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Early October, 1190; Kent
Mathilde did not stay to watch her betrothal broken. Her brothers had sent her from the great hall before Simon's arrival; only the flicker of bright cloth at the turning of the stair betrayed that she tarried close by. Simon drew his gaze from the trembling hint of green surcoat and faced Mathilde's brothers.
"You will give her up," Eustace Bouteville said again.
"I can do nothing else." Simon looked across the ancient hall and saw the sunlight upon old Eudo Bouteville's shield, high on the timbered wall.
Eustace let out a long breath. "Then we are agreed. It must be so; even if she would go into exile with you—"
From the stair came the sound of slipper upon stone, and a small cry of dismay. Simon looked back to the passageway and saw, in the light from the Boutevilles' extravagantly glazed windows, a glimpse of Mathilde's white and distant face. In that moment, Simon saw terror in the lady's prominent, staring eyes. He had not noticed, during negotiations in happier times, that she had the small, soft chin of a rabbit in winter.
Simon turned back to the lady's brothers. "You would not give her to me," he said. "Not now. And I am not so far damned that I would take her from you."
He saw relief in Eustace Bouteville's eyes and imagined that he heard a grateful sigh in the distance. Renouncing his claim to Mathilde Bouteville had proved easier than he had foreseen. It was but one among many hasty farewells he had made; he had managed far more harrowing tasks in the past two days.
Simon drew a long breath. "I would have Mathilde know that I regret losing her. If this trouble had notcome upon me, I would have taken her to wife in all honor, and counted myself fortunate to have her."
"If one day—" Eustace Bouteville's words died before his brother's warning frown.
Simon drew a stern breath. "There may be no mercy for me," he said. " Not in these next years. Perhaps never."
Eustace muttered a low oath and reached toward Simon in a small gesture of regret, a cautious move that would not bring him within a sword's length of Simon's arm. Behind Eustace, Simon saw Rannald Bouteville glance to the end of the long chamber, to the men-at-arms standing in silence against the wall. The sun was low, streaming cold and crimson through the open door, casting a narrow path that Simon must follow.
It was time to go, before the coming night forced the Bouteville brothers to deny him lodging. Before fear moved them to violence. "Give her my farewell," Simon said, "and wed her to another." He took a last look at the passageway and saw that Mathilde's rich hem had vanished. Alone, he walked into the shaft of sunlight from the door.
The words rose to echo among the soot-darkened beams of the hall, sending a sparrow in frantic beating from its perch. Simon halted, and turned back to Mathilde's kin. "I go to Wales," he told Eustace. "To serve the Marshal in the black mountains, and to keep the peace."
Simon looked to Rannald and saw a different question in his eyes. "I cannot tell you how it happened," he said.
Rannald's face darkened. "That you, of all men, should take naked steel into the abbey and—"
"Leave it." Beyond the ragged silence, Simon heard the distant voices of drovers on the hillside. "The dark is coming," he said, "and I should be far along the road when the sun goes down."
The stableboy was standing where Simon had left him, still holding the reins of Simon's mount. There had been no need to tell him that the lord of Taillebroc would not seek shelter here.
Even the ostlers of Bouteville knew that Simon of Taillebroc was in disgrace, and that only the wealth and the honor of his ancestors had kept the mad and dangerous lord from banishment beyond Christian realms.
The devil himself could not have won Taillebroc a place at Boutevilles' hearth this night.
* * *
Savare was waiting beyond the river, sitting near the great, twisted oak above the fording place. He rose to his feet and led his horse forward. "It's done?"
Savare mounted and turned south. "There's no harm in a last look. We should take the high road above the abbey."
The high road was the shorter way to Maidstone; the easier path, out of sight of the abbey and Taillebroc's distant tower, would take them miles out of their way. Simon gave another brief nod of assent. "The high road."
For the last time, they rode in the golden autumn light along the ridge road. Below them, the abbey lay quiet, the smoke of its kitchens rising straight in the cold and windless sky. The faint odor of windfallen apples drifted from the orchard.
"No trouble there," Savare said.
Simon turned from the sight of Taillebroc's far walls. "The Marshal promised there would be no violence done to the grave."
"And the abbot has enough of our gold to keep him true to his oath, and pray for our sire."
Simon placed his hand upon Savare's shoulder. "Come, brother. There's nothing to be done but meet the Marshal's men and ride on to our posts."
Savare drew a long breath. "Old Harald waits there. Said your armor will rust in the foul weather if he doesn't follow you to Wales to care for it. I would go with you both—"
His brother smiled. "Go your own way, Savare, as the Marshal has ordered. We'll meet again at Taillebroc, in better times." Simon turned back for a last view of his lands. "We'll have it back one day, when God wills Longchamp and his creatures from the land."
"Aye. And if God should need a good sword arm to do his will—"
"—You will not offer yours. We swore an oath; we will honor it and keep the Marshal's trust."
Savare shrugged. "He left you with little enough. You lost the land, a rich heiress—" He took up his reins and turned in the saddle. "Tell me, Simon. Did you weep to give up Mathilde Bouteville? Did you mourn her dowry?"
Simon shook his head. "I didn't come close to weeping."
"You smile? Was your speech with the Boutevilles so amusing? Simon, there are times I would swear you find a jest where only madmen would look."
"No, brother. There was no jesting, but as I left Boutevilles' manor—"
Simon's smile broadened. "I saw a rabbit. It was easier, at the sight of it, to take my leave of the Boutevilles."
"Our trouble has turned your mind strange. Do me a kindness and forget the Boutevilles—and the rabbit—before we come upon the Marshal's men."
Together, they turned west and rode into the setting sun. A wind rose behind them, bringing the scent of rain. William the Marshal was camped somewhere ahead on the Maidstone road; nowhere else would the Taillebroc men find shelter this night.
Copyright © 2001 by Linda Cook
Posted February 9, 2001
After five years as hostage in Normandy, Adeline may return into her Welsh father's keep, but on the condition of spying on Simon, a Norman knight suspected of treason. Her homecoming is shadowed by suspicions of treason, secrets, caution, and tension within her own family. Having to spy is distasteful to her, but she has the wit and courage to turn her predicament into something filled with promise. Simon, the Knight, has to prove himself. With historical accuracy, Linda Cook depicts her hero as a true knight. She sets the perfect mood with this medieval tale of treachery, redemption, and love...I heard the raven's cry, saw the golden sunsets, the frosty landscape, and felt the swirls of the Silver Wind.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.