Blanche bowed her head, too tired to weep. She closed Evrard's eyes, and left her hand on his rapidly-cooling face.
He was dead. Her husband was dead. Why couldn't I protect you?
Her hand started to shake, where it rested on his cooling skin. She had failed to save him, so why did she suddenly want to slap him, to punish him for the crime of leaving her alone and undefended in this strange and horribly hot country?
I'm sorry, Blanche, he had whispered his final apology. But she had seen the relief in his soul as he'd escaped into death. His will to live had been broken by the rumors of the king's death from fever. If the king could die, rather than fall in glorious battle, then he could, too...
She crossed herself, hoping to achieve some remorse or penitence for her blasphemous thoughts, but the prayer performed no magic; her disgust didn't go away.
"Damn you!" The words wrenched from her tight throat. She slammed her fist down upon Evrard's chest. The movement brought the smell of voided bladder and bowels.
He was dead. What should she do now? She tried to think.
For the sake of Evrard's soul, she have to fetch a priest to come and say an absolution. But after that, she had to get away. And soon. Evrard's liegeman, Sir Gawaine, would be visiting in a while, as he had promised--or threatened. She shuddered at the memory of his avid eyes, counting the wealth her husband had brought with him on Crusade. His silver-chased saddle, his sword and mail, his hawk and horse, the linen sheets she'd insisted they bring, their silver goblets (a wedding present from Maman!) and her clothes and jewels.
But she had just become the biggest prize of all--the widowed Lady of Bressoux. She suspected Gawaine would not hesitate to secure her son Pieter's inheritance for himself with a forced marriage.
With that thought, she jumped to her feet, grabbing a woolen cloak that was far too warm to wear in this climate, and frantically bundling up items that she could easily carry. Money. Jewelry. His spurs and dagger. The promissory note from the Templars. Her spare gown--no, just her chemises. Her pen and powdered ink. She'd have to leave the paper. Damn.
She gave a last look to the tiny room above the saddlery that was all they had been able to find for lodgings apart from the other females who had been brought along as the soldiers' camp followers.
She had to find that priest, and then she had to find a berth on one of the supply ships home. Her sons were awaiting her return. Pieter, her eldest, who had just become the Sieur de Bressoux, was in his Uncle Henri and Aunt Genevieve's keeping. Not that she had any solid grounds to suspect either Henri or Genevieve of covetous designs, but she had often wondered why Henri had maneuvered Evrard into taking the cross.
She had her hand on the door latch when she heard heavy footsteps and the chime of mail on the stairs below. Ah, damn.
This old Moorish fortress had the most beautiful carved window lintels Blanche had ever seen: swooping quatrefoils and graceful swirling Arabic letters. She leaned over, looking down onto a flat rooftop over a delicate colonnade. Then she climbed up onto the sill, lifted her skirts then her legs over, twisting to ease through the narrow opening. Better that she fall and break her neck now, than fall into the hands of Sir Gawaine.
Hoping her slippers would keep purchase on the rooftop, she jumped.