Crusader's Torch Page 64

"To the merchant's son, if you wish to know. He's very pleased with them; fourteen years old and just learning to swagger." He knew that such a donation was an insult to her, and he smiled as he told her. "Think of that boy with your weapons. Think, Olivia. Oh, and the coins are gone, as coins so often are. You have no need of them, in any case."

Her anger was not as great as it appeared, since this information was the only hope he had given her. If the merchant's fourteen-year-old son wore her weapons, Sigfroit or Giralt might see them and recognize their distinctive design. There was a chance—very small but a chance—that they would find her through her weapons. "You had no right to give my weapons away."

"I have a right to do whatever I choose. I am a Master of the Hospitalers. You gave up any rights when you donned men's clothing and undertook your deception. What woman is entitled to weapons, in any case? You are not a Chatelaine. You have no husband to declare you his deputy. You should not have any weapons at all. If you possess them you are breaking the law." He watched her, his satisfaction growing.

"Every fishwife has a dagger," Olivia scoffed. "No one claims them. No one suggests that she should be without one. No law takes it from her."

"You are not a fishwife, you are a rich man's widow, which is another matter entirely." He came up to her and took her face between his hands, holding her so that she could not escape his kiss. "You must learn to be more responsive. You must return my passion, or fight me with hatred. You are not to have your lips so like a slice of liver."

"Was that what I did?" Olivia asked. "I wasn't aware of it." She reached up and took hold of his wrists. "If you continue to touch me, I will be sick." It was a meaningless threat, but it had its effect; de Monfroy released her, scowling at her. "And I wish to rest. You said something about rest when you brought me here."

"I said you had better be rested when I come to you this evening. I will not be put off, Olivia. You will receive me, and you will do all that I demand of you." His tongue flicked over his lips. "You will do everything."

"Or what?" she said.

It was obvious he took delight in telling her. "Or you will be denounced, you will be stoned. It is a shame that one as young and lovely as you are should die so uselessly."

"How sweetly you pay court," marveled Olivia. "Queen Eleanor would be proud of you."

"The Queen of England is a harlot," said de Monfroy with ire. "She is a disgrace. Her life has been a constant insult to the honor of England and France. Nothing she has said has worth. Her rebellion against Henry proves how despicable she is." He strode to the door, each step ringing from his long-roweled spurs. He paused and offered her a casual bow. "Very well, Bondama. It shall be as you wish. You invoke the conduct of a troubador, and you will have it, for a while. You will have time to rest. But I will have you when night falls, and I will have you for as long and in as many ways as I like." He opened the door, then left the room, taking care that Olivia should hear him slam the bolt into place.

She put her hand to her throbbing head and strove to marshal her thoughts. Now that she was alone, she was determined to put what few hours she had to good use, and find the means to escape. At least she would have the night to aid her, if nothing else. She took perverse amusement in her situation. It had been so very long since she had been so wholly without resources. Esurience and the sun had taken their toll of her, and the preternatural strength that she would have possessed if she were rested and fed and walked on her native earth had deserted her. Now she was no more powerful than any grown woman who had not slept enough for over a month. She sat on the edge of the bed and looked down at her clothes. Her cotehardie was in tatters and her solers were scuffed and dusty. She longed for a bath and sweet oils to take away the grime and stench of travel. At that moment she yearned for soap and hot water almost as much as she desired intimacy and blood. That was not part of de Monfroy's plan. Olivia made a face. How could any man consider lying with a woman while he was filthy? She had seen it many, many, times but it continued to baffle her. Even the most brutal arena fighters her husband had forced upon her had been bathed, massaged, and perfumed before they came to her. But cleanliness was thought to be a sign of vanity now, a sure indication of sin. She braced her elbows on her knees and dropped her chin into her palms. There had to be a way to get out of this Pisan merchant's house. If what de Monfroy had told her about the house was the truth. And she was not certain he was telling her the truth. Her eyes stung with absent tears.

"I'll manage," she said aloud, hoping the sound of her own voice would hearten her. She coughed once and repeated, "I'll manage," this time more firmly. She was not wholly satisfied with the sound of it. "I will find a way." That was better, she decided.

She took off her cotehardie and tossed it into a heap. She had only a cottelle and her Norman trews on now, and though the day had been hot and the room she occupied was oppressively warm, she decided to leave herself half-dressed. There was no reason to give de Monfroy any assistance. She put her solers near the bed, where she could pull them on quickly. As she lay back on the bed, she whispered to herself, striving to gather as much strength as she could before de Monfroy returned. How odd to abhor the coming of the night! She, who had been so much of the night, now hoped to delay its coming. For with it would come de Monfroy.

At the sound of the Angelus bell, Olivia opened her eyes, her mind alert although her body moved slowly, as if she were under water. She blinked, adjusting to the soft light of sunset filtering in through the high, small windows. If only the legends were true, she thought, and vampires were truly able to change shape in the night: she would metamorphose into a bat and flap into the sky, or become a wolf or tiger—at one time or another she had heard that vampires were capable of becoming both those animals—and fight de Monfroy as he deserved to be fought.

She took care to lie still, to give the appearance of being yet asleep, in the hope that her dissembling would give her a slight advantage when de Monfroy came. She made herself close her eyes and rely on her other, heightened senses, anticipating his arrival.

At last, with the room all but dark, there was the sound of the bolt being drawn back and the raising of wards in the lock. She resisted the urge to rush to the attack, guessing that de Monfroy would be armed and suspicious.

He carried an oil lamp and his unsheathed sword. He closed the door softly, with great care, and he crossed the room on bare feet, at pains to make as little noise as possible. He had shed his mail and was now in a cote of samite that rustled when he moved, like autumn leaves driven by the wind. He held the lamp so that its feeble light did not fall directly on the bed, but let him move with safety across the room. As he approached the bed, Olivia could see that he had a short whip thrust through his belt. He paused beside the bed, staring down greedily. "The hour has come, Bondama."

Olivia pretended to be about to waken. She stirred, turning onto her side. She wanted to lash out with her feet, to kick him and knock him over or injure him. If he had been one step closer she might have taken the chance, but as it was, he was just far enough away that she could not be sure of striking him; attempting such a ploy without success would be more danger than remaining inactive, no matter how terrible the waiting became.

De Monfroy reached out at last, holding the oil lamp up so that he could see her features clearly. "I know you are awake. Olivia. You are awake."

She opened her eyes. "I hoped it was part of my dream," she said.

He smiled at her. "Did you? I will remind you of that before the night is over." He placed the lamp in a hanging support. "You are rested?"

"A little," she said, hoping he would keep back from her a bit longer, while she had a chance to evaluate his state of mind. She was worried because he was armed—that boded ill—and because he had brought a whip. She was aware of his need for violence, but she had not anticipated he would begin with it.

"You will be worn out before I am finished with you. And tonight it is only a beginning." He reached down and took her jaw between thumb and ringers, pressing hard so that he felt the bone more than the skin. "You will be completely mine."

"Never," Olivia said very quietly, and revealed far more defiance than shouting protest would.

"Say that again tomorrow," de Monfroy goaded her. "You won't." He pulled the whip from his belt and rubbed the handle along her face. "This is the easy one, only braided leather thongs. I have others, with barbs at the ends of the thongs, and those with lashes of wire. This is gentle, soft." The end of the handle was under her chin and he forced her head back with it, studying her face for a sign of fear. "It will come," he said to himself, musingly, as he bent over her. "The fear will come."

Olivia held the insides of her cheeks with her teeth to keep silent. Orval, Sier de Monfroy brought back too many memories, too many recollections of nights in Roma, long ago, with Justus watching from his hidden room, and then, when that no longer satisfied him, his participation. De Monfroy was too much like Justus; her loathing increased as he spoke to her.

"Women like you. Women like you. You want everyone to believe that you are independent as men. You flaunt yourselves, masquerading as eunuchs and pretending to be men. You go against every ordinance of God and all laws of men, and you take pride in your unnatural state." He leaned ever closer to her as he went on. "You must learn. You must learn what you are. You have to be brought back to the role God made for you. You are to submit to men, to depend on us as you depend on God. Anything else is devilish, damnable." His face was little more than a hand's-breadth away from hers. "It is not for you to defy God and what God has made you. It is for you to adore without question, to be meek, as God intended you to be."

Olivia spat in his face.

He straightened up, the handle of his whip cracking against the side of her face, leaving a bleeding welt. "Whore! Whore! You unnatural slut!"

"Better that than what you are," she said, and launched herself at de Monfroy, reaching for the whip and his sword.

She careened into him, knocking him off-balance. His sword dropped to the floor. He swayed, reaching out for the bedpost to keep from falling as Olivia stretched one hand toward his eyes, the thumb hooking inward. "Back, harlot!" he bellowed, lashing at her with his whip. She got one foot behind his knee and jerked, trying to pull him off his feet.

He staggered, then stood upright. He had his whip hand up, and he brought the thongs down across her back repeatedly, cursing with every blow, until at last Olivia released him and dropped to her knees. De Monfroy continued to strike at her, his curses now a steady muttering, like a prayer.

Olivia scuttled back, searching for the sword he had dropped. The pain in her shoulders and back was a huge weight, as if an enormous animal with tremendous fangs and claws had fixed itself on her. She could feel her weakness increasing, and a dangerous, seductive lassitude that could rob her of purpose.

De Monfroy's expression had changed; there was a vile sensuality mixed with his wrath now, a treacherous pleasure that robbed him of both pity and shame. His curses were more breathless as he pursued her, his mouth shining.

It took Olivia longer than she imagined was possible to get out of range of his whip. She had almost backed herself against the wall, which was more dangerous than almost anything else she could do. Feeling with one hand, she moved beside the wall, hoping she had enough distance before she reached a corner of the room, to break away from de Monfroy's pursuit. She could feel blood on her arms now, and starting to spread down her back, making the rent strips of her cottelle stick to her. It was an agonizing effort to remain silent, but she dared not make any sound beyond that of moving; her silence was essential, for once she screamed, she was not sure she could stop, and she knew with cold certainty that screams or sobs would serve only to incite de Monfroy to greater frenzy.

As de Monfroy lashed out at Olivia, a few of the thongs caught in the lamp hanging. The power of his wrenching attempt to get his whip free broke off two of the braided thongs and brought the lamp hanging crashing to the floor.

In the two or three heartbeats that afforded her, Olivia bolted across the room, throwing herself forward so that she could slide under the bed, for that would not only protect her a bit longer, she had seen a glint from de Monfroy's sword beneath the hangings.

"You are monstrous! Monstrous!" shrieked de Monfroy as he flung himself at her. His free hand closed around her ankle, tight as the jaw of a jackal.

Olivia kicked out, her heel smashing into his face and against his hand, but to no avail. She grabbed for the bed to keep from being dragged back to de Monfroy. Her fingers slipped as de Monfroy began relentlessly to drag her toward him.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies