Fr. Barnard groaned as he tried to roll over in the infirmary bed. His bloodied shirt had been removed. His broken rib had been bandaged. Every part of his face hurt, from the black eye to the damaged cheek bone to a jaw he couldn’t move to speak. Even his lip was cut open.
He remembered the fight. He had gone to the village inn for an ale, trying to avoid the path that led past the brothel, trying to forget the pain of Karissa walking away. He didn’t really want to be alone and, despite the sisters, the abbey seemed a very empty place to him.
In short order he was joined by Dom, the smithy. The man’s stature filled the doorway as he walked in. He was quiet but pleasant enough and the priest was comfortable around him. Fr. Barnard asked Dom to join him and signaled for the girl to bring them both ales. In no time, they had struck up a conversation that soon turned to the wedding of the Countess, and from there to the Warden Bryantt Sands, and from there to the girl Baylee.
“She won’t leave me alone,” the priest complained. “She follows me around like a lost puppy.”
As the two men spoke, it soon became clear that Dom was more than willing to take Baylee off of the priest’s hands. It seems he had developed a taste for her. The men talked quietly and agreed to an arrangement whereby Dom would intercede and insure that Baylee was distracted from her evident obsession with the priest.
Fr. Barnard was feeling a bit of relief when the stranger sauntered into the bar. He smelled of sheep dung and his clothes hung lost, as if he had recently lost weight. His dark face was drawn down to a thick beard and his hair was dirty and matted down his back.
As they exchanged greetings, the man took a seat at the table and demanded an ale. As they spoke, the priest sensed something wrong about this man. He was too friendly, too quick with an answer, too curious. He flirted with Baylee while Dom tried to secure her attention. And in the end, Dom left and returned to his duties and the two men, Fr. Barnard and the smelly shepherd, were left to talk.
It was about the same time that she walked through the door. Karissa, the very woman he had been trying to avoid, stepped out of the hot sun and into the cool shade of the tavern. Her skirt swung around her thighs and her bodice hugged bountiful breasts. He held his breath when he saw her. She stiffened when she saw him. As they exchanged tight-lipped greetings, the shepherd began to ask questions and make allegations.
“What’s going on between you two?” he asked. “You’re sleeping with her, aren’t you?”
As the conversation continued along that vein, the priest became angrier and angrier, and Karissa became more and more upset.
“Don’t listen to him, Barnard!” she screamed. “He’s the Devil. Can’t you see it? Look at him!”
Fr. Barnard looked but he didn’t see a devil. He saw a man slightly smaller than him with weathered skin and the stance of someone who had walked many miles. He frowned. He turned to Karissa and tried to tell her that she was imagining things. But she insisted that Fr. Barnard was wrong. This was the Devil in disguise. She became hysterical.
Fr. Barnard realized that Karissa could be telling the truth; it was possible that she could see where he could not. He reached out and took her by the arm and whispered in her ear, “Get out of here. Go to the church, now.” She would be safe at the church, he reasoned.
As she fled out the door, the stranger started to go after her. Alarmed, Fr. Barnard stepped in his path and confronted him. Challenged, the stranger yelled at Barnard and thew the first punch – and the fight was on. Each man got as good as he gave. Fr. Barnard was by far the bigger and stronger of the two, but he was unaccustomed to fighting. The stranger was a pit bull, pouncing and punching, striking Fr. Barnard repeatedly in the side and face.
When at last the priest went to the floor for the last time, sheltering his battered face with both arms, and the stranger begin striking him, Fr. Barnard was convinced his hours were numbered. This was it, he told himself. This is where I die.
He had no sooner thought that than the door opened and in stepped Gregor Young. Gregor saw the priest on the floor, saw the beating, and swung into action. Gregor, a trained warrior, did not hesitate to go after the stranger, but the stranger, who clearly recognized Gregor’s skill and experience, fled the bar and disappeared over the hill.
Gregor was just pulling Fr. Barnard back to his feet when Baylee returned. She offered a hand and the two began to escort the priest out of the door.
They had barely made it when Karissa returned, frightened, worried. Fr. Barnard looked up at her and, a second later, passed out.
They had somehow taken him to the abbey infirmary and laid him on a cot. For a time he remained unconscious, only to wake up in his present state. He opened his eyes and looked into Karissa’s face. She was kneeling by the bed, her eyes filled with tears. “I’m so sorry,” she kept saying, but had no idea for what. All he could think about was how much he wanted and loved this woman.
“I’m never going to let you go,” he whispered to her through his cracked lips.
She started to protest, but he didn’t hear it. He had again passed out.