Authors: Roberta Gellis
Tags: #Romance, #Historical
Lady Alinor bit her lip and stared upward at her daughter, who was standing before her. Any mother would have been proud of such a daughter. Lady Joanna, at fifteen, was exceptionally beautiful; her flaming hair was, of course, braided and hidden quite properly under a wimple, but its color could be assumed from the fine, bright red brows that arched over her large gray eyes and from the dark red lashes which were thick and long. Alinor was distracted momentarily from her main purpose by thinking how fortunate Joanna was. Usually red-haired people had pale, scanty eyelashes, which made their eyes seem inflamed rather than lending beauty to them.
The rest of the face was perfectly in harmony, oval, with a fine nose and a pretty mouth, a short, well-shaped upper lip and a full sensuous lower. In more than her beauty, Joanna was an ideal daughter. She was intelligent and capable, well-able to operate Roselynde keep, control the servants and men-at-arms, do the accounts, even sit and give justice when necessary. To top all those virtues, she was good humored, gentle, and biddable. Indeed, any mother would have been proud of such a daughterany mother except Lady Alinor, who was tempestuous, passionate, and authoritarian.
“Joanna,” Alinor said, trying earnestly to keep her voice gentle, “I ask again who you wish to marry. There are men and men and men. Between the times you have been at court, the times you have traveled with us, and the times there have been visitors to this keep, you have met nearly all of those suitable to your rank and dowry. Do you mean to say there is not
among them all that you like?” “I like them allnearly all, mother. I say again also that I will marry any man you choose for me.”
Alinor impatiently closed her eyes and swallowed. Shrieking at Joanna never did the slightest good. The large gray eyes would open wide. Color would stain the delicate white skin. And that was all. The pretty mouth would remain closed. The eyes would show neither fear nor anger. Joanna could be angry; Alinor had heard her flay a servant with her tongue and had seen her lay on with a whip also, but Joanna never quarreled with her mother.
“But surely,” Alinor suggested quietly, having regained control of her own temper, “you like some better than others.”
“Yes” The word was drawn out doubtfully. “But usually that is because I know them better. I like people I know well. I am more comfortable with them.”
“Joanna,” Alinor began for the third time. “Sit down. Did you understand what Ian told you last night?”
“Of course I understood it, mother. It is quite mad, though. How can the king or Lord Llewelyn be angry at Ian because he cannot split himself in half?” The misty gray of Joanna’s eyes brightened and her soft mouth curved upward. She had a very ticklish sense of humor. “After all, whether he split himself lengthwisesending one arm and one leg to eachor split himself crosswisearms to one and legs to the otherhe would not be much use that way.”
“Joanna!” Alinor exclaimed, and then broke into laughter herself.
That was how her quarrels with Joanna usually ended. Joanna would make her laugh, and the matter would be put aside to resolve itself with time. Simon, Alinor thought, with a sudden sharp pang at heart. Simon was Joanna’s father; he had been Alinor’s first husband, many years older than her, and he had managed her in much the same way. Usually the thought of Simon would soften Alinor completely. Usually whenever Joanna recalled Simon to her mother’s mind, Joanna’s cause was won. This time, however, it did not work. Alinor had loved Simon with a hot and consuming passion. She had wheedled and connived so that she could follow him all the way to the Holy Land, accompanying King Richard’s wife and sister on the Crusade. Joanna had been named after Richard’s sister, who had been godmother to Alinor’s first child. And Simon had been as passionately in love with his wife as she was with him.
Two strong and determined natures, two violently passionate people, could not produce a milksop, Alinor thought. In fact, she knew Joanna was not a milksop. Outwardly she was more placid than her mother, but she could love fiercelyas she did that damned dog. Alinor glanced briefly across to the hearth where something that looked like a shaggy gray pony lay curled before the fire. Instantly, a bedraggled and unkempt tail, thick as Alinor’s wrist, began to thump the ground. Alinor laughed again and looked away. To look at Brian too long generally induced him to rush over and try to sit in your lap. Sturdy as she was, Alinor did not relish nearly fifteen stone’s weight of dog climbing on her.
It was very hard not to love Brian, but Alinor had contended that anything that size must be banished to the kennel. Joanna did not argue; she merely went to the kennel with the dog. Alinor reasoned, then pleaded, then whipped her daughter soundly. Joanna returned to the kennel, was whipped again, returned to the kenneland Brian came to live in the chambers of the keep with his mistress. Suddenly Alinor’s eyes returned to the dog. Perhaps there was a clue in Brian to Joanna’s preference that Joanna herself did not suspect or would not admit.
“Yes,” Alinor said, “you can make me laugh, but it is not really funny at all. I do not know whether you remember, my love, but when Ian married me he gained the enmity of the king. John still does not love him, but a truce has been patched between them by Salisbury. It would be very dangerous for Ian to break that truce by going to serve Lord Llewelyn in Wales. Yet, Ian cannot serve with the king. He is clan brother to Lord Llewelynand he loves him.” “I see that. I see what you have decided is best, but… . Oh, mother, are you
there will be war between Llewelyn and the king? Llewelyn has not really done anything to offend John, and he is married to John’s daughter.”
“Since when is it necessary to
something in order to offend King John?” Alinor asked tartly. “It is enough that Llewelyn has gained what John considers too much power.” Then she bit her lip. “That is not fair. I like Llewelyn and dislike the king, and that was my heart speaking. In truth, even Ian agrees that John is not all wrong this time. Llewelyn has eaten nearly all Wales. There can be little doubt that he will next begin nibbling on the borders of England unless he has a sharp lesson. It is all the more dangerous because he is a good lord. Men are none so unwilling to swear to him instead of to the king.’’
“Would it be so ill if Llewelyn ruled England?”
“Not ill, just not possible. He has not the right. There are still men of honor in this land who would oppose himPembroke, Salisbury, Arundel, Ian, too, no matter how much he loves his clan brother. John has the right to rule England; Llewelyn has not. To a good man right and honoras I have often told youhave nothing to do with best and easiest. Sometimes, by accident, they coincide; that is all.”
“Yet you have persuaded Ian to do what is best and easiesthave you not?”
Alinor’s hazel eyes lit with anger. “Do you impugn Ian’s honor or courage?”
Joanna did not seem to notice the danger signal of green and gold sparks in her mother’s eyes. She shook her head. “No. I was not thinking of that at all, only how love can make a personmake a person different from what is his nature.”
There was a moment’s silence while Alinor absorbed what her daughter had said. “I suppose that is true,” she admitted slowly, “but a true love does not permit bending that love’s partner all awry.”
“Instead one tears out one’s own heart.” Again there was a silence. Alinor studied Joanna’s face with a new, shocked understanding. In general, love and marriage had very little to do with each other. Men and women were mated to make political alliances, to increase or join estates, to provide security for a woman, and, if a woman was an heiress, to provide a livelihood for her husband. Alinor’s grandparents, married against both their wills for political purposes, had fallen deeply and sincerely in love. Alinor had been raised in that atmosphere, for her parents had been drowned when she was two. She had seen the joy with which love can invest everyday life. She had seen the pain also; the quarrels and the tears, the terror her grandmother endured when her grandfather rode out to war. Adventurous by nature, Alinor had thought the pain a small price to pay in exchange for the joy.
It had never occurred to her that Joanna could feel differently. But Joanna
different. She did not lack couragenot in the least. Like her father, she had the strong, deep courage of ultimate endurance. She also had Simon’s caution. Whereas Alinor rushed headlong to meet danger, impatient for the conflict and the decisionJoanna waited for trouble to come to her. She never retreated from it, but she did not seek it out either.
She does not wish to permit herself to love, Alinor thought. It was perfectly logical. Joanna had also been raised in a household where love reigned, but perhaps she had seenor rememberedmore of the pain than the joy. She was eight when her father sickened; for more than a year she had watched him die inch by inch and had watched her mother’s heart die with him. Then she had lived through the first tempestuous years of Alinor’s second marriage. Alinor loved Ian as deeply and perhaps even more passionately than she had loved Simon, but what Joanna had seen was their difficult adjustment to each other and then her mother’s constant fear for her stepfather’s safety.
Yet it was impossible for Joanna to avoid love, Alinor thought. There was a passion in her as hot as her fiery hair. Alinor’s eyes flicked across the room to the dog. Look how easily she had fallen into love for that silly animal and how strong she held to it. And Joanna was no fool. She knew Brian would not live long. Dogs did not, and a dog that size more especially had a short life. The knowledge of grief to come cannot defend the heart. Then there was no reason to wait. Joanna had a strong sense of right and duty. If the man were well chosen, if he treated her well, entreated her softly, and, above all, loved
, she would tumble into love with him as she had into love for Brian.
Perhaps the love was already there. Perhaps Brian was a safe substitute for the young man who had given the dog to Joanna. Alinor stared at Joanna’s slightly downcast face. There was both good and ill in that chance. On the one hand, the seeds of love already planted might more easily grow into a blooming tree; on the other, half aware of their presence and fearing their growth, Joanna might more fiercely resist. Between the two chances there was no way to judge. Such things were truly in the hands of God.
“It is because the only honorable path is to give exact due and favor neither side that Ian has chosen to go to Ireland,” Alinor said at last, ignoring the personal note and resuming the conversation on the political level. “For his lands in Wales, Ian has done Llewelyn homage. He owes him the service of the Welsh vassals and their men. For his northern properties, Ian has done King John homage and also as Adam’s guardian he has sworn the service of Adam’s men. I, too, have sworn fealty for my lands and, as I cannot lead men to war, it is my husband’s duty to do so for me.”
A fine red brow quirked upward. “Perhaps Ian would not need to split himself in half. Perhaps, since the due to the king is so much greater, only one leg or one arm would content Llewelyn.”
“I will murder you, Joanna,” Alinor exclaimed, half-irritated, half-laughing. “This is a serious matter.”
“Oh mother, I know that, but I do not see what it has to do with me or my marriage.”
“It has this to do with your marriage. The Welsh vassals are no problem. Ian has ordered them to obey Lord Llewelyn in his stead while he is away. However, Ian does not dare trust his men, my men, and Adam’s men to the king’s governance. Either John would try to steal them from us, seducing them to swear directly to him and thus rob us of our rents and our power, or he would thrust them into the greatest danger so that they would be killed and he could control their heirs. We must have a man who can take Ian’s place as leader. We must have a man who has the
to take Ian’s place, a right the king cannot dispute. Your brother is too young”
“Not Adam!” Joanna cried, almost starting out of her chair. Fear clouded her eyes. “I will marry anyone you say, anyone. Do not let Ian send Adam to war.”
Alinor laughed, although her eyes filled with tears. “IanIan would die ten times over to save any of you a prick of the finger. I said Adam was too young. Nonetheless, Joanna, soon he will not be too young. You must know that you cannot protect him from danger, and to show him your fear can only hurt him. Men must offer their bodies to hurt, and women must offer their hearts.” Alinor’s voice faltered a trifle. Perhaps it was better that Joanna should not love. “In any case,” she went on more firmly, “Adam is not in question. If you marry, your husband will have a blood bond with us and thereby blood right to lead the men in our absence. WeIan and Iwill take oath of them to obey him.’’
“Mother, do you know what you are saying? You are telling me to choose the man I like best so that he may be laid down as a sacrifice in the king’s war.”
“Nonsense!” Alinor rejoined tartly. “Your father died of sickness in his bed, yet he had fought all of his life. My grandfather, who lived to be four score years, died in his bed also. Ian is near forty years of age. He, too, has seen much of warand much of treachery alsoand he is hale and hearty. Men do die in war. Women die too, in childbearing. Is that a reason to stop having children? What I am telling you is that you must choose a husband, a man with whom you wish to spend your life, whose children you wish to bear, to whose interests you believe you can devote yourself.”