Dragon's Lair (Justin de Quincy Series #3)

Dragon's Lair (Justin de Quincy Series #3)

by Sharon Kay Penman


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July 1193. King Richard Lionheart lies in a German prison, held for ransom by the emperor. His mother, Dowager Queen Eleanor, ransacks England for gold to buy his freedom, while his younger brother, John, plots with King Philippe of France to ensure that he rots and dies in chains.

When a ransom payment vanishes, Eleanor hastily dispatches young Justin de Quincy to investigate. In wild, beautiful Wales, his devotion to the queen will be supremely tested–as an arrogant border earl, a cocky Welsh prince, an enchanting lady, and a traitor of the deepest dye welcome him with false smiles and deadly conspiracies. The queen’s treasure is nowhere to be found, but assassins are everywhere . . . and blood runs red in the dragon’s lair.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345434234
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/23/2004
Series: Justin de Quincy Series , #3
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 323,563
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.94(h) x 0.78(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Sharon Kay Penman is the author of the historical novels A King’s Ransom, The Sunne in Splendour, Here Be Dragons, Falls the Shadow, The Reckoning, When Christ and His Saints Slept, Time and Chance, Devil’s Brood, and Lionheart. Additionally, she has written four medieval mysteries: The Queen’s Man, Cruel as the Grave, Dragon’s Lair, and Prince of Darkness. She lives in Mays Landing, New Jersey.

Read an Excerpt


July 1193 Westminster, England

Walking in the gardens of the royal palace on a sultry, overcast summer afternoon, Claudine de Loudun recognized for the first time that she feared the queen. This should not have been so surprising to her, for the queen in question was Eleanor, Dowager Queen of England, Duchess of Aquitaine, one-time Queen of France. Burning as brightly as a comet in her youth, Eleanor had shocked and fascinated and outraged, a beautiful, willful woman who’d wed two kings, taken the cross, given birth to ten children, and dared to lust after power as a man might. But she’d survived scandal, heartbreak, and insurrection, even sixteen years as her husband Henry’s prisoner.

The older Eleanor was wiser and less reckless, a woman who’d learned to weigh both words and consequences. Her ambitions had always been dynastic, and in her twilight years she was expending all of her considerable intelligence, political guile, and tenacity in the service of her son Richard. She was respected now, even revered in some quarters, for her sound advice and pragmatic understanding of statecraft, and few appreciated the irony—that this woman who’d lived much of her life as a royal rebel should be acclaimed as a stabilizing influence upon the brash, impulsive Richard.

To outward appearances, it seemed as if the aged queen had repudiated the carefree and careless girl she’d once been, but Claudine knew better. Eleanor’s tactics had changed, not her nature. She was worldly, curious, utterly charming when she chose to be, prideful, stubborn, calculating, and still hungry for all that life had to offer. She had a remarkable memory untainted by age, and although she might forgive wrongs, she never forgot them. As Claudine was belatedly acknowledging, she could be a formidable enemy.

Claudine was not a fool, even if she had done more than her share of foolish things. It was not that she’d underestimated the queen, but rather that she’d overestimated her own ability to swim in such turbulent waters. It had seemed harmless enough in the beginning. What did it matter if she shared court gossip and rumors with the queen’s youngest son? She had seen it as a game, not a betrayal, just as she’d seen herself as John’s confederate, not his spy. How had it all gone so wrong? She still was not sure. But there was no denying that the stakes had suddenly become life or death. Richard languished in a German prison. John was being accused of treason. The queen was sick with fear for her eldest son and vowing vengeance upon those who would deny Richard his freedom. And Claudine was in the worst plight of all, pregnant and unwed, facing both the perils of the birthing chamber and the danger of disgrace and scandal.

She’d never worried about incurring Eleanor’s animosity before, confident of her own power to beguile, putting too much trust in her blood ties to the queen, distant though they might be. But in this fragrant, trellised garden, she was suddenly and acutely aware of how vulnerable she truly was. It was such a demoralizing realization that she quickly reminded herself how understanding the queen had been about her pregnancy. She’d feared that Eleanor would turn her out, letting all know of her shame. Instead, the queen had offered to help. So why, then, did she feel such unease?

She glanced sideways at the other woman, and then away. She’d often thought the queen had cat eyes, greenish-gold and inscrutable, eyes that seemed able to see into the inner recesses of her soul, to strip away her secrets, one by one. Claudine bit her lip, keeping her own eyes downcast, for she had so many secrets.

Eleanor was aware of the young woman’s edginess, and it afforded her some grim satisfaction. She bore Claudine no grudge for allowing herself to become entangled in John’s web; she’d had too many betrayals in her life to be wounded by one so small. And so once she’d discovered Claudine’s complicity in her son’s scheming, she’d been content to keep that knowledge secret, reasoning that a known spy was a defanged snake. She’d even used the unwitting Claudine to pass on misinformation from time to time. But if she felt no desire for vengeance, neither did she have sympathy for Claudine’s predicament. Every pleasure in this world came with a price, be it a dalliance in conspiracy or one in bed.

Glancing about to make sure none of her other attendants were within earshot, Eleanor asked the girl if she was still queasy. When Claudine swallowed and swore that she no longer felt poorly, Eleanor gave her a skeptical scrutiny. “Why, then, is your face the color of newly skimmed milk? There is no need to pretend with me, child. Only men could call a pregnancy ‘easy,’ but some are undoubtedly more troublesome than others. For me, it was my last. There were days when even water could unsettle my stomach. I’ve sailed in some fierce storms, but God’s Truth, I was never so greensick as when I was carrying John.”

Claudine’s eyelashes flickered, no more than that. But she could not keep the blood from rising in her face and throat. Watching as her pallor was submerged in a flood of color, Eleanor smiled slyly. This was new, like an involuntary twitch or a hiccup, this sudden discomfort whenever John’s name was mentioned. Not for the first time, Eleanor wondered who had truly fathered Claudine’s child. Was it Justin de Quincy as she claimed? Or was it John?

“I think it is time,” she said, “for you to withdraw to the nunnery at Godstow.”

Claudine nodded reluctantly. This was the plan, with cover stories fabricated for the court and her family back in Aquitaine. She should have gone a fortnight ago, but she’d found excuses to delay, dreading the loneliness and seclusion and boredom of the coming months. “I suppose so,” she admitted, sounding so forlorn that Eleanor experienced an involuntary pang of empathy; she knew better than most the onus of confinement. It was true that this confinement was by choice and temporary, but Eleanor could not help identifying with Claudine’s aversion to the religious life. There had been times in her past when she’d feared being shut up in some remote, obscure convent for the rest of her days, forgotten by all but her gaolers and God.

“I will speak with Sir Nicholas this eve,” she said briskly, determined not to soften toward this foolhardy, unhappy girl. “The arrangements have all been made. It remains only for you to settle in at Godstow.”

“Sir Nicholas de Mydden?” Claudine echoed in dismay. “But Justin was to escort me to the nunnery.”

“Justin cannot—”

“Madame, he promised me!” Claudine was so flustered that she did not even realize she’d interrupted the queen. Lowering her voice hastily lest they attract attention, she said coaxingly, “Surely you understand why I would prefer Justin’s company, Your Grace. I know I can trust him. And . . . and he wants to accompany me. This child is his, after all.”

Eleanor looked into Claudine’s flushed, distraught face, striving for patience. “Well, this is one promise Justin cannot keep. He is away from the court, and I know not when he will return. As for Nicholas, he is no gossipmonger.” Unable to resist adding, “Those in my service know the value I place upon loyalty.”

Claudine’s lashes fluttered down again, veiling her eyes. After a moment, she said meekly, “Forgive my boldness, madame. It was not my intent to argue with you. If you have confidence in Sir Nicholas’s discretion, then so do I. But could I not wait till week’s end? Mayhap Justin will be back by then.”

She took Eleanor’s shrug for assent and fell in step beside the queen as they cut across the grassy mead. “I did not even know Justin was gone, for he did not bid me farewell.”

She sounded both plaintive and aggrieved, and Eleanor found herself thinking that Justin might be fortunate that he was not considered a suitable husband for this pampered young kinswoman of hers. It would be no easy task, keeping Claudine de Loudun content.

“Madame . . . it is not my intent to pry,” Claudine said, with such pious prevarication that Eleanor rolled her eyes skyward. “Whatever Justin’s mission for you may be, it is not for me to question it. I would ask this, though. Can you at least tell me if he is in any danger?”

Eleanor paused, considering. Her first impulse was to give the girl the reassurance she sought. But the truth was that whenever her son John was involved, there was bound to be danger.

It was a sparse turnout for a hanging. Usually the citizens of Winchester thronged to the gallows out on Andover Road, eager to watch as a felon paid the ultimate price for his earthly sins. Luke de Marston, the under-sheriff of Hampshire, could remember hangings that rivaled the St Giles Fair, with venders hawking meat pies and children getting underfoot and cutpurses on the prowl for unwary victims. But the doomed soul being dragged from the cart was too small a fish to attract a large crowd, a criminal by happenstance rather than choice.

The few men and women who’d bothered to show up were further disappointed by the demeanor of the culprit. They expected bravado and defiance from their villains, or at the very least, stoical self-control. But this prisoner was obviously terrified, whimpering and trembling so violently that he had to be assisted up the gallows steps. People were beginning to turn away in disgust even before the rope was tightened around his neck.

Luke’s deputy shared their dissatisfaction, for he believed that a condemned man owed his audience a better show than this. “Pitiful,” he said, shaking his head in disapproval. “Remember how the Fleming died, cursing God with his last breath?”

Luke remembered. Gilbert the Fleming had been one of Winchester’s most notorious outlaws, as brutal as he was elusive, evading capture again and again until he’d been brought down by Luke and the queen’s man, Justin de Quincy. His hanging had been a holiday.


Table of Contents

Reading Group Guide

1. Discuss the pros and cons of being “the Queen’s man.”

2. In the beginning of the novel, Justin is momentarily taken aback by Eleanor’s command that he seek his much-loathed father’s assistance, but then he sees the truth. What is that truth?

3. Justin is aptly described as “a natural lone wolf, not happy hunting with the pack.” Do you think this wolf will ever form his own pack?

4. Has Justin met the right woman yet? If not, will he ever?

5. If you could plot Justin’s future, what would it look like?

6. What do you think would have happened in the chapel if Durand had not been interrupted?

7. Justin recalls being punished as a child for sneaking food to
Bennet and Molly. Why was his kindness met with hostility and condemnation from the society around him?

8. Molly helps Justin see his father in a whole new light. Has anyone ever helped you in this way?

9. Justin worries about Piers and his reaction to Molly and Justin’s relationship. Do you think his worries are warranted?

10. Justin tells a bereft Angharad that “love can change; it can even die.” Discuss the vagaries of love.

11. When is virtue not a virtue?

12. What do you think of Emma’s use of her feminine wiles to accrue and wield power?

13. What does Emma mean when she tells John that “a widow’s lot is better than a wife’s more often than not”?

14. What do you think Davydd would do if he learned of Emma’s treachery?

15. John and Emma are kin, but their true bond is their thirst for revenge. Discuss how bitterness has crippled them and imperiled those around them.

16. Two very different kinds of sibling relationships—Richard and
John versus Bennet and Molly—are represented in this novel. Do they share any common ground?

17. How do you interpret John’s dream of his absent, imprisoned brother?

18. Eleanor’s assertion that “all the Welsh are inbred” is a perfect illustration of the prevailing English attitude toward the Welsh.
What is the cost of England’s cultural and political myopia and imperialism?

19. Other than Justin, which character did you find most compelling?
Least compelling?

20. Are you the kind of reader who must solve a mystery in advance or do you prefer to let it unfold before you?

21. What historical figure would make for an interesting addition to your group’s discussion of Dragon’s Lair?

22. How has the group discussion enriched your understanding of
Dragon’s Lair?

23. What book is your group going to read next? Do you plan to read the next installment of Justin de Quincy’s adventures?

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Dragon's Lair (Justin de Quincy Series #3) 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Ann_W More than 1 year ago
For many years I've been a fan of Sharon Kay Penman's historical novels. When she wrote her first mystery, I had to read that, too. For some reason, I missed getting this book in the series until reading "Devil's Brood" recently made me track it down. I'm very glad that I did. Sharon Kay Penman is a great author who makes you care about her characters and brings historical figures to life. The period of English history that she's writing about here has always fascinated me. It's a great setting for a mystery involving Eleanor of Aquitaine and ransom for Richard the Lionheart.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sharon Kay Penman revisits two of her favorite subjects, King John and Llewelyn ab Iorwerth (later Llewlyn the Great) of Wales. Justin de Quincy, Queen Eleanor's man and protagonist of her earlier mysteries, sets out to discover the mystery of a missing ransom intended to liberate Richard the Lionheart. Murder, mayhem, and romance ensue. Lively, likeable characters help make this an enjoyable book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As expected this is a very well written book. However, It took too long to get to the mystery. I almost lost interest after the first three chapters. Only my love for the history of this time and Ms. Penmans way with words kept me going.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The intrigues of the royal court and Crusades intermingle with daily life when one of the ransom payments Queen Eleanor sends to try and rescue Richard the Lionheart disappears in Wales. To find out how and why, Justin De Quincy (from the Queen's Man) is sent, but finds himself in the midst of a greater mystery, murder. ............... *** In this highly detailed story, Ms. Penman brings the middle ages to life. The lyrical Welsh speech has a beauty that almost makes one forget the graver matters. Historical notes weave easily into the plotline, educating the reader unobtrusively. Justin reveals keen insight into the world around him, and minor subplots create a greater depth to the master story. ***
cfk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Dragon's Lair was well plotted, good characterizations, though a bit slow in pacing.
kenck4 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Justin must find the stolen treasure that has be stolen. The treasur is a part of the money being raised by Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine to ransom her son Richard the Lionhearted out of prison. the twists and turns keep you wondering right up to end.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
At a very young age I started reading adventure stories of heroes from far away lands who performed extraordinary feats. As I grew up, history became my obsession; history in general, the middle ages in particular. I fell in love with new heroes whose exploits were as amazing as those of fiction. Then I discovered mysteries and again I couldn¿t have enough. So how can one author unite so brilliantly my three favorite subjects? Only when this author is Sharon Kay Penman! I entered Ms. Penman¿s world several years ago with one of her historical novels, and I was hooked for life. So it was only natural that when her first medieval mystery was published it would make its way into my hands. Medieval mysteries have become a popular genre, but no author masters the accuracy of the time as Ms. Penman does. I just finished reading the third installment in her series of medieval mysteries, ¿Dragon¿s Liar¿, and found myself pleasantly surprised that she could have improved on her two previous ones. ¿Dragon¿s Liar¿ takes our hero Justin de Quincy into Wales, where he must unravel the mysterious disappearance of a large portion of the ransom the Holy Roman Emperor has claimed to release King Richard from an Austrian dungeon, where he is being held captive. His younger brother John lusts after the crown and will stop at nothing to prevent his royal brother from buying his freedom and return to England. But Queen Eleanor, mother of both, will do anything in her power to free Richard, her favorite son, and return the rightful heir to the throne. David ab Owain, reigning Prince of Wales, conveniently accuses his nephew, Llewelyn ab Iorwerth, central character of Ms. Penman¿s second historical novel, ¿Here Be Dragons¿ of stealing the ransom. Taking a gamble, Justin joins forces with the rebel Welshman in an attempt to locate the stolen ransom and uncover the conspiracy. Treachery abounds in thirteenth century Wales and England. Corruption, murder, betrayal! Nothing new, but Ms. Penman makes it so fascinating to the reader that the book is impossible to put down. Masterfully handling both the historical facts and her imagination, again, Sharon Kay Penman has succeeded in giving us a gem!
harstan More than 1 year ago
On his way home from the crusades, Richard the Lion-Hearted was kidnapped and held for ransom by the Holy Roman Emperor Heinrich for one hundred thousand silver marks. While King Richard I is languishing in an Austrian prison, his mother Eleanor of Aquitane is bankrupting the country trying to gather up the ransom from every class and guild including the church. When word reaches her that the ransom collected by the Welsh Prince Davydd ab Owain was stolen, she dispatches her man Justin de Quincy to recover the ransom.

When he arrives at Davydd¿s court, the prince tells him that the outlaw Llewelyn ab Iorwerth was responsible for the theft. He expects Justin to ask the Earl of Chester to bring troops into Wales to capture the outlaw and what is left of the ransom. It doesn¿t take Justin long to realize that Llewelyn, who is battling Davydd for crown, is a pawn in Davydd¿s quest to stay in power. He discovers Flemish sailors who were supposedly hired by an English lord stole the ransom. Justin has to find the English Lord if he intends to gain control of the stolen ransom though betrayal and murder follow in his footsteps.

Nobody writes a better medieval historical then Sharon Kay Penman and her latest historical mystery shows that meticulous research. Medieval England and Wales come alive as historical trivia is generously sprinkled throughout the story line. The protagonist is truly THE QUEEN¿S MAN as he diligently works for the crown while facing down ghosts from his own past. DRAGON¿S LAIR opens up new worlds to its audience one that they will want to revisit when Ms. Penman produces the next book in this addicting series.

Harriet Klausner