Home>>read When Love Awaits free online

When Love Awaits(2)

By:Johanna Lindsey

If Leonie could no longer summon a kind thought for her father, no one blamed her. From having a happy childhood and two loving parents to losing both parents in one stroke was a cruel fate, and wholly undeserved.

She had once loved her father with all her heart. Now she felt very little for him. At times she cursed him. Those times occurred when he sent his servants to raid her stores for his lavish entertainments—and not only was Pershwick involved, but Rethel and Marhill keeps as well. They, too, were hers. He never sent a word to his daughter, but he reaped the benefits of her hard work, taking her profits and rents.

However, he’d had far less success in the last few years as Leonie learned how to outfox the Montwyn steward. When he came calling with his list, her storerooms were nearly empty, her hoards hidden throughout the keep in unlikely places. So also she hid her spices and cloth bought from the merchants of Rethel, for Lady Judith sometimes arrived with the steward, and Lady Judith felt she could make free with anything she found at Pershwick.

Leonie’s cunning sometimes went awry when she couldn’t remember all of her hiding places. But rather than give up the plan or confide her deceit to the Pershwick priest and ask his help, she convinced Father Bennet to teach her to read and write. That way, she was able to keep records of her maze of hiding places. Now her serfs no longer faced starvation, and her own table was full. No thanks were due her father for any of that.

Leonie stood for the rinsing and let Wilda wrap her in a warm bedrobe because she would not be leaving her room again that night. Aunt Beatrix sat by the fire with her embroidery, lost in her own world, as usual. The oldest of Elisabeth’s sisters, Beatrix had long been a widow. She had lost her dower lands to her husband’s relatives when he died, and hadn’t married again. She insisted she liked it that way. She had lived with her brother, the earl of Shefford, until Elisabeth’s death. Soon after, Leonie was cast on her vassal, Guibert Fitzalan, and Aunt Beatrix felt it her duty to stay and take care of her niece.

More likely it was Leonie who did the care-taking, for Beatrix was a timid woman. Even the isolation of Pershwick keep hadn’t made her bolder. Being one of the first children born to the late earl of Shefford, she had known the earl at his stormiest, whereas Elisabeth, the youngest, knew the earl as a mellow man and a doting father.

Leonie did not know the present earl, whose holding was in the north, far from the midlands. When she’d reached a marriageable age and begun to hope for a husband, she had wanted to contact her uncle. Aunt Beatrix had explained, kindly, that with eight brothers and sisters and dozens of nieces and nephews besides his own six children and their children, the earl would surely not concern himself with the daughter of a sister who had not married well and was now dead.

Leonie, fifteen then and closed away from the world, began to think she would never marry. But pride soon asserted itself, pride that didn’t permit her to ask for help from relatives who neither knew her nor ever inquired after her.

After a time she began to think she might be better off without a husband. There wasn’t the usual threat of being sent to a nunnery, and she was lady of her own keep, independent, answerable only to a father who never approached her and seemed unlikely to show any further interest in her.

It was a unique and enviable position, she told herself after those first longings for romance had been stifled. Most brides did not even know their husbands before they were wed, and were likely to find themselves the property of an old man, a cruel man, or an indifferent man. Only serfs married for love.

So Leonie came to believe she was fortunate. The only thing she wanted to change was her isolation, and that was what caused her to venture alone to Crewel to see the tourney.

Having never seen a tourney before, she was impelled to go. King Henry’s policy was to forbid all tourneys except a few held in special circumstances and with his permission. In the past, too many tourneys had ended in bloody battles. In France a tourney might be found at any time in almost any place, and many knights became rich by traveling from one to another. It was not that way in England.

The tourney at Crewel was exciting at the start. The Black Wolf rode onto the field in full armor, six knights flanking him, all wearing his colors, black and silver, all large and impressive men. The seven opponents were also full-armored. Leonie recognized a few by their banners as vassals of Sir Edmond Montigny. The Black Wolf was, by then, their new overlord.

She had not asked herself why the present lord of Kempston would challenge his new vassals. There were many possible explanations, none of which interested her. What held her attention was the Black Wolf, and the lady who rushed onto the field to give him a token. A bold kiss followed as he swept the lady up into his arms. Was she his wife?

The crowd cheered the kiss, and then all at once the melee began, a mock battle in which all the contestants took part most ferociously. There were strict rules for a melee, rules which distinguished it from real battle, but the rules were ignored that morning. It was immediately obvious that all seven opposing knights meant to unseat the Black Wolf. They succeeded quickly, and it was only the swift work of his own knights that prevented him from being defeated. He even had to call them back from giving chase as his opponents fled the field.

It was over all too soon, and Leonie went home in disappointment, her only satisfaction being the knowledge that some of the Black Wolf’s new vassals had apparently rejected him as their overlord. Why? She could not guess what he had done. It was enough to know that his taking possession of Kempston had not gone easily.

Leonie dismissed Wilda and joined her aunt by the fire, staring pensively into the flames, remembering the fire in the forest and wondering what new troubles the future would bring.

“You are worried about our new neighbor?”

Leonie glanced sideways at Beatrix, surprised. She didn’t want her aunt burdened with this.

“What is there to worry about?” Leonie hedged.

“Bless you, child, you need not hide your troubles from me. Do you think I am not aware of what happens around me?”

Leonie believed just that. “It is of no great importance, Aunt Beatrix.”

“Then we will have no more rude young knights coming to threaten us with angry words?”

Leonie shrugged. “They are only angry words. Men like to bluster and snarl.”

“Oho, do I not know it.”

They both laughed, for of course Beatrix knew more about men than Leonie did, confined as she had been since the age of thirteen.

Leonie confessed, “I thought we would have visitors today, but no one came. Perhaps they do not blame us for this day’s trouble.”

Beatrix frowned thoughtfully, and her niece asked, “Do you think the Black Wolf might have other plans this time?”

“That is possible. It is a wonder he has not already burned our village.”

“He would not dare!” Leonie cried. “He has no proof my serfs have caused his troubles. He has only the accusations of his own serfs.”

“Yes, but that is enough for most men. Suspicion is enough.” Beatrix sighed.

Leonie’s anger drained away. “I know. Tomorrow I will go to the village and make certain that henceforth no one leaves Pershwick land for any reason. There will be no more trouble. We must see to that.”

Chapter 3

ROLFE d’Ambert threw his helmet hard across the hall the moment he strode in. His squire, newly acquired from King Henry, hurried to catch it. The helmet would need a trip to the armorer before he wore it again, but Rolfe was not thinking of that. Just then, he needed to smash things.

At the hearth across the large hall, Thorpe de la Mare hid his amusement at his young lord’s display of temper. It was so like the boy he had been, not the man he was now. Thorpe had seen many such displays in the years he’d served Rolfe’s father. The father was dead these nine years and Rolfe’s older brother had inherited their father’s title and the bulk of his estates in Gascony. The property left to Rolfe was small, but the greedy brother had wanted even that and had outlawed Rolfe from his home.

Thorpe left with Rolfe, giving up his comfortable position to follow the young knight rather than serve the brother. The years since had been very good, years of fighting as mercenaries, growing rich from the ransoms won at tourneys. Rolfe was now twenty and nine years to Thorpe’s two score and seven, yet Thorpe never regretted letting the younger man lead him. Other men felt the same way, and Rolfe had become a leader to nine knights and nearly two hundred mercenaries, all of whom had chosen to stay with him now that he was settled.

But was Rolfe settled? Thorpe knew how Rolfe felt about Henry’s generosity. The estate gave him more aggravation than he had experienced in years. Much more, and Rolfe would be ready to leave it all and return to France. The estate was something that existed only as an honor, for it gave nothing tangible and drained his purse daily.

“Did you hear, Thorpe?”

“The servants have talked of nothing else since the woodcutter moved into the keep for the night,” Thorpe replied as Rolfe sat down heavily in the chair next to him.

“Damn me!”

Rolfe slammed a fist down on the small table beside him, opening a crack down its middle. Thorpe kept his expression carefully blank.