Fulk de Jobourgh is a knight of the court of King William, commanded to oversee the lands of a noble who was hanged for treason. He is also instructed to marry the dead traitor’s rebellious daughter and ensure her loyalty to the king. He brings her to the altar, and to his bed, before galloping off once again to command in the King’s war. Although Alwyn, his unwilling bride, is barely able to remember the face of Fulk, she cannot forget her response to his touch. At every turn, she thwarts his efforts to take control of her father’s estate and finds herself enslaved by her passion for him. Will she be able to resist the sensual pleasure of his touch in order to save her rightful legacy and family honor?
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
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THE TALLY REEVE CAME LOOKING FOR her along the walk at the top of the curtain wall, threading his way among the men-at-arms who hunkered down out of sight of the Earl of Chester's archers. From the look on his face, Alwyn supposed he had more bad news. Probably the cook had sent him to nag at her again about food for the evening meal.
At any time now, it was to be expected that Castle Morlaix would surrender. At least that was the way their attackers reasoned it. No woman, except one other that Alwyn had heard of, had ever defended a siege of a castle.
She took another bite of bread, sitting on a water cask, elbows propped on her drawn-up knees. She'd been on her feet since dawn, and now the sun was setting. As she put the piece of bread to her mouth Alwyn noticed it was gray with smoke and dirt. She looked down and saw her filthy hands. The bread had been clean before she picked it up
"My lady," the tally reeve called, sidling along the parapet. He did not raise his voice; the bowmen encamped below the portal gate shot at any noise. "The cook wishes to know if you will come down now and see to the people who wish to be fed."
Alwyn stuffed the last of bread in her mouth and nodded yes, so that he would go away. After thirteen days of siege she had learned they would not have another assault on the walls so close to nightfall. But in the dark the sappers would work on their tunnels again, digging under the outer walls and the ward and making for the stone tower of the keep to set underground fires in the hope it would collapse.
The Earl of Chester's knights made much of their beleaguered condition.
Three times a day, in early morning, at noonprayers, and at sunset, a herald in elegant silks rode up under a White flag of parley and blew his horn. When he was sure they were listening, he exhorted the Welsh and English men-at-arms and the garrison of Norman knights to overthrow the Lady Alwyn and bargain for terms of surrender. Which, according to him, were extraordinarily generous: the Earl of Chester, Hugh of Avranches, would pardon all inside Castle Morlaix and allow them to depart with safekeeping. The Norman knights would retain all their arms and their horses. The Welsh and English men-at-arms would be allowed an escort out of the marches. And the villagers who had taken refuge inside Morlaix could return to their lands in the valley without fear of punishment.
All they had to do was turn over Fulk de Jobourg's wife to his rightful liege lord, the Earl of Chester.
It was about time for the herald to make his sundown visit; they could hear his horn in the distance.
One of the Welsh bowmen sitting with his back to the wall said, "Don't you pay no attention to what that fancy horn tootler says when he comes, milady. Especially about it being unnatural and all for a woman to lead us. Lord love us, I'd give a good penny to send an owl-feathered shaft through that poppinjay's throat."
Alwyn shook her head. It was not allowed to shoot a herald. They all knew that.
"If your lord husband was here," one of the English pikemen put in, "we'd show how them what's what. He'd raise this bloody siege and send that earl's dirty scavengers packing right off."
She managed a smile. If Fulk de Jobourg would come to their relief. She heard it a thousand times a day. Even now, the castle people believed she'd welcome him. This husband who had never wanted her.
Who perhaps did not want her now.
Under the wall, Chester's herald was shouting his opening remarks. He was very skillful, Alwyn thought, standing up so that she could see him. Or perhaps someone else had composed his flowery, persuasive words.
The earl's archers did not shoot while the herald was under his flag of parley; it was almost as though the castle people were encouraged to come out in the open. Perhaps, Alwyn had thought, as a means of counting them to see how many of them were left.
The past few days, the herald had begun his speech by reminding his listeners that the Lady Alwyn's father had been a Breton traitor, hanged for his treachery against King William. It followed, then, that her supporters had best not expect trustworthiness from his daughter. She would betray them all, as they would find to their sorrow, since treachery was in her blood.
A few of the men-at-arms listening along the wall growled under their breath. Farther down, the Norman knights who owed their loyalty to Fulk de Jobourg were silent.
Alwyn leaned her arms on the parapet and looked down. The herald, who was tall, fair-haired, good-looking in his colorful clothes, rode his horse back and forth as he shouted. His banner with the earl's device of a leopard rampant whipped behind him in the evening breeze.
Alwyn studied him thoughtfully. If only Morlaix's people knew why the Earl of Chester wanted her. The part about treachery was not far wrong--Hugh of Avranches had another husband for her, better, he had promised, than the one she now had.
In addition, she was assured she could give up the futile defense of her castle. That too would be hers by Chester's grant if she agreed. It was certainly better than what she'd had when Fulk de Jobourg had seized Morlaix and claimed it for his own.
Alwyn sighed. To hear them talk you would think her husband had no friends; at least they didn't count his wife as one of them. It seemed the whole world knew the truth of their marriage.
Holy Mary, she thought suddenly, she was sick of senseless warring and killing and siege-making. They had fought all day from sunup to sundown and four times had beat the attackers back from the walls with fire and arrows and heated stones dumped on them from red-hot buckets. Men had died. She had seen with her own, eyes the sorely wounded carried away. And Morlaix's hall was full of their own. It was madness.
She watched the herald ride back, not at all downcast at his reception. It was plain that the earl's knights were sure Castle Morlaix's surrender was not many more days away. The sun had gone behind the horizon; it was almost dark. Alwyn knew they would have to set a guard for the night to listen for sappers tunneling under the walls.
What the Earl of Chester did not know was that if she wished, she could appeal to King William herself. With any luck she supposed the king would agree to it. Then she would need no husband at all.
She thought of Fulk de Jobourg.
It was cursed from the beginning, she told herself dispassionately. She had always wondered what he'd been thinking when he rode through the snow that night to Morlaix to marry her.
A dew of blood dripped from our swords,
The arrows whistled as they went seeking helmets--
For me a pleasure equal to holding a girl in my arms.
--Battle Song of Ragnar Lodbrog