Note #1: I borrowed the names of the towns and cities from an ancient board game called "Excalibur."

Note #2: Special thanks to Will Varner for the character of Father Godfrey.

Chapter One

ENGLAND, AD 1109

"Sarah, I hate you." The words fell from Elise' lips with a cold calmness that frightened Sarah.

Sarah tried to appear undaunted. "Be that as it may, I am still your older sister, and our parents have given me every right to telling you what to do."

Elise rolled her big brown eyes. "You and Robin. You'd think that the two of you were king and queen of all of England the way you act."

No, Elise, that would be you, Sarah thought. She put her hands on her hips. "Elise, you are not going out tonight. Bonnie is sick. She is our sister. We have to take care of you. And besides." She cocked a dark, thick eyebrow. "Besides. the places you wish to visit are places no young lady should ever visit."

"You sound like Robin," Elise said scornfully.

"Thank-you," said Sarah, tossing her titian braid over her shoulder. "He is my twin, you know."

Elise stuck out her tongue.

"You can do that all you like, but it won't stop me from keeping you inside tonight," Sarah said, grinning wryly. Her silver-green eyes sparkled with laughter.

"Oh, I do hate you!" Elise cried dramatically. She rushed from the room in a flounce of scarlet skirts and black hair.

Sarah shook her head, chuckling softly. Silly Elise. Always trying to defy any type of authority. Sarah frowned suddenly. She worried about Elise sometimes. She was always in some kind of trouble.

"Sarah? What's wrong? Is it Elise?" Robin stepped quietly into his twin sister's room.

Sarah smiled. He always knew when she was upset. "Yes, it's Elise." She sighed. "What are we going to do with her, Robin? Our parents are certainly no help. All they do is wander the countryside gulping down their ale and singing their silly songs. They aren't responsible enough to take care of her-or us for that matter. And as much as I've tried, I can't control her!"

Robin patted her shoulder gently. Good old Robin. "Sarah, you put too much on yourself. Why don't you go sit with Bonnie and let me take care of our wayward sister?"

"Are you sure?" Sarah studied her twin. He was so strong and handsome. His eyes were a sharp, pale hazel, his hair auburn and rather thick, and his skin tanned from the sun. He was the real lord of their manor, not their irresponsible father. And unfortunately. Elise had taken after their parents.

"I'm sure, Sarah. Now run along and tend to Bonnie."

Sarah smiled. Bonnie. Now there was a sister she could live with. Plain, sweet little Bonnie had no quarrel with any living creature. "All right, Robin."

Robin nodded at her and they walked out into the stone hallway. "I'm off to tackle the ogress!" he proclaimed cheerily.

"God go with you," said Sarah.

*** "Tell me another of your stories, Sarah!" pleaded Bonnie from the pillows. The small, brown-haired girl, the youngest of the four siblings of Highgate Manor, was lying on her soft feather bed under mounds of silken sheets.

Sarah laughed. "They're not really my stories, Bonnie. They're Father Godfrey's. And he got them from the Bible."

"Oh, I do hate being sick!" Bonnie exclaimed. "I miss hearing his stories."

Sarah sighed. "I'm worried about him, Bonnie," she said quietly. "Only the clergy are supposed to read the Holy Scriptures. And Godfrey. He's a revolutionary. He's let me see the Book before, Bonnie, and he's always telling me the stories."

Bonnie frowned, a thing that she rarely did. "You are always worried, Sarah." Her voice trailed off.

Suddenly, Gwynet, the maid, peeked into Bonnie's room. "Lady Sarah, sorry to disturb you, but there's a young man at the door to see you. Says he's called Owen the shepherd."

Sarah smiled. Owen. He was her best friend in the entire world, besides Robin and Bonnie. "Tell him I'm coming, Gwynet," Sarah said. She turned to Bonnie as the maid left the room. "Tonight before bedtime, I'll tell you about the man whose hand stuck to his sword!"

"Oh, I do want to hear that one!" Bonnie exclaimed.

With a smile at her little sister, Sarah left the room and followed the manor's hall until she got to the main entrance. She opened one of the huge wooden doors and stepped out onto the stone steps. "Owen!" she cried happily.

There stood the young shepherd, Owen of Scar. He was a tall, slim young man with dark hair and thoughtful eyes. At seventeen, he was four years younger than Sarah, and he considered her his truest friend. This day, he was not smiling.

Sarah frowned. "What is it, Owen?" she asked worriedly.

Owen tossed his long, dark hair from his eyes. "Something's going on in town. I think you or Robin should come look at it, seeing as you two are the real nobility of Sarbury."

The lords of Sarbury had once resided in the huge castle at the edge of town, Tamarisk Abode. But long ago, they had left to fight battles and now. Now the great castle stood in ruins. There were rumors of ghosts and demons and curses surrounding the place that had once been so magnificent. Owen was right. Robin and Sarah really took care of the town now.

"I'm coming, Owen. Let me go tell my brother and sisters where I will be."

Robin waited patiently until Sarah returned dressed in a long pink gown and a fur-lined stole. "Follow me, Sarah," he said. Being so close to her, he didn't have to call her "my lady." She always told him to call her Sarah.

Sarah could hear Elise' voice now-"why must you always converse with the peasants, Sarah? It's not right." Then, she imagined that Father Godfrey was speaking to her. "Sarah," he would say, "compassion is to be commended and honored, not snobbery and arrogance. A true leader and governor will always have compassion."

Sarah followed Owen down the dirt road into the small town of Sarbury. She wondered what it was this time. Something always had these people in an uproar. Someone was always trying to prey on their minds, hearts, and bodies. It seemed that all Sarah ever did was protect the people of Sarbury and protect Elise and Bonnie.

A crowd had gathered around one of the cottages in the town square. Sarah shaded her eyes against the sun as she studied the house. She soon recognized it as the village blacksmith's shop. She frowned. Had there been an accident? "Owen. what is going on?" she asked before they reached the square.

"You'll see, Sarah. You'll have to see it to believe it." He looked worried.

As worried as I feel, thought Sarah.

Sarah and Owen soon reached the crowd. The crowd parted for the lady of the manor and her unofficial protector, Owen the shepherd. The part in the crowd led just inside the forge. Sarah noticed that the fires weren't burning like they usually were. The blacksmith, a burly man named James, was just standing there, staring at the wall of his forge, just like the rest of the crowd.

Sarah gave the man a quick, confused glance, then looked at the wall where everyone was staring. Her green eyes went wide.

Someone had obviously burnt the letters into the wall with something from the blacksmith's forge. But that was not the strange part. The strange part was the letters themselves. There on the wall was written "A ROSE OF SARBURY, W.W, MOUTH OF THE DEMON."

Owen was peering at the letters over Sarah's shoulder. "What on earth is it supposed to mean?"

The crowd pressed in eagerly, waiting for Sarah to explain. Sarah knew that besides her, Owen was probably the only one of them who could read.

"I-I don't know what it means," she said slowly and clearly. "It says 'a rose of Sarbury,' then lists a double-u twice (that's a letter of the alphabet) then it says." Sarah winced. The next phrase would surely put the people of Sarbury into a panic. "Then it says. 'mouth of the demon.'"

She was right.

Her words threw the people into a panic. It was amazing how quickly they were accusing their friends and family of witchcraft and heresy.

Suddenly, a sharp voice cracked through the other voices. "STOP!"

Sarah felt her shoulders sag in relief. Father Godfrey.

He came through the crowd slowly, an authoritative form in his dark robes, despite his normal-sized frame. His eyes were sharp gray-blue in his lined face. Unlike the rest of the clergy, he wore his dark hair in the same way that the rest of the people did-short and thick. This man was not one to conform to man-made laws claimed as God's laws. "Sarah! What is going on!?" he asked quickly, as usual cutting through any hesitations.

"Look, Godfrey," Sarah said, pointing to the wall of the forge.

Father Godfrey narrowed his sharp eyes on the charred words. He turned to Sarah and Owen with surprise on his weathered face. "What can this mean?"

Sarah tensed up again. "I-I was hoping you could tell me," she said quietly.

Godfrey winked at her.

Sarah couldn't help but smile. What was he up to now?

The priest turned to the crowd and raised his arms. "Fair people of Sarbury, your lady and I would like for you all to go home. These words on the wall should be no cause for panic. Remember. 'if God is for us, who can stand against us?' Think on that and be brave. Lady Sarah, Lord Robin, and I shall investigate this matter immediately."

"And me," Owen spoke up quietly.

Godfrey looked at him askance. "And the shepherd Owen."

There was a moment of silence.

Godfrey broke it with a smile and a few simple words. "Make sure to be in church this Sunday. I will be delivering a sermon on courage."

A murmur rippled through the crowd. Then. they went home.

James the blacksmith approached Father Godfrey rather shyly. "Father, if I may, do you think that this is a sign from God?"

Godfrey studied the words, carefully considering his answer. "James, I think that God speaks to us in many ways," he answered the burly blacksmith gently. "But I think that he would be more clear. In the prophet Isaiah's book, God Himself says, 'I have not spoken in secret. I did not say. "Seek Me in vain."' So, no-- I do not think that God did this. I do not think that He would wish to confuse you. though." He looked down frowning sadly, then looked back up, his eyes moist. "Though some of my brethren would have you think it so."

Sarah was surprised to see that James, despite his illiteracy, understood. "I see what you mean, Father Godfrey," he said, nodding sagely. "Just last week there was a priest comin' through here callin' himself a servant of God." He shook his head. "Tryin' to confuse us. That's what he was doin'."

Godfrey smiled at the big man's simple wisdom. " 'Understanding is a wellspring of life to him who has it,'" he quoted. Then he turned to Sarah and Owen. "Let us go to Robin," he said.

Sarah nodded quietly. Somehow, despite all her wisdom and knowledge, she felt like a mere child when Father Godfrey was around. She quickly fell in step beside him, matching her pace to his by habit. It was something she had always done, even as a child. She always matched her pace to the person beside her.

Owen did the same. He had picked up the habit from Sarah, his idle. He studied Godfrey as they walked. It was the wise priest who had given him the disguise of a shepherd. The young man owed much to the middle-aged priest.

"Someone is trying to stir up the villagers," Godfrey said suddenly.

Sarah nodded. "I thought as much. But. why do it with writing? Surely whoever it is would know that the peasants cannot read!"

"Well, whoever knew that would also know that you would be there-you or Robin or myself-"

"Or me."

"Or Owen-one of us-to read it to them." Godfrey raised an eyebrow at the young man.

"True," said Sarah, smiling at Owen's attempt to include himself. It was something he often did, and it endeared him all the more to her.

"What purpose would it serve to frighten the villagers?" Owen spoke up.

"Good question, my son," Godfrey said.

Owen beamed at his own intelligence.

"Fear is a mighty tool in the hands of him who knows how to wield it," the priest continued. "And it can serve many purposes. It can be used to gain power, respect, discipline, and wealth. A man who uses fear to gain something is a man with no fear of God."

Sarah frowned. A man with no fear of God. Was there one such as this in Sarbury? It was in itself a frightening thought.

Suddenly, Robin was there, running out to greet them. His very presence gave comfort to the often worried Sarah. She ran ahead of the others, breaking pace with them. "Robin! Robin!" she called. "We have to tell you something!"