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Authors: Flora Speer

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Castle of the Heart

BOOK: Castle of the Heart
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Castle Of The Heart



Flora Speer




Smashwords Edition

Copyright © 2013, 1990, by Flora Speer


Smashwords Edition, License Notes.

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Cover Design Copyright 2014 By Laura Shinn




Author’s Note:



Afoncaer, Tynant, and the Welsh lands
immediately surrounding them are all completely imaginary, as are
all the characters in this story except the following: King Henry I
of England, Queen Matilda and their children William and Richard,
Countess Matilda of Perche, the Earl of Chester and his wife, and
his brother, Sir Ottuel

In the early twelfth century, calendars had
not yet been standardized and there were various dates for the new
year. In the interests of simplicity I have used modern dates
throughout, and have begun each new year on January 1.

The herbal remedies concocted and used by
Meredith and Arianna reflect medieval knowledge and use of these
plant as described in historical accounts and in herbal treatises
of that period.




“Moss grows on the castles of my heart as
soon as they are built,

but it takes some time for them to fall into

Gustave Flaubert





I have returned to Afoncaer. When I left so
many years ago, I thought I would never see it again, but here I
am, once more installed in my old place in the tower keep. My room
has become a library, lined with shelves to hold my books and
scrolls, and fitted with a large table for writing and a
thick-cushioned chair for my damaged body. I am comfortable here.
My chamber is warmed by two charcoal braziers in the winter, and
lit by all the fine wax candles I need. And I have friendship…

Of the accident which resulted in my
crippling, and how I came to be here, I shall write more later, as
I recount the vile intrigues which nearly led to the loss of this
castle. I have questioned most of those involved, listening to
several conflicting versions of the story, and I think I have come
as close to the truth as any mortal man can. Lady Isabel was the
instigator. I should have expected that, knowing her wicked
character. And then the Welsh, working against us as always, did
their best to destroy this Norman stronghold which stands so boldly
within their border. I believe I have correctly unraveled the lies
and half-truths of that time of peril. Selene, that beautiful,
haunted creature, who was Isabel’s tool, also did her part to
betray Afoncaer. She avoided me, but I watched her, and it was not
hard to guess what she had done. I think Guy suspected her, too,
but, like me, he kept silent for Thomas’s sake.

It is a long and shocking story, but these
volumes are a place for truth. I will tell all. And so I continue
the work I began so long ago, the true and complete history of
Afoncaer .

Part I


The Mothers

A.D. 1115

Chapter 1



August, A.D. 1115



“Isabel, what joy it is to see you again
after all these years.” Lady Aloise stood in the great hall of her
husband’s castle, keeping her smile carefully in place while she
greeted her old friend, and silently praising heaven that Sir
Valaire was safely in England at the court of King Henry I. Not
that so generous a man would have grudged his wife the pleasure of
a visit from Isabel, even though gossip still clung to Isabel’s
name after almost ten years. No, it was not the memory of the old
scandalous story of passion and aborted ambition that narrowed
Aloise’s eyes as she regarded Isabel. It was rather Isabel’s looks.
Aloise ruefully acknowledged the contrast between them. Her own
dark hair was heavily streaked with silver, there were lines about
her eyes, and her waist had expanded over the years into a
thickness inevitable for the mother of six children. Isabel, on the
other hand, was as blonde, rosy-complexioned, and willowy as ever.
Knowing her husband’s wandering eye, Aloise was thankful Sir
Valaire was absent. But how, she wondered, had Isabel done the
nearly impossible and kept her beauty so long, and while in exile,

Isabel glided gracefully through the main
portal and across the stone-flagged floor, her blue summer cloak
floating out behind her in soft, elegant folds. She held out both
hands, smiling the dazzling smile that Aloise remembered so

“Aloise, my dear, it has been so very long.
How good it was of you to invite me, how kind to a grieving widow.”
The sweet, musical voice was unchanged with time, the deep blue
eyes as clear and innocent as they had been when Isabel was a girl
of fourteen and a new bride, a stranger at the English court, with
Aloise her only friend. Aloise sighed. A woman of thirty-nine
should look, and sound, her age. Aloise, at forty-one, certainly

The two women embraced.

“I’m so glad you have come,” Aloise said,
allowing only a slight note of insincerity to creep into her voice.
The invitation had not been entirely her idea. Isabel had hinted in
the letter announcing her widowhood, and when Aloise had not
responded, Isabel had hinted again, more broadly, until Aloise, her
curiosity piqued, had relented and asked Isabel to visit for one
month. Life was boring when Sir Valaire was away. Any diversion was
welcome, and while Isabel might sometimes be treacherous, she was
never dull.

“We have so much to talk about, so much
gossip to catch up on.” Isabel’s eyes sparkled. “I am eager to meet
your daughter again. Selene, isn’t that her name? I remember seeing
her when she was only a few months old, and she was such a dear
little thing. How long ago that seems. She must be fifteen now. You
see, I have learned to count during my years in exile, so I know
she’s quite grownup, and I expect she’s a beauty, like her mother.
You look startled. Did you think I had forgotten her?”

Isabel smiled again, and Aloise felt a little
chill, the faintest breath of alarm. Isabel had never cared about
babies or children. On the contrary, she had ignored Selene most
pointedly when she had seen her as an infant. Nor had Isabel ever
shown even the slightest concern for her own son, Thomas. Indeed,
she had willingly allowed him to be used as a hostage by his
stepfather. What could she possibly want with Selene?

“Come to the solar,” Aloise said, drawing
Isabel’s arm through hers. “It is sunny there, and much more quiet
than this noisy great hall. We can talk. I’ll have refreshments
brought to us. You must tell me about your journey.”

She led the way to the narrow stone steps and
up their curving height, heading for the second-floor solar, and as
she went, Aloise thought about Isabel’s past, and her odd interest
in Selene.

Isabel, Aloise recalled, had borne only one
child, Thomas, to her first husband, Baron Lionel of Afoncaer, and
no children at all to Walter fitz Alan, her second spouse. And
that, Aloise thought irrelevantly; would explain Isabel’s
still-slim waistline. Constant childbearing quickly ruined a
woman’s figure, as she herself had experienced. With an effort of
will unusual for her, Aloise made herself dismiss her frivolous
concern with Isabel’s appearance and think of more serious

It was just as well that Isabel had borne no
other children, considering Walter fitz Alan’s disgrace and
subsequent exile. It had been a breathtaking piece of treachery,
that attempt by Walter to secure the Welsh border castle of
Afoncaer for himself by using young Thomas as hostage. Aloise had
always suspected that Isabel had been involved in the plotting. But
whoever had devised the plan, it had failed, and Baron Guy of
Afoncaer, Isabel’s former brother-in-law, had, with King Henry’s
permission, unknighted Walter and sent the two culprits away from
Wales into permanent exile. They had lived in seclusion in Brittany
ever since, existing on the charity of Walter’s elder brother, Sir
Baldwin. Now Walter was dead, and Isabel had come to see her old
friend. Aloise wondered uneasily just what the real purpose of her
visit might be.



It did not take Aloise long to discover why
Isabel had come. Isabel was eager to tell her. She wanted a
marriage arranged between her son, Thomas, and Aloise’s daughter
Selene, and she expected Aloise to cajole Sir Valaire into
proposing it to Guy of Afoncaer.

“Do you think that if my daughter marries
your son, you will be allowed to return to England?” Aloise asked.
“I must speak truly, Isabel, and speaking truly, I tell you I do
not believe it will ever happen. King Henry has a long memory. He
has neither forgotten nor forgiven what you and Walter did on the
Welsh border, and even if he should give you permission to go to
England, you may be certain Baron Guy of Afoncaer would use all the
weight of his friendship with the king to prevent your return. Lord
Guy is a powerful man.”

“Guy.” Isabel’s lip curled scornfully. “That
cold-blooded, miserly man kept me a prisoner. Ah, Aloise, you will
know how mistreated I have been. I will tell you the story, all of

Which she did, and Aloise sat fascinated for
an hour, listening intently to a version of those long-ago events
at Afoncaer very different from the tale she had heard at court.
Aloise knew and respected Lord Guy, and also knew Isabel well
enough to be able to sift fact from invention and embroidery. By
the time Isabel finished speaking, Aloise had a very good idea as
to how much Isabel herself had been involved with the treachery at
Afoncaer, and she wished she had never invited Isabel to visit.

“Now you must admit,” Isabel said at last,
“that this idea of mine, that Thomas and Selene should wed, is a
very good one. That Saxon peasant wench Guy married has given him
only a daughter, so Thomas is still heir to Afoncaer, and to all of
Guy’s properties in England as well. It would be a fine match for

“It would appear to be,” Aloise said
cautiously, reminding herself that Thomas of Afoncaer was not
tainted with any of the scandal that surrounded his parents and his
stepfather. The boy had spent his youth as a page in the household
of that same Henry who was now king of England. Later, Thomas was
sent to Afoncaer, where he remained. He must be close to an age for
knighting by now. “How old is Thomas?”

“He will be twenty-three in June.”

“And still not wed or betrothed?” Aloise’s
tone hinted at some defect in the proposed bridegroom.

“It is Thomas’s own doing,” Isabel said
quickly. “I have been told he has spent the last two years at
Llangwilym Abbey, near Afoncaer. It seems he seriously considered
entering the Church, but later realized his duty lay with Guy, as
Guy’s heir. So the sole result of his devotion is that he learned
to read and write while at Llangwilym. He’ll have small use for
such skills when he’s the baron! I have learned he will be knighted
by the king himself this Christmastide. It would be a marvelous
opportunity for a betrothal, to be announced immediately after the

“Hmm.” Aloise was thinking hard. She decided
to be blunt. “I know you well, Isabel, even after so many years’
separation. You would never propose such an arrangement unless
there was some prize for yourself in it. If you cannot hope to
return to England, then what is your reward?”

“Why, simply the joy of knowing my beloved
son is well-matched to a suitable girl.”

“Isabel.” Aloise’s tone clearly conveyed how
little she believed that statement.

“Oh, very well. You are my only friend,
Aloise. I may as well tell you the truth.”

“I wish you would.”

“It’s Baldwin, Walter’s brother. He barely
tolerated me while Walter was alive. He would not speak to me at
all if he could possibly avoid it. Only Baldwin’s sense of family
responsibility made him allow us to live in that dreary little
lodge tucked away in a desolate corner of his land – no society, no
music, never a new gown, no one to talk to save Walter, and he was
not the best of companions, no, all he could do was lament his ill
fortune and the passion he once held for me that led him to betray
his honor, as though it were all my fault.” Isabel paused for

“Tell me about Baldwin,” Aloise urged,
feeling that there lay the answer to her question.

BOOK: Castle of the Heart
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