Flowers by Moonlight
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by Cynthia Bailey Pratt
Description: The faerie Sira discovers a young knight, Conn of Hamdry, asleep in the forest. Though blind from a battle wound, he is also strong and powerful. Faeries may not be touched by humans, but Sira's curiosity and Conn's desire draw them together. Can Sira give up the exquisite faerie world and her immortality to be with the man who has stolen her heart? Paranormal historical romance by Cynthia Bailey Pratt writing as Lynn Bailey; originally published by Jove Magical Love
eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, 1999
eBookwise Release Date: November 2010
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [448 KB]
Reading time: 294-412 min.
England, April 1141
"I have already written to the monastery at Closebeck. The abbot there is an old friend. I'm sure he'll find a place for you." The Lord of Hamdry laid his hand over his son's. Conn flinched, surprised by the touch of his father's hot and dry hand.
"A monastery? Do you expect me to wall myself up alive?" he demanded with a bitter laugh.
They'd been arguing for what seemed hours, Conn refusing to listen to any of his father's reasoned grounds for passing over his eldest son in favor of the younger. He knew that all around him the ears of lackeys and liegemen pricked as they found excuses to pass through the great hall. He acknowledged that they had a right to listen. It was their future as well as his own that would be decided here.
"I don't expect you to become a monk, unless you decide it's best. But there you can perhaps be of some use. Here..."
For the thousandth time, Conn declared, "I will never give up my rights to Hamdry, Father. Never."
For the first time, Lord Robert allowed his frustration to show. "If you are wise, you'll go willingly, but if not... I can write to the empress to ask her to attaint you. She'd do it fast enough. A knight of King Stephen is no friend to her."
"That -- that would be treason. Writing to that woman for a favor.... We've always stood for the king!" Conn put his hand to his throbbing left temple, his fingers trembling at the memory of all he'd sacrificed for the king.
Robert stated the cold facts in a hard voice. "The king's imprisoned. They'll never let him out. Matilda's queen now. And you are nothing to her. I, however, am not without influence."
If he had not been blind already, his anger would have darkened his eyes. Conn broke from his father's clasp, afraid that in another moment his rage would overwhelm him and he'd strike wildly at that stubborn old man.
His stumbling run brought him only to a crashing fall against the cold stone floor of the great hall. He lay there a moment, the meaningless black of his vision as bitter as when he'd first realized his sightlessness.
With a wordless cry of fury, he beat aside the kindly hands that would have raised him up. The sound echoed back from the bare walls, except from on the right. That way lay the open door and freedom. Conn scrambled to his feet and ran for it. He crashed his shoulder into the stone jamb, numbing his arm, but he fell over the threshold into the open air.
His great horse, Arundel, whickered at the sight of him. Following the sound, Conn, his heart beating so wildly that it hurt in his chest, fumbled for the stirrup. Easily, he rose to swing his leg over the broad back. Not even in four months had his years of training failed. Whatever else he had lost, he would always keep the bearing of a knight; he'd sworn it to every saint in heaven.
Conn heard his father call his name, a note of pleading breaking in his voice. Savagely, Conn ripped the reins from the hands of his servant. Today of all days, he'd see himself damned before he'd be led like a woman before his father's eyes. Clapping his heels down, he gave a sharp command. "On, boy. Get on!"
The huge horse, his muscles all the more eager for the dreary days behind them, leaped forward. Conn heard Gandy's curse as the servant leaped back to avoid being run down. Arundel charged for the open portcullis in the manor wall as he once thundered down the list, his master's lance at the ready.
Conn dropped the reins and rose in his curved saddle, laughing madly as the clean wind blew through him. He heard the hollow booms as Arundel pounded over the moat bridge and smelled the dust rising when they reached the track. The voices calling his name were fainter than crying birds, soon lost behind him as the horse bore him into the woods. He paid no heed to the branches that thrashed his face and body. It was too glorious to be riding free again to mind the pain. At least this was a clean, understandable pain. Not the slow, dark agony of betrayal.
Wrenching his mind away from the memory of his father's threat, Conn urged his destrier on to still greater speed. They would come to look for him; he'd already learned that. Then again, there'd be maudlin kindness and mawkish pity -- the taste of which made him long for the sharp bite of mockery.
In a few moments, he came upon a fork in the road: To the left, the estate of his father's oldest friend, Walter de Burke; to the right, a long road that led, sooner or later, to the sea. But there was a third way, screened by trees, straight between the two. It led to the high moor, fertile lands lying at peaceful ease under a vast sky. Up there, where all seemed as open as an honest face but where a misstep meant death in the sucking green mire, he'd find his own peace.
Ever since early boyhood first taught him grief, he'd found his way there when his burdens grew too heavy. He knew every hillock, every trickling rill, learning them in all weathers, by day and by night. For this journey, he didn't need the sight he'd lost. The relentless yearning to see, which tormented him, died for a moment. Conn had no hope that it would not soon return, all the stronger for a respite.
When he reached the end of the woods, the sun beat down like a blacksmith's hammer on the back of his head. Silence lay over all, except for the panting breaths of horse and man. "Not much farther," Conn said, visualizing the dun-colored ears twitching back to catch his voice. "We'll have a good rest soon."
Those of Norman blood feared the moor, disliking the barrenness that made it an ill place for defense. It seemed treacherous to them, and so it was to all who did not love it. Being only half Norman, Conn was not afraid. The tumbled black stones that created rings around the tops of naked hillsides told him that his mother's ancestors had found this an unfriendly land too, but they had made it their own.
In truth, nothing could be less barren. In every corner, birdsong and bee hum rose, busy with the gathering of foodstuffs to feed their hatchlings. Briar rose and bramble, nameless flowers and those found in every herbal, filled the dancing air with intoxicating scent. When a breeze brought a whiff of corruption, he drew back on the reins, shocked by the remembrance of that nightmare amid so much that was lovely.
Slowly, Conn dismounted. The ground felt soft beneath his booted feet, but it was the softness of spring rain, not the boggy deep of the mire. Sniffing the foul sweetness of decay, Conn led the horse, pausing often to catch a whispered sound or a change in the breeze.
Judging by the heat, the sun stood at noon. Conn knew that even if he removed the bandage from his eyes, he would never again see so much as a red glow through his lids. Not the hottest sun nor the brightest light would ever mean anything to him again. Yet he left the bandage in place. So long as he didn't remove it, hope could still be his plaything. Besides, the sight of his blank eyes and fiery scar troubled people. He could still hear the scream of a young maidservant when she'd entered his rooms unannounced.
Busy with his thoughts, Conn tripped over a hummock, falling to his hands and knees. He hadn't time to utter a curse. His hand slipped into sticky ooze that reeked to heaven the instant its surface was disturbed. Instinctively, Conn drew back, his throat closing against the gagging vileness.
An easy matter, some would say, to forget pain and sorrow in the warm clasp of a bog. Men had been swallowed alive here before, countless sheep and cows, and mercy knew how many smaller creatures. The old men said such places were bottomless, and the bodies never came up, falling through all eternity.
Conn felt around for a pebble and found a stick. He slung it into the mire and heard a slurp like a dog devouring meat. His memories told him that it would look like a green velvet cloak laid on the ground, so smooth and thick. The sunlight would glitter and gleam on its surface, dazzling and fascinating the eyes. Easy indeed, to slip into its deadly embrace. Two steps would do it. Then his father would be free to do what he liked with Hamdry. Ross would make a good lord, kinder than his brother, less the soldier but perhaps the better man.
Behind him, Arundel munched unconcernedly on sweet, lank grass.
Conn made a sudden decision and stood up. Hands outstretched, he started toward his horse. When his fingertips brushed the coarse hair, he fumbled for the stirrup. He paused after he gathered up the reins. "I've never done the easy thing," he said aloud. "I won't make it easy for them."
Hours later, worn out from the strain of senses constantly on the prick, Conn put his back against one of the rough-hewn black stones that lay like a crumbled crown around the top of Beldry Tor. Warmed by untold days of sun, the heat seeped into his bones. The valleys of the moor were soft and alive; the hillsides were scoured to the bare rock by the wind that always blew.
Easing the hilt of his dagger so it did not dig into his side, Conn felt at ease for the first time since he'd come home at the end of a winter that had held only defeat. He sighed, feeling the clenched muscles of his body relax along with the tightness around his brow. He slept, slipping from a world of darkness into a world of remembered sight.
"Oh, come on!" Sira called to the others. "It'll be moon-rise before we're ready!"
She tried out a few steps of the dance, her arms above her head, the loose sleeves of her gown fluttering. Crystal and stone bracelets sparkled and rang on her bare arms, from wrist to elbow, while the rings on her fingers glittered in the twilight like the first emerging stars. She broke off to call again, "Oh, hurry!"
Sira felt her father's smile and turned to him, her hands held out. "Tell them to hurry, Father. I want everything perfect before the moon rises."
"Calm yourself, my daughter. One would think this your first festival."
"Every festival is the first, judging by the way I feel!" She took his hands and tried to make him dance with her. When he only gave her the support of his outstretched arms, she broke away and danced in light, gliding steps around a circle all her own. Stopping with an exclamation of impatience, she chose a braided strand of her hair at random and swiftly wrapped all the rest around with it, restraining the floating fair cloud.
Changing her mind, she gave up dancing to investigate the long tables loaded with the evening's refreshments. Taking a sweet from this table, a morsel of fruit from another, she tossed compliments to the gaily dressed men and women who worked there. One offered her a foaming wooden mug, and she drank down the sweet ale.
"Delicious, Buskin. Your best yet!"
"Twas brewed on your last birthday, lady," the brewer replied. "In your honor."
"Save me a barrel. Such a brew would get even my lady Anat drunk enough to look the other way!"
No sooner had Sira incautiously spoken the name when her nurse appeared. The Wyrcan brewer found business at the other end of the table. The owner of the only permanently frowning face Sira had ever seen, Anat seemed to have come into the world both suspicious and censorious. "Here you are, and just look at your feet! Filthy already. Where have you left your slippers?"
"I can't dance in shoes, so I took them off. Somewhere..." Sira glanced around, half-expecting to find them under her gaze. "Oh, somewhere around."
"And if they're not found when the festival is over -- hmmm? Suppose someone finds them who isn't supposed to find them?"
"Anat, you worry too much. They'll be found. Nothing is ever left behind. You know how careful the king is."
"More than can be said for his daughter. We'll just go look for them."
"But Anat -- the moon."
"The moon will have to wait. Go."
Sira patted each of the worn black stones as she went widdershins around the circle. When the pipers started up with a few preliminary tweets and twirls, Anat glanced in their direction. No other music appealed to her so much, not even the gliding harp. Taking advantage of her nursemaid's distraction, Sira slipped off between two stones and scurried along out of Anat's line of sight.
She stopped to catch a breath, stifling a giggle. Humming along with the half-begun tune, she danced a few steps within the circle of stone. She could see for miles here. The sky glowed to the west with the hidden sun's last rays as the blue mantle of the twilight spread out from the east. The first stars spangled as Sira's blood quickened with the excitement of the spring festival, Beltane, the first of May.
"Sira!" Anat sounded peeved, to say the least.
Casting up the hood of her dark blue cloak to cover her all-too-noticeable hair, Sira eased a way under two stones that had slumped together with a shifting of the hill. She could remember when they all stood straight and tall, taller than the men who'd made them, dragged them here over long miles. With a sad smile, Sira recalled watching them work, peering through the strands of the long grass. But that had been before her father had forbidden The People to go out in the daytime. She did not need daylight to see clearly, and yet she missed the sun. To be honest with herself, she missed the Sons of Men.
In homage to them, she busied herself with their memory. They'd been short and dark, for the most part. Once in a while, a head red as copper would appear among them. They'd kept slaves who were no different than their children, living in their simple huts along with their elders and their small horde of livestock.
She'd seen them marry, have children, and die. Then, long after it had been created, the hill fort had been abandoned, and no more humans came. She had tried to write one of their songs down to remember, the better, once upon a time, but her friends had held their hands over their ears, calling the tune uncouth and the words vile. Sira had rather liked it.
She hummed it now, under her breath, as she strolled along. The pipers had fallen silent. She could not hear her people chattering nor the clatter of bowls and plates. They must be gathering on the far side in silent expectation, hand in hand. The Lady's pale face would soon peer above the horizon to begin her ancient journey. The eastern sky had already begun to silver with Her first rays. She should be there, at her father's side, instead of wandering about by herself, dreaming of things long since turned to dust.
Then Sira paused between one step and the next, her sharp ears catching a sound that did not belong on this high hill. She could not fool herself into believing that a sheep or a cow made that soft moan, nor did any breeze ever sigh so sadly. Swiftly now, a huntress on the prowl, she hurried along the ring of stones, her cape sweeping over the thin scattering of dirt.
She saw his legs first, sprawling out from the base of a rock. Standing over him, she took him in at a glance. So this was what the Sons of Men were like now!
Tall and broad, he had boldly muscled arms and a deep chest, shown all too clearly in his flaxen shirt, tight to his body. The shirt was unlaced, his throat a strong column where the pulse beat indomitably. She could not see his face well, for his head had fallen forward in sleep, toward his right shoulder, long, dark hair covered his cheek. His hands were palm up, open on his broad thighs.
Without thought, Sira put her hand out to push back the concealing curtain but she paused, her fingers only an inch from his face. She pushed against the force that held her back, without asking why. Then she realized that somewhere on his person he must be carrying cold steel. She drew back her tingling hand, wondering at her own impulse to touch the human male, knowing how dangerous such a touch could be.
"Sira!" Anat said in a voice like a whip crack.
"Hush! You'll wake him."
Her nursemaid, not a whit less spry for her five thousand years, came hurrying up and stopped a few feet off, aghast. "Oh, this is intolerable! What are things coming to when the guards miss something like this!"
"Everyone's entitled to make a mistake."
"Not one that puts us all in danger. Come away, Sira, do! He'll awaken in a moment, and if you were to be caught.. . Come away!" The nurse caught her charge's arm, but Sira stood steady. "Oh, I'll call your father! He'll see to it that this . .. this..."
She had no need to raise her voice. Though she tolerated much from Anat through affection and long habit, Sira was not a child but sole daughter of the house of Boadach the Eternal, King of Mag Mell, ruler of the Lands of the Living. A great lady and a power in her own right, Sira could command obedience even from her dearest protector.
"But...my lady...you don't know what the Sons of Men are like. Their greedy, grasping, wicked ways! How do we know he's not set some trap for us? Let the king do his worst. What is it to us? It's too bad when we're not even safe at our own revels!"
"The revels have not yet begun. And if this were a trap, would he lie here, helpless at our feet?"
"He bears steel," the companion replied. "I can feel it even from here." Anat had withdrawn to a safer distance, holding up the full skirt of her gown so even it would not be contaminated by contact with a mortal.
"Yes, he carries a dagger at his waist," Sira confirmed. "I wonder where he left his horse. If we could find it, we could entice it to return..."
"Don't you dare include me in any such foolhardy enterprise! The man is here, let him stay and face the consequences of his folly. The king will show no mercy to a thieving spy."
Sira tried to stop the pictures from forming in her memory of the last time some poor mortal had spied on The People and their revels. The king's anger had been like lightning out of the sky. Though all The People had vanished on the instant, his wrath had left the poor old man maimed and blinded. Sira hadn't been able to stop her father's retribution, though she'd done her best to soften it with gifts from time to time until the poor man had died, his span of life no more than a twinkling.
Sira looked down on this mortal, still sleeping. His pose told of his utter exhaustion, yet there were lines of strong tension in every limb. On his feet, he must be a formidable presence indeed. Sira wrapped her cloak about her more closely, prey to a sudden chill.
"Wake up," she said. Then, more commandingly, she said, "Awaken, thou!"
"Hush," Anat hissed, raising her hands imploringly. "Someone will hear you."
"You are right, all too right. But he can't stay here to be benighted. Look at him. That's a warrior, I'll be sworn. A man like that needs his eyes."
Suddenly, the drooping head lifted while one large fist wrapped around the hilt of his dagger. Sira found herself looking into the face of a captive falcon, the bandage around his eyes only adding to the likeness.
"You are right, lady," he said, his voice as harsh as stones grinding together. "But alas, too late."
When Conn awoke to the sound of her voice, it was to believe himself finally driven mad by his sorrows. His long years of training had stood him in good stead, however, for he did not cringe or quail, even when he heard the women discuss his dark future. This king of theirs sounded brutal, but Conn was used to that. All kings were given to sudden wrath, even Stephen, who many said was too soft and mild to hold a fragmented England together.
Their talk was strange, full of things he did not understand, their speech oddly accented. It seemed all of a piece with madness that two women should appear on a vacant hillside in the twilight and discuss him.
"Who are you?" he asked. "Egyptians?" When they did not answer, he essayed again. "Wandering folk? Conjurors?"
"Aye, sir, that we be." Her voice had lost all note of command, softening and slurring into simple country speech. Yet even so, it thrilled through him like a carillon in a cathedral.
How long had it been since he'd last smiled? The morning before the battle that took his sight? He controlled the smile that threatened to break through now, forcing his lips to stay stern lest she think him an easy gull. "Now tell me the truth."
"How dare you! Do you think we need lie to the likes of you?" demanded the other one, the one marked in his mind as her mother. He could almost hear her feathers ruffling as she charged in to defend her chick.
"Never mind, Anat." Her voice was closer suddenly, as though she knelt before him. "Yes, you are right. I -- we are not wanderers. We belong here."
"The hell you do. This is Hamdry land, and you are trespassers. If you leave now, I won't summon my father's men to drive you off."
Her laughter at his threat was soft, like a whisper against his cheek. Conn began to wonder anew if he'd lost his mind as her scent reached him. Like the essence of a thousand flowers, yet milder and somehow fresher than perfume, it entwined around him like an enchantment. No one he knew smelled like that. Most people stank to heaven. Even he stank, with the slime smell still clinging to his fingers. Even the noblest in the land only used their rich perfumes to cover the stench of an unwashed body. This woman, whoever she was, smelled like the first morning of the first spring, before the stain had come into Eden. Conn inhaled more deeply and felt the talons of the devil in his head relax a moment.
She said, "By the time your father's men arrive, we will have done our business and be gone. You have nothing to fear from us."
"I may be blind, lady, but I'm no coward." Conn rose to his feet, feeling the muscles in his thighs twinge from his gallop of the morning. He stood straight and proud, knowing she must be gazing at him. "I've given you your chance to go. Take it. My father isn't as mild a man as I."
Did she still crouch at his feet? He had not heard her move, though the whisper of her gown had given her away before. With all the speed he could command, he reached out to grab her shoulder. Was his judgment off so badly? His hand closed only on empty air and yet he could have all but sworn he'd felt for only an instant some kind of fabric, soft and cool.
The other one said sharply, "Call your father and have this brute driven away or I will! He offers you nothing but insults."
Conn heard the curiosity in her voice as she stepped nearer to him. "He may be something of a fool, but he is a brave fool."
"Your kindness is boundless," Conn said bitingly. "Call your father, and you shall see how I can fight."
"You see!" the other one countered. "Not even grateful for his life. It's just as I've told you and told you. They're all the same."
"Nevertheless, he may leave here in peace and safety, Anat. I will lead him off the tor."
"Absolutely not! Have you lost your mind? It's not safe. I refuse to allow it."
"I don't need your help," Conn said, addressing himself sternly to the young lady. "I know this land by heart." Then, belatedly, he added, "Thank you, all the same. I know every stone up here since my boyhood."
"You may find that things have changed somewhat, even since your arrival today. We sometimes alter things for our own purposes."
"Alter? How can you do that?"
She ignored his question. "Besides, Anat is quite right. It's not safe for you to go alone."
"That's not what I meant!"
"I ask only one thing," the girl said.
"Drop your dagger. I cannot help you if you carry it."
Conn could not recall the last time he'd gone completely unarmed. Even as a boy, he'd always carried a sharp, bright blade for peeling apples or for cutting through a leather strap if he should be dragged by a runaway horse. A knife was as much a part of him as a finger.
"Your price is too high," Conn said, drawing the blade. He showed it to them, moving it back and forth so they could see it flash. "This steel came from Damascus, and the hilt is bound with silver. King Stephen himself gifted me with it."
Her voice sounded pained, higher and quicker. "Put it away. Please."
Unsure of himself, he slid the knife into its sheath, the steel seeming to sigh as it went into the darkness. He blustered, "It's worth more to me than the cost of it, and certainly more than the cost of an unneeded guide."
He walked away, knowing by the slant of the evening breeze and his inborn knowledge of the land the direction he wanted to go. His carriage upright, his steps sure, he hoped the two ladies realized how useless he found their pity. He went on feeling that way, right until he tripped over a stone that should not have been there.
As Conn lay sprawled at full length on the ground, it seemed to him that the earth throbbed beneath him, as though it were an anvil being struck with hammer blows. Suddenly, the air seemed full of voices, whispering a chant, too low for him to grasp the words. As the song grew, he wondered if he wanted to know the meaning. There was menace in the song, formless now, but if the singers knew he was there...
As he sat up, brushing himself off with a scraped and stinging hand, he felt as he had as a boy, on his first sojourn to London. Everything was so unutterably strange that he felt like a foreigner in his own nation. He could not tell friend from foe or noble from base.
"My lady, the moon!" the older woman said urgently.
"Yes, I know."
Then she was beside him again. "Listen, you must leave here now, before the moon rises. Will you put your trust in me?"
"I'm only turned about," he said. "I'll soon find my own way."
"You haven't time. Leave the dagger, and I will help you."
"Why should I?"
"Oh, he's a fool! Leave him, my lady. Such men don't deserve your kindness."
A soldier can never mistake the note of command. He heard it now, not a whit incongruent coming through a woman's voice. "Do you want to die?"
"Sometimes," he answered honestly.
"No." His answer surprised him. This morning, he'd longed for death. "Not now."
"Then throw it away and come with me."
Conn found himself freeing the sharp blade again from its sheath. He could all but feel her reaction, as though the shudder that went through her passed through his own body. His fingers opened, and he heard the clang as the dagger fell to the ground.
He felt a cool smoothness come around his shoulders and breathed in her fragrance as heavy cloth enfolded him.
"That's just my mantle around your shoulders," the younger woman said. "It will keep you safe. Hold on to it, and do not try again to touch me."
The other woman said something, another protest no doubt, but Conn could not hear her. A strange humming had come into his ears and a dizziness clouded his mind. He could not feel the ground with his feet anymore, though he went on walking as before.
Her voice, however, he could hear. Not with his ears, but in his mind. "Show me your home."
The front gate appeared in his inner vision. Hanging with chains, forged of iron bars with overlapping plates of steel, it might have belonged to some earl's castle. Instead, it served as the defense of a fortified manor, the first addition Conn's Norman grandfather had made to the place after conquering it for William the Bastard.
She said quickly, "Not that. Show me something else."
So he pictured the garden, his mother's garden. The fountain, its spring long dry, made of the same black stones as those that clung to the hilltops. The green mist that had returned with the spring to cover the brick walls, the only hint that the roses and vines still lived. And his hands, digging in the rich soil, turning over the beds where once herbs and vegetables had grown and would, one day, grow again.
"Ah," the girl sighed. "That I can do. Pity the fountain is dead."
"I'd ask you to fix it, but if you charge a silver-bound dagger to see a blind man home, I doubt I can afford a miracle."
"Oh, our miracles are very inexpensive." Her laughter rang out full and merry.
He could still hear it when he awoke, and the smile it had brought to his lips lingered a moment longer. He sat at the foot of the fountain, his body heavy and stiffened by long sitting in one position. The edge of the basin had left a line across his back where he had leaned against it as he slept.
"A most curious dream," he said to himself, rubbing his hand over his rough cheeks and across his dry mouth.
"Master!" someone shouted, and Conn heard running footsteps.
"Yes! Oh, master, we feared... Lord Robert is like to turn the world over to find you, and here you sit. But how came you here, not that it matters. Where is Arundel, my lord? Not hurt?"
"I don't know. I...." He must sound like the very fool the older woman had called him. But no, that was a dream. Only in dreams could a man travel from Beldry Tor to his own bailiwick by flying through the air. Conn tried to shake off the memory of it.
"I am well," he declared. "But I am in no mood to listen again to my father's rantings. Tell him I will wait upon him in the morning."
He did not need eyes to realize he'd lost his servant's attention. Very little indeed could prevent Gandy, son of a Welshman, from putting in his oar. Yet he didn't remonstrate with his master, urging an instant meeting with Lord Robert. "What is it?" Conn asked.
"Naught, master, only I never should have believed you'd make that fountain work again. Didn't they say the spring was dried up as an old cow?"
"That's right. It...." Unmistakably, his ear caught the trickle of water coming from behind him. He put his heavy hand on his servant's shoulder and, giving him a slight shake, demanded a description of what he heard.
"'Tis but a bubble, my lord, rising from the center and rinsing away the dry slime."
A pause while the servant groped for the wooden scoop that still hung on a rusted hook driven into the stone. It had a long handle to reach into the freshest water at the center of the old fountain. Conn remembered his mother dipping up sweet water for her son, tired by his games.
Gandy rinsed his mouth and spat. "'Tis noble," he said in surprise.
It served to wash the worst of the dirt from his hands and face. When Conn lifted his cupped hands to his lips, the water was sweet, cool, and fresh. Conn did not spit it out. It seemed to cool the fire in his heart, his anger toward his father, his anger toward fate.
He said, "I didn't do it. This fountain was dry today when I left here."
His servant laughed. "It must be a miracle. Be careful, my lord, else you'll have hordes of pilgrims coming to wash in it."
"I'll be first in the line," Conn said wonderingly. Had it been a dream? Or... witchcraft? He lifted his hand to cross himself but let it fall, the gesture uncompleted.