by Barbara Monajem
The stairs went on and on. The night grew darker and the staircase narrower, and suddenly there was no balustrade, no protection from a perilous drop. Eve fell to her knees, assailed by vertigo. She shivered, wishing this was all a dream, knowing it was not.
Ahead of her loomed a heavy wooden door, slightly ajar. She crawled up the last few stairs and stood, repulsed by the odors of this place. Smoke and sweat, dirt and rodents, blood…blood?
Behind the door, a woman shrieked. ‘No, my lord! The vision changed right before my eyes, I swear!’
‘You’re no fortune teller, but a Saxon spy,’ a man growled. ‘No one toys with Richard d’Aubenay and lives to tell the tale.’
Horrified, Eve shoved open the door. The room was small, square, and dim, with only slits for windows. The man wore what looked like a padded tunic, with a jeweled dagger in his belt. He towered over a woman in rags, who scrambled among the rushes on the floor to gather some sticks. Chain mail lay across a wooden bench. Was that blood on the mail and on the man’s tunic and leggings? He must have just returned from battle. His dark hair was cropped short; his helmet with its nose guard lay on the floor. All at once Eve knew—he was a Norman knight. The first of the Daubenays!
‘I swear by the blood of our Lord!’ The woman wept as she picked up the sticks. ‘I saw a vision of a grand castle with gonfanons flying, and lords and ladies in costumes such as no man has ever seen. All was joy and dancing…and then, of a sudden, the castle was in ruins and the people gone, but for one lone man in the last crumbling tower, his dark head in his hands!’
‘Mordieu!’ Richard drew his dagger. ‘First you predict glory, and then disaster. Which is it? I care not which; I only seek to know whether to stay in this godforsaken land or return to my beloved Normandy. But mark my words, whether I stay or leave will make no difference to you barbarians. What King William has, he holds, and to those who wish him harm, he shows no mercy.’
She clutched the sticks to her chest. ‘I am no spy, but a poor, helpless woman.’
‘God’s teeth, stop groveling. Just tell me which vision was the truth!’
‘I don’t know,’ she wailed. ‘Both were—or could be true. Give me leave to try again.’ She knelt on a white cloth, her hands shaking as she spread the sticks. They had strange symbols on them—runes. This woman practiced cleromancy! She grabbed a stick at random, glanced at it, and squeezed her eyes shut, mumbling under her breath. Praying, no doubt, for something convincing to say.
So far, neither Richard nor the woman had noticed Eve, frozen by the door.
The woman’s eyes flew open. ‘It is because of the stones,’ she breathed. ‘Sparkling green stones...a necklace of surpassing splendor…’ She moaned. ‘The future was bright, but then the stones were gone, and all fell in ruins.’
Eve clapped a hand to her breast. She gasped. The necklace wasn’t there! ‘Oh, no!’
Richard turned, scowling but unsurprised. ‘I said I would call when I needed—’ He stopped, giving a long, low whistle. ‘You’re not like the usual girls they send to service me.’
Eve shuddered. He was doubtless a powerful, virile man, but she wasn’t here to, er, service him, regardless of what he assumed. But that danger was nothing to the catastrophe facing her. She had lost the Meryngham emeralds…and with them, the future as it was meant to be.
She had to find the necklace. Frantically, she searched her memory for the last time she’d felt them at her breast, the last time one of the Daubenay men had mentioned them. The Georgian gentleman hadn’t… Had the Regency bloke? The…
‘Who are you?’ Richard demanded.
‘The-the Lady in Green.’
He rolled his eyes, indicating her gown. ‘Obviously.’
He’d never heard of the Lady in Green, because the legend hadn’t yet begun. Perhaps it was supposed to begin here and now…or a century or two later; Eve didn’t know.
What a fool she was. She’d flitted from era to era, flirting with one Daubenay ancestor after another like a silly girl in a romantic dream. She’d been like a fan girl with Sebastian, too—so caught up in his wealth and status that she’d never realized the responsibility he bore now, and would bear when he became Earl of Meryngham. Centuries of noblesse oblige weighed upon her. She was pitifully unsuited for the role of his wife. She’d proven it by losing the emeralds—and destroying his future!
‘You’ll do,’ Richard said with a lecherous smile, ‘once I’ve taken care of this fraud.’ He raised his dagger.
The woman cowered and sobbed. ‘Have mercy, lord, have mercy!’
‘Don’t!’ Eve cried. ‘It’s not her fault, it’s mine. Her vision was true. I have seen the future, nearly a thousand years from now.’
Richard lowered his dagger and stared at her.
‘I was born there, lived there, and hoped to marry the heir to the Daubenays.’ Eve backed toward the door. Once again, she had to get away.
No, she didn’t. A Daubenay wouldn’t run. She would stand her ground. ‘The future is—was truly wondrous, until I lost the emeralds—the green stones of which she speaks. Spare her, please. I’ll find the emeralds and return, and you’ll see that what I say is true.’
His brows rose. Suddenly eager, he said, ‘A quest?’
She nodded, fear and determination battling within her.
Richard grinned. ‘A pity you cannot wed this d’Aubenay, but my descendant will be fortunate to win you.’ He turned the dagger and proffered the hilt to Eve. ‘Take this as my token, and may God be with you.’~~~~~
Come back Monday as Eve embarks on her quest!
Barbara Monajem is the author of the May Day Mischief duet of Regency novellas, which will be released in April and May.
The Magic of His Touch (May Day Mischief, Book 1)
Tired of being paraded before every eligible bachelor, Peony Whistleby decides it's time to find her true love—through the ancient custom of rolling naked in the dew on May Day morning. But the magic goes awry when she is caught in the act—and by an entirely unsuitable man. And yet, the way his eyes linger upon her flesh ignites a sensual craving that can only be satisfied by his touch…