"Sir Gavarnie!" Henri bellowed again, and fair threw Golde from his horse. 'Twas a miracle she landed on her feet.
"Henri!" a man shouted to Golde's left. "The baron-"
"My liege!" Henri shouted a third time.
An ache welled in Golde's chest that had naught to do with her injuries. She'd seen the two arrows protruding from the groomsman's back; had seen the baron go down. Then the lights had been extinguished.
Sir Gavarnie was dead, else he would have answered. The empty ache swelled and she choked for breath. To never see his dark face again, to never hear his rumbling voice, to never feel his touch. Though he'd admitted to killing his wife, Golde knew better. She could feel it in her bones. He had not done it, and-
Her heart paused, then hammered at Gavarnie's sharp-honed command in the darkness. Her knees near buckled, so great was her relief.
She gulped air, then bent double, clutching her ribs. Why had he not answered sooner? The great oaf. She should have known no arrow would be sharp enough to pierce his thick hide.
The ground vibrated and she smelled horse, heard the sound of mud sucking at hooves, the blowing breath of the animal. If she did not move quickly, she would be trampled. She staggered forward, widening her eyes in a effort to see.
"Call off," Sir Gavarnie ordered, and she followed the sound of his voice.
"Lund," a man reported. "Henri," the liegeman who'd been charged with her care snapped. "Bogo."
When no other names were offered, Henri urged, "Mount up behind me, mi'lord. Let us begone."
"Silence," Sir Gavarnie hissed.
His voice sounded near, and Golde made straight for it. The thought of an arrow sinking between her shoulder blades lent her impetus. Abruptly she bounced off a horse's rump and her feet slipped. Gasping, she stumbled sideways and crumpled to her knees. She'd scarce hit the ground before a hand bumped her forehead, then slipped to grasp the neckline of her tunic. Cold steel pressed against her throat.
"Nay," she pleaded, trying to shield her neck with her hands.
The grip on her tunic loosened and the sword was withdrawn. "Quiet," the liegeman Lund whispered.
Praise God it was one of the baron's men. She started to stand, but Lund's hand stayed her. Wet, grainy mud had already seeped through her tunic and chainse to her knees. Now it began leaking into her boots.
She clamped her teeth together as a shiver produced tearing pain in her ribs. Yet the wretched ache was preferable to being skewered by an arrow.
Unable to see, she strained to hear any sound that might indicate their attackers yet lurked about. Crickets whirred, but other than that, all was still. No brush rustled, no twigs snapped. The air did not stir.
She felt like a blind insect wrapped in a giant cocoon. No wonder the baron was so often dark of spirit. 'Twas maddening to have no sight.
"'Twould appear we are safe for the moment," Sir Gavarnie said at last. "What became of Nigel and Stephan?"
When Lund made no attempt to help her up, Golde clutched his forearm and pulled herself to her feet.
"Stephan went down at the same time as Trelle," Bogo intoned.
"Nigel was a good space ahead of us," Henri offered.
Lund moved away from her as he spoke. "I saw Nigel look back and extinguish his lamp."
"Bogo, a light," Sir Gavarnie ordered.
"Are you certain, my liege?"
"I'll not leave our dead lying about. Dismount and hold the lamp low, that none can draw a bead on you."
Sparks flew as a flint was struck and a small pool of yellow light flickered to life. Golde's gaze immediately latched onto the baron where he stood encircled by horses and the remaining liegemen.
Her heart leapt upward to clog her throat. Sword drawn and legs braced, it appeared he looked directly at her. A lusty, pagan barbarian. A savage who would enjoy a contest between himself and the devil. A powerful chieftan of yore who would embrace her unholy eyes as a sign of good fortune, not evil.
His gaze shifted away . . .
She sighed, ignoring her discomfort at the slight exhale. Would that the baron could see, and that his fearless heated look was meant for her.