow made her sick.

She entered the solar with gratitude; it was peaceful and beautiful, a well of calm in a mad world. The room faced the canal at the front of the house, and the windows were so extravagantly large that they took up the entire width of the central gable. Thus her room was never dark during the day, no matter how sullen the skies might be; and sometimes, on the night of a full moon, Anne slept with her shutters drawn back and the casements flung open, a practice opposed by Deborah. It was common knowledge that the moonlight had power to strike the unwary. It was unhealthy to lie within that treacherous silver glimmer, breathing night air -- in itself, profoundly harmful -- for bad dreams and bad luck came from Luna's light, especially for women at the time of their monthly flow.

Anne had kissed Deborah softly on the brow when the older woman first voiced her fears -- kissed her, but ignored her. The moon was her friend. It had been on a moon-flooded night that her son had been conceived and for that she would always welcome the brightest nights.

On this dark evening, Deborah had had a fire lit so the room was warm and cozy, though a wind was rising off the canal now, moaning around her casements and rattling the fastenings with spectral fingers. Despite the warmth, Anne shivered. How close had she just come to other cold hands tonight? Without Ivan she might have been a prisoner now in a very different room, among rapacious strangers. Or she might be a corpse.

Wearily, Anne slumped down onto the chair set ready for her by the fire as a quiet voice called her. "Mistress, may I come in? I have water for you."

"Yes, Jenna. You are welcome." It was not like Anne to allow others to sense when she was tired or frightened, she'd learned that in the last few years, but tonight, shock brought her defenses down.

The other girl, open faced, a silvery blonde, entered the room silently carrying a brass bowl and a ewer filled with hot water from the kitchen.

"Would you like me to help you with the gown, lady?" Anne shook her head.

"No. Deborah will be here very soon, I expect. But I do need to clean my hands, Jenna."

Anne inspected her palms, and then her nails, dispassionately. She had grazed the heels of her hands when she'd dropped down onto the icy canal and broken several nails as she'd been hauled up the brick wall on the other side. Ordinarily she was proud of her hands, and now that she did not have to work with them, as once she'd had to, they were soft and white, the calluses at the base of each finger nearly gone. The broken nails would need trimming and cleaning, though -- best to soak them first.

Jenna was a sensible girl. It was one of the reasons Deborah, as Lady Margaret's recently appointed housekeeper in Brugge, had given her a post in this house, so she didn't wince or fuss when she saw the blood on Anne's hands; she poured warm water in a steady, gentle stream, not even commenting as it turned rose-red.

"I'll get some more water for you, mistress."

"Yes, do that, Jenna. There's a large cauldron on the fire in the kitchen; it should be hot by now." Deborah had entered the room unseen as Jenna opened a casement and threw the dirty water into the canal, then paused for a moment to tidy the room as the older woman bustled forward.

"Here, mistress. Let me dry your hands. I've brought some fresh woundwort salve; it will help the healing."

Without protest, Anne let Deborah lift each of her hands and gently dry them on the linen towel she'd spread across her lap.

"Where is Ivan, Deborah?"

Deborah coughed to hide the chuckle that had risen unbidden. Fear did that to her sometimes. "I left him down in the kitchen, throwing back good Gruuthuse beer and boasting. He has a slash through his sleeve on one arm, but that's all. Luck of the Devil -- or protected by him." Deborah did not approve of Ivan; he distracted the women of the house too much.

The older woman's astringent tone roused Anne from exhaustion. She was grateful to Ivan and it was important to voice that. "He did his job, and he did it well. When I am changed I shall thank him." Deborah kept silent, though she was hurt by Anne's sharp tone.

Anne felt the knife of guilt, but for now, in front of Jenna, she must play the role of their master's ward.

"Jenna, will you get the water, please, while Deborah helps me off with this heavy thing?" The door of the solar opened, and then closed quietly. Jenna had left.

Anne rose out of the chair, allowing her foster mother to unlace the back of the red dress. She closed her eyes for a moment. All she could hear was the crackle of the flames and the buffeting wind outside her curtains. What she would not give to lie down on her bed and fall into a long, dark sleep.

"Mistress? The rose-pink or the blue?" How hard it was to open her eyes. "The blue kirtle, I think. And the French linen shift, if you please. I hate feeling wool next to my skin."

So tired, so tired, it was hard to talk.

"Would you still like your body washed before I dress you, lady?"

Deborah's tone was formal and correct. It made Anne grin, a blessed lightening of her spirit.

"Yes, Deborah. As you used to do when I was little," and she smiled warmly, fondly at the older woman. "It will be nice to be clean again." There was a genuine smile in return, and suddenly the women felt like friends again. Close and loving friends.

Copyright © 2003 by Posie Graeme-Evans

ISBN: 9780731814749
ISBN-10: 0731814746
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 420
Published: 1st October 2010
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Australia
Dimensions (cm): 23.4 x 15.3
Weight (kg): 0.28

Posie Graeme-Evans

Posie Graeme-Evans has worked in the Australian film and television industry for the last thirty years as an editor, director, and producer on hundreds of primetime television programs, including "McLeod's Daughters" and "Hi-5." She lives in Tasmania with her husband and creative partner, Andrew Blaxland. Visit her website at www.posiegraemeevans.com.

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