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The Bride Hunt
By Margo Maguire
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Margo Maguire
All right reserved.
Castle Kettwyck, Northumberland
Late Summer, 1072
Anvrai d'Arques felt uneasy in spite of all the music and merriment around him. The castle wall was yet unfinished, and Lord Kettwyck's knights had recently done more to aid construction than train for defense. 'Twould be so easy for Scottish raiders to wreak havoc there, during the welcoming festivities for the lord's two daughters, Isabel and Kathryn.
He turned from the balustrade overlooking the courtyard where Lady Isabel danced with her prospective suitors.
"Anvrai d'Arques!" called Sir Hugh Bourdet, Lord Kettwyck's most trusted retainer. The knight clasped Anvrai's hand in greeting. "I'd heard you had come in Baron Osbern's stead. 'Tis good to see you. Has it really been two years?"
"Aye, at least," Anvrai replied tersely. He respected the older knight, but Anvrai was not one for idle conversation.
"To this day, you remain steadfast." Hugh laughed. "You still do not command the king's garrison at Winchester."
Anvrai gritted his teeth. 'Twas a sore spot between him and King William. Of all the knights who might stay at court and enjoy the notoriety of being commander of all King William's armies, Anvrai was least interested. He would have appreciated a small estate -- a home -- as his reward for his years of service, before and after Hastings.
Yet William would not reward the man who had defied him. And so Anvrai lived in Belmere's barracks, in service to Baron Osbern d'Ivry, Lord of Belmere. 'Twas a source of ire, but there was naught to be done. Anvrai had proved to be as strong-willed as the king.
Anvrai gestured toward Kettwyck's castle walls and spoke of his concern. "The fortifications are not yet complete, Sir Hugh. Does Lord Henri have no fear of raiding Scots?"
"None of the raids have come this far west," Hugh replied, "though we've taken precautions. We have knights patrolling the perimeter of the walls . . ."
"You think they will deter a band of murderous Scots?" Anvrai had heard tales of vicious attacks on Norman knights. Of barbaric Scotsmen carrying away women and children to be sold and used as slaves. Better to have high walls and armed knights on patrol.
"Soon we will see an end to such raids. As we speak, King William's herald makes his way across Northumberland, rallying the king's vassals to battle." Hugh glanced toward the celebrations below. "The king himself rides north to Scotland, gathering legions of knights as he goes."
" 'Twill be a dangerous venture, meeting King Malcolm on his own turf."
"Perhaps, but there is no doubt William has the superior army. His herald arrived an hour ago and delivered the command for all his vassals to meet him at the mouth of the River Tees, where a host of Norman ships await him. He intends to have a formidable force at his bidding."
"By month's end."
Anvrai stepped back, his mind racing. As commander of Belmere's knights, he would need to return there immediately and marshal Belmere's men.
Hugh placed a hand upon Anvrai's arm. "Naught to be done until the morrow," the elder knight remarked. "For now, there is dancing in the hall."
Anvrai gave a slight shake of his head. " 'Tis not for me."
"I doubt Lord Osbern sent you here to pace the battlements, even if you must leave precipitously," Hugh said with a rueful laugh. "You are a young man . . . a powerful knight . . . many a likely maid awaits your attentions."
Anvrai ignored the barb, certain 'twas unintended. There wasn't a knight in England or Normandy who had not seen, or at least heard of, Anvrai's ugly visage, of his many scars and the empty socket where his eye once dwelled. Nary a young maid, neither comely nor plain, was wont to favor him; at least, not without generous remuneration. It had been a painful lesson, but he'd learned it well, years before.
Other men could gaze upon a fair maid, appreciating her beauty, dreaming of her touch . . . mayhap her kiss. When Anvrai did so, he was deemed an ogre.
No, he did not dance.
"Surely you will stay the night. 'Tis said Lady Isabel will choose a bridegroom this eve," Hugh said.
Anvrai relaxed his stance. Hugh was right. There was no point in leaving right away. He'd been ordered to come and represent Belmere, and he would do so. His armor was in storage while he attended the feast in honor of Kettwyck's daughters, and he'd clothed himself in a finely embroidered linen tunic. He was as presentable as he would ever be.
"Aye. I'll stay the night and for morning Mass, then be off. There will be much to do at Belmere to prepare for William's campaign."
"No doubt Lord Osbern has also received word of William's intent and will begin to make ready."
Anvrai agreed. Osbern would not delay preparations for battle. All would be ready when he returned to Belmere.
"Lady Isabel seems smitten," Hugh remarked, turning Anvrai's attention to the courtyard where the elder sister danced. "Mayhap she will choose Sir Roger for her husband. Or Etienne Taillebois. Both are worthy, well-connected young men."
Anvrai shrugged. 'Twas said Lady Isabel would be allowed to choose her own spouse from the throng of noblemen her father had assembled, and Anvrai counted himself lucky to have escaped Lord Kettwyck's notice. He was no suitable husband for any woman -- especially one as comely as Isabel. In any event, the actions of the great families of the realm meant naught to him. His interest was in King William's imminent military campaign against the Scots. Though he had no intention of joining every one of the king's battles, 'twas high time King William dealt with the barbarian Scottish raiders.
Turning his gaze toward the heavens, he assessed the sky and concluded 'twould remain clear upon the morrow for his ride toward Belmere. With luck, the weather would continue fair . . .
Excerpted from The Bride Hunt by Margo Maguire Copyright © 2006 by Margo Maguire. Excerpted by permission.
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