The Lady Bornekova 3 – Hidden Scenes

Chapter 2, Scene 1

Zdenek stretched. How long had he been awake? The late night celebrations did not negate the camp routines. And those started early.

But he had finished his assigned tasks.

If only it were possible for him to rest for a few moments more.

The sun had been up for only two hours yet and he already longed for his mat. Except…

Except for the hope of seeing Eva today.

The words spoken between them made it rather difficult for him to find sleep. Yet another reason for his weariness.

As he approached the place his mat had been for the night, he was pleased to find that his horse had been given something more than just the grasses to graze upon.

A gentle slap on the animal’s side alerted her to her master’s presence.

He muttered soothing words and he crossed behind, keeping a hand to her body, and around to the other side.

She appeared well and in good health.

Rubbing her muzzle, he whispered to her. “Thank you, my steadfast friend. You have served me well.”

The horse sputtered in response and stepped slightly to the side.

Did she find some displeasure in him? Had he wronged her?

Then he heard it—the clomp of boots, the rustle of grass. Someone approached.

He turned, hand on the hilt of his sword. Why must he always be on guard? Was he not safe in this camp?

A farmer-turned-soldier, perhaps a year or so older than Zdenek at the most, neared.

Zdenek attempted to read his features. What manner of news did he bear?

The man’s face offered no clues.

But in moments, he stood in front of Zdenek.

“Dobry den, my lord.” He bowed his head briefly.

“Dobry den.” Zdenek returned the greeting. “Why have you sought me out?”

“General Zizka mustneeds see you.”

Zdenek furrowed his brows. The general? Why?

But he need not show this man any reluctance, lest it be thought he questioned General Zizka. The general was now a hero to all Hussites, far and near. That would likely not be tolerated so well.

Zdenek nodded. “I will come.”

The man turned and walked in the direction from whence he had come.

Not long after, Zdenek found himself approaching the general’s tent.

Zizka’s booming voice was audible from even these few feet away. And there was another—a woman. It almost sounded like… But it couldn’t be.

He bit his lip and continued forward even as his guide paused.

Striding to the tent’s opening, he then halted and listened. He did not wish to step in on the general entertaining company.

But was that so appropriate?

That was not for him to judge.

As he turned to leave, the woman’s voice grew louder. And, though he could not make out the words, he became much more certain of who the voice belonged to.


But what would she be doing with General Zizka?


His heart stopped.

What if she had not truly cared for him at all, but sought the attentions of the general?

It didn’t make sense. Yet it fit.

Zdenek’s heart sank into his stomach.

But he refused to lose his constitution in front of the soldiers surrounding the tent.

What could he do? Walk in and make his humiliation complete? Run away from her, from the general, from this war?


He blinked as he stared at the tent flap over his shoulder.

Could he?

Dare he?

His insides tensed and his face heated.

Yes, he could give in to this anger and storm into the tent. Make them the fools.

He spun and marched into the tent.

Those within were indeed startled.

Not as much as he.

The general stood nearby, along with three other nobles. They shifted their focus to him as he entered.

But it was Eva who drew Zdenek’s eyes.

She stood in what made for the center of the tent, poised as if with a sword.

Nothing improper.



Except that he forced his way into his general’s privacy without announcing himself.

Eva’s eyes went wide as she looked upon him, fighting to maintain her balance.

“I take it, Eva of Hradec Kralove, that this is the man of whom you speak?”

Zdenek shot a glance in Zizka’s direction.

The man shook with barely contained laughter.

Zdenek’s stomach felt uneasy and, though his mouth moved, nothing came forth.

“Yes, General! This is him.” She straightened her posture and smiled in Zdenek’s direction. Yet something in her eyes held back.


Had she any idea of his earlier thoughts?

He prayed not.

“Zdenek,” Zizka said, stepping toward him. “Have you any idea why you were sent for?”

He must choose his words carefully. “I did not, sir, until I saw the lady. Now I am left to assume it is to do with her.”

Zizka smacked him on the shoulder. “Can you imagine that this lady was discovered trying to sneak into the mens’ camp?”

Zdenek caught Eva’s eye, his brow arched. Was it his imagination, or did her cheeks redden?

“She said she came looking for you. Some important message or some such nonsense.”

What should he do? Take the blame? Or speak the truth that he knew nothing of it?

He opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Zizka interjected.

“I would have had her thrown out into the streets, but something about her manner gave me pause. Can you think of what that might be?”

Zdenek swallowed against a thickness in his throat. “N-no, sir.”

“She speaks of love. Have you ever heard of such a silly notion? Love!” He laughed.

Eva’s features deepened in color.

Zdenek’s hands curled into fists. How dare the man, especially a general, make light of her…their plight!

Turning, he thrust himself toward Zizka.

Two men held him back.

“Calm yourself, Zdenek.” Zizka’s laughter was gone. Replaced by drawn features. Wearied by too many days of concern? “I see you have a care for her. And no harm will come to her. She is simply delightful.”

Zdenek blinked as the men released him.

“This young lady has been entertaining us with the oddest tale—of her dressed as a man, fighting in battle. Can you even imagine?”

Zdenek remained silent, but poised as Zizka stepped toward Eva.

The general offered her a hand.

She hesitated, but soon slid her hand into his.

He escorted her toward Zdenek.

“The question is…what am I to do with a maiden who prances about, alone, in the morning hours…lying to my guards and sneaking around barriers?”

Zdenek ached to take Eva’s hand from his, to pull her behind himself and ensure no harm came to her.

“Shall I send her back to Hradec Kralove?”

Eva opened her mouth.

Zdenek shot her a warning look.

She clamped her lips shut.

Turning back to Zizka, Zdenek garnered what courage he had and offered what he could. “General, I am fully prepared to marry this young woman.”

“You are?” Though his words sounded surprised, Zizka’s features told another story.

“If you will bless it.” Zdenek shifted his body to face Zizka.

“I will do more than that.” Zizka smiled. He tugged Eva forward and laid her hand in Zdenek’s waiting one.

“I can have a priest readied within the hour.”

Zdenek forced the determined expression to remain on his face lest it fall. Marry? Now? Today? Was he ready?

He looked at Eva. In her eyes, he found peace, love, and hope.

“Be certain he makes haste,” Zdenek said, his words soft as his gaze rested only on Eva. “For it cannot be soon enough.”

Chapter 2, Scene 2

Hana ducked. Could she become invisible? There was no where left to hide. No where to run. No way to run.

The Germans had taken that away.

She pulled against the rope binding her wrists to no avail. The rub of the raw material against her skin was her only reward. Grimacing against the burn, she pressed her face all the more against her shoulder.

Was this all that was left to her? Could anyone survive this?

At least for now, the soldier that had glanced her way returned to the jovality of his small group.

She was safe.

For now.

But for how long?

Her stomach ached. When was the last time they had fed her.

Fed was too generous a word for the act of tossing scraps her way.

She wasn’t an animal.

Still, she could not help herself as she lunged for the morsels. And the sneers and laughter from her captors made her burn much deeper within than the ropes ever could.

What did they intend to do with her?

Thus far she had been little more than a source of amusement.

But she was not ignorant. They would tire of their play, use her as they pleased, and toss her away.

And there was little she could do to stop them.

That didn’t mean she wouldn’t try.

Peering at the group of men drinking and laughing, she wondered how much they had consumed. Would they soon be passed out?

Perhaps then she could work on the knots again. Her jaw ached at the mere thought.

But she had to try. Hana Novakova would not go peaceably.

That was certain.

The men became louder, drawing her attention back in their direction.

Two soldiers faced each other, nearly nose to nose. The others had drawn back, creating a circle around them.

The surrounding men chanted in German while the two men locked their foreheads together, putting their hands on the other’s shoulders and jerking the other closer.

What had their drunkenness drawn them to now?

If only she weren’t secured to this tree, she might take advantage of this opportunity. Dare she creep closer to the oak and work that knot?

The voices grew louder and the circle tightened until she could no longer see the combatants.

She had to try.

Pushing herself into a standing position, she bit her lip against the pain in her leg. How badly was she injured?

If she hadn’t been slowed by it, she might not be in this situation at all.

Easy prey.

She sniffed back her frustrated tears. They would not serve her.

Refocusing on her task, she crouched and limped toward the tree, keeping careful watch on the men.

They seemed wholly unaware of her movements.

Just a few more inches and she would be there. Letting loose her leg, she reached forth for the portion of rope that secured her to the trunk.

It had been tied tightly.

Did she expect anything less?

As she slid her fingers around the rope, she frowned at the state of her once fine skin. Cuts and reddened patches marred her fair skin. What would her mother think?

She pushed that thought back in her mind. There wasn’t time for that. This was her life.

But the ties wouldn’t give.

Still, she worked. There was no other option.

The sounds of the men cheering on the two locked in some sort of game increased. What did that mean?

She didn’t have the time to stop and investigate.

Jerking on the thick, rough hemp, it gave a little.

She almost cried out.

But stopped herself.

Holding her breath, she then became aware that the nearby noises had ceased.

Dare she turn?

The hair on the back of her neck stood on end.

Was someone behind her?

She pushed out a ragged breath and closed her eyes.

A rough voice spoke in German.

Others laughed.

They were close. Too close.

“It seems, my lady, that the cat has caught the mouselette. And she has been very naughty.” The roughened tenor said in her language.

Her head swam with a million thoughts.

Should she comply? Drop her arms and turn? Would that make it better for her? Or was she correct thinking they would end her life when they were done with her? Might there be a chance for her to escape? Would she want to live after they were done?

Or should she resist?

A part of Hana was scared and thought perhaps she might escape if she did not fight. But, that was not who Hana Novakova was. Not now. Not ever.

The grass crunched behind her. Did the man step closer?

She thought to pray briefly. But only a few words for strength and boldness.

Then she intertwined her fingers, pulling her hands together.

One more step.

“What has the mouselette to say for herself?”

He was close. So close she felt the heat from his body.

Gripping her hands together, she spun, pivoting on her good leg, arms outstretched and firm.

They connected with the soldier’s face.

Though she had not the strength of a man, God must have heard her prayer. The blow knocked the man to the side. He fought for balance.

But there was no where for her to run and there were too many men surrounding her. Hands gripped her from all sides, fingers digging into her skin.

She kicked out in any and every direction she could.

The soldiers forced her into a kneeling position, pinning her arms to her sides, her bound hands in front of her.

Where was the man she had hit? Had she done any damage?

Movement off to the side caught her attention. The man was hunched over, a cloth to his face.

He looked in her direction. And she saw…

The cloth was pressed to his bloodied nose.

She could not help the warmth in her chest that caused her to square her shoulders and straighten her back, straining against the hands that held her.

“German pig!”

From somewhere a hand hit her across the face. Her world became darker. And as her vision returned, everything seemed a little blurry.

The soldier she had assaulted was now masked in naked outrage. His features were set and stony. He took a step toward her, his own hand raised.

She turned her head.

What more was she to endure?

“Stop!” A voice a bit farther away demanded.

A hush ended the soldiers’ grumblings.

She peered in the direction of this new voice without exposing herself fully.

A man, medium build, with a beard and a rather gentle voice, stood in defiance to these men. And he spoke with a Czech accent. Could he be? Either that or he was a German who had studied excellently.

But was there any chance he could offer her salvation?

Chapter 2, Scene 3

Pavel pushed his horse onward. The animal was weary. As well she should be. Wasn’t Pavel himself in need of respite? How he ached to bed down in the last inn they had passed. But his desire to see that Karin was safe had given him reason to push through for the final hours to Tabor.

Now that he approached the village in the middling of the night, he loathed his earlier decision. The town was at rest. How would he learn anything at this hour?

He would be forced to find a place to spend the night and begin his search in the morning.


Dare he go beyond the good sense of what his horse could withstand and journey to the next barony?

Or seek out his father’s castle?


What would ash and smoulder reveal in the darkness but that there had been a fire?

The horse slowed.

No, if he wished to retain the mare, he best not find if she could go beyond the limits of reason.

He would have to find a place to lay his head in the small village.

Scanning the buildings, he settled on the larger inn. The one he was more familiar with. What was the keeper’s name again? His tired mind could not produce it. It was no matter.

Dropping from the horse, his knees buckled. How had he become so ignorant to the cries from his body? He should have long since stopped for rest.

Still, if he had any hope, any lead on where Karin might be, he would return to the saddle and push onward.

Perhaps to his own detriment.

His heart ached for her.

To hold her.

To know that she was well.

Surely she lived.

Wouldn’t he know if she didn’t? For certain, a gaping hole would have opened where his heart had been.

Yes, she must still be alive.

He had to believe that.

As tired as his arms were, they would have held her with renewed strength if he could have but found her.

But as it were, he wondered if he could hold his sword if necessary.

He prayed it would not be necessary.

Why would it?

His steps drew him nearer the inn. The mare just behind him.

A stable hand rushed to assist him.

Pavel did not hesitate as the eager lad took hold of the reins.

“There’ll be leftover goulash from dinner inside. The mistress always keeps some warm for late-night arrivals.”

Nodding, Pavel turned to the entrance, wishing he had the energy to thank the boy. Once inside the dimly lit inn, he was greeted by the aforementioned mistress.

“Oh, sire, you do look a sight!”

He could only offer a nod as he deflated into a chair.

“I was just about to turn in myself, but I’ll get you a bowl of me goulash.”

Pavel’s mouth moistened. Had it been so dry? “Water?” He managed.

“Oh, yes, my lord.”

She poured liquid from a pitcher and brought it to him with a bowl of the thick stew which was not hot, but not cold either.

He gulped the temperate liquid from the cup, not minding any sense of propriety. And then shoveled a spoonful of the meaty concoction into his mouth.

The goulash was blander than he was used to. But it was still delicious. And he relished the nourishment after his impossibly long ride.

As he came to the last of the meal, he became aware that the innkeeper’s wife still stood nearby, watching him.

“Where is your husband, good lady?”

“Died. Last winter.”

Pavel nodded.

“And I fear I must say that the drink and stew are all I can offer a fine nobleman such as yourself.”

Pavel furrowed his brows.

“A lady has come to my inn just earlier today. A baroness. And taken all me spare rooms.”

“Baroness, you say?” Could it be?

“Yes, my lord. The Baroness what’s lived in the castle not a half day’s ride from here. Burned down it did.”

Pavel rose, surprised at the strength in his legs. “Good lady, you must take me to the Baroness. Immediately.”

“My lord!” The woman held a hand over her heart. “Please don’t ask me to…”

“It is imperative.” Pavel stepped toward her.

She drew back.

Where his eyes as wild as he imagined?

“Good lady, the Baroness of which you speak…is my mother.”

Chapter 2, Scene 4

Eva barely heard anything the priest said as he spoke the words of marriage over her and Zdenek. Was this happening?

In truth, she could hardly breathe.

The only thing anchoring her to the moment was Zdenek’s hands enclosing hers.

His eyes held her gaze steady and sure. Was he so certain?

Hadn’t it only been moments ago that she questioned the reality of his feelings for her? And now they were being joined for life before God. Taking sacred vows.

Tugging on their joined hands, Zdenek pulled her ever nearer. What had the priest said? Had the ceremony ended? Was it time to seal their union with a kiss?

Zdenek’s lips pressed hers and all thoughts left her mind. There was only her and him and this moment.

She forgot herself and her hands gripped his arms, certain she would float away or fall—one or the other.

He pulled back.

Still, the moment between them was thick.

Would it always be like this? This lightness? This loveliness? This intensity?


She opened her eyes. The world seemed hazy.

Zdenek’s mouth was bent in a crooked smile. Was he so amused?

A gentle tug on her hand drew her to face away from the priest. At the same time, Zdenek looped her hand through his elbow.

He then led her through the small gathering of Hussites and women, cheering for their comrade and his lady.

Her face warmed. Did she deserve such laud? Such celebration?

One glance at Zdenek proved to reinforce it. His green eyes shone with pride as he gazed at her.

Dare she hope that he would always look at her thusly?

She prayed he would.

Oh, how she prayed.

Chapter 3, Scene 1

Radek stared at the scene before him. What had he said? Did he dare speak against this group of burly men? His stomach churned. Whatever boldness had made him speak up started to diminish.

As his gaze took it in, his resolve strengthened. Dare he not?

How could he let the men continue to brutalize this woman. Though from the looks of it she was hardly as helpless as she seemed. One of the soldiers held a bloodied cloth to his nose.

And her eyes, now on Radek, had a fire in them. But there was something else…


From him?

Did she think he could help her?

His heart beat with more vigor.

Somehow. Yes, he would do what he could to help her.

“What did you say?” one of the men spat at him. The shock of Radek’s appearance must have worn off. “Do you speak up for a Hussite?”

What could he say that would not bring his life to the same precipice that hers now hinged on?

The man with the cloth pressed to his face shook off his companion and stepped toward Radek. “What say you? Do we have a Hussite sympathizer among us? A snake in the grass?”

“Of course not.” Stepan came forward, now standing shoulder to shoulder with Radek.

Did his friend wish to assist him? That was unexpected. Stepan had seemed all too ready to abandon him earlier because he spoke loudly about the conditions of the camp. Now he stood beside Radek when danger was near? Maybe there was something of his friend still there.

“We only wish to offer a trade. My friend here,” he clapped Radek on the shoulder. “Has spied this lady and wishes to make a exchange.”

“There is nothing you can possibly offer that would entice us to…”

The largest of the men came forward, pressing blood-nose back with a thick arm. “I wish to hear what you offer. And I may consider allowing you to…entertain the lady for the evening. Under my watch.”

Stepan’s gaze was intent on Radek.

What did he have to trade? He had little to call his own on his person. There was his horse. He prayed that would be unnecessary. That would be a truly unfortuitous move on his part. How could he manage without his mare?

He rubbed hands against his outer thighs. They were damp from sweat.

His right hand struck his sheathed dagger—a family heirloom. Encrusted with gems, it was valuable indeed. However, it’s worth to him was far more than the jewels that emblished the hilt. It had belonged to his father, his grandfather, and many more before him.

But it might well be the only thing that would save this woman’s life.

He pulled it free of his belt, lifting it slowly, in a non-threatening way.

The large man grasped it and jerked it free from Radek’s hands.

Radek hadn’t a moment to react before the priceless piece was gone. Perhaps forever.

As the man examined the dagger as one would any object in a marketplace, Radek’s core burned. His family did not deserve for this, a constant companion into untold skirmishes and battles to be treated like some common ware.

The oversized German ran a hand over the gems. And smiled. He clasped the small weapon and gave Radek his back.

Radek could not help but speak out. “What of our arrangement?”

“You may have the woman for the night.” The broad shoulders continued to be Radek’s only view as the man stepped farther away. He laid a hand on one of his men. Only then did he stop. Making eye contact with this man who was only a half foot smaller than he, the leader spoke, “You shall maintain vigil over my prisoner.”

“But…” the bloodied nose German spoke up.

The larger man shot him a look and the protesting man hung his head.

As the great German continued to move away, so did his men, except the one he had appointed to keep watch.

In a matter of moments, Radek and Stepan stood in front of the woman, alone save their overseer.

Her head fell. What did she expect of him? That he intended to violate her? Or did she suspect his ruse? It was difficult to discern.

He stepped toward her and took a knee just in front of her.

“My lady?”

All the more aware that they were watched, he glanced in the direction of the man who was still larger than he.

His features were set. Stoney.

Radek reached a hand forth, touching the side of the woman’s face.

She jerked away.

And her piercing gaze caught his. A portion of her light brown hair fell across her face, unhindered by pins and gatherings. But through the strands, her blue eyes found his. And there was nothing pleasant about the way she attempted to stab at him with her glare.

She did have spirit.

They had not broken her.

He thanked heaven for that.

“Come with me.”

Her breathing became harsh and rapid. And her eyes narrowed. “I will not go without a fight.”

That defiance, that resilience stirred something in Radek. Something he wasn’t sure he had felt before.

“This,” he said, his voice low. “I know.”

Chapter 3, Scene 2

Karin jolted awake. Her gaze searched out her surroundings. The same as when she had closed her eyes. Green, treed hills stretched out before them. How long would they ride? Even as they had started, she struggled to maintain a hold on consciousness. Perhaps the ground had not been as welcoming a bed as she would have hoped.

Glancing toward her father-in-law, she wished for him to look at her.

But his eyes were trained forward. Did he seek their destination or was he wary of danger that may befall them?

How real was that concern?

Would briggands leap from the bushes and set upon them at any moment? Or perhaps whomever had so hated the Baron’s family that they alit a fire to his home in the middling of night would set upon them?

She forced her lids to remain open as she scanned the area. The shrubs were still but for the movement of the wind. And all around them there seemed only the sounds of nature. Nothing amiss.

But dare she, or the Baron, read it false, it could be to the detriment of them all.

She allowed herself another glance in his direction.

His jaw clenched, the muscles rippling underneath. Was he so tense?

For it was a mannerism she knew all too well. How many times had she noted the same tightening of Pavel’s features. And always when he would be deep in thought about an unpleasant situation or inevitable danger.

Swirls of color gave way to his face in her mind’s eye.


Why did he have to leave them?

They needed him.

She needed him.

Biting her lip as hot tears formed beneath her eyelids, she fought the wave of emotion. Why couldn’t she stamp out this anger? She loved him. And here she harbored resentment.

But wasn’t it deserved? A voice, so like her own, but not quite, seemed to whisper into her mind.

Hadn’t she begged him not to go?

He had chosen his duty to the people over her, his wife.

And look what happened.

Drawing in a deep breath and pushing it out slowly, she examined that thought. No, there was no way to know if Pavel’s presence at the castle would have made any difference.


No. She would not think such things.

The horses around hers halted.

And she pulled back on her reins, searching out the Baron.

His arm was at shoulder level. Had he bid the men to stop?

Before them, a castle stretched out upon the open land.

They had made it! This must be the home of Baron Novak. Here, her father-in-law said, they would seek and find shelter. And then they would send word to Pavel.

Would he come?

She prayed so. What could possibly keep him?

The drawbridge was lowered and, in due time, Baron Krejik and Karin found themselves in the company of Baron Novak himself.

“I cannot imagine what you have been through.” The man’s features were drawn. Did he truly emphasize? Or was he just being polite?

“It…has been a trial, my friend.” Baron Krejik spoke. Did he trust the man with all?

She would have to listen and discover just how deep his trust went.

“I shall see that baths are prepared at once.” Baron Novak signaled to one of his men.

That did sound divine. Karin could only imagine the sight she must present. To be clean…and, in clean clothes soon thereafter, she hoped.

Baron Novak turned toward Baron Krejik, pressing a hand to his shoulder. “But…before you depart. There is something I mustneeds share.”

Her father-in-law’s brows came together, his mouth drooping.

“The Baroness.”

Baron Krejik’s forehead groove deepened. “What do you know of my wife? Is she here?” He took a step toward the inner parts of the castle, but halted. Did the hand gripping his arm tighten?

“She was here,” Baron Novak released on a breath. “But no more.”

Baron Krejik turned on his friend. “What is this you speak?”

“There is no reason to believe she is unwell.” Baron Novak waved an arm between them. “She left here, fraught with concern after you. And you, my lady.” He turned his gaze on Karin.

“And you let her go?” Baron Krejik’s eyes narrowed.

“I did everything I could to stop her. And I sent a small contingency of my men with her to ensure her safety.”

Baron Krejik’s shoulders relaxed.

As did Baron Novak’s after him.

“Do you know where she went?”

“I believe she went to the villiage.”

“Then that is where I will go.” Baron Krejik spun.

“Please,” Karin interjected. This was madness. “You must take me with you.”

He looked down at her and back at his friend, then to her again. “The baron will care for you. It has been a long ride. You must rest. I cannot put you back in the saddle so soon.”

Karin’s lips moved, but she forced the words to die there. She wanted to protest, but this was not the place. It would not be seemly for her to question him.

Instead, she stepped closer and put her arms around his waist. “Please make swift your journey. And be safe.” Her words were but a whisper.

Hands pressed against her back. “All will be well,” his kind, deep voice spoke near her ear.

And, with great reluctance, she released him and stepped back.

He walked away, shouting commands at his man-at-arms.

When he disappeared around the corner, Karin drew her arms across her chest. She was alone, isolated…again.

Chapter 3, Scene 3

Zdenek sensed movement beside him. He jerked awake, ready to grab for his sword.

As he reached forth, he caught a fistful of the rough blanket that covered him.

And hands, small, fragile hands moved from his chest to his shoulders.

He glanced downward.

It was no attacker that prepared to overcome him, it was Eva, who even then drew closer to him as she remained in peaceful slumber.

Resting back against the thin palatte on the hard earth, he relaxed and let his gaze wander over the face of his wife.

Her lashes swept over her cheeks, impossibly long. And her lips were parted but the slightest as she slept. Dark hair framed ivory features and fell over her shoulder. An angel, surely.

And she was his. Had pledged to be his for the remainder of their earthly lives.

Could it be?

A powerful emotion pressed up through his core and into his throat. Could he swallow against it? He feared not.

What was this strong feeling that overcame him? Pride? Love? He was unsure. But it overwhelmed him. And he wished to give himself over to the warm and pleasant sensation.

He could not help but pull her closer and press his lips into the soft mused hair atop her head.

“Please tell me the morning has not come,” she groaned.

Leaning away, he met her eyes.

What should he say? How could he speak with such as this filling his being?

She raised a hand to touch the side of his face. Her smile soon fell and her brows drew together. “Are you well, Zdenek?”

He touched his forehead to hers, letting his eyes close. “Yes,” he choked out. “I am but…” What word incompassed all he felt? What had happened between them? A word whispered into his mind. And it fit. “Blessed.”

“Mmmm.” The murmur escaped her. His hands sensing the vibration in her body as she did so.

His arms ached to crush her to himself, to hold her so tightly they would become one as seamlessly as God had promised they would. But he dare not.

“Can we not remain like this the entirety of the day?”

Moving his head, he pressed a kiss to the side of her face, then to her neck. They were not going anywhere anytime soon.

Chapter 3, Scene 4

Hana struggled against the two men. Who did they think they were? Though she tried to fight her tears, they squeezed out through her shut eyelids. Must she betray her vulnerability?


What she hoped was salvation was nothing more than an opportunistic ravisher. Would she end up resisting both men? Or would the bearded man be the one who…who…

She wanted to give up. To send her mind somewhere else and pretend none of this was happening.

But she refused to give in. To let them take any part of her with any hint of concession.

So fight, she must. And push through this weariness, she would.

They pulled her into the wood, the German soldier following closely. And fresh air filled her senses. At least there was that. Would it reinvigorate her? Give her that extra measure of strength?

“That’s quite far enough,” the gruff voice of the German said.

The men half dragging her halted. They exchanged a look. What did they communicate with one another?

Beardless looked at the soldier, “My friend here is a bit…uneasy with you watching him.”

The soldier offered the bearded man his narrowed eyed glare. And a thin lipped grimace. Taking a step forward, he ground out, “He will have to get over this…uneasiness.”

Beardless one, held his hands up and stepped away.

She pulled against the bearded one. But even he alone was too strong for her. It seemed to take little effort on his part to keep her secured. More tears. More hopeless thoughts poured into her mind.

The soldier stepped even closer. “I tire of this. Now.”

“I was told my daggar purchased the whole night.” Bearded one’s voice was firm, but softer. Almost as if he wasn’t used to violence. As if he was accustomed to a more gentile sort of life. What had brought him to do something so repugnant?

“And I’m telling you the bargain has changed.” The soldier barked. He closed the distance and gripped Hana’s other arm painfully. “Shall I take her back now? Is that what you would prefer?”

What would bearded one do now? Would that rile him up?

“No. I have kept my part of the bargain. I expect you to uphold yours.” His voice remained steady and set. No tremor or nervousness to it at all. How could that be? This soldier was bigger, stronger, and certainly more prepared to work violence upon them both. Still, the Czech man did not show any hint of emotion.

The soldier blinked a couple of times. Did he not know how to handle when others did not cower before him?

If she wasn’t in such a dire situation, with her virtue and very life at stake, she might even find his reaction humorous. And possibly this bearded man’s calmness something to admire. If.

As the soldier continued to heave heavy breaths in lieu of responding, the bearded man pulled her free of the iron grasp which had loosened without her notice.

“What say you?” Bearded one’s eyes narrowed.

The soldier opened his mouth.


His eyes rolled back in his head and he went down.

What? Who?

The beardless Czech. Had he truly so surprised the man?

Yes, there he stood, a large branch in his hands.

Why would he do that? His life would be forfeit to the Germans when they discovered what he had done!

“Make haste, Radek! We must tie him to a tree.”

The bearded one, Radek he was called, looked to her. “Please forgive me.” He tied the end of her rope about his waist. Then he stepped over, her in tow, to help his friend secure the soldier to a nearby tree.

It took both of them to drag him toward the base of the trunk, the man was so large.

After he was tied, the beardless Czech sat on the other side of the trunk. “Now me.”

Radek seemed confused. As was she. How could he stay? Would not the Germans figure out what had occurred?

“No,” Radek protested. “You must away with us.”

Away? He was taking her away from this? Was he truly saving her after all then? This was but a ruse? Dare she hope him the hero he seemed?

“I shall not, friend. This is where I belong. There is nothing for me with the Hussites. Perhaps I will convince them you tricked me. It is possible.”

“It is also possible they will kill you.”

The beardless one shrugged. “I daresay not. My father’s money will appeal if not my story.”

Radek’s raised brow and down-curved mouth spoke of his doubtful concern.

“Your time is short, Radek. Make haste. Tie me up and then away with you! Save yourself. Save the girl.”

This had been a plan to save her life? How many Hussite prisoners had died at the hands of these foreign soldiers, bitter with the outcome of skirmish at Vitkov Hill? And she would be saved. Why?

Radek let out a breath. “I cannot make you come with me. And I will do as you wish only because you ask it.”

The man’s downcast face told of the war within as he completed the task he had been charged with. Something inside of her wanted to reach out to him, to offer comfort. Where did that come from? She wasn’t certain yet she could trust the man.

He tied the end of the rope and crouched before his friend. Laying a hand on the man’s shoulder, he spoke too softly to be understood at this distance.

The beardless one nodded and then looked to the side. “Please go. Lest you be caught.”

Radek stood and turned to Hana. “Do not fight me. We have much to do.”

As he came near, her mind screamed at her to back away. The captive within wishing to thwart any advance. She stepped several paces back.

He frowned.

She wanted to look away, but as his eyes came up to meet hers and she found she could not. There was a depth there she could not pull away from.

Radek turned before she could. He gripped the length of rope attached to her bindings and pulled her along as he headed into the dark of the forest and into the night.

Chapter 4, Scene 1

Pavel was not accustomed to being put off. And his patience wore thin.

The lady innkeeper’s indecivness drove him near mad.

She chewed at the side of her lip so aggressively it was as if it would bleed.

His hands, now in fists by his side, fairly shook with his frustration, no longer able to be contained.

“Good woman, I beg you, what will you do?”

Her gaze shot to him, her eyes peering in his direction from their corners as she would not turn her head. She only then seemed to become aware that she wrung her hands. Pressing them into the folds of her apron, she smoothed over the linen.

“And you are certain, my lord, that it cannot wait until the morning?”

Pavel resisted the urge to sigh. He had already answered this question in many ways. “I fear not. It is not for my own sake I ask, but for my mother’s.” He did let out a long breath and leaned against the nearest table. “As well, my father and my wife.” Why did he give her these bits of information? He owed her naught.

One of her brows quirked. “Yer wife?”

He met her open stare, now that her face turned toward him.

“Yes, my wife. She stayed behind with my parents. I did not wish her to be near the fighting.”

The woman jerked back, her features hidden as she faced the floor. “Well, now, that makes a difference. I don’t have a mind to be keepin’ a man from his wife.”

Pavel stood and stepped toward her. “Is my wife with my mother?”

Features devoid of color found his. “N-no, my lord. That is, I only determined the one lady among the party. I—” She glanced toward the stairs.

“What?” Pavel advanced one step farther.

The woman didn’t seem to notice.

“What say you, good woman?”

She passed a hand over her face. “I only meant to say I might have been mistaken. But I have a keen eye, I do.” As she met Pavel’s gaze, she moved away from him.

He had gone a step too far.

It was no matter.

This needed to be settled.

And now.

He opened his mouth.

“I have your assurance you take full blame for wakin’ the Baroness?” The woman called over her shoulder as her stout frame maneuvered through the small room and toward the stairs.

Was it possible?

He dare not test it.

“Yes. A thousand times yes.”

She turned and gave him a curious look.

He tightened his hold on his tongue.

A moment more and she preceeded him up the stairs and down a hallway so small it could hardly be called such.

A man stood watch outside one of the doors. That must be their desination. For sooth, they would not leave his mother vulnerable.

But as they neared, he saw no recognition in the man’s eyes, nor did he see anything familiar about the guard. Had he been wrong? Why would a man unknown to him be outside his mother’s temporary chambers? Certainly, he was right to assume he would have seen the man before.

He touched the innkeeper’s shoulder. “Did you not say it was the Baroness of the castle not a half day’s ride from here. The one which was burned to the ground.

“Aye.” Her brows furrowed.

Pavel laid a hand to the hilt of his sword and calmed. This would be laid out—one way or the other.

They paused in front of the man who stood some few inches taller than Pavel.

“Yes?” the man spoke gruffly.

“This man claims to be the Baroness’s son and wishes an immediate audience with her.”

The man eyed Pavel up and down. Was he sizing up how he would fare should they cross swords? That would be unwise. How could anyone measure the skill of the hand by the appearance of the body? In Pavel’s case, he was more than confident in his own capabilities with his blade.

“Is that so?”

Pavel held his tongue. Would it not be best to let the scene unfold for a moment?

“How can I be sure he is a son and not a villan come to steal her ladyship’s last breath?”

The innkeeper’s eyes shot to Pavel. Had she not considered the same?

Pavel worked to keep his features placid, his words even. “And how do I know the same of you, sir knight? I have not seen you performing as my mother’s protector in all my years upon the barony.”

The man’s head jerked back upon his oversized shoulders. Then it settled into place once more. “Ah, but you do know something, then. Or else you think you do. I am from Lord Novakov’s barony. Charged with keeping the lady safe until she could be found of her kin.”

Pavel ground his teeth. Were they at an impasse? Would this man not concede? “How would I know you are unfamiliar to my mother if she in fact is not my mother?”

The man’s eyes rolled up and to the right as he seemed to consider Pavel’s question. “Perhaps. But perhaps you simply guessed well.”

“I will see my mother. I insist upon it.”

The man took a step closer to Pavel. They were now perhaps two inches apart. “And I insist that you leave. Since I cannot account for your veracity, I will not allow you to disturb her ladyship. No matter what tidings you bring.”

Pavel’s face warmed. His hands tightened into fists. Dare he strike at this man?


“My lady!”

The cry came from the innkeeper, but it drew both men’s attention toward the doorway.

There, in the gentle light provided by the moon and the few flickering torches, stood the Baroness Marketa, his mother.

“What goes here?” she demanded.

The guard turned, all but blocking Pavel with his massive size. “It is nothing to concern yourself with. A small disruption that I am more than capable of—”

“If you are so capable, sir knight, then why have I been roused by the interchange?”

Pavel peered around the large man.

His mother glared at the oversized guard.

And he fairly shrunk in response to her scolding.

“I shall remedy the situation, my lady,” he insisted.

Was her consideration of him so important? Why?

“Meanwhile,” she put out her arm and pressed the guard to the side. “What kind of brigand has attempted to trespass…”

Her eyes met Pavel’s. But she seemed frozen. Did she think him an appirition?


She stepped around the less helpful guard and laid a hand to the side of Pavel’s face. “Is it truly you? Pavel?”

He pressed his hand over hers. “Yes, Mother. It is I.”

The great baroness who had just given a tongue-lashing to the massive guard, fell into Pavel’s waiting arms.

And for a moment, all was right with the world.

But just for a moment.

Chapter 4, Scene 2

Radek’s legs ached. How long had they walked? Certainly they had covered more than a mile of rough terrain. It would have been much easier without the girl to contend with. Even though he had removed her bindings, it did nothing to silence her complaints.

He groaned inwardly as the litney of protests she had all but lashed him with played through his mind like a sickening dirge.

The tumbling words were broken by the sounds of water, tripping over stones. A stream?

Perhaps they could stop and refresh themselves. Even sleep.

But as the thoughts tempting him to stop alit the edge of his mind, he remembered what they had left, the liklihood of who pursued them, and picked up his step once more.

“Wait!” She laid a hand to his shoulder.

Had she come up so close behind him?

He afforded her but a glance as he continued to push his feet forward.

She, however, halted.

Bless it all!

He paused. A growl caught in his throat. “What?”

Her eyes widened.

Had the word come out so harshly? Had he wanted it to?

“Do you hear that?” She tilted her head. “A stream. We might find respite there.”

He took in a ragged breath and let it out. Must he explain every decision to her?

“Yes. We might. But we cannot.”

One perfect brow rose. “No? I suppose you—”

Here it comes. Her list of reasons why I’m wrong.

Radek stepped toward her and held up a hand. “I need you to listen. Now.”

They stood only inches apart. Heat sizzled between them. Likely from their mutual ire.

“We cannot stop. Our pursuers still may gain the advantage we have won if we give them such an opportunity.”

“Our pursuers?” She crossed her arms, shifting her weight to pull away from him.

It relieved some of the tension between their bodies and Radek could breathe again.

“Yes, my lady,” he stressed the last word as if swearing. “Our pursuers.”

“And just who would be pursuing us?” Her eyes narrowed. “You disarmed and bound the only men who knew of our leaving.”

“Don’t be foolish,” he said, his tone on edge. “I only deterred that soldier for perhaps a half hour. He will have come around and made his situation known forthwith. And do not be mistaken…our pursuers will come by horse. As you see, my lady, we are on foot.”

Her features dropped, as did her arms. She had not considered these things. And why should she have? Outside of this war, a lady of her beauty and grace should never know such hardship. Should never have faced such abuse…or been threatened with more violence.

It wasn’t right.

Even now, disarmed as she seemed, she appeared lost.

He longed to take the couple of steps between them and offer her the comfort she was due.

But he could not. She was not his betrothed and he would not take such liberties. No matter how fitting the action seemed.

She glanced to the side. “I see.”

He wished she would look at him. Would this lead to one of the female hysterics he had heard tales of? What would he do then?

But she breathed in deeply and then turned her face toward him.

“Then we mustneeds go. And make haste.”

He nodded. And something warm and pleasant blossomed in the center of his chest. What was it? Admiration? Relief? Something else? There was no way to know for certain.

Without knowing why, he held a hand out to her.

And she walked past it, brushing against his arm.

It stung.

But he wasn’t sure why it should.

“Don’t lag behind, my lord. If we’re going to make any progress with this mess of a journey, we cannot linger.”

And so we continue.

“I don’t understand why we must travel this unmarked way. We’ll fall to our death on one of these inclines, I just know it.”

Why? Why must I endure such?

“Are you listening to me?”