A Dishonorable Knight
Author:Morrison, Michelle

Chapter 2

Gareth watched the King's niece draw the Lady Elena down beside her, speaking with great animation as Elena stared into space. He could not help but laugh. There was justice in the world. He had no doubt that she had set her cap for the tall fop she had maneuvered to dance with. 'Tis what she deserves, he thought, as he doubted that cold woman could have loved such a foolish man—or any man for that matter. Still, if her only interest was a title, she should look a sight happier at catching an earl. With a shrug, he looked around for Cynan and Bryant and saw them standing with a small group of men who gathered at the back of the great hall, talking quietly amongst themselves.

As he started across the room, a serving maid stumbled in front of him, falling on the ground and dropping a pile of empty trays. Gareth quickly helped the young woman up, brushing off her worn skirt before he knelt to retrieve the trays.

"Thank you, milord," the maid said timidly, a shy smile touching her mouth.

"Be careful. God only knows the last time these rushes were changed," Gareth said, nodding to the floor. "Were you to fall again, we may not be so lucky as to find you," he teased.

The young woman nodded, obviously amazed that the knight had not cursed or yelled or simply stepped right over her. When Gareth chucked her gently under the chin, she blushed bright pink and stared after him with adoration as he continued on his way.

"Tis not a rumor, I tell you," a short man of sturdy build was saying as Gareth joined his friends at the back of the hall. "And Henry Tudor has just as much claim to the throne as Richard does."

"More so, I say, since Henry has not killed innocent boys for it!" answered a broad-shouldered man with iron-grey hair. The men stopped talking when they noticed Gareth, but Cynan spoke up.

"’Tis all right. Gareth is Welsh and bears no great love for Richard."

Gareth frowned and glanced around at the men gathered in the shadows. Several of them he knew as knights, men at arms. A couple he’d not seen before but could tell by the cut of their cloth they were noblemen, landholders.

“Aye, and it’s Welsh blood that will put Henry Tudor on the throne,” said a man whose accent clearly bespoke his lineage, though Gareth did not recognize him.

“But ‘tis not his Welsh blood that grants him the right to the throne,” hissed one of the noblemen.

Though Gareth’s knowledge of Henry Tudor’s ancestry was sketchy at best, he knew the man to be a direct descendant of John of Gaunt, the first Duke of Lancaster. The houses of Lancaster and York—both children of the great Edward III—had been warring for the crown since before Gareth was born. King Richard’s brother, Edward IV, had claimed the throne for York after killing the Lancastrian king, Henry VI. Though the fighting had largely involved small, scattered battles between the noble families, should Henry Tudor successfully return to England, the war could escalate to encompass the entire country.

"King Charles of France has promised Henry money and ships. And with he and Oxford planning the battles, all we need do is raise troops for them to lead," said the grey-haired man.

"When will he land?"

"'Tis not been determined yet. Just stay at the ready, for when the call comes, we will have to move quickly."

Gareth turned to whisper in Cynan’s ear. “’Tis treason these men speak. Why did you include me?”

“Because I’ve known you since we were babes and you’re no man of Richard’s.”

Gareth would have argued further but Cynan stepped closer into the circle of men.

Some logistical talk ensued about chains of communication, but Gareth paid it no heed. He chewed on his lower lip, mulling over Cynan’s comment. He’d not spoken to his friend of his frustrations since joining Richard’s court, had made no mention of his disenchantment with his sovereign, not to mention the persistent belief that Richard had murdered his own nephews to secure the crown for himself. Nonetheless, Cynan seemed to cut right to the heart of Gareth’s inner turmoil.

The group broke up as Viscount Lovell, one of Richard's council members walked by.

Gareth pulled Cynan aside. "You should be more careful. What are you thinking meeting like this in Richard’s own keep? You're going to get yourself drawn and quartered."

“We’re hiding in plain sight. And where better to recruit embittered subjects than in the viper’s own nest?” Though Gareth had made sure to speak quietly, Cynan spoke in a normal tone of voice.

"Will you hush! This is the king's own residence. Do you think you can speak ill of him and not be heard?" Grabbing Cynan's tunic, he pulled him outside where the cool air was refreshing after the enveloping heat of the great hall. Bryant put his mug down and followed them. "You never did have any sense as to when to keep your mouth shut, Cynan."

"His wife tells him that all the time," added Bryant as he shut the rough door behind him.

"Do not tell me you're mixed up in this, too."

"If you mean do I want Henry Tudor on the throne, then yes, I'm mixed up in it, too."

Gareth sighed. "You are going to get yourselves executed as traitors."

"If I am a traitor because I would see a good and noble Welshman on the throne over a scheming murderer, then so be it, I am a traitor," said Cynan fiercely.

"There has not been any proof that Richard had his nephews killed," Gareth protested, though he knew there could be no other explanation for the boys’ untimely disappearance.

Bryant spoke up. "Gareth, do you mean to say Richard holds your loyalty and honor?"

"He is the king and I a knight. He must have my loyalty by all the vows I took when I first put on these spurs."

"And your honor?" Cynan asked. "Do you believe in your heart that he is best for England and Wales? Do you believe that his claim to the throne is more just than his Lancastrian rival?"

Gareth paused, loathe to betray his oath as a knight but unable to admit he was Richard’s man at heart.

"Come back to Gwynedd with us."

"What?"

"You can hear the arguments for Henry Tudor from much more level-headed men than I. Besides, your father has not seen you in over two years."

"Do not tell me my father is involved in this nonsense?"

"Of course he is. You do not think he would give up the chance to put Wales ahead of England, do you?" Cynan asked

"I thought he had enough sense to live to see a grandson someday."

"You are talking like a coward," Cynan spit out.

"Cynan!" Bryant said sharply.

Cynan took a deep breath and visibly relaxed. "I am sorry, Gareth. No one could ever accuse you of cowardice. ‘Tis just that if you could only distance yourself from this court, you would see who the true ruler should be. Please, come back home with us."

"And I suppose if I do not, you two will stay here, constantly nipping at my heels, eh?"

"Aye, and Enid will surely give you no end of trouble for that!" laughed Bryant, referring to Cynan's wife.

Gareth chuckled as he shook his head at his friend. "I can only promise to think about it now."

"You do that," said Cynan, winking at Bryant. "For you never can tell when Richard will send you on another important mission of state." Gareth held open the doors to the hall for his friends. "Perhaps this time, he will send you to Scotland to borrow a sack of flour from James!" Gareth laughed good naturedly as he shoved his friend through the doorway, but remained outside in the cool evening air. He took a deep breath and tried to settle the jumble of information muddling his brain. His father caught up in a plot to unseat the king? His countrymen rallying to Richmond’s banner? His best friends taking part in secret meetings? He must be losing his head.

Gareth took another calming breath and prepared to face his king as if he knew nothing. Treason was definitely an easy way to lose your head.