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Authors: Janet B. Taylor

Into the Dim (34 page)

BOOK: Into the Dim
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“Rachel?” I begged as, out in the hallway, something slammed against the thick door. “What do we do?”

Chewing her lip, she rifled through her supplies. “There's no time to stitch. Only one thing will stop the bleeding.”

Our eyes met. Hers flicked to the brazier. My stomach lurched, but I nodded. “What do you need?”

“Take the poker and bury it in the coals. Make certain it is red hot.”

Rachel became a whirlwind. Using clumps of something that resembled moss and spider webs, the girl applied pressure to the gaping wound until I returned with the glowing poker.

“Hold him down,” she commanded. Eleanor held a lamp aloft as the rest of us arranged ourselves around Collum, each restraining an uninjured limb.

Collum's eyes looked glassy. Sweat poured off him, but he didn't utter a sound. When he nodded at Rachel, she took a deep breath and, holding the ragged edges of the wound together, pressed the poker to his skin and seared the wound closed. Collum reared up, shoulders and heels the only thing touching the floor as his flesh sizzled. The sickening stench of cooked meat filled my nose.

He was gasping and horribly pale as Rachel bound the wound. I stood, my stinging eyes scanning the chamber. From the door came a loud thud. It shuddered, and the tip of an ax appeared through the wood.

Can't go through the door. What do we do? Think, Walton. Think.

The others' worried voices blended together, but I closed my eyes, blotting them out. Summoning the last ounces of concentration I possessed, I opened my mind and let everything I'd ever seen or read about the history of the Palace of Westminster flood in. My head pounded as the words of each article, rare book, drawing, sketch, scrap of paper, innuendo, or passing gossip began to scroll through my mind in glowing green columns. Books flipped open and pages flapped away like a colony of disturbed bats.

I could feel my fingers twitch as I cast off one after the other.
Come on. Come on.

There.

My eyes flew open.
Got it.

I turned to William Lucie. “Behind one of those tapestries on the north wall there should be an entrance to a hidden passage.”

He started to shake his head, but I urged. “Just try. Please.”

The door to the hallway was shaking under the weight of blows. “All is well here!” The queen was trying to buy us time, but the axe blows kept coming. A crack had appeared in the thick wood. It wouldn't hold much longer.

“Hope,” Bran called, “Sister Hectare wants you. I—I don't understand what she's saying.”

I hurried to the nun's side and dropped to my knees. Behind me, I heard the grinding of stone on stone and William's shout of surprise. I didn't turn. Sister Hectare's bleary eyes were burning into mine.

Mesmerized, I leaned close as she whispered in a voice weak as wet paper. “We were wrong. It is not . . .” Her eyelids drifted closed. Her mouth twisted. Her head pitched from side to side on the pillow as she struggled for breath. Alarmed, I rested my hand on her forehead, trying to soothe her. The tissue-thin skin burned my palm.

“It's all right, Sister Hectare,” I whispered, my words thick with tears. “You rest now.”

Sorrow etched Bran's brow as he met my eyes. When he took the nun's gnarled hands in his own, she grasped him hard, pulling him closer.

When she began to whisper, I leaned in but still could barely make out the crackly words. “The lady lies beneath their knees in robes of purest white.” A wheeze. “She guards her dark treasure in the deep. Only its children see the light.”

Puzzled, I glanced at Bran, but he seemed just as befuddled as I was.

The loud crack of wood beginning to splinter sounded from the door. The muffled shouts grew louder. Hectare blinked rapidly. Her eyes cleared as she looked up. “It is time for you to go now, my children.”

“Thank you,” I managed as I swiped my wet eyes with a sleeve. “I will never forget you.”

“Nor I you, sweet girl.” She closed her eyes, a beatific smile lighting her face. “Nor I you.”

When we turned, my shoulders slumped in relief. I'd been right. A dark rectangle now mawed open in the stone wall.

Bran helped my mother into the passage. Rachel had secured Collum's arm in a sling. With a last look in my direction, he leaned on his sister and limped to the entrance.

Phoebe called over her shoulder. “Ready, Hope?”

I held up a finger and turned to William and Rachel. Next to the tunnel entrance, William cupped Rachel's face between his palms. “Come with me,” he was saying. “We shall flee to the continent and start over. Now that Becket knows, this did naught but decide things for us. 'Tis our chance, my love. As long as you are by my side, we will conquer any trials that come our way.”

I grinned as Rachel whispered her answer and melted into his arms. Her eyes shone like gilt when she drew back and returned my smile.

I suddenly realized I'd never see these two remarkable people again. “Rachel,” I said. “William. I can never thank the two of you enough for helping us.”

“Mistr—” Rachel corrected herself. “Hope. It is I who give thanks. If not for you and your friends, I would never have gained the courage to follow where my heart led.” She reached up and, placing gentle hands on my head, murmured a Hebrew blessing. “I wish you long life,” she said quietly. “And happiness. And that your journey home is a safe one.”

William cradled my hands between his large, callused palms. “Go with God, Mistress Hope.”

I watched as they blended into the tunnel's darkness. They'd have a difficult path, I knew. But they'd be together, and maybe that was enough. I closed my eyes and sent up my own prayer that they'd have a happily ever after.

The heavy chamber door was almost fractured now. Queen Eleanor hurried over to me as I entered the passage.

“I will close it behind you, to cloak your escape.”

Bowing low, I thanked her. My eyes grazed over the dead and unconscious men in her chambers.

Eleanor caught my look and shrugged. “I am the queen. Who would speak against me? Not that craven priest, now that he's failed. Though I daresay Becket and I shall cross swords again.”

I nodded, thinking,
Oh yes, Your Grace. That you will.

Eleanor glanced over my shoulder to the darkness where my anxious friends waited. “Hectare told me of your strange travels. My friend speaks naught but truth, and yet . . .” When she glanced down the tunnel, there was such longing in her face, I couldn't look away. “If I did not have a duty to my kingdom, I would wish to go with you. There is much I would know, but I shall not ask how my life turns out. That is for God alone to decide. I would ask one question of you, however.”

Reluctantly, I nodded. However much I wanted to, I couldn't warn her. Couldn't reveal the pain she would suffer when bitter jealousies arose to warp and ruin her family. But neither would I lie to this extraordinary queen.

“I'll tell you what I can, Your Grace.”

Her voice was tentative, and I could see her brace herself for the answer. As she looked into my eyes I glimpsed the vulnerable woman behind the queen, the legend.

“So many queens before me have come and gone, their legacies washed away like sand beneath the tide. In that place to which you return . . . will my name fade as have so many before me? Will anyone remember?”

Against all royal protocol, I reached out and took one of her soft, ink-stained hands in mine. “Your Grace,” I whispered around the giant lump in my throat, “your legacy will never fade. You
will
be remembered. Even a thousand years from now, your name will live on.”

Chapter 40

I
MADE SEVERAL WRONG TURNS AS
I
LED THE OTHERS
through the twisting, turning passageways. The musty, damp stone pressed heavier as they followed me down and down. The torches Phoebe and I carried spat flecks of hot pitch onto our gowns, but I beat out the sparks, never slowing. When the walls tightened, forcing us to squeeze through sideways, my heartbeat faltered.

Oh no. Can't breathe. Too tight.

I wouldn't—couldn't—lose control.

Not now.

Claustrophobia pecked at me. Peck. Peck. Peck. An evil bird nibbling away my reason. Collum frowned at me but said nothing as I moved faster through the tunnel. My brain filled with two words.
Get out. Getoutgetoutgetout!

When the tunnel split into three smaller ones, I nearly lost it.

Oh God. Which way?

Phoebe shot me a scared look as my mother's rhythmic groans grew closer together. We both knew what it meant. The baby was on its way. And we had to get home before it arrived.

I braced myself against the wall, choking on the sharp, metallic tang of fear and adrenaline. Beneath my palm, I felt a design, grooves carved into the stone. Something buzzed up from my memory, but I shoved it back at Phoebe's shout.

“Oy! I can feel wind. This way.”

The torch's flame trembled as a cold breeze wafted against my sweaty face. I nearly sobbed with relief.

Thank you. Thank you.

The tunnels ended at a grated entrance near the back of the abbey. I gulped for air as we emerged into the crisp winter night. Marveling, I realized we'd traveled underground all the way beneath the cobblestoned square to the rear of the cathedral. The large village that surrounded the palace and abbey was dark, all its occupants still abed. But that wouldn't last for long. Dawn was approaching. And we had to be deep in the forest when it came.

Between us, Collum and I kept my moaning, barely conscious mother upright as Bran and Phoebe stole inside a nearby stable, absconding with several horses and tack. Without wagon or sled, we had no alternative. Wrapped in her cloak, Mom curled sideways on the front of Bran's saddle. He held her in place with one arm, controlling the reins with the other.

Snowflakes floated down as we raced through the village, down a rutted road, past sleeping farms, until we reached the treeline. Mom's guttural moans occasionally drifted up like smoke into the frigid air. Galloping at his side, I watched Bran grip her tighter, jaw flexed as he glanced my way. The bluish glow from the snow-covered ground shadowed his eyes and carved his face into a marble statue.

I must've looked worried, because he winked. “Not to worry, preety lady,” he panted in an awful Russian accent. “Am strong like bull.”

By the time we reached the spot in the woods where we'd emerged three days before, the snow had stopped. The moon peeked between rushing black clouds, illuminating the thick powder.

I jumped down and bolted to where Bran was struggling to keep my mother from tumbling off. I helped her down, keeping her upright while Bran dismounted. She was shivering uncontrollably. With no nearby place to sit but the snow-laden ground, we sandwiched her between us, sharing our heat as she convulsed. My mother's belly pressed into me, high and round. Her knees sagged and her head dropped onto my shoulder.

Bran's eyes bored into mine across my mother's shuddering body. “Hope.” My name emerged from his lips in a mist of white that wreathed around us. “There's something I—”

Phoebe skidded to a halt beside us, ice particles spraying from her horse's hoofs. I took on Mom's weight as Bran went to assist Collum, but was waved away.

“Coll's bleeding again,” Phoebe said quietly at my side. “It's bad. Can you watch out for him and I'll help Bran with Sarah?”

“I'm not deaf, you know,” Collum spat. “And I don't need help. Let's just bloody well get this over with.”

“I'll take Sarah,” Bran murmured. With a last, troubled look at me, he scooped my mother into his arms and trudged off into the forest.

Phoebe raced ahead of Bran to break a trail. As Collum stumbled after, she called over her shoulder. “Quit being such a stubborn ass, Coll, and let Hope help you.”

I drew even with Collum, almost gagging at the strong, mineral waft of blood that emanated from him, corrupting the clean, cold smell of the forest. In the night's bridal shades of moonlight and snow, the liquid streaming down his arm gleamed black as an oil slick.

“I said I'm fine,” he muttered.

“Oh yeah?” I countered. “Well, you
look
like a freaking ghost. And if you bleed out any more, you'll pass out and I'll have to drag you the rest of the way. So, please . . . Please just let me help you.”

Collum stared at me for a long moment, mouth tucked in at the corners. “You,” he said quietly, “have surprised me, Hope Walton. I never expected it of you.”

“Why, Collum MacPherson,” I kidded. “Is that an actual compliment? Coming from
you?

He didn't smile. Instead he inched closer. “Listen,” he said, hazel eyes intense. “We wouldn't have made it out without you. I just . . .” He sighed. “I just want you to be careful around Cameron, aye?”

BOOK: Into the Dim
12.17Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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