To Touch the Knight

( 8 )

Overview

As a pestilence sweeps medieval England, a low-born woman has only the sharpness of her wits—and the courage of her heart. . .

Edith of Warren Hamlet plays a dangerous game. At the knights' tourneys across the land, among the lords and ladies, she is a strange foreign princess. But in the privacy of her tent with the other survivors of her village, she is but a smith's widow with a silver tongue. They are well-fed, but if discovered, the punishment is death. And one ...

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To Touch the Knight

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Overview

As a pestilence sweeps medieval England, a low-born woman has only the sharpness of her wits—and the courage of her heart. . .

Edith of Warren Hamlet plays a dangerous game. At the knights' tourneys across the land, among the lords and ladies, she is a strange foreign princess. But in the privacy of her tent with the other survivors of her village, she is but a smith's widow with a silver tongue. They are well-fed, but if discovered, the punishment is death. And one knight—fierce, arrogant, and perilously appealing—is becoming far too attentive. . .

Sir Ranulf of Fredenwyke cares little for tourneys: playing for ladies' favors, when his own lady is dead; feasting, while commoners starve; "friendly" combat, when he has seen real war. Still, one lady captivates him—mysterious in her veils and silks, intoxicating with her exotic scents and bold glances. Yet something in her eyes reminds him of home. . .and draws him irresistibly to learn her secrets. . .

"Romantic and compelling. . .the author [has a] strong voice and narrative skills." —Red Roses Reviews (5 Red Roses) on A Knight's Enchantment

"A promising new voice!" —Shirlee Busbee

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781420106985
  • Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 7/1/2011
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 4.10 (w) x 6.70 (h) x 1.10 (d)

First Chapter

To Touch The Knight


By Lindsay Townsend

ZEBRA BOOKS

Copyright © 2011 Lindsay Townsend
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4201-0698-5


Chapter One

Castle Fitneyclare, near Fitney Major, Oxfordshire, Summer, 1351

"Ranulf, what are you doing, talking to that wheezing old crust? The games of love are about to begin!"

Ranulf had his back to the speaker, but he recognized the ringing voice. "Such trifles can wait, Giles," he replied, without turning round in the narrow tent. "I wear no token save my late wife's, you know that. I must speak with my steward now." Seeking the next name, he bent his head lower to the parchment spread out on the small table.

"But the ladies will be there at the castle!"

"Not my lady." Ranulf pointed to the next name on the list. "How fares Alfstand village?" he asked his steward Offa, who had once been Olwen's man. "Have they men enough for the hay harvest or do you need coin to hire more?"

Offa, a steady, sturdy man, had sense enough to ignore Giles's huffing behind them and answered promptly, "More men will be needed, sir. The hamlet is most piteously afflicted by the general pestilence. I would say we need seven or eight."

"Make the ones who are left work double," said Giles, sounding to Ranulf as if he was stifling a yawn. "Leave that, Ran, and come out into the sun, or you will soon be as sallow and puny as a clerk. No way to win a new lady!"

Ranulf thought of Olwen, of her pale beauty and secret smiles, and he longed to knock Giles's smugly handsome face against the tent post. Why had God granted him and Olwen so little time together? Why had their time been so marred? He was a widower at six and twenty, with no wife or sons and a host of bad memories. Was he a fool for still loving Olwen? For still missing her?

"I will come later."

"Ranulf, you cannot hide away in that black armor of yours forever."

"Later, Giles."

"Hell and damnation, Ran, you are as dull as a priest these days! When was the last time you went wenching?"

"Giles—"

But Giles was already leaving, with a final jab—"The Lady of Lilies will be there; not that the princess will favor you and your miserable hide"—and Ranulf's heart and head burned afresh. He stared blindly at the list of names, wishing he could go back to bed. Every day was the same, a dragging of his useless limbs around whatever joust or tourney he and Giles were at. If the pestilence overwhelmed them all in the end, it would be a relief to him.

But not, perhaps, to his people in the north: they depended on him. He sighed and looked at the list again.

"She is said to be very mysterious. It is said she can predict who will win at jousts."

Ranulf grunted and tried to find the next name.

"To be very beautiful, also."

"Who is, Offa? The queen of elf-land?"

"The Lady of Lilies. I have never seen her, but I can believe it."

Ranulf found himself wondering about the damsel's true name. In the last few months she and her company had appeared at almost every tourney. He had been away on his estates, but now he had returned to the jousts, her name seemed to be on every man's lips. Some said she was the mistress of Sir Tancred of Mirefield, a knight he knew to be of middling ability, but a good-natured sort.

"I have not seen her, either," he admitted. He had not sought her out before. Now he wondered why. Was Giles right? Was he turning into a clerk? Was he dull?

Giles has not seen her, either, he reminded himself, but then Giles had also been away, at the courts of France, and had only lately returned to England.

"Her tent is a wonder of color and delight, sir. I saw it this morning, on my way to you. Her attendants were erecting it and making all fine."

That surprised him. "She does not stay at the castle? I thought all the ladies were with Blanche of Fitneyclare."

"Not my Lady of Lilies. The castle is too old and dark for one so delicate and fair."

Ranulf raised his head and stared at his steward. "You, too? I thought it was only Giles who fell in love so quickly, and sight unseen."

The older man scratched at his ear and cleared his throat. "The list of harvesters will keep until noontime, sir. The Lady of Lilies demands that knights who would claim her favor seek her out first, ahead of the other ladies. And she will make us wait. It is said she always makes squires and knights wait."

"Arrogant wench!" In spite of this, Ranulf felt a glimmer of interest, the more so when Offa set his sturdy legs more firmly apart and said ruggedly, "She is a real princess, sir, from the Far East: Cathay. She traveled west from her father's court to escape the pestilence."

"Her father let her come all this way? I did not think her retinue so large."

"No one would dare interfere with my Lady of Lilies."

Ranulf sensed that Offa had an anecdote he wanted to share, and he tried to block the matter with a terse, "A pity for her, then, that after all that travel, the pestilence has come here to England."

Offa's swarthy face darkened to a dull red. "I would like to see a real princess." The words before I die hovered in the air between them.

Ranulf gave up and straightened, cracking his head on one of the tent poles. Refusing to rub his smarting forehead, he ducked toward the door flap, saying over his shoulder, "For you, then, we shall both go, or I shall have no peace before I fight."

He could not see Offa's face but he sensed the man grinning as he stepped out into the sunlight.

Promise me, her brother had pleaded with her on his deathbed. Promise me you will guide them to a better life. That you will not live a wicked life of sin and lies. They follow you as they follow me, so you must vow this, Edith.

And, clasping his limp and fevered hand, she had vowed that she would do all he had asked, for Gregory had been dying and she had wanted to comfort him.

Three days after she had broken them out of Warren Hemlet's church, her brother had collapsed. She had tended him, building up a bed of grass and heather by the roadside, warning the surviving villagers to stay back. Fearing the pestilence, they had fled into the woods, but they had returned after she buried Gregory at the edge of one of the strip fields. Walter had even carved a cross for her to put on the grave. She had made the sign of the cross but she had not prayed—why should she pray to a God who took Gregory but allowed Sir Giles to flourish? After a time, prompted by the children's hunger cries, she had moved from the grave and tottered on, blind as to where they were going.

She had expected to die, but she had not. When she did not die, she took it as a sign that God had not noticed, and she had decided that God would not notice when she put her first plan into action.

For two years now her plan had worked well and better than well, even more sweetly than she had hoped, and she told herself that she felt no shame—none, except for when she dreamed of Gregory.

For the last month, she had been dreaming of her brother every night.

The truth of it was that she did not like to sleep without a husband. Bundled with the other widows at night, she missed a man's warmth, a mate's rough yet tender wooing. At such times, all she could do was work: labor until she was so weary that she dropped like a stone onto her pallet.

I have some time before the knights arrive and clamor for favors. I could take our bed linen to the river to wash. With my work-rough hands and my hair over my face, no tourney man will know me. Yet if any lusty serving man detains me and he is charming and comely, then why not? If we are all due to die soon of the pestilence, why not indeed?

She smiled and began to strip the pallets.

She was walking with the bundled sheets to the shallow, slow-moving stream when she realized that another was there before her. A man, big and muscled enough for a knight but not in armor, was sitting on the riverbank with his boots off, dangling his bare feet in the clear water.

Large, fine feet they were, too, and very clean. She stood in the shade of a young beech tree, shielded by its fresh leaves, and watched him, this nameless knight. He was new to her, and a pleasure to look upon, with a trim waist and good shoulders. He slowly kicked his legs in the water and she noticed the dark swirls of down on his calves, less lustrous and straighter than his fair-going-to-russet shaggy, badly clipped hair. She wondered if the tiny dark fish were nibbling at his ankles and laughed softly at the foolish idea. He was handsome, she conceded, if long, clean-shaven features as regular as a mason's new carving of a king were to one's taste—and they were to hers. On his feet, standing proudly on the daisy- and speedwell-studded grass, he would be tall as a castle keep, but wiry, with a rangy strength she admired when he skimmed a pebble across the river.

He had a paring knife on the grass beside him, on his left side: a left-handed fighter, then. In a flash, she imagined him cutting her toenails, using his long, supple fingers to cradle her feet. She drew him in her mind, long limbs reaching for her, rolling her tight into his arms. His strong, full mouth would taste of peppermint, she decided, and she would feed him mint tisane and sweet, sweet dates. He would sweep her off into an uncut field of wheat, and there, with the poppies glowing round them, he would make love to her. His hands would be supple, gentle, and powerful together, and he would be generous with pleasure: shielding her, caressing her, teasing her, filling her....

Such vivid thoughts brought a wave of heat pounding into her face, but she kept staring, tense as a harp string, waiting for something, some sign as to whether she should be bold. It would be a foolish risk, but then, would he know her again?

"Probably not, for he is but a man," she murmured. And it was a glorious gold and blue morning. A kingfisher flashed by, bright as a rainbow, and her knight looked both comely and charming.

Choosing for herself, she lowered the bundle of bedding and took a step closer. Ahead, her nameless knight splashed in the stream like a young lad and she chuckled to see him so simply happy, but then, perhaps hearing her unguarded laugh, he turned his head.

His lean, narrow face was bleak, with a haunted look of grief about his dark brown eyes: a strained, weary face of many lost and lonely days. Sorry to see such pain and now shy of intruding, she moved sharply back, into deeper cover and shadow, but he called out to her.

"Little maid?" The unguarded, stricken look dropped from his face as he smiled—to reassure her, she realized. "The bank is large enough for two. I shall not trouble you."

When she did not stir, he patted the ground beside him. "The sun is warm and the water very pleasant. We may sit together in peace." He smiled again, his teeth white against his tanned face—good, strong teeth, she noticed, and none missing. "You have my word."

Tempted, she almost moved forward, but then caught herself in time. He was being kind, but such grief as his should be respected. To make all sure, to stop herself from yielding, she called back, "I must go. My lady awaits."

"Your lady? No lord, then?"

She did not answer his questions. It was time to go, more than time. A tumble in the field might be a consolation, as a plucked flower may be a delight, but both would quickly fade.

And if we are all to die of the pestilence, what matter? Did you not hope and plan for exactly this kind of encounter? Stop this foolish shyness! Seize this brawny, beautiful brute and make him yours for the morning!

She shook her head against herself, her loins and lips tingling at the lascivious notion. That glimpse of his heart, and his kindness, made him real to her: a person, not a daydream of desire, and she would not treat him so. Thus, when he rolled to his feet in a swift, powerful arc of movement, she skittered sideways, away from his likely approach. Plucking the heap of sheets off the beech mast, she gathered them tight and then pelted off, the sun burning on her head and face. Torn between going and staying, even as she fled, she made for the tall, multicolored tent at the eastern side of the tourney ground, her mind in as much turmoil as a kicked beehive.

We could have this morning, and then?

Do not look back!

Do you want to lie with him and then yearn after him for weeks? Do you want him to regret our union?

Do not look back! He may take it as a signal to follow!

Do you want to watch him flirt with others, and realize that grief of his, that seeming care, is as shallow as a dew pond? Worse, do you want to see him with another lady and know for sure our time meant nothing?

"I would be his equal and mean all of it," she panted, her calves and thighs aching as she ran past a startled group of pages, who instantly began to point and to make lewd remarks on her bouncing breasts. "I am his equal." Against the jeering of the tousle-headed, gawking lads, her voice sounded false in her ears, too light.

* * *

Ranulf knelt beneath the spreading branches of the beech tree where the maid had sheltered. Offa was still in the bushes somewhere, struggling with his bowels. His poor steward had been sweating with fear, though he had tried to convince the hapless Offa that it was likely nothing more than the sudden, unfortunate results of eating a bad meat pie, and not the pestilence.

He rose off his knees into a crouch. She had been about this height, as brown and nimble as a sparrow, with a mass and maze of hair. She had carefully hidden her face and eyes. Perhaps her mistress had not known she had ventured to the stream; perhaps she was playing the truant, like a schoolboy. A mystery maid, much as the Lady of Lilies was a mystery princess.

"I wonder who she belongs to?" he said, idly patting the narrow trunk of the beech where the lass had leaned and not really caring at that moment if he meant maid or princess.

"Offa!" he bawled, pitching his shout above the stirring camp. "Have you died in that hedge?"

There was a cracking of twigs and his steward burst out into the water meadow from a stand of hawthorn and guelder rose, his mouth already busy with excuses.

"Peace, Master Steward, and lead on." Ranulf waved off the rest, only half listening as Offa apologized again. All of this—stream, maid, and princess—were pretty diversions. They would pass the morning until it was time to fight again.

Chapter Two

As this tournament was not close to a town, the place of procession was not along any street but ran from Castle Fitneyclare to the tourney ground itself. This was a large space of water meadow and high-standing grass and wheat—both uncut crops and now a mêlée ground for knights. Ranulf could hear the yelling of brawling squires, of carpenters hammering and sawing as they erected stands for spectators and a wooden mock-keep in the middle of the hay field. The lady of Castle Fitneyclare had insisted that only ladies and damsels should stay within the real, stone castle and so the rest—knights, squires, farriers, baggage wagons, market stalls, traders, and all manner of hucksters—encircled the fighting area.

Ranulf strode through this encampment of tents and wagons with accustomed ease, returning the anxious salutes of fellow knights. He could hear Offa padding behind and so knew the fellow still lived. "Where is this splendid tent?" he called back, but then he saw it for himself.

Stunned, he came to a stop on the rutted, dusty track. Olwen would have loved this, was his first thought, and the bright morning was shrouded for him, and dulled. With a glowering eye he took in the sight, itching to find fault.

There were hurdles about the tent, hung with garlands and tiny beribboned charms and tinkling bells, all very dainty. Copper-skinned, dark-haired children dressed in gowns of silk darted in and out of an unseen entrance to the tent, tossing rose petals and calling to each other in high, strange voices.

"In case the lady should walk outside," murmured Offa beside him, clearly as amazed as he was.

The tent, meanwhile, a rainbow of scarlet, yellow, blue, and gold, was well dug in, the poles perfectly lashed together and straight. A troop of minstrels played pleasingly on rebecs outside it, strolling round without tripping on the guide ropes. The scent of lilies hung about the little camp.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from To Touch The Knight by Lindsay Townsend Copyright © 2011 by Lindsay Townsend. Excerpted by permission of ZEBRA BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 16, 2011

    Fantastic Read

    There is pestilence in the land and serfs are dying. Edith's Lord decides to handle the matter expediently. He herds all the living serfs into the church building, mixing the healthy with the sick, and bars the doors. What does he care if they all die? He can always get more serfs.

    It's easy to see that this author has done some research on this historical era. She emphasizes the difference between good Lords and bad, she shows insight on the character of knights that joust (they are no better than the man they are to begin with), and she shows how hopeless it is to be a serf under a bad Lord.

    Ms. Townsend gives both of her lead characters strong personalities and a will to survive. Edith attends the tourneys with her friends, impersonating an Eastern princess. She manages to feed them with goods given them by knights who are seeking her attention and her hand. Sir Ranulf is a widower who only attends the jousts to keep his mind from dwelling on his dead wife; he takes no pleasure in it.

    I really enjoyed how this author made Edith a spitfire who spars words with Ranulf. He snaps back, often regretting his quick words. In no time at all, the sparks flying between them are not just words, he's determined to bed her. Of course, she's determined to bed him, too, so that's all right. I laughed out loud at the times they got close to "bed" and were interrupted by staff. Seems the best laid plans of mice and men didn't seem to work out.

    Danger is close, pestilence still exists, and Edith's old Lord is after her adding a tremendous amount of suspense, so the words pass quickly as you read. This was an exciting tale with plenty of plot strings crossing back and forth to keep your interest.

    Why not take a trip in time back to medieval England and follow Edith's adventures? Her life was a trial, but it was going to get better.

    Originally posted at The Long and Short of It Romance Reviews

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 8, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    This is a deep dark medieval romance

    By 1351 the plague continues to devastate much of England, but fails to stop the knights' tourneys attended by the aristocracy. In this atmosphere, the Widow Edith a serf married to the late silversmith of Warren Hemlet pretends to be a foreign princess attending the games. The other villagers act as her retinue in public. If their masquerade is exposed they will be executed, but this ploy is the only way they can avoid starvation as the plague wrecked their village two years ago.

    Knight Sir Ranulf of Frendenwyke hates the festivities he must attend and participate in or else. He loathes celebrating with so much waste while the serfs suffer and his own wife buried. He knows war first hand so finds tournament battle inane. However, he is attracted to the mysterious Lady of Lilies who is unlike any aristocrat he ever met.; Edith shares his feelings but fears telling him the truth out of keeping her villagers safe.

    This is a deep dark medieval romance with a profound look at the death and destruction caused by the plague, and the arrogant abuse of some of the nobles towards their serfs. Lindsay Townsend pulls no punches as mid fourteenth century England is a harsh environs. The cast is strong while the romance between the disillusioned idealistic knight and "eastern Princess Smith" make for a wonderful tale.

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2012

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  • Posted August 28, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Love and romance during a perilous time

    In Lindsay Townsend's To Touch the Knight, a woman must make a choice: to trust a handsome stranger with secrets of her past or continue to run from it. It's England during the time of the Black Death. To escape a cruel lord, Edith of Warren Hemlet has re-invented herself as the Lady of Lilies. Dressed in the elaborate, costly fashions of a supposed princess of Cathay, she holds court on the tournament circuit and keeps the men enthralled. Until the arrival of Ranulf of Fredenwyke, a northern knight who suspects Edith's origins. He poses another danger - his best friend is the villainous Giles de Rothencey. If Edith allows Ranulf into her heart, she risks the possibility that he may discover the truth of her past and the connection to Giles. The author does a good job of keeping the tension between the hero and heroine. There are also personal stakes for both in their interactions with Giles that keep the reader's interest. The love story is sweet and sensual at the same time.

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  • Posted August 12, 2011

    RATING:4.5! AN AMAZING HISTORICAL ROMANCE! TO TOUCH THE KNIGHT BY LINDSAY TOWNSEND...

    TO TOUCH THE KNIGHT by Lindsay Townsend is an exciting historical romance set in 1351 England. It is written with depth and details. The characters are engaging,believable,and will capture your heart. It has romance,sweet sensuality,Knights,love,deception,betrayal,wit,courage,secrets,the knights' tourney games and forgiveness. When a low born woman with wit and courage of heart,Edith of Warren Hamlet meets the knight,Sir Ranulf of Fredenwyke you get not only attraction,wit,but also trust and love. Edith is playing a dangerous game where the punishment is death if discovered. Sir Ranulf fierce,arrogant and has his own secret.They are attracted to each other from the beginning.Sir Ranulf is drawn to Edith and intends to learn all her secrets. This is a fast paced,action packed story that will have you turning pages from beginning to end. I hope there will be another installment to this amazing story. "To Touch The Knight" is a keeper and a must read. This book was received for the purpose of review from the publisher.Details can be found at Zebra Books, published by Kensington Books and My Book Addiction Reviews.

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    Posted October 30, 2011

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    Posted September 30, 2011

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    Posted March 30, 2013

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