Francis woke to a touch on his hair. He let it go on for a moment before opening his eyes. He didn't think about where he was or what had happened to him until he tried to move. Lifting his arms, attempting to push himself up met with failure and a burst of unexpected discomfort. He gasped.
"Lie still, Francis," said Catherine.
He managed to turn his head more to look up at her. Memories rose up to confront him. "Are you all right?"
"Yes. And so are you. But you will need to rest. Consuelo says there is one burn that will continue to need treatment for a few more hours. The others and mine, as well, are already healing."
Francis realized his back felt normal unless he moved. His head ached, however, and his neck was stiff. "I am thirsty."
"I have water for you here."
Francis found lifting his head stirred up pains all down his back. "What time is it?"
"It is late. Perhaps midnight." She held a cup to his lips.
The water was good, tasting like rain. "Thank you." He was grateful to lower his head back down.
"If you are well enough, we will leave for San Sebastian tomorrow."
"I will be well enough." How could the burns have healed in a few hours? Francis didn't believe it, but he was determined to leave anyway. It was the soreness, the bruising that made it so difficult to move his arms.
Consuelo joined them. "Mister Barnard," she said, "does this hurt?" She touched his back somewhere, and he felt only a little pain, that from the light press to a bruise.
"No," he said, then responded the same way as she touched several other places on his back.
"You see, Mister Barnard, those were burns a few hours ago. Now they will heal without pain or much scarring. But you have a more severe one I did not touch. It will require longer treatment. Perhaps by dawn I can remove the leaves."
Francis found all this hard to believe, but he was certainly in no position to argue or protest. "You have worked wonders, Consuelo."
"Only for those who have earned it, Mister Barnard. Now you should rest and try to sleep. In the morning, we will see how your wounds fare."
"Thank you, Consuelo." He felt a kiss to his head, but realized it was Catherine, not her maid who had kissed him.
"Good night, Francis. I will see you tomorrow." Catherine stroked his hair once again then left him.
It was enough to make him relax again. The servant girl touching his back made him tense. She applied another cool leaf to the place that still hurt when she removed the old one. Francis tried not to think about it. Instead, he thought of how Catherine had looked. Her expression had been tender and caring, and he thought she must have smiled at him. She was very strong, and very brave, and his heart pinched at the thought he could have lost her. How could it have happened? How could it have gone so wrong?
But the questions could be answered later. His tired mind and wounded body wanted to rest. The important thing was that Catherine was all right. It was enough to comfort him.
Catherine kept her grief to herself. She wept silently, grieving for so many things. Poor Nicholas! He had gone so terribly mad, and now he rested in a temporary tomb, where, she had been told, he would stay until spring. How could he have carried so much evil inside him? And Francis, poor brave Francis. . . . Just the thought of him suffering was like knives in her chest. The pain that had been in his face, how he had flinched from those awful blows, from the terrible branding. Catherine did not believe he would not scar too much from it. She had seen Consuelo's plant make a burn stop hurting in matter of hours. The skin simply never hurt so badly again as it formed a thin scab and began to heal. But Francis' back was worse than any burn she had seen. His skin had been torn by the lash, and the hot iron had touched him over some of those places. And there was the one that had gone almost to the bone. How he had endured it, she did not know. Or the beating with those rods. Yet he had, and he had even been able to ask after her.
The thought of it renewed her silent sobs. He protected me, she thought, he turned to take the blows on his back so that I would not be struck. Even after everything else he suffered. He is too good a man, he deserves so much better than me!
And she remembered when she had awakened and Nicholas—no, he was not longer Nicholas by then—had pulled her up right, chained in the archway and slipped the headdress from her hair. She had seen him strip unconscious Francis' cloak and doublet, then his shirt, and the scar from the deadly pendulum had startled the man who had once been her brother. Catherine had spoken to him, trying to get through to the good man he had been, but he'd only shaken himself and fastened manacles about Francis' wrists, ignoring her.
Oh, my poor beloved, she thought. Would that I could hold you in my arms, would that I could erase this past day. I would spare you every pain if I could.
It had been hard not to weep at the sight of him on the bed in the other room. His back was so damaged, so bruised and torn. His voice had been weak, and he'd barely been able to lift his head.
My family has brought you so much suffering, she thought. Can you forgive me, Francis? Will you still want to marry me?
Her questions and tears carried her into a sleep of exhaustion, from which she was awakened by Consuelo coming in after dawn to say that she had done all that was possible for Mister Barnard's wounds, and that he intended to have breakfast in the dining room.
Catherine was not hungry, though she'd had only a slice of bread the evening before. Perhaps Francis would want something, having eaten nothing since the previous day's breakfast. It was a good sign that he wanted to be up. She prayed it was not too hard for him.
Because of what he'd said the day before, she dressed in her clothes for traveling—no stiff skirt supports, indeed, only what she would need if she were riding her own horse in winter. Her clothing was thick, and there were layers to her skirt and a thick cotton blouse under the wool one she wore under her bodice. Consuelo had inspected her burn, and because it no longer hurt much to touch, she didn't give it any special attention after the girl rubbed some kind of oil into it to soften the taut skin and scab. It could have been so much worse, and she thought it would have been had it not been for Francis' bravery.
"My dear, how are you this morning?" said her uncle as she came from her room. "You look pale. Were you warm enough?"
"Yes, Uncle. I was quite warm once I dried off."
"And your injury? Is it any better? Burns are so painful."
"It no longer pains me at all."
He smiled, nodding. "That is good to hear. I'm afraid your young suitor will not be so fortunate. I think he would not have survived much longer had we not broken into that chamber."
"Please, do not speak of it." It was all to easy to remember how his poor body flinched in pain. And the sound of his tortured breathing still rang in her ears if she thought of it.
"Of course. Forgive me, child."
She only nodded and went into the common dining room. "Consuelo said that Francis was coming to eat this morning. I know he wants to leave today."
"Yes. The storm has passed, but the road will be muddy. We should wait another day before setting out again. And it will give him another day to regain his strength." He waited for her to seat herself at one of the benches, then sat opposite her.
"He is a stubborn man, Uncle. I do not know if he can be persuaded to wait."
"I am stubborn?" Francis said, coming up behind her.
Catherine stood and looked up at him. He was pale, nearly white, but he was dressed in a fine black doublet with gold piping and trim. "Francis!" she said, delighted to see him standing. "Are you well enough—"
"Yes," he said and smiled, and the frown he'd had disappeared for a moment. "I am very hungry. I hope they are serving something more filling than yesterday's breakfast."
Catherine took his arm, felt the slightest tremble in it as she helped him to sit beside her. He probably didn't need it, but she couldn't help herself. She would've done anything to ease his pain. "I do not know."
Francis seemed to be holding himself together with effort. Lifting his arms or moving his shoulders made him tighten his jaw. "We will be leaving Terrelavega today, will we not?" he asked Don Santoña.
"As I was just telling Catherine, the road will be very muddy, but we can certainly attempt it. Another day of rest would serve you well, Mister Barnard."
"Sitting in the carriage will be rest enough for me."
"But, Francis," Catherine said. "It is rough riding in the carriage." She touched his forehead which was dotted with tiny beads of sweat. "And you are still in pain."
"I assure you, Doña, I am capable of bearing it whether in the carriage or not." He made no move to take her hand, and she thought it was because it hurt him to lift his arms.
"You took a blow to the head, Mister Barnard," said Don Santoña in a grave tone. "You do not need to be jounced about."
Francis' frowned deepened and he closed his eyes briefly. "Truly you are right, sir. But I feel that if I eat something, the pain in my head will dissipate."
"Oh, Francis," Catherine touched his shoulder. "Is there anyway I can help you?"
He turned his head and smiled. "You have agreed to marry me, have you not?"
"Of course." She touched his face gently.
"Then that is all I need." He took her hand in his despite how she thought it must make him hurt, and brought it to his lips. "I was afraid you would be angry that I did not protect you."
Catherine was shocked. "No! No, Francis. You did protect me. You were so brave." She felt a lump form in her throat along with tears rising in her eyes. "Oh, Francis . . . I . . . I do not know how you stayed so strong. He was my brother, my family. I would not blame you if you wanted nothing more to do with us."
"Then it seems we share equal appreciation for each other, Catherine. You are not like your brother. And you remained strong. I shall never forget how brave you were."
"Mister Barnard," Don Santoña said, interrupting their mutual gaze of devotion to one another. "You should know that what happened was not your fault. Don Medina killed one of my men with a crossbow, he struck you over the head with something, and Catherine, too, but I have not heard her complain of a head wound."
Catherine reached to the back to her head, but felt only the slightest bruise. Perhaps she had passed out so easily because she had not been feeling well. "I have only a light bruise, Uncle. I was not even aware of it. And I was not unconscious for as long as Francis."
He nodded, but did not comment further as plates of food were brought over. Rice and eggs, cooked with spices, cubes of ham, a loaf of bread and a block of cheese were set down on the table before them.
Catherine watched how Francis kept his wrist, which bore marks from the manacle on it, resting on the table when he was not lifting a spoonful of food to his mouth. How could he think of traveling when he still had so much pain? The rough ride in the carriage would require using his arms to brace himself from time to time, his bruised back would be bounced against the seat back of the carriage as well. Oh, he may lay his head in my lap, she thought, if he wants to. She remembered the day before, coming back from the castle, and the weight of his head against her thighs. A burden she would gladly have borne forever.
She sighed. His dignity would never permit that now. Not with others in the carriage. And she did not want him to have to compromise his dignity again.
"You eat so little, Catherine," Francis said, having eaten heartily himself.
"I am not fond of breakfast," she said. It was almost a lie. She had been fond of it before this trip, but now, she did not trust her stomach. She was already feeling queasy. The piece of bread she sampled seemed dry and did not go down well, even with the diluted goat's milk they were served.
"But you will need your strength for travel. We will take some of this with us. Perhaps you will want it later."
His eyes were so blue, so intense as they looked into hers. Catherine could have lost herself in them but for the fact she was hiding her growing nausea. "Yes, that is a good idea." She looked away and down at her plate. "Please excuse me a moment. I must see to my things."
The men stood, though she thought it was not easy for Francis. In her room, she lost the scant contents of her stomach into the chamber pot. She could not understand why she kept getting sick. They were not traveling now. Was it the mere thought of being in the carriage all day?
"Doña?" said Consuelo's voice suddenly from nearby. "You are still ill?"
Catherine nodded. "It is the thought of traveling today. I cannot bear it." She accepted the cloth her maid handed her and used it to wipe her mouth. "And I am concerned for Francis. He should rest another day."
"Yes, Doña, I think he should, too, but I am most concerned about you. You show all the signs of being with child, but that is not possible, is it?"
Catherine was stricken. It had never occurred to her that she might be pregnant. Oh, but it can't be! "Of course not," she said quickly. But the very real possibility did not leave her mind. She saw her dream of being Francis' wife crash down around her. He would never want her if he knew she had been with another man. And to carry that foul man's child! It was intolerable! It had to be something else, but she did not believe it now that the notion was in her mind.
Sobs rose up in her chest and she sat down on the floor, drawing her arms over her head. It is true! she thought. And now my life is over. Francis will leave me in Spain. He will shun me. He will hate me!
"Doña!" Consuelo dropped to her knees beside Catherine. "What is the matter?"
"It is over! He will hate me!" she sobbed. The darkness of her despair rose up like the memories of the asylum and she could not stop crying.
"Oh, Doña Catherine, what is wrong?" Consuelo put her arm gently around Catherine and drew her into her arms.
Catherine was lost in her misery, and she wished Nicholas had killed her. Then Francis would never know. He would not reject her as he surely would when he found out about the child. It explained several things she had been concerned about—the fact she had not bled in over a month, the strange feeling she had in her abdomen occasionally, the sickness in the morning.
"Doña, can you tell me what is wrong?" the maid asked her after a little while, when the hysteria had tapered off and Catherine only wept quietly.
Catherine turned her eyes to the young woman, noticed that she was a pretty girl, dark-haired, olive-skinned and brown-eyed. Her full lips were pressed together with concern. "When I was in that terrible mental asylum," Catherine said, her voice high and weak, "two men—they were guards—ravished me. They are the ones who beat me because I fought them. Oh, Consuelo, no one must know!"
Consuelo pulled Catherine against her gently. "You know I will tell no one."
"I am not worthy of Francis. He is pure, and I am not. I have been ruined!"
"No, Doña, you must not think that. He will understand."
"It is you who does not understand." Catherine wiped her eyes, though they still watered. "I am a lady. He expects me to be a lady, not a whore!"
"But he loves you. I have seen it in his eyes, in the way he looks at you. And while he lay in his bed delirious, he said your name many times."
"It will not matter." Catherine's voice held all the hopelessness she felt inside.
"But it is not your fault! He will understand that."
"If only there had been no child." She looked again at Consuelo. "Do you know ways to help a woman get pregnant? You have healing skills."
The young woman didn't answer for a moment. "There are things you can eat that will make you more fertile."
Hardly believing she was saying it, Catherine said, "Then you know something that will make a woman lose a child." Catherine felt the grief overcome her again. It would be murder to do such a thing!
"Oh, Doña, you must not think of doing that. A child is a gift from God."
"I cannot have this child!" Her voice was raw. "I will lose everything! I will have no reason to live. The shame. . . . It is overwhelming!" Consuelo's arms about her brought no comfort. Catherine did not know what to do. Yes, it would be a terrible sin to kill the child, and how could she live with herself if she ever did such a thing? But if she had the child, her hope for a happy life would be over anyway. There was no answer, no way out. She could only pray to lose the baby naturally. And how would its life be if no one wanted it?
A knock on the door did not sink in past her grief, and she did not hear Consuelo send someone away.
"Here, drink this, Doña." The other woman drew Catherine's hands away from her face and held a cup beneath her mouth.
Time had passed, but Catherine did not know how much time. She took the cup, a blend of steeped herbs gave off a soothing aroma, and she tasted it carefully because it was hot enough to emit tendrils of vapor. Some kind of tea. It was good, but not sweetened.
"We are not traveling today, Doña," said Consuelo. I told Don Santoña that you were not well enough. Mister Barnard is very concerned about you."
"He is now. He will not be when he learns of the child."
"Doña, I do not want to do it, but I will if you insist." Consuelo waited for her to look up from the cup.
"I know how to make something that will cause you to lose the child. But it is very dangerous. Women sometimes bleed to death. You would have to have a doctor's care afterward."
Catherine shook her head. "If I were to do that, and I had a doctor's care, he would reveal what was wrong with me, and the purpose would be for naught. There is nothing I can do, Consuelo. I will pray to God that he take this child from me. That is all I will do."
"I am so sorry, Doña. You have always been so kind to me. I wish I could ease your suffering."
"You are a good friend, Consuelo. I thank you for helping Mister Barnard's burns. I know you do not use your healing herbs on just anyone." And she knew Consuelo had traded something for them. Catherine knew the girl did not have much, but she had given up some possession. To offer her money would insult her, but Catherine wanted to do something for her before they left Spain. She didn't know what, and she could not even think about it now.
"He is a good man. He saved me on this journey from . . . from having to do something I would not have wanted to do. I will always be grateful to him. It is his kindness that makes me think he will not reject you when he finds out what happened to you."
"It is a matter of honor and virtue, Consuelo. I have neither now. He will not want to ally himself with me if he knows. He is taking on a questionable connection with my family because of my father. And now my brother. To find out his betrothed is with child? His betrothed who spent months in a mental asylum? There is too much strain put upon this relationship already. He will cut his losses and return to England without me. Or if I deceived him long enough to get to England myself, I would likely find myself alone and destitute." New tears ran down her face.
"But he loves you, Doña. It is stronger than you think."
"If only I could believe that." Catherine took another sip of the tea and pushed herself up. She was unsteady and weak. "I know I must face them, but I cannot do it now."
"Yes, Doña. I will tell them you are resting."
"Thank you, Consuelo." Catherine sat down on the bed, in her heart only an overpowering bleakness remained.
"Do not give up hope, Doña Catherine."
She didn't answer as the girl left. Poor Francis, she thought. He has suffered so much for me, and now he will find it has been for naught. Unless I lose the child.
Catherine lay down on the bed, setting the cup on the small table near it. She said a prayer and asked for forgiveness. Am I to lose everything again? she asked. There came only the hiss from the coals in the fireplace for an answer.