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Authors: Roberta Gellis

Winter Song

BOOK: Winter Song
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An Ellora’s Cave Romantica Publication

www.ellorascave.com

 

 

 

Winter Song

 

ISBN 9781419921537

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Winter Song Copyright 1982, 2009 Roberta Gellis

 

Cover art by Dar Albert

 

Electronic book publication October 2009

 

The terms Romantica® and Quickies® are registered
trademarks of Ellora’s Cave Publishing.

 

With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not
be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written
permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing Inc., 1056 Home Avenue,
Akron, OH 44310-3502.

 

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or
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is appreciated.

 

This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons,
living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The
characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

Winter Song

Roberta Gellis

Dedication

 

To all those who read my work, whether on a digital screen
or printed paper—thank you.

 

Roberta Gellis, 2009

 

Chapter One

 

“You do not seem to understand what I am saying, Father.”
Raymond d’Aix’s voice was quiet, but his pale eyes were like glittering ice in
his thin, dark face. “You cannot have me without accepting Alys of Marlowe as
my wife.”

“Marriages made in haste by silly boys can be annulled,”
Alphonse d’Aix replied sharply.

“I am not married to Alys. Her father is a most upright and
honorable man. He would not even permit a betrothal between us until your
permission could be obtained,” Raymond said.

Alphonse stared at his son. Raymond had always been long and
lean, and now he was painfully thin. Despite what should have been a good night’s
sleep, bruised-looking patches showed beneath his eyes. It was clear that he
had traveled far and hard with insufficient rest. He had arrived on the
preceding evening with ten guardsmen and a master-at-arms, all of them haggard
from hard riding. Little information could be gleaned from any of them beyond
the fact that they had come all the way from England in about eighteen days,
which Alphonse did not doubt. The good horses they rode were hardly more than
scarecrows, and the men were glazed and gray with fatigue.

Raymond had wolfed down the food provided for him, patted
his hysterical mother and sisters kindly, and told his father he had important
matters to discuss with him but would leave them to the next day, as he was
half-dead for need of sleep. Alphonse had made no objections. First, it was
obvious that Raymond was exhausted, but more than that kept Alphonse quiet.
There was something different about Raymond, something in the assurance of his
voice when he said
tomorrow
, and something in the way he treated his
mother and sisters. He was kind—that had not changed—but there was also contempt
in the looks he bent on them.

This morning both the assurance and the contempt had shown
again, but they were veiled under consideration as Raymond bade his mother—in a
voice she responded to automatically—to go and rest, after she had begun to
weep over the six months he had been gone without a word or a sign that he was
alive. Then he had calmly announced that he wanted his father’s permission to
take in marriage Lady Alys of Marlowe, England. Alphonse had looked at him and
said
Do not be ridiculous
—which had called forth Raymond’s coldly
forceful reply.

Naturally, Alphonse assumed that some wealth- and
status-seeking “gentleman” with a pretty daughter had trapped Raymond into
marriage. Alphonse himself was an honorable man and was glad that his son wished
to honor the commitment. However, he did not consider
himself
committed,
and after all, Raymond’s marriage was his business. He had pointed out the
obvious solution—annulment—and had been stunned by Raymond’s reply. There was
no commitment even on Raymond’s part. And, if there had been, Alphonse wondered
what was the cause of the haste.

“If you have got this silly girl with child—” Alphonse
began, combining the talk of marriage and the need for haste, and coming up
with the usual conclusion.

“How dare you!” Raymond snarled, losing the calm that he had
maintained and reaching instinctively for his sword.

He was not wearing it, but Alphonse’s eyes opened wide with
surprise. Barely had he time to absorb the idea that his son was so set on
defending the woman’s honor that he would threaten his own father than another
surprise was added. Raymond lifted his hand from his hip and began to laugh.

“Earl Richard and Lady Elizabeth both specially bade me not
to do just what I am doing. Please, Father, let us sit down and do you listen
to the whole. When you hear, you will find that it is not so unreasonable. I
have gone the wrong way about it.”

“Which Earl Richard?” Alphonse asked, moving toward a chair
and gesturing to Raymond to take another.

“Richard of Cornwall. Sir William is marshal of his lands
and closer than a brother. Alys calls the earl ‘uncle’ and—”

“Richard of Cornwall approved this?” Alphonse asked, amazed.

“He approved sufficiently to ask King Henry to write you a
letter. I have not read it, of course, but I understand the king says that the
union would in no way displease him.”

“Why should it?” Alphonse asked angrily. He realized now
that the forces arrayed against him were more considerable than he had first
thought. But England was far away, and the king could not really care whether
or not the marriage took place. Suddenly another question rose to Alphonse’s
mind. “Does Eleanor know of this?”

“Oh, yes,” Raymond replied at once, his eyes glinting
wickedly with humor now. “Both Queen Eleanor and Countess Sancia have written
letters in Alys’s favor—addressed to Mother, of course.” He laughed. “So you
see that both your half sisters have turned against you, too.”

“This is ridiculous,” Alphonse said. “It has been said that
the climate in England is so terrible that it drives men mad. I see that it has
driven my sisters mad, at least. Raymond, my son, you are in love…I see that.
Your heart is full. No doubt the lady is perfectly beautiful and probably one
of those blondes so attractive to us, who see that coloring rarely, but—”

“It is quite true, but I am not marrying Alys for her beauty
of person.”

“Yes, yes,” Alphonse agreed quickly. “I have no doubt her
soul is as gentle and delicate as a flower—”

Raymond suddenly roared with laughter, shocking his father
into silence. When Raymond could speak again, he said, “Alys is marvelous,
completely, but neither gentle nor,” he choked slightly, remembering some of
his conversations with Alys, “nor delicate.”

“Well,” Alphonse hurried on, although his voice now held an
uncertain note, “we will accept her character and person as perfect. But
Raymond, you know one does not marry for qualities of person.”

“I intend to do so, however,” Raymond remarked calmly.

“You are in love,” Alphonse repeated kindly. “I understand.
I am sure the lady is well dowered, but—”

“No, she is not,” Raymond interrupted once more, grinning. “Her
dower is one small keep and its lands. Its yield is good for its size. It
commands a heavily traveled road, and there are tolls, but even so—”

“Raymond, have you been having a jest at my expense?” Alphonse
bellowed. He had no time, really, to feel relief, because Raymond was shaking
his head.

“No, Father. I am in dead earnest. I intend to marry Alys,
though I know the match is unequal in material matters. That is not
significant. Earl Richard—”

“You are mad!” Alphonse exclaimed.

Raymond nodded, grinning again. “The climate in England is
very
bad. That is true.”

“This makes it even worse,” Alphonse snapped, ignoring his
son’s levity. “But even if she had been rich as Croesus, the match would not be
possible. A dower in England is of no value here. We do not need money. You
must marry in France or Gascony so that—”

“I thank God, Father, that I am not your only child. There
are Alphonse and Jeanine and Margot. You may make alliances as you like with
them. Through me, you will have made a strong bond with England—”

“Stronger than my sister’s marriage to the king?” Alphonse
asked caustically.

Raymond bit his lip, then shrugged. “I supposed I wished to
wrap the thing up in clean linen, but there is no need. I know as well as you
that there can be no political advantage to the family in my marriage to Alys.
The matter of dower can be arranged. Earl Richard will lend Sir William a
suitable sum of money to make up a respectable dower, but I know you do not
desire money. I am sorry for it, Father, however, I will not marry elsewhere,
nor will I live with those who deny me the one thing of import for which I have
ever asked.”

“Are you threatening me?” Alphonse asked harshly.

“I do not know,” Raymond replied quietly. “I am not asking
for a new destrier or a new maidservant to warm my bed. My desire for Alys does
not come from an ache in my loins. I am fighting for my whole life…”

On the words, the eyes of father and son locked. Both
remembered the last time Raymond had said those words. When his father told him
he could not lead the army being sent to curb a vassal in Gascony because his
mother feared for his safety, Raymond had pleaded and demanded that his mother
not be allowed to make a popinjay of him. Alphonse had laughed, pointing out
that it was only a little action of no importance, but Raymond countered, quite
truthfully, that if a man did not learn by leading small actions, he would be
of little use in major conflicts. Finally, Raymond had cried, “Can you not see
that I am being toyed with as if I were a doll? Let me go and do this, Father.
I am a man, not a plaything for Mother. I am fighting for my life.”

That time Alphonse had made some soothing replies, but because
of the near-hysterical note in his son’s voice, he had been misled into
thinking that Raymond would forget the matter in a few days. Alphonse had
equated Raymond’s behavior with his daughter’s eventual calm after she had
exclaimed hysterically that she would die if a suitor were disapproved. He had
not even been disturbed when he learned that his son had flung out of Tour Dur
in a rage, thinking Raymond would ride off his passion or work it off in
hunting or rape. Even when Raymond had not returned that night, Alphonse had
not worried. He believed this son was behaving like a naughty little boy,
cutting off his nose to spite his face, sleeping out in a field to frighten his
parents. However, a letter had come the next day to say Raymond would not
return, and indeed he had not, not for six months.

“You can kill me,” Raymond now continued, just as quietly, “or
you can lock me up. If you do not, I will go. And this time I will not return
at all, unless I bring Alys of Marlowe with me as my wife.”

For a moment longer Alphonse d’Aix stared into his son’s
eyes, then dropped his own. He had seen his own father looking out at him from
his son’s face. There was no threat to him in Raymond’s expression, only a
determination that could not be broken by pleas or reason or time.

“Do you realize what your mother will say to this?” Alphonse
asked, shifting his ground.

Imperceptibly, Raymond relaxed, hardly believing his ears.
His father had yielded—so quickly, so easily. Alphonse had not yet said the
formal words, but this mention of Raymond’s mother was a move Raymond
recognized. It was a sidestep to a new path. In the past, Raymond had often
found that path a dead end and his father’s yielding becoming meaningless in
the face of his mother’s tears and pleading. However, Raymond was now armored
against those explosions of emotionalism.

Alys had laughed at him when he described the dreadful scenes
his mother had always made. Her eyes had twinkled up at him through the
abnormally long, thick lashes she had inherited from her father. “It is a woman’s
favorite weapon with ‘soft’ men,” Alys had confessed merrily, after wondering
aloud whether she should betray her fellow females and deprive herself of the
device. “Do not pay any attention, and it will stop, or use a light slap on the
cheek if you cannot wait for her to realize it is not working. That is what
another woman would do. I suppose you cannot slap your mother, but you can
certainly so correct your sisters’ transports.”

“And you, should I correct you so?” Raymond had asked,
drawing Alys into his arms and kissing her.

“You will not need to,” she replied so meekly after he freed
her lips that Raymond looked at her suspiciously. “Papa cured me of such tricks
long ago,” she confessed then giggled mischievously. “You do not think I would
expose the tricks
I
use. I may not know how to direct an army, but I am
not so poor a tactician as that.”

But it did not seem possible to Raymond that Alys used any
tricks. She appeared transparently honest to him. A more serious discussion had
followed between them in which Alys assured him that his mother did not
actually feel such agony as she displayed by her shrieks and gasps. Physical
fear might make a woman scream and fling herself about, Alys allowed
doubtfully, but real grief or sorrow did not.

Raymond had reason to believe her. He had watched Lady
Elizabeth, who had married Alys’s father after years of waiting, during the
days when her lover, now her husband, hung between life and death. There had
been tears, slow, quiet tears, and sometimes she held her arms across her
breast as if to still an unbearable pain, rocking back and forth with the agony.
However, there had been no shrieks, no breast-beating, no cries calling God to
witness the unnatural cruelty of her children, which was destroying her life.

Thus Raymond now saw his way clear of his mother’s attempts
to control him, and he smiled tightly at his father. “Mother will not like it
at all, I know, but you may leave her to me.”

Alphonse gaped. Never had Raymond said such a thing, nor had
such a flash of amused and loving contempt crossed his face when he spoke of
his mother. In the past, anxiety and desperation had been evident in Raymond’s
expression when he spoke of her. Now Alphonse remembered the voice in which
Raymond had forcefully directed Lady Jeannette to “go and rest” while he had his
discussion, and how he had turned his back on her while his sister Jeanine
supported her faltering footsteps to the door. In earlier times Raymond would
have watched, perhaps even followed his mother asking if he had made her
unwell.

“You mean you will tell her of this idiocy of yours, that
you intend to destroy all her hopes of a Gascon alliance to extend
her—our—lands there?”

“I will certainly tell her I intend to marry Alys and no
other woman. As to the Gascon lands, that might be managed. Earl Richard has
lands there which he ceded to his brother, the king, when he married Sancia. It
might be possible to arrange for a dower for Alys in Gascony. Sir William, Alys’s
father, would pay King Henry out of Alys’s revenues from Bix, and Alys would
receive instead the revenue from the Gascon lands.”

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