WolfeStrike – Kathryn Le Veque

IT WAS DAWN. From the rains the previous night, the fields were green but the road was muddy, thick and uneven, like a puddle of congealed gravy. It made for difficult travel as the twothousand-man army from Lioncross Abbey Castle returned from a nasty battle for control of Goodrich Castle, several days’ journey to the south. The English held it, a local Welsh lord wanted it, and the Lord of Goodrich had called upon most of his allies, including the mighty House of de Lohr. It hadn’t been a long campaign as far as campaigns went. They’d been on longer, but this one had been particularly brutal because of the Welsh tactics. They didn’t want to give up Goodrich and the English had to beat them back repeatedly. But in the end, the banner of William de Valence, Lord of Goodrich and half-brother to the king, flew proudly alongside the de Lohr blue lion standard. The battle, for now, had been won. But it was a battle that had taken a toll on the knights of de Lohr. William de Lohr, son of Chris de Lohr and the great-grandson of the great Defender of the Realm, Christopher de Lohr, had sent out most of his knights to answer the call of service. Those who rode out were some of the most elite knights on the Marches – his own sons, Curt and Lucas, were leading the army along with Jorden de Russe, a mountain of a man from the legendary de Russe family, Rhun du Bois, son of Maddoc du Bois, and perhaps the best knight out of all of them, Thomas “Tor” de Wolfe. Though it was an impressive group, the toll on their strengths and spirits had been substantial. The men from Lioncross Abbey been gone almost three months to Goodrich, long enough so that the Welsh grew weary of fighting and of losing good men, and three months away From the rains the previous night, the fields were green but the road was muddy, thick and uneven, like a puddle of congealed gravy. It made for difficult travel as the twothousand-man army from Lioncross Abbey Castle returned from a nasty battle for control of Goodrich Castle, several days’ journey to the south.

The English held it, a local Welsh lord wanted it, and the Lord of Goodrich had called upon most of his allies, including the It hadn’t been a long campaign as far as campaigns went. They’d been on longer, but this one had been particularly brutal because of the Welsh tactics. They didn’t want to give up Goodrich and the English had to beat them back repeatedly. But in the end, the banner of William de Valence, Lord of Goodrich and half-brother to the king, flew proudly alongside But it was a battle that had taken a toll on the knights of de Lohr. William de Lohr, son of Chris de Lohr and the great-grandson of the great Defender of the Realm, Christopher de Lohr, had sent out most of his knights to answer the call of service. Those who rode out were some of the most elite knights on the Marches – his own sons, Curt and Lucas, were leading the army along with Jorden de Russe, a mountain of a man from the legendary de Russe family, Rhun du Bois, son of Maddoc du Bois, and perhaps the best knight out of all Though it was an impressive group, the toll on their strengths and spirits had been The men from Lioncross Abbey been gone almost three months to Goodrich, long enough so that the Welsh grew weary of fighting and of losing good men, and three months away from home was a very long time for them. All of the knights had families, including Tor, who was expecting his first child with his wife, Jane. God, he’d missed her. Therefore, the three months away had been difficult for him. As the army crested the rise to the south, with the massive fortress of Lioncross Abbey on the horizon up ahead, he felt a considerable amount of relief.

Finally, he was going to see Janie again. In spite of the muddied roads and exhaustion of the army, they seemed to pick up the pace when the great stone bastion of Lioncross was sighted. Tor, who had been riding mid-pack with the wagon carrying the wounded, spurred his mud-covered warhorse forward, charging up the line until he reached the front. His heavy Ardennes stallion kicked mud on nearly everyone within a ten-foot radius as he brought it to a halt. Mostly, men moved aside anyway when they saw Tor’s horse coming because it was the biggest, most muscular horse anyone had ever seen, with legs as big around as a man’s body and a chunky, powerful build. His name was Enbarr, after a horse of the old Irish gods, but Enbarr had a secret – he may have been big and powerful, but he had two distinct personalities. In battle, he was hell, but out of battle, he behaved like a puppy. He was the sweetest, most docile animal and he’d been known to follow Tor into the keep, much to Lady de Lohr’s horror. However, Enbarr was exhausted on this day, like the rest of them, and he was edgy as Tor reined him near his liege. Curtis de Lohr, or Curt, was nearly the exact image of his famous great-great-grandsire.

He had thick blond hair and a blond beard, and a size that was purely de Lohr. He was a proud tribute to a great family and as mud came flying at him from Enbarr’s hooves, he turned his head away quickly so he wouldn’t get hit in the face. “Keep that big, ugly dog away from me,” he said. “The last time he came too close, he tried to nibble on my face.” Tor fought off a grin. “That is because he loves you,” he said. “You should be flattered.” “Yet, I am not.” Tor’s grin broke through. “Then I will remove him from you completely,” he said.

“Would you mind if I went on ahead? Jane should have already delivered our child by now and I would very much like to see to her.” from home was a very long time for them. All of the knights had families, including Tor, Therefore, the three months away had been difficult for him. As the army crested the rise to the south, with the massive fortress of Lioncross Abbey on the horizon up ahead, he In spite of the muddied roads and exhaustion of the army, they seemed to pick up the pace when the great stone bastion of Lioncross was sighted. Tor, who had been riding mid-pack with the wagon carrying the wounded, spurred his mud-covered warhorse His heavy Ardennes stallion kicked mud on nearly everyone within a ten-foot radius as he brought it to a halt. Mostly, men moved aside anyway when they saw Tor’s horse coming because it was the biggest, most muscular horse anyone had ever seen, with legs as big around as a man’s body and a chunky, powerful build. His name was Enbarr, after a horse of the old Irish gods, but Enbarr had a secret – he may have been big and powerful, but he had two distinct personalities. In battle, he was hell, but out of battle, he behaved like a puppy. He was the sweetest, most docile animal and he’d been known to follow Tor However, Enbarr was exhausted on this day, like the rest of them, and he was edgy as Curtis de Lohr, or Curt, was nearly the exact image of his famous great-great-grandsire. He had thick blond hair and a blond beard, and a size that was purely de Lohr.

He was a proud tribute to a great family and as mud came flying at him from Enbarr’s hooves, he “Keep that big, ugly dog away from me,” he said. “The last time he came too close, he Tor’s grin broke through. “Then I will remove him from you completely,” he said. “Would you mind if I went on ahead? Jane should have already delivered our child by now and I Curt looked at him, his eyes twinkling wearily. “I was wondering when you were going to ask,” he said. “You have not said a word about it nearly this entire campaign. I was coming to wonder if you even remembered that your wife was with child.” Tor shrugged. “Battle is no place to speak of a pregnant woman,” he said. “I needed to keep my mind on the fight and not on my wife.

” “You did not even receive a missive from home, did you?” “Nay,” Tor said, shaking his head. “It would have been too much of a distraction, so I asked that nothing be sent. If I had received word, I would have wanted to go home right away, and that would not have been good for my focus. It was my intention to make it back to her whole and alive.” Curt laughed softly. “And so you have,” he said. Then he gestured towards the castle in the distance. “Ride on. And congratulations, Papa.” With a thankful smile, Tor spurred Enbarr and the horse took off.

Those powerful legs could run for days and the horse thundered over the muddy road, only slowing down twice to avoid swampy sections. The section of the road that he was on bypassed the village that was nestled to the northeast of Lioncross, so it was an unimpeded ride the entire way. All Tor could think about was his family. This was an important moment to him. Tor and Jane de Merrett, a former lady-in-waiting for the Countess of Hereford and Worcester, had married a little over a year ago. He had been young to be a groom, barely twenty years of age, but Jane had been pregnant and he had quickly married her so as not to cause a scandal. The de Merretts were a big family in Manchester and even though the House of de Wolfe was larger and more powerful, Tor hadn’t wanted any issues with de Merrett. Nothing would have been more embarrassing than Lord de Merrett riding to Castle Questing and demanding satisfaction for a randy son of de Wolfe. Tor knew his father would have killed him. Therefore, he and Jane had married in secret and her parents could not have been more delighted, fortunately.

Marrying one of the heirs of the House of de Wolfe had soothed any outrage they might have felt, and Tor had dodged what could have been a bad situation purely with his familial connection. But he and Jane paid a hefty price for their Curt looked at him, his eyes twinkling wearily. “I was wondering when you were going to ask,” he said. “You have not said a word about it nearly this entire campaign. I was Tor shrugged. “Battle is no place to speak of a pregnant woman,” he said. “I needed to “Nay,” Tor said, shaking his head. “It would have been too much of a distraction, so I asked that nothing be sent. If I had received word, I would have wanted to go home right away, and that would not have been good for my focus. It was my intention to make it Curt laughed softly.

“And so you have,” he said. Then he gestured towards the castle in With a thankful smile, Tor spurred Enbarr and the horse took off. Those powerful legs could run for days and the horse thundered over the muddy road, only slowing down twice to avoid swampy sections. The section of the road that he was on bypassed the village that was nestled to the northeast of Lioncross, so it was an unimpeded ride the Tor and Jane de Merrett, a former lady-in-waiting for the Countess of Hereford and Worcester, had married a little over a year ago. He had been young to be a groom, barely twenty years of age, but Jane had been pregnant and he had quickly married her The de Merretts were a big family in Manchester and even though the House of de Wolfe was larger and more powerful, Tor hadn’t wanted any issues with de Merrett. Nothing would have been more embarrassing than Lord de Merrett riding to Castle Questing and Therefore, he and Jane had married in secret and her parents could not have been more delighted, fortunately. Marrying one of the heirs of the House of de Wolfe had soothed any outrage they might have felt, and Tor had dodged what could have been a bad situation purely with his familial connection. But he and Jane paid a hefty price for their youthful, lustful behavior when she miscarried the child early on. Only a scant two months later, she was pregnant again. It was that child that Tor was so eager to see.

His older brother, William “Will” de Wolfe, already had a child and Tor, as always, was eager to follow in his brother’s footsteps. Will was far to the north now, in command of one of their father’s mighty bastions along the Scots border, but Tor had remained behind at Lioncross Abbey Castle where they had both fostered. It had been his home for a few years and he loved life on the Marches even though he knew it was only temporary. At some point, he’d be expected to return to the north and take his rightful place beside his brother, as the second son of the Earl of Warenton, Scott de Wolfe. There was the heir and then there was the spare – and that was Tor. But until then, he enjoyed the experience of life on the Welsh Marches. They were as volatile as the Scottish Marches. Maybe more so. But he loved the scenery, the greenery, the icy rivers and the flowers in the spring. He enjoyed all of those things probably more than the next man simply because, beneath that warring exterior and quiet demeanor, Tor had a gentle nature.

Considering how big he was, and he was taller than most men, with fists the size of a man’s head, his inherent gentleness seemed strangely out of place. On the field of battle, he’d been trained to rip a man’s head clean from his shoulders, but those same hands could hold his wife with a good deal of tenderness. The gentle nature also belied a fierce intelligence, for in a room of a hundred men, Tor was always the smartest. He knew a great deal about almost everything and tactically speaking, he was a master. That was why Curt wouldn’t make a move without him. Even at Tor’s young age, he was becoming quite a legend like his famous grandfather. It was a Welsh adversary who had given him his nickname – Tor. It meant a rock formation, rising up out of the ground, big and insurmountable. Impenetrable. That was what everyone called him these days.

With youth, strength, and a powerful reputation already built, Tor had the world at his feet, now with a beautiful wife and new baby. He had everything he’d ever wanted. As he rode through the gates of Lioncross Abbey, the call went up and men were scrambling. As he neared the keep, he was met by Brom Kessler, a Lioncross legacy knight whose greatgrandfather, Jeffrey, had served the Defender of the Realm, Christopher de Lohr. Brom was big and auburn-haired, and he grasped Enbarr’s reins, helping Tor pull the weary animal to a halt. It was that child that Tor was so eager to see. His older brother, William “Will” de Wolfe, already had a child and Tor, as always, was eager to follow in his brother’s footsteps. Will was far to the north now, in command of one of their father’s mighty bastions along the Scots border, but Tor had remained behind at Lioncross Abbey Castle where they had both fostered. It had been his home for a few years and he loved life on the Marches even though he knew it was only temporary. At some point, he’d be expected to return to the north and take his rightful place beside his brother, as the second son of the Earl of But until then, he enjoyed the experience of life on the Welsh Marches.

They were as volatile as the Scottish Marches. Maybe more so. But he loved the scenery, the greenery, the icy rivers and the flowers in the spring. He enjoyed all of those things probably more than the next man simply because, beneath that warring exterior and quiet demeanor, Considering how big he was, and he was taller than most men, with fists the size of a man’s head, his inherent gentleness seemed strangely out of place. On the field of battle, he’d been trained to rip a man’s head clean from his shoulders, but those same hands could hold his wife with a good deal of tenderness. The gentle nature also belied a fierce intelligence, for in a room of a hundred men, Tor was always the smartest. He knew a great deal about almost everything and tactically speaking, he was a master. That was why Curt wouldn’t make a move without him. Even at Tor’s young age, he was becoming It meant a rock formation, rising up out of the ground, big and insurmountable. With youth, strength, and a powerful reputation already built, Tor had the world at his feet, now with a beautiful wife and new baby.

He had everything he’d ever wanted. As he rode through the gates of Lioncross Abbey, the call went up and men were scrambling. As he neared the keep, he was met by Brom Kessler, a Lioncross legacy knight whose greatgrandfather, Jeffrey, had served the Defender of the Realm, Christopher de Lohr. Brom was big and auburn-haired, and he grasped Enbarr’s reins, helping Tor pull the weary “We’ve been riding for two solid weeks,” Tor said as he slid from the saddle. “The army is less than an hour behind me, so make sure you are prepared to receive them. Four wagons bearing wounded this time. You’d better let Lady de Lohr know.” Brom handed the horse off to a stable servant and whistled for a soldier at the same time. Men came running to him, prepared to do his bidding, and he gave them quick orders and sent them on their way. When he sent the soldier for Lady de Lohr, he muttered to the man under his breath so Tor wouldn’t hear him.

He was sending word about Tor’s arrival more than the approach of the wounded. Just as he turned around, Tor was preparing to head into the keep but Brom grabbed him. “How many men did we lose in totality?” he asked. Tor was distracted; that much was clear. He pulled off his helm, removing the damp linen cap that he kept pulled over his hair, revealing cropped auburn hair that was aflame with white and gold streaks, making it appear much lighter than it actually was. “We were there almost three months,” he said. “We took an army of two thousand, one hundred and forty-five men and we lost a little over three hundred. Not a bad percentage given how fierce the fighting was, but Goodrich held.” Brom lifted an eyebrow. “At least for now,” he said.

“I heard de Lara troops from Lansdown Castle were also there.” “They were,” Tor confirmed. Then, he peeled Brom’s fingers from his arm, as the man was still holding on to him. “Now, if you will excuse me, I have a wife to see. Has Jane delivered my son? Nay, do not tell me. I want to see her and let her tell me. Say a word and I shall cut your tongue out.” Brom sighed faintly, holding up both hands in supplication. “I will not say a word, Tor,” he said. “But if you can just tell me more about the…” Tor cut him off, moving away from him.

“Let de Lohr tell you,” he said. “As I said, they’re not far behind me. He’ll tell you everything. I have a wife to see.” With that, he flashed Brom a grin, turning for the keep. Brom knew he couldn’t delay the man any longer than he had without him growing suspicious. He prayed for Lady de Lohr’s quick appearance. Oblivious to Brom’s consternation, Tor continued towards the keep, one he was as familiar with as any of the de Wolfe properties. Lioncross’ keep was oddly shaped, a long building, as it was built on the foundations of an old abbey. The entry was on the ground “We’ve been riding for two solid weeks,” Tor said as he slid from the saddle.

“The army is less than an hour behind me, so make sure you are prepared to receive them. Four Brom handed the horse off to a stable servant and whistled for a soldier at the same time. Men came running to him, prepared to do his bidding, and he gave them quick orders and sent them on their way. When he sent the soldier for Lady de Lohr, he muttered to the man under his breath so Tor wouldn’t hear him. He was sending word about Tor’s arrival more than the approach of the wounded. Just as he turned around, Tor Tor was distracted; that much was clear. He pulled off his helm, removing the damp linen cap that he kept pulled over his hair, revealing cropped auburn hair that was aflame with “We were there almost three months,” he said. “We took an army of two thousand, one hundred and forty-five men and we lost a little over three hundred. Not a bad percentage Brom lifted an eyebrow. “At least for now,” he said.

“I heard de Lara troops from “They were,” Tor confirmed. Then, he peeled Brom’s fingers from his arm, as the man was still holding on to him. “Now, if you will excuse me, I have a wife to see. Has Jane delivered my son? Nay, do not tell me. I want to see her and let her tell me. Say a word Brom sighed faintly, holding up both hands in supplication. “I will not say a word, Tor,” he Tor cut him off, moving away from him. “Let de Lohr tell you,” he said. “As I said, they’re With that, he flashed Brom a grin, turning for the keep. Brom knew he couldn’t delay the Oblivious to Brom’s consternation, Tor continued towards the keep, one he was as familiar with as any of the de Wolfe properties.

Lioncross’ keep was oddly shaped, a long building, as it was built on the foundations of an old abbey. The entry was on the ground level, very unusual in castles, but there was a forebuilding in front of the entry that had been built about fifty years ago for more protection on the entry door. As Tor entered the narrow, low-ceilinged forebuilding, he was met by Lady de Lohr. Deirdra de Lohr, Countess of Hereford and Worcester, was just coming from the entry. In fact, she was rushing. A pretty woman with red hair and a sweet manner, she was much loved by her vassals. She was alone, unusual for a woman who usually traveled with an entourage, and she went straight to Tor, blocking him from entering the keep. “Welcome home, Tor,” she said. Then she pointed to the heavily fortified door of the forebuilding. “Lock that door.

Do it now.” Tor didn’t hesitate. He stopped, turned around, and shut the door, throwing the heavy iron bolts that made it virtually impenetrable. Once it was done, he looked at Lady de Lohr curiously. “My lady?” he said. He wanted to know why he’d bolted the door. Lady de Lohr had him lock it because she didn’t want anyone interrupting the conversation that she was about to have with him. As the Lady of Lioncross, her responsibilities were many, including the health and happiness of her vassals. She’d been dreading this moment for three long weeks but she knew she couldn’t delay. Reaching out, she took one of Tor’s hands.

“I wanted to speak to you alone, Tor,” she said softly. “It’s about Jane.” He looked at her for a moment before realizing she wasn’t congratulating him. No wellwishes for a new child or a joyful wife. Realizing that, his features started to tense up. “What about my wife?” he said. “Is she well?” Lady de Lohr continued to hold his hand. “She knew you were in battle and she did not wish to trouble you,” she said gently. “Although you told her not to send word because it would distract you, I urged her to do it and she would not. She did not wish to disobey you.

” Tor was starting to feel something in the pit of his belly. He wasn’t a man prone to fear but, at the moment, he could feel the distinct pangs of it begin. He’d returned to Lioncross with joy and anticipation, the first time in three months he’d let himself feel those emotions. They were spilling out all over the place and he had already been level, very unusual in castles, but there was a forebuilding in front of the entry that had been built about fifty years ago for more protection on the entry door. As Tor entered the Deirdra de Lohr, Countess of Hereford and Worcester, was just coming from the entry. In fact, she was rushing. A pretty woman with red hair and a sweet manner, she was much loved by her vassals. She was alone, unusual for a woman who usually traveled with an “Welcome home, Tor,” she said. Then she pointed to the heavily fortified door of the Tor didn’t hesitate. He stopped, turned around, and shut the door, throwing the heavy iron bolts that made it virtually impenetrable.

Once it was done, he looked at Lady de He wanted to know why he’d bolted the door. Lady de Lohr had him lock it because she didn’t want anyone interrupting the conversation that she was about to have with him. As the Lady of Lioncross, her responsibilities were many, including the health and happiness He looked at her for a moment before realizing she wasn’t congratulating him. No wellLady de Lohr continued to hold his hand. “She knew you were in battle and she did not wish to trouble you,” she said gently. “Although you told her not to send word because it would distract you, I urged her to do it and she would not. She did not wish to disobey Tor was starting to feel something in the pit of his belly. He wasn’t a man prone to fear but, at the moment, he could feel the distinct pangs of it begin. He’d returned to Lioncross with joy and anticipation, the first time in three months he’d let himself feel those emotions. They were spilling out all over the place and he had already been planning to become wildly drunk tonight to celebrate the birth of his child.

But now… He could just tell by looking at her that something awful had happened. “My lady,” he said, struggling to be calm. “I would appreciate it if you would simply come out and tell me what has happened.” Lady de Lohr had angst written all over her face. Tor was astute and very sharp, and perhaps she wasn’t doing a very good job of delivering the news she very much wished she didn’t have to tell him. She took a deep breath. “After you left with the army to go to Goodrich, Jane started feeling poorly,” she said. “She was pale and weary, and slept constantly, so the physic put her on a diet of beef broth and meat. He wanted her to eat a good deal of meat because he said her blood was weak. That was when I wanted to send you word, but she refused.

We all watched her become progressively weaker until, three weeks ago, she began to labor to bring forth your child. Tor, sometimes it is God’s will that these things happen. There is often no reason or cause. It simply happens. Jane struggled for three days to bear your child but, in the end, it was too much for her. The angels called her home and the child along with her. I’m so very sorry.” Tor stared at her as if didn’t understand what she was telling him. But as the words sank in, his pallor became ashen. The pale green eyes flickered.

He swallowed hard. “She is dead?” he asked. “Janie is dead?” “She is,” Lady de Lohr said sadly, squeezing his hand. “I wish I could say something that would bring you comfort, but you must find that in your own time, with God’s help. I can tell you that she was very brave. She told me to tell you that she loved you dearly and asked that you take care of her sisters. The younger girls are all alone now, with their parents and oldest sister gone. Will you do this? Will you take care of Barbara and Lenore? It was what Jane wanted.” Tor had to sit down. There was a stone bench behind him and he sank onto it, with Lady de Lohr still holding his hand.

He simply sat there, dumbfounded, hardly able to process what he’d been told. “My lady,” he said, struggling to be calm. “I would appreciate it if you would simply come Lady de Lohr had angst written all over her face. Tor was astute and very sharp, and perhaps she wasn’t doing a very good job of delivering the news she very much wished “After you left with the army to go to Goodrich, Jane started feeling poorly,” she said. “She was pale and weary, and slept constantly, so the physic put her on a diet of beef broth and meat. He wanted her to eat a good deal of meat because he said her blood was weak. That was when I wanted to send you word, but she refused. We all watched her become progressively weaker until, three weeks ago, she began to labor to bring forth your child. Tor, sometimes it is God’s will that these things happen. There is often no reason or cause.

It simply happens. Jane struggled for three days to bear your child but, in the end, it was too much for her. The angels called her home and the child along Tor stared at her as if didn’t understand what she was telling him. But as the words sank “She is,” Lady de Lohr said sadly, squeezing his hand. “I wish I could say something that would bring you comfort, but you must find that in your own time, with God’s help. I can tell you that she was very brave. She told me to tell you that she loved you dearly and asked that you take care of her sisters. The younger girls are all alone now, with their parents and oldest sister gone. Will you do this? Will you take care of Barbara and Tor had to sit down. There was a stone bench behind him and he sank onto it, with Lady de Lohr still holding his hand.

He simply sat there, dumbfounded, hardly able to process “Jane,” he murmured, dazed. Then he started to blink rapidly, as if blinking away tears. “Of course she was brave. Jane was nothing else, ever since the day I met her.” “She was very brave, dear Tor. Take comfort in that, if you will.” He simply sat there, staring off into space, thinking of the wife he’d lost. And the child. In an instant, his entire family was gone. “The child?” he managed to ask hoarsely.

“Was it male?” Lady de Lohr cleared her throat softly. “I do not know,” she said. “She died with the child still inside of her and we made the decision not to cut her open to retrieve the babe.” He looked at her, then. “But the child could have still been alive. Jane would have wanted you to save our son.” But Lady de Lohr shook her head. “The physic determined that the child was dead when Jane’s labor began,” she said gently. “The child was early, you know. The labor was God’s way of expelling the dead baby, but Jane did not have the strength to push him out.

” “You are certain of this?” “As certain as I can be, Tor. Please know I would have done everything possible if there had been the slightest chance to save her or the child.” He knew that. Lady de Lohr was a caring, compassionate woman, but he had to ask. The hollowness, the grief, that was building inside of him was demanding answers and it was difficult not to give in to the pain. But Tor had never been the animated kind. He was, in short, a gentle giant. He was calm and well-liked, which was part of the reason this situation was such a tragedy. Tor deserved to be happy and to have the family he very much wanted. He deserved all of the good things that life had to offer and a situation like this was a heartbreak for all involved.

Having watched him grow up, it was particularly difficult for Lady de Lohr. Tor knew that. In theory, he knew that she would have moved heaven and earth to save Jane, but there had been no hope. It must have been dire, indeed, which began to tear at “Jane,” he murmured, dazed. Then he started to blink rapidly, as if blinking away tears. Lady de Lohr cleared her throat softly. “I do not know,” she said. “She died with the child He looked at her, then. “But the child could have still been alive. Jane would have wanted But Lady de Lohr shook her head.

“The physic determined that the child was dead when Jane’s labor began,” she said gently. “The child was early, you know. The labor was God’s “As certain as I can be, Tor. Please know I would have done everything possible if there He knew that. Lady de Lohr was a caring, compassionate woman, but he had to ask. The hollowness, the grief, that was building inside of him was demanding answers and it was He was, in short, a gentle giant. He was calm and well-liked, which was part of the reason this situation was such a tragedy. Tor deserved to be happy and to have the family he very much wanted. He deserved all of the good things that life had to offer and Tor knew that. In theory, he knew that she would have moved heaven and earth to save Jane, but there had been no hope.

It must have been dire, indeed, which began to tear at him. He’d told her not to send word to him about her pregnancy or the birth. Now, he was coming to regret that directive, very much. “I am sure you would have done everything possible,” he finally said. “I did not mean to question you. ’Tis simply that… we are speaking of my Janie. She is too young and beautiful to die.” Lady de Lohr was near tears. “She will be forever young and beautiful to us all, Tor,” she said softly. “We will remember her with great love and affection.

Even if you had been here, there was nothing you could have done. You could not have saved her. Mayhap it is best if you remember her as she was the very last day you left her – happy, sweet, and loving. Hold that memory close, Tor.” His eyes were starting to well. Something in Lady de Lohr’s statement conveyed the horror of Jane’s final days. After a moment, he looked up at her. “She died in agony, didn’t she?” he asked. Lady de Lohr was taken aback by the question. “She… she was weary, of course.

She tried to bring forth the child for several days.” “Tell me the truth.” “Tor…” “Tell me!” he boomed. Lady de Lohr jumped, startled by his exceptionally loud voice. She had known Tor since he’d been a boy, having grown into a man of considerable size and strength, and his shout frightened her. It was the first time she’d ever heard the man raise his voice or show a temper, ever. Given the circumstances, it was understandable. But she held her ground. “I told you the truth,” she said evenly. “She died exhausted but brave.

Of course there was pain; having a child is not a painless experience. What would you have me tell you? That her body contorted with great contractions to bring forth a child that was far too large for her to carry? That, at times, it was so painful that she screamed? Is that what you wish to hear?” Tor’s eyes widened and Lady de Lohr realized what she had said. She’d spoken honestly before she could stop herself. “I am sure you would have done everything possible,” he finally said. “I did not mean to question you. ’Tis simply that… we are speaking of my Janie. She is too young and Lady de Lohr was near tears. “She will be forever young and beautiful to us all, Tor,” she said softly. “We will remember her with great love and affection. Even if you had been here, there was nothing you could have done.

You could not have saved her. Mayhap it is best if you remember her as she was the very last day you left her – happy, sweet, and His eyes were starting to well. Something in Lady de Lohr’s statement conveyed the Lady de Lohr was taken aback by the question. “She… she was weary, of course. She Lady de Lohr jumped, startled by his exceptionally loud voice. She had known Tor since he’d been a boy, having grown into a man of considerable size and strength, and his shout frightened her. It was the first time she’d ever heard the man raise his voice or “I told you the truth,” she said evenly. “She died exhausted but brave. Of course there was pain; having a child is not a painless experience. What would you have me tell you? That her body contorted with great contractions to bring forth a child that was far too large for her to carry? That, at times, it was so painful that she screamed? Is that what Tor’s eyes widened and Lady de Lohr realized what she had said.

She’d spoken honestly She grasped him with both hands this time. “I did not mean to say that,” she said. “Forgive me, Tor. The child was large, that is true, but it was not your fault. You must not blame yourself. I did not mean to imply otherwise.” He blinked at her, still startled by her words. “Then it is true,” he said. “The child was too large. My child was too large.” Lady de Lohr hoped she hadn’t done damage with her truthful outburst. “He was very big, but women are made for bearing big children,” she said. “I have given birth to my share of them and I am quite well. But Janie… as I said, sometimes these things happen and we do not know why. Only God knows.” Tor was sinking further into despair and trying hard not to. “For a man to die in battle, I understand why God permits such a thing,” he said. “A man goes into battle with the intention of taking a life. If his own life is taken, it is a fitting retribution. But a woman faces childbirth with the intention of giving life. It is a cruel God who allows women to die in childbirth.” “Hush,” Lady de Lohr said softly. “You must not blaspheme.”

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