The living image of a knight’s dream, Elise conceals a shocking secret: she is the illegitimate daughter of Henry II.
THE BLACK KNIGHT
A fierce and magnificent warrior, Sir Bryan Stede follows no law but his own . . . until he beholds the exquisite Elise.
Duty keeps her his reluctant prisoner. Fate will transform her into his cherished bride. Despite everything between heaven and hell that will come between them . . .
|Product dimensions:||4.00(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.30(d)|
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Blue Heaven, Black Night
By Heather Graham
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 1986 Heather Graham Pozzessere
All rights reserved.
The Castle of Chinon, Province of Anjou
The rain had become a miserable drizzle. It had long ago soaked through Elise's cloak, a plain garment of woven wool, but best for the pilgrimage she made tonight. The hood dipped well over her features and hid the luxurious length of her red and gold curls, which might — at a time such as this — have given certain men pause.
A time such as this ...
The dull pounding of the raindrops that struck upon the pommel of her horse's saddle seemed like tiny hammer blows against her heart.
The king was dead. Henry II — by the grace of God, King of England, Duke of Normandy, and Count of Anjou — was dead.
And for all that he had been — beautiful, courageous, triumphant ... or cruel, old, and beaten — Elise had loved him with a simple, blind devotion few other women could have given.
She had understood him as few women could; she had known him, and she had eagerly studied all that she could about him.
Henry, the grandson of another Henry — the youngest child of William the Conqueror — had been born the heir to Anjou — and Normandy. His father had fought to give him Normandy; his mother had fought to give him England. She had failed, and Henry had battled long and hard against Stephen of England to win that inheritance at Stephen's death. Through Eleanor of Aquitaine, he had obtained those vast holdings in southern France. He had not just been the King of England; he had been a European ruler of the greatest dimensions. For Normandy, Aquitaine, Anjou, and Maine, he had owed fealty to the French king — but Henry had been the ruler, indisputably. Until the young King of France, Philip Augustus, and Henry's own sons, chaffing at the stern bit he kept upon them, had teamed together to stand against him.
Henry ... known far and wide for his famous Plantagenet temper, for his long argument with Thomas à Becket — and for being the cause of the murder of that man. Henry Plantagenet — quicksilver. A man of energy and power, always moving, always ready to battle back against all odds.
But this time, he had lost. Death had been the victor.
Elise closed her eyes in fervent prayer. How she had loved him! She could only ask God that history record all the good he had done. Even in his quarrel with Becket — it had become personal, yes, but Henry had sought to give justice to the people. To make murder a crime whether it be perpetrated by a layman or a member of the clergy. Henry had been a man of the law! He had created wonderful courts, and a system of justice that would long outlive him. He had obliterated trial by ordeal, brought witnesses into his courts. He had been a friend to his people.
And now he was dead. For months he had been battling the young King of France and Richard — his own heir. Battle after battle, town after town. Richard and Philip had finally forced him to sign a document with humbling demands, and he had died, a once great king, now a broken man.
Elise had come to mourn him, because to her, he had been all things. She had dearly, dearly loved him.
She traveled with only one companion, Isabel, a young maid in her service. It was assuredly dangerous for her to do so, for although she had left all vestments of finery behind her, cutthroats and thieves might travel her same route in search of easy prey. But she was adept with her dagger, and too dispirited to give thought to her own peril. As her horse plodded monotonously through the endless mud and endless drizzle, the blanket of depression weighed ever more heavily upon her. From Montoui, Elise's small duchy in a fertile valley bordered by Aquitaine, Anjou — and lands under the direct rule of Philip of France — it was a fifty-mile ride to Chinon. For the most part the roads were good, Roman roads kept passable by the constant movement of churchmen, emissaries, pilgrims — and Henry's perpetual energy and travel throughout his domains. But good roads could mean added danger, and Elise had spent part of the journey slipping into seldom-used paths that had been muddy and treacherous. It had been a long ride and they had traveled hard, galloping half the distance. Their speed was slowed, now, only by the onslaught of the miserable rain.
An owl screeched suddenly from the nearby forest, and her horse halted of its own accord.
"It's the castle, my lady," Isabel said nervously, drawing beside her. "We've reached it." Isabel was very tired — and scared. Elise shouldn't have brought her, she thought belatedly. Isabel was a gentle spirit who did not like adventure of any sort. But Elise had reasoned that Isabel was young, her own age, and would not mind the swift pace at which she'd had to move. Elise sighed; it was too late to change things now. She should have left Isabel home, and she should have come alone. But she knew she would have never evaded other loving servants at Montoui had she attempted to leave completely unattended.
Elise narrowed her eyes against the night. The moon was pale in the rain-dark sky, but indeed, they could see before them the high stone walls of the castle. Chinon. One of Henry's castles, a place where he had come in illness after his meeting with Philip and Richard. Chinon, with high walls of stone, a large castle, a defensive castle, stretching across the landscape in the night like a fortress.
Light gleamed from narrow archer's slits, but that light hazed with the misty glow of a moon half-obscured by clouds and made the castle appear as if it were an eerie silhouette cut out of the night.
"Come," Elise said to her uneasy young maid, "I see a bridge ahead." She nudged her horse forward again.
"Milady, are you quite sure that this venture is wise? The castle will abound with the king's knights —"
"Yes! This venture is necessary!" Elise snapped. She was in no mood to tolerate outspoken criticism from a servant. But as the words left her mouth, she relented. She encouraged her household to take pride in themselves; her servants were taught to read and write — and to reason.
And reason certainly did decree that they were upon a fool's errand.
I only wish to see him. I must see him. I owe him this last respect ...
"Isabel," she said more kindly, "these men will be in deep mourning. And they will be honorable men. They are those knights who remained at his side when all was dark, and all those without loyalty or devotion deserted to join Richard and Philip Augustus of France. You'll see," she added more positively than she was feeling, "we will be treated with the proper respect."
"Humph!" Isabel sniffed, but her mistress's temper was sharp this night, so she gave no further argument.
Isabel's palfrey shied away from the narrow bridge leading to the main gates. They were challenged by a guard whose thundering bellow caused Elise's spirited mare to rear in snorting fear.
"Halt — In the name of the Crown! State your business here, or turn about."
Elise fought to calm her prancing mare, despising the awkward sidesaddle she had chosen for the journey.
"I am Elise de Bois, Duchess of Montoui!" she called out with sharp and ringing authority. "I have come to pay my final respects to Henry of England, my liege king and overlord!"
There was a rustling about behind the gates. Elise gave a sigh of relief when they cranked open the gates to admit her. She led her horse over the remainder of the bridge with Isabel close behind her.
A weary, tattered guard met her at the dank entrance to the castle. Beneath his armor he was thin; his features pinched. Elise felt a surge of compassion for the man. Henry's loyal followers had brought him here with few supplies; the son he had warred against for so long and the King of France had been on his heels. And Henry had just signed the humiliating truce with the pair before his death. These men had probably had little food and little sleep for weeks. Perhaps months.
The tired, sallow-faced guard surveyed her with interest. "I do not know you, milady. Nor do I know of the duchy of Montoui."
"It is a small duchy," Elise said flatly. "But if you do not know me, sir, then call your superior, for I am the Duchess of Montoui, and have traveled a miserable road to reach my king."
"They are all at mass —" the guard began to murmur.
"For sweet Jesu's sake!" Elise cried irritably. "We are two women alone. What harm do you think we bring a dead king!"
The guard stepped back. Like most of the aristocracy, Elise had learned the manner of one who was to be obeyed.
"I can see no harm to a dead man," the guard muttered.
Elise slipped unassisted from her mare.
"Then tell me the way to the king. My maid will await me."
"John Goodwin!" the guard called out sharply, drawing from the shadows a second armored man. "This is the Lady Elise de Bois, to pray for Henry of England. Her maid may bide here, and I will keep an eye upon the horses at the bridge. You will escort her to the chamber."
The man nodded, turned, and led her into the castle's interior. They came first to the gatehouse, the room beyond the drawbridge where sharp steel spikes lined each side of the wall; should the gate ever be breached in battle, a lever could be sprung to send the spikes soaring inward, impaling the first rush of invaders.
Chinon was a castle planned for battle. The walls were high and thick and guarded by numerous towers. It was very dark and damp this night. The smell of the tallow candles was harsh and acrid upon the air. They passed no one as they came from the gatehouse to the open, outer ward, and then past a wooden fence to the inner yard and moved on to the donjon, or keep. Elise gazed about herself a little unhappily. She did not like Chinon. It seemed barren tonight. True, she walked through the defenses and not the living quarters, but there seemed to be nothing whatsoever elegant or even warm about Chinon. There was only cold stone, harsh and strong — and unwelcoming.
Inside the keep, she was led past the spiral of worn stone stairs that should have led to the living quarters. Elise raised a brow and paused to question the knight who escorted her. She did not know Chinon; she had never been here before. But she knew that Henry liked to keep his quarters on the second floor, right above the guards and weaponry.
"Where do you take me, sir? Should the king not be laid out in his chamber?"
"The king is upon this floor, milady," the guard said sorrowfully. "He was, in life, too ill and pained to be brought up the stairs. And in death ... this floor is the coolest, milady."
Elise said nothing more. She understood all too well the need to protect the body from decay.
A short time later they stood before a door, and she at last saw other signs of life. Two tired soldiers flanked either side of the entrance to the death chamber.
"The Lady Elise de Bois to see the king," her escort said stiffly. "See that she is undisturbed in her prayers."
The knights nodded and parted. Elise placed her hand upon the heavy wooden door and pushed. With a small groan and screech, it moved inward and she entered the chamber and closed the door behind her.
For a moment she merely stood there, bracing herself against the solid oak. And she stared upon the aged and wasted figure laid out — at peace at last — between four posts set with thick candles that burned staunchly against the dampness of the night.
Gone was the Plantagenet glory. The body was that of a man, old before his true time, ravaged by illness and sorrow. The cheeks were deeply sunken in death, the face furrowed with lines, the lips drooping. He lay with his crown upon his head, his sword and scepter by his side, yet he looked too pathetic to have ever been a proud and arrogant king.
Unwittingly, Elise brought her knuckles to her mouth and bit down upon them. She felt no pain as she tried to subdue the cry of loss that rose within her.
Suddenly she rushed to his body and dropped to her knees at its side. Though his hand was bloated with decay and stiff with death, she gripped it, and her hot tears bathed it with love.
She didn't know how long she knelt there, numb with loss, but at last her silent tears ran dry and she stared tenderly upon the ravaged face once more, adjusting a strand of the graying hair upon his forehead.
Once he had been beautiful. Vital. Every inch a king. Henry Plantagenet had been a man of medium stature and height, but well sinewed, strong and agile from constant days in the saddle. He had been a man sometimes autocratic and rude, vain and demanding — and given to wild tempers. But where he had walked, the force of life had always followed. Vibrant, determined, stubborn, and proud. He was an impassioned king — and despite all else he was just and respected for his mind, for his wit, for his knowledge. He had been an astonishing linguist; his lands had encompassed several tongues, and he had been well acquainted with them all: the Provencale French of his southern regions, the Norman French of the north continent and the English court, the Anglo-Saxon of his English people, and the Latin that was known throughout Christendom. He had even known the language of the Welsh, and the Gaelic of the wild Scots. His mind, like his body, had moved like quicksilver.
And when he smiled, a ray of the sun came down; he smiled as a king.
Elise would never forget the first time she had seen him. Or remembered seeing him. She had been about four years old when he rode up to the castle at Montoui.
He had ridden with few retainers, but still she had been awed at the sight of him. His cape of royal blue was fringed with ermine fur. It flowed behind him as he sat his horse in splendor; a rider born to the saddle.
And his hair ... red and gold ... had reflected the light of the sun.
She had thought he might be God at first. Surely he was a king above kings.
From the castle keep where she threw pebbles into a puddle, she had run through the banqueting hall, up the steep stairwell, and into her mother's chambers.
"God has come, milady mother! God has come!" Her mother had laughed gaily, the sound of a brook splashing in springtime.
"'Tis not God, poppet. 'Tis our liege Lord Henry, Duke of Aquitaine and Normandy, Count of Anjou and Maine, and King of England!"
Many times when important visitors came, she was sent away with her nurse, but it was not so that day. The man who had come, the great man, the king, had come to see her. She was ecstatic with joy, and happy to crawl upon his lap, delighted to display before him both her manners and her wit. It was a happy occasion, for her mother and her father, the Duke and Duchess of Montoui, smiled with the greatest pleasure as the king laughed and commended them upon the beauty of their child.
That same year, another royal visitor had come to the small court at Montoui.
Her parents had not been so happy then. Elise asked her mother why she was so frightened; Marie de Bois paled, then denied her fear.
"I am not frightened. It is just that the queen is a very great lady, powerful in her own right ..."
Marie de Bois, who had never had a quarrel with Eleanor of Aquitaine, was quite justifiably nervous. Henry II had begun an affair with Rosamund Clifford that was to have disastrous consequences. Eleanor and Henry were separated, and the king's eldest two sons, Henry and Richard — embittered already by the lack of freedom and trust given them by Henry — had rallied to their mother's side in open defiance of their father.
Now Eleanor was to appear at Montoui. And Montoui had divided loyalties. It lay between Anjou and Aquitaine; the latter was Eleanor's birthright, and the rebellious Richard had been proclaimed Duke of Aquitaine, while Anjou was indisputably Henry's.
Montoui could not remain neutral territory for long in the battle of king and queen and princes. By feudal custom, Henry, through his own European holdings, was the overlord of the dukes of Montoui.
Elise was too young at the time to understand all the intricacies of the Angevin empire, or the feuding that had split apart a family, but just as she had been in awe of Henry, she was in awe of Eleanor.
The queen was older than the king, but just as splendid, and just as beautiful. Elise had heard the tales about her. She had once been married to the King of France — before she had been married to Henry, of course — and she had ridden like an Amazon warrioress along with him to the Holy Land, leading her own army on the Crusade.
Excerpted from Blue Heaven, Black Night by Heather Graham. Copyright © 1986 Heather Graham Pozzessere. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Could'nt put the book down. There was such a growth of character development and so much history thrown in to make it all the more interesting. One of my favorites by this author.
Elise is the illegitimate daughter of King Henry II. Sir Bryan Stede is known as the Black Knight, an honorable knight who has served his king. When the king suddenly passes away, Elise’s life takes a massive change, one that finds her in the path of the Black Knight. I had a problem getting through this book. It just didn’t work for me right from the beginning. I didn’t like the first interaction between the two main characters and it just continued to turn me away from it from there. **I voluntarily read and reviewed this book
Enjoyed the independence of the women in this novel leading me to do additional research on Eleanor of Acquataine which was very interesting. HG kept to most of the historical facts and I found the romance beyween Sir Bryan and Elise rather exciting and different! Very well written! LORRAINE
I really liked this historical read. Elise is concealing her secret, she is the illegitimate daughter of Henry II, Sir Bryan Stede is a fierce warrior and is drawn to Elise. Will they find a happily ever after or will circumstances tear them apart? Suspenseful read with lots of drama and suspense and wrapped in historical events. The story takes you back in time and really draws you in, I really liked it!