A chill wind whistled down the chimney of Hawkwatch
Keep. The hunting birds lifted their wings to protest the
disturbing eddies of air. His dog moved closer to the fire.
"What is it?" Gilles demanded without turning to
see who approached him. The fool would receive the sharp
edge of his tongue for disturbing him. He lifted his
tankard of ale and drank it down as he flexed the stiff
fingers of his cold right hand.
"My lord?" a soft voice said behind him.
Gilles recognized the voice. It drifted like a
gentle visitor through his dreams. He rose from his seat
and turned. "Mistress Emma." Gilles swept her a courtly
bow, his ill–temper banished in one instant. "How
may I be of service?"
"My lord, I do not require any service. I have
brought you a gift to thank you for saving my life and that
of my daughter."
"A gift?" Gilles, nonplused, groped for words. He
could count on one hand the gifts he'd received in his many
"Aye, my lord." She extended a package wrapped in
He stepped down from the dais and took the bundle.
For a moment he just stroked his thumbs over the coarse
"I hope it will be pleasing to you, my lord," Emma
said into the silence.
As Gilles plucked off the twine that bound the
bundle, he sought to excuse his curt behavior. "Forgive me
my churlish nature. I've had a most unfortunate day. One
of my men wounded a horse in careless play with a
sword––a prized horse's tendon was severed.
What seemed but a careless accident resulted in the
destruction of a valuable mount." He ground to a halt,
unsure why he explained his foul mood at all.
The wrapping parted. Gilles did not know how to
describe the pleasure he received from the length of
intricately woven cloth in his hand. He unfolded it and
saw that one end was stitched about a humble iron buckle.
Humble could not describe the belt itself.
His gaze skipped from the belt, to the woman before
him, to the floor. Words lodged somewhere in his throat.
She stepped forward, her child on one hip. "I tried
to capture the carving of your chair, my lord, and the
decorations of your chimney piece." Her voice dropped. "I
hope you're not displeased."
In fact, she'd taken the Norman motifs found on his
chair and painted about his whitewashed chimney piece and
woven them in the colors of fire and storm clouds. The
colors were more vibrant and alive than any he'd ever
seen. He turned the belt. The interwoven designs became a
string of hawks in flight. "Displeased? This is your
work?" How could he be so stupid? She'd just said as much.
"Aye, my lord." She bobbed a low curtsy.
"I'm more than pleased. This is beyond fine. I've
never seen the like." Gilles held the belt in both hands
and stroked his thumbs over the intricate pattern. Each
motif entwined and linked to another, endlessly. An
unfamiliar feeling came over him. A gift linked the giver
and the recipient as the designs linked along the cloth.
Did she intend such a thing?
He turned the belt in the light. The shades of color
changed and shifted as did the color of her mantle as she
"You must join my weavers." The words barely made
it from his mouth. He raised his gaze to hers and thought
he saw in her eyes what he felt coursing his own blood. No
matter the sounds that might surround them, no matter how
many men and women were busy in the hall, only the two of
them existed at that moment. "You must join my weavers,"
he repeated. "Today."
"Do you mean that, my lord?" Emma asked. "You
offer me a great honor."
"On the contrary, the honor is mine."
Emma's heart raced, her palms dampened. To weave
for him! She and Angelique would never starve, nor feel
the chill of a winter storm blowing beneath their door.
Angelique would grow with straight bones and a full belly.
She need not fend off Widow Cooper's son and his
Then she frowned, turning away from Lord Gilles and
looking down the long hall at the folk who lounged about on
benches to avoid the bitter wind outside. Just as the
harrowing of the coming winter wind would be a
torture, â€˜twould be a torture of another kind to be near
William Belfour and feel his contempt and ugly scorn, to be
within reach of his displeasure.
And to be within hearing of his words. It was his
poetry and song that had first drawn her. Poetry he'd
composed just for her. Words that she had thought were a
window to his soul, a soul she'd mistakenly believed was as
golden and fair as his face. Instead, they'd been false
words raising false hopes. The thought of listening to his
poetry and song would be unbearable.
Starving would be unbearable. Marriage to Widow
Cooper's son would be unbearable.
Emma lifted Angelique's hand and studied the dry
tips of her little fingers and the chapped skin upon her
downy cheeks. A mother should not put her fears before the
health of her babe. She squared her shoulders and looked
up at the man who offered her the world, frightening though
it might be. "I will weave for you."