Matt, Benny Ray, Cindy and Margo stood by the refreshment stand talking to Peter Caine and his father. Having some down time, they took Peter up on his invitation to the Renaissance festival.
"I have to admit, I always had a passion for the days of knights and the women in velvet gowns," Cindy admitted to Margo before swallowing a drink of water.
Margo nodded. "I know. When men were men and women were women."
"Speaking of men and women," Cindy began, pointing to the other side of the park.
Nick was talking to a woman, dressed in a purple velvet gown, braids throughout her long golden blond hair. She was trying to push him away, but was having no luck.
"You don't understand," she protested. "If Rutger sees you here, he will hurt you. He is a very jealous man."
"I'm not afraid of him," Nick
denied. "Come on..." he tried to persuade her, reaching
out for her arm. "At least tell me your name."
"Wait! If he's that bad, you're in danger!" Nick shouted, starting after her.
Margo and Cindy watched him go after her, then Cindy jabbed Margo. "Uh, Margo? Look."
A man in full metal armor riding a horse headed after Nick, raising the flat side of his sword.
"Nick!" Cindy and Margo screamed in unison, their warning coming too late as the flat of the sword hit the back of his neck, knocking Nick to the ground.
Matt and Benny Ray ran toward him, telling Margo and Cindy to stay where they were. Peter went running after the knight on the horse, intending to arrest him for assault and battery.
Benny Ray reached Nick first, shaking him to rouse him. "Nick! Come on, wake up!"
Margo and Cindy joined Matt and Benny Ray with Nick. "Is he all right?" Cindy asked with concern.
"He hasn't woke up yet," Benny Ray commented, still gently shaking the New Yorker.
"Uh? What?" Nick mumbled groggily before opening his eyes. Looking up, he blinked in surprise. "Benny Ray? Whatya doin' in armor?"
"Who?" the man sputtered, staring down at his squire. "Off your lazy arse, Nicholas, or you will be pulling kitchen duty. Get my horse ready."
""Wha? Horse? Who?" Nick sputtered, trying to stop the world from spinning as he sat up.
"Must have had too much grogg last night. I am Sir Bernard, if you are having trouble remembering that. You are my squire, Nicholas. That means you prepare my clothing, my horse and whatever else I ask of you."
Nick turned his eyes to Matt, who was dressed oddly. "Uhm, Matt..." he began as he looked at his surroundings. Gone were the tents and temporary displays. In their place was little huts, guards, horses and a castle. Surrounding it all was a huge stone wall. "Where the hell am I?"
"Sir Bernard, I will thank you to remind your squire not to call me by my first name," the Baron sniffed haughtily. He reached out his hand and pulled his lady to his side, wrapping his arm around Margo. She looked up at Matthew and smiled happily, returning his embrace. The two had just returned from their honeymoon.
"Begging your pardons," Baroness Margo's maid spoke softly, pushing past them. "I do not believe you all can see that this man is hurt," Cindy said, noticing the bleeding on the back of his neck.
"So he is," Lord Bernard observed. "With your permission, Baron, perhaps your wife's maid could patch him up."
"I don't see why not," Matt replied. "Cindy, you may take care of him. You are relieved of your other duties until he is better."
"Thank you sir," she responded, curtsying. Approaching the confused man, she put out her hand to help him to his feet. "Come, Nicholas."
"I hate being called that," he mumbled as he followed her. The more he looked around, the less familiar everything was. He noticed the way everyone was dressed, then looked down at his own clothes. Nick stumbled when he realized he was dressed in the same manner. "Uh, Cindy?"
Stopping in her tracks, she turned to look at him. "Yes?"
"Where am I? What year is this?"
"My, your head was quite knocked about a bit, was it not? We're at Shepherd's Pass and the year is 1262."
"The year is what? What happened to the twenty-first century? What happened to cars and planes? What happened to jeans, for God's sake?" he shouted.
At first Cindy cringed at his outburst then she walked up and grabbed his face. Looking into his eyes, she asked, "What in the world happened that knocked you senseless? What are these things you speak of?"
"Are you trying to tell me you don't remember any of those things?" Nick asked incredulously. "And you don't remember you are Matt's fiancee?"
Glancing around her nervously, Cindy
hissed, "How dare you accuse me of such things! Every one
knows a lowly maid is not good enough to wed a Baron. You could
get me killed with such talk."
"Sit down," Cindy ordered him as she prepared some medications.
While he waited, Nick glanced around. "Is this your place?"
"Yes, it is," she replied, approaching him with a wet rag. Beginning to wash away the blood, Cindy asked, "Why?"
"It's nice. A little empty, but nice."
Cindy shrugged. "I do not need much. Just a place to sleep at night and something to hold the few clothes I have. What is your chamber like?"
"Oh, it's full of stuff. Stereo, television, computer. All the basics," he replied.
"Nicholas, you are speaking of strange things again. Things that have never been heard of."
"Oh. Ah, well...er. Truth is, I don't remember my chamber or where it is. I've never been here before."
"That can not be. I have seen you around quite a bit," Cindy admitted, putting salve on the cut. "Good, you do not need stitches. I do think you should have bed rest however. I think your brain has been knocked around a little."
"You've seen me...so, you noticed me?" Nick asked, a boyish look in his eyes.
Cindy blushed and turned away from him. "You may rest here while I go try to find out where your chamber is," she replied, ignoring his question.
Nick watched her leave the chamber as he lay back in her bed, inhaling the scent of her. He didn't know what was going on, but if this was his chance to be with Cindy, he was taking it.
Cindy had just entered the training area when Sir Bernard approached her. "So, how fares my squire?"
"I'm ordering him to bed rest. He has a head injury, babbling on about things I've never heard of. Where is his chamber?"
"Squires do not have chambers, wench. You should know that by now," Sir Bernard responding, pulling up to his full height. "Most sleep on their knight's floor or in the stables with the horses."
"That will not do. That will not do at all." Cindy lifted her skirts and walked away from the knight, pondering her next move. The man was injured, he could not sleep on the floor or in the stables. But if she kept him in her chamber, she would become the talk of the village. Squaring her shoulders, she headed for the Baron's sitting room, where she knew him to be at this time every day. Knocking on his door, Cindy waited for his order to come in before entering.
Stepping in front of him, she curtsied then began speaking. "Baron Shepherd, the squire I am tending to needs bed rest. I am told by his knight he either sleeps on the floor or in the stables. Neither of these will do until he is well. I am asking to have a chamber assigned to him temporarily."
"All the chambers are spoken for as the Baroness' family is coming in within the next few days. If you are adamant that he not sleep on the floor, he will have to stay with you."
"But, my lord, I will be ruined," Cindy explained.
"You are a lowly maid. Who would care about your reputation?" he countered cruelly. "Be gone."
"Yes, Baron," Cindy whispered, curtsying again before leaving. After closing the door behind her, Cindy shed a few tears then wiped her face before returning to her chamber.
Quietly she eased the door open, relieved to find Nick asleep on her bed. After all of her years of service, she could not believe the Baron could be so cruel. Especially after...but then again, that was the cruelest act of all. Sitting on the wooden chair, Cindy wondered why she had even bothered going to him. Feelings hurt, the tears began to fall, out of her control and she cried, oblivious to everything around her.
Nick woke to the sounds of a woman crying. Sitting up gingerly, he glanced across the room, finding Cindy in tears. Getting to his feet, he crossed the room and knelt in front of her. One hand under her chin, he whispered, "Hey, what's wrong?"
"Nothing. Just had a truth pointed out to me which I had forgotten. Best I not forget again, or I will try to get above myself."
"Who said what to you?"
"I was informed you do not have a chamber. I went to the Baron to acquire you one for your recuperation. I was told you would have to stay with me. When I protested that my reputation would be ruined, I was duly informed as a lowly maid, no one cares about my reputation. I had forgotten that," she explained between hiccups, wiping her eyes.
"No one is lowly," Nick began. "Everyone is important and serves a purpose. And everyone's reputation does matter."
"Nicholas, you are confused again. In this time and place, only the reputations of the royalty matter. Maids are expected to be...well, wenches."
Reaching out, Nick pulled her into his arms. "I care about your reputation," he said softly against her hair. "If I don't have a chamber, where do I sleep?"
"According to Sir Bernard, you either sleep on his floor or in the stables. That will not do for you, not while you are injured."
Tracing a circle on her back with his palm, Nick assured her he would be fine in either of those places. Releasing her, he stood. "Really, I am fine. Trust me."
"Do not go. I fear for your well being if you go out there and start talking silliness again," Cindy implored him, forgetting herself and touching his arm.
Nick glanced at her hand, then placed a hand on either side of her face. "I won't be responsible for your reputation being shredded. And I can't be with you, I have to find a way back to my time and place."
"Please, stop speaking of such foolishness," Cindy whispered, searching Nick's eyes. A flutter passed through her as she realized his bright blue eyes were fringed by thick black lashes. She licked her lips, hoping he didn't notice her doing so. His eyes were cool lakes of calm water. "It is odd, really. Your eyes are so clear, one would not know you had been recently addled."
"I'm not addled. Somehow, I've come to the past. I don't know how, I don't know why. I was in Toronto at a festival and somehow I woke up here. I don't claim to understand it, but it's true. It has to be."
"Maybe all of this foolishness you are spewing is a fanciful dream you had while unconscious."
"Why won't you believe me?" Nick shouted, pulling his arm free of her grasp. "I mean, I know it's a little unbelievable, but for God's sake, there's been movies based on the concept."
Cindy blinked at him with her hazel colored eyes. "What is a movie, Nicholas?"
"Maybe I should be thinking this is some elaborate scheme to drive me nuts," Nick continued, ignoring Cindy as if she had not spoken. "It's no secret I get on the guys' nerves. Maybe this is their plan. To drive me nuts and off of the team."
"Nicholas..." Cindy began hesitantly, guiding him back to the bed. "You are getting more confusing by the moment."
"And since I know Matt suspects I have a thing for you," he prattled on, allowing her to push him down on the bed.
"The Baron will hang you if you continue to speak of him so familiarly. Get some rest, Nicholas." When Nick's breathing slowed and he fell asleep, Cindy leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. "Sweet dreams," she whispered, pulling the blanket up over him. Grabbing the extra blanket from her chest, Cindy curled up on the cushiony chair nestled in the corner of her room, one of the few personal family things she had brought with her to Shepherd's Pass.
Several hours later, Nick was wracked with nightmares from a DEA case that had gone bad. Reliving the torture and death of the woman he'd been partnered with, Nick thrashed about wildly, falling off the bed to crash on to the floor.
Cindy jolted awake and ran to him. "Nicholas! What happened?"
"Sorry. Nightmare. Happens a lot to me, but no one's usually around to witness them," Nick answered, embarrassed. Feeling Cindy's hands under his arms, Nick got to his feet and walked over to the window. "Damn. It's night. Any chance of some food?" he asked when his stomach growled.
"I will go to the kitchen and see what is left. I have not had any dinner either," Cindy told him. Opening the door, she looked back at him. "Stay here, Nicholas."
"Can't promise that," Nick answered, still looking out the window. "And call me Nick. Please."
"Please, Nichol...Nick. Stay here, where I know you'll be safe."
"Just for tonight, I promise,"
Nick gave in, seeing her eyes pleading with his.
"If you are going to sully a woman's reputation, Nicholas, at least keep it somewhat secret," Sir Bernard hissed at him.
"Well, if it isn't Saint Bernard," Nick retorted snidely, shoving the knight back. "And not that I'm trying to hurt anyone here, she told me her reputation doesn't matter."
"There are things she does not know of," Bernard answered. "And do not ever call me that again or I shall have you drawn and quartered at dawn. A squire is to show respect to his betters."
"Show me my better, I'll show them respect," Nick shot back. In the back of his mind, Nick thought This isn't Benny Ray. I better hold back some or I'm gonna end up dead. His mouth, however, had other plans. "You know, you think you're something special because you're wearing that metal armor," Nick taunted, banging on the armor with his fist, the clanging sound reverberating throughout the chamber. "But you put your pants on the same way I do. You eat the same way I do, and you relieve yourself the same way I do. That makes us equals."
Bernard grabbed Nick around the neck and held his dirk against Nick's throat. "That does it. You are going to spend the night in the dungeon and in the morning, you will be dead." He started dragging Nick from the chamber when Cindy came around the corner and spotted the struggle.
"Sir Bernard! Let him go! He is injured," she stated, stopping in front of the knight and staring into his eyes.
"He is dead is what he is. And unworthy of your attentions."
"And I guess you did not start anything with him. What are you doing at my chamber anyway?" Cindy asked, pushing past him to set down the left over bread and cold meat.
"I came to see how things were going. He was in the doorway letting his presence be known. I was protecting your reputation."
"I have already been told by the Baron my reputation is worth nothing. Why would you bother?" she asked suspiciously, moving close enough to break Bernard's grip on Nick. She noticed Nick stood by her side, clenching and unclenching his fists.
"The Baron has promised me my choice of wives. I have chosen you," Bernard stated simply, bowing to her.
"Why?" Cindy asked, her eyes narrowed dangerously.
"I can not tell you that," Bernard replied sheepishly.
"As a lowly maid, I also have choice in who I wed. I will not wed you. I will only wed for love. And I have made no secret of the fact I feel only contempt for you."
Anger settled in Bernard's ice blue eyes. "Expect no protection from this quarter then. And the Baron will hear of your treasonous talk."
Lifting her chin defiantly, Cindy stared into Bernard's hard cold eyes until he turned and walked away. Turning to Nick with concern. "Are you all right, Nichol...Nick?"
"Fine. You didn't have to get yourself into trouble like that. I would have gotten away from him."
"I would have told him the same thing no matter the situation. Now, sit down and eat. I have brought some bread and cold meat."
"Yum," Nick mumbled half sarcastically, half gratefully. The growling of his stomach was starting to embarrass even him. He tore into the bread then glanced around. "A knife? Do we have a knife?"
"No, I guess as a squire you do not have a dirk. Check and see, I thought all men carried one."
Nick felt around in the odd clothes, finally finding a small leather pouch on his belt. When he opened it, he found the handle to a small knife. "Oh. Hmm," he mumbled, as he cut off two slices of bread and some meat.
"What...what are you doing?" Cindy stammered, never having seen anyone do anything like that.
"Making a sandwich, of course," he answered around the bite he had just taken.
"A what?" she asked, her eyes round with curiosity as she moved closer to Nick.
"You take two slices of bread and place meat, cheese and sometimes vegetables between them. That's a sandwich. You mean you've never had anything like that here?"
"No. We eat our bread in chunks and some eat the meat with their hands, others use their knives," she explained, handing him a mug of ale. Knowing he wouldn't willingly settle down, Cindy had sprinkled a sedative into the drink.
"Interesting. I wonder what else is done differently here?"
Cindy shrugged and returned to her chair in the corner. She glanced up with curiosity when Nick walked over, grabbed her hand and pulled her from it.
"You sleep in your bed, I'll sleep in the chair," he stated, taking her place on the seat and pulling up the blanket.
In the forest outside the castle, Rutger and his mercenaries gathered. "Now, remember, the daughter of the King is well hidden within those walls. In fact, from what I understand, she has never been told of her true status in life. We grab her, force her to wed me and I am instant royalty."
"Yeah or the King may string you up," one of his men commented ribaldly. "After all, you do not hold a royal decree and the banns will not have been read."
"No matter that. If he tries to set the marriage aside, I will slice her throat in front of His Majesty. A nod to my father," Rutger related with an evil smile remembering when his father had fallen out of favor with the King. The threat his father related of sneaking into the castle and slaughtering the soon to be born babe is why the King and his wife sent the baby into hiding. "Soon, she will be mine to do with as I please," he laughed maniacally, the sound echoing throughout the forest.
Nick woke with a start, an out of place sound startling him. Quietly standing, he stared out the window, seeing nothing but the forest while drinking the forgotten mug of ale. A chill went down his spine. He glanced over at Cindy who was sound asleep. Danger was in the air, he could feel it. Settling back in the chair, Nick pulled the blanket up, his hand wrapped around the hilt of the dirk. He fell into a light sleep, ready to pounce at the first sign of trouble.
The cry of the crow woke Cindy at her usual time, and seeing Nick sound asleep, she quietly bustled around the chamber, changing into her dress. Smoothing her skirt, Cindy leaned down and whispered in Nick's ear, "I will be back shortly. I have some morning chores and I shall get us breakfast."
Groggily Nick reached out and grabbed her wrist. "Don't go. Danger out there," he mumbled sleepily.
"No more than any other day. Stay here and relax."
Settling back, Nick closed his eyes again, unaware he had been drugged.
Cindy was quietly crossing the courtyard
to the kitchen when she heard several horses racing in her direction.
She screamed when the man on the lead horse bent down to grab
her and haul her onto his horse. Cindy fought against him until
the man called one of his men over who quickly bound her hands
behind her back. As the horses raced through the portcullis of
the castle toward the forest, she screamed Nick's name, certain
he would not hear her.
"Nick!" was the last thing he heard as the riders disappeared into the woods.
Running to the training yard, Nick arrived short of breath. "Someone just took Cindy!" he announced through his gasping.
Several knights sneered. "The maid? Who cares. Let them have her, there is more just like her."
Exasperated, Nick turned to Bernard. "We've got to go after her!"
"Why? I told her last night she would have no protection from me," Bernard growled, pushing Nick aside. "By the way, you are entirely too unreliable as a squire so I have found a new one."
"Fine, you arrogant pig," Nick snarled. "I'll find her myself." Nick stalked over to the weapons and grabbed a sword and several other items. Angry, he pushed the Baron aside on his way out of the training area.
"Sir Bernard," the Baron said lowly. "Did I understand you to refuse to save Cindy?"
"She refused me last night. I told her she would have no protection from this quarter. And my men stand with me on this."
"Even knowing what you know of her?" the Baron challenged.
"Makes no difference, my lord."
"You will be unprotected my lord."
"I already am apparently. If you refuse protection to a member of the royal family over some slight, why should I assume you will protect my standings?"
"That is different, my lord."
"I think not. Take your men and leave," the Baron repeated. He walked over and grabbed a sword then headed in the direction he'd seen Nick take.
In the forest, Rutger stood in front of a furious Cindy. "Now, it is like this. We will be wed, immediately."
Cindy spat at him. "Never. I know you. You are a traitor to the crown."
Grabbing her, Rutger threw Cindy to the ground and bound her ankles then dragged her by the hair to a nearby tree. He watched with satisfaction as his men secured her to the tree.
Kneeling in front of her, he yanked her bodice open at the top. When she flinched and tried to pull away from him, Rutger grinned. "That is right. Fight for all you are worth. The friar will be here shortly and we will be wed, whether you wish it or not," he promised, pulling a dirty rag from his pouch and gagging her. The friar will be well rewarded for performing the ceremony.
Cindy squirmed against the ropes holding her and tried to scream around the gag, but the knots were tied too well. Her eyes rounded with fear hearing the horse approaching. The friar she thought with fright.
Her fear changed to awe when Nick jumped off the slowing horse. Wielding his sword like the best of knights, he marched up to Rutger. "Let her go. Now."
"No. I will be the son in law of the King and I do not care who I have to take down. Like you are any threat, whelp."
Controlling his anger, Nick stood his ground and glared dangerously at the older man. He watched Rutger's subtle moves, quickly pinpointing Rutger's weak points. Biding his time, Nick taunted the man until he made the most subtle of mistakes. Nick lashed out with the sword, killing the man instantly.
Nick ran to Cindy, rapidly untying her and removing the gag. Cindy wrapped her arms around him and kissed him, deepening the kiss every minute.
The Baron arrived, finding the ex-squire and the secret daughter of the King in a passionate embrace. Smiling, he stayed back. "Well, we found the man of the Princess' dreams, it appears."
Nick stirred in her embrace, returning the kiss. From a distance he heard Benny Ray mutter, "Thank heavens he's waking up."
Cindy, who had started CPR when Nick had stopped breathing, tried to break the contact but Nick's arms were wrapped tightly around her. "Nick," she whispered against his lips.
"I love you," Nick whispered back before opening his eyes. When they opened, he blinked with surprise. He was back at the tournament and Matt was glaring daggers at him. "What happened?" he uttered.
"You were knocked out. When you stopped breathing, I started CPR," Cindy explained, pulling from his embrace. She walked away from the group, turning her back. Her fingers moved up to her lips and she shivered. Taken aback at first when he started kissing her, she found it to be deeply affecting. Glancing over at the New Yorker, she wondered, Who knew? Briefly she wondered why he had trouble finding a woman. Nick certainly knew how to kiss. Gathering herself, she walked back over to the group.
Benny Ray and Margo had gotten Nick standing, and he assured them he was fine and didn't need a doctor. They shot each other looks but let him go as he started for the car.
Matt walked over to Cindy. "What
was that all about?"
Matt looked her in the eyes. "Uh
huh. Something has sure affected you."
Walking behind her, Matt watched her. He wasn't sure what had happened, but he had the feeling he had just lost Cindy. He sighed, realizing if she changed her mind he couldn't hold it against her or whoever she chose.
Only time would tell
and is part of the Soldier of Fortune/Special Ops Force FanFic collection.
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