Lady of the English
Author:Elizabeth Chadwick

Eight

Chinon, Anjou, April 1127

G eoffrey, son of Fulke, Count of Anjou, stroked the soft, mottled breast feathers of the young peregrine falcon on his gauntleted fist. “You summoned me, sire?” His voice was light. It had broken almost a year ago, but still grated like a cracked millstone if pressure was put upon it. He would far rather be out training his bird to the lure, but knew better than to disobey a paternal summons.

His father had been standing before the hearth contemplating the fire, but now he turned. His red hair was dusty at the temples and silver striped his beard, but he was a strong man, still in his full prime. “I have news.” He gestured to the empty hawk perch near the window. Geoffrey took the peregrine and settled her there. For a moment she bated on the perch and the sound of her beating wings filled the space where no words fell. Geoffrey soothed her with a gentle forefinger until she settled and in that time he settled himself too. He knew what the news was going to be. Producing a gobbet of venison from the pouch at his belt, he fed it to her. “Are you going to accept King Baldwin’s offer for the Princess Melisande?”

His father clasped his hands behind his back. “That depends on whether I can leave Anjou in safe hands.” LadyofEnglish.indd 59

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Geoffrey sauntered over to the sideboard to pour himself a goblet of wine, then adopted a manly pose, one foot thrust out.

His father gave him a frosty look. “It is not the clothes or the stance that make the man, but his words and deeds. I need to know that you are capable of ruling Anjou as an adult when I am gone.”

Geoffrey’s resentment was tempered by pleasure at the notion of having power, and of being a count. He stood taller and jutted his chin, where the first coppery beard hairs had begun to sprout. “I am a man,” he said proudly.

“In word and deed, my son?”

“Yes, sire. You can trust me.”

His father’s expression did not lighten. He left the fire to pace the room, his tread heavy and deliberate. “I am pleased to hear it, because I have a task for you beyond the wisdom of ruling Anjou.” He stopped at the hawk perch, watched the bird preen, then went to Geoffrey and tilted his son’s face towards the window to study his features in full light. The youth’s hair was a rich, ruddy gold with a healthy gleam like layered feathers. His eyes were sea-blue with a flash of green in their depths and Fulke could see the intelligence in them as well as the arrogance and fire. He was slim with youth and his skin was fine-grained and clear, without the rash of adolescent spots that frequently bedevilled the passage into manhood. A son to be proud of. Whether he was a son to bear the weight of leadership only time would tell. “Can you do this task for me?

I wonder…” Fulke stepped back and considered him further.

“I have had an offer from the king of England.”

“What kind of offer?” Geoffrey eyed him warily and drank his wine.

“A former empress and future queen to wife, and the opportunity to sire on her the next king of England, Duke of Normandy, and Count of Anjou.”

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Geoffrey stared. The words glittered on the surface of his mind before sinking into it, like small, sharp shards.

“Yes,” said his father. “And that is why I asked if you were a man, because it will take one to deal with this.” Geoffrey’s stomach lurched and he thought he might be sick.

He drank again, forcing himself to swallow rather than retch, and walked away from his father to Pertelot on her perch. He stroked the bird’s feathers, soft as the breasts of the village dairy maids. “She is old,” he said, his throat working. “She has been the wife of an old man.” His nostrils filled with the imagined sour, musty smell of the elderly as he spoke. Of the crypt and the tomb.

“Her husband was younger than me when he died,” his father growled. “Are you saying that I am old?” Geoffrey looked round, a flush mounting his cheeks. “No, sire.”

“When you are a grown man, she will yet still be a young woman.”

“But she has been used,” Geoffrey said, feeling sick disappointment, and still the musty smell was in his nostrils. “She is not a virgin.”

“So much the better. She will know what to expect. Henry of England wants to secure his boundaries by allying with us, but he also wants a swift young stag in his daughter’s bed. If she is older than you, then time is on your side, and there are always other women. She bore a child to the emperor, so she is not barren, but the infant died. Her husband’s seed was not strong enough, but I have faith in yours, and so, it seems, does the king of England.”

Geoffrey said nothing because he was still clenched up inside with disappointment. Even if there was prestige at wedding a woman of so great a rank, her age and the fact that she was not a virgin and a shy young girl made him recoil. Frowning, he 61

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went to the window and leaned against the embrasure wall. He was not fourteen until August but he had had his first woman last year at harvest time in a barn, under a great, golden moon, and he had repeated the experience many times since then.

He had discovered wonderful pleasure in matters of the flesh and already considered himself a skilled practitioner. His father did not know the half of it. He pursed his lips and considered.

Perhaps if he used the woman well and got her with child regularly, sooner or later she would die and he could take a second wife more to his taste. And there was nothing to stop him having mistresses alongside a wife. “Will I be a king as you will be a king?” he turned to ask.

“Not while Henry sits upon the throne because he would not countenance such a notion, but he will not be there forever.

It is preposterous that a woman should rule on her own. If your sons are under age when Henry goes to his grave, then who can say?” Fulke lifted a warning forefinger. “I hope I have raised you well in the matter of politics. Never let your heart or your loins rule your head. It may be that you will never be a king, but your children will be royal and Normandy will be yours for the taking. Think of our family. You will be grafted into the house of England and Normandy. I will sit on the throne of Jerusalem. Any children borne of my match will be your half-brothers and -sisters. Anjou will be mighty indeed.” Geoffrey felt a frisson. He might not desire the marriage, but the notion of such power filled him up as if he were drinking the sun. What it would be to have an empress at his beck and call. What it would be like to fill her belly with his child.

“So I ask you again,” his father said. “Are you man enough in mind and body to do this thing?” Geoffrey glinted him a look. “Yes, sire,” he said. “I am.” Fulke nodded approval. “Good. Then we will go forward with this. I will have my scribe write a reply now.” 62

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ttt

Matilda sat in the garden of Winchester Castle, watching a small flock of sparrows flutter and splash in a stone bird bath.

Droplets sparkled and flashed to a bustling accompaniment of chirrups and tweets. She remembered walking in the gardens at Speyer with Heinrich. Arm in arm they had planned the beds and talked of nurturing the trees so that they would bear fruit for years to come. Little had either of them known.

She had come outside to enjoy the spring freshness, to finish a piece of sewing in clear daylight, and to think. There had been a strange atmosphere in the castle of late. Something was afoot. Her father was snappy and on edge while Adeliza was full of attentive kindness. Robert was always too busy with other matters to talk to her and she had barely seen Brian at all. It did not take much wit to guess the reason why.

A movement at the garden gate caught her attention and she saw her father dismissing her attendants with his usual air of authority. Putting his head down like a small, charging bull, he made his way towards her bench. He was swinging a staff of polished oak and his expression was benign but purposeful.

Matilda straightened up and her heart began to pound.

“Daughter, a fine spring day to be enjoying the garden,” he said, joining her. He chuckled at the sight of the bathing sparrows. “They remind me of certain courtiers.” Matilda smiled. “I was thinking of Heinrich just now, and the gardens we planned at Speyer. He always loved this time of year.”

He rested the staff across his knees. “Time now, though, to plan a new garden, and turn your thoughts to the future. I have some great news for you and I hope you will be well pleased when I tell you.”

“I think I know what this is about.” Her voice was steady, concealing her apprehension.

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“Do you indeed?” His eyes twinkled, but they were hard too—like bright chips of stone.

“You would not dismiss the servants for a trifling matter.” He gave an amused grunt. “I suppose the planning has been obvious, although few know the details. Time enough to broach it to all once I have told the most important person in this.” He took her nearest hand between his and patted it.

“So whom am I to marry?”

He smiled and chose to draw out the moment further. “You will have a fine income and a splendid home; you will not want for anything. You will go to your new husband with all the glory to which a future queen is entitled. You will have a train of wealth and luxury. No one will say I have stinted my daughter.” So the treaty was already drawn up; it had gone that far. Her stomach curdled at this information so casually given. “Where am I going?” she demanded with a bite in her voice. “And who am I to wed—tell me!”

Her father beamed, and she shivered. “You are to marry the son of a man who is about to become the greatest king in Christendom.”

She stared at him, blinking, trying to think whom he could mean.

“Fulke of Anjou is to marry Princess Melisande and become king of Jerusalem. When he leaves for Outremer, his son Geoffrey will become Count of Anjou in his place. He is a fine young man and he will make you strong heirs while securing our boundaries and curtailing the ambitions of the French.” The greenery and the flowers blurred around Matilda.

“Geoffrey of Anjou,” she said in disbelief. “You want me to wed Geoffrey of Anjou?” Nausea surged.

Now the twinkle was gone from his eyes and only the bright hardness remained. “I expect your obedience and your acceptance in good grace.”

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She swallowed, unable to believe he was demanding this of her. “He is a child.” Her lip curled. “You want me to marry a boy, the son of a common count? You would disparage your own daughter?”

His complexion darkened. “Mind your tongue. Angevin support is vital to the security of our lands. Geoffrey of Anjou’s youth is an advantage. He will very soon be a man.”

“But he is not a man now; he is an untried youth of what—thirteen?”

“Almost fourteen. He will be of an age to consent when you meet to be betrothed.”

She pushed herself to her feet. “Do not do this to me.”

“It is your duty, daughter.” He too stood up; she was tall and they were eye to eye. “You will do as I say. What use are you to me otherwise? I might as well have left you in a German nunnery. There is no better match for you than this. The boy matters little save that he fills your womb and you bear sons to inherit. As soon as that is accomplished, you may live your own life.”

Matilda almost gagged. She could not go beyond the notion that she was being told to wed a boy the same age as the spotty youth who emptied the latrine pots; she felt as if her own father had smeared her with ordure. “I was an empress and you bring me down to this,” she spat. “I refuse to consent.” Stubborn fury surged through her as it always did when she was frightened or cornered. “Small wonder you did not bring it before all the barons!”

“My closest advisers agree it is sound policy,” he said through clenched teeth.

“But your closest advisers are expected to think like you and agree with all you say,” she spat. “Surely there are better men than a boy like Geoffrey of Anjou if all you want is a stallion?

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for others to make their play for your crown, and I had never marked you for a fool—until now.”

“By God, I will not tolerate this insubordination from you,” he choked, and lifting the polished staff, he shook it in her face.

“I will honour you with this rod across your back unless you obey me, do you hear? I order you to get down on your knees and pray for forgiveness for defying your father and your own liege lord. I brook no such behaviour from my subjects and I will certainly not brook it from my own child, who should be an example to all!”

Tears of shock stung Matilda’s eyes, but she refused to cry and continued to face him. “And how will the state be served by marrying me to an Angevin whelp?” He struck her across the face with the back of his hand, the sound making a loud crack. The sparrows flew off chirping in alarm. “Go!” he snarled. “Get out of my sight and seek God’s mercy. We will speak again tomorrow, and by all that is holy you will give me a different answer or suffer the consequences.” Matilda turned without a curtsey, and walked away, her head high. Her cheek was numb from the blow, but she could taste blood where the inside of her mouth had met her teeth. Her mind was in turmoil. As a little girl she had not wanted to go to her marriage in Germany, but she had been too small and powerless to object. Now, she was old enough to object, but still powerless, because what sort of power did a woman have except that which was filtered through men?

Entering the cathedral, she felt as if she were a walking effigy of herself because she had turned to stone. How could he? How could he! How was she supposed to bear this? Prostrating herself before the altar, she tried to compose herself, and consider her father’s will as a dutiful daughter should, but there was no submission in her, only grief and rage. She was to be married to a boy almost half her age. Anyone with any reason could 66

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see that it was ridiculous. Her father said that his inner circle had agreed with him and that must mean her brother Robert and Brian FitzCount at the least. She had been betrayed. She had thought better of them, but plainly they too saw her as a woman to be put in her place. A breeding vessel for the next generation. And this…this boy! His head must be swollen with the power and the prestige such a match would make for him.

Her thoughts turned again to Heinrich as she stared at the candle flames wavering on the altar. If only he were still alive.

She would be valued and protected. Heinrich would never have treated her like this. But she had no one. She would have to protect herself, but how? She had nowhere to turn. There was only God left and He seemed to have abandoned her too.

If He had been merciful and allowed her baby son to live, she would have had a purpose and a place in life. She could have been the power behind her former husband’s throne, instead of a storm-tossed pawn.

On returning to the castle, she retired to her chamber and ordered her ladies to make up her bed, saying she intended to sleep and was not going to dine in the hall.

“Madam, are you unwell?” asked Uli.

“Yes,” Matilda snapped. “I am sick to the soul. Leave me, all of you. I will call for you if I have need.”

“Madam—”

“Go!” she screamed. She listened to the click of the door latch, and then climbed on to the bed to lie with her back to the wall.

ttt

Matilda was roused by the sound of Adeliza talking to her maids, and the waft of savoury food smells. Moments later, the bed curtains parted and Adeliza stood in the space between them with a tray bearing a bowl of broth, steam curling on its surface, a small crusty loaf, and a portion of saffron-glazed 67

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chicken. The maids bustled about, lighting candles and closing the shutters against a lavender spring dusk. As Matilda sat up, Adeliza set down the tray on the coffer. She had brought a folded napkin and a small fingerbowl of scented water.

“I am sorry to hear you are unwell,” Adeliza said softly.

“Did my father send you?” Matilda snapped.

Adeliza gave her a reproachful look. “Of course not. When I told him I was coming to speak with you and bring you food, he was exasperated with me.” She gave Matilda a woman-to-woman look. “He said you didn’t deserve to eat and that a spot of starvation would help put your mind in order, but he did not gainsay me when I insisted.”

Matilda glared at the beautifully arranged tray. “Indeed, I would rather starve,” she hissed. “And I’m not hungry.”

“I do not believe that!” Adeliza remonstrated. “You have a good appetite and you will need your strength.” Matilda continued to scowl. She truly did not feel like eating, but it was another way of defying her father since he had not wanted Adeliza to bring her food. “You are right, I suppose I will,” she said and reached for the bread.

Adeliza poured wine for both of them and sat down at the bedside. “Ask yourself what good this is doing you. Where will you go from here if you defy your father?” Matilda tore the bread into small pieces. “You agree with him then.” She gave Adeliza a bitter look. “You are taking his part like everyone else?”

Adeliza shook her head. “I am concerned for both of you.

I know how difficult this is for you. You have lost a good husband and your position at the heart of the imperial court.

But you must look to the future and think about the long term.

Here, drink and be consoled.”

Matilda thrust away the wine, making it slop over the edge of the cup. “You think I will find consolation in wine? Is that 68

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what I should do?” She laughed scornfully. “Drink myself into oblivion?”

Adeliza mopped up the spillage with her napkin and gazed sorrowfully at the red stain. “I think you will find consolation in the Church, and in your children in the fullness of time.”

“I may find strength in God, but no comfort, and certainly no consolation from men of God,” Matilda spat and felt both triumphant and guilty as her young stepmother recoiled. “As to children—I had no such consolation from my marriage with Heinrich, and neither have you with my father. Why should I put my faith in the solace of being a mother?” Her voice strained and almost cracked. “I bore Heinrich a child, and buried him on the same day.”

“I’m sorry.” Distress filled Adeliza’s gaze. She reached out to Matilda in sympathy, but Matilda drew back. Adeliza lowered her arm and smoothed the bedclothes instead until there was no sign of a crease. She said hesitantly, “Perhaps a man only has so much good seed in his body. A younger one…” Her cheeks reddened. “I am not being disloyal to your first husband or your father, but I say to you as one woman to another that your womb may more easily quicken this time.” Matilda gave Adeliza a long look. “Would you change places with me?”

Adeliza’s blush brightened her entire face. “I would think on my duty to those who desired me to make the match. I would think on the good things that might come of it. That I might bear children and grow to love a young husband as he became a man. The difference in age between us would soon close up and matter less.” She set her lips. “You learn to live with what you cannot alter and find ways to thank God for what you do have. In truth, what are your alternatives? Your father will not change his mind once it is set. If you refuse, he will make one of his Blois nephews his heir and consign you to a convent.

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You came home from Germany rather than become a nun.

Would you choose the cloister now?” Matilda blinked tears from her eyes, furious that she was crying. “Just for once…” she said hoarsely, “just for once, I want him to see me, but he never will except as a tool.”

“Ah no, never think that!” Adeliza looked shocked. “He is proud of you—very proud, and that is why he is unyielding.

He knows your potential and he wants the best for you.”

“The best,” Matilda gave a caustic laugh. “Geoffrey of Anjou is the best? God save me from the worst!”

“Look,” Adeliza said patiently. “I know this betrothal has come as a shock, but it will work out, you will see.” She leaned over and kissed Matilda’s cheek. “I will leave you to think on it.”

“You mean my father will be wondering why you have been gone for so long?”

“The king has other matters to attend to, tonight.” Adeliza’s voice was careful and her body taut, so that Matilda knew her father must be engaged with one of the many court concubines—probably riding her as viciously as he did his hunting horse when he was in a temper. “There is no more I can say to you. Now you must think on this for yourself.” When Adeliza had gone, Matilda resisted the urge to close the bed curtains again and retreat into her shell. Adeliza’s actions had reminded her that she had a position in the world to uphold, and responsibilities. As she ate her supper, she pondered the matter. She was backed into a corner and her only recourse was to agree to the marriage as her father desired.

He said it was an honourable thing, and, viewed with a superficial eye it was, but deep down, at the core of the matter, she knew it was shameful.

ttt

Brian looked up from the letter he had been writing to his constable at Wallingford and saw Roger, bishop of Salisbury, 70

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striding towards him, his jewelled staff cleaving the air. His dark eyes were narrow and his mouth tightly pursed. Brian rose and then knelt to kiss the sapphire episcopal ring on the clenched fist. “Will you take some wine, my lord?” he asked politely.

The bishop gestured and Brian poured him a goblet from the flagon standing on the trestle. He could almost feel Salisbury breathing fire down his neck.

“What do you know of these rumours flying about?” Salisbury snapped, taking the cup from Brian’s hand.

Brian’s nape prickled. “There are always rumours flying at court, my lord.”

“About this proposed marriage of the empress to Geoffrey of Anjou. You are deep in the king’s confidence, you must have heard. You are neither a fool nor deaf, and neither am I, even if I am getting on in years.” His mouth twisted.

Brian said nothing, but took time refilling his own cup.

“I know he has discussed it with you, and with Gloucester,” Salisbury growled. “When is he going to bring it before the rest of us, my lord, or does he think to leave us in ignorance?”

“I am sure I can tell you nothing you do not already know, sire,” Brian said woodenly.

“No, but I should not have to find out through back doors and keyholes. If he sends her to this marriage, he will rue the day. There will be unrest and men will rise up against him, mark my words.”

Brian arched his brows. “You know this for a fact, my lord bishop? Shall I make a list of which men you think are a threat?” He gestured towards his writing equipment. “Should I put a double guard on Waleran de Meulan?” Salisbury flushed. “You are insolent. I remember when you were a snivelling squire, wiping better men’s backsides. You might think you are clever, but any fool can twist thread into a rope to hang himself. You cannot think this is good policy, surely?” 71

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“You must talk to the king on the matter, sire.”

“I expected him to talk to us; that is the entire point.” The bishop took a swallow of wine and put his cup on the table.

“Since he has not, and since I swore that I would only give my oath to his daughter if we were consulted on her marriage, I will have to consider most carefully.” He twitched the sparkling edges of his cloak together. “He is leading us into a quagmire this time. Perhaps I am not the only foolish old man in this palace tonight.”

“Sire, I believe that the quagmire already exists and the king is creating paths across it. If we fall in, then is it not our own fault?” Salisbury gripped his crosier. “I have no intention of falling anywhere!”

Brian wondered if the bishop knew that the water was already over his boots.

“This marriage will shake the foundations of everything that the king has built up, you mark my words. Men will not be ruled by an Angevin stripling, and the match is a slap in the face for his nephews and the house of Blois. I do not know what he is thinking of!” His fist clenched around his staff, the bishop left at the same brisk stride that he had entered.

Heaving a sigh, Brian returned to his work, but his heart was not in it. In part he agreed with the bishop, even while he knew Salisbury was playing to his own agenda. The king was manipulating the situation to keep as many options open as possible, but in so doing, he was creating the potential for great instability. It did not help that Henry’s personal attitude was one of invinci-bility. He had no intention of dying and giving up his power to anyone. He might plan for the future, but he was not envisaging a time when he would not be there to oversee his strategy.

Of Matilda Brian tried not to think at all, except in terms of his duty to her as his liege lady. Anything else would have been unbearable.

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ttt

Brian ran the curry comb down Sable’s withers a final time and stood back, blotting his forearm on his brow to admire the stallion’s coat, which shone in the spring sunlight like a glossy morel cherry. He enjoyed grooming the horse himself on occasion and it was a way of checking that the stable hands had been attending to their duties in the proper manner. Like writing, it also gave him a sense of calm, of setting affairs in order and making good. It was a way of escaping the furore over the matter of Matilda’s marriage. She had kept to her chambers ever since being told about the proposed match with Anjou, while her father stamped about in a rage. Today he had ordered the baggage made ready for the betrothal journey. There had been strong protests at court because the wider circle of advisory prelates and barons had not been consulted over the marriage plans, but Henry had overridden all objections in a strident voice, his face like thunder, and no one had been brave enough to stand their ground and challenge him.

Brian ordered a groom to fetch Sable’s tack. Several new horses were expected in the stables and lackeys were mucking out the stalls and laying fresh straw. Gilbert, the king’s senior marshal, was directing operations and his eldest son had joined in with the grooms to get the job done. Brian had to leap out of the way as a large lump of dung shot out of the stable door, narrowly missing him. “Have a care,” he snapped.

The son looked over his shoulder and gave an ironic salute.

Brian compressed his lips and thought that John FitzGilbert would bear watching. Too sharp for his own good, that one.

The groom returned with Sable’s harness, and the empress walked into the stable yard, accompanied by her ladies and her knight, Drogo. She was dressed for riding and her own groom had gone to fetch her palfrey. “Domina,” Brian said, and swept her a deep bow.

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She replied with an almost impatient gesture. “If you are going riding too, you might as well escort me.” Brian opened his mouth to say that he had other business, but the words stuck in his throat, and instead, he found himself bowing again and saying, “As you wish, domina.”

“As I wish?” She gave him a bitter look. “I should thank God for small mercies that I am so indulged.” They left the castle and the town behind them, and took a track that led through fields and woods carpeted with celan-dines and violets. Brian felt the beauty of the day twist like a knife inside him. He rode and said nothing, because there was too much to say and he did not trust himself to speak.

At length, it was Matilda who broke the taut silence. “When I return from this ride, I am going to tell my father that I will accept this marriage with Anjou.”

He looked straight ahead and said stiffly, “That is a wise decision, domina.”

She shook her head. “I make it because I have no choice. I make it because if I refuse, the House of Anjou will become our enemy and unite with France and Flanders. I know why my father considers it a wise and prudent move.” She nudged her mare closer to Sable and fixed Brian with a steady look. “But tell me, my lord, did you think of all the consequences when you discussed the matter with him in private council?” Shadows like delicate bruises were smudged beneath her eyes and Brian had to glance away. “Yes, domina, I did…but your father would not be gainsaid, and in truth, his reasons are sound.”

“And you cannot look at me, my lord.”

“What would you have me do?” Now he did meet her stare and forced himself not to flinch from her scrutiny. “I am your father’s liege man first, even while I honour his daughter.”

“Honour.” She exhaled down her nose. “I wonder at the substance with which we gild that word.” 74

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“When the time comes, I will not fail you; I swear on my own life.”

“And who will call that time, my lord—you, or I? And who will decide if you have or have not failed?” They rode in silence again, and Brian kept his distance because he knew that if he let her in, he would fall apart under the truth of her stare and he could not allow that to happen.

She was right. Honour was both a gilded fancy and a stinking corpse, and she had not been the one to murder it in the name of strategy.

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