From the Publisher
"This book holds true to the genre with jousting, warring, and using women as pawns to power. " - Palmer's Picks for Reading
"I loved that the author has mixed history with folklore. Brilliant and rich in detail." - Anna's Book Blog
"The author has taken a story that has been retold many times and made it seem fresh and appealing to a new generation." - Debbie's Book Bag
"I enjoyed the depth of the writing... a fine romantic, historical fiction." - Reviews by Martha's Bookshelf
"A wonderful example of Margaret Campbell Barnes' writing." - BookLoons.com
"Well-written with many details, depth and history." - My Book Addiction and More
"All of these characters, fictional or otherwise, tell the story of the young Plantagenets, their success and failures, their triumphs and tragedies. This is another great novel by Margaret Campbell Barnes and one that I enjoyed immensely." - Celtic Lady's Reviews
"Timeless... The writing style is very easy and fluid and I found myself quite lost in time." - Broken Teepee
"I really enjoyed how Barnes worked the legend of Robin Hood realistically into Richard's reign. It all made sense and flowed completely naturally from both Richard and Robin's characters." - Devourer of Books
"Campbell Barnes stays true to the era, 1189-1199, and gives the reader a real sense of history and the times the characters are living in. " - She Read a Book
Read an Excerpt
From Chapter One
Blondel de Cahaignes was fifteen and homesick. It was four days since he had parted from his parents, and the life he had shared with them in their unpretentious manor seemed like a lost world. Of course, he had wanted to come to Oxford to serve in the royal household, and the journey up from Sussex had been more exciting than all the rest of his life put together. He had slept a night in London and ridden over the new wooden bridge across the Thames and seen the Conqueror's Tower and Edward the Confessor's Abbey at Westminster. But as the gentle hills which had sheltered his childhood gave place to flat and unfamiliar river country he had begun to realise how much his future happiness depended upon the kind of man whom he was to serve as page. And this Richard Plantagenet had been abroad so much in his duchy of Aquitaine that no one seemed to know much about him, except that he was tall and ruddy and turbulent like the rest of Henry the Second's sons.
It had been dark when Blondel arrived at Oxford Castle, and he had been packed off to bed without ceremony in the Constable's room over the gatehouse. And now the old farm servant who had accompanied him had gone back to his pigs and his plough, and the last link with the rural manor of Horsted de Cahaignes was broken. Blondel had waked to find the whole castle astir and had dressed hurriedly, wondering if his new master had already asked for him. But the Constable only laughed. "Duke Richard and his foster brother were off to Banbury fair two hours ago," he said.
"And what's more they've taken the whole pack of clamouring pages with them, so it looks as if you'll have to lay the King's table." "The wild way things go on here, it's a good thing the Queen has come home again!" added the Constable's wife, coaxing the boy to eat some breakfast.
Blondel knew there was scandal in the royal household; but he knew it only with the uncomfortable, unacknowledged awareness of youth. So he made no answer but stood by the windlass that lowered the great portcullis, staring out enviously at a dusty road which he imagined might lead to Banbury. How much more fun to go to a fair in good company, he thought, than to begin one's new duties all alone! But, being a conscientious lad, he lingered for no more than a few seconds to view the enchanting picture framed in each sunlit arrow-slit as he descended the dark spiral of the stairs. As he pulled aside the leather curtain at the end of the hall his heart beat hard against the velvet of his fine new coat. In his inexperience he expected to find the King and Queen of England sitting there with some of their family grouped about them, just as everybody sat and talked and worked in the hall at home. But the great hall of Oxford Castle was deserted save for half a dozen hounds stretched about the central hearth and the servants who were strewing fresh rushes on the floor and setting up trestles for the midday meal. Blondel did not yet know of the Tower room where the young Plantagenets really lived, and he was too unsophisticated to take it for granted that at this hour of the morning the King was usually with his mistress at Woodstock.
The hall seemed long as a cathedral to a country boy walking the length of it under the servants' curious gaze. He was overawed by the tall torch sconces and banners and tapestries, and when he reached the King's table at the far end he stood rather desolately regarding a pile of freshly laundered napkins, stacks of plates, a large finger bowl, and a great gold salt cellar.
He was still wondering what to do with them when a heavy door banged somewhere up in the gallery that ran round the hall and two girls came out of one of the small rooms built in the thickness of the second storey wall. One of them was golden and the other dark. Seeing a stranger in the hall they stopped on their way to the turret stair, and in his embarrassment Blondel seized the nearest pile of plates and began doling them out along the table. The girls leaned over the edge of the gallery to watch him and the dark one laughed contemptuously. "Just look at that fool of a page putting a wooden platter for Richard!" she said carelessly, so that he could hear. "We shouldn't tolerate such service in France!"
"Well, thank goodness, this is England!" countered the other one. "And, anyhow, he is new." There was something gallant and arresting about her clear voice and, sensing Blondel's discomfiture, she immediately included him in the conversation by calling down to him pleasantly, "You're my brother's new page, aren't you? What is your name?"
Although no more than a year or two his senior, she seemed to him quite grown-up. The thick plaits hanging like red-gold ropes on either side of her slender breasts confirmed his guess that she must be the popular Johanna Plantagenet, who rode and swam and hunted almost as well as her brothers. Blondel held his head high and answered her with grave courtesy; but his sensitive face, framed in a formal straight-cut bob of fair hair, was still hot with humiliation.
"It must be horrible having to leave home and begin life all over again among strangers!" she said. And because her lively interest in people killed formality and the haughty, dark girl had shrugged herself away up the turret stairs, Blondel found himself asking this Plantagenet princess which plates he ought to have used.
Instead of calling to one of the servants to instruct him she came down into the hall herself, attracted by his ingenuous smile. "One of the other boys should have stayed behind to show you!" she exclaimed indignantly. And-princess or no princess-she tucked up her long green velvet sleeves and herself showed him how to lay the family table. "Those wooden platters are for the people at the trestles-squires and bailiffs and shire reeves and so on," she explained. "The servants will see to them. Put pewter for the family, always. Unless someone special comes, and then we eat off the gold. But we do not have many banquets since poor Archbishop à Becket's death." She picked up a long rye loaf and with quick, capable fingers showed him how to roll a piece of bread in a napkin for each person.
"I was wondering what to do with all those napkins," he confessed. "We do not use many at home."
The youngest daughter of Henry of Anjou and Eleanor of Aquitaine was too great a personage to make him feel small. "Then your sisters must be very lucky people!" she laughed. "We have to embroider the tiresome things during the long winter evenings. Now put a knife at the left of Duke Richard's plate in case he wants to divide his meat. You will like working for him, Blondel."
"I'll do anything-anything...It's just this waiting at table..." muttered the boy, without looking up. When one's heart is an aching tenderness for home, kind words are difficult to bear without tears.
"Oh, it's quite simple really," she assured him. "The servants will bring all the dishes to that door. All you have to be careful about is not to slop water over people's feet when you hold the finger bowl for them as they go out. My eldest brother's page ruined a new pair of shoes for me only yesterday."
"At least I shan't do that," vowed Blondel, with a smile. "I often wait on my father's guests at home. But then he is only a knight. Here at court, where every other person is a prince or a duke, I am afraid of serving the wrong one first."