Saturday, July 21, 2012

Soaring Falcons, Falling Doves

By Mary Brockway -- Historical Romance, 433 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud
Forty years had not dimmed the sound of the thudding axe when Sir Walter Raleigh's handsome head was severed, his life's blood spurting upon the straw. Recalling that day brought a surge of bile to Lady Glorian's throat, for more heads were to fall; one that of an anointed King of England.
After donning two petticoats and a gray woolen gown, Glorian descended the stairs, frowning her distaste at the smears of filth from a dozen pair of heavy boots. The gallery had been stripped bare of decor, and the beautiful Venetian glass flower urns Richard had brought from the east lay broken and scattered. Pottery was smashed, and the remainder of the silver stolen. Sword points marred the beautiful finish on the dining table and remains of chairs still burned in the hearth. Her favorite place to sit and sew, the damask-covered window seat, had been ripped and the padding scattered. Something clattered as her gown swept past one of the few still intact chairs. She bent to retrieve a battered silver goblet.
“You missed one, rogues,” she muttered. Sniffles from the servants who had followed her into the room, stiffened her resolve. We will not let those ruffians defeat our King's cause. Come, let us see if they left anything to eat.”
“They left me pots,” Mistress Reeves reported, “but them thieves left not a crumb in them or the buttery shelves. Pansy, hie to the hennery and see if they missed any eggs or layers.”
Glorian donned her cloak and willed herself to visit the chapel, a small church connected to the house by an open corridor. Colored glass fragments littered the garden surrounding the stone church. “I scarce believed they would break beautiful stained glass centuries old,” she muttered. Inside, she found not one remaining candlestick and the marble altar had been toppled, the silver baptismal font, a gift from her father was gone. A sob caught in her voice as she spoke to no one. “I pray Southedge did not suffer such ruin. It would kill Father.”
Peter ran to fetch her. “Milady, 'tis Alden. He lies hurt and bleeding in the cemetery.”
Glorian knew what had been the cause of Alden's injuries when she saw him crumpled in front of the open tomb. The treasure vault had been broken open and emptied, but that was of little matter until she treated her steward.
Alden's right leg was covered with fresh blood. Glorian stripped off one of her petticoats, and using her teeth, tore through the stout fabric. She knotted it into a temporary tourniquet above the wound. “Your knife, Peter. Take it and cut away his hose and breeks.”
When the flow of blood eased, Glorian examined Alden for broken bones, noting no obvious injury except the leg wound and a sizeable lump on the back of his head. He moaned, opened glazed eyes, then sank back into unconsciousness. “Fetch one of the gates from the paddock fence, Peter. Tell cook to put a large kettle of water to heat. Alden has a musket ball in his thigh. I shall have to remove it quickly before it festers.”
Peter and Dodson carried the litter into the house and Glorian quickly spread the crumpled wine-stained cloth over the dining table and directed them to place Alden there. “Fetch clean sheets, Pansy. Mistress Reeves bring your sharpest most pointed knife.”
Glorian hurried to the still room for soothing salves, astringents, and pain-relieving medicants. She was relieved her stores of herbs and medicines, though rifled, were not entirely destroyed. The soldiers had not opened the hidden cabinet where she kept the precious poppy extract. Quickly filling a basket, she returned to the dining hall.
“Them curs took all your good linens, milady. I found only this old one on the top shelf of the press.” Pansy spread out a worn yellowed sheet.
“Cut it into strips, and put them into cook's oven. Watch that the linen scorches but does not burn.”
Mistress Reeves produced three knives of varying length and Glorian chose a six-inch stiletto with a bone handle. She placed it in the hearth coals. Suddenly, the enormity of her task descended. On quivering legs, she moved to the table to assess Alden's wound. He jerked when she touched his thigh. She could not have him thrashing about when she probed for the ball. “We shall need to tie him securely, Peter.” The young stable boy, his face bleached beneath his freckles, fastened strips of cloth to Alden's wrists and feet and tied them to the table legs.
“Dodson, do you know about the Roman well in the wine cellar?”
“Aye, milady. 'Twas oft used when I were a lad when t'other well froze.”
“Take Peter to help you raise one of the brandy casks hidden there. I pray the rabble did not find them. Fill…” She remembered the decanters were now in the saddle bags of the foraging soldiers. “A bucket from the cask and bring it quickly.”
“Pansy, fetch a clean pail from the dairy room,” the cook ordered. “Won't be needin' them for milk. The Roundheads took the young cows. Only scrawny old Beck is left. Must've thought she'd not be worth draggin' along.”
Glorian poured water into a basin and washed the area around Alden's wound. The bleeding had stopped and the ragged edges of the injury were already swollen. Though Alden moaned, he had not regained consciousness. Noting the knife blade glowed red, she fidgeted waiting for the men to return with the brandy. It would be needed both to cleanse the wound and to lessen the pain when or if Alden awakened. She cast away the negative thought. He must live. Closing her eyes, she tried to produce a memory. Years ago, she had watched her mother remove a ball from the gamekeeper at Southedge.

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