During her recovery, Mara sat with Alyx, also in bandages, on the terrace below her apartment. Together, they observed the restoration of the fallen curtain wall. From the morning after their triumph, soldiers had been laboring to restore it as swiftly as possible.
“I pray they’ll have it in place before the first Spanish reinforcements try to recapture Spainfort from us,” said Mara. “Is there any news of Spanish movements? Do we know where they are?”
“We’ve no better news than we had yesterday, Prince Mara,” Alyx reported. “Our scouts haven’t sighted them yet. They might be a day or two away, or not come for a week or more. But you may rest assured that the wall will be raised before they come.”
Although Mara issued no orders to undermine Kat’s authority, she received reports every day in order to keep herself informed of all preparations for Spainfort’s defense. She knew scouting parties had ventured into the unconquered territory; while they had exacted tribute in the form of supplies from farms and villages, they’d found no fortified towns or castles, nor any place where a stronghold might be established within twenty miles. She’d been told that Kat had placed troops on the southward slopes of the mountain and sentinels to keep watch at the southern end of the pass, which afforded a view of Terrojos’s rugged hills. An advancing army might be seen and met long before they threatened the Norman-held fortress. She knew that several pieces of Spanish artillery had been recovered from the ruins in working condition, but that no one wanted to touch the remaining cannon. She also knew that most of the Spanish prisoners had been transported to Dennefort along with the seriously injured at the field hospital. Only Don Miguel and a few of his officers remained here at Spainfort.
“It’ll be an ugly lump,” said Alyx, referring to the squat, tumulus-like barricade that rose from the pile of rubble where the forty-foot curtain wall had been. “Not so formidable a barrier as it once was.”
“No,” Mara had to agree, “but it will serve as well—Perhaps better. It can’t be knocked down.”
Don Miguel, the former Teniente of the captured fortress, stepped onto the terrace and bowed tentatively to Mara.
“I think he wants you, My Prince,” Alys murmured.
“I sent for him.” Mara turned to Don Miguel and nodded to him, not only to acknowledge his presence, but to indicate that he could approach.
In spite of Kat’s description of the captured Teniente’s civility, Mara had been surprised by Miguel’s personable demeanor when they’d first been introduced. She’d imagined that this Spanish noble must be extremely proud, swarthy, and black-haired, with piercing eyes and a fixed sneer of ill-disguised contempt as he uttered veiled insults in halting Norman—exactly like the Ambassador Don Peidro. But Don Miguel spoke excellent Norman and presented himself with impeccable manners, even if they were Spanish manners. He had tawny hair, green eyes, and a fairer complexion than her brother’s. Although he’d been appointed commander of this remote colonial fortress, Miguel was the youngest son of the Duq D’Andaluz, a nobleman born of a powerful and ancient family; he’d been schooled with his cousins Serafina and that Infant Iosephus who had once been proposed as a suitor for Kat.
From their first meeting, Miguel had treated Mara as an honored guest, as if he didn’t truly detest the invasion of his post and even his rooms. He expressed relief at her recovery and hoped that she found the apartment comfortable. He willingly answered her questions regarding Los Ojos, as he called the fortress, and had offered to escort her on a tour once she regained her strength. Mara was amazed at his cooperation and determination to uphold the fiction that she and her people were welcome here. She knew she couldn’t have behaved so well if she’d been taken prisoner. But she had also noticed how nervous he was around Kat.
At first, Mara had imagined that he was ill at ease with this bold young woman. Although there were common guardsmaids among the Spanish soldiery, their codes of conduct for noblewomen were quite different from the Normans. Spanish Donas were brought up to be as modest and retiring as Holy Sisters; no well-bred maiden ventured out without her duenna. A few famous queens had taken up swords in defense of their land or their faith, but a warrior-maid in the Norman style was a rare and remarkable thing. How odd she and her Shieldmaids must seem to him. How terrifying it must’ve been to see Kat charge over the ruined wall, the full force of an army in her wake! It must have astonished Miguel to be conquered by such a woman.
But there was more to it than that. Whenever Kat joined them on the terrace, Mara observed that Don Miguel lost his well-mannered composure; he averted his eyes as he replied to Kat’s questions and, unable to retreat, he placed himself at Mara’s side as if he sought her protection. His agitation was unmistakable. Kat frightened him.
Mara meant to discover why. She’d already begun to guess the cause.
Kat had never disclosed the full facts of Frederik’s death; Mara learned them from Sataumie, who had climbed over the ruined wall at Kat’s side. Frederik’s troops had swarmed into the fortress yard behind them. They’d been taken by surprise when the wall fell and most were geared and armed lightly with whatever weapons were at hand. Frederik had gone without his mailshirt, and that had been his doom. An arrow caught him in the back—shot, Sataumie said, by an archer high on the battlements of the remaining gate tower.
Sataumie didn’t speak of what followed. She seemed reluctant to describe the battle and in questioning her other officers, Mara found a similar reticence. All gave full accounts of the breaching of the Shieldwall, the days of the siege, the disposition of the fortress. Some had seen Frederik fall; others had learned of it only after victory had been achieved. On the battle itself, all were equally vague. Mara recalled that Kat had omitted this part of her tale as well, moving swiftly from the explosion to Don Miguel’s surrender.
If none of her own people would tell her what lay at the heart of this mystery, then she must turn to a Spaniard for the truth.
“Don Miguel,” she began once Alyx had been dismissed, “I have a special request to ask of you. I pray you tell me about the death of Marchion Frederik.”
“Surely that is the place of your kinswoman and officers, Prince Margueryt,” Miguel replied with another courteous bow.
“I’ve asked them. Now I ask you to tell me what they will not. What followed the Marchion’s death?” Miguel remained reluctant, and Mara pressed him further. “You know that he and my cousin Katheryne considered themselves betrothed to each other, and she grieves for him still. Did she do something after his death that makes you dread the sight of her? I see it is so. Did she not behave as a proper soldier during her capture of this fortress?”
Persuaded by these pointed questions for which Mara already knew the answer, Miguel told her, “She passed into madness, Prince Margueryt.” He crossed himself as he spoke. “She would have cut down every one of my soldiers, even those who put away their swords, if your captains had not restrained her.”
Mara saw it all now. After Frederik fell, Kat would have transformed sorrow into fury and spent it against those who had wronged her. She would fly at her foes in bloodthirsty, shrieking rage and kill every Spaniard she met, cutting them down without mercy. Had she continued her vengeance even after the surrender? Mara was shocked at the idea, yet she knew her cousin was capable of dark, dangerous moods. Kat had a quickness and depth of emotion Mara didn’t possess herself; anger burst from her abruptly, passionately and powerfully. Mara had seen the force of her love for Frederik. She couldn’t forget the look on Kat’s face—tear-streaked and furious. Yes, in a rage, Kat was capable of committing this act of barbarism which no civilized soldier could condone. It would have horrified the Normans as well as the Spanish. Certainly, it explained Don Miguel’s polite acquiescence; he regarded his life and the lives of his officers at the mercy of a madwoman and he was anxious not to stir her to wrath. The silence of her own officers was likewise clear: the captains, her own companions especially, were too loyal to speak against the commander who had led them through the Terrojos gate and inspired them during the tedious days of siege. Kat was their hero. Which of them, from Uismarde to the least footsoldier, would carry tales of her disgrace?
Mara tried to offer her personal apology on her cousin’s behalf. “Don Miguel, I must tell you how sorry I am-”
“You have no need, Prince Margueryt. I understand. Marchion Frederik was my friend. I mourn his death as well.”
Mara believed that Miguel was sincere, in spite of the fact that one of his own archers had been responsible for Frederik’s death. That was the way of war; they all understood it. If circumstances had been different and Don Miguel had died at Norman hands, Frederik would have sorrowed just the same.
Hundreds had died in the conquest of Terrojos, but the loss of Frederik was most widely felt. Kat had lost more than a lover: the Marches had lost their governor. The Dennefort guard lamented. Khrystophania bore her brother’s death stoically; taught from childhood that such a tragedy might one day call her to take Frederik’s place, she solemnly prepared to assume the duties of Marchion. Kat mourned, silently, angrily. Even the Spanish expressed sorrow at the death of a respected neighbor and foe. Mara alone was not allowed to grieve. She’d been seen to disapprove Kat’s plans to marry Frederik. Knowledge of this seemed to be widespread now—perhaps not surprising in light of her behavior on the morning before the battle—and it was generally assumed that she hadn’t liked the young Marchion. Often, Mara caught a slight hesitation or awkwardness whenever someone spoke of Frederik, as if his name wasn’t to be mentioned in her hearing. Khrystophania was particularly reserved. Mara wanted to protest that she had liked Frederik. She hadn’t wished for Kat to marry him, but she’d always found him to be a pleasant young man of excellent capabilities. She had never wanted him dead. But now that Frederik was dead, such protestations would sound more like contrition than honest admiration. Any show of sorrow would seem insincere. Kat would despise her for it.