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.She didn’t want to bring anything back upstairs with her.After a moment, the bailiff and his torch came into view again.“You may proceed.”She stepped down carefully, as the last few steps were wet and slippery.The bailiff placed her torch in a sconce on the wall.He took the other and started back up the steps without a word.Gunther sat slumped against the stone wall, his red-blond head bowed.His feet were anchored to the wall with thick metal chains around his ankles.His wrists were chained as well.He lifted his head and his eyes met hers.Her throat closed.She swallowed hard to force out her words.“Gunther? Are you all right?” Tears of pity stung her eyes, but she was determined not to let him see his own pitiable state reflected in her gaze.He slowly raised himself to stand, his chains rattling—a sickening sound.“Rose.I’m sorry you have to see me like this.” Dried blood plastered his hair to his head above one eye.What had they done to him?She tried to sound cheerful.“But these are temporary surroundings.”“Very temporary, since I am to be hanged in three days.” His voice sounded flat and unemotional.“Gunther, tell me what happened.” In her urgency Rose laid her hand on his shoulder.Gunther looked her in the eye, pain clearly etched in the lines of his face.“I’m so sorry.”When he didn’t go on, she asked, “What do you mean?”“I suppose I did kill him.But I didn’t intend to.”“How? What happened?”“David and I found him the night after I talked to you.He was sitting on the riverbank, drinking.He didn’t even put up much of a fight, he was so drunk.I beat him senseless and left him lying there, on the bank.” Gunther shook his head.The chain on his wrist clanked as he put his hand over his face.“I think he must have rolled into the river and drowned.”Rose closed her eyes.“So is that what you told the bailiff?”“Yes.”“And the duke still sentenced you to die?” Rose spoke the last word in a whisper and immediately wished she had not uttered it.“Yes.”“But surely he understood you were simply defending Hildy.It was an accident.He was drunk.He fell in the river and drowned.”Gunther shook his head.“You were right.I should have gone to the bailiff with our complaint against Arnold Hintzen.The duke was furious that I took the law into my own hands.” His voice trailed off absently, as if he’d forgotten anyone was listening.He held out his hands, palms up, pulling taut the noisy chains.He stared at his hands, his expression full of misery and anguish.And I should have tried to stop you.The guilty thought stabbed Rose like a knife.“I am responsible for his death, Rose,” Gunther said, as though reading her thoughts.“Only I am to blame.” He shifted his feet, clanging his leg irons.“I had a dream last night.I had been praying, asking God to forgive me.In my dream, an angel came to me here, in the dungeon, and said, ‘God has heard your prayers and has forgiven you.’” He slowly shook his head as he looked her in the eye.“So don’t cry for me, Rose.God has forgiven me.”A tear slipped off her chin and disappeared in the darkness.No, I mustn’t cry.I have to think.She pressed her hand against her trembling lips.“Oh, Gunther, I promise I’ll try to get you out.We have three days.There must be a way.”“Don’t worry.My soul is at peace.”She grabbed Gunther’s limp hand.“I haven’t given up hope of saving your life, and you mustn’t either.”He looked her in the eye.“Tell Hildy I’m sorry, and that I love her.I had hoped to make her my wife…someday.Farewell, Rose.You’re a good friend.Promise me that you will always be Hildy’s.”“I promise.” Rose stifled a sob and squeezed his hand.She tried to say, “Farewell,” but her voice had left her, and she was only able to mouth the words.Lifting the torch from its stand, she shuffled toward the stairs.As she climbed the steps, she tried to think of her options.What could she do to help Gunther? She couldn’t let herself feel hopeless.There had to be something she could do.She reached the top of the steps and knocked on the door.Her only thought was to find Lord Rupert.After all, he was the duke’s own son.Perhaps he could help her win favor with the duke and plead Gunther’s case.Bailiff Eckehart’s keys clinked against the lock and he opened the door to her.She handed him the torch and moved past him down the castle corridor.The rain had not let up since the night before in the little northern hamlet.The streets—if such they could be called—had turned into a muddy soup.Wilhelm’s boots slipped and sank into the sucking mire.Raindrops trickled down his neck, chilling him all over.But if Moncore was here, or if there was information of him to be had, Wilhelm would have it.He, Georg, and Christoff had found another, cleaner inn on the other side of town and returned there to devise a plan.“I’ll disguise myself,” Wilhelm said, “and go to Dietmar, asking for Moncore.”“No, my lord,” Georg spoke up.“It’s too dangerous.You might be recognized.”“Better that one of us should do it,” Christoff said [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]