From the sweeping hills of Argences to the port city of Cologne overlooking the River Rhine, Etienne and Avielle find themselves drawn by the need for redemption against the backdrop of the First Crusade.
Heeding the call of His Holiness, Urban II, to free the Holy Land from the infidel, Etienne follows Duke Robert of Normandy across the treacherous miles, braving sweltering heat and snow-covered mountain passes while en route to the Byzantine Empire.
Moved by Peter of Amiens’ charismatic rhetoric in the streets of the Holy Roman Empire, Avielle joins the humble army of pilgrims. Upon arrival in Mentz, the peasant Crusaders do the unthinkable, destroying the Jewish Community. Consumed with guilt, Avielle is determined to die fighting for Christ, assuring her place in Heaven.
Etienne and Avielle cross paths in Constantinople, where they commiserate over past misdeeds. A spark becomes a flame, but when Avielle contracts leprosy, Etienne makes a promise to God, offering to take the priest cowl in exchange for ridding Avielle of her affliction.
Will Etienne be true to his word if Avielle is cleansed of the contagion, or will he risk eternal damnation to be with the woman he loves?
The sound of tents being dismantled awakened Avielle. The flap remained open, letting in the first blush of sunlight, dispelling lingering anguish, restoring trust in oneself. She saw the empty place beside her and wondered where Etienne went. Avielle knew Etienne never left her side throughout the night, and she remembered being tenderly moved when he got up and seeing him leave while pretending to be asleep. Sitting on the bed, Avielle again compared the differences between Peter’s Army with that of Duke Robert’s. She glanced upon the wood chest, noticing the elegant garments given to her without thought of its value. The resilient pavilions provided shelter from the sun and rain, and food had been plentiful. Avielle was not used to such extravagance, nor did she crave worldly possessions, but forgiving transgressions did matter. Thankfully, she heard footsteps approaching, and prayed they belonged to Etienne. Avielle would eventually find Hugh, but being escorted, just for today, was less embarrassing than chasing after the wagons. And she let out a sigh of relief when Etienne walked inside.
“We shall be leaving within the hour,” Etienne said, carrying a bowl of porridge.
Etienne explained the mechanism set in place to sustain an enormous Army while Avielle ate the surprisingly tasteful gruel. She listened intently, paying close attention whenever a directive pertained to her duties.
“Tancred is here now, but tomorrow you are expected to find your way. I will have food brought to you each day and will visit when I am able.”
“You stayed,” Avielle said.
“You were not violated if that is your concern.”
“It is not. I am grateful you care as you do. It is the same with me about you.”
Avielle put her arms about this stranger she held dear, hoping her display of affection conveyed what words could not. Loosening her hold, she took his hand and rubbed it against her face, a tender gesture, uninhibited, beguiling.
“I have to go,” Etienne whispered, stepping away reluctantly.
“May the Lord keep you safe,” Avielle said, unsure of what just transpired between them.
She did not dwell over what people thought. Avielle trusted Tancred and Duke Robert’s selected knights and guards not to pass judgment, counting on their discretion to keep her reputation intact. She knew gossipers would spread untruthful tales if Etienne were seen leaving in the early hours, but hopefully, no one cared where Etienne slept. She left shortly after Etienne, no need to pretend. She could not sway anyone’s wicked thoughts, no matter how strongly she denied untoward conduct.
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Meet Mary Ann Bernal
Mary Ann Bernal attended Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry, NY, where she received a degree in Business Administration. Her literary aspirations were ultimately realized when the first book of The Briton and the Dane novels was published in 2009. In addition to writing historical fiction, Mary Ann has also authored a collection of contemporary short stories in the Scribbler Tales series and a science fiction/fantasy novel entitled Planetary Wars Rise of an Empire. Her latest endeavor is Crusader’s Path, a story of redemption set against the backdrop of the First Crusade.