Authors: Robyn Carr
By Right of Arms
This book is dedicated to my California support group, my soul sisters, Kate Bandy, Beth Bowker, Linda Bradford, Elsie Feliz, Lou Foley, and Donna Mitchell. Thank you for finding me, changing me, and staying with me.
The call from King Edward III for a private meeting held the element of intrigue for Sir Hyatt Laidley. News that there would be such an event was whispered to him at a banquet several days before by the king’s son, Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince. Hyatt had awaited the order since, bristling nervously, excitedly, at every sound that might be an approaching page with a message from the king.
Hyatt had just celebrated the anniversary of his birth, which marked thirty years. In his short life he had accrued a great reputation as a warrior, not the least of which was a valuable service to the young prince in the battle of Crécy nine years before. Since that time the Black Prince had been his devoted ally and undoubtedly had sung Hyatt’s praises to the king.
Hyatt listened abstractedly to the sound of his chain mail jingling as he passed through the arching galleries of the palace on his way to the king’s bedchamber. Behind him he could hear the loud thudding footsteps of Sir Girvin, the giant who accompanied Hyatt everywhere. Hyatt stopped before the king’s door and nodded to the guard, stiffening his spine and holding his head proudly. He was instantly admitted.
Hyatt found the king, the Prince of Wales, the king’s third son, John of Gaunt, and a few men he did not know seated about the room. He fell to one knee before his king. “My liege,” he saluted.
“Rise, sir knight,” the bold King Edward ordered. “You will find that this is an informal conference and you may abandon all airs.”
Hyatt stood quickly and Prince Edward came forward, extending a hand in friendship. “Be at ease, Hyatt. I have told the king about your astute wisdom and enviable battle skills. These are ministers,” he began, waving an arm toward three seated men, “and,” he continued, “my brother John. And this is a baron of Flanders, Lord Lavergne. Now a cup, my friend, and a chair. We’ll be brief and secret.”
They were determined to be quick, as if the time set aside for this meeting had been minimal. The king launched immediately into his discussion. “My son tells me that you are a good knight, strong and rich … in fact, he is pompous, for he calls you the best there ever was.” King Edward chuckled. “This was said, no doubt, to save embarrassment, since you saved his life in Crécy and he maintains it would take a warrior more fierce than he to save his life. True?”
“I don’t know that I saved him, Sire. We fought together that day. Perhaps he saved me.”
The king lifted a brow. “He did not say you were humble, but he did admit you were wise. Will you go with him to Bordeaux to form another attack against France?”
“I answer every royal call, my liege.”
“Good enough. What is this business that you are rich, but without family or lands?”
“An argument with my father had me cast from his house, Sire, though I was wrongly accused and there was no proof brought against me. I have not carried his arms or banner in many years, but I made my fortune in Calais on your behalf. Nay, there are no lands, and little time for them since I have been occupied fighting.”
“But you are rich enough to support property, should the crown bequeath it?”
“Good, then. This man, Lord Lavergne, is of the Flemish allegiance that grants us homage. He comes to bargain with me for a piece of land on the border of Aquitaine, strangely unconquered. His daughter, it seems, resides there.”
“She is wed to the Sire de Pourvre,” the old man broke in. The king glanced around at the noble, a soured expression on his face as if he disliked being interrupted.
“Edward,” the king said to his son. “Explain to Sir Hyatt what you wish of him.”
The prince walked from behind his father to seat himself on a stool near Hyatt. “The castle De la Noye of which Lord Lavergne speaks is a large and stout keep. The land is fertile and rich and there are many residents, but it has been mismanaged for many years. Our armies have not conquered so far east, but now I lead a new assault on France, and after the first battles from Bordeaux, I would have you secure De la Noye for England. Will you do it?”
“Yea, my lord.”
“Do you have the means to enlarge your own forces? More men will be required.”
“Yea, this can be done. There are those who desire to carry my colors.”
Young Edward smiled. “I don’t doubt it; you have both a good reputation and the ear of the prince. It is only the money I have worried about, for buying the weapons and horses, and paying knights and archers is costly. You made enough at Calais, eh, Hyatt?”
“Calais has seeded the wealth of many.”
“Among them your enemy, Sir Hollis Marsden. That is why I have asked for a secret conference. Hollis must be carried to France along with many others, for I have need of the best soldiers. If he fights well, which I assume he will, he as well as you will secure a piece of land. You must not tell anyone where you are bound, nor your intention, nor our agreement, until you are nearly there. I have given my knights leave to take what they will when the plunder begins, but it is
I want in De la Noye.”
“Sire,” Lord Lavergne whispered with urgency. “My daughter.”
Prince Edward looked over his shoulder with annoyance. “The old man despises his son-in-law, but pleads for the woman’s life. You need not make any promises.”
Hyatt chuckled. “Indeed, I cannot. ’Tis not a fair I journey toward. Rest easy, old man. If the castle is to belong to me, only necessary death shall occur. Will the lord who holds the land surrender to my arms?”
Lavergne snorted. “He cannot fight, that is sure. He is an odd, weak little beggar who has kept from war by means of money—all the money I sent for a dowry with my daughter twelve years ago. I have come all the way from Flanders to ask that a knight of some repute be sent to De la Noye, for it is apparent the castle must fall to the English soon. And in that conquest, my daughter must be spared.”
“Why do you not give your daughter haven yourself?” Hyatt asked.
Lavergne looked down as if in embarrassment. “She will not leave the Sire de Pourvre. She refuses to betray him. She wrote to me that strong or weak, good or bad, stalwart or cowardly, the Sire is her husband by oath before God and she cannot return to her father while he lives. And … she cannot leave De la Noye, for all who reside there depend on her.”
Hyatt listened with interest. “Do you claim her to be a worthy dame?”
“Yea, if foolish. She does not owe this loyalty to Giles de Pourvre; he has done nothing to keep her safe or well.”
“If possible, I will let the beldame go,” Hyatt said.
“Beldame?” Lavergne laughed. “She is but one and twenty. I sent her to De la Noye when she was nine years old.”
Hyatt frowned, finding it impossible to believe that one so young had principles so strong. He shrugged off his curiosity, for the larger intrigue was the battle and the gift of lands, something he had waited and hoped for for many years. “When do we depart for France?”
“Can you gather plentiful forces in one month?” Prince Edward asked.
“Yea, and then?”
“When we have subdued the borderlands you have my leave to advance to De la Noye. If you accomplish this to my liking, you will be handsomely rewarded. And if you can keep Sir Hollis or any other scourge from taking it away from you.”
“Sire, do any other of my enemies threaten? Does any member of my father’s household take up arms?”
“Ah, do you mean Sir Ryland Laidley?” Edward chuckled. “I think that clever knight has avoided fighting long enough to assure us all that he will never raise a sword on my behalf or England’s. But it is well known that he supports Sir Hollis against you. Beware of that strange brotherhood.”
Hyatt rose and saluted the king. He shook hands with the prince again. “I am in your debt,” he said quietly to the young prince.
“Nay, Hyatt. I am in yours. That is why I have offered you this chance for wealth and a homestead.”
“But my daughter,” Lord Lavergne said, rising to his feet.
“Direct me to yon castle, my lord, and if your daughter is as wise as you claim, she will escape death by the route of her good sense. I despise useless killing. No serf of mine could raise a hoe or scythe from the grave.”
The king smiled shrewdly upon Hyatt’s statement. He stood in the knight’s presence, pleased by his son’s choice.
“Remember, Sir Hyatt, to tell no one of our plans until it is too late to be tricked out of your booty. And watch your back.”
“I have a worthy ax at my back, Sire.” He bowed his way out of the room, his chest swelling proudly as he departed the chamber. Outside he met Girvin and they walked through the galleries to leave.
“Did a good offer come from the king?” the huge knight asked.
“Good, but costly. If we can fight our way through much of France, we have a place to roost. But silence on this, Girvin. No one is to know.”
“While I waited for you, two crows came squawking by the antechamber. By my presence they assume you were closeted with the king.”
“Crows by name—Ryland and Hollis?” Hyatt asked.
“Aye, Hyatt. The same.”
Hyatt sighed. “Forsooth, if I can win the place from most of France, I have to hold it against my own countrymen. A good offer? It is too soon to say.”
“Did you accept?”
Hyatt stopped walking and looked at his long time friend and ally. “When has anyone ever refused King Edward and the Black Prince? Yea, I accepted their offer. Now we go to war again. But this time, God willing, I do not carry my booty home on my horse.”
The banner of the English army was sighted from a high parapet at dawn and reported immediately to Lady Aurélie de Pourvre and the seneschal, Sir Guillaume. Giles, Aurélie’s husband, had departed with his troop of men-at-arms to venture toward Bordeaux twenty-nine days prior, to meet and hold the landed English armies.
“Is there any word of my lord?” she asked. The page shook his head mournfully, but Aurélie had expected this answer. Had Giles sent a message, it would have been delivered to the lady instantly, even in the dark of night. “Do you know their colors?” she asked.
“Madame, the French lilies on blue are quartered by the gold lions on red. King Edward’s forces … from England.”
Aurélie had prayed through the long nights that the de Pourvre army would be victorious and her lord would be delivered safely home. This English troop had either conquered Giles’s army or cleverly bypassed them. For many months she had heard the tales of the carnage spread by the forces of the English king’s son, the Black Prince. Edward had laid waste from Bordeaux through the Limousin, and the stories promised that any of the Black Prince’s forces would be fearful to meet.
Aurélie climbed the winding stairs to the top of the donjon, the central citadel of the castle De la Noye, to view the approaching army for herself. Guillaume was close behind her, as always. She was only one year over a score, but had been the lady of this estate for twelve years. Perhaps in the early years of her residence her authority was second to the counsel of the seneschal’s wife, but since she was as young as four and ten her power here had been unquestioned. Aurélie had learned quickly and accepted responsibility readily. When Giles was away, she commanded even the soldiers, with the seneschal’s assistance. And she did this very well.