Authors: Margaret Mallory
Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #Historical
“What a woman!” the prince said, shaking his head and grinning.
“Aye,” William agreed quietly.
“No prince ever had a more perfect spy,” Harry gloated. “She is courageous and daring—and her loyalty is boundless.
“Boundless, I tell you,” he repeated, swinging his arms wide. “By the saints, she can lie through her teeth to an enemy, make
him believe every word. Yet, she could not lie to me or to you to save her life!”
William winced. Though Harry did not intend to chastise him, the young man’s absolute faith in Catherine made William feel
like a worm for doubting her.
“As you know, the king is keeping his Christmas court at Eltham Castle this year,” the prince said. “Come to Monmouth and
we’ll ride there together.”
The prince was reminding him that he was expected to make an appearance. With Northumberland still spouting rebellion from
Scotland, the king required reassurance of William’s loyalty. Reluctantly, he agreed to meet the prince at Monmouth in two
“Tyler was the man.”
Catherine looked up to find William in the solar doorway.
He came to sit beside her and took her hand. “After the prince left this morning, I went to the village. I heard from several
folk that Tyler bought a cow a few weeks ago. No one knew where he found the money.”
“That is suspicious.”
“Aye. And now he’s disappeared, which only confirms it. No one has seen him since the day you returned. Likely he feared you
may have learned of his role from your captors.”
“Or else he knew I would suspect he was involved.”
“I’ve sent men out looking for him,” William said. “Eventually they’ll find him and bring him back.”
She had expected this news to set her mind to rest more than it did. William, too, still seemed uneasy.
“What is it?” she asked.
“I intend to take Stephen with me to Eltham.”
“I am so pleased,” she said. “It will be good to have the king and others see him as William FitzAlan’s brother and not just
as Carleton’s son.”
Her smile faded when she noticed William was not meeting her eyes.
“As always, I’ll be leaving Edmund in charge of the castle’s defense while I am gone.”
She put her hand on her hip and glared at him. “You did not want to tell me, because you knew full well I would not like it.”
“He is my second in command,” he said. “I leave him in charge because I have confidence in him. It would be a grave insult
to him if I did not.”
The patience in his voice grated on her nerves.
“I do not trust him,” she said, making no effort to hide her irritation. “I do not wish to be in his care.”
“How can you say that when he nearly died trying to protect you?” William said. “He would do it again without hesitation.
He takes the trust I put in him seriously.”
“What of the other men? Surely you can put one of them in charge and take Edmund with you.”
He reached to brush back a strand of hair that had escaped from her headdress. She slapped his hand away.
“I have other good men, but Edmund is by far the best fighter among them.” He softened his voice and said, “He’s sworn to
try to make amends with you. Why do you object to him so much?”
“I told you already I do not trust him.” She gave him a sideways glance and saw that was not enough for her stubborn husband.
Against her better judgment, she said, “I do not like the way he looks at me.”
He gave a deep sigh and spread his arms out. “Catherine, I cannot send men away for looking at you, or I will have none left.
All the men look at you. They cannot help it.”
Anger surging in her veins, she got to her feet so she could glare down at him. “You misunderstand me, and I begin to wonder
if it is deliberate.” She shook a finger in his face. “I tell you, husband, if you saw how Edmund looks at me, you would not
like it either.”
His nostrils flared and an icy coldness came into his eyes. In a quiet, dangerous voice, he asked, “Has he touched you?”
Edmund had not touched her, except for that one time months ago. Even then, all he truly did was slide his finger down her
forearm. She was not prepared to see him dead for these offenses—yet. Grudgingly, she pressed her lips together and shook
William’s expression relaxed. “I will warn Edmund not to do or say anything that might offend you.”
“But you will still leave him here?” She could barely keep herself from stamping her foot like a child.
“When I cannot be here, I must leave my best man in my stead. I do it to keep my promise to protect you.”
“You failed to keep that promise once already.” She blurted the words out in anger before she knew what she said. They burned
hot in the air between them.
“I did not mean that.” Although she regretted her hurtful words, she was still so angry her hands shook. “But it distresses
me beyond bearing that you dismiss my opinion on a matter so important to me.”
“The king trusts me in matters of military defense,” he said, a note of pleading in his voice. “Why can you not?”
“Perhaps you should trust me more than you do Edmund,” she snapped. “But then, you’ve never trusted me, have you?”
With that, she marched into her bedchamber and slammed the door behind her.
William tapped at her door. When she did not answer, he called out, “I will send Edmund away.”
She opened the door a crack. “When?”
“He’ll be gone today.”
She opened the door no farther. “If you think I don’t know why you are doing this, you are sorely mistaken.”
“I’m showing I respect your wishes.”
“You are doing this so I will not be too angry to come to your bed tonight.”
Should he admit that was part of it? Probably not.
“If it makes you unhappy to have Edmund here, I want him gone.”
The door banged shut. Apparently, he’d given the wrong answer. God help him! He hovered outside her door, trying to think
of what else he could say, but he could think of nothing.
With a long sigh, he went down to write a message and have his talk with Edmund.
“You’ve upset my wife,” he told Edmund a short time later.
“Pregnant women are known to get strange notions,” Edmund said with a shrug. “Who knows why?”
“I am recommending you for service with the king’s brother, Thomas Beaufort. He’s a good man and close to both the king and
“After all our years together, all we’ve been through, you will throw me out for her!”
“I warned you that if I had to choose between you, I would choose her,” William said. “And I’m not throwing you out; I’m finding
you a better position. ’Tis an honor to serve Thomas Beaufort.”
“She’s ruined you. Can’t you see it? She’s a lying who—”
He grabbed Edmund by the throat. “Don’t say it if you want to live.”
The blood was pounding in William’s ears he was so angry. If Edmund ever spoke to Catherine like this, why had she not told
Edmund put his hands up, croaking, “All right, all right!”
William waited a long moment before he released him.
Edmund rubbed his throat as he tried to get his breath back. “You are right,” he said when he could speak again. “I did not
mean to offend her, but you must put your wife first. Your offer to find me a place with Thomas Beaufort is generous.”
“I want you gone today.” William slapped the sealed parchment he’d written for Beaufort into Edmund’s hand. “You’ll find Beaufort
attending Christmas court at Eltham.”
“I hope we can part as friends,” Edmund said.
“Mind what you say about my wife in the future, or I’ll see that Beaufort dismisses you,” William said. “If I don’t kill you
The business with Edmund left him in a sour mood. It was followed by a miserable night alone in his bedchamber. With only
the solar between them, Catherine seemed as far away as when she was held at Harlech Castle.
He was still in a foul mood when he arrived at Monmouth the next morning.
atherine was relieved that Edmund was gone—and she felt guilty at the same time. Perhaps she was too hard on William. The
wound from what he said to her on the way home from Beaumaris was still raw. That he dismissed her judgment regarding Edmund
only added salt to the wound. He gave in to keep the peace with her, not because he trusted her opinion.
What was keeping Jamie? Jacob took him to see a litter of new kittens in the stable, but they should have been back by now.
It was almost time for supper.
She paused in her sewing and cocked her head. What was that noise? She heard a crash and a bloodcurdling scream, followed
by more screams and shouts. She sprang to her feet. Before she reached the door, it opened.
Edmund filled the doorway. Panic closed her throat. She backed up slowly. With the door open, the shouts and clatter coming
from below were louder.
Edmund closed the door and leaned against it. “Thought you were rid of me, did you?” he said with a wide smile.
Her breath came in short, shallow gasps, making her feel light-headed.
Edmund went to the table and poured wine from his flask into an empty cup he found there.
“Come, Catherine, drink to my success,” he said, waving her toward one of the two chairs.
When she took the seat he indicated, he pushed the cup toward her and raised his flask. She touched the cup to her lips as
he took a long pull from the flask.
She forced herself to take several slow, deep breaths before speaking. “May I ask what we are celebrating?”
She did not know what his game was, but she must play along to give herself time to think.
“I’ve taken the castle.”
She couldn’t help gasping, though she had guessed as much.
“As soon as my men finish locking up the servants, they’ll carry one of your barrels of ale to the hall,” Edmund said. “But
I wanted to have a private celebration with you.”
It did not reassure her that the noise below had died down. She prayed God Jacob had found somewhere to hide with Jamie.
“I thought you were on your way to see Thomas Beaufort.”
“I paid a visit to Lord Grey instead,” Edmund said, and winked at her. “That old fox has wanted a piece of these lands since
the day he was born. He was happy to pay for the rabble downstairs.”
She could well believe it of Grey. At dawn tomorrow, Grey would attempt to take as much of their lands as he dared.
“How did you take the castle?” She needed time, and she was counting on his vanity.
“Since the men know me as William’s right-hand man, they opened the gate to me. I slit a throat or two, and in no time we
had most of the guard chained in the gatehouse.”
“You cannot think the king will let you keep Ross Castle,” Catherine said.
“Nay, but neither will he give it back to William,” Edmund said, his voice full of bitter anger. “You think he will be in
the king’s favor after losing his castle within six months? Ha!”
William would be lucky not to be drawn and quartered.
“Besides losing his castle, William will have lost his wife—not once, but twice!” Edmund gave a harsh laugh and slapped the
table. “The king will have no respect for him after this. No one will.”
“But why? Why would you do it?”
“After all I’ve done for him, he kicks me out! Sends me away like a dog with his tail between his legs. So I’ve taken his
castle and ruined him.”
Without taking his eyes off her, he backed up to the door and put his hand behind him. She heard the scrape of the bar sliding
“And now I’m going to take his wife.”