copyright 2012 Grace Brannigan
Sir William kicked the door in with an enraged bellow, his brown and craggy face contorted out of all recognition. He and his knights had been practicing sword play when the screams had come from across the courtyard. Immediately, he had known it was his daughter Iliana. He and a score of men had raced toward the family’s private quarters. As they approached the solar, the screams abruptly ceased and it was that very absence of sound that he feared the most.
Three mail-clad shoulders pushed in the wide heavy oak door. The stout wood hit the wall behind it. The sound resonated throughout the keep. Had not two sons and a steward held him back, Sir William would have charged forward to kill the drunken bastard standing over his daughter. In that first moment of blind rage, he cared not that that man was of the king’s favored circle. All he saw was his Iliana, delicate Iliana, lying crumpled, eyes closed, golden hair splayed along the stone floor where a thread of crimson now puddled.
Sir William knew the man as Weinroof, a handsome scoundrel with a reputation for brawling and drunkenness. It was rumored he was a spoiler of women and children.
Weinroof’s long blond mane stood wildly askew and on end, as if someone had tried to rip the hair from his skull. Incongruously, from one immense hand trailed a flimsy, filmy swathe of cloth, the same material that clothed his daughter. As the men at arms entered the room, Weinroof jerked his head back, swollen and bloodshot eyes narrowed upon the intruders. Grunting, the man wrapped the filmy material tightly around his hand in an attempt to stem a flow of blood from his palm.
“This one shows me no favor,” he spat, then fell silent, perhaps sobering somewhat upon being faced with the ferocity of the expressions leveled at him. His voice changed, became more of a disgruntled whine. “All others in this damned drafty place she smiles at and tries to please, but not myself. I would have her hand — I would wed her.”
“Damn your filthy soul to hell!” Desren shouted, oldest son of Sir William. He and his twin Aisyn lunged forward to make short work of the bastard.
Sir William cared not what fate befell that one as he rushed forward and knelt beside his daughter. Iliana had not moved since their forcible entrance. For a moment he feared the worst, that the bastard had killed her. She lay broken, a flower crushed beneath a careless heel. Almost weeping, Sir William lifted her slight frame, gently pulled back the long, curling sweep of hair. She lay as still as her mother on the most sorrowful day of his life. And like her mother, Sir William enfolded her close in mail-clad arms and placed a kiss upon her cold, pale brow.