Margaretha finds herself unable to pass Colin’s message along to her father, the duke, and convinces herself “Lord Colin” is just an addled stranger. Then Colin retrieves an heirloom she lost in a well, and asks her to spy on Claybrook as repayment. Margaretha knows she could never be a spy—not only is she unable to keep anything secret, she’s sure Colin is completely wrong about her potential betrothed. Though when Margaretha overhears Claybrook one day, she discovers her romantic notions may have been clouding her judgment about not only Colin but Claybrook as well. It is up to her to save her father and Hagenheim itself from Claybrook’s wicked plot.
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The Princess Spy
By Melanie Dickerson
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2014 Melanie Dickerson
All rights reserved.
April, 1413, Hagenheim Castle
Margaretha sat in the Great Hall listening to her newest suitor, Rowland Fortescue, Earl of Claybrook, who had cornered her after the midday meal.
Perhaps it was unkind of her to use the word "cornered." He was her suitor, after all, and she should be pleased that he wanted to talk to her. Some of her other suitors had barely said two words to her, but this man seemed to enjoy talking to her—in very fluent German for an Englishman, but his mother was from the German regions of the Holy Roman Empire.
Everyone, especially her brothers, accused Margaretha of talking too much, but Lord Claybrook often left her speechless. Could that be a good thing?
This morning, Lord Claybrook had been telling her of his prowess as a hunter, both with his falcons and his oh-so-remarkable hounds, a subject so boring that it wasn't her fault if she was distracted by his hat.
Truly, it was an astonishing hat. But then, all of his hats were astonishing. Every day since he had come to Hagenheim Castle, Margaretha had found herself staring at the man's hat.
Today's hat consisted of a gray fur band as wide as her hand and padded to make it twice as fat as his head, with a large jewel inset in the front, and folds of red cloth protruding from inside, draped over his right temple like the coxcomb of a rooster. A piece of matching cloth hung from the other side of the hat, reaching to his left knee.
While his hat's liripipe was ridiculously long, his tunic was scandalously short. He wore only tight hose underneath, so she was careful not to let her eyes stray too low.
But she must make allowances for him. He was a foreigner, after all. Perhaps everyone in England dressed that way.
Lord Claybrook described his favorite hunting dog, explaining how the animal had tracked a deer for three days while he and his guests had followed close behind. As he paced the room, his tunic, trimmed in fur at the cuffs of his sleeves, shimmered, as it was embroidered all over with an elaborate design of curly leaves done in shiny gold thread. She hated to admit it, but she was beginning to agree with her brothers—the man was overdressed even for an earl. Her oldest brother, Valten, was an earl, and he never dressed so elaborately. For that matter, her father was a duke and rarely wore velvet and silk except on special occasions.
But perhaps Lord Claybrook was only trying to make a good impression on her. After all, he had been very courteous to her, never complaining that she talked too much. Was he her perfect match?
Margaretha was good at choosing other people's perfect match. A few weeks ago she had noticed her maidservant, Britta, and one of the guards, Gustaf, eyeing each other. Margaretha inquired about the guard, discovering that Gustaf used his wages to help his sickly mother and two sisters. So Margaretha managed to arrange for the guard to accompany her, her sisters, and Britta on a picnic. Margaretha and her sisters went to pick flowers, leaving Britta and Gustaf alone together to guard the food. Later, she sent the two of them to pick apples. Soon her matchmaking was rewarded with seeing them smiling at each other and talking quietly.
Lord Claybrook seemed kind, and he wouldn't force her to go back to England with him. He had said he wanted to stay within the Holy Roman Empire, as he would inherit the nearby estate of his uncle, the Earl of Keiterhafen. If she married Lord Claybrook, she could stay close to her family.
As a duke's daughter, it was her duty to marry as advantageously as possible. How spoiled she would seem if she ignored her parents' wishes by refusing to accept a suitor who would advance their family's holdings and bring about peace and harmony to the people whose lives depended upon it.
She had already delayed the process so long, her younger sister was now of age to marry. It didn't seem too much to ask, however, that she be allowed enough time to get to know him. She must first believe she could love him and that he loved her. But if she could not find a good reason not to accept Lord Claybrook, he seemed her best choice.
Lord Claybrook, she realized with a guilty feeling, had stopped talking and was staring at her with a look of frustration on his face. Oh dear. She had insulted him by not listening to his long diatribe on hunting.
"Forgive me, Lord Claybrook. My mind wandered. What were you saying?"
"I was telling you about my hunting dogs. I thought you were interested in learning about me, Lady Margaretha. But I shall not bore you any longer."
"Oh no! You mustn't think—" That she wasn't interested in his hunting exploits? She couldn't lie. "I was rude, and I hope you will forgive me. I do want to learn more about you. Most people complain that I talk too much, and I didn't want to annoy you with too much chatter." She smiled, hoping to return him to a good humor.
Lord Claybrook smiled back and reached out a hand to her. Straight white teeth shone among his good-looking features—hard-planed chin and cheekbones, a prominent brow, and dark brown eyes that were perfectly spaced. Her maids all told her he was her most handsome suitor yet.
Margaretha allowed him to take her hand, and he raised it to his lips and kissed her knuckles. "You are much too beautiful to offend, Lady Margaretha. Of course, I must not expect a gentle lady to be interested in hunting. Although many ladies do go out hunting with their men. But your delicate nature becomes you." Still holding her hand, he bent to kiss it again.
Perhaps she should be moved, at least a little, by his gesture, but it didn't make her heart flutter in the least, the way Britta said hers did when Gustaf smiled at her. But perhaps it wasn't Margaretha's way to be moved to flutterings of the heart by a man's smile or kiss. Her mother said love grew out of mutual respect and friendship. So far, Lord Claybrook hadn't given her any reason to not respect him. Unless she considered his irrational choices in clothing.
Just then her father, Duke Wilhelm, and her eldest brother, Lord Valten, came into the Great Hall wearing leather tunics, leather breeches, and shoulder capes—their usual riding attire.
"Shall we hunt?" Lord Claybrook asked them, an eager glint in his eyes.
"Perhaps tomorrow," her father answered him. "I shall ask my falconer and the dogs' handler to be ready in the morning. For now, I thought we could take a ride around the town."
"It would be my pleasure, your Grace. Do I have time to change my hat?"
"Of course," her father said, as a flicker of amusement crossed his face. Her brother Valten's expression, on the other hand, was openly scornful.
Lord Claybrook made an elegant bow to his host and then turned to Margaretha. "Will you join us, my lady?"
"No, I thank you." She knew her father was still trying to make out the man's character, and he could do it better without her along. "Enjoy your ride. I will be here when you get back." She smiled, trying to seem amenable and friendly.
Lord Claybrook's gaze lingered on her before he bowed and strode away.
Her father smiled at her, looking pleased. Valten just scowled.
"How is my beautiful daughter this morning?"
"Very well, Father." Margaretha went forward and embraced him. If only she could find someone as perfect as her father. He made every other man she'd ever met seem unworthy.
Perhaps this was the reason she'd never found a suitor very appealing; she always compared him to her father.
She pressed her cheek against his shoulder. He would never force her to marry, but she also felt he had been a little disappointed that she had rejected the Duke of Beimerberg last fall, and the Earl of Rimmel last summer, both within the first week of meeting them.
Some others hadn't even lasted that long. Would he ask her how things were progressing with Lord Claybrook?
When she pulled away, he looked into her eyes. His knuckles grazed her chin and jawline, and he winked. Then he and Valten left.
Margaretha wandered through the castle, trying to imagine herself married with two children, like her brother Gabe's wife, Sophie. Or pregnant with her first child, like Valten's wife, Gisela. Her sisters-in-law both seemed content. Gabe and Sophie were perfect for each other, and Valten and Gisela were also well-matched and in love. But Margaretha didn't think she would be pleased with a man like either of her brothers. She wanted someone extraordinary, a man who was bold, fearless, and impulsive, yet humble, kind, and gentle. He should be intelligent and confident in his ability to love her and make her happy. He had to be passionate about right and wrong, and passionately in love with her, not her father's title and wealth.
All Lord Claybrook seemed passionate about was hunting ... and hats.
But after all, she barely knew him. Did she want him to behave unseemly, attacking her in his ardor?
She didn't know what she wanted.
She wandered through the outside door and into the courtyard, which was surrounded on three sides by the castle walls. To her right was the blacksmith's stall, which was always busy with people bringing work or retrieving mended tools and horseshoes. Straight ahead, three maids stood at the well, talking as they waited their turn to draw water.
To her left was the open door to the healer's chambers. Frau Lena left the door open in good weather to let out the bad humors. Margaretha could hear her singing, her clear voice carrying into the courtyard.
The early spring sun was more than halfway up the sky, but it was pleasantly cool, as the weather had turned mild. Only a few white clouds dotted the blue sky, but three vultures, circling lazily overhead, marred the perfection of her view. What were they doing here? Vultures only came around when something was dead—or dying.
A cart, pulled by a gray mule, rolled through the castle gate from the Marktplatz and headed toward Frau Lena's tower chambers. A long bundle lay on the otherwise empty cart. She stared absentmindedly at it, until she began to notice the angles and bulges of the cloth. Then, as it drew near the healer's open door, Margaretha realized—those were feet dangling off the end of the cart.
The motionless heap was a person.CHAPTER 2
Margaretha crept closer to the cart, trying to look inconspicuous. At any moment Frau Lena might notice her and warn her away.
The boy who had been leading the mule and potter's cart must be the potter's apprentice. He peeked into the open doorway of the healer's chambers in the southwest tower, then called, "Frau Lena? Are you here?"
Margaretha peered over the side at the unconscious body.
A young man, perhaps a little older than her own age of eighteen, lay motionless, his eyes closed. His black hair was plastered to his head above his right eye with what looked like dried blood, and dead leaves were tangled up in his thick, wavy locks. He had been beaten, as there were bruises over his face and on his collarbone, which she could see because his shirt was ripped and lay open, exposing his chest. In spite of the smudges of dust and grime on his face, his bleeding, swollen lips, and the dark circles under his eyes, he had noble features and might be considered handsome if he were cleaned up. His fine linen clothes were dirty and torn, his feet bare. Although he was thin, his chest and shoulders were broad. He must be cold, lying there with nothing warm to cover him.
She stared, trying to tell if he was breathing. Was he dead? Her heart squeezed painfully, as if trying to beat for him.
Frau Lena came out of the tower door and walked to the other side of the cart. She bent her face close to the unconscious man's.
"My master and I found him on the south road to Hagenheim." The lad who had brought him followed Frau Lena and stood beside her, staring down at the dark-haired man.
Frau Lena pressed two fingers to the side of his neck. She glanced up and her eyes locked on Margaretha, then widened, as though she was startled to see her.
"Is he alive?"
Frau Lena nodded. "He is breathing. I'll need help carrying him inside."
Margaretha turned and hailed one of her father's knights, who was strolling through the courtyard. "Sir Bezilo! Kommen Sie hier, bitte! Over here, please."
Sir Bezilo strode forward and slipped his massive arms underneath the body and picked him up.
The unconscious man opened his eyes—they were a stunning dark blue—and began trying to speak, but his voice was so hoarse and cracked that he sounded more as if he was croaking than speaking words. But even in his weak state, he struggled against the larger knight.
"Sei still," Sir Bezilo told him. "You are safe now."
But the poor man continued to struggle and try to speak as the knight carried him inside.
She asked the boy who had brought the stranger, "Did he tell you anything?"
"He never awakened until now. Did you understand what he was saying?"
"No. But now that I think about it, perhaps he was speaking another language."
The boy raised his brows. "No one around here knows how to speak other languages, only a few words of Latin or French. No one except some of the duke's family." His eyes fixed on her for the first time and his mouth fell open. "Oh. Begging your pardon, Lady Margaretha." He bowed to her, his ears turning bright red.
"Nothing to pardon," Margaretha said gently. "And thank you for being so kind as to bring the poor man to our healer. You saved his life, I am sure. Please inform the potter of my family's gratitude."
"Of course, my lady." He bowed again, then took his mule and led him away, the cart wheels rattling over the cobblestones.
Margaretha turned back to the open doorway. Frau Lena was rummaging through a basket by the sick bed, while her patient lay motionless and quiet once again, his eyes closed.
Margaretha stepped inside, not sure what she intended to do. She'd never entered the healer's chambers before, as Frau Lena always came to Margaretha's own chamber when she was ill. She was certain her mother and father wouldn't like her being here—she might see things a duke's daughter ought not to see. But curiosity compelled her.
Frau Lena pulled a cloth from the basket and glanced up. "Lady Margaretha." She seemed about to say something, then turned and dipped some water from the kettle over the fire in the fireplace into a bowl.
Margaretha took a deep breath, then said, "Please, Frau Lena, may I stay, only until I can see if the young man will recover?"
"Yes, you may stay and help me, if you wish. My apprentice has gone to the market and may not be back for a while."
Margaretha stepped closer. "Oh, thank you, Frau Lena. I would like to help. The poor man looks as if he was beset by robbers and left for dead. What should I do? Do you think he will live?"
She was asking questions faster than Frau Lena could answer them. She literally bit her tongue to stop herself.
"I think he will live." Frau Lena smiled as she handed Margaretha a wet cloth and the bowl of warm water. "Bathe his face with this while I make him a special herbal drink."
Margaretha sat on a stool by the narrow bed and began gently washing his face, which was so dirty she had to continually rinse out her cloth. "What do you think is wrong with him?" she whispered.
Excerpted from The Princess Spy by Melanie Dickerson. Copyright © 2014 Melanie Dickerson. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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