Chapter 1 - May 1146
Chapter 1 - May 1146
His stallion’s hooves pounded like the beating of his heart as Lord Eaduin Kempe shook damp black hair from his eyes. A gentle spring rain fell. It felt like a driving storm; like the driving storm in his soul. The presence of his beloved foster mother blunted the emptiness of his keep, but if he lost Judith. . . Nay. He wouldn’t think on it. All had seemed normal with her, so well did she hide her pain. Was he blind? How could he have missed something of such import? Eaduin rode grimly, determined to find aid. Today.
Her screams of pain in the night had nearly broken him though she’d been the one to endure the suffering. Judith could not endure another night like the last, nor could he. He wouldn’t accept his helplessness in the face of her agony. He must do something. Even now he heard her screams echoing in his ears, bringing tears to his eyes which mixed with the rain to fall down his cheeks. He brushed both away impatiently.
His horse leaped a ravine, clearing it easily. He needed to find help quickly. He sighed. When he’d asked Judith to whom he should apply for aid, she’d sent him to the Abbey of Blessed Virgin to seek vérité. He didn’t need to find truth; he needed medication to dull Judith’s pain but despite her pain her will was as strong as ever, so to the Abbey he rode. He didn’t matter any more, only Judith did. He glanced ahead, catching sight of the spires of the Abbey’s central chapel over the treetops.
His guard captain, Godwin, who was his half brother and Judith’s eldest son, rode at his stallion’s left flank. Godwin was a better horseman than Eaduin was; certainly, a better man. For years, Godwin had been his closest friend and ally. Regardless of what came his way, he knew his brother had his back. Eaduin thanked God for him.
They’d been five miles on the road, and would need to return that night, because neither of them could bear to leave Judith alone for longer. They approached the gates at a gallop, but pulled up when the gates remained closed. Eaduin’s stallion sidled restlessly as his brother hailed the guards atop the gates.
"Lord Eaduin Kempe wishes to speak with the Reverend Mother on a matter of grave urgency." Godwin shouted.
Eaduin smiled faintly. It was just that voice which made Godwin’s squires jump to do his bidding, and it drew the immediate attention of the watch.
"Lord Eaduin bloody Kempe will find no welcome here!"
He grimaced, before looking up to see the old guard peering over the ramparts. "I seek no welcome from you, Artur Pecke, you insolent cur! How dare you swear within these sacred walls! Open the gates! I will speak with the Abbess. NOW!" His roar echoed off the stone, making the old man wince then scowl.
"And what army will see you past this gate!"
Eaduin swore under his breath. He just had to assign his father’s former guard captain here, hadn’t he? The old bastard hated him. Bloody hell! He pulled his strung bow from his saddle and an arrow from his quiver. He knocked it, taking aim in one smooth movement then sighting on the stupid man’s head.
"I need no army, old man. Let me in and live to see the sunset!"
Eaduin knew the wily old guard could easily duck before the arrow even reached him, but Eaduin was out of patience. He heard Judith’s cries in his ears and had no time to parlay with a self-important idiot.
"Open the gate, you fool!" A voice inside the gates yelled.
Eaduin relaxed his drawn bow, his breath releasing with a hiss. He recognized the authority of Mother Anne’s voice when he heard it and so did Sir Artur. The clack of the windlass rattled loudly as the bridge lowered and the heavy doors opened ponderously. How ironic it was that his orders and his money barred his passage, for long had he given money to afford protection to these brides of Christ. Eaduin spurred his horse, quickly traversing the bridge. He stopped in the courtyard with Godwin at his side, dismounting then handing the stableman his reins.
"Treat them kindly. They’ve been run hard and will need to make a return trip shortly." The chief stableman knew Eaduin well so he offered a respectful nod before leading the horses away.
Eaduin turned to face the concerned face of Mother Anne. "Why are you here, my Lord Kempe?"
"I need a healer. Where are your sisters who serve?" Eaduin strode toward the hospital, but the Abbess planted herself directly in Eaduin’s way.
"Why do you seek a healer? What help can we give you that Mistress Judith can not? After all, she has been the teacher to most of our sisters in the use of herbs and healing."
Eaduin’s rubbed his face, trying to hide the anguish he felt. Mother Anne stepped forward placing her hand on his arm to offer comfort. "Lord Eaduin? What is it?"
"It’s Judith. She’s very ill but none of us has the skills to help her."
"Is it fever?" She tensed, her expression reflecting worry; whether for Judith or her own people he didn’t know.
He shook his head. "Nay, she’s hidden her illness from all of us. Recently, she collapsed. We have tried to follow her directions to offer her relief, but none of us know what we are doing. We are as likely to kill her as cure her the way we blunder about, but it might almost be a mercy."
"Did she say what the illness is?"
"She looks far gone with child, yet there is none. She has treated herself for months but her syrup of poppies will ease the pain no longer."
He could see the Abbess’ confusion with his poor description. This was completely outside his area of expertise and his ignorance appalled him. He shook his head, his eyes filling with tears again. He blinked before they spilled, lest Sir Artur taunt him.
"You are sure she’s not with child?"
"Certain. God forgive me but I hadn’t noticed how she had loosened her gowns and ceased to wear belts at her waist." He shook his head in self-disgust. "God forgive my selfishness…" He met Mother Anne’s serene blue gaze in chagrin. "She needs aid. Judith is in grave pain which nothing relieves. I can’t… I can’t bear listening to her screams. It tears out my heart."
Tears began to fall; he brushed them away with annoyance. He noticed the old guard captain staring at him and expected to see laughter in his eyes at his show of weakness. Instead he saw shared pain, which startled him. Mistress Judith was beloved of everyone in the area, it seemed.
Eaduin felt selfish in his need for his foster mother. After all, Judith had given life to Godwin and his brothers and sisters, yet she was Eaduin’s salvation. He owed his sanity and conscience to her, for without her he would have become a monster like his father and his half-sister. Both of whom now suffered in the fires of hell. Though he might pity their souls, they deserved their suffering. If not for Judith, his fate would have been the same.
Judith... He must help her. Someone here must consent to help. He wouldn’t leave without aid-no matter what he had to do to receive it.
"When did you last sleep, Lord Eaduin?"
He paused in thought, trying to remember. Since he had no idea, he ignored the question. "It matters not. Will you send someone to her? Please?"
Eaduin could see apology in the Reverend Mother’s face as she readied a refusal. Before she could speak, he dropped to his knees on the hard ground in front of her in the supplication of a penitent.
"I beg you, for Judith’s sake. Let me rot when the time comes, but for the love of God, don’t allow Judith’s suffering to continue. She doesn’t deserve it. Isn’t the pain she endured at my father’s hands enough?"
Eaduin beseeched the normally stern Abbess, whose eyes filled with tears spilling down her cheeks. Anne knew the truth of Judith’s suffering at Osweald Kempe’s hands. Mother Anne took a deep breath. "Judith ordered you here?" Eaduin nodded. "What did she tell you, my lord? Exactly…"
"She told me to come to the Abbey of the Blessed Virgin to seek vérité. Mother, I have no need of truth at this time. I need a healer."
"In this case, they are one and the same."
"I don’t understand."
"I know. But you will, my son. Rise. Let us go find the healer you seek."
©2008, Francesca Hawley