A Knight with Grace – Chapter One

A Knight with Grace by Laurel O'Donnell

A Knight with Grace by Laurel O’Donnell

Chapter One

England
1183

Damien of Acquitaine looked out over the Great Hall of Castle Acquitaine. The arched ceiling stretched high, sheltering the lords, ladies and many peasants who clustered inside, waiting for their chance to speak with Lady Aurora. Along the wall, placed at regular intervals, knights were stationed below the large stained glass windows. The line of people to see Aurora stretched to the back of the room.

Grace Willoughby hadn’t realized her mother was so sick. Her mother lay in bed, her dark hair fanned out against the white bedding, making her face seem ghostly white. Her face was so pale. So…sickly. Rings lined her eyes. Her brow was furrowed in anguish, a sheen of perspiration dotting it. Grace wiped a strand of damp hair from her mother’s brow, trying desperately to be brave. Trying desperately to be strong. But her mother was so weak. She could hear her labored breathing. She touched one of her mother’s hands and it was cold. Grace wrapped her hand around her mother’s in an attempt to warm her. “I love you, Mum,” she whispered and tried to keep the tears from closing her throat.

Her mother grasped Grace’s hand. Grace entwined her fingers through her mother’s. “Be brave, my little sunshine,” her mother said softly.

“I will,” Grace replied.

Her mother started to cough again. She was coughing a lot lately.

Blood splattered the front of Grace’s dress, the dark red liquid leaving a smear on her mother’s lips. Her mother quickly wiped the blood away with her sleeve. Grace knew what Mitchel, the baker’s son, had told her was true. Her mother was dying. Tears rose in her eyes, blurring her vision of her mother. Grace hated the tears and quickly wiped them away with the heel of her hand so she could get a clear look at her mother. Despite her illness, her mother was still so beautiful. Her dark hair shone in the moonlight against the white cover. Grace stroked a lock of her mother’s hair at her shoulder. She would miss her when she had passed. She would miss her dearly.

Suddenly, the door flung open. Her father stormed into the room, his hard cold eyes sweeping the scene. He was a short man, round in the waist and round in the face. His brow was furrowed. He pointed a trembling finger at Grace. “Get out.”

“Alan!” her mother called and struggled to sit up.

Alan seized Grace by the arm and pulled her roughly from the bed.

Grace tried to get her feet beneath her, but her father yanked her toward the door, pushing her away from the bed.

Her mother shouted, her weakened voice finding a moment of strength. “Grace, don’t go!”

“Father!” Grace called, alarmed at his brutal hold. He had never laid a hand on her before. Not like this.

He flung her from the room with such force she landed on her buttocks on the cold stones of the floor. He shut the door behind her with a resounding thud. Stunned, Grace could only sit and stare, bemused and saddened, at the wooden door separating her from her mother. She looked at the guards standing on either side of the door like silent sentinels. Both men glanced away, unable to meet her gaze. She turned her gaze down at her hands splayed on the stone of the floor. Why had her father tossed her out of her mother’s room? Why had he done that? What had she done?

The room behind her was silent. Strangely quiet. And then a large clatter came from inside the room followed by a roar of rage that so scared Grace she back pedaled into a shadowed corner and pulled her knees to her chest. What had happened? Was her mother dead? Was that what was making her father angry? Was he so angry because he was losing her? Her heart twisted. She wanted to be with her mother in her last moments, to comfort her. Grace caught sight of her mother’s blood on the front of her dress. Maybe her father was angry because he knew her mother only had a little time left. Yes. That must be it. Father was angry because mother was leaving him.

The handle to the door moved. The guards straightened. The door opened. Her father emerged with a strange sadness in his eyes, but his lips were clenched tight.

Grace slowly climbed to her feet. She knew she should comfort him. He was sad. But she was afraid. Afraid of his anger. What would he do if her mother was gone? Over his shoulder, she saw the flickering candle on the night table cast a dancing shadow of red onto the white blankets of her mother’s bed.

He shifted his gaze to Grace. His lips curled into a sneer of disgust.

Shock raced through Grace at his hateful eyes. “Father?”

“Get away from me,” he whispered savagely.

Grace took an immediate step backward, stunned. Dismayed. Hurt.

He continued past her, a small whirlwind of command and fury.

Grace quickly moved forward and looked into the room from her position outside in the hallway. Her mother lay half on the bed and half off. Her arm hung down to the floor, her fingers stained with blood. “No,” Grace whispered and jerked forward to go to her. But one of the guards closed the door before her, barring her path. The image of her mother’s open eyes burned into her mind. She walked stiffly to the closed door and reached for the handle.

One of the guards grabbed the handle, blocking her touch. “No, Lady Grace. She is gone.”

Gone. For a moment, she didn’t understand. She looked at the guard blankly. His brown eyes shone with sympathy.

Gone. Dead. Mother. Tears welled in her eyes. She was alone. She reached for the door handle again, but the guard shook his head, refusing to remove his hand and allow her entrance.

She stood for a moment, unsure. Her mother always had the answers. She always knew what to do. Now, she was gone. A swirling abyss of sadness opened inside of Grace. She turned and began to walk stiffly down the corridor. Her mother was gone. She measured each step, afraid she would miss one and tumble to the floor in a pile of useless sorrow. Mother was dead. She had to get away. Dead. She had to stop the voice in her head. It couldn’t be true, but she knew it was. She ran down the corridor, racing blindly through the hallways. She didn’t know where she was going, but she ran. She tripped, landing hard on her hands and knees. She stared at the stones. Dead. Tears rushed down her face, dripping onto the cold stones. She was alone. She pushed herself to her feet and dashed off again. Someone called her name, but she continued running, racing blindly away.

Grace threw herself onto the floor as sobs shook her body. Her crying echoed through the room; tremors shook her. When she was left with only ragged gasps for breaths, she looked up to find out where she was. A white clad altar towered before her; a tall wooden cross hung on the wall behind it. The chapel. She was in the chapel. She didn’t remember opening the large doors and entering, but she was here. She pushed herself to her knees and clasped her hands tightly. She closed her eyes. “I don’t understand why You took her. But please, Lord, please don’t let me be alone. Help me find a knight to take me away from all of this. I don’t want to be all alone.”

 

*****


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