Cover image for Hope and glory
Title:
Hope and glory
Author:
Sutcliffe, Katherine.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Jove Books, 1999.
Physical Description:
308 pages ; 18 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780515124767
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Weary of war, Roland de Gallienne, the Black Flame, a mercenary loyal to Henry II of England, seeks refuge at the Chateauroux monastery, where he he encounters a beautiful healer, held prisoner by the evil abbot, who battles her growing feelings for the handsome enemy warrior.


Author Notes

Katherine Sutcliffe is a multi-award winning national and international betselling author of nineteen historical romance and contemporary suspense novels. She has twice been a finalist in the Romance Writers of America RITA Award for best historical of the year, and is a two-time winner of the Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award. A four-time finalist for the Romantic Times Best Book of the Year Award, she has also been named Favorite Author of the Year by Affaire de Coeur and Bestselling Super Release of the Year by Bookrak Bookstore Magazine, among other awards.

Katherine has also worked as Consultant Head Writer for the daytime dramas "As the World Turns" and "Another World" and has played herself on "Another World." She has been featured in numerous genre magazines, major newspapers, TV Guide , and on "The Jenny Jones Show."

A native Texan, Katherine lives near Dallas with her husband and children.


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Sutcliffe portrays a realistically grim medieval setting in this suspensful romance about a warrior and a saint. Roland the Black Flame, loyal mercenary to King Henry II, has sought respite for his men in a French monastery famous for providing sanctuary for a woman named Hope. She is considered by some to be a saint because of her unique healing abilities and her prescient dreams, but she is abused by an evil abbot. Thinking he is rescuing Hope and her brother, Roland takes them along when he leaves, only to find that she hates him and all the English, believing that they had slain the rest of her family. Many of Roland's men see her as an evil sorceress rather than a saint, and matters only get worse as several of them are killed in a bloody ambush. Then, as soon as Hope begins to realize how decent and kind Roland really is, they are faced with new and more terrible challenges. --Diana Tixier Herald


Publisher's Weekly Review

Depicting the 12th-century wars between England and France, Katherine Sutcliffe pens a potent, passionate tale. Roland de Gallienne, an English knight known as the Black Flame, allows his weary soldiers to rest in a French Abbey, where a cloaked figure tries to murder him in his sleep. He learns the perpetrator is Hope of Châteauroux, a French woman held captive by the evil abbot for the riches she earns as a healer. Roland steals her away, determined to discover her murderous motives and her true powers. Horrors of war, a cannibalistic enemy and numerous beheadings give the book a gory, realistic tone. Meanwhile, a fortune-telling hag and Hope's visions lend subtle, credible foreshadowing to this compelling story. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One France, 1189 Despair! Despair! Despair!     Blood and woe.     Murder and melee. Qui en Dieu a fiance il ne doit estre mas . He who puts his trust in God has no need for anything more. So mocked the engraving on Roland de Gallienne's finely honed and blood-caked sword.     They would fight no more, Roland had decided, until their wounds and grievances and pride had been healed in a place of sanctuary, free from the threat of death. For that-reason he had turned his men away from the campaign in Poitiers, and directed them toward the Abbey of the Miracles.     The town of Déols lay still and silent beneath the blanket of fog that had settled so heavily along the earth just after nightfall. Somewhere above the cloak of gray mist spread out over the stars, an eerie moon shimmered through the clouds, casting dim light and heavy shadow over the craggy, broken ground around them. For well over an hour the beleaguered army had cautiously meandered its way up the twisting, curving slope toward the infamous Déols. King Henry's battalion would not be welcome there, at the abbey. Two years before, prior to Richard Coeur de Lion's having sided with Philip Augustus in this tedious war, Richard had headquartered his army at Déols while he occupied Châteauroux. His mercenaries had pillaged the town, and once ready to move on, Richard had ordered his men to burn the town and the abbey, lest they should be used as a base for an attack on Châteauroux. The sacrilege had been prevented, however, by a strange incident that night.     A group of frightened townsfolk had gathered to pray before the statue of the Virgin outside the abbey's south door, when mercenaries sacking the town before it was burned came and jeered at them in their habitual godless fashion; for all who fought for pay were under formal sentence of excommunication. One of them threw a stone at the statue, breaking the arm of the infant Jesus, which, to the terror of the onlookers, began to flow with blood, while the impious soldier was struck dead. Once news of this miracle reached Châteauroux, Richard's men became terrified. The prince countermanded his orders for the burning of the town and abbey, and the next evening, the statue was seen to move and tear its veil. Richard himself had ridden to Déols to inspect the happening, and had returned to his camp white-faced and humbled, and willing to testify upon the Holy Sacrament that the miracle was truth.     In view of this miracle of God, the kings, Henry and Philip, had been convinced by two cardinals to make a truce for two years. The truce had yet to be acknowledged, however, before Lusignan rebels in France, reputed to be subsidized by Philip Augustus, were again causing riot across Henry's lands. Unrest had risen to new levels when word reached Henry in England that two of his English knights were seized as they returned from a pilgrimage in Compostela. This had been in response to Richard's taking of Count Raymond's minister, Peter Seilun, who had advised the count to murder and castrate some Poitevin merchants. Finally, in July of 1188, Henry, King of England, had been forced to set out for France once again.     So, the war had escalated, and whatever friendship and trust that once lay between the two powerful leaders was now history, and both sides had felt the blow of defeat time and again.     But the end was near. Roland knew this. With any luck his friend Henry would at last sit face-to-face with the arrogant Philip Augustus and agree on a treaty that would, hopefully, leave England and France at peace. Such a contract would not come too soon to suit him, for knight he may be, but he was mighty weary of fighting--be it for God, or king, or all the fair virgins in Christendom. After three long years away from England and his home in the midlands, he was ready to return, despite the equally annoying and bitterly galling obligation awaiting him there--that of marrying the homely and wasp-tempered Hildegard, daughter of his father's most powerful, and troublesome, baron, Arnold of Cheswyck.     God's teeth, had his soul not found an everlasting penitence in the fiery furnaces of Hell he might have stood intentionally before Philip's army and invited them all to take their best shot with their straightest lances, for he would rather look into the wan face of cold death than gaze upon his betrothed's countenance for a single night. Saints, but she was ugly.     As if sensing his crippled mood, the great black destrier he rode tossed its noble head and snorted, prancing sideward along the ancient path, coming much too close to the precipice, which, when looked upon in the dark and dreary fog, seemed to plunge to the very depths of perdition. Sitting straighter, Roland glanced over his shoulder at the long line of soldiers trailing behind him, their heads fallen forward in fatigue, the groans of the wounded and dying drifting over the landscape like the moans of ghosts. A knight could find no more loyal or valiant vassals than those who had attended him the last many months, for each man was under no obligation to fight for longer than forty days a year, which is why Henry had so often been forced to buy the services of mercenaries. Yet because Roland had chosen to remain so faithfully at Henry's call, so had his men. They all deserved sainthood, as far as he was concerned. Once he returned to Wytham he would make certain that each knight and his vassals were substantially rewarded.     At last Roland saw the town and the abbey, which appeared to grow up from the rock foundation on which it had been constructed, its massive walls reaching high toward the heavens and built of stone the same hue as the earth. From each of its tiny windows a speck of yellow light could be seen, shining forth like beacons of God through the bleak condensation. The huts of the village were shrouded in darkness, however, attesting to the lateness of the hour. No doubt their arrival in Déols would cause much in the way of distress among the townsfolk. The army would all be wise to look to their backs during their stay.     By the time they arrived at the abbey's gate, the weather had gone from bad to worse. A cold wind had risen and the fog had grown denser. Though the army yet wore the mail and helmets of combat, the frigid air bit into their flesh and their wounds with enough ferocity that each man was hard pressed to will back his impatience as they gazed up at the cold gray walls' and awaited Roland's next move. He was not altogether certain that most of his men would approve of his intruding on the abbey at such an hour, though he knew there were many who were eager to confess, and many others who were mortally wounded and close to death, deserving their last rites. Still, they were all aware of the supposed miracles that had taken place here before. They also remembered the quick death that had come to the foolish soldier who had thought to desecrate the holy ground. Pilgrims from as far away as Spain and Italy were arriving at Déols every day in hopes of witnessing for themselves the weeping shrine. And there had been other rumors as well: rumors of a living saint sheltered within the abbey walls, a saint who was said to hold the power of healing, and who, if he was to believe the hearsay, possessed the ability to foretell the future with a clear and startling accuracy. Mayhap his coming here had more to do with curiosity and some secret desire to renew his belief in such heavenly blessings than a need to rest and lick his wounds before meeting Henry at Le Mans, Roland thought. He was well aware of his own waning faith, as were his men. And there was his refusal to confess before going into battle. After all, confession was demanded from knights before performing any solemn act of their lives, and most particularly before going to battle. Some had even attested that such a denial, nay, insult, in the face of God was no doubt the reason for their recent failures on the battlefield.     Mayhap that was true. But to go to his knee and confess before a God he had come to question seemed a sacrilege in itself. How could he pretend otherwise when he had witnessed so many stalwart and God-fearing comrades die horribly beneath the sword, his own young squire included not two days past. The fine lad's blood still stained the tunic he wore beneath his mail. He had refused to wash it, but wore it like a hair-shirt to remind him that in war there is but death. and destruction that is mindless of age and beauty and good. Beneath the bloodied sword, all were punished.     He was about to order Roger de Ferres to dismount and see to the awakening of the abbey, when several of his horsemen approached him through the dark.     "Sir," came a young man's voice. "Why came we here to this place? 'Tis known we will not be welcome."     "Agreed," said another. "In truth, 'tis a disturbing place."     "Why so?" he asked briefly.     "The air is frigid, yet the summer is nigh upon us. Mayhap God will frown on our invasion upon His holiest ground."     Roland wearily removed his helmet and shoved his gloved hand through his unruly black hair. "Yea," he responded softly. "Still and all, we come not to invade, but to rest and heal our injuries. Surely God would not frown on that."     "But, sir ..." The young man shifted nervously in his saddle. "I've heard stories ..."     "Stories ...?"     "Of an angel. The pilgrims on the road mentioned she is harbored within these wails, protected by the abbot himself."     Roland flashed the vassal a kind and understanding smile, the same smile that had won him many friends--both English and French--on the long and often bloody roads of England and France; a smile that had caught the eye of many a comely wench as well.     "You are free to remain outside the abbey if you so wish, Albert. Myself, I would rather face the Pope's anger than trust my fate to a lot of furious peasants with pitchforks."     Albert Gozbert looked uneasily at his companions, who regarded him in return with an impatient eagerness to get on with their quest. Resignedly, he slid from his mount and moved through the fog to the abbey gate. There he hesitated only briefly before pounding on the wooden structure so hard that the sound echoed through the fog. Again and again he struck, until at last an irritated voice called out, "Who dares to disturb this abbey at such an hour?"     Roland moved his destrier closer and replied in a raised voice. "It is Roland de Gallienne, and in the name of our king, we request sanctuary inside this abbey."     "What?! Did I hear you correctly? Do you mean our King Philip?"     Roland's mouth curled in a smile. "Nay, I do not."     A long moment of silence ensued. Then, "Request denied. Go away and leave us in peace."     "Unless you wish me to set my men free to find respite in this village, you will allow us inside."     Another silence. "This should be discussed with the abbot, of course."     "Of course."     They waited for some time before the barricade was drawn back and the gate opened. A misty shape moved toward them, swirling the fog, causing the usually dauntless stallions they rode to toss their heads and prance nervously, to whinny and paw the hard earth while their riders struggled to control their unusual behavior. When the figure at last stood motionless before them, he waited until the men had gained control of the uneasy beasts before speaking.     "Sir Roland, what brings you to Déols?"     "Are you the abbot?" Roland inquired.     "No. The abbot wishes me into inquire over your reasons for this invasion."     "You may tell His Magnificence that Roland has no wish to invade the abbey, or this village. We wish only to rest amid this place of God. Our wounds are many, and our spirits are weary. Many of my men are dying and call out for the confession."     "But we have heard, Roland de Gallienne, that you and your men are heretics and are to be damned by excommunication from the church."     Roger de Ferres dug his spurs into his mount so the animal lunged toward the robed official, yet the cowled figure stood unmoved by the knight's outburst of anger.     "'Tis a lie!" Roger cried. "Who has spread such slander about Roland de Gallienne? I will face him myself and cut out his tongue!"     Roland, having never taken his eyes from the dim figure, responded with less vehemence, but with enough authority so he was certain the official would not mistake his irritation for less than it was. "Roger is correct. 'Tis a lie, and were I to face my accuser he would sorely regret spreading the false tale."     "If the tale prove to be false, then I beg your pardon. However, before the abbot invites you inside he must be given your solemn vow that, once entering our most sacred grounds, you and your men will agree to adopt the holy strictures of the abbey as long as you remain here."     "You have my oath."     "And what sort of reward do you intend to offer our meager sanctuary in return for its generosity to your weary men, Sir Roland?"     Smiling unemotionally, Roland replied, "Our penitent souls, of course. What greater reward could God ask from a lot of possible heretics?"     There was silence from the cloaked figure, then it turned and disappeared through the thickening fog. The thump of the slamming abbey gates sounded in the darkness.     "Seems even the good abbot is not beyond an attempt to enrich their paltry existences," Roland said dryly.     "So it would seem," Roger replied.     The gates were thrown open in that moment, and a voice called out, "You may enter."     Because of the late hour, they were not greeted, as was the norm, by the usual monks who lined up in ranks to welcome their more aristocratic guests. Nor were they met by the abbot. Instead, the hosteler, a stout, white-haired man who moved quickly despite his rotund size, led them all to the line of dormitories where they were shown some forty straw mattresses, each with its individual latrine. Roland was then shown to a tiny stone cell, set apart from the dormitory, where he found a bed that was little more than a long, wide niche in the wall that had been covered with a thick mat of sweet-smelling straw. He was given a candle and abruptly informed by the intense and highly aggravated hosteler that Mass would be at daybreak; then he was left alone to contemplate the state of his circumstances.     As bone-weary as he felt, he could find no respite in the dreary cell. Instead, he paced the cramped, suffocating room, his mind tumbling with his troubled thoughts.     Three years. Three long years since he had last seen his beloved England, his home, and his father. Word had reached him only a fortnight ago that his father's health had deteriorated to a greater extent than it had been when they had last met face-to-face. If he lived to be one hundred, Roland thought he would never forget the look of madness that had shone so frighteningly clear in Godfrey's eyes. In truth, it was as if his father were staring into the face of the Devil, so terrified did he become when looking upon his own flesh and blood.     Yet, even then, on that fateful night, Roland had not been a stranger to his father's odd behavior. As a young boy, before his father had sent him off to squire with King Henry in London, he had witnessed a kind of suspicion and fear, and occasionally anger, when in his father's company. All his life he had stood by and watched confusedly as Godfrey poured all his interest and devotion on Harold, the younger of his two sons, while the ill-tempered, surly, and irreverent Harold had treated everyone, from his father to the lowliest. serf, as if they were little better than horse dung. Even Henry, who had truly loved few people in his life--Godfrey being among the very few to whom he would have entrusted his life--was hard pressed to understand Godfrey's reasons for disliking and distrusting his elder son to the point of refusing to acknowledge him at all on occasion.     Once, as Roland and Henry relaxed after a particularly gruesome battle, Roland had reflected on his relationship with his father, and cautiously tried to feel the king out about his ideas on Godfrey's behavior. Henry had shrugged and looked at Roland sympathetically.     "'Tis hard to know a man's mind when the man is incapable of knowing it himself. I am a sad evidence that a bond between a man and his sons does not always hold true when it comes to loyalty, my young and trusted friend. Remember well that you are the greater, and stronger, of his sons, and continue to stand by your father no matter what. Patience is an admired virtue and one for which you will be amply rewarded in Heaven."     Frowning, Roland glanced wearily about the cell, and thinking of Heaven, thought, too, about his mother. He didn't remember her well. He'd been only six when she died giving birth to Harold. She had been warned against having a second child because the birth of her firstborn had nearly killed her. She had never fully recovered from Roland's birth; therefore, when complications set in with Harold, all of Wytham had prepared for the worst.     Mayhap there was the cause for Godfrey's turmoil. Roland's godmother, Mary Goodman, wife of the blacksmith, Royce, who was his godfather, had quietly mentioned once that the earl's behavior might possibly stem from guilt over agreeing to Alais's tremendous desire to give him a son toward whom he might feel more inclined to hold affection.     Once, when he'd imbibed too much wine, Roland had stumbled his way to Matilda the hag's hut and paid her a tidy sum to look into her crystals and tell him why his father so despised him, and, more important, why his father appeared to fear him so greatly, She had snatched up his coins with her clawed hands and informed him that Godfrey blamed him for weakening his beloved Alais so irrevocably that she never recovered.     Finally, it had all come to a head the night his drunken father had succumbed to Harold's insatiable lust for battle and had allowed his younger son to persuade him into waging a number of unsuccessful attempts on neighboring estates, with whose earls Godfrey had continued to maintain friendly relations ... until then. When ordered to take up arms and join them in their melees, Roland had refused, and had been foolish enough to stand in his father's way.     No one stood in Godfrey de Gallienne's way aside from Henry Plantagenet.     Father and son had come to blows. Or rather, father had inflicted the blows, grabbing up a club from the wall and sending it crashing against the side of Roland's head so hard that he had been knocked unconscious, waking up moments later to the pain of a throbbing temple and the sharp point of his father's sword pressing into his jugular. Towering above him, his eyes wild with that frightening madness that had lately given him the nickname of "the Lunatic," Godfrey had looked on the verge of murder. Had the calm voice of his godfather not intruded, Roland suspected his father might surely have killed him, encouraged as he was by Harold, who was laughing hysterically somewhere in the distance.     Afterward, the lines had been drawn. Godfrey's vassals had been ordered to choose the man to whom they would continue to hold liege. Many of the younger and more inexperienced had sided with Roland. Most of the older knights and vassals had remained with Godfrey, due mostly to loyalty, not because they thought his outrageous behavior befitting his station, or because they approved of or even understood the immense dislike he had always shown toward his elder son. As several had quietly mentioned to Roland later, they had fought at his father's side for scores of years, had watched the mighty warrior when he was as powerful as King Henry, and Henry's greatest asset. Now, due more to pity and some spark of diminished respect, they chose to remain at his side as long as he needed them.     Wearily, Roland ceased his pacing, removed the sword from his hip, then struggled with the heavy hauberk until he had pulled it off over his head. He crossed the cell to blow out the candle, then dismissed the idea. Habit, no doubt. He was too accustomed to sleeping near the open fires of his camping army during their long campaigns. Even if he happened to take to his tent on occasion, there was some sort of light provided in case he was forced to grab up arms before dawn.     Finally, he lay on the bed, staring at the ceiling. The soft chanting of praying monks came to him as he closed his eyes and attempted to drift off to sleep. Little by little he felt his body relax. Sweet Virgin, how long had it been since he had last slept without fear of assault? For that reason he had driven his wounded and weary men hard the last days to reach the abbey. Here, they could rest body and soul while they awaited Henry's next directive.     A noise ...     He rolled his head slightly, but the heavy hand of sleep pulled him deeper into his dreams ... Deeper ... Until the doors of his subconscious were thrown open, allowing the tumbling sleaves of misty memory to intrude, brushing his face with cool, ephemeral strands that brought shivers to his slightly sweating flesh. Beyond the gray curtain of his dreams there was movement. He could just make it out as the figure crept along like a shadow against the gray stone wall, a vague, shapeless form with no face and some bright and glittering object in its white, long-fingered hand. It seemed to hesitate at the edge of his dream, drifting in and out of his vision like smoke in the grip of a wind; then, very slowly, it appeared to float toward him until he was almost certain he could see two blazing orbs that were eyes, burning down into his with such ferocity he could almost feel the heat and the hate, emanating from within the smooth white skull of certain death.     Yet, if this be death, why then did the faint scent of sweet flowers tease his nostrils? Where was the stench of wormeaten flesh and rot that had so often pervaded his senses of late? Why did he sense that this harbinger of untimely woe was as gentle and kind as she was beautiful? Yet ... yet ...     He drifted through the dream, and around him the fires of penitence danced upon his men's grim and ravaged faces as they, in their bloodied mail, knelt before their improvised altar, and in silence, offered their souls to Him who had died on the Cross. He continued to stand aside from the faithful, distanced, his eyes drawn to the withered form of the hag who cowered at his feet, lifting her crystal in the palm of her hand.     "Look and beware," came her craggy voice. "Look and beware, Sir Roland. There. There!" She pointed her gnarled finger at the brilliant, blazing stone that grew brighter and hotter and more beautiful than anything he had ever witnessed, so startlingly beautiful he could but gaze at it briefly before throwing up his hand to shield his eyes.     "Look and beware," she cried. "Beware the unearthly light, for in it you will find naught but despair. Despair and woe and death, my young sire. Despair and woe and death!" She threw back her dark head and cackled in laughter while the light in her palm grew brighter, and brighter still until he was stumbling backward through the mists, and the faces of his army had turned to glare at him with condemning eyes, their mouths chanting, "Heretic. Heretic. Heretic. From the Devil you came, to the Devil you will return ..."     "Murderer."     The soft sound brushed his temple like a breath, and as the fog closed in around him again he saw the hooded, formless creature and smelled her tempting fragrance as she rose high in the air above him, and beyond her shoulder the star pulsed like a living ember, orange and yellow and red, rising like the sun, streaking the dim light with fire.     Beware the unholy light, for it will bring you despair and woe and death. Beware ... beware ...     "Murderer. Heathen. Son of Satan."     Heart thundering in his chest, he opened his eyes.     "Murderer!" the faceless, hooded creature above him screamed, then the bright light moved like a streak of lightning, and before he could attempt to escape, the dagger sluiced down, burying into the flesh of his shoulder.     With a howl of pain he grabbed for the avenging figure before it could strike him again. His hands grasped only air, and had the agony of his fierce wound not felt so horribly real he might have been tempted to believe the attack a part of his odd and frightening dream. Yet, the dagger protruding from his body, the mind-searing anguish of the injury, could not be mistaken for anything but what it was.     Gritting his teeth, he wrapped his blood-slick hand about the jewel-encrusted hilt of the weapon and jerked it out of his shoulder, swallowing back the pain that would have caused a lesser man to cry out. Rolling from the bed, he fell to one knee before stumbling to his feet and to the doorway, plunging into the dark, damp night just in time to see the figure of his would-be assassin fleeing through the scant light of nearby lanterns, dissolving into the shadows.     His attempt to call out fell silent as hurt tore through him, robbing him of breath and strength. Denying the agony, he shoved himself away from the cell and into the night, forcing himself to run, to follow the cloaked figure the best he could over the tree-lined courtyard, beyond the vegetable gardens, through the botanical gardens, and around the buildings of the balneary, and infirmary. If he could believe his eyes, the cloaked figure was making haste up a long, narrow curvature of steps leading to the high tower and adjoining walls. Though the fire in his chest was great, and the loss of blood immense, he struggled on, driving himself up the steep staircase, pulling himself up by his bloody hands, one yet gripping the dagger, until he reached the summit of the perilous edge and sank against the tower wall, which seemed to plunge toward a fathomless black abyss. Here the wind screamed in his ears and dashed his breath away, tore at his tunic and teared his eyes. The very clouds brushed his burning cheeks and sank their wet, cold fingers into his flesh, making him shiver all over.     The blackness was as suffocating as the pain, pressing down on his shoulders so that his legs trembled and his mind blurred. The idea of lying down upon the cold stone floor and dying seemed appealing in that moment, but the thought of succumbing to the eternal night without first confessing his sins to a priest was abhorrent, which made him laugh at the hypocrisy of his traitorous soul. Nay, he would not die yet. Not until he found the unholy murderer who so cowardly masqueraded in monk's rags and attempted to slaughter men in the name of God.     The shriek rose up from behind him so suddenly that he had little time to react with more than a swift turn to meet his adversary face-to-face. He stumbled backward from the impact, managing only to grab hold of a thin, pale wrist as the phantom attempted to snatch the dagger from his hand.     They tumbled together to the stone floor, Roland landing hard on his wounded shoulder, causing him to cry out and twist away, gripping the bloody tunic in his fingers while doing his best to free his mind of its pain and confusion. There was a scrambling behind him, and too late he realized that he had dropped the dagger when hitting the floor. Instinctively, he rolled just as the blade was driven hard onto the stone where his chest had been.     He rolled again and felt the tip of the knife penetrate the flesh of his cheek, drawing a thin burning trail of blood down his face.     Again he rolled as the whoosh of the blade sounded near his ear.     Again and again the knife cast sparks into the dark as it connected with stone. And now the howl of anger and frustration rose up from the cowled featureless figure as it slashed and slashed its way nearer to him as he retreated, slipping in his own blood, to the brink of the waist-high wall.     There was no escape but down into that cleft of black uncertainty below. Through the fog he could just make out the spectral shape looming nearer, the stained dagger winking with some reflected light he was desperate to discover.     "Who are you?" he shouted, breathless with an uncommon fear that was greater even than the ache of his injuries. "For the love of Almighty God, I have a right to know who would butcher me in this sacred house!" Then the dagger was rising again and he was leaning back and back until there was nothing but air to hold him ... then he was reaching out in a last desperate attempt to stop his fall, and for a moment, a split instant, his fingertips grabbed at the cowl, dragging it back, unveiling ...     He tumbled backward, over the wall, did his best to claw for a handhold, fingertips digging into the slippery stone ledge as his feet scrambled for a toehold in the rampart. No use. His own weight pulled him down, and as his fingers lost their grip on the stone he closed his eyes and slid down the uneven face of the abbey, vaguely aware of the sharp surface of the stones peeling away his tunic and flesh, the roar of the wind like the roll of a distant marching army in his burning ears.     Falling.     Falling.     There came the splintering of wood and the piercing of something sharp into his body, the rustle of leaves--dear God, a tree had broken his fall-down--down, the sharp crack of breaking limbs shattering the quiet, spilling him like a bouncing walnut toward the ground, the flash of the abbey wall rising in and out of his vision--he grabbed for it--anything to stop the descent--his hands clutched and held something smooth, so smooth.     At last he was able to curl his arms around it, whatever it was, to press his sweating face into the icy, flawless plane while his knees rested upon some sort of ledge that, although knobby, was equally comforting.     Closing his eyes, Roland tried to steady his breathing while, little by little, he felt his strength begin to wane, and as unconsciousness closed in upon him his grip slowly relaxed. He was going to fall again, and he didn't care. Not now. He was too tired. He hurt too badly.     Yet he did not fall, but settled into a bed that felt cold and comforting against his back.     Darkness threatened his bleary mind, yet he forced it back one last time and opened his eyes.     Dawn tinged the bleak sky with fingers of yellow and purple and vermilion, casting a nimbus of gold over the towering abbey walls high above him. At last, he turned his eyes to the shimmering white form where he lay.     The blood-streaked face of the Virgin Mary gazed down at him, her marble features gentle and soft with compassion. He lay in her lap, against the baby Jesus with the broken arm. Copyright © 1999 Katherine Sutcliffe. All rights reserved.

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