Being a physician in the 1450’s is difficult. Being a female physician is nearly unheard of in a society that does not value educated, witty women. Fortunately for Avice de Bertilak, her equally unconventional husband, Robert, thinks she’s perfect. All is well until her world is turned upside down when an injured Sir Gawain rides into her life.
Gawain is tormented by the memory of a meeting with a magical green knight. Ava becomes determined to rescue him, physically and mentally. As she searches for a way to help him, she’s alarmed by her increasing attraction to Gawain and confused when her husband asks her to seduce the great knight. What is Robert’s end game?
Combining myth and fact, the novel fills the gaps left by the anonymous author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and explores the world of women in the late Middle Ages. They weren’t the simpering, passive dolls presented in myth.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Three knocks. An omen. Today was fraught with threes. First, this morning there were three ravens watching her from the ancient rowan tree just outside the castle gate. Later, she found that Gwenhyfar, her white hen, laid three eggs, and there were only three patients who needed her help all day. Now this.
Ava set down the pestle and wiped her hands on a nearby towel. She opened the door to see a boy just past childhood bouncing on his toes, worry and excitement written across his thin face. “Yes, Martin?”
Martin waved in the direction of the gatehouse. He was in such a state it took several moments before he blurted out, “Thomas sent me.”
There were quite a few servants named Thomas in her employ. “Thomas the guard or Thomas the huntsman?” Those were the most probable choices. Ava loved Martin, but he was high-strung. She wondered if this was a real emergency or if it was just Christmas Eve drama.
“Thomas the guard.” He dropped his arms in apparent exasperation at her inability to understand the simplest of things, then pointed again. “There’s a man. A knight. I think. He’s on a destrier, so he has to be a knight or a horse thief, and—and, I think he’s hurt.”
Ava brushed past Martin and into the courtyard. “Show me.”
She shivered as the bitter afternoon wind flung itself over the high stone wall and slammed into her. Maybe she should have brought supplies—bandages, something—but without knowing what was wrong, it was hard to decide, and if he was very badly hurt, no one would be able to help him, except God.
The two raced as fast as possible across the cobbles slick with snow melt that was quickly refreezing in the waning, weak sunlight. Not far away stood a giant beast of a horse, dapple grey and covered in mud, as was the man who sat slumped on its back. Curious onlookers gaped, but did not approach.
Ava slowed slightly. Most likely, the man was a traveler, injured by a fall or attacked by the marauders that roamed the forest, but it wouldn’t do to be careless. Robert would be furious if she jeopardized the castle’s safety.
The boy matched his pace to hers.
“Tell me what you know.” She kept her voice low.
Martin shook his head. “I know nothing, Lady Ava. I was mucking out Bercelet’s stall when Thomas hollered for me. I ran out and saw the man, then fetched you.”
“How do you know he is hurt?”
But Ava did not wait to hear Martin’s answer. She could now see blood dripping off of the man’s leather boot and onto the dirty snow. The man began to sway in the saddle. “Thomas, get him down.”
She watched Thomas, his back bent with age, try to catch the knight, who was half again the guard’s size. They tumbled to the cobbles with an audible thud followed by a series of clinking sounds. The man wore mail under his cloak.
Ava hastily knelt beside the injured man, bruising her knees in the process. When she flung aside the bedraggled red velvet cloak, the figure did not react. He was nearly white as the snow, and his eyes were closed. Where was he hurt? A worn yellow tabard covered the mail and was splattered and splotched with various stains, but none looked fresh. She’d work backwards, then.
She leaned across his body—his rather substantial body—and searched for blood. Ah-ha. A streak on his shoe led to a fresh trail that ended at his ankle, but clearly came from under his chausses. She ran her hand up the outside of his leg, feeling for any tell-tale stickiness. Nothing. Hopefully that meant the wound was not serious.
Still leaning over him, Ava lifted the tabard and gently peeled back the hauberk. There. On the gambeson was a dark stain. “He’s injured.”
“Aye, I am. Feel free to search more, though.” The knight’s eyes, ringed with dark circles, were alight with merriment or mischief. Ava could not tell which.
Ever her defender, Martin put his hands on his hips, “Don’t speak to La—”
Ava cut him off. The knight didn’t need to know her title. “Go get the lads. I cannot lift him myself, and we need to get him to the workroom.” The boy frowned, but then dashed off in the direction of the stables.
The man struggled to sit up. “I can walk.”
She pushed him back down, none too gently. “Do not try. You are weak, and if you fall again, you may hurt yourself more.”
The man snorted and shoved her hand aside, determined to get to his feet.
What is it with men and their stupid pride? Ava stood, arms crossed, and watched the knight labor to stand. If he was going to be stubborn, she would not offer to help. Thomas did not interfere, either. He simply held the horse’s reins, although the creature had not moved and did not appear inclined to. It looked as tired as its rider.
Her vantage point gave her the opportunity to study the knight. The velvet cloak, previously a deep shade of scarlet, was faded with wear and sunlight, the hem tattered and stained. The remains of an intricate gold pattern decorated the edges and what she could see of the center. His grimy saffron-colored tabard was threadbare in places, but was once worked in fine embroidery.
This was a man of means, a genuine knight, not some country squire posing as one. The dented armor tied to the saddle reinforced the idea. The armor, too, was well-made and inlaid with gold. Despite his pallor and fatigue, he was handsome, if filthy. His hair, an indeterminate color, hung lankly around his face, dark with sweat and possibly blood. She should check for a head wound.