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Madeline de Montmorency stared at the Mother Superior as if she did not believe her ears, which was indeed the case.

"I am sorry to have to inform you of this so bluntly," Mother Betrilde said, her voice as cold as the stone walls of her small, spartan chamber in the convent. "Your brother's epistle has only just arrived."

"I am to be married in a fortnight?" Madeline asked incredulously, hoping somehow that the notoriously serious Mother Superior was making a jest.

But no, she was not. "So your brother writes."

Madeline shifted uneasily, trying to digest this unbelievable news. She had not seen her brother in ten years, ever since their parents died of a fever within days of each other. For months she had been expecting word from him, anticipating the day he would come to take her home, away from this convent and back into a world of freedom, color, laughter - not to another prison as the wife of a man she did not know. "Surely he would not decide such a thing without one word to me," she protested. "Does he speak of a bethrothal or --?"

"Unless I have lost the ability to read," Mother Bertrilde said sternly, "I am certain the contract has already been signed. Since you are your brother's ward, you should prepare to obey him."

"But who is this Lord Chilcott? I have never even heard the name!" she cried, aghast at the horrible sense of finality in Mother Bertrilde's face and voice.

"I have no idea, but I suppose he is of a wealthy family of noble blood. What more need you know? I suggest you prepare to leave with your brother and abide by the provisions he has made for you."

"To further his own ends," Madeline replied.

"Whatever his reasons, it is your duty to obey."

"My duty is to marry a man I have never seen?"

"What other choice do you have?"Mother Betrilde demanded, clearly unmoved. "I would not have allowed you to become a nun. I cannot keep you here against your brother's will."

"Very well, I will leave," Madeline said with a severity that did credit to the teacher standing before her. "If my piety and devotion and patience are to be rewarded by being cast out as if I were a leper, if you think I have no choice but to obey like some sheep, then I will gladly go - but not with my brother."

Still Mother Bertrilde remained unimpressed. "With whom do you intend to travel? I assure you, I will provide no escort."

"Then I will go without one." Madeline took a step toward the heavy door.

At last Madeline's determined words seemed to penetrate the Mother Superior's facade of stone. "You are speaking nonsense, Madeline," she admonished. "You cannot leave here by yourself. Not only would you be acting like a common peasant, but you would surely be killed, if not suffer a worse fate. The lands hereabouts are full of thieves and rebels."

Madeline's lip curled with haughty disdain. "What would be the difference, Mother, between being raped by an outlaw or by a man to whom I have been married against my will?" With that, she spun around and stepped toward the door, only to collide with man's broad, solid chest. Two strong hands reached out and pushed her back.

Madeline stared up at the man whose dark eyes glared at her and whose lean, hawklike face was reserved and forbidding. "Roger?" she gasped.

"Madeline?" Roger de Montmorency, who was not known for the sweetness of his temper, looked over his sister's head toward the black-garbed bulk that was the Mother Superior.

* * *

He could see what looked like a band of thieves attacking a small group of mounted travelers. The ragged, rough men on foot had surrounded two noblemen, one mounted woman - a nun, it seemed - and some armed soldiers. The nun's horse pranced nervously, but she controlled it very well, while the noblemen, surely Normans, fought with great skill and determination. He could tell from the calls, shouts and orders that the attackers were Welshmen. Dafydd did not think these men had any motive other than robbery, as three of them were swiftly making off with the pack animals and leaving the guards alive. If rebellion was their motive, they would have killed the soldiers.

And then one of the ragged band grabbed hold of the bridle of the nun's horse before swinging himself onto the animal behind her. The woman screamed and one of the noblemen twisted to look at her as the outlaw kicked the horse to a gallop, back along the road in the direction from which Dafydd had come.

What did that fellow want with her? Ransom, perhaps, or something more?

Dafydd sprinted through the woods, ignoring the brambles scratching his naked chest, legs and arms. He ran as fast as he could to where his horse waited and then he stood perfectly still.

He heard something off to his right. Once more he plunged into the forest, following the noises. The achingly familiar noises, from the day his sister was raped and killed by the Norman soldiers who had murdered their parents. How Gwennyth had tried to fight them! They had not seen the boy hiding in the trees, alone. But Gwennyth had. In the moments before she died, she had turned her head and looked at him. He would never forget her pain-racked eyes, or that her last effort had been to mouth this name.

Dafydd forgot that he had decided his fighting days were finished. With a ringing battle cry, he raised his weapon and attacked.

This book is part of Margaret's Warrior Series. Roger's story is THE NORMAN'S HEART. All Margaret's books, however, are written with the understanding that not everyone will have read the previous books in the series, so a new reader shouldn't feel lost.

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Cover Art Copyright © 1995 by Harelquin Enterprises Ltd.
Text Copyright © 1995 by Margaret Wilkins.
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