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Authors: Flora Speer

Tags: #romance, #historical, #medieval

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BOOK: Castle of the Heart
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She wanted to be on the road to Afoncaer, and
every delay irritated her. Lodging along the way, in abbey
guesthouses or the occasional inn, would be crowded, the men and
women in their group often separated. There would very likely be no
opportunity at all for lovemaking until they arrived at Afoncaer.
With more bad weather possible at any time, and the detour to Much
Wenlock Priory to collect the mysterious architect Reynaud adding
still more delay to the trip, Selene hoped for at least ten days of
freedom from the romantic encounters that were a torment to
her.

She heard the bedchamber door open and
close.

“Arianna. So you have come back to help me
after all. You should be ashamed of scolding me.” She whirled
angrily to face, not her friend, but a grim-visaged Thomas.

“So Arianna has been scolding you, has she?
I’ll add my voice to hers. I am most annoyed with you, my lady.”
Thomas stood, hands on hips, frowning at her in a manner very
unlike his usual tender attitude.

“You have no reason to rebuke me, my lord,”
Selene said coldly.

“Have I not? How can you claim that when,
less than an hour ago, instead of saying a proper farewell to your
father, you insulted me before both him and Uncle Guy?”

“Will you beat me for it? My mother said you
would if I did not always obey you.”

“Selene, I would never beat you.” Thomas
sighed, running both hands through his hair and leaving it in
complete disarray. “I only want to understand why you act as you
do. At night, when we are alone together, you are the most
passionate woman I have ever known, more than I ever hoped or
dreamed a wife could be. I am mad with love for you. But before
others you treat me as though you hate me, and that I will not
allow, nor would any man with pride.”

Selene stood quietly, her hands folded before
her. She lowered her head, knowing that her silken veil would fall
forward to obscure her face, as her maiden’s loose hair had used to
do when she wanted to hide her expression. If Thomas could not see
her face, if he was unable to look into her eyes, he might not
guess how frightened she was. If he knew the depths of blackness in
her soul, he would cast her out. She told herself she did not care
about Thomas, not really. But something – perhaps the secret,
lustful Selene who lived inside her and only revealed herself in
bed at night – made her want to stay with Thomas. Or perhaps it was
just the recollection of what she had sworn to do for Thomas’s
mother that made her so meek when she spoke to him again.

“I am sorry if I have displeased you, my
lord,” she said. “I will try to be a better wife to you.”

“Selene.” He took her hands. “Tell me what is
troubling you so sorely. I know something is. Let me help you.”

She looked at her hands, nearly lost between
his two larger, square ones, her wrists wrapped by his tapering
fingers, the same fingers that caressed her unwilling flesh each
night and made her desire him until she could not stop no matter
how hard she tried. Just the touch of those hands was all that was
needed to make the blood pound in her ears. She wanted him to pick
her up in his strong arms and toss her onto the bed and take her.
Right now. Without even undressing. She was wicked, lost in vile
sin. She had to think of something else, something equally
frightening, to take her thoughts away from his hard, strong body
and the surging manhood that could fill her with unspeakably
delicious, delirious passion.

“Selene?” He was looking at her strangely,
and she wondered if he guessed at her thoughts. She hoped not. And
then she thought of something that would distract him from the
question she did not want to answer. She had planned to wait a
while, but suddenly this seemed exactly the right time.

“Do you never write to your mother, my
lord?”

“My mother?” Thomas dropped her hands and
stared at her in astonishment. “Why do you mention her? She is
forbidden to have any contact with me at all. I will not write to
her and give her an opportunity to break her oath to Uncle
Guy.”

“What oath?” Selene was unsure what to say to
this. Isabel had never told her of any stricture about contacting
Thomas.

“It was part of the promise she made when she
went into exile,” Thomas said, “the promise that let her, and
Walter fitz Alan, keep their heads upon their shoulders. I ask you
again, Selene, why do you mention my mother?”

“She misses you. Each day of her life she
longs to see you again. Walter fitz Alan is dead, and Lady Isabel
is lonely.”

“How do you know this?”

“She visited my mother this past summer.”
Selene saw the shock on his face at her words. Disregarding his
obvious distaste for this conversation, she pressed on, saying what
Isabel wanted her to say to him. “She was most kind to me. I
learned to know her well, and to know how much she loves you.”

“Was it she who suggested we marry?” asked
Thomas.

“Oh, no, my lord,” Selene lied with every
appearance of innocence. “It was my mother’s idea; she had spoken
to me about it long before Lady Isabel visited us. Though my mother
did tell her what was planned, and Lady Isabel was greatly pleased
that the children of two old friends should be joined. But the most
important thing, of course, was my dowry, the chest of gold
coins.”

“Yes.” Thomas gave her a searching look,
which Selene bore as best she could, trying to look sweetly
innocent. She understood in a flash of insight that Thomas believed
her because he wanted to believe her, and in that moment she
realized the power she might hold over him if she were very clever,
power that would help her in her task for Isabel.

“Lady Isabel spoke to me often of her sorrow
at losing you,” Selene went on guilelessly, “and so I thought you
might write to her, a letter now and then. You could tell her she
need not break her vow by answering you, and your letters might
relieve her grief by letting her know how you are faring.”

“I will not do that. It’s not wise, and it
would upset Uncle Guy. My mother is a devious woman, Selene. She
has earned her exile.” Thomas looked at her shrewdly. “If you had
any idea of writing to her yourself, you may forget it. I forbid
you to have any contact with Lady Isabel.”

“Yes, my lord,” Selene said meekly, her eyes
downcast, apparently accepting her husband’s will. “Please forgive
me. I did not mean to make you angry. I only wanted to help you. I
want you to be happy, Thomas, and content in our life
together.”

“Do you? It pleases me to hear you say so. Of
course I forgive you, my love. You are so innocent you could have
been no match for my mother when she tried to influence you to
speak to me on her behalf. We’ll think no more of it. It’s
over.”

She did look directly at him then, and smiled
with sweet artlessness when he kissed her tenderly and patted her
on the shoulder, telling her to hurry her preparations for the
journey. Thomas then went off to the stables to oversee the
men-at-arms who were charged with transporting and guarding
Selene’s dowry. He left his wife well satisfied with the first
steps she had taken in Isabel’s plan.

Isabel had warned her what Thomas’s reaction
would probably be to the suggestion that he write directly to his
mother, but they had agreed that Selene would try it before
resorting to stealthier methods. Now Selene would begin to disobey
her husband. She had a friend, a girl who had been at the convent
school with her and who was wed to a nobleman of Poitou, and this
Lady Elvira loved secrets and intrigues. She would be delighted to
receive an occasional letter from her friend Selene, and to pass
along a second letter enclosed inside the first. It would be a long
way from Afoncaer to Poitou to Dol in Brittany, and Selene could
use the route only once or twice a year, but it would be enough to
maintain contact. Isabel would have her revenge, and she would know
about it, if not from Thomas, then from Selene.

In the meantime, Selene had deflected
Thomas’s anger from herself and turned aside his unwelcome
questions, in the process discovering a way to manage her husband
by using his love for her. She dismissed the serving woman who had
arrived to help her and, humming a little tune as she worked, she
finished packing her own gowns for the trip to Afoncaer.

 

 

That trip proceeded as Selene assumed it
would. As she had hoped, she was separated from Thomas each night.
Selene, Arianna, and Meredith regularly shared a bed, with their
female servants rolled into blankets on the floor of whatever
chamber the women were occupying, while the men all slept together
elsewhere. The rigors of a journey over rough roads, the biting
cold that whitened and numbed fingers and toes, noses and any
uncovered ears, did not dismay Selene. She would sit patiently upon
her palfrey, waiting while Guy’s men forced their horses through
the snowdrifts that so often blocked their way, and then, when her
turn came, she would ride calmly through the trails they had
made.

“How brave you are,” Arianna said, shivering.
“I’m wet and half-frozen, and my nose keeps running. You always
look absolutely perfect. Your face isn’t even chapped like everyone
else’s.”

“I have a warm cloak,” Selene replied. She
patted her horse’s neck, watching the steamy vapor flare from the
beast’s nostrils. There was a constant fog of expelled breath
hanging about the travelers, and at night the smell of damp wool
drying by a wood fire filled the air.

Selene loved it all. The frigid weather
matched the cold in her soul, and Thomas could not touch her body
to thaw her into lascivious need of him. She wished the journey
could go on forever. But it could not, and despite a delay of two
days when they were holed up in a miserably dirty inn by yet
another snowstorm, they came eventually to Much Wenlock Priory.

The short winter day had ended and it was
already dark when they arrived. Selene could see little in the
dimness of the carefully husbanded oil lamps. She had only confused
impressions of the priory’s guest-master handing the women over to
a lesser monk who escorted them from the entrance gate to their
chamber in the abbey guesthouse.

“It’s not much different from St. Albans,”
Arianna said, looking around the room, “only smaller and more
sparsely furnished. We women must still all sleep together. But it
is clean, and we have our own fresh sheets and blankets.”

Selene stood to one side of the chamber,
watching the servants unpack what they would need for one night’s
stay, and secretly praying for a howling blizzard that would delay
their trip even longer.

“Are you coming with us?” Arianna asked.

“Where?” Selene had not been following the
conversation.

“To see Reynaud,” Meredith answered. “He has
been carried to one of the guest chambers within this building so
we women may visit him while he’s in bed, and so we can remove him
from here in the early morning without disrupting the priory’s
usual routine. Guy wants to leave at dawn. We must travel more
slowly with Reynaud than we did before, and Guy wants to reach
Afoncaer before the weather turns bad again. Arianna and I are
going to Reynaud now. Will you come with us?”

Selene was not at all interested in this
injured architect who so concerned Meredith, but the two women were
looking at her expectantly, so she followed them out of the room,
along a short, dimly lit passage to a tiny chamber that was little
more than a cubicle. It contained a stool, a small table cluttered
with basin, ewer, drinking cup, and rolls of linen bandages, and a
narrow bed, upon which rested a person Selene could not see because
the room was so full of people. Or at least so it seemed to her at
first, but it was not long before Selene realized it was not the
number of people but the size of the room that made it seem so
crowded. Besides the three women, Guy was there, and Thomas, and a
tall, thin monk in a black robe who was explaining just how serious
Reynaud’s injuries were.

“I shall try not to die of this, my friend,”
came a weak, yet firm voice from the bed. “I will not be a burden
to you. I pray I will soon be able to work again, and thus earn my
bread.”

The tall monk moved aside and Selene could
see Reynaud. She gave a cry and started backward, hands pressed to
her mouth, trying to control the sudden heaving of her stomach.
Beside her, Arianna gave a soft moan of pity and moved forward,
reaching both hands out to Reynaud, but Selene stood rooted,
leaning backward, away from the sight. She had never been able to
endure being in a sickroom. In her father’s castle or in the
convent she had stayed away from anyone who was injured or ill. Now
she wanted to turn and run, but Thomas had seen her. He crossed the
tiny room in a single step and put one arm around her shoulders,
urging her forward.

“Come and meet my dear friend Reynaud,”
Thomas said. Selene knew he expected her to join Arianna, who was
just being presented to the architect, and Meredith, who was
sitting on the edge of the bed, holding a bandaged hand and talking
to Reynaud while tears ran down her cheeks.

“This is my wife, Selene,” Thomas said
proudly.

Reynaud tore his one visible eye away from
Meredith’s face and looked at Selene. A pale blue warmth searched
her face, growing steadily colder as he examined her expression and
looked deep into her eyes. By the time he was done, Selene felt
pierced by ice, and she thought Reynaud must have seen the cold
evil lurking inside her, for he said nothing to her but only
listened to Thomas’s account of their wedding in the king’s
presence, and how happy he was with the wife his Uncle Guy had
chosen for him.

Of Reynaud himself, not much could be seen
but stained and dirty bandages. His head was almost completely
swathed in linen strips, except for the one eye and his mouth and
chin. His left arm was heavily bandaged, only his fingers showing,
and these Meredith held. Reynaud was leaning rather awkwardly on
his right elbow while Arianna adjusted pillows so he could sit up.
Selene noticed below his hips, where his legs should be, a high
mound beneath the thin blanket on the left side, a mound that
reached only as far as his knee and then ended abruptly in a
perfect flatness. Selene swallowed hard, imagining what the ugly
mound contained.

BOOK: Castle of the Heart
11.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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