She thought Etienne looked pale, uncertain as he stood for a moment, watching the earl. Abruptly, he edged his way past a ruddy-faced knight, then stopped again. His green eyes narrowed on the earl, still conversing with her father, both of them oblivious to the youth's appearance.
She wondered if she should call out a warning. Etienne's hand disappeared inside his cloak, but came out again a moment later, empty. She told herself not to be ridiculous. Etienne could not possibly intend any mischief in the midst of this crowd of armed knights, all of whom owed their allegiance to either her father or the earl. Surely simple curiosity had brought him here, for he had not been present at the battle that left his father crippled. Etienne had been sent away with his stepmother before the earl's siege of their castle began.
Etienne stood quietly now, gazing at the earl through thoughtful, narrowed eyes. If resentment burned in their normally teasing depths, surely that was understandable? His soft dark curls, tousled by the wind, formed a wild halo about his handsome countenance. He was but a year older than Heléne. They had played together as children. She still counted him a friend, but she sensed with some disquiet that it was not mere curiosity she read in his face. He kept reaching beneath his cloak in an odd way. But if she cried out and it was nothing—
Then he moved. His expression changed in an instant from quiet resentment to desperate resolve. His hand flashed out and this time, Heléne saw a glint of steel.
She screamed, but it was too late. The earl turned as Etienne closed the distance between them and flashed his dagger in a deadly arc towards the earl's chest.