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Daggers of Gold
By Katherine Deauxville
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 Maggie Davis
All rights reserved.
A thunderstorm came rolling off the Welsh mountains, blue-black with rain. The Benedictine lay brother lifted a fold of his habit over his breviary and continued reading. Behind, the wagons pulled to a stop and the drovers jumped out to cover the wine barrels with pieces of hide.
Simon de Bocage drew the hood of his cloak up against the downpour. Feeling the movement, the Saracen mare tossed her head and pulled at the bit. She was a desert horse, and hated rain. Which they'd had, steadily enough, since they'd left the coast at Folkestone.
Good English weather, Simon told himself as water ran down between his neck and his mail. And still better than burning in some Outremer desert. There had been times these past two years when even a spoonful of water would have been a sweet miracle.
The wine merchant pushed his palfrey up beside him. Water poured from his wide- brimmed hat like a veil. "Thank God and the holy saints," he shouted, "there is the river. We should see Morlaix Castle at the bridge."
Simon leaned forward in his saddle to see the gray shape rising against the Welsh mountains. A sudden, familiar pain attacked him somewhere over his breastbone. It was stupid to feel a thing so keenly, so hopelessly, he told himself; he had only to deliver the bishops' letter and leave. One would be a fool to linger, anyway, when she was already married.
On the far side of the river the meadow was crowded with tents of wedding guests and their knights, foot soldiery, baggage and dogs. There were ditches dug to empty the chamberpots, strings of tethered horses and guard fires. In places where the grass had been trampled the ground was fast turning to mud.
Simon kept his eyes on Morlaix, fighting the old, foolish dreams that leaped up in him. Once again he was a green boy, a beardless squire, helplessly besotted with his cousin, Alys de Bocage.
He'd never thought to come back again to Morlaix. Not still yearning for a shy, sweet maid he could never have. If they'd told him his destination in Rouen weeks ago, he knew he would have refused.
Under the bridge a group of naked men were bathing, the water around them dimpled with rain. The wine merchant sucked in his breath. "Sir knight, see, there are a score of them. And we are but three."
They seemed harmless enough to Simon. Probably the household knights of some wedding guest. As they approached, one of the bathers lifted his hand in greeting. He acknowledged it with a nod.
The wine merchant shouldered his horse close. "King William should find a way to keep this riffraff in the Holy Land," he complained. "I say with Jerusalem conquered, they should stay to protect what was gained by the sword, and so many blessed martyred lives."
Simon said nothing. Given his choice, he would have traveled alone, but in Chirk the monk had approached to beg protection in the name of the church, and the wine merchant had offered a quarter barrel of his best dry yellow from Sancerre in France. Which, the merchant had reminded Simon, since he was going to the wedding at the castle, would make a fine gift.
The horses slowed at the bridge. Behind them the wagons pulled to a stop.
When he'd been a page at Castle Morlaix there had been a small woods here, and a pen for cattle. He'd often swum in the river with Gilbert and the twins in the summer, just as the knights below now were doing. But not Alys, he remembered. No girl of good birth could swim naked, not even with her brothers.
He laid the reins against his mare's neck and let out the destrier's lead. His arm ached from the war horse's pulling against it, as steady and resisting as a towed boat.
"You do not know England, now," the merchant was saying, "if you have been long gone in the Holy Land. The country is filled with those who call themselves Christian knights, yet roam like thieves, or worse."
Simon made a noncommittal noise, kicking the mare into a trot. The merchant had talked all the way from Chirk of renegades who murdered and plundered the unwary, and the country's lawlessness under King William Rufus. It was strange to hear such things here in the Welsh marches, where Fulk de Jobourg had so long stood for justice and order. In the past his cousin had resisted even his own treacherous leige lord, the Earl of Chester. And once, years ago, old King William the Conqueror's scheming brothers.
The wine merchant kicked his palfrey up to keep pace with the mare. "Yet even these outlaw knights and brigands are nothing compared to those unholy companions with whom the king surrounds himself. They claim they are knights, but we know them as robbers and worse. Have you not heard of Robert FitzHaimo, beautiful as a woman, on whom the king lavishes his favors?" He looked around, although there was no one to hear. "A court of 'fornicators and catamites vilely stained.' That is what our own archbishop, the blessed Anselm, has called them."
The corners of Simon's mouth twitched. Fornicators and catamites vilely stained. Since leaving France he'd found merchants were the most condemning of William Rufus, a rough and extravagant knight with a taste for boys. But it was difficult for most to understand barracks life, where one seldom dealt with women. At Tamworth, a band of knights had chased Simon off the road and into some covering woods with, apparently, robbery not their main intent. From his exile in France, Anselm, England's Archbishop of Canterbury, denounced this sort of thing almost daily.
Rain beat like a drum on the boards of the bridge. Head down, the Saracen mare crabwalked. Simon touched her with his spurs. Startled, the horse stretched her neck and charged, trying to drag his leg against the rails. Behind them the wine merchant's two drovers shouted and whipped up their mules.
He brought the heaving, sweating mare to a halt on the bridge's far side. The men in the river whistled between their teeth.
The lay brother jogged past on his donkey. "They are offering for your horse," he said, not looking up.
Simon had heard them. And what they were offering. He held the mare in as she high- stepped onto the road. She'd withstood the voyage across the channel from France well enough; he was baffled that now that they were at last in England, she refused to settle down.
Castle Morlaix's walls were hung with red and white cloth. The banners of high- ranking guests drooped, rain-soaked, from the portal gate.
There was a blast of horns from the keep. The stallion lifted his head, yanking at the tether. The other horses broke into a trot. They splashed up the incline, the wagons falling behind.
On either side were bright gonfalons: the Baron of Malmsbury's tent; then a cluster marking the Earl of Chester's vassals, their lord absent in Normandy; the standards of the Earl of Hatford; and a lesser Montgomery. An orange sun on a yellow field, the device of the all-powerful Clares, Prince Henry's friends, hung from the tallest pole. It was said of the
Clares that if they were reconnoitering hell they would send a flag to the devil to let him know they were there.
The lay brother put away his breviary and kicked his donkey into a trot. A group of young pages with food in their hands burst out of the castle archway and ran past them down the road.
The portal sentry stepped onto the drawbridge, and waved the Benedictine brother past. "Here now, looking for food and drink?" He seized the mare's bridle, his eyes on Simon's mail and the state of his boots. "Nobody's to be let in, you know."
The other knight stepped out into the rain. "Now that's a horse." He ran his hand down the Saracen mare's neck. She bared her teeth, and he laughed. "A bit dish-faced, isn't she?"
Simon pulled on the reins. The mare crouched on her haunches, backing away. He said, "It's a sign of the breed."
The first knight stepped to one side to let the wine merchant pass. Simon looked beyond the gate. The ward was filled with people. On the open fires turned spits of starlings and grouse, and under them simmered stew kettles. A leafy bower had been put up over some kegs of ale. There was a mob around it. The great hall, big as a manor house, backed against the rear curtain wall. They could hear music and the din of voices.
"If you want wedding food and drink," the first guard was saying, "it's back down there in the camp. They will give you what you need in plenty."
The wine merchant was riding away. "My wine," Simon called. The merchant did not look back.
He swung the destrier into the path of the second wagon. The portal knight jumped back as he turned both horses in the narrow archway.
Simon kneed the mare forward, the destrier jerking at his lead. He was beginning to feel tired. The rain didn't help. He trotted the horses back to the wine wagon.
The drover sat hunched on the wagon seat. Simon leaned from the saddle. "A caskette of the yellow Sancerre," he told him, "as I was promised."
The man lifted sullen eyes. Simon said nothing, merely looked at him. After a moment the drover scrambled over the wagon seat, back among the barrels. He found a small rundlet of wine. Simon leaned down to take it. The drover looked away, crossing himself.
He turned the horses back under the arch. The castle chamberlain had come up, iron keys dangling. Simon barely recognized Ivor the reeve, he'd changed into an old man while he was gone, stooped, his hair white. The woman with him held the edge of her red cloak above her head. She stepped under the arch and threw it back.
He hadn't expected the lady of Morlaix. She was still beautiful, he saw, with her white skin and dark hair. Gilbert, her oldest, was his own age. As a child she'd seemed a goddess to him.
She peered up at him. "Sir knight, we are filled to the walls here —" Abruptly, she gave a girlish squeal and stepped forward, hands out.
He threw the reins over the mare's neck and dismounted, the rundlet in his arms. The Lady Alwyn threw herself against him. He towered over her, balancing the wine.
"Ah, Simon, is it really you?" A shadow crossed her face. "Holy Mother, you are too late! No, I don't mean that; God will give them happiness. But they are married, they've gone now to the bridal chamber." Her hands grabbed his cloak. "My poor heart, don't look like that."
She thought he had come to stop the marriage. For a moment he didn't know what to tell her. To cover it he dropped to one knee on the cobblestones and bent his head.
"Lady," he said formally, "the wedding is not my reason for coming, it is another task which sends me here. But accept my prayers for God's blessing on your daughter on this happy event." Silently he cursed himself for being there; he only wanted now to get away. "And His holy and generous blessing on your liege lord, my cousin Fulk de Jobourg, joyous blessings on all your family and those in Castle Morlaix on this most favored occasion."
She bit her lip. "Get up, you're kneeling in a puddle." She tugged at his hand. "For the love you bear me," the Lady Alwyn said as he got to his feet, "accept God's holy will. It will be a love match, I promise you; she looks on him with favor. We cannot always have the one we desire." Her eyes searched his face. "Are you listening?"
"My lady, I always listen to you." Simon lifted her hand to his lips. "I did even as a child."
She looked thoughtful. "You are like your mother. She was beautiful, do you remember? Everyone said it."
He remembered how his mother looked. "Milady, I am not beautiful. Even those who love me will grant that."
"You know you are." She looked annoyed. "I saw you last with your first beard, and your voice still cracking."
He almost smiled. The last visit to Morlaix he'd been a half-grown boy dragged on yet another one of his father's harebrained ventures, that time, service to some rustic lordling in Aquitaine. No money. Miserable horses. They'd not even been able to afford him decent mail, or a sword.
He gave the rundlet of wine to the chamberlain. "Ivor, the years have been good to you." He could not meet his eyes. It seemed everyone had grown old since he left.
The chamberlain embraced him, muttering something about that fine knight, his father, and went off with the wine cask.
The Lady Alwyn took his arm. Inside Morlaix, Simon needed no guide, for castle pages learned every nook and cranny to hide from work, or share food and talk. The kitchen, hayricks by the stables, under the beds in the knights' barracks; behind the armorer's shed, he knew them all.
Beyond the new hall were the storerooms where he and Gilbert had played king of the mountain on wool sacks. And the stables where the twins, Hugh and Alain, fought over their ponies. The bread ovens where Alys jumped down one time, breaking her arm.
Sweet Jesu, every time he looked at her mother he thought of her. It was like a dagger turning in his heart.
They crossed the ward. The storm was passing. The sun somewhere above made the air steamy. By the dog pens, the abbot of St. Botolph's knights had resumed their dice game, using one wall as a backboard. The hunting dogs inside barked fiercely.
"Milady," Simon said, "I have come to see your lord, Fulk de Jobourg. I bring a message for the —" He searched for a good word. "The council."
She looked at him out of the corner of her eye. "I have nothing to do with that."
He shrugged. "Milady, I am but the messenger." He followed her across the wet grass, past a group of musicians waiting their turn in the hall.
They reached the door of the old tower. She motioned to the guards and they stepped back. "Use the stairs to my old room. You will remember it, the old bedchamber for the lord and lady." She put out her hand and touched his arm. "Simon, there is a girl. She has been here for some days."
She looked up, and his eyes followed. Midway on the wall of the tower there was a window with an iron grille. He didn't remember it being there before. He thought he saw some movement behind the bars, as though someone looked down.
"The old tower is no longer used as the knights' barracks, it holds prisoners. And hostages, when we have any." She hesitated, frowning. "You must know my husband does not willingly meet with the likes of Malmsbury. And Hatford."
"My lady," he assured her, "I know little of this, and seek to learn less. I only carry a letter."
"About this girl." Her fingers pressed his arm. "Promise me you will not lend yourself to anything that is—that is lacking in honor."
He did not know what she expected him to say. "Milady, do not fear for my honor, or yours. I will defend both to death."
He took her hand and lifted her fingers to his lips. For the first time, looking up at him, she smiled.
He left her standing there and passed between the guards. Then up the tower stairs, narrow and unlit. Coming down, a man in a knight's velvet short coat squeezed past him.
He turned. "Simon de Bocage!" He pounded him with his fists. "We have heard tales of you from the east."
Guy de Yerville, he remembered. A vassal of Fulk de Jobourg's. Everyone looked so much older.
The other's face fell. "Ah, cursed luck, man! They are just married. You —"
Simon pounded him back, just as fervently. They all thought he had come to do foul murder. "Nay, de Yerville," he told him, "I am here from the bishops at Rouen, with a letter."
De Yerville looked relieved. "I must go make a speech at the feast for our Fleming guests. But Hatford is above, drunk and holding the floor. According to him we are all too timid to follow where he would lead us."
He turned and rushed down the stairs. Simon climbed to the top. The sentry there jumped ahead to open the wooden door.
The room inside was noisy. He stood for a second, seeing how it had changed. The big bed with its heavy hangings was gone, its place filled with chairs and a trestle table spread with platters of meat and pastries, tankards of ale, dirty dishes. Someone had lighted a fire, and there was a blaze of candles bright enough to say a mass. The light picked out faces, hands, clothing, gems.
"Sweet Christ, Lucifer fallen!" It was the voice of one of the Clares. His cousin, Fulk de Jobourg came around the table.
Nay, FitzGilbert, the devil was never so comely. This is my kinsman, Simon de Bocage." He put his arm around Simon's shoulder. "You see a knight's flowing curls such as Hatford was just denouncing." In Simon's ear he growled, "They are married. There is nothing you can do about it."
Excerpted from Daggers of Gold by Katherine Deauxville. Copyright © 1993 Maggie Davis. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Katherine Deaxuville (Maggie Davis) has quietly been one of the consistent writers in the romance field, whether Contemporary or Historicals for last couple of decades. With the flush of super new writers, it is easy to over look the leaders in the field that have set the trends and lead the way. Many of Deauxville's wonderful books clearly deserve reprinting, and it causes the reader to wonder why this is not happening. In Dagger's of Gold, a sequel to Blood Red Roses (be sure to read Amethyst Crown the 3rd in the series), follows the story of Simon de Bocage, a fierce Knight back from the Crusades, and cousin to Gilbert, son of Fulk de Jobourg (hero in Blood Red Roses). Simon is charged with delivering Ingrith, a saxon beauty to Prince Henry as a bribe, along with carrying a secret mission to help overthrown the King. Simon has long thought he was in love with Gilbert's sister, though the sister seems unaware of this and had gotten married to another as the story opens. Ingrith, is not happy with the notion of being offered as a toy for a prince, but she has been told her mother and sisters will be well cared for if she willingly goes along with this. She wants the protection for her family, but really does not relish the idea of going along with this, so she comes up with a scheme to lose her virginity so she loses her value as a toy for the prince. When a drunken Simon takes her virginity thinking she is Gilbert's sister, she believes her plan is secure. But in the morning she cannot convince Simon of what he has done - with a little assist!! So she must set out to compromise him again. Along the way, they are attacked by rebels, the house they are is set afire, so it becomes evident someone is trying to stop Simon's mission or kill Ingrith. Maggie creates vivid, warm characters you will care about, love and laugh with...and long remember. It is a wonderful book, so full of period detail, rich in history, and such engaging writing. Maggie has a way of keeping women very realistic in her historicals. She portrays the period accurately, yet is still able to make her heroines have a fire and a spirit, a very deft turn when many reader fail to grasp the limitations on women in the period. This book truly deserves reprinting ( with a descent cover!!), and I find is shocking it is being ignored. REPRINT PLEASE!!!!!!!! so everyone can discover this wonderful writer!!