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Authors: Roberta Gellis

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BOOK: Roselynde
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Alinor sat up and shook her head at herself. She was no better
than they. There was what ailed her. She, too, had been much enlivened and shaken
out of her daily round by the Queen's presence. After her anxiety about her own
affairs had been soothed by some very firm and straight talk from Sir Andre and
Sir John about Sir Simon's life and character, the Queen's visit had been pure
pleasure. Messengers had pounded up to the keep several times a day, and not
all the messages they brought were of high or secret nature. Some the Queen
read aloud and spoke of freely to Alinor and her men. It had opened a wider
world than the sands and fields of Roselynde and Mersea, the woods and dales of
Kingsclere and the inland estates. To listen to the doings of kings was, no
doubt, more interesting than the overseeing of maids.

By the time the Queen was ready to leave—she had stayed over an
extra day so that Simon, who wished to keep his own guard with him, could
arrange adequate escort for her—Alinor had had to bite her tongue to keep
herself from pleading to go along. No virtue inspired this noble
self-discipline, merely a mixture of pride and the knowledge that pleading
would do no good. Will the Queen remember me at all? Alinor wondered. She
climbed out of bed and rang the little silver bell that summoned her maids,
slipped on the loose bedrobe that was handed to her, and wandered listlessly
toward the garderobe to relieve herself. A maid trotted anxiously along behind.

"And what will you wear today, my lady," Gertrude asked.

Still bemused by sleep, Alinor was puzzled. One did not gown
oneself in rich brocade and gold-embroidered tunics to check on the still room
or the weaving room or to do accounts. Rough linen and homespun were good
enough for such daily rounds. Then light dawned. They still had a guest at
Roselynde. Sir Simon had ridden out with the Queen but had returned late in the
night. Alinor had not seen him because she was already abed when he came. She
had not heard his arrival, of course. The keep walls were too thick and her
chamber faced the sea, not the bailey. Now she remembered a maid had wakened
her to inform her. Alinor insisted on knowing every event that took place when
it happened, even if she had given instructions beforehand, but she had been
too sleepy to pay much heed.

The heavy, sinking sensation that had plagued her disappeared as
if conjured away. Her eyes brightened and the corners of her generous mouth
curved upward. The door of the great world had not closed. And beyond that,
here at hand was a delightful, most fascinating, and most necessary task. If it
were possible of achievement, great good would accrue to herself and her vassals.
If she could conquer Sir Simon as she had conquered her grandfather and her
men, the Queen's ear, and possibly the King's, too, would be open to
her—through Sir Simon's mouth.

"Lay, out the blue— No."

Alinor had been about to ask for one of her grandest dresses, but
she realized at once that was stupid. Sir Simon was no petty knight from the
country. A man in daily contact with the Queen and her great ladies would
scarcely be impressed by grandeur—particularly inappropriate grandeur. A lady
in her own keep did not wear Court dress. He would laugh at her as at a child
trying to impress him. Homespun, then? No. Her grandfather had liked to see her
so rough clad when she worked, but her grandfather had not been a courtier.

"Make ready a plain white linen tunic, but of the better
sort, and that pale green silk bliaut that is the color of new leaves— and a
white veil, the thinnest you can find. And be quick, or I will be late to
Mass."

She was on time for Mass, a thing that gratified the family
chaplain but had no affect on Sir Simon who was not there. He had ridden out
already with Sir Andre, Sir John informed her at breakfast.

"Am I to set places for them at dinner?" Alinor asked,
concealing her chagrin as well as possible.

"Oh, yes, assuredly. Sir Simon expressed a wish to see the
demesne lands."

"And Sir Andre did not deem me fit to display them?"

The voice was so much like a shower of icy water that Sir John
blinked. "It was so very early, my lady. They rode with the first dawn,
before the sun."

"And what needed this haste? Will the demesne vanish away
like the mist when the sun rises?"

Sir John cleared his throat uneasily. Lady Alinor had the devil of
a temper, although her rages did not last long, and was extremely tenacious of
her authority as mistress. That, Sir John acknowledged, was most right. If she
allowed Sir Andre to deputize for her and appear before the people for her in
all things, she soon would have no authority. She was clever about it, too.
Mostly she sat silent while Sir Andre meted out justice or punishment, but
often enough she prearranged with him that she would gainsay his decision. And
she was clever enough to gainsay it as often on the side of severity as on the
side of mercy. Thus when Sir Andre was afield and it was needful to hold court,
Alinor sat alone, and her decision was accepted as final—more final than Sir
Andre's.

Naturally enough Sir Andre was not ignorant of this facet of his
lady's character. He had tried to suggest that they wait for Lady Alinor or
send to have her wakened. Sir Simon had stared at him as if he were mad.
"What, wake a lady at dawn to ride through mucky fields?" And Sir
Andre, caught between the upper millstone of Alinor's anger and the nether
millstone of Sir Simon's contempt, had decided to squeeze out between the two.

When Alinor asked him, no doubt in a voice dripping venom, whether
he aspired to her honors, he would throw Sir Simon into the snake pit. He would
admit at once that Sir Simon had not thought it fit to ask for her company and
that he had not thought it fit to make suggestions to the King's warden. Sir
Andre liked Sir Simon, but he also acknowledged him as the better man. Then let
the better man with the greater authority bear the shock of Lady Alinor's
displeasure.

"Well, Sir John?" Alinor prompted.

Sir John swallowed. It was ridiculous to be afraid of a
sixteen-year-old chit whom he could break between his fingers, but he was. It
was not a physical fear, of course. For fourteen years, since the death of Sir
Adam, he had been trained to accept this child's word as law. Besides that, she
had eyes to see the sore spots in a man's soul, and she could either prick at
them or lay balm upon them. Sir Andre knew her better, and Sir Simon had the
weight of the King's authority behind him. Let them fight their own battles.

"I do not know how it was decided, my lady," he mumbled.

There was a moment of silence while Alinor bit her lip, but her
flash of rage was assuaged by Sir John's obvious discomfort. It could not
profit her to vent her spleen upon him. He was not at fault. It could not even
profit her to vent her spleen where it was deserved—on Sir Simon. Not yet, not
yet. If it killed her, she would enslave him. When she was done, he would ask
her permission before he drew breath.

"Alack on me, Sir John," Alinor said lightly, "I am
in ill humor because the gay doings of the past days are over. I am spoiled
already by these courtly things and wrinkle my nose at the dull needful tasks
of every day. I wished to ride out and make merry. Forgive me."

The scar-seamed, gray-haired warrior grinned with relief. If there
was the sad necessity of a female heir, there was much to be said for training
her from infancy to justice and reason. Unlike most women, who were confined to
the small tasks and petty problems of the inner keep, there was no spite in
Lady Alinor. She had been taught to see all sides of a case and was as quick to
see and acknowledge a fault in herself as in another.

"Well, well," he rumbled cheerfully, "it is most
understandable that the excitement of large affairs draws you. But I must say,
my lady, that you are wise to see that the small are needful, as well."

Alinor returned some platitudinous reply and then asked a question
about the Mersea fishing trade which would draw him out. Although she won rich
revenues from it and was usually interested in its doings, this time Alinor
merely wanted freedom to think. It was easy enough to say she would enslave Sir
Simon, but it would be necessary to gain and hold his attention first. Since he
owed her no allegiance nor even any explanation of what he did, there was
little she could do to force him to take her with him or to tell her anything,
except—

"Will you excuse me for a little while, Sir John,"
Alinor said suddenly. "I have bethought me of a small thing I overlooked
in my pleasuring of the last few days."

If her vassal was suspicious that the glint in Alinor's eyes had
little to do with a forgotten task in the kitchen or the women's quarters, he
was not inclined to make a point of it. He went on stolidly with his meal,
grateful that he would very soon be free to go back to his charge in Mersea, to
his docile wife and gentle daughters. He always looked forward to coming into
Alinor's company. She could be enlivening and amusing, and he honored her and
loved her too, but a man needed a little ease of mind. After a few weeks, Sir
John felt he loved Alinor best when others had to deal with her.

Freed by her vassal's nod and smile, Alinor made her way down to
the guard room below. A young man-at-arms was sent scurrying to find her chief
huntsman. There was little chance that Sir Simon would break off his efforts to
gain some knowledge of the lands he must administer to go hunting, at least for
this day, and the huntsman's hirelings were accustomed to ranging abroad.

The huntsman came hurrying, wiping his mouth, for he too had been
at breakfast, although he had been hard at work for hours. "You wish to
hunt, lady?" he growled in the coarse English of the native. "It is
full late. The beasts will have gone to earth."

"No, no huntsman," Alinor replied in her own native
French. "I desire that your men should bear messages for me."

It was odd, each using a different language, but the English clung
stubbornly to their own tongue and the Normans, except for a few, would not
bother to learn to mouth the grunts and growls. Since each understood the other
quite clearly, it worked well enough.

"Messages?" The huntsman was puzzled. "The
men-at-arms are—"

"I do not wish it known that I have sent these messages. The
men-at-arms could have no business in the villages or farms. There is a knight
riding with Sir Andre. Your men must go to each headman of each fishing village
and the bailiff of each farm and to each chief herdsman, and tell them—"

"You desire that this strange knight be slain, lady? The
huntsmen themselves could better—"

"No, Sacred Heaven, no!" Alinor exclaimed. "He is
the King's warden. No harm of any kind must befall him."

"Lady, we will do your will in all things. We do not fear the
King's warden."

Alinor smiled. "You are good, loyal servants, and I love you
for it, but Sir Simon is no enemy to me at this time. Only for the good of my
people, there are things that he must hear from my mouth. If he hears a small
thing here and another small thing there, when he puts those things together,
he might learn—more than is good for us or more than is true, and thus he might
wish to take from us more than is needful for the King's Share."

The huntsman's face was broad and flat, his nose a snub, his hair
as light as tow. To the hawk-nosed, thin-faced Normans, the physiognomy often
spelled stupidity, but bright intelligence gleamed in his blue eyes now. He
nodded quick comprehension.

"The headsmen, and herdsmen, and bailiffs are to tell the
King's warden nothing then. My men will bear the message swiftly."

"Huntsman," Alinor warned, "they must not
refuse
to answer. That might bring punishment upon them. No insolence or
discourtesy must be offered Sir Simon. I would not have the King's warden made
angry. Only—only let them be as stupid as possible. Do you understand?"

"I understand, lady."

She hoped he did understand and that his men would reach their
goals before Sir Simon stopped asking questions—if he ever asked any. There
was, of course, no way to stop Sir Andre's mouth, but he understood the purpose
of a King's warden and would naturally be as reticent as possible. Besides,
although Sir Andre was sometimes present when heads- men and bailiffs made
their accountings, more often he was not. He knew far less than Alinor of what
the lands brought in. Having done what she could to ensure the success of her
campaign, Alinor went up to the women's quarters to work off her impatience by
harrying her maids.

Fortunately for Alinor's plans, Simon had been more interested in
seeing the bounds of the demesne to judge it in military terms than in asking
questions that would define its worth in rents. It would be his duty not only
to secure the revenues to the King but to protect the estate as well as the
heiress in times of trouble. At present the nation appeared ready to accept
Richard as King without protest, but, as Simon had said already to Sir Andre
and Sir John, this happy condition might not survive Richard's sojourn in the
Holy Lands. Worse, if he should die there without an heir—an all too likely
possibility—the succession was not clear. Between Richard and his brother John,
there had been another son, Geoffrey. Geoffrey was dead, but he had married and
had a son and heir—Arthur. By strict right of primogeniture, Arthur was the
heir to Richard's throne, but Arthur was only three years old. It was not
rational to put a child on an uneasy throne. Unfortunately John—for good
reason—was already disliked and distrusted. The situation spelled trouble.

BOOK: Roselynde
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