'One of the finest writers of historical fiction in the world' BEN KANE
THE BRAND NEW MEDIEVAL ADVENTURE FROM THE MASTER OF HISTORICAL FICTION
1368. France, Spain and England prepare for war. In Italy, the Pope and the Visconti princes are battling for bloody supremacy.
The worst years of Sir William Gold's life are about to begin.
Leaving the side of his commander, Sir John Hawkwood, William embarks on a new journey that will bring him fame and favour - until a heart-breaking personal tragedy leads him to put down his sword.
But men of war can't stay out of battle for long. Gold yearns to return to Italy and rejoin Hawkwood. Only now the game of the Italian Princes is changing and, as chaos descends, Gold must finally decide who he stands for...
* * * * * * *
Praise for Christian Cameron:
'The master of historical fiction' SUNDAY TIMES
'A storyteller at the height of his powers' HISTORICAL NOVEL SOCIETY
'Superb' THE TIMES
'A sword-slash above the rest' IRISH EXAMINER
Release date: July 8, 2021
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Print pages: 464
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The rain fell outside – a steady, soaking rain that discouraged exercise and recommended the woodsmoke smell, good beer and snug seating of the inn. The common room was packed with men-at-arms and archers, pages and servants.
The innkeeper glanced at Sir William Gold, who had just finished describing the ‘Italian Wedding’ and was sitting back, drinking deep from a jack of small beer. Chaucer and Froissart began to ask each other questions – Froissart clearly excited by what he had heard.
Sir William held up his jack, and Aemilie pushed herself away from the wall where she had listened all morning to the older knight’s recital. She crossed to the bar, took a sandy, London-made pitcher off the shelf, poured it full from a cask on a trestle and then placed it between the three gentlemen.
Sir William smiled at her. ‘I’m sure you’re bored,’ he said.
‘It wasn’t exactly a shower of blood,’ Chaucer said to Sir William. He was speaking of the story Sir William had told the night before, of the wedding of Violante, daughter of the Count of Milan, Galeazzo Visconti, to the king of England’s fourth son, Lionel, Duke of Clarence. ‘I admit it had a nasty feel to it, but there was not that much blood. I don’t think Clarence ever noticed it happen.’
Froissart leaned over. ‘Was it really Lesparre?’ he asked.
He had a five-fold wax tablet, an elegant piece framed in ebony, and he had covered all ten sheets of wax with notes.
‘Yes,’ Sir William said. He was still looking at the innkeeper’s daughter.
‘Bored?’ she asked. ‘Sir William, every one of us is waiting for you to continue.’
Froissart shook his head. ‘Lesparre in Milan? How did I never meet him?’
Sir William took the pitcher and poured a third cup for Froissart and then, at a nod, for Chaucer.
‘You really ought to give up the life of arms and write a romance,’ Chaucer said. ‘Your story is much better than the reality, even if it is just as sordid.’
‘You flatter me,’ Sir William said.
‘I certainly didn’t intend to.’
Chaucer smiled, as if to cover the insult, and Sir William began to laugh. Froissart turned his head away, as if he feared an explosion.
‘Why don’t you tell us what you saw?’ Gold said.
Chaucer sat back. He looked out of the window at the steady rain.
‘I don’t suppose there’s aught else today,’ he said. ‘No sauvegardes, no ships, and no sun.’ He looked at Gold, and for the first time for hours his expression softened from a cynical disapproval to a smile of self-knowledge. ‘William, I was besotted and you know it. I am not sure that I noted anything.’
‘Besotted?’ Froissart caught the word. ‘With whom? The bride? She was very beautiful.’
Chaucer glanced at Froissart with something between contempt and pity.
‘Not the bride, by God’s mercy.’
‘Italy,’ Gold said.
‘How well you know me,’ Chaucer said simply. ‘Boccaccio? Petrarca? I could barely see my knife to cut my food. It was like finding myself between the Archangel Michael and the Blessed Virgin at dinner.’
‘And yet you talked constantly,’ Gold said.
Froissart made a face.
Chaucer mimed taking a thrust in the gut. ‘Unkind!’
‘I can remember you, prosing away—’
‘You are killing me,’ Chaucer said.
‘About time.’ Gold smiled, but he seemed to mean it. ‘You twist the knife often enough.’
‘I sat silent,’ Froissart said. ‘For my part, I was there to observe.’
‘I …’ Chaucer began, and then his shoulders slumped.
‘Master Chaucer needed the two most brilliant men of the age to know how intelligent he was,’ Gold said quietly.
‘Damnable and true,’ Chaucer said.
‘And they loved you anyway,’ Gold said. ‘So did Landini.’
Chaucer laughed. ‘I don’t suppose I ever had a greater shock than that all the literati of Italy knew you, William.’
‘I’ve carried Petrarca’s letters all over Europe,’ Gold said.
‘I remember when you took a letter to him from me in the year of the sack of Limoges.’ Chaucer glanced at Froissart.
Froissart shrugged. ‘The prince was a monster.’
‘We’re all monsters,’ Chaucer said.
‘The prince was ill, and the Duke of Lancaster behaved nobly,’ Sir William said. ‘It was scarcely a sack. To my shame, I’ve seen such. Limoges was merely—’
‘Horrible? Shameful?’ Chaucer spat.
‘Brutal?’ Froissart asked.
‘War,’ Gold said, his voice hard. ‘War is terrible. Lancaster did what he could. Many of us did. In fact, the slur comes from the Pope.’
‘You would say so,’ Chaucer said.
An uneasy silence fell.
‘Odd words from you, Chaucer.’ Gold was angry. ‘You’re devoted to Lancaster.’
‘And then you were with Hawkwood,’ Froissart said carefully.
Gold sat back, drank some more beer, and glanced at Aemilie.
‘Ah, messires, a great many things happened after the Italian Wedding. The worst year of my life, and no mistake.’
‘You might as well tell us,’ Chaucer said.
‘I want to hear about your time with Hawkwood,’ Froissart said.
‘Very well,’ Gold said with a grin. ‘But be warned. It’s a long time before I’ll come back to Sir John … and a lot of blood.’
May – June 1368
The morning after a great feast – you know how it is, gentles. Your head is hard and your legs are perhaps a little shaky. You’ve had too little sleep, and your stomach burns from all the wine. The day before, I’d fought in the lists. That evening had seen the wedding of Violante, daughter of the mighty count of Milan, to Lionel, Duke of Clarence, brother of the Prince of Wales and son of the king of England.
In my case I had bruises, wounds still fresh enough to bleed on our sheets, and a companion on a very narrow bed in the ‘office’, which was really just a passageway between the outer doors of a four-storey tower and the inner doors. You need to recall our arrangements before the wedding: the giant English Duke of Clarence and the Count of Savoy were sharing a tower in the Visconti palace. Richard Musard and I had seized it by coup de main from the steward, an excellent noble gentleman named Orgulafi.
And I’ll remind you that I’d just faced a fight in the lists with hafted weapons, and then a feast that was in many ways equally dangerous. Despite the rain of blood and the terrible overtones to the festivities, I’d been in the state of euphoria a knight reaches with victory, and Emile was by my side, beautiful, thoughtful and powerful, drawing the attention of every man of blood, and every man and woman of wit.
Listen, and I will tell you a true, private thing. Neither my wife nor I led pure lives before we wed. And for that, it has always given me a sinful satisfaction to look a certain kind of man in the eye – the man who wants my wife – and I let my eyes say, ‘Just try. Be my guest, if you think you are better than I.’
Because her scorn for the would-be suitors was always my reward. Courtly love is a dangerous game, and those who play for lust rather than love are often richly rewarded in scorn. As they should be.
Regardless, my lady stayed by me, both at the feast and as we moved through the streets with the revellers, drinking wine with a crowd of swordsmiths and then with our own archers – who, I discovered, were watching over us. Men beyond price. Witkin, of all people, was following us, mostly sober, with a staff, looking like a pilgrim – the best-armed pilgrim in Milan. Sam Bibbo handed me a cup of wine and told me where all of Camus’s people were.
So when we’d wandered and drunk far too much, we felt perfectly safe making love in an open church, among the pillars. Ah, I’m making Messire Froissart blush, but truly, sir, I speak of my wedded wife, and we took delight in each other, which Aquinas says is no sin.
Emile laughed afterwards. ‘I suppose the Comtesse d’Herblay is still a wanton,’ she said.
I kissed her.
‘A church, for God’s love!’ she said.
I laughed aloud. ‘If priests did not want couples courting in churches, they shouldn’t leave them unlocked all night.’
‘Fie, sir, you are blasphemous,’ she said.
‘If I had had less wine, I’d make you a different argument,’ I said, or something wittier.
She clutched me. ‘By the Virgin, William, who would I be if I hadn’t found you?’
‘Just as true for both of us,’ I said.
And as we swayed and stumbled down the nave in our outrageous finery, she stopped me. We kissed; I thought that was what she wanted. But she shook me off.
‘I want to go on another pilgrimage,’ she said. ‘I want away from all this.’
I hesitated, even drunk.
She put her arms around me. ‘The caravan from Jerusalem to Rhodes was the best time of my life,’ she said.
‘I have a company …’ I said.
‘William! I am richer than any two rich lords. Appoint an acting captain and we’ll pay him and them.’
Perhaps not the moment to explain that I was the leader, and they stayed with me for reasons. It always sounds so self-serving to say aloud, but certes, gentles, it is true, and every good knight knows it. Not with pride, but with humility. Men will willingly follow a good captain and will eagerly flee a bad one.
I managed to hold my tongue.
‘Say we will go,’ she said.
‘Rome?’ I asked.
‘That cesspit?’ she spat. ‘Santiago.’
I had never been to Spain. Chaucer here was there the year before, eh? With the prince, in ’67 . As you would hear, if only he’d tell the tale.
Any road, I can see through a brick wall in time, and she was right. Money was no longer any part of my life, except to spend it, which I confess was so remarkable that I oft-times forgot it. I kissed her again. Mayhap more than once.
‘Santiago!’ I said.
‘Swear!’ she said. ‘After this bloodbath of emotions, I need something sweet and beautiful.’
I dragged her by the hand back into the church we’d just stumbled out of, and we went to the altar like a pair of penitents. And perhaps we were – a little sin can be good for the soul, if it leads to redemption, eh?
Very well, Chaucer, I’m a poor theologian. But we knelt before the altar in Milan and swore before God to go on Camino before the year was out.
We awoke to dusty mouths and aching heads on a narrow pallet of straw in the ‘office’, like any routier and his doxy. I was told in no uncertain terms by a pair of sober archers that I needed to clear the guardroom with my wife before the Duke of Clarence came through.
Let me turn aside here and say that Clarence was taller than me – almost as tall as a ceiling. He was always the tallest man in any room, and well built, with a heavy frame. He’d have been a terror to face in combat. He was also cheerful, the way big men often are; he was afraid of nothing, and had excellent manners. I had only known him a few days and already I was happy to oblige him.
So I ignored my doxy’s complaints, but bundled her up in a linen sheet. I am not at my most gentle and chivalrous in such moments, and I suspect they still remember what I said, but Emile and I fled, and there was a certain amount of mockery. Marc-Antonio found me and put a cup of water in my hand and told me that the Count of Savoy desired my attendance on him as soon as I might be available, or some other flowery phrase, and there I was, my magical evening transformed into another working day, albeit enlivened by a hangover.
It was then that we discovered – pray remember we’d come in very late – that, of course, the bridal couple had come back to the tower, and Lady Violante had spent her wedding night in the safe apartments of her new husband, guarded, let me add, by Richard Musard and Fiore. The prince was up early, but his new wife lay in bed.
I mention these domestic details because, first, I think most of the city imagined that the bridal couple were in the palace proper, but they were not. We were still on the qui vive for some attack from the bishop’s party.
I heard the count and his lady go down the stairs while I was ‘indisposed’, and I heard him enquire for me. Sam Bibbo had my back, and reported that I was ‘inspecting the guard’.
Yes, well. Very exactly true.
I emerged from a garderobe to discover that one of the Lady Violante’s women had found the Comtesse d’Herblay on the stairs and ‘invited’ her to visit her mistress.
I was there. This is complicated, and delicate, and I will not tell you all I know. Suffice it to say that I could tell from the tension in the Italian woman’s face that something was wrong, and that she needed the support of a noble matron, which, of course, Emile did to perfection when she wasn’t frowzy from lack of sleep and suffering from a headache of profound proportions.
I left her to it, and went down to the guardroom, where, amidst many offers of fat bacon and cups of hot spiced wine from my ‘devoted’ friends and archers, I was undressed by Marc-Antonio and prepared to attend the count.
‘What’s …?’ I asked.
Marc-Antonio read my stumbling mind perfectly. ‘I think it is routine, My Lord. If I may be so bold …’
‘Go on,’ I muttered, or perhaps ‘gawg’ or ‘erg’.
‘I believe all the great lords are simply counting heads and ensuring they are attended. The game of lords.’
Sam Bibbo hadn’t had any more sleep than I had, but while I was still in braes he grabbed my hand as if I were a lass and dragged me down the stone steps to the yard. He proceeded to pour cold water from the bronze pump over my head and body for perhaps a minute, to the delight of a variety of cooks and children.
I sputtered, drank off a bucket of water, pissed it away, drank more, and felt much better, by God.
The Duke of Clarence came into the guardroom. His usually open face was hard, and he was in his underclothes without a cote-hardie or a doublet. He looked around. I could sense his anger.
‘Sir Guillaume,’ he said in Norman French.
His voice was loud, and cut through my head like a poleaxe. I did my best to bow. I was soaking wet, and on my third jack of water.
‘My people are already engaged,’ he said, ignoring my state. ‘I would like an immediate audience with Messire Galeazzo. Will you arrange that for me?’
I made a reverence. It was easier than speaking coherently.
The duke didn’t look like a man who’d spent a wedding night. He looked like a man who’d had no sleep and had been to hell.
I needed clothes, and sobriety, so I bowed again and passed him, heading for the stairs, abandoning Sam Bibbo to deal directly with an English prince. Not my most knightly act.
I remember passing two of Violante’s maids on the stairs. I was effectively naked, and there was a good deal of giggling. I bowed to them and my head didn’t pound, and quickly enough after, I was fully dressed in emerald-green hose and a golden yellow cote-hardie with hanging sleeves. I put on my chain and a hat, and Marc-Antonio gave me a purse with a dagger on the belt – not de Charny’s.
Bibbo came with me as my attendant. He looked at me as soon as we started to cross the great yard.
‘The duke’s in a right state,’ he said.
‘I noticed,’ I answered.
‘Nay, listen to me. He’s angry, and he said a thing or two …’ Sam glanced at me. ‘He thinks Violante has been …’ He looked away. Very tough men can be very shy about other people’s troubles. Sam, for all he could kill men with a bow or his hands, was in his heart a protective older brother. ‘Ill-used,’ he said, so quietly that the loud gossip of a pair of servants almost drowned him out.
‘Sweet Christ,’ I said, or something equally blasphemous. Not that I hadn’t already suspected.
I tried to adjust my wine-sodden mind to the idea while also thinking about guarding our party, and what the Bishop of Cambrai’s next move might be. Even after the wedding, I had to imagine he might strike again, and I needed somebody. The streets and even the internal yards of the palazzo were packed, and we knew our opponents still meant business.
‘Where is Savoy?’ I asked Bibbo.
I took for granted that he knew where to find the count, nor was I disappointed.
‘They call it the “Blue Room”,’ he said. ‘In the wing across the main yard. I have Ewan out at the drawbridge watching.’ He smiled his quiet smile. ‘You heard the thing I just said?’
‘Aye, Sam,’ I agreed. ‘I’m just not sure what to do about it.’
‘I’m not the plotter here—’ Sam said.
‘Jesu, I’m a plotter?’ I snapped.
‘More ’an me,’ Bibbo said. He leant close. ‘I don’t think the duke should be allowed to speak … directly … to Messire Galeazzo. There could be blood.’
‘Jesu,’ I said again. ‘Thanks, Sam. Where would I be without you?’
‘Dead? Or cooking someone’s food?’ Bibbo laughed. ‘Ye’re a fine cook, as I have every reason to remember,’ he added. We both laughed, and then he said, with rare severity, ‘You coaxed me through the pestilence. I don’t forget. But this is serious. Killing serious.’
We walked along the outside of the palace proper, which formed as two long buildings connected at one end, with a magnificent garden in the middle. We crossed the garden, bowing to our right and left. Every single functionary of the palace was as well or better dressed than I, and Bibbo, in his severe green pourpoint, looked like a monk. A military monk.
My relations with the Green Count had changed profoundly, as you’ve no doubt remarked. Far from keeping me waiting, he smiled as I entered his presence in one of the palace halls, and his wife allowed me to kiss her hand, as did his sister, who sat with them. A servant gave us pickled figs, which I devoured, and little saffron-covered sweetmeats from the East, which, to my shame, I also devoured.
However, Lady Bianca, the count’s sister and the wife of Galeazzo Visconti, lord of Milan, smiled at my greed, and commented that at least I was bold enough to eat. Lady Bonne, the count’s wife and the sister of the king of France, stared at her hands and twisted a scarf, betraying her unease.
‘Your people were brilliant yesterday,’ he said.
‘Your people, My Lord,’ I said.
That made him smile like the sun.
‘By God,’ he said. ‘You give good service, Sir William, and you and Richard have become pillars to me. Now I seek your counsel.’
His wife smiled at me, and his sister looked away.
‘Monsieur Richard,’ Lady Bonne called to the page who often attended to the count. He’d survived the plague and some other incidents, but that’s his story, not mine. He was fourteen or fifteen, pretty as a girl, and ready to be someone’s squire. As you’ll hear, presently.
He came up, gave me a good bow, and knelt by his mistress.
‘Take the other chamber people and go outside,’ she said, and gave him a gold florin.
I assumed, of course, that this was about Clarence. Or rather, Violante.
When the chamber was empty, the count stood and walked to the windows, which looked out over the courtyard where Fiore was practising.
‘I am contemplating a step,’ he said. ‘It will have … ramifications.’
‘Just tell him,’ Lady Bianca said.
Count Amadeus glanced at me. ‘Join me,’ he said, waving me to his window.
He handed me a parchment.
I glanced at it. It was a will, a legal testament by the Prince of Achaea’s father, Giacomo, barring him from the inheritance. I think I have mentioned the prince – an ally of our enemy, the Bishop of Cambrai known as Robert of Geneva, and an obstacle to the ambitions of my friend Nerio. Among other things. In the testament, Giacomo clearly and unequivocally left everything to his young wife and her children. He completely disinherited his eldest son – that is, Prince Filippo – for reasons which he spelt out in no uncertain terms.
As soon as I touched it, I knew it wasn’t the original, even though it had the requisite seals. I ran my hand over the beautiful milky vellum, and then looked carefully at the signature.
‘It’s not real,’ I said.
Bianca laughed aloud.
Count Amadeus glared at her.
‘I told him, and so did Montjoie,’ Lady Bonne said.
Montjoie was the countess’s knight.
‘We have the original,’ Amadeus said. ‘It says all this.’
‘It says it in a muddled language that no one could understand,’ Bianca said.
‘It is nonetheless my brother’s will,’ Amadeus challenged her.
‘No one will believe you,’ his wife rejoined.
Oh, par Dieu, gentles. Hell is where you have a hangover and your lord and his lady want you to take sides in a family argument. And my very slow wits were also comprehending that they didn’t know about Clarence.
‘He wants to present it today,’ Bianca said.
‘Against our wishes,’ Bonne said.
Well, no one hires me to be a counsellor.
‘I agree with you, ladies,’ I said, making a full reverence.
‘You agree with the women against your lawful lord?’ Amadeus snapped.
‘My Lord, if you don’t want my opinion, don’t ask!’ I shot back.
Bonne laughed aloud. ‘I wish all my brother’s courtiers were like you,’ she said. ‘You remind me of du Guesclin.’
‘Indeed, My Lady, he is my friend,’ I said.
Bonne turned her head. ‘Tell me a little of this, sir. How does an English knight come to be friends with a French knight?’
I was standing, so I bowed again. She was the king of France’s sister, after all.
‘I took him prisoner, and then later he took me, and then we were friends,’ I said.
Even the Green Count managed a laugh, and I saw how skilfully Lady Bonne had moved us around the count’s anger. Women – some women – are very skilled at this, because, I suspect, they are not encouraged to punch people or draw daggers when annoyed. A good knight might learn some things from such a lady.
‘And poor Boucicault, who died last year, was also friends with this knight,’ the count said. ‘They’re all friends.’ He shrugged. ‘So, messire, tell me why I should not reveal this thing?’
I tried not to shrug. Everyone but Bonne was on edge.
‘My Lord, it would only serve to put a damper on the wedding festivities, which certain forces already seek to effect,’ I said. ‘And it might humiliate the Visconti.’
I was gathering my courage to mention Clarence. It struck me, suddenly, that if I wasn’t quick enough, he might act on his own. Clarence was big, bluff, and not a deep thinker. And like any good knight, I think he was deeply protective of his lady from the moment he saw her. Various nightmare scenarios came to mind.
‘Exactly!’ Lady Bianca said. ‘My husband is ready to react to any slight. Believe me.’
‘Against that, if the document were examined, any clerk would say that the signature was in the same ink as the document …’ I shrugged. I couldn’t help myself.
‘Damn it to hell!’ the count swore. ‘I want to be rid of this bad vassal.’
I nodded. ‘My Lord, when the wedding is over and we are safe in our own lands, publish it,’ I said.
‘Exactly what Musard said,’ the Green Count muttered.
‘How is your countess?’ asked Lady Bonne.
‘Attending the new bride, Your Grace,’ I said.
‘Ah,’ she said in her pure French. ‘I cannot imagine a more perfect friend for a new bride than your wife.’
Was that a sting in the tail? I wondered if it was a reference to her wanton reputation, except that she smiled at me.
‘Please ask her to attend me when the duchess can spare her.’
I bowed. Gritted my teeth.
‘The Duke of Clarence is seeking an audience with Messire Galeazzo,’ I said carefully. ‘About matters relating to his new wife.’
I looked at Bonne.
The count’s sister, Bianca, wife to Galeazzo, had a pale complexion – but all remaining colour left her face.
‘Blessed Virgin,’ she said quietly.
The count looked at me.
‘My Lord, if you accept my advice, the duke would not meet with Messire Galeazzo today.’
Or maybe ever again.
Lady Bonne put a hand on my arm.
‘Is … this what your lady … is talking to my daughter, Violante …?’
I bowed. And said nothing. You may all think me a coward, but I didn’t know anything. Add to that – my wife grew up with them. I was, by comparison, a hedge knight. I didn’t know … anything. I didn’t know what the queen of France’s opinions were on … anything. Or those of the sister of the Count of Savoy, wed to the most dangerous man in Europe. I didn’t know if they liked my wife or not, and I didn’t know what they all thought of Violante, or Clarence, or the wedding … It was all as far beyond me as the stars in the celestial dome, and I still had a crushing hangover.
Lady Bianca smiled. It was a very particular smile, one that a woman of immense power and excellent training used.
‘I will see to this. Perhaps I need to have a little chat with my cousins,’ she said with a cheerfulness that only a person of immense will could have summoned.
She stood, I bowed, and she and Lady Bonne swept out.
Young Richard, assuming the private audience to be over, allowed a host of servants in; they were cleaning up the breakfast and taking down the tables.
As much to cover the silence as anything else, I said, ‘My Lord, what is your will concerning my company? They are serving the Visconti at your expense.’
It seemed as good a time as any to ask, and my intention was to give him time to cover his thoughts. He had shock writ large on his face.
He glanced at me. ‘Sometimes I think you have a pact with the Devil, you can so clearly read my mind. In Venice once … Never mind. They are fine just as they are, for now. I will want you in attendance on me for the next few weeks.’ He looked after his wife and sister as they swept out. Shook his head. ‘This is bad,’ he murmured.
‘I will appoint an acting captain,’ I said, a little too loud. ‘Another very small matter,’ I added. ‘My wife wishes me to ask for your blessing. Last night we swore a vow of pilgrimage, to go on camino to Santiago.’
Amadeus looked at me. ‘Are you dissatisfied with my lordship?’ he asked.
‘In no way, My Lord,’ I said.
He raised his chin. ‘Ah. Good, then. Yes, of course you may make a pilgrimage. I would request your attendance this summer, however. And I may need your full company, William. My nephew has hired not just Camus, but the Monk of Hecz. You know of him?’
‘No,’ I confessed.
‘German. Apparently he’s actually a monk, as well as a routier. He has a dark repute and a cursed record of success. His opponents die. Often in tragic accidents.’
The count looked at his two ladies, who were crossing the yard outside.
I bowed. ‘My Lord, I think you are so well served by gentlemen that no poisoner or villain can get at you,’ I said. ‘But I will be happy to stay by your side all summer.’
‘Good. I will be losing your friend Sir Richard very soon.’
That stopped me. ‘My Lord?’
He nodded. ‘The Duke of Clarence needs knights and attendants. He has asked for both of you. I cannot afford to lose you both. I am sending him Richard because I need your company if it comes to war with Filippo. Do I make myself clear?’
Well, there it was – the sheer arrogance of the Count of Savoy. I can be arrogant myself, of course – it takes one to know one. But how he could fail to see that he was going to alienate Richard by treating him like a chattel – Richard Musard, a knight of his own Order of the Black Swan!
Richard Musard, a former slave.
However, it is one thing to tell a great lord that his plan to use a forgery is badly considered, and another to tell him that he’s being an arrogant sod. I held my tongue, and as soon as I was released, I went to find Richard, who was in a solar playing chess with a pretty woman from the household.
‘I don’t want to discuss it,’ he said as I looked in.
‘I want to know that this isn’t between us,’ I said, or something like it. ‘And I need your help.’
He gave me a look that said it was, most definitely, between us.
‘How could it be?’ he said sweetly, and turned his back on me.
Well, there we were. I thought my day had gone as badly as it might have, and then I returned to our tower and found my wife sitting, half dressed and blank-faced, in a room shared by the other ladies.
I embraced her. She was stiff. Not interested in my embrace.
‘I’m not really fond of men just now,’ she snapped. ‘Go and fight someone with a sword. Or something.’
In the courtyard, Fiore was playing with a very long sword, snapping cuts in various directions.
‘Care to practise?’ he asked.
‘Not particularly,’ I said.
‘Excellent,’ he said. ‘Practise anyway.’
‘I’m injured,’ I insisted.
‘Mmmm,’ he said, enigmatically.
So, as usual, I did what he wanted – picked up a wooden waster and did exercises until the wound under my cote began to bleed. Admittedly, by then I felt much better.
A little sword work is usually a miraculous cure, as even Fiore knew, and by the time I’d washed my wound and stretched a little and put on a clean shirt, my lady was fully dressed and of a better cheer.
‘Can you tell me, love?’ I asked.
‘Perhaps later,’ she said. ‘A woman’s crisis.’
‘I have good news,’ I said.
She looked at me. ‘I would love to hear something good,’ she said.
‘Our lord gives us his blessing to go to Santiago in the autumn,’ I said.
She kissed me quickly, without warmth.
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