“The Lady Bornekova 3” Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Pavel Krejick closed his eyes. Karin’s face was before him. How long would it be before they were together once again? He and his wife—separated by this war—would they know what it was to live together?

That was not such a far-fetched hope.

The Hussites had prevailed. Once things were settled in Prague, he would return to Tabor. Then he and Karin could begin their life.

Leaning back, Pavel allowed the sting of the recent loss of their child to wash over him. Had he truly grieved? Would he yet be swept away by it? Would Karin? How did she fare?

A hand landed on his shoulder.

He jerked to attention, eyes wide, hand on his sword’s hilt.

A young man crouched beside him. How had he snuck up on Pavel without notice?

“Excuse me, my lord.” The young man’s eyes were clear. “General Zizka sends for you.”

Zizka? What might he want?

Pavel nodded and rose. Whatever the general needed, it would be important.

The short walk through camp to Zizka’s tent seemed longer than it could have possibly been.

Though the hour was late and nearly all the men had long since surrendered to sleep, Zizka worked still over a table, poring over maps alit by candles. The flame flickered across his features, casting shadows and drawing attention to different angles in alternating patterns. His stern expression became all the more severe.

Pavel halted a few steps short of the simple desk.

Moments passed before Zizka’s gaze diverted toward him. Was he so focused? Surely he must have realized he had company. But Pavel did not find offense in it—he had long since accepted that the good of the majority was more important than his needs. He could wait for Zizka to finish whatever strategic planning he was engaged in.

Once his eye fell on Pavel, Zizka set down his tools and moved toward the man who was several years his junior, stepping around the table.

“Pavel,” he started, his voice low and his words measured. “Thank you for coming.”

“Of course, General.”

Zizka stopped only a couple of feet short of Pavel. He nodded at the other men surrounding them. They moved several paces away.

Pavel worked to keep his features neutral. What could this mean? What sort of news did Zizka have? Or was there some task he wished for Pavel to perform? Some delicate or dangerous matter? Did Pavel have more fight in him?

The steely gaze leveled on Pavel once more. It seemed to bore into him. Certainly it saw more than Pavel wanted it to.

“There is news. From Tabor.”

Karin! Was she unsafe? His heart raced and his chest tightened. He had difficulty moving air. Forcing a breath in and then pushing it out, he worked to calm his body. This was no time to fall apart.

“Your parents—the Baron and Baroness—their home has burned to the ground.”

It became impossible to take air in. Nothing would move. Then his breaths came in and out rapidly. He had no ability to control them. Nor a care to try. His vision became hazy.

No. Not now. Not like this.

Once again forcing rhythm to his breathing, he brought stability to his body. And clarity to his mind.

“And what of my parents? My…wife? Are they…” He drew in a deep breath. “Are they safe?”

Zizka’s mouth, now a thin line, hardened. “We have word from the Baroness Krejikova. She is safe and well and in Tabor.”

“The others?”

The larger man’s head dipped. “Nothing.”

The ground opened up and Pavel’s stomach fell through it.

Zizka lay a hand on Pavel’s shoulder. “That only means there was no news at the time the messenger was dispatched. Nothing is certain.”

Pavel nodded, swallowing hard. He opened his mouth to speak, but shut it. His emotions were too close to the surface. Surely they would spill out.

Zizka’s brow rose.

“May I…” A lump in Pavel’s throat caught his words and cut off his request. He drew in a breath and pressed on. “General, may I take my leave to return to Tabor?”

“God be with you.” The man’s large hand squeezed Pavel’s arm and the one good eye caught Pavel’s gaze. What was that in his regard? Sadness? Regret?

It would be of little gain to attempt to decipher Zizka’s emotions when Pavel’s own rushed and tumbled through him, cluttering his mind and heart.

And only one thing was clear: he had to get to Karin.


Radek stirred. His mind came to awareness, but he kept his eyes sealed. Did he want to open them and accept this day? What had transpired on the one past? Had he truly left the Hussites? Left Pavel and Zdenek?

He rolled onto his back and groaned. There had been reasons. And they were good. Noble. Strong enough that he would abandon his friends. His brethren.

No. Not abandon.

He’d had no choice.

Zizka had left him none.

Not after all he had seen.

After what he had done at the general’s behest.

“Will you sleep all day, friend?”

The voice loomed over him. Familiar, yet strange somehow.

He let his eyes open at last to confirm what he suspected.

A figure looked down, but the sun behind sillhouetted him. His features were not discernable.

It was no matter. Radek did not need to see the man to know his identity.

The only thing amiss was that his voice held no hint of jovality. Only tension. Not for the first time, but it had been uncommon.

Before now.

“Are you unwell?” Stepan spoke again as he folded his arms across his chest.

Did he inquire out of concern or impatience? It was difficult to determine.

“I am well enough.”

Now fully awake, Radek’s senses were bombarded with his surroundings.

As he came to a seated position, he gagged. “What is that…?” Was there a word to describe the scent assaulting him?

Stepan gazed off toward the horizon. Was he becoming irritated with Radek?

It had been nearly nightfall when Radek made his way to camp after defecting and Stepan helped him find bedding.

Now, the true state of the place lay bare before his eyes.

Unspeakable things littered the ground. And the bugs…they were everywhere.

Radek glared at Stepan. “Were there no latrines dug? Or do Germans simply not care?” Pressing the back of his hand to his mouth, another wave of nausea rose and threatened Radek’s tightly held control. What could this be?

“One does what one must in war.” Stepan set narrowed eyes on him.

Radek quirked a brow. An easy excuse.

Stepan held out a hand toward him. “Come, we must make good of our day.”

Still uncertain his stomach would hold, he gripped Stepan’s hand and hoisted himself up. It did not help his uneasiess.

“This way.” Stepan indicated that they would go in the direction where the tents were thicker.

Closing his eyes and forcing down a hard swallow, Radek followed.

The walk through camp did not improve the Royalists’ impression on Radek. He was careful with his steps, avoiding placing his feet in…areas he did not wish them to be.

Germans and other foreign soldiers were being roused around him. Some of them suffering from too much drink the previous evening. Their boisterous speech pulled at his attention more than once.

“Watch yourself!” Stepan’s voice cut into his wandering thoughts.

His foot hit something hard and he became unsteady—his body moved forward, but his legs were held back.

Stepan caught his arm. That was the only thing keeping him upright.

He nodded toward his friend. And looked down at what had halted his momentum.

A dead a horse lay across the path.

How had he not smelled it before? It had been dead for some time. But it was not a sick stomach welling up in him now, it was anger.

“How long until this is moved?” He glared openly at Stepan.

His friend gave him a sharp look. “Lower your voice.”

“What manner of insanity is this?” Dead carcases left to rot in the hot sun, human waste left where ever anyone cared to leave it, both causing the bugs that covered the grounds.


Why would they choose to live this way?

Stepan closed the distance between them. “You will do well to check yourself and silence your objections.”

“Check myself? What about the—?”

Stepan grabbed his arm and pulled him to the side, glancing about. Was he fearful of those listening?

Would those within this encampment turn on their own?

“This is not the place to air out your grievances against the Germans,” Stepan seethed.

What? Could Stepan not see that the conditions of the camp were deplorable? Not because they were Germans? Because they were negligent. “It’s not about—”

“Just keep your opinions to yourself.” Stepan turned and moved farther into the camp.

Radek watched him go. Should he follow? Dare he stay behind? Drawing in a painfully acrid breath, he stretched out his stride and attempted to catch his friend.


Eva shifted. Slowly her mind drifted toward the brink of awareness. Was she asleep? For how long? Where was she?

As her senses trailed behind her thoughts, she took in what information she could.

The ground. Only a thin pile of blankets separated her from it. Her hip ached from being pressed into the hard surface for so long. Indeed she smelled the earth—the dirt, the grass, and…other things, quite well.

She opened her eyes. The sun was up. Morning?

The night had gone.

Yes, she only bedded down for the night in the women’s camp in Prague. The past days rushed back into her memory. Must she always wake so? Unknowing of her circumstances?

Sitting up, she put a hand to her forehead.

The battle had been fought. And it had been won.

They prevailed!

Rubbing sleep from her eyes, she turned. Movement not far off alerted her that she was not alone, but perhaps remained the only one still abed.

Women and girls shuffled about this way and that. What were they doing?

She stood.

A little uneasy at first.

But soon her legs were confident and strong.

Walking toward the cluster of chattering ladies closest to her, she laid a hand to a shoulder.

The brunette turned to face her.

A brow arched in her direction. “Up at last, I see.”

“Huh? Oh, yes.” Her face warmed. “I am.”

The young woman stared at her, a slight smile on her face.

“Where is my sister, Patricie?”

“For certain, doing what everyone is doing.”

“And that would be?”

“Preparing for a feast!” The girl took her hands. “The likes of which you’ve never seen!”

The corners of Eva’s mouth rose and spread until her cheeks ached. But she could not help the moisture that filled her eyes as well. “God has been good to us!”

“He’s been more than good. He has shone His favor upon us. For sooth, there is nothing we won’t accomplish now.”

The women around her began speaking in agreement, with excitement in their voices.

As the young woman loosed Eva’s hands and joined with those behind her, Eva reminisced on the victory. She remembered the fear she had experienced in the bunker. Then the comfort of Zdenek’s strength and love. And after all was done, the words he had said to her.

Did he mean them? Or had they been the product of the celebratory spirit? Of life restored where it had been forfeit?

Her professions had been heartfelt.

What if his had not?

Could she bear it?

She must know.


Where was he?

Coming back to herself, she looked around.

The men’s camp. That’s where he would have bedded down for the night. Where had they set up? To the north. Yes.

Eva touched the brunette’s elbow. “I thank you.” She put on her best smile. “I shall return to assist after I am finished with my ablutions.”

The woman hardly acknowledged Eva as the group moved on.

She slipped around other small gatherings and pairs of women busying themselves with many preparations. A pang hit her chest that she did not stop to help them. But, she could not put off the beating of her heart.

As she made her way to the outskirts of the camp, she spotted two men standing guard. Perhaps their charge was to prevent anyone from entering the camp. What if they were to also watch the comings and goings of the inhabitants?

She scanned the area. A bucket sat nearby among some grasses. It had nearly eluded her. Salvation! Taking a step toward it, she reached into the brush and lifted the handle. Why would anyone leave behind such a resource? Had it been thrown or kicked and become hidden from its owner?

Drawing it to herself, she noted the ground, quite visible through the bucket. Due to a rather large hole. Oh yes. This must be the reason. Of what use was a bucket that could no longer carry?

Ah, but it would be of great use to her. If she held it near enough to her dark brown skirt, the guards might not see the hole. Why would they see something they were not looking for?

With great effort, she slowed her step as she walked the remaining distance to the camp’s entry point.

The shorter of the two men, still a full head taller than she, noticed her first. He dipped his head in her direction.

“Dobrey den.”

“Dobrey den,” she said, making a slight curtsy.

“Off to fetch something?” His tone remained pleasant, as if he merely wished to make conversation.

What could she need that she could not secure inside the boundaries of the camp? Why did she not think this far ahead? They had water, foodstuffs…what could she need?

She glanced toward him.

His brows, once raised as if curious were dropping. And her lack of response seemed to have drawn the attention of the larger man as well.

“Bread!” she said. A bit louder than she’d intended.

The men looked at each other.

“Yes,” she softened her voice and offered them a coy smile. “I am charged with going to fetch fresh bread from the baker and deliver it to General Zizka.”

The smaller soldier scratched his head, but the larger man appeared determined. He stepped forward.

“What is your name?”

Raising her chin, she halted before him. She would not back down. “Eva of Hradec Kralove.”

“Well then, Eva of Hradek Kralove,” he said, his eyes leveling on her. “Tell the General that we are well pleased to fight under his sword.” He put a fist to his chest.

She forced her mouth to remain closed, lest it fall open. It almost seemed he had seen through her ruse. That he would march her back into camp or, worse, expel her from the Hussite army for lying.

What was she doing? The warmth began to drain from her face.

Was it too late to take it back?

She nodded. “Of course, I will let the General know of the two brave men who watch the women’s camp and how much they respect his leadership.”

The man, who loomed over her, made a slight bow at the waist. Even still, his head would have bent only to her shoulder. Was it due to his massive size or her petite one?

She gripped at her skirt with her free hand and forced her steps to be steady and even as she walked away from the two men. Though she couldn’t deny her relief that they weren’t able to see her face. For certainly, it had become all the more pale.


Karin’s lungs burned. And her eyes. Dry. So dry. She blinked several times as she opened them. Would moisture ever return? Everything in her seemed parched of the smallest hint of liquid.

Would that she could stay asleep. Perhaps she would not be so arid. Was there water nearby?

She coughed. A pained gesture. For every move was effort. Great effort.

As she sat up, she looked around. Where was she? Her head hated her for the simple movement, pounding in response. Had someone driven a spike through her temple?

Her hands covered the sides of her head and she pressed as if a vise. It offered but small respite.

Rustling grass to her right assaulted her senses, but also alerted her to the presence of another.

She jerked her head in that direction. Her vision followed. Slowly.

Baron Alex Krejik shifted to a sitting position as well.

Why were she and her father-in-law sleeping on the ground, in the forestline? Unsheltered?

The piercing slice of pain in her head diluded her thoughts. But there were images flashing before her. Memories?

Danger. Much haste. Nicol’s attempts to hurry her away. There had been a fire. The castle!

Turning toward the open grounds, where the beautiful castle once sat, her eyes set on the debries that remained.

The memories returned in full force. And the torrent of emotion with them. And the tears.

She drew her knees to her chest and rested her head in the pocket created there. The pressure within it only increasing. How much pain could she endure?

A hand fell to her back.

Without looking, she knew it was the Baron.

“It will be all right.” His voice broke.

How could she believe him?

“Who…” She pushed the word out through her sobs. “Who could have done this?”

The Baron was silent for several moments.

It drove her sorrow to greater intensity.

“I do not know.” He drew his hand back.

The loss of what little comfort he offered saddened her more than she’d expected. Biting her lip, she worked to quiet her tears. They did not serve her father-in-law.

“And the Baroness? Did she make it to safety?” Karin peered to the side, over her shoulder.

The Baron was crouched beside her. He ran a hand down his face.

Despite her best efforts, Karin’s eyes watered anew. He didn’t know. What were they going to do? Should they seek out the Baroness? Find a safe place for themselves? Would the Baron make rebuilding a priority? Or was finding the one responsible more important? Would she, then, lose him as well to the villan?

Where was Pavel? She needed him.

Her tears burned hot.

So many days and nights she had been strong. But no more. There was no more strength in her. She had failed him.

Curling into herself again, she quieted her sobs, but let her tears flow.