Heart of Honor (Knights of Honor Book 5)
The man awakens and has no memory of his identity, but Alys believes he might be Kit Emory, a young man she'd met once when she was a young girl. Kit comforted her when the queen died and Alys never forgot his kindness to her. Alys does what she can to jog Kit's memory, even as she struggles with her growing attraction to him, knowing Kit was betrothed and must now be wed. Kit also finds his desire deepening for Alys, but he doesn't know his own name, much less if he has a wife or family. Until he recalls who he is, he refuses to commit his heart to Alys.
Once Kit regains his memory and realizes he is free to pursue Alys, their road to love is anything but smooth.
Join Kit and Alys as they overcome events that continue to tear them apart and threaten the love they have for one another.
Each book in the Knights of Honor series is a standalone story that can be enjoyed out of order.
Book #1 Word of Honor
Book #2 Marked by Honor
Book #3 Code of Honor
Book #4 Journey to Honor
Release date: August 21, 2017
Publisher: Dragonblade Publishing, Inc.
Print pages: 220
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Heart of Honor (Knights of Honor Book 5)
Windsor Castle—August 1369
“I simply do not understand why you are not betrothed, Alys. You are already ten and two. Why, I have been betrothed to Christopher since I was seven years of age.”
Alys de Montfort took a deep breath and continued grinding the herbs in front of her. This new girl who’d only been present at the royal court for three weeks might drive her to madness.
Especially if Alys had to listen to her speak about this Christopher person. Again.
“A girl who is not betrothed by the time she arrives at court should find herself quickly so soon after her arrival,” Richessa continued. “’Tis her parents’ responsibility as members of the nobility to insure the most advantageous match.” She sighed. “And I could not be more pleased to wed Christopher Emory when the time comes. He is so handsome and well spoken. Father says it’s a match that will benefit both the Giffard and Emory families.”
Aggravated, Alys pushed harder with her pestle, crushing the rosemary leaves lying in the wooden mortar until they were finely ground.
Yet she knew her mother would urge her to be gracious in such a trying situation, so she said, “You are fortunate, Richessa, to find yourself betrothed to such an outstanding choice.”
The younger girl set her pestle down and gazed at Alys earnestly. “You should demand that your father take care of the matter for you. He is being remiss in his duties.”
She stifled the laughter that threatened to bubble up at the thought of Geoffrey de Montfort being negligent. Honor and respect were woven tightly into his character, as was the deep love he had for his wife and children. Her father was the best man she knew—and Alys had met hundreds of them during her time spent at the various royal palaces throughout England.
“I can take care of myself,” she assured her new acquaintance. “Besides, my parents are close with the king and queen. They have entrusted Queen Philippa to find my betrothed for me.”
Richessa’s eyes widened in surprise. “I am sorry. I did not know.”
“Talk less—and listen more. You will learn much if you do.”
Hurt filled the girl’s face as tears welled in her eyes.
Alys tried to repair the damage she had caused by softening her tone. “I apologize, Richessa. I did not mean to tread upon your feelings. I merely offer advice to you since I have been at court longer.”
“How many years have you been in service to the queen?”
“Five years now,” Alys replied. “The king and queen came to my family’s home on summer progress a few times. The queen asked my parents if I could foster with her, so my father brought me to London at her request.” She thought a moment. “’Twas probably best to separate me from my twin brother. Ancel fosters with the Earl of Winterbourne, an hour’s ride from my home of Kinwick. Being apart will allow us to forge our own identities.”
Richessa’s brows knit together. “What does that even mean?”
She saw true puzzlement on the young girl’s face. Oh, Richessa Giffard would be a good wife to this all-knowing Christopher Emory. She would do everything her husband asked and let him do her thinking for her—which was the exact opposite of who Alys had come to be. Her mother Merryn had raised Alys to be a strong woman. When she did wed, her husband would soon find out his new wife had opinions and a purpose in life—if he did not already know beforehand.
Alys grew wistful. She missed her mother so much. While she realized fostering with the queen was a unique opportunity that few shared, she wished that she could be back home at Kinwick. Each time she returned for Christmas or a summer visit, Merryn de Montfort taught her more about herbs and remedies. As Alys’ knowledge grew under her mother’s tutelage, so had her reputation at the royal court. Even the king and queen requested she prepare powders for them when they suffered from a headache or loose bowels. Courtiers came to her seeking remedies from everything to sprained joints and queasy bellies to toothaches and bruises. She had even delivered a few babes when a midwife couldn’t be located quickly enough.
Mayhap she was not meant to marry, she realized. Instead, God might be calling her to dedicate her life to healing others. Not as a good sister, though. Alys would never wish to be locked away in a convent, but she might serve Him in another capacity. She enjoyed helping the people at court who had various ailments. Permanently serving as a healer in the royal household might be an option to consider, but she would require far more training.
Hilith rushed in, her cheeks flushed a bright pink. “I am happy I located you, Alys. You are needed. Bring your case.”
Alys reached for the case that contained the various herbs and medicines she used. It proved her constant companion.
“Finish what you are doing, Richessa,” she instructed, “and place the herbs in the containers I have shown you. Clean the bowls thoroughly, with hot water, and then let them air dry. I thank you for your help this afternoon. You did well. Now, please excuse me.”
She left with Hilith, who linked an arm through hers and led Alys down the corridor.
“Am I truly needed,” she asked, “or are you rescuing me from hearing more tales about Christopher the Great?”
Her friend giggled. “By the Virgin, I swear that girl can speak of nothing but her handsome betrothed. I have almost gone mad listening to her nonsense about a man she barely knows.” Hilith gave her arm a squeeze. “But the queen did ask for you, Alys. That is why I sought you out.”
“Is she in pain again?”
Hilith shrugged. “If so, she is good at hiding it from everyone.”
As they wound their way to the Rose Tower, Alys worried about Queen Philippa’s condition, which had baffled the royal physician. Alys had even written to her mother for advice on how to treat the royal, whose feet and ankles continued to swell each passing day. The condition now affected her legs and had spread up to her hands. The queen found it hard to bend her fingers these days and could not do any needlework. Not one to complain, she had grown quieter than usual in recent weeks. Usually talkative and gay, Philippa now spoke little and suffered in silence.
They reached the queen’s rooms. Her ladies-in-waiting sat in a circle. Some sewed as Agnes, the chief lady-in-waiting, read aloud to those gathered.
The noblewoman closed her book as they entered. “She is waiting for you, Lady Alys.”
Alys saw the concern written on Agnes’ face. She nodded and went to the bedchamber door. Rapping lightly, she heard a voice call for her to enter.
It surprised her that Philippa was alone, reclining on the bed. Her shoes and stockings had been removed and her skirts pushed up. Pillows rested under her legs and feet. But what surprised Alys more was the swelling about the woman’s eyes and cheeks. Usually, this puffiness only occurred in the mornings after the queen had reclined all night in sleep. Alys came to attend the royal each morning, giving her Petty Morel boiled in water and reduced down, which the queen drank before she arose. She had also begun to create an extract of the leaves and stems, combined with Horehound and wine, for the queen to drink in the evenings before she retired to bed. The concoction proved a strong painkiller and aided the queen as she went to sleep since it made her drowsy.
Alys closed the door and curtseyed. “Greetings, your grace. How may I help you?”
“Come closer, child. Sit.”
She did so, drawing a chair next to the bed as she set her case down beside her. She waited for the queen to speak but could not help noticing how swollen her lower extremities were. It was the worst Alys had seen since the queen’s decline had begun.
“How old are you now, Lady Alys?”
“I just turned ten and two last week, your grace, but you know that. You remember everything you are told—and then some.”
Philippa smiled, looking pleased at Alys’ answer. “I do. And I think it’s time I should arrange a betrothal for you. Before I die.”
Her bold words caused panic to flare within Alys. She dug her nails into her palms and calmly replied, “I hope you will see many more years, my queen.”
The queen frowned. “Alys de Montfort, you have never been untruthful with me. Do not start now.”
She felt her cheeks burn and lowered her eyes.
“Does anyone at court strike your fancy?”
She met the queen’s eyes. “Nay, your grace. In fact, I may be destined to remain alone.”
Philippa snorted. “I will not allow such a thing. You are compassionate and nurturing. You need to care for a great estate as your mother Merryn does. Take care of its people. Your husband. Your children.”
Alys sighed. “I fear I shall never find love, your grace, and I do want to fall in love with my future husband.”
The queen chuckled and then drew in a sharp breath. “Oh, that hurts.”
“I am sorry to have made you laugh,” she apologized.
Philippa studied her a moment.
“A love match is not unheard of, my dear, but love can grow between a man and wife. Look at the king and me for no greater example. The bishop came to Hainault because a marriage between England and Belgium would be favorable to both of our countries. He was to choose one of Count William’s daughters. The bishop selected me, he said, because I was tall and pretty. He thought Edward would be pleased with this choice.
“I came to England and married the king,” she continued. “We grew to respect one another, and that admiration eventually turned to love. That love has matured over our decades together, through many children and many victories over our enemies.”
“Oh, everyone knows how the king loves you,” Alys said.
“And I fear he will miss me when I am gone.”
“The king adores you,” Alys insisted. “He would be despondent without you as my father would be if he lost Mother.”
Philippa looked at her and smiled. “And your parents have loved each other since childhood. I know their story well.”
Alys shrugged. “’Tis how things are in my family. My cousin Raynor told me that when he first caught sight of his Beatrice, he knew they were destined to wed. He said by the time they did marry, they knew they’d fallen in love with one another.”
“And your cousins Elysande and Avelyn? They, too, made love matches, I recall.” The queen shook her head. “I have had this exact conversation with Lady Avelyn, my dear, when she attended me at court several years ago.”
“Avelyn and Lord Kenric are most happy, your grace. As are Elysande and Lord Michael.” She paused. “I know that you allowed your eldest son, the Black Prince, to marry for love. So it’s not unknown even in your family, I suppose.”
The queen shook her head. “I thought that boy would never marry,” she confided. “But he—like you—wanted to wait for love. He was one and thirty before he wed his cousin Joan. An old man,” she teased.
“But a happy one because he married his soul mate,” Alys pointed out.
“Still, though your family has a history of falling in love with their spouses, I promised Lord Geoffrey and Lady Merryn that I would arrange a betrothal for you.”
“You will, my queen. I promise that I will look more carefully at the men at court.” She sighed. “There’s bound to be someone whom I could love, I suppose.”
Philippa laughed again, wincing at the pain it brought. “You do entertain me, Lady Alys. Only you would pass over men with wealth, good looks, and old family names in the elusive hunt for love.” She paused. “But I must rest, Child.”
“Would you like more of the—”
“Nay. In fact, I think I would like to speak to the king. Will you fetch him here for me?”
“Of course, your grace.”
Alys rose as the queen shut her eyes. She picked up her case and slipped from the room, closing the door behind her. As she glanced up, she saw a stranger pacing on the far side of the room. Her insides fluttered in an unusual way as she felt herself grow warm.
He looked to be a handful of years older than she, with dark brown hair and a tall, lean frame. He possessed an energy about him that would draw others to him.
He glanced over at her and called out, “Are you Lady Alys?”
He crossed the room and told her, “The king has need of you, my lady. Come with me.”
She followed him from the queen’s rooms to the other side of the Rose Tower, where the king occupied a series of rooms for his private use.
As the young man escorted her, Alys found herself tongue-tied. She wondered what ailed her, as she never proved shy with others.
“Are you new at court?” she finally managed to get out.
He looked down and grinned at her, causing her heart to skip a beat. “Aye. My name is Kit. My father was recently named chamberlain to the king. He has been the chancellor for the exchequer after working in the treasury for many years. He sent for me to assist him, and I arrived at Windsor Castle a sennight ago.”
They cut around a group of courtiers standing in the hallway. Alys nodded at Lord Sewell Talbot. He had helped guide her cousin Avelyn when she served in the queen’s household, and the nobleman had also taken an interest in Alys when she arrived in London. She had learned that Lord Sewell knew everyone—and their business.
“Watch that one,” Talbot mouthed to her as they passed, nodding his head in Kit’s direction.
They rounded a corner and she stopped. Kit took a few steps more and then turned, impatience on his face at her delaying them.
“Why would Lord Sewell warn me about you since you are newly arrived?” she boldly asked.
His sheepish grin intrigued her. He returned to her side. “I thought I could make a new start at court, but if Lord Sewell is a friend of yours, he will tell you all that he knows.”
“Are you implying that he is indiscreet?”
“Nay, my lady. He would only be telling you the truth.” Kit took her hand and pulled her into a dim alcove mere steps from where they stood.
Now hidden from view, Alys wished she had her wooden sword with her. Her cousin Raynor had crafted it for her when she was but six years of age and taught her how to use it, warning her of forward men at court. Raynor also taught her a few tricks to use in case her sword was not handy.
She would put one to good use now.
“My cousin told me I would find men such as you at court,” she said, her voice low and honeyed, the better to throw this stranger off. In a swift move, she slammed her foot into his knee, watching pain and surprise flicker in his vibrant green eyes. Before he stumbled, she gave him a hard, swift kick in what Raynor termed ‘the family jewels.’
Immediately, Kit grunted and doubled over.
Alys turned to step calmly from the alcove, gripping her case. No sense running out like a madwoman. ‘Twould be embarrassing to her if the circumstances were known. She did not want to become an object of gossip.
But that was her mistake.
Firm fingers latched onto her ankle and pulled, causing her to fall to her knees. She whipped around as Kit toppled over, still clutching her.
She drew up her free leg to deliver the kick of her life.
“Stop,” he wheezed. “I . . . I . . . do not wish to harm . . . you,” he got out.
Alys wiggled, trying to see if he would release her ankle, but he held fast. He eased himself to a seated position and leaned against the wall. His breath came in short, hard spurts. Seeing he refused to relinquish her, she decided screaming was her best alternative.
“No,” he hissed when she opened her mouth. “Do not . . . draw . . . attention.”
She met his eyes and realized he was not a threat to her in his present condition. The tension which had built left her body. Then her pulse began beating, the sound rumbling in her ears.
It was his touch. Despite the fact she thought he had wickedness on his mind, something inside her stirred.
“I will let . . . go. But please. Stay, my lady,” he begged.
Oddly, she did not want him to release her, though he now did. Alys drew her freed foot close to her. She wanted to glare at him but the peculiar rush of feelings tumbling inside of her would not allow her to do so.
They sat looking at each other a moment until Kit regained his composure.
“I did not plan to take advantage of you, my lady. I merely wished to draw you aside to share something with you.”
She frowned in confusion. “What?”
He shook his head. “I had hoped my past would not catch up with me at court, but I am now sure that it already has. Especially if you know Lord Sewell. He sticks his nose in everyone’s affairs.”
“I like him,” she defended. “He was ever so kind to my cousin Avelyn when she was at court several years ago. He told her of trouble that brewed and how a supposed friend of hers actually betrayed her in the worst way. Avelyn was grateful to him. In fact, she even wrote to Lord Sewell and asked him to look out for me during my time in the queen’s household.
“So watch what you say, my lord.”
“Then I shall speak the truth. ‘Twas why I wanted to pull you aside in the first place. I wished to tell you something of myself.” He paused. “My father did send for me—but not to assist him. Only because I had been dismissed from another nobleman’s household. Again.”
Alys heard something in his voice that tugged at her heart. Without thinking, she scooted over to him and took his hand.
“What happened, my lord?”
Kit shrugged. “What always happens. Since childhood, I have been constantly in trouble. I could never stay still. I went through several tutors, none who wished to remain and teach me. They all said I was a bright boy but full of too much mischief.”
He gazed into her eyes. “I have fostered in four households, Lady Alys. And four times I have been asked to leave. I am too bold. I do not follow the rules. I am disrespectful. It’s always something.” He shook his head. “This last time I’d been placed in the household at a friend of Lord Sewell’s. He must have heard about the . . . incident.”
She squeezed his hand in encouragement. “Go on.”
“I served in Lord Brutus’ service. I think my father paid him with several bags of gold simply to take me on. Lord Brutus was especially hard on me. He beat me at the slightest provocation. Everything that went wrong in the household was forever blamed on me.” Kit chuckled. “That’s why I called him Lord Brutal behind his back—and then to his face.”
Alys sucked in her breath. “You didn’t.”
His green eyes gleamed. “But I did. That proved to be the final straw. He sent me back to my mother at Brentwood. She did not know what to do with me, so she wrote to my father. He requested my presence here at court. I assume he believes I will learn under his tutelage and tame my wild ways. I briefly met the king, though. He praised my boldness,” Kit said, pride evident in his voice.
“You must do your best to fit in, Kit,” she said softly. Her hand throbbed in his, but she cast aside the thoughts that brought. “The king may have complimented you, but he is strict when it comes to the rules of court. You will not be given special consideration. You must conform in all practices of the court. It won’t only affect you, but your actions will affect your father and his position at court.”
Kit blew out a long breath. “Then we are doomed. Curbing my restless nature is the last thing I can do. I have always been rash and acted first without thought. Mayhap I will beg Father to send me home instead of jeopardizing his role at court. I would not wish to harm his relationship with the king.”
He slowly drew himself to his feet, pulling her up to her own.
“You surprise me.”
Alys wondered at his words and asked, “Why?”
He searched her face as if looking for the answer. “The king demanded you come to rid him of his headache. I expected Lady Alys to be a healer who was older, not a mere girl. And now you have dispensed words of wisdom to me. You are quite an unusual person, Lady Alys.”
Her insides glowed with the praise he offered to her. She tamped down the butterflies that fluttered in her stomach.
“I have known the king since childhood and have fostered with the queen these past five years. My mother has a way in the healing arts. She has passed on her knowledge to me. I often prepare potions for the king when his head aches or if his bowels run foul.”
“Well, the king is lucky to have you. But come, we must head swiftly to his side. I fear he will be upset at the delay.”
“If he is, I can placate him,” Alys said. “I will tell him I was with the queen and only recently left her side. He loves his wife very much and knows she’s felt poorly as of late. He won’t be angry with you, my lord.”
Kit released her hand and reached down to retrieve her case. He handed it to her as they stepped out into the corridor and hurried to the opposite end of the Rose Tower.
They arrived at their destination and entered the king’s chambers. Kit brought her straight to the royal monarch, bowing and stepping aside as Alys made her curtsey.
“My head hurt before, but I did as you have suggested and ate some fruit and drank a tankard of ale. I feel much better, Lady Alys. I am sorry you made the trip here. But how is my queen today?”
She knew sometimes the king got so busy he forgot to eat or drink. She found if he got something into him, preferably juicy fruits or ale, he seemed to recover quickly.
“The queen asked that you come visit her as soon as possible, your highness. She was in some pain when I left her side just now.” Knowing he respected honesty, she added, “The swelling is much greater today. Her feet and ankles are twice their normal size, as are her legs. I think a visit from you would go a long way in bringing her relief.”
Edward stood. “Let us go to her then.” He motioned to his royal physician. “Hobard. Come with us.”
The king strode from the room as assembled courtiers stepped aside, only to fall in behind him. Alys found herself almost swallowed up by the horde.
Then someone grasped her hand and pulled her forward.
She looked and saw it was Kit who had hold of her. He maneuvered them through the crowd till they caught up with the king just before he entered the queen’s rooms.
The assembled ladies-in-waiting all rose as he made his way across the room. Edward paused at the door and seemed to steel himself before he knocked and went in. Hobard followed the monarch inside. Kit boldly drew Alys into the chamber and closed the door behind them.
The queen looked pale but smiled as her husband pulled a chair close and took her hands in his.
“We have had a good life together, have we not?” she asked.
“We have indeed.”
“I fear I have not accomplished enough.”
The king laughed. “You gave me ten and four children, my love. That alone should be accomplishment enough.”
He grew serious. “But you have done far more than that. You founded the colony of Flemish weavers at Norwich and have supported them for years. You brought artists and scholars from Hainault to the court. Your namesake college sits at Oxford and will for decades to come. You have acted as my regent on many occasions when I have left the country.
“And you have been my loyal, most loving companion for forty years. Your wisdom and kindness are a shining beacon that call out to me in my darkest times.”
Edward leaned forward and tenderly kissed her hands.
Philippa closed her eyes and smiled. The room remained silent for several minutes. Then she opened her eyes. Alys saw the pain in them and shuddered.
“I would ask three things of you, Husband. Pay all the merchants I have engaged for their wares. Fulfill any gifts I have made to the church and my servants.”
The queen swallowed. “And when God calls you hence, lie by my side at Westminster Abbey.”
Tears shone in the king’s eyes as he replied, “Lady, all this shall be done.” He leaned to kiss her cheek.
Tears sprang to Alys’ eyes. She realized Kit still held her hand in his. She glanced up at him, her mouth trembling. He brushed a hand against her hair in comfort.
Quietly, the king said, “I believe she is gone, Hobard.”
Alys watched the royal physician move forward to examine the queen. After a minute, he nodded. No other words were necessary.
“’Twill be as she asked,” the king said. He slowly trod from the room, followed by Hobard.
She heard him say something to the gathered women in the next room. Immediately, sobs broke out. Alys’ tears began to roll down her cheeks.
Silently, Kit wrapped her in his arms. Alys burrowed her face into his chest. They stood that way a long moment without words. She drew strength from him as she remembered the remarkable woman who had passed.
Finally, she drew back. “England has lost a great lady,” she told him. “The queen was kind and compassionate and knew how to handle the king like no other.”
“I am sorry for your loss,” he said. “You seem to have known her well.”
Alys nodded. “We should leave.”
Reluctantly, she pulled her hand from his and felt at a loss when it was free. She wrapped it around the handle of her case, both hands squeezing it to help ground herself.
They exited the bedchamber. Weeping women embraced one another, seeking comfort from such a tremendous loss.
Alys looked up at Kit. Before she could speak, he said, “You wish to be alone. Let me escort you to your bedchamber.”
She nodded and followed him from the queen’s rooms, no words between them. They walked slowly down the long corridors until they arrived at the room she shared with Hilith.
“Thank you,” she said.
“I am sorry we met under such circumstances, my lady. I did not know the queen as you did, but I realize your heart is heavy.”
Alys nodded, words impossible to speak.
Kit pulled her to him again, his arms enveloping her in a comforting warmth. She wished she could stay this way forever.
“What are you doing, Christopher?” a familiar voice screeched.
Kit dropped his arms and turned to face his accuser.
“I am giving solace to Lady Alys, my lady. We come from the queen’s bedside. She has passed on to a better world.”
Richessa Giffard stepped forward and tucked her arm possessively through the crook of Kit’s arm. She glared at Alys as if she wished Alys were dead.
At that moment, Alys realized that Kit . . . was Christopher Emory.
London— April 1375
Kit Emory made his way through the palace as only an insider could have. He avoided the usually crowded corridors and receiving rooms, filled with sycophants and foreigners. Instead, he slipped through a little used door that his father had shown him when he first came to court six years ago. The hall he entered served as a holding area for those awaiting their audience with the king.
His eyes skimmed over close to a dozen men grouped in small circles scattered about the room. He sighed and leaned against the wall, wondering how long he would wait before he could speak with his father.
He listened in on the conversation between the trio standing to his right. From what he overheard, Kit gathered that the Duke of Lancaster and a committee of men involved in the signing of the Treaty of Bruges currently had an audience with the king. As one of Edward’s closest advisers, Kit’s father would be in the thick of things.
A passing servant offered him a glass of wine. He swallowed the sweet brew with a tinge of sorrow. He did not want to be on English soil. He preferred to be back fighting the French—even though he had not seen his country meet with success during this most recent campaign. Kit had been part of the ill-fated group of ships that had sailed with the king and his men three years ago. Every attempt to land English troops in France had been met with contrary winds that finally drove them back home. His father, knowing that the king was in no shape to lead a war party, had called the misadventure a blessing in disguise.
That made Kit even more eager to be a part of the troops when the Duke of Lancaster, John of Gaunt, had led a march through France two years ago. Though fighting had been fierce and laden with heavy casualties, the king’s second son had achieved nothing through this endeavor. Unlike his older brother, the Black Prince, the duke did not have a keen military mind. His strategies proved fruitless, and the English troops never maximized any advantage they’d held. The entire venture ended in failure. Subsequent battles Kit had fought in saw dwindling forces falling to the French—including the one where he lost men due to his own stupidity—along with his friend Ralf.
England had failed to keep Aquitaine and only held four coastal cities in France now. Kit wondered if his country would ever return to its former greatness during his own lifetime. From the sound of it, the same thoughts were being echoed by the two men to his left.
Turning slightly in their direction, Kit decided to join in their conversation.
“At least we retained Calais. It’s a vital port,” said one with piercing blue eyes and the rugged build and air of a warrior.
“But what good are four towns, Michael? By the Christ, we need the Black Prince whole again, to lead us against these French bastards,” his companion proclaimed. The man’s moss green eyes flickered with anger. A broad chest and muscled arms let Kit know this one was a man to be reckoned with. If in a fight, he would want both of these knights by his side.
“You speak of the treaty?” he asked.
Both men glanced to where Kit stood and shook their heads, their eyes wary. He knew spies could be anywhere, so he kept his own voice low.
“I believe the year’s truce the treaty calls for will only give France more time to build up their weaponry,” Kit said. “And more time for the Duke of Lancaster to dig himself into a hole.”
The one called Michael studied him. “You are free with your tongue, my friend.”
He regretted his rash statement. He often spoke—or acted—upon impulse without considering the consequences. His mother termed it his greatest flaw. And with his father as an adviser to the king, he had been privy to information others did not have. Kit shrugged and said, “It’s merely my opinion. I fear England is in for hard times ahead with both the king and the Black Prince in poor health.”
The larger man nodded and offered his hand. “Kenric Fairfax. Earl of Shadowfaire.” He indicated his companion. “This is Michael Devereux. Earl of Sandbourne.”
“I am Kit Emory, son of Godwin Emory, Baron of Brentley. I have been with the duke’s men in France and have only returned home with the news of this truce.”
“We, too, have fought for England these last few years. I am ready to return to my children and my sweetest Elysande,” said Devereux.
“You think she will tear herself away from her precious horses in order to greet you?” Fairfax teased.
Devereux punched the nobleman in the arm good-naturedly. “She better. I am starved for her kisses and her touch.”
“And I long to embrace Avelyn and never let her go,” Fairfax answered. “Other than to hug my own children, of course.”
Kit heard something in the voices of both men that caused him an inkling of jealousy.
“You both sound smitten with your wives,” he noted cautiously.
Both men laughed. Devereux said, “We married sisters, nieces to Lord Geoffrey de Montfort.”
Fairfax added, “They are both beautiful women with quick wits and loyal hearts.” He beamed. “I do not care if the world knows. I love my Avelyn with every fiber of my being, and I know Michael feels the same way about Elysande.”
“We are both men who married for love and find ourselves constantly challenged by the women we wed.” Devereux added. He grinned. “And we would not have it any other way.” He paused. “Are you married, Emory?”
“Aye.” He thought of his loveless union with Richessa, a woman whose inane chatter drove him to madness—when he could tolerate her presence. She had given birth twice to stillborn children. The midwife had told him after the last one that Richessa could no longer bear any more. Since his wife’s health had grown poor, Kit wondered how she had fared in his time away from England. As an only son, he would need to provide an heir for Brentwood.
If he could, he idly wondered if the charming Alys de Montfort might still be available. From time to time, he found himself musing over what happened to the budding beauty he had met when he first came to court. He had caught the de Montfort name when Devereux mentioned it and decided to inquire, hoping to appease his curiosity.
“You mentioned Lord Geoffrey de Montfort. Might he be father to Lady Alys de Montfort?”
“He is indeed,” Devereux said. “Lord Geoffrey is inside now, meeting with the king, along with his cousin Raynor. Both men participated in the signing of the latest treaty.”
“Lord Geoffrey is the best knight in all of England,” Fairfax proclaimed. “A warrior like no other and possessing a good heart and keen mind. Alys is his oldest daughter. She favors her mother Merryn in looks and has her mother’s healing ways. So you know her?”
Kit nodded. “I met Lady Alys briefly at court. Years ago, on the day the queen died.”
Devereux nodded solemnly. “God bless the good queen. Poor Alys took her death quite hard.”
“I did not see her at court after that event. Did she leave to foster elsewhere?”
“Nay, she returned home to Kinwick Castle,” Fairfax said. “She had been with the queen several years and was ready to come home. Lady Merryn knows much about herbs and healing. She has passed on her knowledge to Lady Alys through the years, and Alys’ reputation grows each year.”
“Do you visit Kinwick often?”
“Aye,” Devereux replied. “Both Elysande and Avelyn are close to their uncle and Lady Merryn. Lord Geoffrey’s sister, Lady Mary, lives at Sandbourne with us. Visits are made from our households on a regular basis. All the young cousins enjoy being with one another.”
Casually, he asked, “I wondered if—”
At that moment, the doors were thrown open. Men began pouring through them.
“It was nice meeting you, Emory,” Devereux said. “We must leave now and head for home with Lord Geoffrey and Lord Raynor. If you are ever nearby, stop in at Sandbourne.”
“Or at Shadowfaire,” added Fairfax, “now that we have a break in this nasty war.” He gave Kit a brusque nod. The two men joined up with two older nobleman, both still handsome for their age and bearing the posture of seasoned knights. He wondered which of the two might be father to Lady Alys.
And if she had wed.
Kit had been about to ask that very question when the meeting with the king ended, interrupting their conversation. He watched as the group exited the hall and lingered as others ventured from the long meeting. Finally, he caught sight of his father and headed toward him.
“Christopher!” his father called in greeting, embracing him. “I did not know when to expect you.”
“I came on the ship that brought the duke back to London,” he explained.
He studied his father, noting that his beard had gone totally gray, as had most of his hair. New lines were etched into his face since he had last seen him.
“Come. We shall go to my chamber and speak in private.”
Kit followed his father as they wound their way through the gathered throngs and down crowded corridors before they reached the quiet of the large, airy chamber. His father offered him wine, which he refused.
Pouring himself a healthy amount, Godwin drained it and rested the cup on a table as he sat. He indicated for Kit to take the chair next to him.
“The king is old and tired,” his father began. “His health has only grown worse since you were last at court.”
“And what of Alice Perrers?” he asked.
A sour look crossed his father’s face. “She is still his mistress. Edward is heavily under that greedy woman’s influence.”
“What of the Black Prince? Has he recuperated?”
His father sighed. “He rallied some after returning from France, but now he only grows weaker as each day passes.” He hesitated. “I fear he will be the first Prince of Wales who won’t live long enough to become king.”
Kit shuddered. “But Prince Edward is a natural leader.”
“Not anymore. Our Prince of Wales is sick and old before his time. And his son Richard is much too young to assume the throne and rule. I fear the chaos that will follow the Black Prince’s death, especially if the present king passes near the same time.”
“Richard is but a boy, but he would be the rightful heir, Father. If what you say comes to pass and England finds herself without King Edward and the Black Prince, Richard must be crowned as our monarch.” Kit thought a moment, his knowledge of palace politics deep. “Yet I fear his uncle, the Duke of Lancaster, would try to control the boy.”
His father snorted. “Lancaster already controls enough as it is. Before he left to fight on the continent, none of his actions on behalf of his father proved to be honorable or successful. Now Lancaster has all but lost every possession of England’s in France and brought home to us a worthless truce, not worth the parchment it’s written upon.”
“I fear this pause in the action will only benefit the French.”
“I couldn’t agree more, my son. While England’s leadership crumbles around us, our war chests have emptied. Taxes will have to be raised in order to replenish them. And everyone throughout the land has grown tired of war. Meanwhile, the French only grow stronger and more fervent since they have won back so much territory in recent years.”
“What have you advised the king to do since the treasury is so dangerously low?”
His father shrugged. “It matters not what I say. I believe I am on my way out. The duke is surrounding the king with men loyal to him while he rids King Edward of his long-time advisers. I do not know how long a time I will remain at court.”
“Go home with me now, Father. Leave this nest of vipers,” Kit insisted. He worried about his father’s health more than the king’s. Besides the obvious aging his father’s face showed, Kit noticed a shortness of breath that concerned him.
“Nay. I will stay as long as I can and hope I am useful. But you should leave at once. Your mother and wife have both been ill as of late.”
“Mother is ill? What ails her? And Richessa?”
Kit tried to keep the alarm from his voice, but it upset him to hear such news. He had always been closer to his mother than his father. She had been much more than a parent to him—more like a trusted confidant, supporter, and wise mentor. A steady force in his life and the one person who loved him unconditionally, no matter how many mistakes he made and how often he had been sent back to Brentwood in shame.
His father waved a hand about. “I know not. Dawkin’s message to me only said both of them had been struck with something.”
It did not surprise him that his father had remained at court despite their steward notifying him of his wife’s illness. The couple tolerated one another, with no affection in their marriage. Long separations had only driven a wedge more tightly between them. His father reveled in his life at court; his mother preferred her life in the country. Kit was their only issue. After several lost babes, his mother had never produced another.
Though he never realized it before, Kit now thought that his own marriage echoed that of his parents. A twinge of sadness pricked at him. He thought back to the two earls he had met only an hour ago. How each man spoke lovingly and longingly of returning home to his beloved wife.
Would he ever experience such a feeling?
He squared his shoulders. “With your permission, I will leave at once for Brentwood. I will write to you of Mother’s—and Richessa’s—health. I only wish you would accompany me.”
His father shook his head emphatically. “Nay, my boy. I’ll lap up whatever time I have left in the weak sunshine emitting from our king. I feel, for England’s sake, that I must remain in my position as long as possible, before Lancaster casts me aside and replaces me with one of the incompetent fools that he calls friend.”
Kit bid his father farewell, wondering if it would be the last time they would meet.
“Go with God, my son.”
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