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Authors: Mary Lide

Gifts of the Queen

BOOK: Gifts of the Queen

The cloak fell back. I saw his face. It was not a face I knew, and I had never seen its like before; but, simply put, it was the most beautiful face I had ever seen, or hope to see again.

The sun, reflecting off some piece of mail, glinted in my eyes and caught the ring upon my hand.

'By the Rood,' he said, 'where got you that?'

I looked at him, startled, not knowing at first what he meant. He seized my hand, crushing it in his grip, and pulled the fingers apart. The ring, too large, slid easily off.

I cried out, 'The ring is mine. Or rather, the countess lent it me.'

'Then where did she, this countess, get it?'

I shook my head. 'Ask her yourself.'

'Tell the countess we will speak with her. Let her expect us.' 

'How shall she know you?' I said.

He thrust out his hand. On it gleamed a ring, similar to the one the queen had given me . . .

Also by Mary Lide

in Sphere Books:


Gifts of the Queen


First published in Great Britain by Sphere Books Ltd 1986 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5SW Copyright © 1985 by Mary Lide

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

Set in 10/11½ pt Compugraphic Paladium by Colset Private Ltd, Singapore

Printed and bound in Great Britain by Cox & Wyman Ltd, Reading

To my dearest aunt, Ruth Lomer.
In her house I spent a happy childhood; 
In her house I wrote this book.


As a background to
Gifts of the Queen
I used contemporary chronicles wherever possible, although not many exist for the early years of Henry II's reign. The following writers were useful: Roger of Howden, Walter Map, William of Newburgh, Robert of Torigny and Gerald of Wales. Recommended books on general history of the period include:
From Doomsday Book to Magna Carta
by A.L. Poole and
Henry II
by W.L. Warren. Specialized books which were useful were
A History of Wales
by J.E. Lloyd,
Norman Castles in Britain
by D.F. Renn, and 
The English Medieval House
by Margaret Wood. I would also like to suggest reading contemporary poets; two useful anthologies were
Lyrics of the Middle Ages
by Hubert Greekmore and
The Earliest Welsh Poetry
by Joseph P. Clancy.

I should also like to take this opportunity to thank my family for their tolerance, my neighbors, Nonie Gorey and Lee Tyree for their support and my many friends for their encouragement. In particular my thanks go to Linda Martz for her help, to Francesca Moorse for her journey with me to Poitiers, to the Corfmat family for their hospitality at Fontevrault, and to Carmella and Peter Harris without whose kindness in Cornwall this book might never have been finished. Finally, my gratitude to Elise Goodman, my agent, and Fredda Isaacson, Vice President of Warner Books, whose advice and help have been invaluable.

Table of Contents

I Urien of Wales, Bard to the Celts, high poet of the old people, record these things. Out of long silence do I write them, not in my own tongue but in priestly fashion of the Norman courts, that men who came hereafter should read and remember. It is for the Lady Ann of Cambray I speak, wife now to Lord Raoul, Earl of Sedgemont, Count of Sieux in France. At her bidding I write. And although there will be many who question my right to act as scribe, I would have them know that I have heard of the Lady Ann and her kin since childhood, that, like her, I was born at Cambray, and like her, of Norman father and Celtic dam, and that, of all men else, she chose me to speak for her.

I was a child, half-grown, when first I saw her and her husband. Lord Raoul, who was so great a lord. And the story of her upbringing here at Cambray and then at Sedgemont where she was ward to that Raoul—it is known to every child. But how she was wed to him who was overlord, and how they left Cambray and Sedgemont far behind and withdrew to France, I was grown before I heard tell of that.

'I was happy at last,' she used to say, 'whom happiness before had passed by. Can it not suffice that I had long waited for Lord Raoul, hoped that he would wed me, had feared for his life and safety in those bitter wars that tore our island kingdom when I was young. But nothing is that constant is. As we grow older, it seems to me the circle of events grows larger, ripples from a stone thrown in a mountain lake. In ever widening arcs do they stretch out, beyond our sight, out of our past into a future we cannot guess at; as Lord Raoul of Sedgemont once said, 'Anything that the great do has effect upon everyone.' I would amend his words. I believe that there is nothing done that does not have effect at last, that does not come back upon some distant shore. Happiness, like sorrow, must happen.'

And so it is, that I, who am poet, high bard to the Celtic folk, write, that what they were and what was done should be known. It is a story of love, hate, loyalty, ambition, and conspiracy, that many-tangled snare which traps all men. And a story, too, of revenge, a two-edged sword whose blade cuts both him who deals the blow and him who bears it. We are come to the year of Christendom, 1155. At the Yuletide season before, Stephen, who was King of England died, and in his place was the young Henry the Angevin, who was known as Henry of Anjou, crowned King, second of that name and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, made Queen. In the early spring of that year came Lord Raoul to Henry's court, to claim his land and titles and his bride. Within the month were they wed and gone from England to France to Lord Raoul’s estates there, to find what happiness held for them.

pro nobis.


Thus from the Lady Ann: Long ago, when I was a child and lived still at Cambray, I used to come up on the moors with my father's men when they went hunting. The lands around the castle at Cambray were full of game, and sometimes when the guards had time to spare, or were in a good mood, perhaps because they had eaten or drunk well the day before, or had found a woman to please them at night, I could coax them into taking me with them when they rode out. They always gave some excuse for these expeditions: that they should exercise the horses, those great gray stallions of my father's herd, or that they should patrol the border for some Celtic band trying to slip across unseen; but mainly I knew the younger men often humored me out of kindness because I was a lonely child with no playmates of my own age, no mother to care for me, and my father and brother were often gone from home about border affairs. As a child, I did not miss such company, having never known it, and the young knights made up the lack. They were a cheerful group of men, short and sturdy built as I remember them, plain spoken, rough-tongued yet good-hearted. They wore plain armor, too, and carried weapons that were old when they inherited them; all about them was plain and serviceable, such as more fancy men might scoff at. The only things of worth they had were the gray horses of Cambray and they were famous in my father's time. I had a small moorland pony of my own, so nimble footed that when it reached a stone outcrop or tree stump a larger horse could clear, it would scramble over like a cat. Not that there were many trees upon the moors, a wild open countryside it is, covered with heather and gorse patches, and granite boulders that jut in jagged clusters on the crest of rolling hills.

We had been coursing mainly for hares that day and had ridden far inland, where the foothills begin to rise, ever sloping upward to the north where the high mountains lie. We had come to the end of our sport, and I had been amusing myself with setting my pony at the gorse bushes still in flower or leaping the boulders that cropped out of the coarse grass. The men rode more sedately behind, talking of the wars, the civil wars that had beset the land, although we here at Cambray had as yet scant news of them. Suddenly, without warning, the mists came as they are often wont upon the higher lands, the sudden sea mists that roll inland in waves so that within moments, you cannot see your hand before your face. We are used to such mists at Cambray, which sits above the sea cliffs; but that day, they were thicker than usual and we were far from home. I wiped my long hair, which had twisted and curled with the damp into a mass of red snarls, pulled a woolen cloak from my saddlebow, and settled down to a slow wet ride back. I rode astride like a boy, with skirts hitched about my knees and sleeves cut off short like a tunic so I now felt the cold. The men shouted to each other in their soft border voices for fear we should be separated. It is easy to lose your way in a fog, and you must keep close watch where you are. The paths are not marked, and run faintly through the moors at the best of times, and if you stray, there are patches of hill marsh and bog, deep enough to swallow horse and rider both. We moved forward slowly in a line, I in the middle with someone to watch me on either side. I could hear the creak of saddle, the scrape of spurs, and from time to time sense rather than see the shadowy forms of men and beasts. One of the men was whistling through his teeth, and occasionally a horse tossed its head with a rattle of bit and bridle chain. Suddenly, the captain of the guard who rode ahead reined
back his horse
so violently that those behind rammed into him.

'Jesu,' he whispered, and I saw him cross himself. The other men peered past him in the mist; I saw another make the sign of horns with which to ward off evil and all of them crowded close together as if taking comfort in one another. I nudged my pony past them, for they had knotted in a mass, their horses snorting and stamping with fright, not yet stampeded but on the verge of it. Ducking under the captain's outstretched hand, for on my pony's back I came barely to his waist, I pushed to the front. I knew at once where we were. High on the moors above Cambray, the highest place in all that southern part, there is a spot which all men shun. Even in bright daylight, I would have avoided it myself. It is a large mound of earth or 'barrow' as we call it in the Celtic tongue, thrown up by men centuries long gone. A circle of gray stones sags there, once set upright, now leaning this way and that, but still a circle clearly marked. What manner of men had put it there or for what purpose I cannot tell. The priest at Cambray claimed they were evil men who used the stones for purpose vile, but I do not know. In truth though, the place had a taint of evil, as water has a taint or taste, so that even horses would not graze within the circle, and the very sheep and goats avoided it.

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