Excerpt: Falcon's Fire
Book 1: Lords of Conquest, The Fairfax Family
August 1159, the Normandy Coast
Martine of Rouen watched the seagull soar out of the dawn sky from across the Channel. It flew over the vessels in the Fécamp harbor for some time, as if trying to pick out one from the rest. Finally, its choice made, it descended in a graceful spiral to alight next to her on the railing of the Lady’s Slipper as thirty oarsmen propelled the merchant longship smoothly out of her dock.
“‘Tis a good omen, milady,” the ship’s pilot said, and smiled. “A blessing on your marriage to Baron Godfrey’s son.” He was a massive Englishman, nearly toothless. His face formed a landscape of boils; his French was spoken with an unpleasant, guttural accent.
Martine had not believed in omens since the age of ten, particularly good ones. Why fool oneself into expecting the best, when logic foretold the worst? This journey to England, a place she had never been, to marry Edmond of Harford, a man she had never met, filled her with a dread that no omen could erase.
Sensing her brother’s comforting presence behind her, she turned to look up at him.
Rainulf met her eyes with a reassuring look, then returned the Englishman’s smile. “A good omen? And why would that be?”
The pilot pointed to their small visitor on the railing beside Martine. “That gull be an English herring gull, Father—er, milord.” He frowned, his mouth agape. Martine knew he pondered the correct form of address for someone who was not only a priest and the son of a Norman baron, but a relation of Queen Eleanor herself.
“‘Father’ is fine,” Rainulf said. “My fealty to my God supersedes even that to my cousin.” He nodded toward the bird. “So you think our little friend here has flown all the way from England just for us?”
“Aye, milord. Father. ‘Tis a lucky sign for milady.” He grinned at Martine. “That wee creature flew a great distance and come straight to you, milady, to escort you across the Channel to young Edmond of Harford. If you feed him crumbs, he’ll most likely stay with us till we dock at Bulverhythe Harbor tomorrow. And then it’s certain your marriage will be a union of love, and your sons many.”
A union of love? Martine shuddered at the thought. As a child, she had watched her mother’s union of love claim her will, her reason, and finally her life. In a choice between marriage and the convent, Martine had consented to marry, but she hadn’t consented to love. Nor would she ever, omen or no omen.
The pilot stared at her, waiting for some sort of response. Do all Englishmen share your primitive ideas? she wanted to say. If Sir Edmond does, I’ll hardly need a gull to predict how miserable my marriage will be. That’s what she wanted to say, because fear unleashed in her a reckless temper. But this Englishman, despite his coarseness and his childish superstitions, clearly meant no harm. For that reason, and because Rainulf constantly begged her to be civil, she held her tongue. She even tried to smile, but couldn’t quite manage that. Excusing herself to her brother, she descended the narrow stairway to the main deck and ducked into the cabin. The heat in the tiny compartment assaulted her even before she closed the door.
The Lady’s Slipper had but one enclosed cabin, tucked into the stern beneath the quarterdeck. It was a dim, airless little chamber, crowded with Martine’s and Rainulf’s baggage, but it was private, reserved exclusively for their use during the crossing.
Martine ducked her head to avoid the low ceiling and unpinned the gold brooch that secured her hooded black mantle, tossing both into a corner. On her head she wore a saffron-dyed linen veil, intricately draped and tucked so as to reveal only her face, from eyes to chin. When she removed the veil, her hair spilled to her hips in a flaxen sheet.
There could be no mistaking that Rainulf and Martine were related. Both were tall, silver-blond, and fine-boned, as were the Northmen from whom they were descended. They bore a striking resemblance to their father, the late Baron Jourdain of Rouen, and although they had different mothers, both women had been fair and blond.
Through the cabin’s single tiny porthole, Martine watched the rugged Normandy coastline gradually shrink into the distance. She felt something stir against her legs and flinched, but when she looked down, she saw it was just her cat, a sleek black tom with white boots.
“Don’t worry, Loki.” Abandoning the cool facade with which she distanced herself from men like that Englishman—from all men except Rainulf, in fact—she sank to the floor and gathered the cat in her arms.
“They say England is…” Cold and wet. Shivering, she buried her face in his fur. “Perhaps there are lots of mice there. I’m sure you’ll be happy.”
The oak planks that formed the cabin’s ceiling and the floor of the quarterdeck groaned as Rainulf and the pilot crossed to stand directly above her.
When the Englishman spoke, she could hear his words clearly through the porthole. “The young lady, your sister—she’s not much for friendly conversation, is she, Father?”
Rainulf answered him with a long sigh.
“You’ll pardon my asking, Father, but has the baron’s son had the honor of being introduced to milady as yet?”
A pause; then, “Not as yet.”
The pilot chuckled in a knowing way. “Aye, but I’d pay a month’s wages to be witness to that meeting.”
* * *
Why doesn’t she just ask me where it is? thought Rainulf. He sat cross-legged on the cabin floor, fanning himself with his black skullcap as he watched his half-sister rummage through his traveling bags. Reaching within his robe, he withdrew a folded sheet of parchment.
He chuckled. “Gyrth thinks your Edmond will be in for a nasty surprise when he discovers how cold and haughty you are, and that what you need is the firm hand of a real man to crack your ice.”
Martine paused in the act of unlocking a small wooden trunk. “Who’s Gyrth?”
“Our pilot. The man whom you so contemptuously ignored this morning.”
Dumping the trunk’s contents on the swaying floor, she got on her hands and knees to sort through its contents. “How did you know his name? You always seem to know everyone’s name.”
After a moment of silence, she met his gaze and smiled to acknowledge the implied criticism, gentle though it might be. Her deep blue eyes, ignited by the shaft of noon sunlight from the porthole, widened when she saw the parchment in his hand.
“Is that it?” she asked. “The Saxon’s letter?”
“The Saxon has a name.”
She groaned and rolled her eyes, holding out her hand for the letter. “Rainulf, please. You know I can’t remem—”
He held the letter away from her. “You can’t remember the name of my closest friend?”
“Your closest friend? You haven’t seen him for ten years—not since the Crusade.”
“He’s my closest friend, and he has a name. Everyone has a name, Martine, even Saxons. And since this particular Saxon has gone to all the trouble to find you a husband—the son of his overlord, no less—the least you can do is try to remember his—”
“Brother, I think you vex me just for sport. ‘Tis unbecoming in a priest.” She reached for the letter, and he edged away from her. Grinning like a cat, she suddenly lunged, throwing him to the floor. His head hit the edge of the trunk and he yelped in pain, but she paid him no heed, snatching the letter with a gleeful laugh.
Rubbing his head and looking around for his skullcap, Rainulf said, “Did the nuns not tell you ‘tis a sin to do violence to a man of the cloth?”
Martine unfolded the letter. “The nuns told me many things. I retained what seemed useful and discarded what didn’t.”
He found the cap, replaced it, and sat up. For a convent-bred eighteen-year-old, Martine was remarkably irreligious. Despite his best efforts to strengthen her faith, it remained weak, and there were times that he feared for her immortal soul. Perhaps his failure to properly guide her stemmed from his inability to guide himself, for had not his sin of pride undermined his own faith? If the truth be told, he worshiped his own intellect more zealously than he worshiped his God. What of his immortal soul?
“‘Tis hot as blazes in here,” he said, rising to his feet. “I’m going above deck. I can’t breathe.”
He took the six steps to the quarterdeck in three long-legged strides. As he paused at the railing to breathe in the warm sea air, Martine called to him from the porthole.
“Thorne Falconer!” she exclaimed triumphantly. “The Saxon’s name is Thorne Falconer!”
* * *
First came the seagull. Then came the storm.
Martine reread Thorne Falconer’s letter—the letter that described her future husband—many times, until she could barely see the ink on the parchment. When she finally looked up, she saw that it had become dark, although it was still early afternoon. The sky through the porthole was no longer blue, but a leaden gray.
From the baskets in the corner came the yapping of the puppies and the incessant squeaking of the young falcon. The black cat paced furiously, and when Martine tried to pick him up, he drew his lips back and hissed.
Martine heard sharp cries above deck, the raised voices of sailors calling to one another, and the pounding of feet. She opened the cabin door, but no sooner had she set foot on deck than her hair, still loose, flew in all directions, whipped by wind and sea spray. She twisted it in a knot and held it firmly while she went in search of Rainulf.
The main deck bustled with noise and activity. Martine picked her way carefully, maneuvering around the barrels, crates, rowboats, baggage, and tackle crammed into the gangway. The few other passengers, who sat huddled in the middle near the big drinking cask, stared at her openly as she made her way through the mayhem.
The single sail, a giant, blue-and-yellow-striped square, snapped angrily as four men struggled to lower it, yelling at the top of their lungs to be heard above the wind and sea. On either side of the ship, men pulled in their oars and shuttered oar holes against the violent waves. Some tied down cargo, while others tugged at the cords that stretched a linen awning across struts hastily erected along the main deck. Martine stepped carefully, both to avoid getting in their way and because the vessel had begun to pitch in rhythm with the churning sea.
Just as the boat listed violently, slamming her painfully into one of the struts, she saw her brother, Gyrth, and two sailors—one enormous, the other small and slender. They stood on the little raised deck at the prow with their backs to her, looking up. “The wind has changed direction,” Gyrth observed.
“What does that mean?” Rainulf asked.
Gyrth pointed to the sky, where dark clouds boiled. “A storm.”
“A bad one?” Rainulf looked down at the pilot, who, by way of an answer, grimly crossed himself. After a moment, Rainulf and the sailors did the same. Martine didn’t bother with the gesture; it was one she reserved for when she was being watched.
“A storm coming out of the blue like this, catching seasoned sailors unawares,” Gyrth said. “‘Tis a bad omen, for sure. If the lady had fed the gull as she was asked, we would still be sailing under clear skies. But he flew off, and then the clouds rolled in, and now—”
His next words died in his throat as blue light flared within the clouds, spawning two rivers of quicksilver. They snaked toward the horizon, writhing and sprouting fiery rivulets, then dissolved into a dark silence.
No one spoke. The wind suddenly ceased, and Martine gripped the railing with both hands, waiting. But the thunder, when it came, was merely a distant, gentle rumble, an ominous whisper.
Gyrth turned to Rainulf and shook his head. “We’re in for it. And all for the lack of a few crumbs of bread for a wee—”
“Stop it,” said Martine, the words quivering in her throat. Gyrth, Rainulf, and the sailors all turned toward her.
Rainulf, his eyes dark with warning, closed a hand over her shoulder. “Martine…”
She jerked away from him and turned to face the pilot squarely. If silence branded her as haughty, she may as well speak her peace. “You’ve no right to say these things.” She pointed to the two sailors, their eyes wide in the unnatural darkness. “They think it’s I who brought this thunder and lightning on their heads.”
“But milady—the omens—”
“No more of your omens!” Her voice rose of its own accord, and she had no power to stop it. “I’m sick of hearing how I bring visitations of seagulls and summon storm clouds from the heavens!” She shook with frustration. “Believe me, if I had such powers, I would use them to silence your tongue forever, so that you should never speak of omens again!”
Forked lightning illuminated the sky, and a discharge of thunder cracked open the heavens. Rain burst forth in a stinging sheet, driven by a wind so violent, Martine and Rainulf had to cling to each other simply to remain standing.
They stumbled down to the main deck and through the teeming gangway to their cabin, slamming the door behind them. The little room was dark and reeked of damp wool. Rainulf shuttered the porthole, but the wind sought out every chink in the cabin walls, and Martine found herself shivering in the very place that had so recently seemed like an oven. She grabbed Loki and hugged the frightened animal, wrapping her heavy mantle about the two of them, then curled up next to Rainulf on the floor, bracing herself against the violent pitching of the boat. An occasional flash of lightning illuminated the cabin with its cold, wavering light. Otherwise, it was as dark as night.
Rainulf never moved, except to pat his sister’s hand when she clutched at him. She tried to control her trembling and the pounding of her heart, but in truth she dreaded that the boat would split open and sink. Of all the ways to die, drowning—struggling for air, waiting for your lungs to fill with water—was surely the most horrible. Death by water was her special nightmare, the one that would not go away. She felt a cold sweat trickle down her sides, and she squeezed Loki harder, causing him to spring from her with a growl of indignation.
The sailors shouted constantly to one another, and the puppies whined pitifully, but these sounds were nearly swallowed up by the din of thunder, waves, and rain. From time to time she heard sounds that made her stomach tighten and her throat constrict—the sickening snap of wood shearing, the crash of something falling, the rumble of a loose barrel rolling and bouncing across the deck.
Finally, toward late afternoon, the rain lessened, the boat settled into a gentle roll, and a hazy half-light filled the cabin. Rainulf stretched, rose, and, bowing deeply so as not to hit his head, gazed through the porthole. Martine studied his aristocratic profile as he calmly examined the sea that had come close to swallowing them up.
At four and thirty years of age, he was uncommonly handsome, with his short flaxen hair and gentle hazel eyes, and Martine knew that women were drawn to him despite, or even because of, his vocation. She knew that he had enjoyed the company of many women before taking up the cross for God and Louis a dozen years before. Upon returning from Crusade, he took his vows, and, to her knowledge, he had been celibate ever since, although he must have been tempted. He was chaste, he was wise, and he was compassionate. Everyone thought him the perfect man of God. Only Martine knew how heavy the burden of his priesthood had become.
Still staring through the porthole, he said, “‘Twas most unwise to threaten to silence Gyrth’s tongue. I’ve seen a simpleminded old woman whipped unmercifully for cursing her neighbor’s crops.”
“So you’ve told me many times. If I take a solemn oath never to curse anyone’s crops, will you stop lecturing me?”
He turned his serious eyes on her and straightened until his head touched the low ceiling. “There are many ways to make people hate you, Martine, not all of them self-evident. There are punishments more horrible than you can imagine for ‘crimes’ you would never think of as crimes. Take Master Abelard, for example. The greatest man I’ve ever known. For the ‘crime’ of loving Héloïse, he was punished with castration. Then, years later, when he returned to teaching, there was the ‘crime’ of applying logic to the study of theology—a crime which, incidentally, I practice myself, but with discretion. For that crime, he was not only excommunicated, but sentenced to perpetual silence at Cluny. The most brilliant man in the known world not permitted to speak! Indiscretion is dangerous, Martine. You must learn to watch what you say.”
“Yet, if I keep silent, I’m seen as aloof and haughty.”
“It’s… the way you keep silent, Martine. You’re so… so…”
“Would you have me meekly hold my tongue, with downcast eyes and a blush upon my cheek? ‘Twas my mother’s way. ‘Twill never be mine.”
He began to say something, then merely shook his head and abandoned the attempt at reprimand. With a glance at her drab tunic, he said, “Sir Edmond will probably be there to greet us when we dock tomorrow. Mayhaps you would want to wear something more…” He shrugged.
Her stomach burned with apprehension at the thought of meeting her betrothed. Nerves frayed, she snapped, “Why should I care about pleasing a man I’ve never met? I didn’t choose Sir Edmond. You did, you and Thorne Falconer. And I didn’t choose to get married. You chose it for me. Make no mistake, the only reason I agreed to this marriage was because you want to be free of me.”
He crouched next to her, compelling her with his eyes to look at him. “It’s not what I want, little sister, it’s what I need. I need to regain my faith, and I can’t do it in Paris, surrounded by students who hang on my every word as if it were Holy Scripture. I need this pilgrimage. My soul needs it.”
She took a calming breath and rested a hand on his shoulder. “They say you’re the best-loved teacher Paris has seen since Abelard. They’re begging for you at Oxford. Do you think God wants you to waste your gifts by leaving your students and prostrating yourself at every shrine between Compostela and Jerusalem?”
“Yes.” The intensity of his gaze took her aback. “I think God wants me to humble myself. I think that’s exactly what He wants.”
She sighed. How pointless to try to talk him out of it at this late date. “And you’ll only be gone a year?”
He covered her hand with his. “Perhaps two.”
“And when I come back, I’ll be teaching at Oxford, not Paris, so we’ll see each other quite—”
“Rainulf, I need you! You can’t leave me for two years!”
“You’ll have a husband to care for you. You won’t be alone.” He patted her hand and said carefully, “You know, it’s not impossible that you might even grow to love—”
She clapped her hands over her ears and turned from him.
“Martine, for God’s sake.” He reached for her, but she pulled away and wrapped her arms around her up-drawn legs.
He shook his head. “You act as if love were some dreadful curse.”
With her back still turned, she said, “Isn’t it? Look what it did to my mother. It made her weak, it destroyed her. She worshiped Jourdain. Worshiped him! She thought he’d marry her when your mother died, and he let her believe it. But barons don’t marry their mistresses, do they?”
Quietly he said, “No. They don’t.”
“She didn’t know that. She trusted in love. She was a fool.” Martine turned to face her brother. “I’m not. Marriage might be inevitable, but love is a trap I’ll never fall into.”
“It doesn’t have to be a trap, Sister. Love can free the soul, it can liberate—”
She laughed harshly. “Free the soul? Jourdain owned my mother’s soul. When he married his thirteen-year-old heiress and abandoned Mama, he took her soul with him. Mama had nothing left after Jourdain was through with her. He’d used her up. She was empty.”
Her throat tightened, and she trembled. She closed her eyes and rubbed them, and an image came unbidden, as it often did, both awake and in her dreams: a luxurious gown of apple green silk, shot through with gold threads and adorned with thousands of tiny beads, floating on the breeze-riffled surface of a lake. The gown her mama had sewn for the wedding that never came, the gown in which she had finally surrendered, in despair, to a watery death. The pain this vision brought had gained strength with the passage of time, until it felt worse than desolation, worse than grief; it had become a live thing, a dark and heavy thing that rose from her belly to her throat, squeezing her from within.
When she opened her eyes, she found her brother staring at her, his expression sad and a little helpless. She took a deep, shaky breath and swept the image from her thoughts. Struggling to smile, she said, “I’ve heard tell there’s no summer in England, and it must be true, because the closer I get, the colder—” Her voice caught, and she bit her lip, willing herself not to cry.
Rainulf moved closer, put his arm around her, and patted her gently. Did he really know her? Did he have any idea how much she feared this marriage, how much courage it took to go through with it for his sake? He whispered something, and she turned toward him so she could hear.
“I know. I know, Martine. I do.”
* * *
A fanfare of trumpets from the quarterdeck announced that they were docking. Martine rose to peer out of the porthole and Rainulf followed her. The rain, which had fallen steadily since the storm, had almost let up. She could make out a multitude of other vessels jostling one another in the dreary mist enveloping Bulverhythe Harbor, the harbor for Hastings.
“Remember, Martine,” Rainulf cautioned. “If anyone at Harford Castle questions you about your family or your parents or your relation to the queen—”
“I’m to keep my counsel,” she impatiently recited. It was to hide her illegitimacy that Rainulf had sought her a husband so far from the place of her birth. Godfrey of Harford had been so excited at the prospect of uniting his second son with a relation of the queen that he hadn’t bothered to ask questions. No one at Harford knew that she was but a bastard cousin to Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was formerly queen of France, and now, having divorced Louis and married Henry Plantagenet, was queen of England. Even Sir Thorne, who had arranged the betrothal contract, knew only that Martine was the half-sister of his old friend and fellow Crusade veteran; Rainulf had never volunteered the circumstances of her birth.
“Mind that you do keep your counsel,” Rainulf said. “So far I haven’t had to lie outright, because it’s simply assumed you’re legitimate. We’ve been lucky. So far. But if Lord Godfrey were to find out the truth, there would be no question of a marriage. Your reputation would be ruined, as would mine, and quite possibly Thorne’s.”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I know what’s at stake.”
She returned her attention to the harbor. They were gliding toward an empty dock with one small figure on the pier, a boy. She heard him call out “Sir! The Lady’s Slipper! She’s here! Sir!” and watched as he ran away from them up the pier, disappearing into the fog.
Presently a larger figure emerged—a man wearing a black cloak, its hood raised against the rain—and walked toward the end of the pier.
She could feel her heart drum in her chest. All she knew about Edmond was what Sir Thorne had chosen to communicate—that he was the younger of two sons and had been knighted by his father several months before, that he would be coming into his manor upon his marriage, that he was comely, and that he hunted. Sir Thorne had gone on for some length about the hunting, but had mentioned no sports or other pastimes of Edmond’s.
“People don’t just hunt,” she said.
Rainulf stared intently at the hooded man. “Hmm?”
“He’s got to do something else. Doesn’t he?”
“I suppose so,” he replied distractedly.
The cloaked man stopped a few yards from the end of the pier and stood waiting in the somber drizzle while men scrambled down from the boat to tie her up. He was tall, nearly a head taller than the sailors bustling around him. She couldn’t make out his features because of the hood, but she could see that he was clean-shaven. The black cloak fell straight from his square shoulders, and his chausses and shoes were also black.
“Is that him?” Martine asked, feeling foolish even as she uttered the words, since Rainulf had no more idea than she what Edmond looked like.
“That’s him,” Rainulf said. Martine took a deep breath.
From behind them, someone cleared his throat. They turned to see Gyrth, scratching his boils and looking at the floor. “Begging your pardon, Father, but… I was wondering, if you’ve got the payment handy…?”
“Of course. Eighteen shillings, wasn’t it?” Rainulf withdrew his purse, and Gyrth stared at it greedily, actually running his tongue over his lips in anticipation of the coins within.
Martine pinned her mantle over her head, picked up her brass lockbox and Loki’s basket, then followed the men out of the cabin. The rain had stopped at last, but a cold, gray mist still enveloped the harbor. While Rainulf paid Gyrth, Martine stood half-hidden behind a strut to steal a glimpse of Sir Edmond.
He was looking up, at the clouds. As she watched him, a strange thing happened. His face became gradually suffused with golden light, until it shone like a beacon in the mist. Transfixed, she followed his gaze upward to find that the clouds had parted, framing the sun in a circle of dazzling blue. It was the sun’s warm rays that had transformed him so magically. There was always a logical explanation, she reminded herself. And yet the temptation to believe in good omens was strong upon her in that moment.
He pushed back his hood as he lowered his head. His hair fell to his shoulders, and looked to be the color of brandy—brown with some gold in it, as if he spent a great deal of time outdoors. To her alarm, he looked directly at her, and she saw that his eyes had stolen the radiant blue of the widening patch of sky above him.
His face had been carved of such noble planes that it might have been that of some young emperor on an ancient coin. It seemed clear from his expression of recognition and pleasure that he knew who she was. Rainulf had undoubtedly written an accurate description.
He seemed to look not just at her, but into her, his bright, penetrating eyes locking with hers and peering deep inside, to where her most secret hopes and fears lay curled up, waiting. It was as if she were transparent, her very soul lying naked for his inspection. She felt she should look away, that it was impudent to hold the gaze of a stranger in this manner. But then, this man was not a stranger in the true sense. He was her betrothed. In less than two months, he would be holding her in his arms. What harm could there be in merely looking at the man she would spend the rest of her life with? For the first time ever, she felt not fear at the prospect of marriage, but anticipation.
It is this man who will speak vows with me, this man who will bring me to his bed, this man who will sire my babes.
Now he smiled at her, a welcoming smile that lit his eyes and etched deeply creased dimples. Without willing it so, she returned the smile, then dropped her gaze and looked away. The flirtatiousness of the gesture embarrassed her, yet her actions seemed beyond her power to dictate.
When she returned her gaze to him, he was looking elsewhere, at something over her shoulder, something that made him grin in delight. She turned to find Rainulf behind her, cupping his hands to his mouth.
“Thorne! Is it always this blasted cold on this miserable island, or only in August?”
Thorne? Thorne Falconer? Dear God. She wheeled in openmouthed astonishment toward the man on the pier as Rainulf swept past her and leaped onto the gangplank. A burning heat crawled up her throat and consumed her face as she watched her brother embrace the man with eyes of sky.
It was Sir Thorne! Not her betrothed! When she had asked Rainulf if that was him, her brother had, naturally, been thinking of the friend he hadn’t seen in a decade, not of the boy Martine was to marry. And Edmond was a boy, being merely nineteen. The man now greeting Rainulf with such warmth, hugging him and slapping him on the back, was at least ten years older than that.
“Martine!” Rainulf called to her. “Come meet Sir Thorne!”
Releasing a shuddering breath, she willed calm upon herself and followed her brother onto the dock. When Rainulf introduced her to his friend, she found herself unable to look him in the eye, and wished desperately that her face were not as red as she knew it must be.
“‘Twill warm up presently,” Sir Thorne said. His voice sounded deep and resonant, his French flavored with just a trace of an accent to betray his Saxon origins. Coming from him, the accent was, although a bit harsh, not unpleasant.
He nodded to Martine. “My lady has brought the Normandy sun with her, I think.” There was that smile again.
He was right about it warming up. The chill receded and the sky brightened even as they spoke. Bulverhythe Harbor was changing from a place of darkness and cold to one of light and shadow, of blues and greens and golds, of the singing of sparrows… and the mocking laughter of gulls. Martine looked up and squinted at the sun, ashamed for having considered its appearance a good sign.
There were no such things as omens, particularly good ones.