Excerpt, In the Shadow of the Storm
Adam entered their bedchamber and sank down on the bed, feeling too tired to take off his boots and tunic. It was happening. Dear God, they were riding out to war, and should they fail…
Kit set down her sewing and came over to sit beside him, taking his hand in hers. “What’s the matter?”
“I leave on the morrow. Baron Mortimer has sent word that he and Hereford are riding towards the Marches – and the Severn. He needs me with him when he takes the field against his king. God help him. God help us all.”
She leaned her head against his shoulder, slipping her arms round his waist. It made him relax to sit thus, his nose in her hair, her warmth soothing the chill in his gut. She smelled of rose petals and wool, of dried herbs and clean linen.
“I have to pack,” he said after some minutes, reluctant to break their embrace. She tightened her hold, sighed deeply and released him. Adam stood and wandered over to his chest, staring at the contents without registering any of them.
“How long will you be gone?” Kit asked.
“I don’t know.” It might be weeks, months – or an eternity. Since he was old enough to wield a battle sword, he had followed his lord into battle. In Ireland, in the north, wherever Lord Roger was, there was Adam, at first as his squire, then as one of his personal knights, and now as one of his captains. Adam flexed his hand. What Lord Roger had told him to do, he had done, obeying his lord’s command without hesitation. He had killed, he had maimed. He had chased after fleeing foot soldiers and ridden them down. He had dispensed martial justice, he had risked his life and his body in the service of Mortimer. Not once had he questioned the wisdom of Lord Roger’s decisions – not even when he had them marching on London last spring. But this time…Adam swallowed down on a heaving sense of unease, a premonition of bad things to come. A man who took up arms against his king was foresworn.
“Sweetest Virgin, help me in this, my moment of need,” he whispered.
“What?” Kit gave him a concerned look.
“Nothing.” He glanced down at his chest. “Lionel can do this. He knows best what I need.”
“Oh.” She sounded hurt. “I can do it.”
“You’ve never sent me off to battle before. Lionel has.” He raised his voice and called for his squire, who appeared instantly in the doorway. “We leave on the morrow.”
“I know.” Lionel grinned, cheeks flushed with excitement. “I have most of your belongings ready, my lord, but I can’t find your gambeson, and as I recall it requires mending.”
“Here.” Kit went over to her chest, rummaged in it and produced Adam’s quilted tunic, the linen layers stuffed with horsehair. “I found it and mended it.” She held it out. “I added some decoration to it.” She had embroidered an intertwined K and A on both the cuffs, and along the neckline ran an exquisite decoration consisting of miniature stars.
Adam touched the little K that she’d embroidered over his heart. “No one has ever embroidered anything for me before.”
“Well, you haven’t had a wife before, have you?”
“No.” He smiled slightly, caressing the cuffs. “But now I do.” He met her eyes, dark in the weakly lit chamber. “I’ve never had someone to come back to.”
“That is good, isn’t it?”
Adam nodded, although he wasn’t entirely sure it was. This was the reason for the heavy dread that paralysed his limbs and congested his lungs. Never before had he had anything truly important to lose, but this time…
Kit moved closer and took his hand. “And it’s not only one, it’s two.” She placed his hand on her belly. His son. Adam cleared his throat. A child. A wife. A future life. But first there was this matter of a war.
She was fast asleep when he finally made it to bed, lying on her side with her back towards him. He fitted himself around her, his naked body close to hers. Her skin was soft and warm, her hair tickled his face, and one part of him considered loving her, while the other just wanted to hold her, feel the steady beat of her heart under his hand. She turned towards him, no longer asleep but wide awake. No words, just hands and mouths, teasing, touching. He immersed himself in her, losing himself in her eyes and her body. He took – he could do no other. She gave – everything she had, she gave him. Afterwards, she fell asleep. He didn’t, spending the night in lonely vigil, while on the little table the hour candle burnt lower and lower.