The rosy-cheeked pie-seller handed Alice a crusty pastry stuffed with minced, honeyed chicken. "Aye, there be a number of troubadours about. Don't think I noticed one wearing a yellow and orange tunic, though." The woman took Alice's coin and popped it into her belt pouch. "Now, then, will there be anythin' else, m'lady?"
The pie-seller brushed crumbs from her hands and turned to deal with the next customer. " 'Ere, me good lad, what'll ye have? I've got excellent fruit pies and tasty lamb, too. Take yer choice."
Alice eyed her pie with distaste as she walked away from the stall. It was the fourth one she had bought in the last hour. She was not at all certain that she could manage to eat it.
She had thought to conduct her search for Gilbert in a systematic fashion but the task was proving difficult. Thus far she had covered only a third of the fairgrounds. Finding one particular troubadour in this crowded place was a slow process.
She had attempted to start several casual conversations at various stalls and tents but she had soon discovered that no one was willing to waste time in idle chatter. Having ascertained that peddlers, pie-sellers, and merchants were far more prone to indulge her carefully worded questions if they thought that she was going to spend good coin, Alice had reluctantly begun to do just that. To her dismay, she had already gone through most of the contents of her purse and had learned nothing. Along the way she had been obliged to consume three pies and two mugs of cider.
She hesitated at the end of a row of brightly striped peddlers' tents, wondering what to do with her newest pie. She hated to throw it aside. Waste of any sort offended her sensibilities.
"Psst. Fine lady. Over here."
Alice glanced up from the pie and saw a youth of about sixteen years hovering in the shadow of a nearby awning. He gave her a grimy-faced grin.
"Excellent bargains, m'lady. Come and see." The young man glanced hurriedly over his shoulder and then whipped a small dagger out from beneath his dirt-stained tunic.
Alice gasped and took a step back. Thieves and pickpockets were a constant threat at fairs. She clutched her skirts and made to run.
"Nay, nay, do not fear, fine lady." The youth's dark eyes filled with alarm. "I mean you no harm. I am called Fulk. I offer this beautiful dagger for sale. See? 'Tis fashioned of the best Spanish steel."
Alice relaxed. "Aye, 'tis a pretty little dagger but I have no use for such."
"Mayhap you could give it to yer lord as a gift?" Fulk suggested with a determined gleam in his eye. "A man can always use a good dagger."
"Sir Hugh has arms enough as it is," Alice retorted. She was still fuming over the fact that Hugh had elected to fritter away the afternoon on the jousting field.
"No man has enough good steel. Come closer, m'lady, and examine the workmanship."
Alice studied the dagger with little interest. "Where did you get this?"
"My father sells daggers and knives in a stall on the other side of the fairgrounds," Fulk said smoothly. "I assist him by mingling with the crowd to search out customers."
"Try another tale, lad."
"Very well." Fulk groaned. "If ye must know the truth, I found it lying by the side of the road. A shame, is it not? I believe it to be the property of some passing traveler. It must have been dropped by accident."
"More likely it was filched from a knife-seller's stall."
"Nay, nay, m'lady. I give ye me oath that I came by this blade in an honest fashion." Fulk turned the dagger to display the inlaid handle. "See how beautiful it is. I'll wager these be rare and valuable gems."
Alice smiled wryly. " 'Tis no use practicing your wiles on me, lad. I have only a few coins left in my purse and I intend to use them to purchase something far more useful than that dagger."
Fulk gave her an angelic smile. "What do ye wish to purchase, fine lady? Just let me know what ye want and I shall fetch it for ye. Then ye can pay me for it. 'Twill save ye a lot of dashing about amongst these dirty stalls."
Alice eyed him thoughtfully. "Very helpful of you."
He swept her an almost courtly bow. " 'Tis me great privilege to serve ye, m'lady."
It occurred to Alice that he just might be able to assist her. "What I am in need of is some information."
"Information?" Fulk slipped the knife back inside his tunic sleeve with a businesslike flick of his wrist. "That won't be any problem. I frequently sell information. Ye'd be surprised how many people wish to purchase that particular commodity. Now, then, just what sort of information do ye seek?"
Alice plunged into the tale she had concocted for the pie-sellers and peddlers. "I am searching for a handsome troubadour who has long brown hair, a small beard, and pale blue eyes. He favors a yellow and orange tunic. I heard him sing earlier and I wish to listen to some more of his songs but I cannot find him in this crowd. Have you seen him?"
Fulk tilted his head to one side and gave her a shrewd look. "Are ye in love with this troubadour?"
Alice started to utter an indignant protest and then caught herself. She gave what she hoped was a fluttering sigh instead. "He is most comely."
Fulk snorted in disgust. "Ye be not the only lady who thinks so. By the teeth o' Saint Anselm, I don't know what it is about troubadours. They all seem to have pretty ladies swooning at their feet."
Alice stilled. "Then you have seen him?"
"Aye. I've seen yer fancy poet." Fulk lifted one shoulder in a careless shrug. "His tunic is very pretty, just as ye said. Always favored yellow and orange meself."
"Where did you see him?" Alice asked eagerly.
"Last night he entertained a group of knights around one of the campfires. I, uh, happened to be nearby at the time and overheard him."
"Is that when you stumbled upon the lost dagger?" Alice asked politely.
"As it happens, it was." Fulk was not the least chagrined by her deduction. "Knights are a careless lot, especially when they've had too many cups of wine. Always losing daggers and purses and such. Now, then, how much will ye pay me for finding yer handsome troubadour for ye?"
Alice fingered her nearly empty purse. "I have only a couple of coins left. I suppose the information is worth one of them. Mayhap two if you're quick with it."
"Done." Fulk grinned again. "Come with me, m'lady. I know where to find the troubadour."
"How is it you can be so certain of that?"
"I told ye that ye weren't the only female in love with him. Last night I heard him tell a certain blond-haired lady that he would meet her today while her lord takes the field in the jousts."
"By the Saints," Alice muttered. "You are, indeed, a fount of information, Fulk."
"I told ye, information sells as well as anything else and there's not nearly so much risk involved." Fulk turned and set off through the maze of stalls with a jaunty swagger.
Alice tossed aside her uneaten pie and hurried after him.
Fifteen minutes later she found herself on the outskirts of the fairgrounds. She glanced back uneasily as Fulk led the way around the old stone wall that surrounded Ipstoke Keep. They had left the crowd behind. She was alone with Fulk.
She followed him up a gentle slope of rising ground. When she reached the crest she glanced back once more. She discovered that she could see across the tops of the tents and banners all the way to the distant jousting field.
A throng of spectators had gathered to view the melee. Even as Alice watched a great shout went up. The sound of it was carried toward her on the breeze. Two opposing groups of knights charged toward one another from opposite ends of the field.
Alice winced as they slammed together. Several horses and men went down in a fearsome tangle. Armor glinted in the sun and horses flailed. Alice found herself searching for a familiar black banner but it was impossible to identify Hugh or any of his men from this distance.
"This way, m'lady," Fulk whispered. He rounded one of the ramshackle outbuildings. "Hurry."
Alice told herself that Hugh was much too clever and too skilled to get hurt. Knights of his caliber thrived on mock combat. She shuddered. Her father had been no different. Sir Bernard had spent a great deal of his life in northern France seeking the glory and wealth to be had from the endless round of tournaments. Bernard had sought something else as well on those journeys, Alice thought wistfully. Escape from his responsibilities as a husband and father.
She had only scattered memories of her father. Those memories were sprinkled across the years like so many bright beads from a broken strand.
Bernard had been a handsome man with a hearty laugh, a curly red beard, and vivid green eyes. He had been loud and boisterous and full of enthusiasm for the hunt, the joust, and, according to Helen, Alice's mother, London brothels.
Bernard was gone a great deal of the time but his visits to his manor were wonderful events in Alice's childhood. He swooped down upon the household with presents and stories. He scooped Alice up in his arms and carried her through the great hall. While Bernard was home it seemed to Alice that everything, including her mother, glowed and shimmered with happiness.
But all too soon Bernard would set out again for a joust in some distant place or an extended trip to London. Many of Alice's memories from her early years included scenes of her mother crying after one of Bernard's frequent departures.
The family had seen more of Bernard for a time after his son and heir was born. Helen had been radiant during that period. But after Benedict was permanently injured in the fall from his horse Bernard had gone back to his old habits. The trips to London and northern France became frequent and prolonged once more.
As the years passed, Helen responded to her husband's lengthy absences by spending an ever-increasing amount of time at work on her handbook or mixing her herbs and potions. She grew distant from her children, seemingly obsessed by her studies.
In the later years Helen no longer greeted Bernard's brief visits with glowing happiness in her eyes. On the positive side, Alice thought, her mother no longer cried for hours after Bernard's leave-takings.
As her mother secluded herself for longer and longer periods in her study, Alice gradually took over the myriad responsibilities of managing the household and manor. She also assumed the task of rearing Benedict. She feared she had not been a great success in her efforts to be both mother and father to him. She had been unable to make up for the pain that Bernard's careless rejection had caused. The silent resentment in Benedict's eyes whenever his father was mentioned still made Alice want to weep.
But the knowledge of just how badly she had failed had not struck home until she managed to lose Benedict's inheritance.
Alice pushed aside the melancholy memories. "Where are we going, Fulk?"
"Hush." He waved frantically to silence her. "Do ye want them to hear ye?"
"I want to know where you're taking me." She walked around a sagging wooden storage shed and saw him crouched behind a stretch of thick foliage.
"Last night I heard the troubadour tell the blond-haired lady that he would meet her down there in the bushes by the stream."
"If he's not there, ye don't need to pay me," Fulk said magnanimously.
"Very well," Alice said. "Lead on."
Fulk plunged into the greenery that hid the stream from view. Alice picked up her skirts and followed cautiously. Her soft leather boots were going to be ruined, she thought.
A moment later a high, keening cry stopped her in her tracks. She grabbed Fulk's arm.
"What was that?" she whispered, horrified.
"The blonde, most likely," Fulk muttered without any show of surprise.
"Someone is attacking her. We must go to her aid."
Fulk blinked and then stared at her as though she were mad. "I don't think she'll be wantin' any help from the likes of us."
"From the sounds of it, your fancy troubadour is plucking her harp string quite nicely for her."
Another high, feminine scream sounded in the distance.
"Plucking her string? I do not understand. Someone is hurting that woman. We must do something."
Fulk rolled his eyes. "The troubadour is tumblin' her in the tall grass, m'lady."
"Tumbling her? As though she were a ball, do you mean? Why on earth would he do that?"
Fulk groaned softly. "Don't ye comprehend, m'lady? He's makin' love to her."
"Here? In the bushes?" Alice was so shocked that she tripped over a twig and nearly fell flat on her face.
"Where else?" Fulk reached out to steady her. "They can hardly use her lord's tent, now, can they? And the troubadour doesn't have one of his own."
Alice felt herself grow exceedingly warm. It was unsettling to realize that this boy who was no older than Benedict knew a great deal more about such matters than she did.
"I see." She tried to sound casual.
Fulk took pity on her obvious embarrassment. "Do ye want to wait here until they're finished?"
"Well, I suppose so. I certainly don't want to interrupt them."
"As ye wish." Fulk held out his hand. "I've fulfilled me part of the bargain. If ye'll be so kind as to pay me now, I'll be on me way."
Alice frowned. "You're quite certain that it's Gilbert the troubadour who is with that lady?"
"Take a look over there." Fulk nodded toward a bright patch of yellow and orange cloth that lay on the ground beneath the drooping branches of a tree.
Alice followed his gaze. "That does look like Gilbert's outer tunic. And I think I see his lute."
A hoarse, masculine groan reverberated through the greenery just as Alice handed Fulk the last of her coins.
"From the sound of things, yon troubadour is playing his own instrument now. A horn, I believe." Fulk's fingers closed tightly around the coins. "But don't fret, fine lady. I heard him tell the blond-haired lady that he was good for more than one tune."
Alice frowned again. "I don't believe that I comprehend—"
But Fulk had vanished into the shrubbery.
Alice hesitated, not certain how to proceed. She had intended to confront Gilbert when she found him and demand that he surrender her green stone. Now, for the first time she wondered if he would even admit to possessing it. What would she do if he simply denied all knowledge of the stone?
And then there was the awkward business of Gilbert's blond-haired lady. What did one say to a man and a woman who had just finished making love? Alice wondered. Especially when that love was clearly adulterous.
Alice was forced to conclude that Gilbert was far bolder than she had realized. In having dared to seduce a married lady, he risked castration or even death at the hands of the woman's husband. A man who was willing to dare so much for passion would likely laugh at Alice when she asked him to return the green stone.
It occurred to her that things would have been much simpler at this juncture had Hugh accompanied her. He would have had no qualms about challenging Gilbert.
Trust a man to be fooling about on a jousting field when there were more important matters to be dealt with, she thought, irritated.
Another husky groan startled her. This one seemed louder than the last, as though it were approaching some peak or hurdle. It occurred to her that she had no notion of how long it took to make love. Mayhap Gilbert and his lady would emerge from the bushes at any moment. They would see her standing there looking quite foolish.
If she was going to act, it had to be soon.
Alice took a deep, steadying breath and marched determinedly toward the pile of discarded clothing. When she reached it she saw at once that Gilbert had left not only his lute but a small canvas sack next to his tunic.
The sack was just the proper size to carry a large stone.
Alice hesitated once more and then reminded herself that Gilbert had stolen the crystal from her. She had every right to take it back.
Stealthily she opened the flap of the sack. An object approximately the size of the stone lay inside. It was swathed in an old rag.
With trembling ringers Alice lifted the heavy object out of the sack and eased aside a portion of the dirty cloth. The familiar dull sheen of the strange, clouded green crystal winked at her. The crystal's flat, wide facets caught the light but they did not reflect it very strongly.
There was no mistaking her green stone. A surge of satisfaction went through Alice. It was not an attractive chunk of crystal, but she found it fascinating. She had never seen a stone or crystal quite like it. She sensed it contained secrets, although in the short space of time in which it had been in her possession she had been unable to reason out what those secrets were.
A hoarse shout from the vicinity of the bushes made Alice start. She leaped to her feet, stone in hand. Then she heard Gilbert's voice.
"When I sing to your lord's men at the campfire tonight, my sweet, you will know that the lady in my song is you. Will you blush?"
"Of course, but who will see in the shadows?" The woman laughed. "You are indeed a rogue, Sir Troubadour."
"Thank you, madam." Gilbert chuckled. "I shall sing of your alabaster breasts and milk-white thighs. And of the honey and dew I found between those lovely thighs today. Your lord will be none the wiser."
"You had best pray that my lord does not recognize me in your poem," the lady said dryly, "else you will surely find yourself deprived of your fine lute."
Gilbert laughed uproariously. "There would be no pleasure in the chase if there were no risk involved. Some men prefer to take their sport on the jousting field. I prefer to take mine between the soft thighs of their ladies."
Alice hesitated no longer. Clutching the rag-wrapped stone, she fled. She could only pray that Gilbert would not hear her footsteps on the soft ground.
She had not gone far when she heard his angry shout. She knew that he had just discovered his loss.
Alice ran faster. She did not think that Gilbert had seen her.
She was breathing hard by the time she reached the stone wall of the old keep. She ducked behind a small wooden shed while she paused to catch her breath. In another few minutes she would be safe amid the fair crowds, she told herself. Gilbert would never be able to find her.
She took a deep breath. Pulse racing, she scurried out from behind the poor protection of the shed and dashed across an open field toward the first row of tents.
Two men armed with daggers stepped straight into her path. One gave her a toothless grin. The second wore a patch over his right eye.
Horrified, Alice stumbled to a halt.
"Well, now, what have we here but a fine lady with an interesting bundle in her hand. Seems the lad sold us sound information, Hubert."
The man wearing the eyepatch chuckled humorlessly. "Aye, so he did. Mayhap we should have paid him for his services, after all."
"Never pay for what ye can get for free, I always say." Toothless glided forward. He beckoned with his free hand. "Give us the stone, lady, and there'll be no trouble."
Alice drew herself up very straight and fixed him with a furious glare. "This stone belongs to me. Step aside at once."
Eyepatch chortled. "Sounds like a fine, proper lady, don't she? Always wanted me one of them."
"You can have her," Toothless muttered. "As soon as we've finished our business."
Alice clutched the stone and opened her mouth to scream for help. She knew with a sense of despair that there was no one around who would come to her aid.
"Has Benedict returned?" Hugh studied the far end of the jousting field. He could see Vincent's banners snapping in the breeze. Anticipation coursed through Hugh, icy and invigorating.
I shall not forget, Grandfather.
"Nay, m'lord." Dunstan followed Hugh's gaze. A knowing expression appeared in his eyes. "Well, well, well. I see that Vincent of Rivenhall is finally preparing to take the field."
"Aye, and about time, too." Hugh glanced toward the refuge tents, searching for Benedict. There was no sign of him. "Blood of the devil, where is that boy? He should have returned by now with news of his sister."
Hugh had sent Benedict off to fetch Alice when it had become apparent that she was not among the spectators. For some reason Hugh had been first disappointed and then thoroughly irritated to realize that Alice was not sitting with the ladies. He told himself that he had a right to be angry. He had, after all, given her specific instructions and she had ignored them. But he had an uneasy feeling that the matter went deeper.
She had doubtless found it convenient to pay him no heed because she did not consider him her rightful lord.
"Mayhap she has no interest in the sport." Dunstan spat on the ground. He surveyed the colorful flock of fluttering ladies who sat beneath the bright yellow awning on one side of the field. " 'Tis a man's game, after all."
"Aye." Hugh searched the crowd at the refuge tent once more, looking for Benedict.
"I remember the days when the ladies couldn't be bothered to come to a joust," Dunstan said. "Now they've turned these affairs into a matter of fashion. It's enough to make a stout knight weep."
"I can wait no longer," Hugh said. "Vincent is nearly ready. Have my horse brought to me."
"Aye, m'lord." Dunstan signaled to the squire who held the reins of Hugh's black war-horse.
Hugh cast one last look at the spectators. There was still no sign of Alice. "God's teeth. The lady has a lot to learn."
A broad-shouldered, heavily bearded man with small, glittering eyes walked out of the refuge tent. "Sir Hugh. I heard you were here. Could not resist the opportunity to unhorse Vincent of Rivenhall, eh?"
Hugh glanced at the newcomer without much enthusiasm. "They tell me that you have done well today, Eduard."
"I took a good war-horse and some armor from Alden of Granthorpe." Eduard chuckled hugely. "Left Sir Alden flopping about in the dirt with a broken leg. An amusing sight. Looked like an overturned turtle."
Hugh said nothing. He did not like Eduard. The man was several years older than himself, a hardened mercenary who sold his sword to anyone who could pay his price. That, in itself, was no great crime. Hugh knew full well that had his own fate not sent him into the household of Erasmus of Thornewood, he would have chosen a similar career.
Hugh's dislike of Eduard was based on other factors. The mercenary was a skilled warrior but he was crude and ill-mannered. Hugh had heard unpleasant rumors concerning the man's violent propensities toward young females, including one that several months ago a twelve-year-old tavern wench had died from Eduard's rough lust. Hugh did not know if the gossip was true, but he did not find it difficult to believe.
"Ready, my lord." The squire steadied the eager stallion.
"Excellent." Hugh turned away from Eduard.
"My lord Hugh." Benedict limped around the corner of the tent just as Hugh set one booted foot into the stirrup. He was panting for breath.
"My lord. I cannot find her."
Hugh paused. "She is not in the tent?"
"Nay, my lord." Benedict came to a halt and braced himself with his staff. "Mayhap she is browsing through the peddlers' stalls. She is not overfond of jousts and such."
"I instructed her to watch the sport in the company of the other ladies."
"I know, my lord." Benedict looked anxious. "You must make allowances for my sister, sir. Alice is not in the habit of following instructions. She prefers to go about matters in her own fashion."
"So it would seem." Hugh settled himself into the saddle and reached down to take the lance from one of his men. He glanced at the frail strip of bright green ribbon that fluttered near the point of the weapon.
"My lord, I pray you will be tolerant of her nature," Benedict pleaded. "She has never taken guidance well. Especially from men."
"Then 'tis time she learned to do so." Hugh glanced down the length of the field. Vincent of Rivenhall was mounting beneath a red banner.
In spite of his irritation with Alice, Hugh was becoming increasingly uneasy. The prickling sensation on the back of his neck was not caused by anticipation of the coming clash with Vincent.
Something was wrong.
He had assumed that Alice had failed to take her place among the onlookers out of sheer pique. Hugh was well aware that she had not cared to be told that she must attend the jousts. He assured himself that she was sulking and determined to deal with the matter later. After he had gone against Vincent of Rivenhall.
Hugh and Vincent were forbidden the satisfaction of open aggression against each other because of their mutual allegiance to Erasmus of Thornewood. Erasmus had no intention of allowing his best knights to expend their energy and squander their incomes warring against each other. The two were obliged to limit their encounters to those rare occasions when they found themselves on the same jousting field. At such times the old feud could be conducted under the guise of sport.
The last time they had engaged in mock combat, Hugh had felled Vincent with a single blow of his lance. As the joust had been a major event sponsored by two great barons, there had been no tame limits on the ransoms. The victorious knights had been free to claim whatever they could get from their victims.
Everyone had fully expected Hugh to set a high price on Vincent of Rivenhall. At the very least he could have claimed his opponent's expensive war-horse and armor.
Hugh had taken nothing. Instead, he had quit the field, leaving Vincent on the ground as though he were of no account. The insult had been outrageous and unmistakable. Ballads had been sung about it and another tale had been added to the growing legend of Hugh the Relentless.
No one but Hugh and his sole confidant, Dunstan, knew the real truth. There had been no need to strip Vincent of his costly armor and horse. Hugh had plotted a far more subtle and infinitely more effective stratagem against Vincent of Rivenhall, one that would unfold in the fullness of time. Another six months or a year at most.
The final triumph would be complete. Hugh was convinced that it would calm the storm winds that swirled across his soul. He would know peace at last.
In the meantime these occasional meetings on the jousting field served to whet the appetite of the Bringer of Storms.
Hugh tucked his helm under his arm and looked down at Benedict. "Take two of the grooms and look for your sister among the peddlers' tents."
"Aye, my lord." Benedict started to turn away. He hesitated. "Sir, I must ask you what you intend to do with Alice when she is found."
"That is Alice's problem, not yours."
"But, my lord—"
"I said, that is between Alice and myself. Go, Benedict. You have a task to fulfill."
"Aye, my lord." Reluctantly, Benedict turned to make his way back through the crowd of men clustered near the refuge tents.
Hugh prepared to address the small company of men who rode beneath his black banner. They faced him eagerly. There was always money to be made when they took the field with Hugh the Relentless.
Hugh had discovered early on that there was a secret to winning tournaments as well as battles. The secret was discipline and a sound stratagem. It never failed to amaze him how few men practiced those arts.
Knights were, by nature, a rash, enthusiastic lot who thundered out onto the jousting field or into actual combat with no thought to anything except individual glory and booty. They were encouraged to do so by their peers who vied for the same honor and loot and by the troubadours who sang songs about their heroism. And then, of course, there were the ladies. They preferred to bestow their favors upon the heroes of the ballads.
Such undisciplined antics made for amusing poems, in Hugh's opinion, but they also made victory in either mock or real combat a haphazard event.
Hugh preferred his victories to be predictable. Discipline and adherence to the stratagem that he had determined before the conflict were the keys to predictability. He had made them the cornerstones of the techniques he used to train his men.
Men-at-arms and knights who put their own lust for glory and plunder before their willingness to follow Hugh's orders did not last long in his employ.
"You will maintain orderly ranks and follow the stratagem that we discussed earlier," Hugh said to his men. "Is that plain?"
Dunstan grinned as he donned his helm. "Aye, m'lord. Never fear, we're ready to follow your plan."
The others grinned acknowledgment.
"Remember," Hugh cautioned. "Vincent of Rivenhall is mine. You will occupy yourselves with his men."
There were sober nods in response. All of Hugh's men knew of the ill feelings that existed between their lord and Vincent of Rivenhall. The feud was no secret.
Satisfied that all was in readiness, Hugh started to mount his war-horse. He would deal with Alice later.
"My lord, wait," Benedict yelled.
Hugh looked back impatiently. He saw raw fear on Benedict's face. "What is it?"
"This boy, Fulk, says he knows where Alice is." Benedict pointed to a dusty youth of about his own age. "He says that two men with daggers have gone in pursuit of her. He says he will tell us where to find her. For a price."
It occurred to Hugh somewhat belatedly that the reason Alice was not sitting with the spectators or sulking in her tent was because she had gone in search of Gilbert the troubadour.
Surely she would not have been so reckless.
But even as Hugh tried to reassure himself, a cold feeling settled deep inside his guts.
An image of the hapless Clydemere peddler lying, throat slit, in a pool of blood, temporarily clouded his vision.
Hugh looked at the grinning Fulk. "Is this true?"
"Aye, me fine lord." Fulk's grin widened. "I'm a merchant, ye see. I trade in information or anything else that comes me way. I'll be happy to tell ye where the red-haired lady is. But ye best hurry if you're planning to rescue her afore those two footpads catch up with her."
Hugh ruthlessly quashed the rage and fear that threatened to well up within him. He forced all evidence of emotion from his mind and his voice. "Speak."
"Well, now, as to that, me lord, first we must set the price."
"The price," Hugh said softly, "is your life. Speak the truth now or prepare to pay."
Fulk stopped grinning.