A Dishonorable Knight
Author:Morrison, Michelle

Chapter 3

Elena crawled into the soft down bed she shared with Catherine. As she lay there shivering, waiting for the linen to warm, she repeated to herself like a litany, "’Tis better this way. The king has favored me. ‘Tis better this way." While she had mildly cared for Edgeford she felt nothing but fear for the earl. Lord Edgeford was handsome and devoted to her--had she not convinced him to follow her here to Middleham? The earl was another matter. Before she entered the bedroom, she had heard Margaret and Catherine talking about him.

"I never saw his first two wives—they may have been sickly women. But 'tis been a long-standing rumor that he's hard on women." In the darkened doorway, Elena shivered, remembering the earl's thick hands and meaty forearms.

"Do you think Elena will be happy with him?"

Elena heard a sigh she assumed was from Margaret. "I do not know, Catherine. He is a powerful earl. Elena always made it clear that a title was what she sought, so I hope being a countess will make up for whatever else she may have to bear."

Despite her litany, Elena could not keep Margaret's words from her mind: "He is hard on women." Surely the king could not know this and still betroth her to him? Elena sat up in bed with a start, causing Catherine to mumble in her sleep and grope for the covers. Perhaps he did not know! Perhaps he believed the earl to be kind and gentle. Flopping back against her pillows in relief, Elena vowed to seek out the king at the first opportunity and tell him what she had heard. Perchance she could still be married to Lord Edgeford by midsummer, after all.

Awakening early the next morning, she dressed with extra care, choosing a demure high-waisted gown of soft pink and covering her hair with a fine veil. She hurried downstairs, hoping to catch Richard while he broke his fast. All she found at the great table, however, were crusts of bread and rinds of cheese.

"Has His Majesty risen yet?" she asked a sleepy eyed serving girl.

"Aye, my lady. Risen, eaten, and left for a fine day's hunting, I'll wager."

Stomping her booted foot against the soiled rushes, Elena cursed her luck. Her luck over the next two days was just as bad. No, Elena thought, worse, since she had to spend those days with the Lady Elizabeth, listening to her plan Elena’s wedding as if she were a simple child with no say on the event--even had she wanted it to occur. By the third day, Elena had given up hope of talking to Richard any time soon as his entire entourage was preparing to remove to Nottingham Castle.

"Do not tell me," Elena grumbled to herself. "The grouse hunting is better there."

Margaret paused in the midst of packing one of Princess Elizabeth's trunks. "You really have no idea of what is going on, do you?"

Elena rolled her eyes before turning to face Margaret. "What does it matter the reason. The king could decide he wants to stand on his head and we would be trussed out in the middle of the night to witness it."

Margaret quickly covered the distance between them and put her hand over Elena's mouth. "Have you no thought for your life? Royal favorite or no, if the wrong people heard you speaking as you do, they could make your life miserable." Before Elena could jerk Margaret's hand away from her mouth, Margaret continued. "The reason we are going to Nottingham is because that is to be King Richard's stronghold for the war which will surely arise should the Earl of Richmond invade England." Margaret quickly pulled her hand away from Elena's face and glanced at the other ladies in the room. They were all gathered around Princess Elizabeth, staring out the narrow window at the knights in the bailey below.

"We are removing to Nottingham because Richard must have heard news that Henry means to invade soon!" Margaret hissed.

When Elena still stared blankly at her, Margaret threw her hands into the air. "This means nothing to you, does it?"

"This means sleeping in tents or roadside inns for nothing. King Richard cut Buckingham's rebellion short, he can certainly prevent the taking of his crown by a Welshman who has spent most of his life out of England."

Margaret looked surprised by Elena's grasp of the world outside of the women's solar. Buckingham had helped Richard attain the throne, then turned around and helped the Earl of Richmond in his first bid for the crown. No matter how petty other’s thought her, Elena made it a point to always be aware how matters stood in the world of political intrigue that had ruled England for years. Glancing at the chattering, giggling group of ladies, Elena knew she was an oddity. No doubt her unconventional education had given her a glimpse into the world of politics that few other court ladies had been granted. Margaret seemed the only other lady who was aware of the world outside of fashion and courtships, but the two rarely got along. Elena found Margaret too strident and knew the other woman viewed her as nothing more than a social climber.

Within an hour, Elena was mounted on her grey palfrey, carefully arranging the dark blue skirts of her kirtle about her. As she tucked the edge of her veil over her nose and mouth, a large hand landed firmly on her leg. Stifling a scream, she looked down into the hooded gaze of her fiancée.

"I trust I will find you well when next we meet in London, my lady," he said, his loud voice coming from deep within his barrel chest.

"You are not riding with us?" Elena hoped the earl couldn't hear the relief in her voice.

"I have business for the king which will take me along a different route. Rest assured I will be in London by Michaelmas."

Elena forced herself to nod, but could not force a smile. Gathering her reins, she kicked her small horse into a gallop. There must be a way out of this sour predicament, she thought. Perhaps if she wrote her father...But her father had expressed no joy when his daughter left to become a lady-in-waiting to Richard's queen. He had not sent so much as a word since she had been at court, and her mother's few letters had been disappointingly brief. Catching up to Margaret and Catherine, she slowed her horse to a walk. The summer sun beat down unmercifully and Elena readjusted her veil over her face to filter out as much of the road dust as possible. This was going to be a miserable trip, she decided.