In which Robert handles the rogues who have attacked his wife and meets Fernand de Montferr who will come to play an important part in the story.
It was dark by the time Noor was safely back in the litter. For a while, Robert sat with his wife, holding her hand as she slept. The sheer linen hangings billowed softly in the evening breeze, lifting sufficiently for him to see Amalia with the two children and Janet, the wet nurse, sitting some distance away. There was a faint smell of blood lingering in the litter, but Noor looked clean if bruised. Her lashes fluttered. She opened her eyes, gasped at the sight of him.
“It is only me, my hawk.” He moved to lie beside her. She made room for him, and he stroked her bruised face, her bandaged arm. Gently, he traced her scabbed lip, and then he pressed a soft kiss to her forehead. “They will pay,” he whispered. She gave him a wan smile. Her eyes closed, and he held her until he was certain she was fast asleep.
The remaining eight prisoners stood bound in a tight circle, eight pairs of eyes following Robert as he slowly walked around them with his sword drawn.
“I demand that you set us free,” the young lordling said. “You have no notion who you are dealing with.”
“Oh, I do. An incompetent lout who cannot keep his men in check.”
“That is not true!” The youngster straightened up. Like a leek, he was, all tall and stringy and just as green.
“Ah, so it was your idea, then, to carry off my wife?”
The pup swallowed so hard Robert could see his Adam’s apple bob up and down. One of his men snickered. That was the last thing he did, his body collapsing as his head flew through the air. His remaining companions staggered as the weight of the dead man almost brought them to the ground. Blood spattered their faces, their clothes.
“You cannot do this!” the youngster shrieked. “I am Fernand de Montferr, you hear?”
“I hear, but I neither know of you nor care,” Robert said.
“English oaf!” Fernand said. “I am cousin by marriage to the king of Navarra, future king of France!”
“And my wife is the niece of the English queen,” Robert snarled.
The lad’s mouth hung open. “What?” he squeaked.
“You heard. So what will your dear royal cousin say when I tell him you took it upon yourself to abduct a married woman, a woman with blood ties to the English crown?”
“I . . . I . . .” Fernand said.
“How were we to know she wasn’t a doxy?” one of the other men said. “There she was, all alone in the woods—”
“Had you but asked her, I am sure she would have informed you,” Robert said icily, and from how some of the men looked away, she had told them.
“Besides, rarely do trollops stray all that far from the inns and towns where they earn their living,” John put in. “It would be a strange whore indeed to be looking for eager customers in the woods.”
In response, the man shrugged.
“Was it on your orders my wife was abducted?” Robert asked again, directing himself to Fernand.
“No,” the lad said stiffly.
“You admit it, then, that you have no control over your men.”
A large man with a grizzled beard just laughed. “We’re his nursemaids. His dear mamá would not have let him step outside the castle otherwise.”
“Hold your tongue!” Fernand hissed.
“So you took the decision,” Robert said, addressing the large man.
“No,” he said. “But once Guillaume brought her back, I wasn’t about to say no, was I?” He regarded Robert calmly, knowing full well what was about to happen. Moments later, his bound companions were struggling with the weight of two dead men.
An hour later, the surviving captives had been run off. All but Fernand, who was pulling at the ropes that secured him to his two dead companions and cursing Robert to hell and back as he watched his men flee in nothing but their shirts.
“Let me go or kill me!” he yelled. “Don’t just leave me like this!”
Robert stood before him and carefully wiped his sword clean. “I don’t kill pups. I teach them a lesson. Besides, you may be of value as a hostage.” And then he walked away.
“Untie me! For the love of God, do not leave me to sit here with the bodies!”
“Whoever unties him is a dead man,” Robert told his men. “He can spend the night with them, and tomorrow I’ll decide what to do next.”
Thank you for hosting me today! I must say that excerpt has me wanting to read the book again - and this from teh writer who has written it and read it like two hundred and fifty times! Fernand is a character who started out as a pain in the nether parts but who grew on me - like a barnacle.ReplyDelete