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For the beautiful widow, Princess Melanthe, those same laws and traditions conspire to consume her land and her independence. Her husband’s death has left her kingdom an inviting target for ...
For the beautiful widow, Princess Melanthe, those same laws and traditions conspire to consume her land and her independence. Her husband’s death has left her kingdom an inviting target for neighboring territories. Where Ruck sees a clear path, Melanthe must navigate through twisting alleyways, using shrewd deceit and devious strategy.
Can these two help each other overcome the powers conspiring against them? Will the passion in their hearts escape the constraints of their station? Is devotion enough?
Author Laura Kinsale has crafted a rich, sensual portrait of life during the Middle Ages. Using the subtlety and music of authentic Middle English for the dialogue, this complex romance is not for the faint of heart. But, those who take up the challenge will be rewarded with the most satisfying of historical romances.
The magnificent new novel by the New York Times bestselling author of The Shadow and the Star. A young English knight caught in the plots and secrets of court life faces certain death until Princess Melanthe takes pity on him, gifting the stranger with two emeralds. As the legendary Green Knight, he will return to fight for her honor. Original.
The cry rose with squeals and laughter as the ladies of Bordeaux craned, reaching for the prizes held tauntingly overhead by their gay tormentors. Veils came askew, belts failed and sent misericordes flying in the tussle—in a rush of varicolored silks and furs each gentleman went down in willing defeat, yielding his New Year's keepsake for the price of a kiss.
The first Great Pestilence was twenty and two years gone, the Second Scourge ten Christmases past—but though the French harried Aquitaine's borders and yet another outbreak of the dread black swellings had killed Lancaster's white duchess herself just last year, such dire thoughts were blown to oblivion when the trumpets gave forth a great shout, sounding the arrival of pastries to the hall, fantastic shapes of ships and castles and a stag that bled claret wine when the gilt arrow was plucked from its side.
A mischievous lady was the first to toss an eggshell full of sweet-water at her lord—the carved rafters resounded with glee, and in a moment every man was wiping perfumed drops from his lashes, grinning, demanding another kiss for his misfortune. Some hungry lordling broke the crust of a huge pie and a dozen frogs leapt free, thumping onto the table amid skips and feminine screams. From another pie came a rush of feathered bodies, birds that flew to the light and put out the candles as the company filled the gloom with shrill enjoyment.
The Duke of Lancaster himself sat with languid elegance at the high table of Ombriere, watching critically as kettledrums and the wild high notes of warbling flutes heralded the first course. At the duke's right hand, his most high and honored guest, the Princess Melanthe di Monteverde, overlooked the dim noisy hall with cold indifference. Her white falcon, equally impassive, gripped its carved and painted block with talons dipped in silver. The bannered trumpets sounded once more. All the candles and torches glowed again in magical unison, illuminating the hall and dais as the liveried servants held the lights aloft.
Lancaster smiled, leaning very near Princess Melanthe. "My lady's highness likes not mirth and marvels?"
She gave him a cool glance. "Marvels?" she murmured in a bored tone. "I expect naught less than a unicorn before the sweetmeats."
Lancaster grinned, allowing his shoulder to touch hers as he reached to refill the wine cup they shared. 'Too commonplace. Nay, give us a more difficult task, Princess."
Melanthe hid her annoyance. Lancaster was courting her. He would not be snubbed and he would not be forestalled. He took her coldness as challenge; her reluctance as mere dalliance.
"Then, sir—I will have it green," she said smoothly, and to her vexation he laughed aloud.
"Green it shall be." He signaled to an attendant and leaned back to speak in the servant's ear, then gave Melanthe a sidelong smile. "Before sweetmeats, my lady, a green unicorn."
The heavy red-and-blue cloth of his sleeve brushed her arm as he lifted the cup toward her lips, but the bishop on his other side sought him. In his distraction Melanthe took her opportunity to capture the goblet from his hand. She could already see the assembly's reaction to his attentions. Swift as metheglin could intoxicate a man, another horrified report began to spread among the tables below.
It would be a subdued mumble, Melanthe knew, passed over a shared sliver of meat or a finger full of sweet jelly, whispered under laughter with the true discretion of fear. Lancaster was thirty, handsome and vigorous in the full strength of manhood. While his oldest brother the Black Prince lay swollen and confined to his bed with dropsy, it was Lancaster who kept court as Lieutenant of Aquitaine, but who could blame a younger son of the King of England—most surely one of such energy and pride as Lancaster—if his ambitions were for greater things than service to his brother? Everyone knew he would take another highborn heiress after losing his good Duchess Blanche, and no one expected him to dally long about it. But Mary, Mother of God, even for the gain it would bring him, did he truly contemplate the Princess Melanthe?
She could almost hear the whispers as she sat next to him upon the dais and surveyed the company. There—that woman in the blue houppelande, leaning back to speak to the next table—she was no doubt complaining to her neighbor that such a gyrfalcon as Princess Melanthe carried was too great for a woman to fly. Nothing in the duke's mews could match it; not even the Black Prince himself owned such a bird. The insolence, that she would display it so at the duke's own feast! Immodesty! Wicked vanity and arrogance!
Melanthe gave the woman a long dispassionate stare and had the pleasure of watching her victim turn white with dismay at the attention.
Her reputation preceded her.
And those three, the two knights inclining so near to the pretty fair-haired girl between them—Melanthe could see the relish in their faces. Widowed of her Italian prince, the men would say, heiress to all her father's vast English lands ... and the girl would whisper that Princess Melanthe had caused a maiden to be drowned in her bath for dropping a cake of Castile soap.
From her late husband, someone else would murmur—the income of an Italian city-state; from her English father, lord of Bowland, holdings as large as Lancaster's; she'd taken fifteen lovers and murdered all of them; for a man to smile at her was certain death—here the knights would smirk and grin—certain, but exquisite, the final price for the paradise he could savor for as long as it pleased her to dally with him.
Melanthe had heard it all, knew what they spoke as well as if she sat among them. But still Lancaster paid her court with polish and wolf's glances, smiles and covetous stares, barely concerned to keep his desire in check. Melanthe knew what they were saying of that, too. She had entrapped him. Ensorcelled him. He'd left off his black mourning; all trace of lingering grief for his beloved Blanche had vanished. He looked at the Princess Melanthe as he looked at her falcon, with the look of a man who has determined what he will have and damn the price.
She only wished she might ensorcell him, and turn him to a toad.
Tonight she must act—this public gallantry of his could not be allowed to go on without check. Before the banquet ended, she must spurn him so that he and no one else could doubt it. When she looked out upon the trestles, she saw the assassin who watched her, tame and plump in her own green-and-silver livery, but in truth another spawn of the Riata family, one of the secret wardens set upon her. Only by the mastery of long practice did she maintain her cold serenity against the hard beat of her heart.
The food arrived with full pomp and glitter, loaded onto cloths of purest linen, the procession winding endlessly among the tables. Lancaster offered her the choice dainties from his own fingers. She brought herself to the point of rudeness in response to him—by God's self, must he be so open about it, this determined public pursuit in the face of her expressed displeasure, when he might have had the sense to send his envoy by night and secrecy to measure her willingness?
But he thought it agreeable sport, she saw, a lovers' game of disinterest and affectation. He full expected that she would have him. She had told him more than once that she would have no man, but none here would blame him for his confidence. It was a brilliant match. Their lands marched together in the north of England: the sum of their possessions would rival the king's. By this alliance the duke could make her the greatest lady in Britain—and she could make him greater yet than that.
It was not passion alone that drove him to these smiles and hot looks.
She touched him lightly when he leaned too close, to remind him that they were in the court's view. He grinned, sitting back in obedience, but a moment later he had leaned near again, grasping her hand possessively, holding it in his upon the table in a gesture as clear as a proclamation. The Riata stood up from his seat, mingling with the servants as they passed up and down the hall.
Melanthe made no move to disengage herself. It was a game of hints and inklings between her and the Riata's man—a language of act and counteract. He moved closer, warning her, reminding her of her agreement with Riata and her peril if she thought to wed any man, especially such a one as Lancaster.
She merely looked at the duke's fingers entwined with hers on the white cloth, refusing to show fear. Her heart was beating too hard, but she held to her aloof composure, asking Lancaster for a loaf of trimmed pandemain from the golden platter just set down before them, so that he must let go her hand to serve her properly.
When she looked up, she saw the Riata lingered in a closer place even though the duke had released her. Verily, Lancaster's hopes must be crushed, or she would be fortunate to see the light of another morning.
Gryngolet moved uneasily on her perch at Melanthe's elbow, the falcon's silver bells ringing as she half roused to the sweeping flutter of a sparrow that still flew, panicked, among the roof beams. Noble stewards clustered and moved behind and before the dais, attending the duke and his guests, trimming bread, carving quail: knives and poison and color— she could not keep them all in her eye at once, as adept as she had made herself at such things. The Riata could kill her as well before the entire hall as in some dark passage. It was too dangerous and open a position; she had not chosen it; she had tried to avoid it, but Lancaster's ambitions had overwhelmed her subtleties. She must sit at his high table and deny him to his face.
She had misjudged. These reckless English—she saw that she had been too accustomed to the feints and lethal shadows of the Italian courts to recall the power of plain English boldness. She would be fortunate to find her way to her chambers alive in this castle of unfamiliar corners and hidden places.
An ill luck it had been that had brought her to Bordeaux at all on her way home to England. She'd foreseen this disaster with Lancaster well enough to avoid the place by intention, but still had not cared to chance her French welcome and take the most northern route. She'd skirted Bordeaux, choosing the road to Limoges—only to meet there the English army just done with razing the town to ashes.
Lancaster wielded his courtesy with the same skill he handled a sword. She must not rush on her way home to Bowland, he had insisted graciously—there was to be a New Year's tournament—she must come to Bordeaux and honor him with her presence at the celebration. He had the ear of his father the king, he told her with his elegant hungry smile. He would write his recommendation that Princess Melanthe be put in possession of her English inheritance immediately and without prejudice. That he might, if he chose, equally well jeopardize her prospects with King Edward needed no such blunt hinting.
Wherefore, she was here. And Lancaster continued on his fatal determination, courting her through the service of the white meats and the red. She lost sight of the Riata, and then found him again, closer.
The moment approached. Lancaster would ask for her favor to carry in the tournament tomorrow. He had already told her that he would fight within the lists. In this public place, hanged be the man, Lancaster would beg her for a certain token of her regard and force her to a public answer.
There was no eluding it, no hope that he would not. His intention toward her was in his every compliment and sidelong glance. She had thought of becoming faint and retiring, but that could only put the thing off until the morrow—another night on guard against the Riata—and set off a round of further solicitude from the duke. Beyond that, the Princess Melanthe did not become faint. It was a weakness. Melanthe did not choose to show weakness.
She would end with Lancaster a powerful enemy, his lands marching with hers in bitterness instead of friendship. A man such as he would not soon forget a woman's public refusal. Among these northerners, chivalry and honor counted for all ... but the Riata must be shown that she would not have the duke, and must be shown it soon and well.
She suffered Lancaster's attentions to grow more and more direct. She began to encourage him, though he needed no encouragement from her to lead himself to his own humiliation. She was angry at him, but smiled. She regretted him, but she smiled still, ruthless, laughing at his wit, complimenting his banquet. It was no sweet love that drove Lancaster now, but ambition and a man's lust. She could not save him if he would not save himself.
The second course arrived. As a gilded swan was carved before them, the duke grew a little drunk with wine and success. He plucked a subtlety in the shape of a rosebud from the profusion of decoration on the platter and offered it to her with a glance more of affection than desire. Melanthe accepted the almond sweet from his fingers. She looked at him smiling softly upon her and felt a twinge of regret for his spare, comely figure—for women's fancies—things she had heard about him, of the love he bore still for his first wife, things that could not now nor ever be between her and a man.
In exchange for her life—his pride. It seemed a fair enough bargain to Melanthe.
As Lancaster prepared their shared trencher with his own hands, she glimpsed a slim figure in blue-and-yellow hose in the throng below. Allegreto Navona lounged at the edge of the hall, near the great hearth, his black hair and bright hues almost blending into the shapes and figures in the huge tapestry on the wall behind him. The youth was looking toward the dais. As Melanthe accepted the duke's tidbit, Allegreto smiled directly at her.
It was his sweet smirk; charming and sly. She stared at him a moment.
He had succeeded at something. She looked again quickly for the assassin wearing her own green-and-silver livery—there he was, the one Riata watchdog she knew of certainly, still holding checked, still only observing from a distance—Allegreto had not slain or expelled him. Which did not mean that the youth had not bloodied his hands in some other way.
She was torn between anger and relief. She had her own agreement with the Riata. In spite of the unceasing threat of the watchers they had placed on her, she wanted no Riata lives spent, not now. But she could not disclose that to a son of the house of Navona. And a murder in the midst of this banquet, in her retinue ... it would be offensive; there would be trouble; things were not done so here as they were in Italy, but she could not make Allegreto understand.
She did not acknowledge him with more than a brief look, reserving her pleasure. He made a face of mock disappointment, then lifted his chin in silent mirth. A pair of servants bore huge platters past him. When they had moved beyond, he was gone.
The trumpets sounded.
Melanthe looked up in startlement. They could not yet herald the last course. Over the hum of gossip and feasting came the shouts of men outside the hall. Her hand dropped instinctively to her dagger as the clatter of iron hooves rang against the walls. People gasped; servers scattered out of the great entry doors, spilling platters of sweets and more subtleties. Melanthe reached for Gryngolet's leash.
An apparition burst into the hall. A green-armored knight on a green horse hurdled the stairs, galloping up the center aisle, the ring of hooves suddenly muffled by the woven rushes so that the pair seemed to fly above the earth as ladies screamed and dogs scrambled beneath the tables.
Nothing hampered his drive to the high dais. Not a single knight rose to his lord's defense. Melanthe found herself on her feet alone, gripping her small dagger as Gryngolet roused her feathers and spread her wings in wild alarm.
The horse reached the dais and whirled, half rearing, showing emerald hooves and green legs, the twisting silver horn on its forehead slashing upward. The destrier's braided mane flew out like dyed silk as light sent green reflections from the lustrous armor. Silver bells chimed and jangled from the bridle and caparisons. At the peak of the knight's closed helm flourished a crest of verdant feathers, bound by silver at the base, set with an emerald that sent one bright green flash into her eyes before he brought the horse to a standstill.
Excerpted from For My Lady's Heart by Laura Kinsale. Copyright © 2011 Hedgehog Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted October 18, 2003
For My Lady's Heart is hands down the best romance book that I have ever read. The Middle English language can be confusing at first. However, sticking with the book and the language brings the reader into an almost unknown or experienced world, that of the Middle Ages. As a history buff, I find few novels have satisfactory detail,or are just wrong about many details in this time. But this book will pull you in and not let you out until the final page. The hero and heroine are both complex characters fully drawn with their own strengths and warts too. Melanthe is the most wonderfully complex character I have read, who has plenty of surprises in store for her when she fall in love with Ruck, who is hiding his own whopper of a past. There is a nice bit about falconry, and plenty of romantic tension. Try it out, stick with it, and you'll love it like I did.
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Posted January 1, 2015
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Posted November 25, 2009
Like an ancient tapestry of chivalrous life, this dense novel teems with colorful characters: Melanthe, a complicated wealthy English princess struggling to survive murderous political intrigue and avoid an unwanted marriage to Don Gian of Navona; Ruck (Ruadrik), her heroic Green Knight who takes his vows to heart; and the mysterious assassin Allegreto, bastard son of Don Gian, assigned by his father to protect Melanthe and monitor her doings. The plague and bandits are always to be feared, and Ruck saves Melanthe over and over again from these dangers. Sole survivors - so they believe - they embark on a difficult journey ending at Ruck's hidden castle Wolfscar where they wed. But the murderous Don Gian prevails and to save Ruadrik, Melanthe leaves him and publicly denies their troth. Yet the Green Knight (green no more) won't be left and he uses the law and the boon of his king to assert his rights and prevent the impending nuptials. All will work out for the lovers, but not before additional challenges to Ruadrik and Allegreto of poisoned wine and daggers, rigged tournaments, near drowning, imprisonment, et al. For My Lady's Heart is not a quick read - indeed it's a challenging one - but it's worth the journey.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 22, 2004
I reread this novel because I wanted to refresh my memory before starting to read Shadowheart, its long-awaited sequel. For My Lady's Heart contains an interesting story and well developed characters, like all Laura Kinsale novels, and some of the most creative writing (Middle English) ever attempted in a romance novel. I highly recommend that others read (or reread) this one before starting on Shadowheart. I would just like to add a hearty WELCOME BACK to Laura Kinsale and my sincere hopes that she will not wait so long before giving us more of her marvelous work.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 24, 2012
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Posted December 21, 2011
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Posted January 3, 2012
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