Read Roselynde Online

Authors: Roberta Gellis

Roselynde (2 page)

BOOK: Roselynde
11.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

"Simon!" she exclaimed, and then, very peremptorily,
"Simon, what ails you?"

Sunlight flashed on mail as the frozen figure jerked to life. The
horse backed and lashed out when the reins tightened convulsively. Alinor bit
her lip to suppress a giggle.

"I beg pardon, Madam. What did you say?"

At that the Queen laid aside her dignity, slewed herself around,
and stared. Now, however, no more than a slight frown of anxious chagrin
appeared on Sir Simon's face.

"What ails you?" the Queen repeated, more of concern
than anger in the question.

"Naught." The rich basso rumble hesitated; the man's
face closed into careful expressionlessness. "I was dreaming."

Dreaming? Surely, Alinor thought as she heard the Queen's command
repeated, that is not the face of a dreamer. It was the face of a Norman
reaver, square and hard, with a determined chin and a hard mouth.

The nose was hidden by the nosepiece, but after Sir Simon had
swung down from his horse and lifted her, first to her feet and then into her
saddle, her conviction was a little shaken. Perhaps the eyes, a misty
gray-blue, held dreams. They were remarkably innocent eyes—more innocent, I
would guess, than my own, Alinor thought, and smiled enchantingly.

The smile won little response. The face remained closed, but
perhaps Sir Simon's glance lingered a moment longer than necessary on her. The
explanation, however, was more prosaic than Alinor had counted on hearing.

"Your men," Simon reminded her.

Alinor woke to her responsibilities with a faint gasp of
irritation. Sir Andre and Sir John, together with the whole troop, were still
kneeling in the hot, dusty road.

"I beg, Your Grace," Alinor began, both grateful to and
annoyed with her prompter, "that I be allowed to present my vassals, Sir
Andre Fortesque and Sir John d'Alberin."

The Queen inclined her head graciously. "You may rise and
mount, gentlemen." Then she smiled, not a bit less enchantingly than
Alinor, despite the more than fifty years' difference in their ages. "You
must be melting in your armor, and I confess I will be happy to take my ease.
Let us return to the keep as quickly as possible."

Alinor backed her mare and the Queen rode past, signaling to the
girl to fall in behind her. Sir Simon retrieved his reins from the squire
holding them, sprang into the saddle and gestured to Sir Andre and Sir John,
who had mounted as soon as the Queen passed them, to join him. The men in the
road scrambled out of the way as the Queen went forward with Alinor just
behind.

"Ride forward, child," the Queen ordered. "I cannot
speak with you if you trail behind. Do you know that you and I bear the same
name?"

"Yes, indeed, Your Grace. My mother was named for you, and I
also."

"You also? How old are you?"

"This spring I completed my sixteenth year."

Alinor hesitated fractionally. She knew quite well that sixteen
years ago Queen Alinor was not in good odor in England. She was then in the
south of France leading a rebellion against her husband, the King of England,
and English barons had been summoned to fight the Queen's vassals in France.
And English gold had paid the heavy expenses of that campaign. Alinor was
divided between her reluctance to remind the Queen of those unhappy years and
her desire that the Queen know she was not simply ignorant of these facts and
trying to curry favor with a stupid remark.

"Perhaps not many Alinors were named in that year,"
Alinor continued boldly, having decided it was more important to remind the
Queen of an old relationship with her family than to be ultimately tactful,
"but you had done my father some great service—I do not know what it was,
only that he felt great obligation to you—and so I am Alinor."

"Your father—"

Alinor was quick to pick that up. "Adam Devaux, Sire of
Roselynde," she prompted. Although well aware of her family's worth—even
though they bore no high title such as earl or duke—she was not naive enough to
believe the Queen would remember the name of a single man or an incident nearly
twenty years past. Alinor's father had been dead for fourteen years.

"Adam Devaux," the Queen repeated softly, musing. Then
to Alinor's surprise her lips twitched and laughter rose in her eyes. "Adam
Devaux, Sire of Roselynde," she said again. "Oh, yes, I
remember." And then, softly again, "What befell him, Alinor? He was a
preux chevalier."

"He and my mother were drowned coming home from Ireland when
I was two years old," Alinor responded calmly. "I am glad you
remember him kindly, Your Grace. I do not remember my parents at all. My
grandfather and grandmother raised me."

"Yes, Lord Rannulf I knew well. A fine man also. There is
good blood in you, child."

And what, the old Queen wondered, had that hardbitten old warrior
been thinking of to leave such a child unmarried and unprotected when he must
have known his time was hard upon him. And then she turned her face forward so
that Alinor would not see the speculation growing in her wise eyes. Not so unprotected.
Lord Rannulf had been dead over a year, and his "unmarried and
helpless" granddaughter was still independent. And she had called Sir
Andre and Sir John "my vassals" with all the assurance of a grande
dame. Doubtless they were good men, and even more surely they were strongly
attached to their lady. Alinor was not such a ripe plum for the picking as
might appear at first sight. The child was speaking of her grandfather with
enthusiasm, and the Queen drew her out with encouraging murmurs while she turned
her attention to the men's voices. Unfortunately the deep tones did not carry
forward well.

In fact the Queen would have received confirmation of her own
deductions had she been able to hear the conversation. Sir Simon had opened the
talk with a comment about the large troop the two knights led.

Sir Andre laughed. "They are not all, Sir Simon. Others are
posted to raise the alarm back at the keep if we should be molested. Such a
prize as my lady is strong bait. I was not all ill pleased when the Queen's
writ came. Now that she is known to be in the King's ward, perhaps my burdens
will be somewhat lighter."

"Not
all
ill pleased?" Sir Simon remarked mildly.
"Then you were tempted to deny the royal writ."

"No. I am not so much a fool as that," Sir Andre replied
promptly. He struggled briefly with a smile at the memory of Alinor's first
fury, and Simon noticed the fleeting change of expression. However, Sir Andre's
voice was very deliberate—purposely deliberate—when he continued. "My
doubts are only for the use the King will make of his ward. I am tied to my
lady by more than my honor. To speak true, I love her dearly, having known her
from a babe. It is not sufficient that we vassals be content with the man
chosen for her. For us, it is needful that she, too, be content."

"The Queen is very wise," Sir Simon assured the men.

"No doubt," Sir John put in drily. He had been one of
the barons who fought in Aquitaine. "But queens are constrained by
circumstances."

There was a pause just a trifle too long, just long enough to draw
Sir Andre's and Sir John's eyes to Sir Simon's face. What they saw there—a
brief consternation quickly schooled into iron-hard determination—was not
reassuring.

"If the Queen is constrained—" Simon's deep voice was
steady and hard "—then we must also be constrained."

"Oh," Sir John said easily, "the King's will
through the Queen's mouth must be done—if it be for the good and quiet of the
realm. Only, the Lady Alinor might be a very young widow."

Sir Simon looked from one face to the other, and his lips twisted.
"You are loyal vassals, indeed."

"Lady Alinor was the sun and the moon to Lord Rannulf, and we
are all beholden to him," Sir Andre pointed out. "For me, there is
even more in it. We are in some ways tied in blood. My wife was a natural
daughter to Lord Rannulf. It is no claimworthy blood bond, but it is
there."

Suddenly Sir John laughed. "If you come to know her better,
Sir Simon, you will be of our party in her defense."

"You have had some work in that direction already,"
Simon said quickly, as if he did not wish to respond to Sir John's remark.

"That we have!" Sir Andre exclaimed in heartfelt
accents. "Not two weeks after the Earl was dead, I had to close the keep
against the first aspirant to the Lady Alinor's hand and estates. That was
nothing. A younger son with a few ragtag men-at-arms in his tail. But twice we
have had more ado with men of substance."

"This last time they came out from Lewes," Sir John
commented sourly, "and I had need to bring men posthaste from Mersea to
lift the siege. I was given to understand that the castellan of Lewes Keep
feared the change of overlordships from King Henry to Lord Richard. Believing
he would lose his keep, he put aside his wife and brought the whole force of
the shire upon us in an attempt to take my lady."

"I do not wonder that you were glad to see the Queen's
writ," Simon said, smiling. "To take her now is profitless, since the
King's word must be had before her marriage is good."

Sir Andre shrugged, his shield strap creaking as his shoulders
moved. "It will help—if the realm lies quiet. But I for one will continue
to have a care for her. If she be taken and hidden away, wedded and well
bedded, perhaps even got with child, the King might find it easier to take a
fine and give his consent than to undo the knot."

Sir Simon raised a gauntleted hand and rubbed his nose under the
nosepiece. "You have the right. If she does not marry at once, I do not
envy whoever is made her warden."

To his surprise, both men shouted with laughter. "I do not
envy him his task, well aside from the little matter of those who wish to wed
her without the King's consent," Sir Andre crowed.

A vagrant breeze brought both the scent of roses and the words of
the two last speakers to the Queen. She looked about her suddenly with
attention and was surprised to see the untilled land near the road carpeted
with tangles of wild roses. They were not as beautiful as the flowers
cultivated in gardens, but their scent was very strong and sweet. Beyond them,
in brutal contrast to the delicate pink of the flowers and the soft green of
the leaves, rose the enormous gray walls of the keep. With its customary
alacrity the Queen's mind leapt from the flowers to the words and laughter she
had heard. She judged the laughter correctly, and turned to look again at the
girl who rode beside her. The child looked quiet and submissive, but the
devotion of the vassals and Sir Andre's hints foretold fire and a strong will
under the obedient demeanor— thorns under the roses.

Alinor had fallen silent after a few moments, aware that the
Queen's mind was elsewhere. Now she smiled and pointed ahead. "There is
Roselynde, Your Grace." Her hand flickered toward the keep but a shade of
anxiety crossed her face. "I hope all is in readiness for you. My maids,
even those who are older and should be wiser, were in such a fever at your
coming that they were fit to air the rushes and use the bedding to cover the
floor."

"And you," the Queen teased, "no doubt you remained
as calm as a nun telling her beads in her cell."

Alinor uttered a little chuckle, a delightful gurgle of laughter
that warmly invited any listener to laugh also. "Not quite so calm as
that, I am afraid. In fact, now I distinctly remember myself saying that the
rose leaves should be carefully
boiled
instead of steeped. I pray, Your
Grace, forgive us our deficiencies. It is true that I have been the Lady of
Roselynde for as long as I have been old enough to carry the keys, but we have
lived very quiet and retired lives. My grandfather was old, and the King—I mean
King Henry—" her voice faltered.

"Of blessed memory," the Queen said gravely. "Do
not fear to speak of him to me. We had our differences, Harry and I, but I
forgive the wrongs he has done me and I pray most fervently that he forgives
those I have done him. What were you about to say?"

"Only that the King did not call my grandfather's vassals to
war. He was content with the younger sons so long as my grandfather paid their
keep."

The Queen smiled, a little grimly this time. "Yes, I remember
that little way of Lord Rannulf's very well," she murmured dulcetly.
"And Harry bore with it? He was hard pressed."

"I only meant to say that there was little coming and going
and that we had few visitors except old friends who did not care if my
housekeeping was not perfect. Thus, I pray your indulgence if something is
lacking that we should have provided for your welcome."

But nothing was lacking. The great drawbridge clanked down as soon
as the devices on the pennons became clear, and the Queen rode into the outer
bailey under the lifted portcullis with Alinor at her right hand. Alinor cast a
single glance around. All was in perfect order. The outbuildings were closed,
the bailey swept clean of filth, the animals penned at the far end. The great
stone curtain walls frowned down upon them, a soothing protective background to
the bright surcoats of the knights.

Alinor felt the last of her nervousness leave her. She was always
happy and safe inside Roselynde Keep, even though it was old and brutally built
to withstand brutal attacks. But this time, she reminded herself as she
gestured toward the right where a gate opened to another drawbridge, the enemy
is within. Only she did not feel that the Queen was her enemy. She felt the
power and authority of the woman, but there was warmth, too.

BOOK: Roselynde
11.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Thieves World1 by Robert Asprin
Wakefield by Andrei Codrescu
Ciudad piloto by Jesús Mate
First Date by R.L. Stine, Sammy Yuen Jr.
Fragmented by Eliza Lentzski