She’s the last of the bloodlines from the High Kings of Ireland.
Between the two of them, they have more royal blood in them than anyone alive, but royal blood can be far more of a curse and far less of a privilege when dealing with secrets that could bring down a kingdom.
And destroy a love that was never supposed to happen.
Tristan de Royans was raised by the House of de Royans, but de Royans blood does not flow through his veins. As the secret love child of Alys of France and Henry II, Tristan has been kept hidden since the day of his birth. Aware of his true parentage, he bears the shield of the royal house in the course of his duties, hating that he bears the crimson shield of his real family.
A family that wants to kill him.
William Marshal has kept Tristan protected all these years. Having fostered in the best homes, Tristan is a knight’s knight – a warrior beyond compare. The Marshal has need of Tristan’s strength in Wales, protecting properties belonging to Ajax de Velt, but before Tristan can assume his post, a chance meeting changes the course of his life.
Enter Andromeda "Andie" de Coursey.
Andie is as unique as Tristan is. Her maternal grandfather is the last Norse-Gaelic king of Dublin, Ascall mac Ragnaill, and much like Tristan, royal blood was a curse. Pursued by her grandfather’s enemies, she was sent into hiding a long time ago with an Irish-Norman family who changed her name. As it turned out, King John wanted to use her as a bargaining chip when the time was right, but when he died, his ambition to utilize her died with him. Now, Andie is little more than a servant in a Norman house, hidden from the world. Her future seems bleak.
Until she meets Tristan.
The hardened Plantagenet warrior is immediately smitten with the beautiful woman with the pale blue eyes. With her bloodlines, and his, they could effectively rule nations if they were to join forces, but in their case, the relationship they form is born from love… not conquest.
But there are those who seek to use Andie in just that manner. Conquest.
Join Tristan and Andie in an adventure of a lifetime, where a love that was never meant to be suddenly becomes the very air they breathe. As factions endeavor to tear them apart, a love for the ages refuses to die. Tristan must bring out the king in him to survive.
And Andromeda must bring out the queen.
Love, as they discover, is the strongest force on earth.
The Crimson Shield is part of the USA Today Bestselling Executioner Knights series.
Release date: July 13, 2023
Publisher: Kathryn Le Veque Novels, Inc.
Print pages: 349
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The Crimson Shield: A Medieval Romance
Kathryn Le Veque
Year of Our Lord 1215
The Pox tavern
He didn’t like the look of him.
In fact, he’d seen him before, and although he couldn’t immediately place the slovenly man
with the enormous scar across his chin, he knew one thing—wherever that man appeared, death
Then it occurred to him.
They had to get out of there.
But it was easier said than done, unfortunately. The Pox, perhaps the most notorious tavern in
all of England, was full on this night because several merchant cogs had rolled down the Thames
and anchored near the tavern, which sat right on the smelly, littered banks of the dirty river. The
clientele in the tavern looked as if God himself had put all of mankind’s rejects into one
establishment, and they commiserated in their similar filth. But it wasn’t simply the dregs of
society that came to The Pox.
Kings had come there, too.
So had earls and nobles.
That was because The Pox was notorious for its wealth of gambling opportunities. Men could
gamble on literally anything, and there was good money to be made and excitement to be had.
The food was also good, strangely enough, and the alcohol was some of the best around.
Shipments came straight off the cogs that anchored along the Thames and straight into the
storerooms of The Pox.
That made it quite popular.
But it had also been known to have murderers and thieves within the old walls. That gave the
place a real element of danger, so when Alexander de Sherrington realized that he was seeing
one of the deadlier assassins from King John’s arsenal lingering in the shadows and pretending
not to notice who was coming and going, he knew there was going to be trouble.
Where there was one assassin, there were usually others.
“Come,” he said, urging his companions toward the door. “The Marshal has sent Tristan and I
to fetch your filthy hides, and you will do as you are told. Get out now or you will pay the price.”
Since no one moved immediately, he grabbed a younger knight by the neck and practically
lifted him out of his chair, but the companion he’d mentioned, Sir Tristan de Royans, wasn’t so
subtle. He wasn’t a tall man, but he was quite muscular and built like a bull. He was also mean.
So very mean. He was a knight’s knight, born and bred to fight, and it was never more evident on
anyone than it was on Tristan. That meant he didn’t disobey orders, including the one just given
by Alexander, whom he considered his superior officer even though they were technically equal
in rank. He grabbed the nearest knights, yanking them up by anything he could grab.
“Out with you, lads,” he said, still holding on to the hapless young knights, who happened to
be new additions to William Marshal’s household guard. “The Marshal told you not to come
here, but you did not listen. You thought you knew better than the Earl of Pembroke. That was
not wise on your part.”
With that, he shoved them through the entry door, out onto the dirt walkway. Unfortunately
for them, the walkway was about six feet wide before it started sloping down to the river itself,
so one of them was propelled across the walkway and began stumbling down the slope. Only
quick thinking from his companion stopped him from ending up in the river.
Tristan stood at the entry door, ham-sized fists resting on his narrow hips, shaking his head at
the clumsy young knights. But Alexander was chuckling.
“You do not know your own strength, Pat,” he said, a glimmer of mirth in his eyes. “I think
they could have walked out under their own power. They did not need to be tossed.”
Pat. That was an affectionate nickname Tristan had earned over the years because his birth
name was Philip Alexander Tristan—P.A.T. His close friends called him that, but his
commanders and subordinates called him by the name he’d always gone by—Sir Tristan or just
plain Tristan. He was quite formal, even with men who had commanded him for years.
No one grew close to Tristan de Royans.
It was rare when he let anyone in.
But he’d let Alexander in years ago. Sherry, as he was called, was married to the Earl of
Hereford and Worcester’s daughter, and they had a growing brood. Hereford, a man also known
as Christopher de Lohr, was in town this night, in fact, and in residence at Farringdon House,
William Marshal’s townhome. Christopher and the Marshal worked closely together, both of
them commanding great armies and strongly allied in the fight of the welfare of England. No one
knew why Christopher had come to London on this particular night, but that wasn’t unusual. He
came and went sometimes and no one really knew why, but the Marshal did. In fact, he was
recalling his knights to Farringdon House, having sent Alexander and Tristan, among others, to
trawl the city for the younger knights who had fanned out to enjoy a brief respite.
But it was a respite no more.
Something was in the air.
Having collected their four knights from The Pox, Tristan eyed Alexander as they headed
back the way they’d come.
“I’ve never known a man yet at The Pox who would willingly leave under his own power,
you included,” he said. “It’s better the young knights know we mean business. They’ll be quicker
to obey an order next time.”
“Or avoid The Pox altogether.”
“I doubt that is going to happen. We do not even avoid The Pox.”
They looked at each other, smirking. “That is true,” Alexander said. “But I will admit that my
wife does not like me to visit. I will not let her go, so she says that I cannot go, either.”
Tristan snorted. “Your wife is a unique woman,” he said. “Married only a year, is it?”
Alexander nodded. “A year,” he said. “One glorious year.”
“I heard you saved her from the king’s lust last year.”
Alexander shook his head. “Nay,” he said. “She saved herself. Trust me on this. But you were
not with us last year, were you?”
“I was at Bowes Castle, with my father,” Tristan said. “Pembroke recalled me to London
about six months ago, if you recall. He and my father decided that I would evidently make a
good spy, so here I am.”
Alexander grinned. William Marshal was the commander of a group of seasoned warriors
known as the Executioner Knights, a collection of some of the deadliest and most talented men
in the known world. They were spies, as Tristan said, but they were so much more. Assassins,
bodyguards, and any number of roles that they were skilled enough to assume. They worked in
secret, and usually had a cover story that was quite plausible, but the truth was that the Marshal
used them to suit his own agenda, which was almost always along the lines of ensuring
To be an Executioner Knight meant a man was the very best at what he did.
Even Tristan knew that.
“You performed flawlessly with the matter at Westminster a few months ago,” Alexander
said. “Were it not for your sword, we might not have been successful.”
Tristan lifted a wry eyebrow. “I am a knight, Sherry,” he said. “If anything involves a sword,
I will be successful. But the Executioner Knights… it involves things I am not particularly
“Like being sly and secretive,” he said, almost agitated in manner. “I am a forthright man. If I
have something to say, I will say it. If there is something I must do, I will do it. I will not sneak
Alexander was starting to chuckle. “That is true,” he said. “I’ve never met a man as brutally
honest and forthright as you are.”
“It is a gift.”
Tristan said it with a smile, as if it was the sweetest virtue he had. That brought more
laughter from Alexander.
“I believe that it is,” he said. “I also think you frighten the hell out of people because you are
genuinely fearless in everything you do. There could be a thousand men with a thousand daggers
running right at you and you would stand there and challenge them.”
Alexander conceded the point. “Very true,” he said. “But the Marshal thinks those gifts
would be extraordinarily valuable to the Executioner Knights. You will make a great one.”
For the first time, Tristan’s air of confidence wavered a little. He wasn’t entirely sure he was
cut out for life as a spy, but his father wanted it for him, and it was a great honor. The knight’s
knight would add something more to his arsenal of skills.
He would become an agent for the Executioner Knights.
“Mayhap,” he said quietly, watching the four young knights walking ahead of them, just out
of earshot. “I… I simply do not wish to disappoint anyone, least of all myself.”
“You will not.”
Alexander said it with confidence as they entered one of the darker avenues leading north, a
street lined with brothels that were still lively even at this time of night. They could hear the
laughter and music as the ladies entertained their clientele. The avenue was lit by flames from
great iron bowls, fueled with peat, on stone pedestals. Those fires would light up the streets until
midnight, when half would be doused. On this particular street, the bowls of flaming peat were
well kept, paid for by the brothels to light the way for those last-minute customers.
But Alexander and Tristan weren’t paying attention to the buildings or even the fires along
the street. They were watching for any threats from the shadows, the mode of hunter versus prey,
which was completely normal for them. Given their line of work, one didn’t live long if one
wasn’t vigilant, so they maintained their awareness even though Farringdon House wasn’t far
They still had to make it there through the darkened streets of London.
While Tristan was looking for normal threats, Alexander kept thinking of the man he’d seen
back at The Pox. He was guilty of patronizing The Pox as much as any of the other Executioner
Knights, even though the Marshal told them to stay well clear of it, and so did his wife, but the
man he’d seen wasn’t part of the normal rabble. He’d never seen him there before. He wasn’t
particularly concerned, but he was curious. Knowing that the king kept his own stable of
murderers and assassins, he was always curious when he saw a king’s man.
It made him wonder what the man was up to.
Unfortunately, he was about to find out.
The first sign of trouble was when they came through the street of brothels and made the turn
west onto the wide avenue of Trinity Road. The boulevard ran east to west in London, one of the
larger avenues, and they could hear something behind them. By the time Tristan and Alexander
turned around, a lone man appeared, shuffling his feet as he walked.
The very man Alexander had been pondering.
Somewhat shocked to see the man behind them, he didn’t say anything. He simply turned
around and kept walking, which encouraged Tristan to do the same. But the man behind them
had other ideas.
“I’ve not seen the prince for many years,” he said in a heavy Occitan accent. “I was not sure
it was him, but the fact that he looks so much like his father tells me it is true.”
No one knew whom he was talking to or talking about because he was alone, several feet
behind them, and talking into the air. There was no one around, so they were starting to think he
was simply mad.
But Alexander knew better.
God help him.
“Keep walking,” he told Tristan when the man turned around to look at the fool behind them.
“Pay no attention to a madman unless he produces a sword.”
Tristan did as Alexander suggested. He kept walking as the four knights in front of them
slowed their pace, eyeing the lone man with curiosity and concern. Alexander motioned to them
to continue walking, and they did, but the man trailing after them didn’t shut his mouth.
“We’ve been looking for you, prince,” he said. “We heard rumor that you were in the north
and then on the marches. Someone then told us that you were in the retinue of the Earl of
Pembroke. I was not expecting to see you in London, but here you are. What a mighty stroke of
Tristan started to turn around again, but Alexander thumped him on the chest, silently
indicating he continue walking. They were all walking, heading for the junction of Trinity Road
and Bread Street, which would take them up to the main thoroughfare where Farringdon House
“Given that this encounter is most fortuitous, I must insist that you come with me,” the man
said. “Someone wants to speak with you. Do you not hear me? I would be grateful if you would
accompany me to Westminster. Your brother wishes to see you. He longs to know you.”
Alexander finally came to a halt, and his men with him. Slowly, he turned around.
“Crawl back into that bottle that clearly has you in its grip,” he said. “No one knows what
you are speaking of.”
The man snorted. “I think you do,” he said. “In fact, I know you do. You know that your
companion is the most prized man in England and France. Royal bloodlines on both sides makes
him quite… special. Do you hear me? His brother, the king, wishes to speak with him. Prince
Philip? Do you comprehend me?”
Alexander was shaking his head, as if the situation was ridiculous, but Tristan didn’t react
one way or the other. He had no idea whom the man was addressing or what he was talking
about, but it occurred to him that his first name was Philip. A common enough name, that was
true, so he didn’t give it further thought.
Now, he was simply annoyed.
“Leave us or you’ll feel my wrath,” he growled loudly. “We’ve no time for your madness.”
The man grinned, his teeth glimmering in the moonlight. “You sound just like your father,”
he said. “You favor him a little, although you are much larger than he ever was. Henry never had
the size and strength you clearly have.”
Tristan looked at Alexander and rolled his eyes. “When we get to Farringdon House, we’ll
turn the dogs on him,” he said.
He began walking away, with Alexander and the young knights moving with him. “Agreed,”
Alexander replied. “But the truth is that there’s aways one madman roaming the streets of
London on any given night.”
“True enough,” Tristan said. “And he had to find us.”
Tristan continued their walk, his focus on the darkened street around them. “Have you heard
why de Lohr has come?” he asked.
The subject was shifting, and Alexander was glad for it. Their follower had him edgy
because the man clearly knew things he shouldn’t, things that only a select few people knew, and
the more they put distance between them, the better.
“I’m not entirely sure,” he said. “I’ve been away from home for about a month, much to my
wife’s distress, so it could be that something new has come up.”
“A new mission?”
“Prince Philip!” The man following them would not be ignored. “My lord, there is no need
pretending that you are not Prince Philip. I know who you are. I have seen you over the years,
though the Marshal has kept you well hidden. He and Richard and Eleanor protected you ably
over the years, but Richard and Eleanor are gone. They’ve been gone for many years. John has
permitted you to live in obscurity, but no more. He wishes a word with you, and you will come
Alexander didn’t respond, though the man was becoming more detailed in his conversation.
He’d already addressed Tristan twice by the name Prince Philip, which thankfully hadn’t
brought a reaction from Tristan. Not yet, anyway.
He didn’t recognize it.
And that had been the plan from the start.
Before Alexander could turn around and threaten the man, however, Tristan came to a halt
and spoke to him.
“I’ve no tolerance for fools,” he said. “You’re drunk and mistaking me for someone else, so
be on your way. I’m not Philip.”
The man following them came to a halt as well. “You are Philip Alexander Tristan.”
“Enough,” Alexander roared, unsheathing his sword. He had to take a stand now or this
would get out of hand, if it hadn’t already. He had to stop the momentum. “Get out of here, you
bastard, before I remove something you treasure.”
The man shifted his gaze to Alexander, regarding him coolly. “De Sherrington,” he said in a
tone that sounded as if he was visiting with an old friend. “Are you his protector now?”
“Still your tongue or I will cut it out.”
“Did you truly think you could hide him forever?”
“I will not warn you again.”
That seemed to end the conversation, and the man following them didn’t hesitate to react to
the threat. He unsheathed his own weapon and, suddenly, several men emerged from the
shadows. It was clear that he hadn’t been alone the entire time. Tristan’s sword came out, but of
the four younger knights they’d shepherded away from The Pox, only three had broadswords,
while the fourth had apparently lost his earlier in the evening in a gambling game. But those who
had swords unsheathed them to the shrill sound of metal as they came free from their leather
casings, and the clash was on.
It was nasty from the start.
From what Tristan and Alexander could see, there were at least six to eight men on the
attack, all of them armed, all of them seemingly heading straight for Tristan. In fact, Alexander
was preparing to take one swordsman on when the man veered around him and ran at Tristan.
That had Alexander and the four younger knights jumping in to help.
Fists, as well as swords, began to fly.
It was dark on this avenue, unfortunately, and fighting in close quarters, as they were, was
inherently dangerous. The younger knight with the dagger was making short work of some of the
men, grabbing them only to stab them in the kidneys or slit the tendons behind their knees. Three
of the men fell away with wounds that wouldn’t kill them, but would cripple them, as the knight
with the dagger went on the attack.
More struggling, more fighting. Tristan was in a sword battle with the man who had been
following them, but his size and superior skill quickly had the man retreating. The others had
disengaged, grabbing their wounded comrades and dragging them back into the shadows. But the
man who had started it all, the one who had been following, refused to leave.
“This is not the end,” he said, still holding his sword but about twenty feet away. “John
knows you are here, Philip. He knows where you are. He would much rather have his brother as
an ally than an enemy. Leave Pembroke and come with me. I will take you to your destiny.”
The younger knight with the dagger hurled it at the man, clipping him in the shoulder. It
didn’t lodge, but rather clattered to the dirty road, but the man took off after his comrades
anyway. He’d survived a battle with Pembroke knights.
He was fortunate, and he knew it.
The homes within earshot of the fighting began to stir. Dogs barked and candles began to
glow as people opened their windows to peer into the darkness and see what the commotion was
about. That had Alexander grabbing Tristan by the arm hurriedly.
“Come,” he said. “Quickly, Pat. Move.”
Tristan did, rushing down the road, following Alexander and the other knights.
They ran all the way back to Farringdon House.
The London townhome of William Marshal was an enormous, four-storied monstrosity that
was built to withstand any onslaught. The walls were of stone, not wattle and daub, and there
was one fortified entrance on the bottom floor that opened up into a courtyard in the middle of
the house. The sentries on duty admitted the six knights, shutting the heavy oak and iron gates
behind them. As the younger knights headed back to their quarters, Tristan grasped Alexander by
the arm and stopped him from going any further.
“What just happened?” he asked.
Alexander was trying to pretend it wasn’t anything of consequence. “Who knows?” he said.
“A drunkard? A madman? London is full of them. I would not take it so seriously.”
He started to walk away, but Tristan’s voice stopped him.
“He called me by my full name,” Tristan said. “He called you by your name. He knew us,
“So we are famous. What of it?”
Tristan didn’t seem amused. “What did he mean by your being my protector?” he said. “And
what is that ‘Prince Philip’ nonsense?”
Alexander shook his head. “I cannot tell you any more than I already have.”
Tristan stared at him a moment before closing the gap between them. “I am going to ask you
one more question,” he said. “You will not lie to me.”
“I never have and I never will.”
“Do you know what he was talking about?”
That brought Alexander pause. Nay, he couldn’t lie to him. He’d already said he wouldn’t.
But Tristan was asking a question about something only a handful of people knew, and those that
did know had been sworn to secrecy. It wasn’t Alexander’s truth to reveal, but he could see by
the look on Tristan’s face that the damage had been done.
There would be no avoiding this one.
Faintly, he signed.
“I do,” he said. “But before you ask me another question, you must speak with Pembroke. I
cannot tell you any more than I already have.”
“You said that.”
“It is true.”
“Then you do know more.”
“You simply cannot tell me.”
Alexander nodded. “If I could, I would, but this is something you must ask Pembroke,” he
said quietly. “Only he can give you the answers you seek.”
Tristan continued to look at him, puzzlement rippling across his face. “God’s Bones,” he
finally muttered. “Then there truly are answers to what just happened out there?”
Alexander could only point to the entry door that faced onto the courtyard. Tristan
understood the meaning, but he wasn’t ready to go yet. He just stood there, feeling increasingly
bewildered and having no idea why he felt that way. But the feelings weren’t unfamiliar; he
hadn’t felt that way since he’d been a very young boy.
Feelings of bewilderment he’d pushed out of his mind.
“That’s not the first time that has happened, you know,” he finally muttered.
Alexander cocked his head. “What do you mean?”
Tristan lifted his shoulders. “That,” he said. “Someone mistaking me for someone else.
Someone calling me by another name. It has happened before.”
“Oh?” Alexander said. “What have you been called?”
Tristan scratched his head. “Names,” he said after a moment. “Names I’d forgotten because
they didn’t mean anything. It has been happening my entire life. I grew up in a poor household
until I was about six years of age, you know. On the Welsh marches. Then, one day, I was taken
away by a knight and I never saw that place again.”
“You told me. Erik de Russe?”
Tristan nodded. “Aye,” he said. “Sir Erik de Russe took me away, and I spent about two years
with him at Pembroke Castle until I was taken to Bowes Castle and left with Juston de Royans
and his wife. It was the first time I really knew a family life, you know. Ashton and Wynter and
Brenton and the rest of them. They treated me like part of the family, and they were my brothers
and sisters. That is why I bear the de Royans name.”
Alexander nodded. “I know,” he said. “You were trained by the best knights in the world at
that point, my friends among them. I know your story, Pat.”
Tristan looked at him. “I haven’t thought of it in years,” he admitted. “But tonight… that man
following us, calling me Prince Philip… it made me remember something.”
“The fact that I never questioned why a lad from a poor household should end up training as
“You never asked?”
He nodded. “I did, once,” he said. “I asked Sir Erik. He told me that my father had been a
“And the family?”
“Paid to take me in.”
Alexander bobbed his head in understanding. “That is not unusual, you know,” he said.
“Especially when the child is a foundling.”
“Or a bastard.” Tristan shrugged. “I do not really care if I am or not. That does not define me,
but I will admit that my obscure lineage has concerned me from time to time.”
Alexander cracked a smile. “Why should it concern you?” he said. “You’ve made your way
in life. You’re a powerful, seasoned knight who serves the Earl of Pembroke. That is nothing to
be ashamed over.”
Tristan shook his head. “I did not mean that,” he said. “I meant it has cost me a wife. Her
family was not interested in a knight with no familial background, and I doubt anyone else will
be, either. That’s why when something like this happens, with the man who thought I was
someone else, I wonder if the man might not be wrong. If he might know who my father was. He
said I looked just like him.”
Alexander wasn’t sure how to answer. “I think we should go inside now,” he said. “Come
along, lad. Pembroke awaits.”
Tristan didn’t ask any further questions, knowing Alexander wouldn’t answer. The man had
made that clear. But that didn’t mean his curiosity was sated. Quite the contrary, in fact. As they
headed indoors, his interest was growing. Odd how something he’d simply pushed into the
recesses of his mind for many of his thirty-seven years upon the earth was now at the forefront
because of a skirmish in the street.
But the man who had spoken so strangely had called him by his full name.
Philip Alexander Tristan.
Very few people knew that was his full name, but a stranger had.
Perhaps it was time for some answers.
“Speak up. I did not hear what you said.”
“The Pox, my lord. He found us at The Pox.”
It was one of the younger knights speaking, part of the group that Tristan and Alexander had
chased out of the notorious tavern that had just been named. The young knight, the spokesman
for the group of very contrite-looking warriors, had been forced to confess their location to their
And William Marshal didn’t look happy.
A tall man with white hair, enormous hands, and brown eyes that had yellowed over the
years, he eyed the collection of strong, young men from good families most disapprovingly.
They were in the first-floor solar of Farringdon House, a chamber that covered nearly half of the
floor, and it was a very big floor. There was easily room for fifty or more men in the chamber
with its great stone hearth, exposed beams overhead, and painted walls. The floor was made from
wide slats of wood, thick, but pocked from the heavy boots of men who had walked upon it with
their spurs. But the truth was that it was a spectacular room, meant for men of greatness, and the
old walls had seen much of that over the years, including the man who was sitting by the hearth.
Christopher de Lohr, Earl of Hereford and Worcester, was listening to everything.
The Marshal knew that. And he knew that de Lohr was silently laughing at him. It wasn’t any
secret that he forbade his knights to go to The Pox, and it wasn’t any secret that they disobeyed
those orders. Regularly. The Marshal didn’t really care with some of the more seasoned veterans,
but the young knights needed the fear of God put into them from time to time.
And he was just the man to do it.
“I see,” he said with abnormal calm. “Then you disobeyed a direct command, du Reims?”
The young knight who had handled the dagger so ably was also a big man, with blond hair
and intense, dark eyes. “We saw no harm in it, my lord,” he replied. “The other taverns were
quite busy for the evening, and—”
“And you picked one that was also quite busy, the exact one I have told you repeatedly to
stay out of,” William finished for him. He frowned, a gesture that was designed to terrorize.
“You are related to the Earl of East Anglia, du Reims. The man is your uncle. You are also
related to Hereford, the very man in this chamber, who is your cousin. And your
companions—d’Vant, de Bretagne, and de Leybourne—are all from some of the finest families
in England. Your pedigrees are impeccable. Yet you disobey a direct order from me. A man who
controls England. I simply want to be clear about this.”
Sir Lukas du Reims had no recourse. He had nowhere to turn and no one to blame but
himself. With a sigh, he nodded his head.
“We did, my lord.”
“Was it worth it?”
Du Reims shook his head. “It was not, my lord,” he said. “I lost my broadsword to a
swindler. It was an extremely expensive lesson.”
The way he said it had the Marshal fighting off a grin because his words were like a verbal
punch to the head—his own. As if he was the biggest fool on the planet. He glanced at
Christopher, who was facing the flames of the hearth, and he could see the smirk on the man’s
lips. That nearly did him in. Clearing his throat loudly, he turned away from the four remorseful
“Get out,” he said. “Get out before I lose my temper. Go to your quarters and do not leave
until I send for you. If you do not obey me, I will send de Sherrington and de Royans after you,
and that is something you do not want. Do I make myself clear?”
“Aye, my lord.”
“Get out of my sight.”
The knights fled, but as they were hastily leaving, Tristan and Alexander were entering. They
very nearly knocked the pair down, who were forced to stand aside to allow for the stampede.
When the young knights fled down the stairs, Alexander came into the chamber, his eyebrows
“What did you say to them to make them run like that?” he said. “If there is a closed door
between here and their destination, that door will be no more. They won’t even stop to open it.”
In his chair, Christopher burst into soft laughter, and even the Marshal cracked a smile.
“They received nothing less than they deserved,” he said. “What must I do to keep you men out
of The Pox?”
“Burn it down,” Alexander said, his eyes twinkling with mirth. “That is your only hope.”
That brought a snort from the Marshal. “I shall consider it,” he said. “But until I can get
down to the river’s edge with a flint and stone, I suppose I shall continue to have nights like this.
In any case, you are the first ones to return. Did you see anyone else while you were out?”
Alexander shook his head. “Nay,” he said. “Beau and Addax were heading to the north side
of the city. Tristan and I headed towards the south.”
He was referring to the other two senior knights who had gone off to find the errant younger
knights Beau de Russe and Addax al-Kort. Beau was part of the prestigious de Russe family, a
powerful knight who, despite his near-deafness, was quite competent and able, and Essien was a
knight of great talent who was born in a land far to the east. Both of them would probably not be
as kind to the younger knights as Alexander and Tristan had been, and the Marshal knew it.
With a sigh, he scratched his head.
“Did you pass through the street of the brothels?” he asked.
“Aye, but we did not see anyone we knew,” Alexander replied.
“None of my men were there?”
“That we could see.”
The Marshal finally nodded, turning away from Alexander and Tristan and moving to the
hearth to warm his hands. “Sherry, send a servant for food and drink,” he said. “We may as well
be comfortable. Chris has a good deal to tell us when everyone arrives.”
Alexander’s gaze moved to Christopher. “Is it serious?”
Christopher looked over his shoulder at his son-in-law, who was married to his eldest
daughter, Christin. “There is a buildup on the northern marches that the marcher lords in the area
are quite worried about,” he said. “We may have some trouble.”
Alexander puffed out his cheeks at the news, blowing out a heavy sigh. “We’ve been hearing
word of it for over a year now,” he said. “The Welsh have been building up near Chirk Castle for
just that long. Are they finally moving forward?”
Christopher half shrugged, half nodded. He didn’t want to speak any further on a subject he
would simply have to repeat when the others joined them. Therefore, he stood up, stretching
himself out in front of the fire, as Alexander went to the chamber door and summoned a servant
for the food and drink the Marshal had requested. As Christopher began to throw more peat on
the fire, Tristan came out of the shadows.
“Before the others come, my lord, I wonder if I may address a… situation,” he said. “I have a
question. Sherry said that you would have the answer.”
Over by the chamber door, Alexander turned sharply to see Tristan addressing the Marshal,
who was preparing to take a seat next to the hearth. Before he could say anything, because he
didn’t want the Marshal to think he’d put Tristan up to it, William pulled out a stool and plunked
a booted foot on it.
“What situation is this?” he asked.
Alexander moved toward Tristan. “When we were at The Pox, I saw Odilo Nivard,” he said,
hoping to explain a little before Tristan blindsided him with a rather serious question. “You know
of whom I speak, my lord?”
The Marshal didn’t hesitate. He nodded as his gaze moved to Alexander. “I know the man,”
he said. “In The Pox, you say? A rare occurrence, I should think. He does not stray from John’s
“My thoughts exactly,” Alexander said. “He was sitting there, alone, as we herded the
knights out of the place. I did not even think he saw me, but I was mistaken. When we were by
the street of the brothels, he appeared. He followed us.”
“He brought men with him,” Tristan said, taking over the story that Alexander was telling.
“We were attacked, though it was a brief fight. However, before we were attacked, there was a
conversation of sorts.”
Tristan was trying to find the right words, feeling foolish even as he spoke, thinking that
perhaps he’d only been paranoid. But he knew that wasn’t the case. He looked at Alexander, who
was gazing back at him steadily. There was encouragement in that expression, something that
gave Tristan courage.
“The man called me by my full name,” he said after a moment. “He called me Philip
Alexander Tristan. He also called me Prince Philip. He told me that I looked like my father. I
would not give the man any credence, of course, but he did call me by my full name. He also
knew Sherry’s name. He spoke as if he knew us, my lord.”
By this time, the Marshal was watching him curiously. He also had the attention of
Christopher, who had stopped putting peat in the fire and was now simply watching the situation.
Without Tristan even noticing, Alexander went over to the chamber door to shut it. He also
bolted it. As he leaned against the door to prevent anyone from coming in at this particular
moment, a crucial moment in the evolution of Tristan de Royans, the Marshal spoke.
“Go on,” he said steadily. “What is your question, Pat?”
Tristan took a long, deep breath. “I asked Sherry if there was any truth to what the man said,”
he said. “He would not tell me. He said that I must ask you.”
There it was. The question that had been waiting thirty-seven years to be asked. A question
that the Marshal knew he would be facing at some point. He wasn’t exactly sure how much to
tell Tristan, or even how to answer him, because he’d spent nearly all of his association with
Tristan poisoning him against the very family he was biologically part of.
That great secret he’d always kept from him.
Now, the doorway to that secret was threatening to open.
It wasn’t that the Marshal was caught off guard with the query. In truth, he’d been expecting
it for years. But perhaps he hadn’t been expecting it tonight. Not on this night when they were
dealing with other important issues. Frankly, he wasn’t sure how Tristan was going to handle the
truth, but the older he became and the more people who knew his identity, as John’s dirty
assassin clearly had, the more he would be in danger if he didn’t know the truth and was
unprepared to defend himself.
Nivard wouldn’t be the only one coming for him.
There would be others.
“What, exactly, did Nivard say?” William finally asked.
Tristan thought a moment. “He called me Prince Philip several times,” he said. “He told me
that you and Richard and Eleanor had protected me over the years, but that John wished to know
his brother. He told me that John wished to be an ally and not an enemy.”
The Marshal looked at Christopher as if startled by what he heard, but Christopher met his
gaze evenly. After a moment, however, he nodded vaguely, silently giving the Marshal the
encouragement he needed to address the situation. They could all feel the tension in the chamber,
the strain of a secret they’d all sworn to keep. A secret that was now on the verge of being
exposed to the one man it could truly affect.
A man more valuable, and more royal, than he could ever possibly imagine.
“Sit down,” the Marshal said after a moment, waving his hand in a lowering gesture. “Sit and
be comfortable. If you truly wish to know the answers to your questions, then you had better be
seated. This will take some time.”
Tristan wasn’t expecting that request. He looked at Alexander, standing over by the chamber
door, who nodded his head. That had Tristan seeking the nearest chair as the Marshal headed in
“You want to know what the truth is,” William said thoughtfully. “Truthfully, I have spent
your lifetime avoiding telling you, but if Nivard knows, then others know. It would be dangerous
for you not to know the truth at this point, so I will tell you. But understand that nothing coming
forth from my lips is a fabrication. Do I make myself clear?”
Tristan gazed up at the man, nodding once. “Very clear, my lord.”
The Marshal drew in a long, pensive breath. “Before I begin, tell me what you remember
from your childhood.”
Tristan cocked his head, thinking back to those carefree days, now more dreamlike to him
than reality, as most long-distant memories were.
“I remember chasing a pig,” he said. “That is my first real memory. Of chasing a speckled
pig with children I thought were my brothers and sisters until I was about six years of age and Sir
Erik came for me. I remember my mother weeping when I left. She hugged me and told me she
loved me. I remember clinging to her, not wanting to go, but Sir Erik insisted. So I went.”
Tristan shrugged. “What most men remember, I suppose,” he said. “I ended up at Bowes
Castle, where I remained for a few years, with Lady Andromeda and Lord Juston. They became
my parents. I became part of their family as I assumed their name. But I went to Kenilworth and
Bamburgh before returning to Bowes. When Sir Erik went to the Levant, I remained in England.
Is there something specific you would have me remember, my lord?”
The Marshal was watching him closely. “Nay,” he said. “But did you not think it strange to
have been raised as a farmer’s child only to be turned over to the cloister for an education? But
not just any cloister—Canterbury. Then an elite knight took you away and you ended up with a
noble family. Did you not think any of this odd?”
“Did you ever ask Erik?”
Tristan nodded. “I did,” he said. “He said that he was following orders.”
“No more than that?”
“But surely you suspected over the years that there might have been more.”
“Aye,” Tristan said. “I was just saying that very thing to Sherry tonight. Over the years, men
have mistaken me for someone else. Or they have looked at me as if they know me. I have long
suspected there was more to my background, that I wasn’t simply a foundling, as I had been
The Marshal pulled up a chair and sat opposite Tristan, who was sitting rather stiffly upright.
He was usually a man in control of his emotions, but at the moment, he had a rather anxious look
on his face. All of those years of wondering, of imagining, were about to come to a head, and he
wasn’t sure how he felt about it. Tristan had always thought those moments of men knowing him
were only in his imagination.
It was a little frightening to realize those moments had been real.
“You are the product of two royal households,” the Marshal said. “Your father was Henry
Curthose, the father of Richard and John and the rest of that royal brood. Your mother is Princess
Alys, sister to King Philip of France. Surely you know that Alys was betrothed to Richard the
Lionheart, but Henry took her for his mistress. There have always been rumors that she bore
Henry a child when, in fact, she did. You are that child, Tristan. Your father was the King of
England and your mother is a princess of France.”
Tristan stared at him, looking for any hint that he might be wrong or jesting or mistaken, but
there was no gesture forthcoming. As the news began to sink in, his eyes widened.
“He… Henry?” he repeated in shock. “My father was Henry?”
William nodded. “Indeed,” he said. “The moment you were born, your mother asked me to
take you away, and I did. I gave you over to a trusted servant, who took you to her sister to raise.
The sister was married to a farmer, and that is where we hid you. Among the peasants. Again and
again, we hid you—with Canterbury, with an elite knight, and finally with de Royans. We did it
to save your life, lad. Had your birth been discovered, it would have been quite… dangerous.”
Tristan was filled with disbelief. He leaned away from the Marshal, so much so that he
leaned right out of the chair and ended up on his feet, pacing away from the man, feeling a need
to run yet also a need to stay. He couldn’t decide what he needed to do. He stood there in horror,
absorbing everything, before he could even speak again.
“Then what that man said was true,” he said, sounding oddly hollow. “He referred to John as
my brother… and he is.”
William nodded. “He is your half-brother,” he said. “Richard was also your half-brother. You,
Philip Alexander Tristan, are the son of a king on your father’s side and the nephew of a king on
your mother’s. You could not be more royal if you tried, and, by all rights, you are far more high-
bred than anyone in this chamber. You are a prince. De Lohr and I should be genuflecting to you,
in fact. You wanted to know the truth, and now you have it.”
Tristan digested that statement, word for word. In fact, the words kept rolling around in his
head. He was unable to stop them. For a man who had lived rather simply his entire life, it was
too much to take. He was being told that he was a member of the ruling class, but he’d never had
ambitions. He followed orders. He didn’t give them, not really. He was happy carrying out
difficult tasks, working himself to the bone for the common good, and considering himself
fortunate for his position in life as a trusted and highly trained knight. But he wasn’t merely a
He was far more than that.
God help him… so much more.
“Tell me what that means,” he said, struggling with his emotions. “What, exactly, does that
mean for me?”
The Marshal stood up. “It means that you have a claim to the throne of England and also to
the throne of France,” he said. “It means you have a claim to the Vexin, the Aquitaine, and
several other French provinces. It means you are a rare individual, Tristan, more than you realize.
But with this uniqueness comes danger. Knowing you have a claim to two thrones, it means that
your brother, John, will destroy you if he can. No matter what Nivard said, he does not want to
ally with you. He wants to kill you, to reduce the threat against his own claim. His son, Henry,
will want you dead also. With you alive, there will always be that threat, and they know it. The
same is said for the King of France, your uncle. You are his sister’s son, the son of the King of
England. Even if you do not realize how much power that gives you, Richard and Eleanor did.”
“Eleanor?” Tristan said, looking at him sharply. He was starting to turn red in the face.
“God’s Bones, she killed Arthur, Geoffrey’s son. She also went after Elizabeau, Arthur’s half-
sister, because she was declared Arthur’s successor. I remember this because de Lohr and his
men were involved in spiriting Lady Elizabeau away. The woman was nearly executed, but one
of de Lohr’s men helped her escape. Why did Eleanor not try to kill me, too?”
The Marshal could see that he was becoming agitated. “Because you were more valuable to
her,” he said. “You were her husband’s bastard with a princess. Arthur and Elizabeau were
merely children of a royal offspring. With you, she could bargain with the French because you
were Alys’ son. She practically raised Alys, you know. She was also present at your birth. She
watched as I took you away, but if you must know, I did not trust her. I never have. She asked me
once, when you were about six years of age, where you had been taken, and I would not tell her.”
The light of understanding went on in Tristan’s eyes. “That is when Sir Erik came to fetch
“Exactly,” William said. “I needed you protected by knights, not hidden away with a farmer
where you had no protection if you were found.”
“Surely your history with her told you that she was not to be trusted when it came to the
welfare of a child.”
William lifted his eyebrows. “My history with her told me many things, not the least of
which is the royal family can change their minds at a whim,” he said. “I did not wish for you to
be a whim.”
So much was becoming clear to Tristan now. As shocking as it was, as horrifying as it was,
he realized that he wasn’t entirely surprised. Those years of strange things happening, like men
who thought they knew him, were starting to make some sense. Living with a farmer and then
being taken to Canterbury Cathedral before being adopted by a noble family. If he thought hard
about it, perhaps he’d always known that his identity would be something catastrophic. But a
full-blooded royal prince, linking two countries who were both family and enemy to one
another? He’d never imagined that, not in his wildest dreams. Tristan had been around nobles
and royals and politics long enough to know what bloodlines like his meant. There wasn’t
anyone like him in the entire world that he knew of, not like this. Even as that reality saturated
every recess in his brain, he could still hardly believe it.
“How many people know this?” he finally asked.
The Marshal looked at Christopher and Alexander. “Everyone in this room,” he said. “A few
others, men I trust, like Juston de Royans. Several of the Executioner Knights know, but they
were in on the secret from the beginning. They will take it to their grave. And you may need
them someday, Tristan. You want men like that to know so they can help you if you need it.”
That was probably true, but Tristan wasn’t sure how he felt about any of it. His shock was
turning into numbness, and the numbness into distaste. He wandered over to one of the lancet
windows facing south. In the distance, lit up with torches against the night sky, he could see
Westminster Palace. I am the son of a king, he thought.
God, that left such a bad taste in his mouth.
“Don’t think this makes me happy,” he muttered. “Don’t think that anything you told me
makes me proud or happy. I’ve grown up hating Richard and John and Henry, that greedy and
immoral trio, so nothing you have told me gives me any sense of gratification. I wish with all my
heart that it was untrue.”
“I know,” William said solemnly. “But it is true, and you must know the truth because if John
is trying to find you, to make contact, he will not stop. You must protect yourself, Tristan. In this
case, knowledge is power. For your own safety, you must stay away from John. He only means
to harm you.”
Tristan looked at him. “If he tries, I will kill him,” he said frankly. “I know your goal for the
Executioner Knights is to protect the Crown, to protect England, but I am telling you at this
moment that if John tries to get close to me, I will kill him, and then you will have young Henry
on the throne. If he sends men after me, I will kill them, too, and then I will kill the boy. I’ll kill
anyone who tries to harm me. I have every right to defend myself.”
William put up a hand to ease him. “There is no need for that,” he said. “I think it is safe to
say that you can continue with your duties, as you always have without any disruption, but
simply stay vigilant. I will send you to the marches with de Lohr, and you can serve with him for
Tristan shook his head. “I do not want to go to the marches,” he said, still agitated. “Forgive
me, my lord, but where de Lohr is, John is. It is well known that John has been trying for twenty
years to kill or disable de Lohr. The man is a target for the king, and I do not want to be in his
The Marshal looked at Christopher, who couldn’t disagree with Tristan. He came away from
the fire, moving toward the knight who had just found out he was a prince.
“I do not blame you,” Christopher said. “It’s my suggestion that you go north, to Pelinom
with Jax de Velt. Your brother, Ashton, is already there, and the two of you can serve together. It
is well known that as much as John is attracted to me, he is terrified of Jax. Everyone is. You will
be safe there, and Jax could use your sword.”
He was speaking of Ajax de Velt, a warlord known throughout England as the Dark Lord.
Twenty-five years ago, Jax had been a ruthless and merciless barbarian who tore through the
Scottish marches on a conquest campaign, using vicious and horrifying tactics on his enemies.
King Henry, at the time, had been so fearful of him that he’d paid the man a tribute not to attack
royal properties. Even though marriage to a good woman and a family had calmed Jax’s
bloodlust, he was still quite feared. What Christopher suggested was sound, and Tristan knew it.
“Please know that I mean no offense towards you, my lord,” he said to Christopher. “But you
are a favorite of John’s, and not in a good way.”
Christopher smiled without humor. “How fortunate for me,” he said with irony. “And I was
not offended. But I think you would be best served far to the north, under Jax’s command. At
least for now.”
He looked at the Marshal, who nodded. “If Tristan would like to,” he said. “He can learn a
great deal from Jax, and he would be serving where he is needed.”
“Does Lord de Velt know my… origins?” Tristan asked.
The Marshal nodded again. “He does,” he said. “He understands your worth. And the
Tristan took a long, deep breath, struggling to reconcile himself to the sharp turn his life, and
future, had just taken. Things were to be different from now on, he knew that. And he hated it.
Little did he realize just how different his life was to be.
Destiny was upon Philip Alexander Tristan.
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