Read an Excerpt
Isle of Wight
"Give me one good reason why I cannot go. That is all I ask."
"You know very well I have my reasons why. I will speak of this with you no further, Jacqueline."
Jacqueline Montacute repressed the urge to stamp her foot in frustration. Her mother was being stubborn, but Jacqueline could be just as stubborn when pushed.
"I know why it is you do not want me to go, mother. He is going to be there, is he not?"
Elizabeth Montacute, Countess of Salisbury and Lady of Isle of Wight, sighed deeply. She knew how frustrated her daughter was with the restrictions placed upon her. But they had been made to protect her. The 'he', Jacqueline spoke of was her father, William Montacute, Earl of Salisbury and the absent Lord of Isle of Wight.
William was seven and ten years older than herself, and Elizabeth was not his first choice of a bride. His first marriage had been to Lady Joan Plantagent, who was also known as the Fair Maid of Kent.
In 1349, William had married Elizabeth, eldest daughter of John, Lord Mohun of Dunster. After impregnating her, William had left her on the Isle and never returned, which suited Elizabeth very well. Theirs was no love match by any means.
"Aye, your father will be at Windsor. That is the main reason I forbid you to go to the tournament with your brother."
Jacqueline felt nothing but disgust at the mere thought of her father. The stunt he had pulled two years before still left a bitter taste on her tongue.
Thinking to further himself, he had contracted marriages for both his children. With her brother, William and herself being twins, their fatherdecided at age nine and ten, they were both of an age to wed. William's marriage had ended up being a blessing. Her brother loved his young wife dearly. And Beth FitzAllen was devoted to William.
The earl had contracted the marriage of his only son with Beth's father, Richard, Earl of Arundel, without the knowledge of his wife. He had also done the same for his daughter. The match had not been to her liking, nor had Jacqueline's mother been prepared to meekly accept what her husband had done.
Her chosen bridegroom had been thirty years older than her nine and ten. He was Forwin De La Mare, Earl of Somerset. Besides being older, Forwin was obese and known for his cruelty to his past wives. All four of them.
Jacqueline was exactly what he preferred in a wife, beautiful and in the peak of health. With her waist-length wavy auburn hair, vivid turquoise blue eyes, and a perfect face to match, Forwin had found her ripe for the picking. He had practically licked his lips in anticipation when he came to look her over before signing the marriage contract. That Jacqueline at five feet nine inches towered over him by three inches had not concerned him at all.
She had felt physically sick when Forwin had presented himself at the castle. She had known in that instant, that she would never bind herself to such a man.
So her mother had come up with the ruse to foil her husband's plans. It had been drastic, but it assured Jacqueline would never be bothered by any such goings on again.
They had faked her death, even going so far as to place a headstone in the family cemetery with her supposed date of death inscribed upon it. It was assumed by all concerned that Forwin would want proof, and they were correct in their thinking. A week after receiving word of Jacqueline's supposed demise he arrived at the Isle to see for himself. It had not taken much effort on her part to avoid him. The man had taken one look at the headstone and then promptly left.
Now, to the rest of the world off the Isle, Jacqueline Montacute was no more.
"But mother, I can do what I have done in the past when I have been to other tournaments with William and Beth. No one has ever questioned whether I was Beth's maid or not." She had never been to Windsor and was determined not to miss out on experiencing it.
Lady Elizabeth felt for her daughter. Jacqueline was forced to miss so much of life outside of the safety of the Isle. But what was done, was done, and could not be undone.
Reaching out, Elizabeth tucked a wayward curl back behind her daughter's ear and looked into her eyes, hoping to convey that her mind could not be changed. No matter how much she was to pushed to do just that.
Jacqueline was so much like herself at that age in appearance. To be truthful, both of her children took after her. William and Jacqueline looked so much alike that, when they were really young, they had tried switching clothes to see if anyone noticed. Which no one did, to the twins delight.
"Jacqueline, no more of this. The discussion is pointless. The other tournaments were different. Your father was not present and they were only small affairs compared to what Windsor will be like. Now go and leave me in peace for a while."
Leaving her mother in the hall, Jacqueline went in search of her brother and his wife. If they could be swayed to her side, maybe the three of them could change her mother's mind.
Carisbrooke Castle was the only home Jacqueline knew. The castle itself was seven acres including the earthworks surrounding it and had been built atop earlier Roman and Saxon defenses.
Inside the walls were a keep, chapel and a one hundred and sixty foot deep well, situated in the middle of the bailey.
Jacqueline now skirted past the well and, knowing where her brother and his wife were, she headed straight to the tilting grounds. Sure enough, as she drew closer, she could make out Beth's form standing on the sidelines.
Moving to stand next to her sister by marriage, Jacqueline watched William take a run at the quintain. He hit the target with his outstretched lance. He must have hit it squarely. If not the weighted arm would have swung around with enough velocity to unseat him. William went past still firmly seated in his saddle as the arm swung harmlessly aside.
Both women cheered for him as he turned about and rode to where they stood watching. Dismounting, William pulled off his helmet. Finding his sister next to his wife, he began to chuckle.
"No luck with mother I see."
Jacqueline huffed and shook her head in response. "She will not be moved by any of my reasons for going with you."
William flashed her a brilliant smile. "I wonder why not. Maybe it is because she knows you never think far enough ahead to see the trouble you get yourself in to."
Balling up her fist, Jacqueline punched her brother in the arm. She instantly regretted it when she made contact with the steel plating of his armor. Shaking her bruised knuckles, she glared at him when he chuckled once more.
"Are you saying you agree with her, William? I thought you, of all people, would take my side in this."
Wrapping his arm around her shoulder, William pulled her to his side. "Jacqueline, mother is right. Windsor is too risky. There will be too many people there. All it would take would be one of them to see how closely my wife's maid and I look alike."
Jacqueline could not argue with that. Though he was male, William only stood an inch taller than she. They both had the same turquoise blue eyes and slightly wavy auburn hair. Jacqueline wore hers to her waist. Her brother kept his trimmed to the nape of his neck.
Being twins, they were very close. When younger, they were inseparable. Whatever the one did, the other had to try, as well, with Jacqueline being the more adventurous of the two.
At one and ten, she thought nothing of putting on William's clothes and taking part in lessons in swordplay.. Such activities had come to an end the year before. Lady Elizabeth could no longer abide her only daughter dressing as a man or acting as a knight would.
"And you Beth, do you agree with William and mother?"
Beth, only ten and seven, could make Jacqueline feel much younger than she was. All it took was a certain look Beth used when she thought Jacqueline was being unreasonable, a look most mothers seemed to develop in their dealings with their offspring. Since Beth and William had no children, Jacqueline could only guess how her sister by marriage came by it. Standing at only five feet four inches, Beth seemed not to care that she had to look up at Jacqueline to give her such a look either.
"Jacqueline, there will be other tournaments. Think of how your mother would feel if anything happened to you."
"Must you do that, play upon my emotions like I am some thoughtless child?"
Beth's tinkling laughter filled the air. "If not me, then who else?"
Jacqueline could not help but join in Beth's laughter. She could never bring herself to be annoyed with William's wife. She was one of those people who were just as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside. Jacqueline loved her as a true sister and had from their first meeting. Just as William had. He had not been able to stop staring at her beautiful heart shaped face, small pert nose and ruby red lips. Massive amounts of long light blonde hair and pure green eyes made up the rest of Beth.
In exasperation, Jacqueline threw up her arms. "Fine, you all win. I will stay on the Isle with mother. But I will miss you both terribly."
William once more pulled his sister to his side and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "It is not as if we will be gone forever. It is only for a fortnight."
"Just promise me William, you will be careful. I have a feeling not all will be as it should. If anything happens to you...."
Placing a finger on Jacqueline's lips, William silenced her before she could complete the sentence. "I am coming back, Jacqueline. I promise you."
William kissed the tip of her nose. "I swear."