“My lady?” Sir Everett looked to her for his orders. “Do you wish to grant them entry?” A wicked smile lit his face as he grasped the hilt of his sword. “Or do we send them away?”
She shook her head. “No, we have already cried truce. Sending Faucon away will do no good.” Marguerite spoke more to herself than to the captain of Thornson’s guard. “He would only find another way to gain entry.” She frowned, desperately seeking a way to protect herself and those in Thornson.
She could not deny Faucon and his men entrance—no matter how much she wished to do so. Everyone would then know she had something to hide, and she could not permit that to happen.
All was not hopeless or lost. Her stomach calmed and her racing heart slowed to a more normal rhythm. There was something she could do.
She gave Everett his answer. “Nay. Do not send them away. Tell them to hold for a time.”
“Are you certain, lady?” Sir Everett sounded incredulous, as if he could not believe what his ears had heard. “You know what this will mean for Thornson? For all of us?”
Marguerite narrowed her eyes and stared pointedly up at him, refusing to have her orders ignored. “It means Stephen’s men will have charge of the keep…for now.” She pushed passed Sir Everett. “If it does not happen today, it will happen tomorrow or the day after. Let us see this through now. Tell them to hold. Permit them entrance only after I send you word.”
“And how do I keep them at the gates until then?”
She paused before descending the ladder to the bailey. “I care not. Discuss the weather. Just do as I say.”
Everett nodded in acceptance of her wishes, but his wide eyes gave away his doubt at her wisdom. “Aye.”
Marguerite paused on the ladder. “It will not be for long. No more than a few moments. Once they are inside, direct them to the hall. I will greet them there.”
After delivering the body to the captain of Thornson’s guard, Darius strode up the stairs leading to the Great Hall. Each step made him wish he’d left his helmet and mailed gloves on. Right now he was more than ready to do battle. If the Lady of Thornson thought to try his patience, she’d succeeded thus far.
She knew full well that he was here on the king’s business. Yet for most of the morning, she’d kept him and his men pacing outside Thornson’s walls like unwanted beggars.
King Stephen was right. Someone did need to take charge of Thornson. It was obvious by the way the men on the walls acted. No guard in his right mind would have thought to use trite conversation about the weather as a ploy to detain a company of men from the king.
And no guard who possessed even the minimum knowledge of warfare would have kept them waiting after hoisting a white banner signaling surrender. Their notion of surrender needed much revising.
Darius wondered if the men, arms and gold supplied by the king would be enough to complete the missions he’d been assigned. If King Stephen’s concerns had been left to stew for too long, Darius knew he could find himself in more danger than they’d imagined.
He stopped outside the door to the Great Hall and took a deep breath. One item on his long list of tasks was to take control of Thornson. He’d do that through the widow. She’d already played him for a fool once this day, and he’d see to it that little game was never repeated.
Darius turned the metal rod and pushed the door open with enough force to slam the iron-studded oak against the inside wall. He stepped through the doorway more than ready to put the Lady of Thornson in her place—and met the shocked gasps of servants with a glare.
He swept the hall with a searching look and found—nothing but servants and a few guards.
His temples throbbed. Livid, Darius clenched his jaw to keep from shouting in rage. Instead, he grabbed the closest man by the front of his tunic and dragged him forward. “Where is your lady?”
The man raised his hands in a useless manner to protect himself. “I do not know, my lord.”
“Find her and bring her here now.” He pushed the man away and watched in satisfaction as his order was carried out.
The other servants and guards scurried out of his way as he crossed the hall. His spurs jingled with each step on the hard earthen floor. A guard quickly grabbed a chair and pulled it over to the long trestle table before making good his escape.
Darius tossed his helmet on the table, then threw his gloves alongside of it before taking the seat. A female servant approached hesitantly, carrying a tray of food. Another brought a jug and a goblet. Neither said a word as they placed the items on the table, then left.
Within a few heartbeats the hall was empty save him. Which suited Darius just fine. He poured himself a draught of wine and leaned back in the chair to await the Lady of Thornson.
Marguerite made certain to keep to the shadows as she leaned on the railing and peered down into the hall at Darius.
“My lady, he seems to be in a fine rage.”
Marguerite laughed softly at her maid’s statement of the obvious. “Of course he is, Bertha. Considering how long I have kept him waiting, I am surprised he is not roaring about like a wounded bear.”
“Do you think this wise?”
“Ah, Bertha, this is not Lord Thornson whose anger flared in fists and shouts. Darius of Faucon is slow to anger and quick to forgive.”
“You know this man?”
“Aye, from when we were children.”
Bertha glanced over the railing, then faced Marguerite. “I beg pardon, my lady, but he does not look like a child any longer. You could not have seen him in the time you have been here. So you cannot be certain of his temperament now.”
Marguerite knew she’d already said far too much. “You are right. It has been a long time. I do hope the man is as close as possible to the child in temper.”
“From your lips to the angels’ wings, my lady.” Bertha nodded down toward the hall. “Do ye think it might be best to join him?”
While it might be best, it wasn’t something Marguerite looked forward to doing. “Has Marcus’s welfare been guaranteed?”
“Aye. He will remain in the village until plans can be made to take him north. Everyone in the keep and the village have been informed of your wishes. None doubt your wisdom in this matter.”
Marguerite’s chest tightened around her heart. She grabbed the railing to keep from falling. Oh, Marcus, my love, know my heart goes with you always. There was nothing she could do to alter what must be. But that knowledge did little to ease the pain of facing yet another loss so soon.
“Thank you.” She gently grasped Bertha’s hand. “What would I do without you?”
The maid patted her shoulder. “My lady, you know full well that I would do anything for you and his lordship.”
Marguerite straightened her back. “I need see this done.”
Bertha wrinkled her nose in distaste and shrugged before asking, “Do you wish me to accompany you?”
The maid’s relief was audible in her sigh. “Very well, my lady.”
“I should do this alone. But I thank you for the offer.”
Marguerite waited until Bertha took her leave before glancing down at Darius one more time. To her, he’d been a breathtaking boy, and he’d grown into a fine-looking man. From what she could see, the years had been kind to him. They’d blessed him with broader shoulders and muscular arms. His dark hair still waved about his head in riotous disorder. She knew it would run through her fingers like a rabbit’s silky fur.
After smoothing the skirt of her dark green gown, Marguerite headed toward the stairs. Would he remember her?