Sanctuary of Roses Prologue

Tricourten Keep

England, 1132

"Come, Maddie," Lady Anne of Tricourten urged. "We've only till the end of Seton's watch at the gate." Her voice, usually steady unless she was confronted by her husband Fantin, wavered as she glanced out the arrow-slit window in her solar.

Madelyne, though only ten, recognized the fear and desperation in her mother's eyes, and swallowed back her own terror. If her father found them, caught them leaving...nay. She would not allow the thought into her mind. Drawing the heavy cloak about her shoulders, Madelyne caught up its overlong hem and pulled the hood to cover her hair.

Anne opened the door of her solar, and, grasping her daughter's smaller hand in her cool one, led the way into the dark corridor. The edges of their rough woolen cloaks brushed silently along the cold stone floor, and the coarse material prickled Madelyne's neck and wrists. A mere torch lit the end of the corridor that began at the stairs descending to the Great Hall, where the sounds of drunken revelry reverberated among the rafters.

A great lump formed in the back of Madelyne's throat when they paused at the top of the stair. One more step and they would be in view of anyone who cared to notice two darkly-cloaked figures inching their way down the stone stairs and across the rear of the hall. Her mother's fingers clasped more tightly around hers, hesitating...and then she stepped forward and down.

Their descent was swift as they huddled along the stone wall, trying to blend with the shadows. Once upon the floor of the hall, Anne released Madelyne's hand and darted through a shaft of light thrown by a torch, stopping in a shadowy corner. She turned back to her daughter and gestured: Come, quickly.

Swallowing heavily, Madelyne looked out over the hall, where more flickering torches and the blazing fire at the other end lit the room enough for her to see the sweat rolling down the faces of the revelers.

Her father, Fantin de Belgrume, Lord of Tricourten, sat at the high table, holding a goblet aloft. His pale blond hair gleamed like wheat shifting in the sun, and his chill laugh sliced through the other noises to settle over Madelyne. She shrank back into the shadows when he looked toward the rear of the hall, fear rising in her throat. For a moment, all time halted and it seemed as though she could hear her heart pounding over the cacophony in the hall.

Relief washed over her when he shifted his gaze without pausing, and Madelyne suddenly became aware that her mother had moved further toward the door leading to freedom, even as she gestured for her to follow. Madelyne took a deep breath and hurried through the patch of light, gratefully melding into the dimness beyond the torch.

One of the hounds her father favored raised its head as she passed by, lifting the corner of its lip to show a sharp fang. Madelyne skirted around him, wishing she had a bone or aught to throw to the demon, and tried to ignore the low growl that rumbled in its throat. If the dog began to bark....

She forced herself to keep walking, and at last she reached a small alcove just adjacent to the door of the keep. Anne waited in this shadow, and, after a quick, hard embrace, she drew her daughter toward the large oaken door. It was slightly ajar to allow men-at-arms, hounds, smoke, and air to pass within and without the keep, and once through this entrance, they would be closer to freedom than Maddie had ever dreamed.

Thus 'twas with overwhelming relief that she followed her mother as she slipped through the opening and found herself huddled against the outside of the castle wall, blinking up at the quarter moon and starry sky.

"Praise Mary," Anne murmured, and, adjusting the small parcel she wore under her cloak, grasped her daughter's hand yet again.

The walk across the bailey to the side entrance, where Sir Seton de Masin stood his watch, was short. They stopped at the edge of the pool of light that spilled onto the earth, encircling the doorway. Madelyne stood to one side as her mother spoke in hushed tones to the red-haired man. She tried to ignore the starkness on the knight's face as he took her mother's hands in his, and Madelyne looked away when Anne tipped her face for the man to bestow a kiss on her lips.

A kiss of peace 'twas not.

Her mother's low tones became audible with emotion as she bid farewell to the man who would help them escape. "God be with you, Seton," she said, and Madelyne saw her caress his face with her palm. Then, as if she could no longer bear to look upon him, Anne turned to her daughter, once again taking her hand.

The door, heavy with thick wooden planks and iron bars and studs, inched open just enough for the two figures to slip through.

"Fare thee well, my love," Seton's voice carried quietly on the night's breeze. "God be with you."

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