Dragon Tree
    Satisfied that
the heart vein had not been severed, he finished cutting away the
shreds of her tunic.
    Roland, who
had seen many a naked maid, scarcely followed the proceedings. He
was anxious to be away, to join the hunters in regaling the castle
minions with tales of the attack and their bravery in foiling
whose experience with female nudity had been severely limited by
his vows of celibacy, found it disconcertingly easy to stare at the
pale white body if he allowed himself to do so. To avoid the
temptation, he moved back and stood beside the hearth. After
unbuckling his belt and pulling his tunic over his head, he tossed
the bloodied garments at Roland with a nod to indicate the squire
could leave. He then leaned over a large bowl of water and used
another scrap of cloth to wash the girl’s blood off his chest and
shoulder. The gash on his arm was neither deep nor debilitating,
but the skin would require a few knots of thread to hold the edges
together while it healed.
    The newly
kindled flames in the hearth bathed his upper body in red and
orange light, sparkling off the beads of water that clung to his
skin. Long, flame-burnished waves of dark hair—grown thick and full
over his once-tonsured pate—curled over broad shoulders that had
been strengthened over the years to carry a hundredweight of mail
and armor. Shorter, curlier hairs covered his chest like a
breastplate, while smoother, silkier down darkened his forearms. He
was a tall man, solid in the waist and hip. His legs were long and
tautly thewed, his hands square and hard.
    No one who saw
him doubted that he could slay dragons. Only Marak knew the mighty
knight could be unravelled, undone, and brought to ground by a
single touch from a lady’s soft hand.
    “Whoever cut
this girl, had no love of women,” the seneschal remarked, frowning
over the slashes that ran from the girl’s ankles to the juncture of
her thighs.
    Tamberlane was
drawn reluctantly into the circle of light again and followed
Marak’s pointed finger to the cut above the golden thatch of pubic
hair. The yellow curls were still pink with blood, bringing forth
another memory of a painting he had been shown during his induction
as a Templar, when it was declared that all women were the
daughters of Eve. The monks were told that a woman’s sex was
constantly bloody from their roles as whores and temptresses for
Satan. They were also warned that good men, devout men had lost
their wits, their souls, their very lives worshiping at the
bloodied altar of carnal sin.
    The green eyes
travelled higher, touching on the girl’s face.
    She did not
look like Satan’s whore. She looked fragile, broken. The shape of
the wound in her shoulder made him curious enough to pluck the
arrowhead off the table and examine it.
    The points
were hooked and jagged, the iron meant to tear the flesh rather
than simply pierce it, thereby insuring that it would do more
damage if an attempt was made to pull free. The girl was lucky
insofar as it had been driven straight through.
curled his fist around the arrowhead. His eyes rose, glowing an
eerie green in the muted light, and he was not surprised to find
Marak watching him.
    The seneschal
had lowered his hood, the better to work without encumbrances. His
hair was as white as sun-bleached parchment, surrounding a face
that was long and thin, the skin devoid of color even to the lips
that were lacking the smallest hint of definition. His eyes were as
clear as well water, rimmed in pink, shielded by lashes that were
fine and white.
stronger than muted candlelight caused excruciating pain to those
sensitive eyes, and a beam of unfiltered sunlight could scorch his
skin red after a few moments exposure. All of his vast knowledge,
his experiments with alchemy and herbal medicines could gain him
little relief from his own curse, condemning him to a world of
shadows and heavy woolen garments.
    “The peasants
committed no crime,”

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