Margaret moore warrior.., p.4

Margaret Moore - [Warrior 13], page 4

 

Margaret Moore - [Warrior 13]
 


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  “Oh, yes.” Those two young men who resembled him must, she reasoned, be those brothers.

  Anne thought of all that Damon had said when he confronted Sir Reece. “Sir Urien was not nobly born himself, was he?”

  Lisette shook her head vigorously as she reached for a ribbon to hold the braids in place over Anne’s ears. “He is a bastard, they say—but so was William the Conquerer.”

  “I noticed that Sir Reece was with some other young men last night, in addition to his brothers. Were they trained by his father, too?”

  Lisette giggled and blushed. “Oui. Those are the Morgans, from Wales. Their father is a great friend of Sir Urien, and so yes, they trained with him. They are very amusing and very charming, the oldest one in particular. Blaidd is his name. He told me it means wolf in Welsh, but he may only have been teasing me. Those eyes he has, so merry and yet—”

  A loud knock sounded on the door, making both the women jump.

  Maybe Piers was hurt and this was a summons to the tournament field!

  Anne rushed to the door and threw it open to find a male servant with iron-gray hair and wearing a rust-colored woolen tunic standing on the threshold. “Yes?” she demanded breathlessly.

  “My lady, you are to come with me, if you please.”

  “Why?”

  He blinked. “I have no idea, my lady. The king tells me to bring you to the hall, so I bring you to the hall.”

  “It’s not my brother?”

  The man was too well trained to show much of his confusion. “No, my lady.”

  Lisette tugged at the back of her gown. “The king! The hall! Oh, la, my lady, we must finish your toilette!”

  The man frowned a little as Anne let herself be pulled back to the dressing table.

  “King Henry said at once,” he noted.

  “Mon Dieu, she cannot go with her hair in the nest of a rat!” Lisette exclaimed, grabbing the silken scarf that matched the green of Anne’s gown.

  Anne rose. “I should not keep the king waiting. Never mind the scarf, Lisette.”

  Lisette stared at Anne as if she had decided to approach the king wearing filthy, soiled rags, then began to urge her mistress to adjust her sleeves, wear the scarf and pinch her cheeks to give them color for she was too pale by far.

  Her stomach a knot of dread, Anne ignored her maid’s exclamations. She had no desire to emphasize her cursed beauty and she truly believed it would be folly to keep the king waiting.

  As for what Henry wanted, that wasn’t so hard to guess: he must have heard about what had happened with Sir Reece.

  If only her brutal half brothers had let Sir Reece go with a warning! If only she had fled the moment Sir Reece spoke to her. If only he had stayed behind in the hall.

  She told herself it would have been worse if the servant had brought the message she had feared—that Piers was hurt. Nevertheless, she couldn’t calm the nervous flutter in her stomach, or quell her dread as the servant led her down the stairs and out into the courtyard.

  It looked like rain, she vaguely noted, the scent fresh upon the wind and blessedly welcome after the stuffier confines of her chamber. A breeze tugged at her gown as if urging her to stay where she was.

  A nice notion, and she would have preferred that course of action, but as the king summoned, so she must obey.

  Soon enough they were at the entrance to the hall. The servant shoved open the ornately carved oaken doors and gestured for her to go in.

  She hesitated on the threshold as the sound of hushed voices, some curious, some censorious, many wondering, washed over her like waves of water. The torches had been kindled, although it was still day, to light the hall that otherwise would be as dim as a cathedral. They enabled her to see the assembled crowd, which parted like the Red Sea before Moses when they realized she was there. The whole court was assembled and waiting, save for the squires who must still be on the field.

  Every feeling in her heart urged her to flee, save one—pride. Pride demanded that she accept her half brothers’ taunts and punishments with silent endurance. Pride told her she must never do anything to shame Piers, or herself. Pride ordered her to act as if nothing at all were amiss and she was summoned into the king’s presence every day.

  Mustering all the dignity she could, yet with her face burning because of the lie Damon had told and expected her to repeat, she began to walk forward. A smile of relief and joy leapt to her lips when she saw Sir Reece, until she saw the terrible bruise on his cheek and his bloodred eye and felt his searching scrutiny. Had he heard Damon’s version of events? Did he believe she was a willing participant in the lies Damon had told? She wished she could take him aside and explain!

  She tore her gaze away and spotted Damon and Benedict standing on the queen’s left. Sir Reece and his friends were on the king’s right.

  The hall was not that large, considering it was in the king’s castle, and yet the journey from the door to the king enthroned on the dais at the opposite end, his queen beside him, seemed miles long.

  At last she reached the dais. She made her obeisance to the king and waited for him to speak.

  Henry tilted his head to regard her. He appeared thoughtful and cunning, although the latter might be merely the effect of his drooping eyelid. As always, he was sumptuously attired, wearing a knee-length tunic of ivory samite, the sleeves slit to reveal a fine linen shirt. His breeches were faun colored, and his boots were gilded in a swirling pattern, as was his belt. His queen was likewise richly dressed, in a gown of beautiful sky blue damask.

  “My lady,” the king began, sounding very majestic despite his youth, “a most disturbing situation has been brought to my attention.”

  Shifting a little forward on the carved and cushioned wooden throne, he gestured at Sir Reece, who took a step toward her. “A very serious charge has been leveled against this young man, and we would have the truth of it.”

  “Sire, I have told you the truth,” Damon declared, likewise stepping closer. However, he didn’t look at the king, whom he supposedly addressed. He spoke to Eleanor, their very distant relative. “This man attacked her.”

  Scandalized whispers filled the hall and an angry murmur rose up from Sir Reece’s companions. The man himself stayed silent, his expression as enigmatic as she hoped hers was.

  “So you have said, Sir Damon,” Henry replied, sliding him an unexpectedly suspicious glance, as if he was not automatically disposed to believe him.

  If Henry suspected that Damon was lying about what had happened, would she not be wiser to stick to the truth, as every honorable instinct in her urged? Should she not cast her lot with Henry and Sir Reece rather than Eleanor and her half brothers?

  But what of Damon’s threat? He had complete control over Piers’s life, too, so he could easily ensure that she never saw her beloved brother again.

  “Sir Reece has denied the accusation,” the king continued. “So we have a stalemate. Therefore, it is time to hear Lady Anne’s version of events.”

  “My liege, she is too upset to speak about what happened,” Damon smoothly lied to his king. “She is but a frail woman, after all.”

  The frail woman felt the power of righteous indignation strengthen her resolve. He might lie to his sovereign lord, but she would not.

  Yet because of Damon’s power over her and Piers, she must tread carefully. She dare not call him a liar in so public a place or indeed, at all. She must excuse him by saying that he was hotheaded and overly upset by an incident that would best be forgotten.

  The words would be hard to say, but to stay near Piers, she would get them out somehow.

  Yet the thought of doing so before the court, and especially in front of Sir Reece, increased her rancor to an unbearable degree. She must try to get a more private audience with the king.

  An idea came to her and she acted upon it immediately. Damon had said she was weak. Right now, she would take advantage of that.

  Anne slowly and gracefully pretended to swoon.
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  Fortunately, someone caught her by the shoulders and gently lowered her to the ground, sparing her the indignity of actually falling. She opened her eyes a crack to see Sir Reece’s handsome, bruised face looming above her, his firm lips and strong chin close enough to touch and an expression of concern wrinkling his brow.

  Her breathing quickened, and she gave in to temptation. She allowed herself to be held safely in his powerful arms.

  But that did not seem enough. She wanted to reach up and caress his cheek, to feel that roughness beneath her open palm. She wanted to explain that she had no idea Damon was going to make such a serious charge against him and that she had no part in it. She wanted to slip her hand behind his head and pull him down for a kiss.

  Somebody else was rubbing her hand vigorously. The king called for a servant to fetch water, and a voice with a Welsh accent ordered people to “stop your crowding and make room.”

  After an appropriate length of time and when the worst of the ensuing cacophony had ceased, she fluttered her eyelids as if returning to consciousness.

  “Take deep breaths, my lady,” Sir Reece brusquely ordered. “No need to rub so hard, Gervais.”

  She glanced down to see one of the young men who must be Sir Reece’s brother clutching her hand. He stopped rubbing and let it fall.

  “What happened?” she murmured, looking back up at Sir Reece.

  “You swooned.”

  Now he didn’t look or sound concerned for her health. If anything, his unusual eyes studied her as if he were a judge and she had been caught with stolen goods in her hands.

  “I am…better…now,” she whispered, telling herself that was not quite a lie. She did feel better—much better—when he held her in his arms. “It is the crowd, the questions.”

  She realized the king was hovering on the other side of Reece’s brother. Damon stood behind the king, his face settling into a familiar scowl.

  “Forgive me, sire,” she whispered.

  “I should have considered that it might be difficult for you and asked my questions without such an audience,” Henry said with an encouraging smile. “If you are up to it, my dear, we could retire to my solar to finish this conversation.”

  “I believe I can manage that, sire,” she murmured, pleased that her plan had worked.

  “Sir Gervais, Sir Blaidd, help her,” the king commanded.

  “Gladly, sire,” two deep voices said in unison. One pair of strong hands with dark hairs on the back of the fingers took hold of her right arm; another pair of hands took hold of her left, and suddenly she was hoisted to her feet. Meanwhile, Sir Reece rose and straightened his plain dark tunic, wincing slightly.

  She had momentarily forgotten the wound in his side. How it must have hurt him to catch her, and yet his face had betrayed nothing of that pain, until this small sign.

  Damon and Benedict would have been whining and complaining for weeks, demanding to be waited on hand and foot, if such an injury had been done to them.

  “You two stay here with the others,” the king ordered. “I will escort Lady Anne, and you may lend your arm to your queen, Sir Reece. We need no one else.”

  Anne dearly wished she could see the look on her half brother’s face as the king himself led her from the hall.

  Well, she could imagine it, at any rate, and she had to fight hard to subdue a smug smirk that would have done credit to Damon himself.

  With Eleanor and Sir Reece following, Henry led her to a thick door behind a tapestry that opened into a smaller chamber much more comfortable than the hall. The room even sported a hearth in the wall, a very modern innovation, where a cheery fire crackled and blazed. Chairs covered with bright silk cushions stood near it, and on a finely carved table rested a silver carafe and goblets. Two servants waited there, standing as straight as sentries. Ornate tapestries of unicorns and other fantastical beasts hung on the walls.

  With a sigh, the king sat near the hearth. Eleanor did likewise, in the thronelike chair beside the one her husband had taken.

  “Sit down, my dear,” Henry said to Anne, gesturing at a chair opposite, “before you swoon again. Thomson, some wine for the lady.”

  Anne perched on the edge of the chair and accepted the wine, noting that Sir Reece remained standing, his feet planted and his hands behind his back, as if he were on sentry duty, too.

  After a delicate sip, she handed the goblet back to the servant and made a tentative smile at the king. “I feel much better, sire. Thank you.”

  Henry nodded, then folded his arms across his chest. “Now then, Lady Anne, what happened the night Sir Reece was beaten?”

  The queen laid her hand gently on her husband’s arm.

  “Or punished,” Henry amended after a swift glance at Eleanor, “as we shall determine before there is any more acrimony in my court.”

  Anne licked her lips before replying. “Sire, exactly what charge has Damon made against Sir Reece?”

  The king’s eyes widened a bit. Her question obviously startled him. Or perhaps the king was not used to questions at all. “Sir Damon has accused Sir Reece of trying to rape you.”

  She bit back a curse that would have done Damon proud, even as she wanted to scream with frustration. How could he have said such a thing? This charge would not only taint the innocent Sir Reece, but her, too. Even if the details were lost to the memory of those in the hall, her name would forever be linked with a rape, as would Sir Reece’s.

  Therefore, she must and would clear Sir Reece of that terrible crime—but delicately, for her own sake, so that she would not be separated from Piers.

  She glanced at Sir Reece. His stoic face revealed nothing, yet he must be feeling something, and probably anger most of all.

  “Sire,” she said, deciding to address herself solely to the king because she was treading on treacherous ground here. If she paid too much attention to Sir Reece, the king and queen might think their meeting had not been innocent. They might well conclude that there had indeed been no rape, but for the wrong reason, and her honor would suffer a different slander. “My half brothers leapt to the wrong conclusions when they saw Sir Reece talking to me in the castle corridor. He was not attacking me. We were merely exchanging pleasantries. He did not even touch me. Unfortunately, in their righteous zeal, they didn’t give either of us a chance to explain.”

  “Sir Reece did not try to force his attentions upon you in any way?”

  “No, sire. He followed me from your hall and spoke to me when I was alone in the corridor, which was inappropriate, but there was nothing forceful about it.”

  Once more the queen laid a delicate hand upon her husband’s arm. “But they did have some cause to be angry?” he asked.

  “Yes,” she admitted.

  Henry leaned close to Eleanor and whispered. She frowned, then whispered back. They glanced at Sir Reece, then her.

  Anne marshaled her patience and tried to be calm. She had told the truth, and spoken as carefully as she could. There was nothing more to be done except wait to hear what the king decided.

  That did not stop her from wondering what Sir Reece was thinking. Did he appreciate her defense? Did he have any notion of the risk she was taking telling the truth, for when Damon learned she had not agreed with his tale completely, he would surely be enraged. Being locked away in her chamber for a day or two would be the least punishment she could expect.

  When her patience was beginning to wear as thin as one of her silk scarves, the royal couple finally stopped whispering and looked at them.

  “We are inclined to believe you, Lady Anne,” Henry announced.

  Anne let out a sigh, and she realized Sir Reece had done the same. She glanced at him then, but he was still staring stoically ahead, apparently as intently ignoring her as she had been ignoring him.

  “However,” the king continued, “it is clear that there was some just cause for anger on the part of the Delasaines.”

  Sir Reece stiffened, but he did not speak. That silence se
emed worse than if he had started shouting. It was like being in the presence of a great force of water held back by a decrepit wooden dam.

  “We believe you to be an honorable knight, Sir Reece, and as such, you are duty-bound to behave in an exemplary manner,” King Henry said. “This was not an example of the chivalrous behavior we expect from one of the knights of our court and especially a son of Sir Urien Fitzroy. It was improper of you to approach Lady Anne when she was alone.

  “On the other hand, it seems that the lady’s relatives reacted with far more violence than the original situation warranted.”

  The king rose to his feet, looking less like a young man and more like the sovereign of England. “Mistakes have been made. Enmity between two noble houses has been created. A charge has been leveled that will stain the reputation of both of you. However, I perceive a means to bring about a reconciliation and prevent further animosity.

  “Lady Anne, Sir Reece, you must marry.”

  Chapter Four

  “Sire, I must protest. I do not know this woman beyond a single meeting,” Reece said, fighting to keep his anger and dismay from showing on his face.

  He had been full of concern over Lady Anne’s fate, especially when Gervais reported that she had kept to her room all the day after their encounter, and was relieved to see her enter the hall.

  Indeed, more than relieved. As she had approached the king’s throne, so proud and confident, he had again felt that thrilling jolt of fascination the very first sight of her had engendered. And her eyes—how her spirit had flashed forth from those sparkling green orbs.

  Yet whatever emotions had passed between them in the corridor before her half brothers had arrived, there could not, and must not, be anything more between them.

  “Marriages between families is a time-honored way of settling dissension. Many a noble bride has never met her husband until the wedding day,” Henry replied, glancing at his wife. “That need not be a hardship.”

  “Sire,” Sir Reece began again, so determined to have the future he had planned he dared to talk back to the king, “Lady Anne has made it clear that I did not dishonor her. However, people might suppose we are being made to wed because I did attack her. We shall both be as tainted as if I had.”

 
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