In this wonderful collection of Medieval Romance Christmas and Yule novellas by several authors, we have as a sample an excerpt by the writer Patti Sherry-Crews from her intriguing story, "The Protector," the blurb of which is here:
What can Juliana Basset, the daughter of an English merchant, have done to put her in the sights of the most powerful men in the country? It’s not what’s she’s done but what she knows. She harbors a secret that could topple the monarchy. A knight, Sir William, is sent to take her into protection until things settle down.
Stowing her away in a convent until things settle down seems like a good idea. Except Juliana stumbles upon yet another secret while there. Things are not adding up at the convent—literally. When she can't help but dig around, the place of sanctuary could be the death of her. Trying to keep the lovely lady out of harm's way turns out to be more of a challenge than Sir William anticipated.
“...twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen.” Juliana, her finger hovering over the fresh loaves of bread, counted under her breath. She put her finger up and tapped her bottom lip. Why fifteen? Always that number when there are only fourteen mouths to feed?
“Juliana?...I mean, Sister Clementine!” Sister Agnes scolded herself. “You have a visitor.”
Surely, there would only be one person to visit her and the way the silly girl swung her hips and flamed as red as a poppy, Juliana knew exactly who waited for her.
“Where is he?”
“In the visitor’s room, of course.”
Juliana hitched up her ugly woolen grab and went as fast as she could out of the kitchen. Soon they would be called for prayer again and she didn’t want to lose time with Will. Not that she was especially excited to see him, she told herself. But she was so tired of the company of nuns, she longed for word from the outside.
She left the warmth of the kitchen and ran down the cloister to the visitor’s room. A thick layer of snow covered the inner courtyard and blew feathery drifts over the stone tiles on the covered way, making it slippery. Juliana entered the room she remembered being shown three days before, shortly after her arrival. Only three days, yet it felt like a lifetime.
There he stood. His tall, broad back to her, examining a painted panel on the wall. Her heart lurched at the sight of his lovely hair. It looked clean and groomed since she saw him last. Would he be glad to see her? She’d look for signs of it in his face. A sparkle in his eyes. A softening of his features….
Sensing her approach, he spun around slowly. Their eyes met, and his face contorted in an unexpected way. Out came a roar of laughter as he bent over to slap both thighs with his hands. He laughed so loud, she feared someone would ask him to leave.
She placed both hands on her hips and glared at him. “Is that how you greet me?”
“Ho, ho! I’m sorry, but they’ve made a real nun out of you!”
“Well, I don’t think it so amusing. Why are you here?”
He wiped the tears from his eyes. “I was passing and thought I’d spy in on you. By Jove, I’m glad I did. What a sight!”
“Now you see I’m fine, you may be on your way.”
“Don’t be tetchy, little rabbit. I come bearing gifts.”
She perched on the tips of her toes, watching him search his tunic. “What is it?”
He pulled out something wrapped in cloth. When he took the cloth off, her body flooded with relief.
“I knew it troubled you when you thought you’d lost this.” He handed her back her book of poetry.
“How did you...You went back to the inn for this? For me?”
“Tis one thing I could do. It wasn’t such a hardship.” He shrugged.
Juliana remembered the flirty serving wench and her stomach twisted. “No? Did you just ride in and find my book, or did you have to root around. Mayhaps you even had to spend the night?”
“Why do you have pique in your voice? I thought twould please you. That’s all. I had no other motive in going back there.”
“Of course not. I’m very grateful.”
They stood still and uncertain a moment, their sights trained on the floor. Juliana fought the impulse to throw her arms around him.
“So, how goes it?” he asked at last.
“It takes some getting used to.”
“I imagine. Well, I can’t imagine being in a nunnery, really. But, tell me did you find Sister Ursula?”
“Oh, yes! Not at first, and I wondered if you were mistaken about her being here.”
“I am not mistaken.”
“I know now. I found her in the scriptorium working on manuscripts. Tis so beautiful! They let me work there for part of the day.”
“Nay, don’t tell me they let an untrained girl touch a page! It takes much skill and practice to reach the level of--”
“I know! I could never...but, Sister Ursula, she lets me grind stones and mix paint for her. She talks to me while she works. Tis very interesting.”
“She talks to you. Huh.” He had a bemused expression on his face she thought odd. “Anyway, what else do they have you doing here?”
“I work in the kitchen and other chores as they come up like working in the laundry.” She leaned in and switched to a low voice. “There’s something mysterious going on here.”
He leaned in and raised an eyebrow. “Tis a holy order. I expect there to be mysteries.”
“Nay, not like that. I’ve been noticing something. Things are always odd in number.”
“Oh dear, very mysterious.” He ran his finger down her cheek which disconcerted her to the extent she forgot all else for a minute.
She drew back. “Don’t tease! Listen, there are fourteen of us living here, but I always count fifteen trenchers, fifteen candles, fifteen sheets and garments.”
“What of it? Maybe there’s a fifteenth nun in the infirmary.”
“There are two nuns in the infirmary and I counted them in the fourteen. Meals are taken to them, which is openly done, but then a fifteenth meal disappears.”
He stared at her a long moment. His expression blank. “Are you very bored?”
“Why do you ask me that?”
“I just wonder if you’re fabricating--”
“I’m not! I’m kept too busy here to make up stories. I’ve never been so busy in my life. They wake us up in the middle of the night for prayer, then we get to go back to bed, only to be woken up at daybreak to hear scripture, only to be called to prayer two hours later. After that we’re sent to work--and it’s still only morning! At noon there are more prayers after which we get to eat, and then back to work. Then before supper we pray again, only to be called to Complin for the final prayer before going to bed. My head is full of bells, the way they ring them all the time.”
His lips twitched in suppressed amusement. “Mayhaps your mind is becoming overwrought.”
“Tis not! I’m going to find out what they’re hiding here.”
He frowned and put a heavy hand on her arm. “Leave it be. You have enough trouble of your own without calling attention to yourself. Tis possible someone is seeking shelter here and by poking your nose around, you might be putting them in danger as well as yourself. Promise me you’ll do nothing outside of being a good little nun.” He squeezed her arm when she hesitated. “Promise.”
“I promise,” she said, with no intention of keeping it.
“I can see I’ll have to visit often...to make sure you’re not getting yourself in trouble.”
She clutched her beloved book to her chest. “You might have to do that.”
Patti's Author page and newsletter: http://pattisherrycrews16.wix.com/author-blog