Sword of a Saint
Chapter 9 - Part 4
"The first words you said to
anyone other than those nuns were when you came to ask me for your veil.
Are you forbidden to speak to me, or are you just too tired?"
She folded her hands in her lap and contemplated her fingers. "Sister Agnes is of the Order of Saint Mary of Magdalene. They do not seek converse with the outside world except in very limited circumstances. As I have been in the company of outsiders for several days I am required to take some time to renew my dedication to the Religious life."
"In other words, she ordered you not to speak with me." When Valerian nodded, Michael felt his temper rise. "That two penny tyrant! Who does she think she is?"
"When we reach Trevalga, she very well may become Abbess. She was Prioress of the abbey she left. As such, I owe her obedience in all things."
"Well, I've half a mind to throw the harridan out. Let her get there on her own."
"No doubt she would." Valerian shoved more soggy bread into his mouth.
"Why do you stay?" He did not bother emptying his mouth before he spoke. No doubt she would stuff it again if he gave her the chance.
She shrugged. "I am called to serve, and so I do. What's more, I enjoy the chance to use my Gift to the benefit of others."
Clearly sensing he would speak again, she held the wine cup to his lips. As he badly needed to rinse the crumbs from his teeth, Michael drank. He had to swallow three times before she removed the cup. How much had he upset her?
"Sounds like a lot of mealy mouthed twaddle to me." Where had that come from?
Her lips thinned. "Of course it would. But then, you have never appreciated the great gifts you were given. You walked away from them."
"Gifts?" Michael shoved his elbows beneath himself and rose as best he could. He barely noticed the pain in his leg as he focused on her disapproving scowl. "Curses, you mean."
"I cannot believe you speak so." She set the nearly empty cup down, her attention firmly on him. "You are incredibly blessed. You are a Healer, and --"
"No good at it." There, it was said. "I barely learned to mend the most simple wounds at Saint Neot's."
"No doubt because you spent so much time doing penance for your misdeeds," Valerian grumbled.
Michael chuckled, his mood lightening instantly. "How did you know? I was a terror to the Brothers."
"But, none the less, you have the Gift. You may not appreciate it, but it is there." She blinked back tears. "Just as you had parents. Another blessing you do not appreciate."
"Don't start on that again. My parents were useless to us."
"Michael, don't you see that not all of us go through the world destroying everything in our path?" Her slim fingers brushed a lock of hair off his cheek and lingered there, the touch comforting.
"Where were they when Jhenna and I needed them?"
"No doubt they were loving you, whatever the distance between you." Her fingertips pressed the sensitive flesh along his jaw. The touch was at once gentle and intimate in a way he had never experienced before. "They left their teaching in you. Your care for your sister, the risk you took when you rescued Brother Trystan and me, all show a man who gives his heart to those around him."
She was too close, too arousing. Even as his hand slid over her thigh he realized he had to put some distance between them He was too tired to make the best use of this intimacy. Better to save his efforts for a better time.
"Want to know the truth, do you? If it had been only the good Brother on that pyre I would have let him burn. It was you I rescued."
"Why?" She hesitated, but did not pull away. His hand drifted up to the curve of her hip.
"Can't you guess?" Michael licked his suddenly dry lips. "You looked so brave, so beautiful as you walked to that stake. You held your head high and never cried for mercy. Those rags hung from you like a mantle."
"I was terrified. Drugged." She shook her head.
"You were magnificent." Michael reached up to brush the tangled curls hanging by her face. "I think I loved you from the first."
"Damn! I didn't mean to say that." The bed was very comfortable, and the blanket quite warm. Michael forced himself to stay awake though exhaustion threatened to claim him. "I do, you know."
Her smile broadened. "You have a loving heart, Michael. All you need to do is let it free from the prison you yourself built."
He managed to shake his head in denial. The bed seemed to sway. "I'm not the one in prison, Sister. It's not me who clings to faith in a deity that doesn't care a wit what happens to us, even if he is up there. Which, frankly, I doubt."
"But don't you see? That is your prison." She caught his shoulders as he wavered and eased him back on the bed. "Now I think you need to sleep."
"I'm not . . ." As exhaustion washed over him, Michael felt suspicion nibble at his mind. "You drugged me!"
She nodded, her small smile sad. "Forgive me. I couldn't stand to see you in pain."
Michael struggled against the waves of sleep, but only for a moment. Even the anger he knew he should feel was blunted by her gentle words. Valerian meant only to make the trip more comfortable, even if her methods left a bit to be desired.
Darkness claimed him. His dreams were filled with eyes the color of violets, ripe lips sweeter than summer cherries and a body seen only in shadow but built for a man's pleasure.
They arrived in Trevalga early the next afternoon. Valerian sent a heartfelt prayer of thanks when she heard Lord Gregory's eager shout of welcome. She had to get out of this wagon before she lost her mind entirely. Michael slept peacefully. He would be furious at her, but with hope she could shelter with the Sisters until he and his band of brigands removed themselves.
You're fooling yourself, an annoying voice whispered in the back of her mind. You wish they were staying.
I don't! Valerian answered firmly as she smoothed the folds from her plain gray tunic. He upsets me. I'm exhausted from dealing with his moods
He makes you feel alive. That's a new thing for you, isn't it. There was no question in the words. And you will miss him.
I will. There. She'd said it. But there are more important things to worry about.
The door opened to admit Yasmina, followed by Dom Queron who looked a bit flushed. Valerian found herself pushed back against the washstand. With two more people in it the wagon was too crowded for anyone to move.
Copper and silver bangles jingled as Yasmina waved her hand over Michael's sleeping form. "Here is your patient. He was badly injured, but we did the best we could for him."
"So I see." Dom Queron bent over Michael's bandages. A moment later Valerian felt a stir of power as he stretched his mind into the wound. "Who has been tending him?"
"Sister Valerian. She could not Heal him, but she has changed his bandages." Yasmina gave Valerian a smile that seemed to shoot daggers.
"Thank you." Dom Queron straightened and unfastened his dark cloak. "Will you step out, sweet lady? I need a bit of space to work and I wish to confer with the Sister before I get started."
Clearly annoyed, Yasmina tossed her head as she exited the wagon amid chiming jewelry.