Read The Love Knot Online

Authors: Elizabeth Chadwick

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #Historical Fiction

The Love Knot (66 page)

BOOK: The Love Knot
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There was sunshine in the hollow this morning, bright liquid gold filled with a heart of green dapple and birdsong. Oliver drew rein to inhale the heavy aroma of the April forest and turned to look at the troop of soldiers riding two abreast behind him.

Spear points glittered, armour and harness were burnished. Shields were carried on their long straps, slung round to the back. For all the array, there was no danger of battle. King Stephen had been in his grave since autumn's end. Eustace was dead and Henry sat upon the throne of a relieved and peaceful kingdom.

The land bore scars of the conflict, some that were healing, others that were still raw wounds. Oliver opened and closed his left hand, feeling the strength and the weakness against the leather brace encircling his forearm. He looked at the ploughlands, tipped with new green, and his spirit rose to meet them.

Half-turning, he smiled at Catrin. 'I once rode this way despairing that it would ever be mine again,' he said. 'And if not for Godard, I would have died in this hollow here without ever knowing that a day like this could exist.' His glance swivelled further to the huge man sitting on a tall bay gelding, two small boys perched up with him, one copper, one dark.

'I couldn't leave you, my lord. Besides, you saved my life once on the road.' Godard waved dismissively but Oliver could tell that he was touched and pleased at the acknowledgement. The hostel-keeper was wearing his best tunic for

the occasion and his dark beard had been severely barbered by Edith, who was riding in the baggage wain with a consignment of her famous ale for the feast to come.

'Why have we stopped?' Simon demanded, craning round at Godard and then looking at his father. 'Are we nearly there?'

'Almost,' Oliver replied, with a fond glance at his sons. 'Twenty years is a long time to be gone. The moment can ripen a little longer.' He drew a deep breath of the air in the hollow which marked the boundary of Ashbury land.

Simon wrinkled his nose, the concept of twenty years being completely outside his grasp. Henry yawned and sucked his thumb. Rosamund sat her pony demurely, but the way the small animal sidled and swished was a sign of its rider's suppressed excitement.

Fond pride and amusement in her eyes, Catrin eyed her daughter and smiled. She knew how Rosamund felt. There was a pleasant churning in her own vitals as she thought of what the day was to hold, and she was filled with joy for Oliver. At last he was returning to the lands that had been his family's, time out of mind. Not only that, but he was bringing the future with him.

There had been no encounter with Odinel the Fleming. He had died of a septic wound in the same month that Henry became king. His wife and daughter had gone to London to live with a distant relative whose, lands were not in dispute.

Catrin was glad that it had not come to a fight. From what they heard, Odinel had been a decent man for a mercenary, honourable by his code. Apart from the few months when Randal de Mohun had been captain of the garrison, the people had not suffered unduly from a foreigner's rule.

Oliver gathered up the reins and heeled Lucifer's flank. The grey paced forward on the path. For a moment Catrin admired the sight of man and horse in fluid motion before riding up to join them. There was a glow about Oliver today, as well there should be. The planes of his face were relaxed and there was a curve to his lips. Nothing could mar the pleasure of the day.

It was almost two years since Louis had died. At first the memory of that day, the ghost of his presence, had cast a long shadow. There were times when even in death it would have been all too easy for Louis to have sundered the bond between Catrin and Oliver. And because it would have been too easy, because neither of them wanted Louis to win, they had fought - with each other and then side by side; emerging from the fray strong and polished. Louis's shadow still lingered, but it was small now and insignificant. They could turn their backs on it and walk in the sunshine. Husband and wife. She touched the talisman of the woven love knot around her neck.

Oliver must have caught the movement for he glanced at her, a question in his eyes.

'I was thinking of our wedding day,' she said with a smile.

Oliver returned it. 'It is not every couple who have England's King and the heir to the throne as groomsmen and the Archbishop of Canterbury to perform the rites.'

'I wasn't thinking of the splendour.' They had been married during the negotiations for the peace treaty at Winchester, which meant that almost the entire baronage of England and the borders had been present to witness the ceremony.

'Then what?'

Catrin looked at him through her lashes. 'I was thinking that that day was and this day is perfect and how much I love you.' Conscious of the men behind him, she spoke quietly. Soft, bedchamber talk was not appropriate for the moment, but he had asked her.

Without bothering to look over his shoulder to see how many were watching, Oliver reached out and briefly squeezed his hand over hers. 'And set to become more perfect yet,' he said. 'I love you too, wife.'

They rode into Ashbury and the people gathered outside their houses to watch the troop ride past. Everywhere there were flashes of colour. Best garments had been donned. Hands and faces had been scrubbed and hair tidied. It was a mark of welcome and respect, but it was also anticipation. They knew that a feast of grand proportions was coming their way. Oliver grinned with pleasure and greeted many by name, reverting with ease to the English tongue. Rosamund stared

on wide-eyed. Henry clapped and shouted. Simon hid his face in Godard's tunic.

Instead of riding on to the keep, Oliver led the troop towards the small stone and timber church at the end of the main street and here dismounted. The villagers crowded behind, laughing, chattering, arguing.

Oliver lifted Catrin from her mare and led her to the church door. Then he turned her on his arm to face his troop and the people. 'I know we are already wed,' he murmured, 'but would you consider tying the knot again at the church door in front of Father Alberic?'

Catrin tilted her head to one side. 'Why?' From the corner of her eye she saw an elderly man in dusty priest's robes hurrying from the direction of his cottage and almost tripping over his robe in his haste.

'It would mean a great deal to the old man,' Oliver said. 'He wed my parents here and my brother. He's Ethel's half-brother, you know. My great-grandfather sent him to be educated for the priesthood at Malmesbury.'

Catrin stared. She was lost for words by the turn events had taken.

'It would mean a great deal to me too,' Oliver added softly, and took her hand, his thumb gently rubbing her knuckles. 'I want to set the seal on our new beginning.'

The priest arrived and for a moment leaned against the church wall to regain his breath. His tonsure was in need of a trim and his habit looked as if it had been used as a dog bed, but his careworn face was kindly and Catrin could see a distinct resemblance to Ethel in his blunt features. He was clutching a wedding chaplet fashioned out of daffodils and primroses.

'Welcome, my lord, my lady,' he wheezed.

Catrin eyed the chaplet narrowly. It had taken more than five minutes to make. 'You planned all this beforehand, didn't you?' she asked Oliver, with a gesture at the grinning villagers in their best feast-day clothes.

'Was I wrong?' His hand tightened over hers and his grey eyes were alight with love and humour . . . and perhaps the faintest trace of anxiety. Louis's shadow sulking in its corner.

Catrin gently took the chaplet from the recovering priest, removed her wimple and set the crown of flowers upon her braids. 'No,' she murmured, 'and in any case, I forgive you.'

They kissed to the accompaniment of cheers. As they entered the church, the scent of the flowers was joined by a poignant, herbal aroma and Catrin knew that this moment was special for Ethel too.

The author's note at the end of my novels is the place where I like to explain the threads of my research which have had an important bearing on the telling of the tale. I think this is because quite often the truth is stranger than fiction and I want to show that while the main characters in The Love Knot have come from my imagination, the roots from which they sprang are firmly grounded in fact.

The period of the civil war in England between Stephen and Mathilda is a complicated one with families and loyalties strained and sundered, sides swapped at the flick of a sword, and sudden shifts in the balance of power. I have tried to simplify the politics as much as possible so that they do not hold up the drive of Oliver and Catrin's story. Indeed, to have covered every switch and turn of the conflict would have made The Love Knot longer than The Lord of the Rings, more complicated than a tangled ball of knitting wool, and given my editor a nervous breakdown! Having said that, all the broad brushstrokes of the turbulence are in place.

Since leprosy made a sufferer an outcast from society, there were those prepared to take desperate measures to find a cure It was while researching the midwife's art in the Middle Ages that I came across the true case of a Frenchman stricken with leprosy who had inveigled an unscrupulous midwife into procuring a stillborn child for him in the belief that its fat was a certain cure for the disease.

It was also while researching the role of the herb-wife on more general terms that I turned up a wealth of information on knot magic, a lore which had been practised from the time of the Ancient Greeks. Even today, when people marry they are said to be 'tying the knot', a saying that goes back to the binding of two life threads by the Goddess Aphrodite. For anyone wanting to read further, I recommend the utterly fascinating Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Barbara G. Walker.

Although I have used the name Chepstow in the novel, during Stephen's time it was known by the earlier Welsh title of Striguil. As this is a name unfamiliar to the modern reader, I have changed it to the later rendition by which it is now known.

BOOK: The Love Knot
10.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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