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Authors: Roberta Gellis

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BOOK: Roselynde
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"Mostly for what I just said. You know well that as long as I
am single my revenues go to the Crown. But partly I think she believed me when
I told her that I would search an unwanted husband's heart for love with the
point of a knife. And, if my knife should prove too short, there would be many,
longer and sharper, to complete my work." She moved her horse forward so
that she could lay her hand over his. "Simon, my grandfather did not leave
me naked in a cold world. Ten years he labored to build an edifice that would
protect me."

"Your vassals might wish to protect you, but they cannot
fight the whole realm."

"Of course not, but I do not think it would be necessary. The
last thing the Queen would desire with Lord Richard bent upon Crusade is for my
men to begin a minor war because I was ill pleased with the husband chosen for
me. Besides, she does not wish me to marry. She prefers that my revenues come
into the King's purse. The two Isobels are a different case. They have long
been King's wards and, I fear, their wardens were not so honest or so honorable
as you. Their people cry aloud for relief from rapacious wardens; the women cry
for the end of wardship, and Lord Richard is constrained to right his father's wrongs."

"The Queen did speak to you of these matters." Simon was
amazed. Queen Alinor did not suffer from an idly wagging tongue.

"Yes, because she needed to speak about something else, which
she dare not. Simon, something about Lord Richard lies heavy on his mother's
heart. It is not about the Crusade. She is quick enough to speak of her fears
of that, and how she came near to losing her own life more than once on that
dreadful journey. It is something—something—"

"For God's sake, Alinor, do not ask me!" Simon burst
out. "Do not think of it! Be blind! Be deaf! And if God curses you with
vision and hearing, be mute!"

Alinor's eyes widened, but she clamped her lips over what else she
had to say. There was real fear and anguish in Simon's voice. Whatever lay on
the Queen's heart was bigger and more dreadful than the problem of the
notorious Lady Alais, which she had heard about—and that was awful enough.
Alinor thought of asking Simon about that, but decided against it. Men suffered
from odd freaks of delicacy, and an interesting subject like whether or not the
old King had fathered a bastard upon his son's affianced bride was certainly
bound to bring out every bit of delicacy Simon had. Soon she would be able to
ask other women, who took a more practical view of such things.

After they had reached London and Alinor had been settled into the
chambers that held the highborn maidens in the care of the Queen, Alinor
recalled her decision with doubt. Not that she thought she could have got much
information out of Simon. Merely that she would get a great deal more than she
wanted out of the busy tongues that surrounded her—and most probably not a mote
of it would be true. It was not that information about Alais was really of any
importance to Alinor. It was just a straw to show the way the wind blew. If the
women could not find out or would not tell the truth about a matter of such
interest to them, it was highly unlikely that their views on any other subject
would be more informed or more reliable. Feather-brained idiots, Alinor thought
exasperatedly. Then, because she was capable of self-discipline when necessary,
she admitted that perhaps the lies and the blank, stupid stares were more
because the ladies did not like or trust her than because they were ignorant.

I am the stupid one, she admitted. Simon warned me. She did not
blame herself too much, however. She had remembered to hold herself lowly
before the ladies of higher rank, even though some of them were paupers
compared with herself. Partly that was the cause and partly she had given them
a bad impression by exhibiting her masterful management of what she considered
hers.

It had started innocently enough when she had taken a small
account book, a ready-cut quill, and a stoppered horn of ink from the bottom of
one of the baskets that held her possessions. With her eating knife she had
trimmed off a strip of parchment and had penned a message on it. One of the
younger ladies gasped a trifle. Alinor had ignored the mark of surprise, a
little annoyed at the idea that her skill should cause any comment. Then she
had sent Gertrude to fetch a page.

"What is your name?" Alinor inquired kindly of the
fair-haired child that bowed to her.

"Guillaume, my lady."

"And do you know your way to where the men-at-arms are
quartered?"

The child looked a little startled, which should have warned
Alinor that she was doing something unusual or forbidden, but she was tired and
flurried, and the boy merely said, "Yes."

"Good. Then find the men of Lady Alinor Devaux. They wear red
and gold and my pennon has a red ship on a gold field. Ask for my
master-at-arms. His name is Beorn Fisherman, and tell him to send a man to Sir
Andre at Roselynde Keep with this message."

Enlightenment had begun when the darker and sharper featured of
the two Isobels said nastily, "One is not supposed to send messages out of
the Tower of London."

"Why not?" Alinor asked.

"It is not my business to question the Queen's
commands."

Alinor did not like the tone, so she turned to the fairer girl,
whose large eyes looked fearful and haunted. "How then am I supposed to
communicate my commands to my vassals?"

"Do you command them?" Isobel of Clare, Countess of
Pembroke and Strigul, asked in a sad, slightly breathless voice.

Piqued by the titter the darker Isobel uttered, Alinor replied
before she thought. "Of course I command them," she said tartly.
"A fine state I should be in if they did not obey me." She could not,
however, help an honest chuckle. "Sometimes there are high words between
Sir Andre and myself, but most of the time I win."

"Perhaps that is why we are not supposed to send out
messages," Isobel of Gloucester retorted with a rather gloating
satisfaction at relaying bad news.

For a moment Alinor's eyes looked almost as haunted as those of
Isobel of Clare. She could feel a prison closing around her in spite of all her
care. Then the memory of Simon's big body in its elegant if subdued gray
surcoat and his hard, honest face freed her from fear.

"Oh, dear," she sighed, "yes, I understand that.
There is nothing in this message to which the Queen would object, only to say
we are safe arrived—Sir Andre does worry so—and to tell him to send me a chest
of cloth to be made into new gowns. I am sadly behind the fashion." She
turned again to the page. "Guillaume, do you know Sir Simon Lemagne? No?
Well, it does not matter. I am sure you know William Marshal."

Isobel of Clare made a strangled sound. Alinor looked around at
her. The girl had a hand at her throat and her face was suffused with a deep
blush. In common politeness Alinor restored her attention to the page to give
Isobel time to recover, but something twisted inside her breast. Was this the
model of womanliness in Simon's mind when he scolded her for her unmaidenly
ways?

"Ask William Marshal where Sir Simon is, and give Sir Simon
the message. Tell Sir Simon that he is to see that Sir Andre gets my letter.
Tell him also that I send it to him because I was told it was not permitted for
me to send messages freely. Do you understand?"

"Yes, my lady."

"Very well, then. Thank you." She watched the boy leave,
then turned to Isobel of Clare. "Do you know Sir Simon well?" she
asked innocently, curbing a strange desire to tear out Isobel's very lovely
eyes with her fingernails.

"No, not at all," the fair girl faltered, blushing even
redder.

Isobel of Gloucester tittered. "It is the other name that has
set her all aflutter. Of course, she does not know William the Marshal very
well, either—but she hopes to know him better."

"Oh, hush, Isobel," the fair girl said, her eyes filling
with tears. "I do not hope for anything. I will marry as the King
commands."

Alinor opened her mouth and then shut it firmly. She deplored such
a poor spirit, but she had sense enough not to make matters worse by saying
openly that Alinor of Roselynde would marry to no one's taste but her own and
Isobel of Clare should have sufficient courage to feel the same. Nonetheless,
she had already done enough to make the lesser maidens wary of her. Only the
two Isobels were rich enough and well enough born not to fear contamination and
she was constrained to their company. In it her taste for news and worldly talk
could find little outlet.

They were almost diametrically opposite types, both, Alinor
decided with disgust, full of the sweet womanliness Simon was always harping
on. Or, she corrected herself grinning, not always—only when their opinions
conflicted. Both Isobels were outwardly meek and mild and obedient. Isobel of
Clare was naturally so. She seemed intelligent enough, but had never been
taught to think and, because she was a greater lady than Alinor, had never even
had the experience of managing her own household. Alinor liked her, although
she felt somewhat contemptuous of the gentle spirit that bent so easily under
pressure.

Isobel of Gloucester was another variety of mead entirely, and one
Alinor would not have cared to taste often had she any choice. The pressures
that made the Countess of Pembroke pious and resigned made Isobel, Duchess of
Gloucester, sly, secretive, and cruel. In addition, Alinor discovered she was
both shrewd and stupid—a dangerous combination. Isobel of Clare did not gossip
because it was wrong; Isobel of Gloucester gossiped continuously, and every
word was so colored with malice that it was as unrevealing as silence.

Meanwhile, Guillaume the page had faithfully run William Marshal
to earth. Here he found his errand was done, for when he asked for Sir Simon,
William gestured to the big man seated beside his bed. The page bowed
respectfully.

"The Lady Alinor Devaux—" he began.

"Oh, no!" Simon groaned. "What trouble can she have
stirred up so soon?"

"She has sent a message—"

"To whom?" Simon cried, leaping to his feet.

William stared openmouthed at his friend. He had seen Simon
receive news of treason and rebellion with less heat. "Simon, what ails
you?"

"Lady Alinor ails me," Simon spat furiously. "Quick
child, what is the trouble?"

The page had begun to look very confused. "I do not know. The
Countess of Gloucester spoke of trouble but Lady Alinor did not seem
worried."

"You see," William said. "There is nothing—"

Simon dropped into his chair again and let out an exasperated
breath. The page's puzzlement indicated that he had come neither from enraged
royalty nor from a weeping Alinor. Thus, William was probably correct in that
there was no emergency.

"Worried," he said bitterly to William, interrupting
him. "She might be worried if a full-sized dragon breathing fire appeared
suddenly. I cannot think of anything lesser that would worry her. Go on, tell
your tale, child."

"Lady Alinor gave me this letter to be sent to Sir Andre at
Roselynde Keep. She said to give it to you because she is not permitted to send
messages freely."

"What?" Simon turned to look at William. "What does
this mean?" he asked thunderously.

"Softly. Softly," William soothed. "It must be some
women's nonsense. It is not by my order. That I swear."

"Alinor is not overgiven to women's nonsense," Simon
remarked, taking the strip of parchment the page was holding out. "Very
well, child, you may go." It had occurred to him that she might be up to
some new deviltry. He had to see that message, but if it were sealed— It was
not. He scanned the few lines, held the note out to William, his eyes narrowed.
"There is nothing here that she could wish to hide, and she is not one to ask
any man to do for her what she can do for herself. Thus she truly believes to
send messages is forbidden. William, could this be an order from the Queen
concerning the King's wards?"

An arrested expression came into William's eyes and he bit back an
oath. "If so," he said, his voice bitter now, "it is nothing to
do with Lady Alinor. What I was saying to you just before, Simon, is that I do
not see any way to avoid trouble. I had hoped with the old King and young Henry
dead, that the last two would cease from tearing each other apart. But it is
not to be. The devil is in these Angevins."

Simon laughed. "You mean you believe the old tales—that the
Queen's grandmother was a witch who flew out of the church window when the Host
was lifted, and—"

"I believe the Queen's grandmother was a bitch! And there can
be no doubt that the old King's mother was possessed of devils. Never have I
seen such a family. Never! Scarcely could the young ones bear arms when they
turned to rend their father."

"They are all born rulers," Simon replied, "and not
one can endure that another of them should rule also—no, that is not really
true of Richard. He would be content for John to rule what is John's, but he
will not give up the title of what is his. Richard is not evil."

William put an arm across his chest, which was still very painful.
"Evil? I do not even believe that little devil John is evil. They all have
such a lust for power that all else pales beside it. I have watched them, the
living and the dead, each one reaching so desperately for power that they slip
into dishonor."

BOOK: Roselynde
11.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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