eBook Details

Siren Song

Series: Royal Dynasty
By: Roberta Gellis | Other books by Roberta Gellis
Published By: Ellora's Cave Publishing Inc.
Published: Sep 10, 2009
ISBN # 9781419921421
Word Count: 134,342
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Categories: Romance>Historical Other

Description
Blush: This is a sensual romance (may have explicit love scenes, but not erotic level).

First in the Royal Dynasty series.

William of Marlowe and Elizabeth of Hurley loved each other from childhood and swore to marry no other. Their fathers had more practical and profitable intentions. William was told Elizabeth had gone to Ilmer to be married to Mauger and in his pain and rage took Mary of Bix to wife. Elizabeth, who had withstood starvation and beatings, yielded at last when a priest swore to her William had married Mary. But Mauger had taken Elizabeth for more than her moderate dowry. Soon her brothers were both dead and Elizabeth was heir to her father’s lands.

When Elizabeth’s father died, Mauger moved his family to Hurley. And when he saw the rich lands of Marlowe across the river, he decided to marry his son to William’s daughter, be rid of William, and have Marlowe too. William should have seen through Mauger’s false front, but his heart and mind were paralyzed by the horrible thought of Elizabeth in Mauger’s arms. And he nearly, so nearly, also became Mauger’s victim.
 
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Excerpt:
An Excerpt From: SIREN SONG

Copyright © ROBERTA GELLIS, 1980, 2009

All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.

Chapter One



The elegantly clad court functionary looked down his long English nose at the ragged knight who had asked anxiously if the king or queen was in residence. The young man had a thin, dark face, a high-bridged, aristocratic nose, and light gray eyes, which were startling. His features and expression bespoke breeding, but his armor was covered with dirt and rust, his surcoat was stained, muddy, and torn in several places. Even the French he spoke was ragged, carrying an odd, rough accent. Another foreign beggar, Michael Belet thought with contemptuous irritability. Ever since King Henry had married, the court had been full of them.

“They are here,” Belet said shortly. “What is it to you?”

The young knight smiled in relief. He had a sweet temper and, besides, was of such station that he did not notice subtle insult from a stranger, being unable to conceive that anyone would dare offer it. In fact, he rather pitied the elegant functionary, believing his bad manners to be an unconscious result of a lifetime in this barbaric backwater.

“I have already been to London and Windsor in hot pursuit,” he said merrily, “and if I follow my aunt about much longer, my destrier and I will both need new shoes.”

The courtier’s lip curled even more scornfully. The young man looked as if he needed new shoes right now. He had been right. This was another office seeker close on the trail of some woman in the queen’s service. Then that woman would beg the queen for a place for her nephew and the queen would go to the king… Belet’s face flushed with rage. The young knight misread the flush for one of embarrassment. He would have been embarrassed if he had spoken so crudely to the nephew of the queen. He smiled again.

“It does not matter,” he said kindly. “Just point out the proper person to announce me—or give me his name.”

“Announce you? To the king?” Belet’s shock made his voice somewhat faint. He could only suppose that this tatterdemalion came from some tiny, jumped-up principality where the ruler was little richer or more powerful than the pauper knights he led. Before Belet could put the creature in its place, however, one of the queen’s women came out into the hall.

“Sir Michael,” she began, then stopped and goggled. “Raymond?” she gasped, “is it you?”

“Yes, indeed, Lady Blanche.” The young knight smiled and his eyes lit with mischief.

“Oh!” the woman gasped again, her eyes running over his soiled clothing and battered mail. “What has befallen you?” And then, before he could reply, “No, never mind. Come with me.”

Belet opened his mouth to protest, but then he bit his lips together. That scarecrow would find a place—and a good one. Lady Blanche was one of the queen’s favorites and had come with Eleanor from Provence. Nonetheless, one could not help liking Queen Eleanor. She was good-natured and a peacemaker between the king and those who had incurred his wrath for little things—and she did not interfere in great matters of state. Lady Blanche had pushed Raymond along a corridor and into the antechamber of the queen’s apartment with all haste.

“How did you get into such a disgraceful condition?” she cried. “What happened to your clothes? Where are your servants? Why did you not tell Eleanor you were coming? Oh, Raymond, is something wrong? Your father? Your mother?”

Emotion flickered across the dark, young face, but it was gone before Lady Blanche noticed, and Raymond shook his head. “Everyone is well, very well. I have only come for a visit. I suppose I have outstripped the messenger or, likely, some accident befell him.” Raymond’s voice was stiff. In general he was a truthful young man, and he did not like to lie.

“But Raymond, where—”

“Raymond?”

The voice was warm, a little high with surprise. Both Lady Blanche and the young knight turned toward the inner doorway. Lady Blanche sketched a curtsy. Raymond bowed low, but the dark, beautiful woman who had come through the door did not wait with dignity for him to complete his obeisance. She ran across and threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.

“Raymond, dear, I am so happy to see you. How are my brother and your dear mama?”

“Very well, and the rest of us also. I understand you have had no word of my coming. I hope it is not in any way inconvenient to you.”

“Of course not,” the queen cried, kissing him again.

“And for heaven’s sake, do not ask me where my servants are and what happened to my clothes,” Raymond said, laughing. “Let it stay that I have come to no harm, that I was well pleased to be without them, and that I do not intend to answer such questions as the answers would not be fitting for your auntly ears.”

That was, of course, a jest. Eleanor and Raymond were almost exactly the same age, Eleanor being one month to the day the elder of the pair. She was the soberer of the two, however, and Raymond always teased her about being an “old aunt”.

“Raymond, what sort of scrape are you in?” Eleanor asked characteristically, but when he only laughed again and shook his head at her, she sighed resignedly. “If you will not tell me, will you tell Henry?”

Raymond flushed slightly. “It is not a matter to trouble a king with. Truly, madam, it is of no consequence. I am here, safe and sound. Your husband has far more important things to think about than how I came here without clothes or servants.”

Voices and footsteps interrupted and Henry, third of that name to rule England, came in. Lady Blanche bit her lip. She had gone out to tell Michael Belet, the royal butler, to have a flagon of the king’s favorite wine sent to the queen’s chamber and, in the excitement of seeing Raymond, had forgotten her errand. Dropping a curtsy, she edged out of the room.

By the time Lady Blanche was in the hall, looking for Belet, Eleanor had introduced her nephew to Henry, who blinked. As far as he knew, his wife had only one sister older than herself, married to the king of France, but certainly not married long enough to produce a son of this age. Eleanor trilled with laughter at her husband’s blank expression and explained that Raymond was the son of her half brother, Alphonse d’Aix. The king’s expression cleared. Of course, during the negotiations for his marriage, he had been told of the count of Provence’s youthful indiscretion—but that had been eight years ago and at the time he had paid little attention. All he had cared about was that the natural son born of that union would not complicate the succession in Provence.

Now, taking in the young man’s ragged appearance, Henry smothered a sigh. Apparently something had happened in Aix to reduce his wife’s relations to penury. Why the devil could they not go to the count of Provence for help? However, Henry did not remain irritated long. It was flattering to his ego that he was known as so rich and so generous that Raymond would prefer to travel all the way to England from the very south of France to beg succor rather than go to his grandfather or—suddenly Henry smiled warmly at Raymond—rather than go to that sanctimonious, tight-fisted Louis of France, who was his other uncle.

“We are happy to welcome you,” he said to Raymond, “and we hope you will be happy here at our court. Be sure you will be welcome to us as long as you wish to stay. What else can we do for you?”

“Sire—” Raymond began, but Eleanor cut him off.

“You can give him something decent to wear, for one thing, Henry,” she laughed. “Really, he cannot show himself in this condition. Everyone will think that my family has fallen into ruin.”

Since that was exactly what Henry had thought, he was much surprised by his wife’s remark, and even more when the young man made a gesture as if to urge silence on his aunt.

“Er…certainly,” Henry replied. “I am sure something suitable can be found.” His voice held a note of petulance. He had been prepared to be generous, a bountiful lord to a poor suppliant. It seemed from Eleanor’s light remark, however, that his bounty was not necessary. Her nephew’s problem seemed to be a temporary embarrassment. Henry did not like to have his generous gestures frustrated, but fortunately, before he could begin to feel spiteful toward Raymond, Eleanor spoke again.

“And he is in some trouble, Henry. Do make him tell you. He will not tell me!”

Color flooded into Raymond’s face. Henry felt better at once. Apparently his help was necessary. He smiled first at Raymond and then at his wife. “Very well, but if you want him decently dressed for dinner, I will have to take him away to my chamber now. It would scarcely be fitting if suits of men’s clothing were to be carried into your rooms, my dear.”

Eleanor agreed to this with laughter, although she was somewhat reluctant to part with Raymond when she had not yet really heard any news from Provence. To pacify her, Henry suggested that they have dinner together privately. Then he bore Raymond away to his own apartment. After he had seated himself and pointed out a stool to Raymond, he looked closely at the young man—who was still very flushed—and said, “Well?”

“I am not in any trouble,” Raymond said. “It is only because I have come without servants and baggage—”

“Yes? Well, that is an odd thing to do,” Henry remarked, with twitching lips. “Surely it cannot be a comfortable way to travel. And servants and clothing are easy enough things to obtain with money—so you have no money either.”

Henry gave in and grinned, his voice was warm, his blue eyes glinted with amusement. Raymond hesitated and then yielded to the charm that prevented Henry’s barons from hating him, no matter how much he plagued them and exasperated them.

“You will think me ridiculous,” Raymond sighed. “I have run away from home.”

There was a brief silence while Henry wondered if his ears had played him false. Men in their twenties did not “run away from home”, unless…

“You are escaping from an unwanted marriage contract?” It was the only sensible thing Henry could think of, but Raymond shook his head.

“My mother will not let me live,” he groaned.

“Your mother?” Henry’s throat closed and he could not get out the words, wishes you dead.

Henry had always adored his mother, passionately and hopelessly. He did not know his love was hopeless. Isabella said all the right words and made all the right gestures. Her voice was soft, her embrace graceful and scented. Nonetheless, Isabella could not or would not love, and Henry, although he would never admit it, felt the utter rejection of her frigid nature. Thus, he recoiled in horror from what any man with a more natural parent would have understood at once.

“This last matter was too much to bear,” Raymond continued, so wrapped in his private frustration that he did not notice the king’s reaction. “One of the vassals on her lands in Gascony had some idiot complaint and, instead of coming to my father in the normal way, flew to arms.”

“That is normal for Gascons,” Henry interposed bitterly.

“Yes,” Raymond agreed, but without being deflected from his personal problem. “It was all arranged that I should give that idiot a firm setdown. It was nothing. One small keep and one small fool of a man bawling defiance. But my mother forbade it!”

“Does she not trust you?” Henry asked sympathetically.

“Trust me? What has that to do with it?” Raymond raged, in full spate now. “Put on a cloak, it is too cold for you, Ray. Do not go into the sun, it is too hot for you, Ray. That beast is too wild, you will fall off your horse, Ray…”

Henry was beginning to understand, and he could not help laughing at the young man’s fury of frustration. However, there was still a puzzle he wished to have explained. “I see,” he said, grinning broadly, “that your mother is a little too fearful for your health and safety, but I do not understand how she could forbid what your father ordered. I suppose it was by your father’s order that you were to go to Gascony?”

“Yes,” Raymond grated. “Perhaps ‘forbade’ is the wrong word. She wept, she wailed, she held her heart, she could not breathe…” He let his voice fade out at the king’s smiling gesture.

“But your father…” Henry said.

“When it is a matter of real moment, my father endures. I understand he lived away from her for near six months when I was sent out to be fostered. But…but he loves her, and in other ways she is a good wife.”

Henry nodded full understanding. Because of his mother’s coldness, his wife’s warmth had made him utterly her slave. Eleanor was a sensible woman, fortu­nately, but had she wept and wailed over something, Henry would have yielded also.

“I see that in a small matter like the Gascon business, he would surely give way for love of her. Still…” Henry’s mind was devious. He would yield to Eleanor when she wanted something, but if she did not know she wanted it and did not ask… “Why did your father tell her? Or did you tell her?”

“We are not so stupid as that,” Raymond replied. “I am not sure how she found out. Where I am concerned she seems to smell our intentions in the air. Six months ago I wished to ride in a tourney, only a tourney, and she fainted thrice and wept all night until my father told me to bide at home. I tell you, she will not let me live.”

The king nodded sympathetically. He had suffered the same frustrations as a boy, although with him it was his guardians who held him so precious that they watched every breath in and out of his mouth. So, warmed by the memories, Henry liked his wife’s nephew all the better.

“Well,” he said, “you are welcome here, and no one will keep you from such action as is available and that you wish to engage in. But, I am afraid it cannot be for long. Eleanor will write, no doubt, to say you have arrived safe.”

Raymond slapped a hand to his forehead. “What an idiot I am,” he groaned. “If I tell her—”

“No,” Henry said, “she will think only of your mother’s pain and be the more hot to assure her of your safety if she knows of her ignorance of your whereabouts. And, even if I could fob off Eleanor with some tale, someone at court would write to some friend in Provence. I assume your mother would send first to your grandfather to ask whether you had gone to him.”

“Yes,” Raymond sighed, then shrugged. “Oh well, I will have a few weeks at least.”

Henry frowned, his eyes looking past Raymond. Then he said slowly, “If no one knew you were here, and I told Eleanor she must not write because you are engaged in some secret work for me…” His eyes focused on Raymond. “I have a little task, a minor annoyance but one for which I need a man truly trustworthy to me and yet not known to be my man—”

“I will do it if I can, and gladly,” Raymond offered quickly.

The king smiled most sweetly, his eyes luminous with warmth. “It will mean that you must forgo your rank and name for some time longer,” he warned.

Raymond laughed. “Nothing could give me greater pleasure.”

“I have a brother, as you must know,” Henry began, “whom I love most dearly, for he is a most excellent person. Some years ago, however, I noticed that Rich­ard was at times cold to me and critical of what I did, and sometimes he acted even worse, berating me before my council. We have always been close, and such behavior hurt me to the heart. I could not believe it came of Richard himself, yet I believed also there was no one whom he loved who did not also love me.”

Raymond had been so surprised by the mention of Richard, earl of Cornwall, that his face went blank and hid his feeling of recoil. He had expected, after their conversation, that Henry wanted him to perform some feat of arms, and it was with this expectation that he had pledged himself to do the king’s will so eagerly and without reservation.

“Now I have heard,” Henry continued, “through a trusty clerk, that a vassal of my brother’s—no great man but only the holder of two keeps, albeit one sits on the Thames and the other commands a road of great importance—is the man who has poisoned Richard’s mind against me.”

“Is it likely that so insignificant a person could influence the earl of Cornwall?” Raymond asked stiffly, liking the turn of conversation less and less.

“I would not have thought so myself,” Henry agreed, “but after the clerk named him I remembered that in the last years of my father’s reign, during the troubles, and after, when Louis was in the land, this man’s father, a friend of de Burgh, was castellan of Wallingford and had Richard in keeping quite often. The vassal, William of Marlowe by name, is of the same age or perhaps a year or two older than my brother. They must have been, from time to time, playmates. Moreover, Richard mentioned to me that this William was squire to Rannulf of Chester.”

“That is a high lord for a squire of so little note.”

Raymond was growing less happy by the moment. Rannulf of Chester had been known throughout Europe as a man of the highest character, just, merciful, unwavering in his faith, fearless in advice, fine of purpose. Could a boy trained by the late earl of Chester grow up into a man who would maliciously seed discord in the royal family?

“That is true,” Henry agreed, “but I believe he was taken because my brother begged for his company. After the country was at peace and Chester was not every day in the forefront of battle, he was my brother’s guardian.”

Henry was a very self-centered person. Except for his wife, he rarely noticed what other people felt. This was not owing to coldness or indifference. Henry was a warm-hearted, loving man. It was merely that he was king, had been king since he was twelve years of age. By and large, people tried to echo and mirror the king’s feelings and, if they felt differently, kept it to themselves. His guardians, of course, should have molded him better, but they were more concerned to teach the young king politics than to give him understanding of individual feelings. Thus, Henry did not notice the reservation in Raymond’s manner and voice.

“Then the earl of Cornwall and Sir William are longtime companions,” Raymond pointed out, trying to make the king see that the evil influence would have to be much older than a few years. The king’s expression clearly showed he had not taken the point, and Raymond went on. “I cannot see, sire, what so small a man could gain from such a thing. And surely, he must risk all by speaking ill of you to the earl of Cornwall. It is well known, even in my land so far from here, that the earl of Cornwall is most true and loving to you.”

“Yet it was not always so.” Henry’s face darkened alarmingly. “When Richard Marshal raised rebellion against me thirteen years ago, my brother was very near to joining him.”

The king, Raymond realized, feeling a little cold, carried grudges a long time. “That must have been a false tale told you by an enemy,” he protested.

“Richard told me so himself, to my face,” Henry snapped pettishly. “And only six years ago, when I gave my sister to the earl of Leicester—both of them came weeping to me and begging my help, for they were mad for love and had long tried to vanquish the feeling and could not—Richard spoke to me most foul in full council.”

“Surely you cannot doubt your brother’s love,” Raymond breathed. “He has proved it again and again.”

What had he made himself agree to? he wondered. Was this uncle, praised to the skies by his young wife, some kind of monster who intended to destroy his own brother?

But Henry’s face had cleared. “No,” he agreed, smiling, “I do not doubt Richard. He acknowledged his fault most handsomely and has supported me since then. But you asked me what such a small man hoped to gain. Is it not clear he hoped to gain a king who would raise him up among the mighty of the land?”

Raymond’s mouth opened and closed without sound, his voice being suspended by horror. This time the emotion was so apparent that Henry could not miss it, and he laughed and shook his head.

“No, no, I am not accusing Richard of treason. However mistaken my brother may have been in his actions, he never thought harm to me. He thought, of course, that he would save me from harm by preventing me from some act that would anger my barons. But I do not think Sir William wished to save me from harm. He, I think, hoped Richard’s action would so turn the nobles against me that I would be killed in war or by murder. Then he would sit at the king’s right hand.”

That made a kind of sense. Raymond frowned in thought. “Have you spoken to Earl Richard and—”

“You do not know my brother,” Henry said. “He is the most loyal man in the world. You heard what I said just before. As Richard would not for any reward be disloyal to me, so is he to other men. If I spoke to him, he would defend his friend. No, I need proof. Hear me. I do not think this Sir William is a fool—Richard does not suffer fools gladly. He would not speak open ill of me to Richard, no man could do so and retain my brother’s good will. He would say, ‘The king harms himself much by this thing he does. For his own good, it would be well to curb him at all cost.’ But perhaps among his own family and friends he speaks differently.”

That, too, might be true, Raymond thought.

“I cannot act against Sir William because Richard would be furious. I have made enquiry and so much is true that they are frequent companions. Whenever Richard is at Wallingford, he spends some time in Marlowe or Sir William goes to him.”

“Are you perfectly sure the tale is true?” Raymond asked.

“No. That is my second reason for holding my hand. I am this sure, that the clerk who carried the tale had no private reason to do so. He is not connected with Sir William in any way except that the abbey in which he was trained is nearby. It seems he heard by accident some talk that betrayed Sir William’s purpose. Still, things overheard can be misunderstood. There is a chance, indeed, that Sir William is not guilty.”

The feeling of being trapped by his own too hasty offer of help, of being a dirty instrument used to cut a man down, receded. Raymond smiled. The king was well within his rights to weed out disloyal subjects. Raymond still felt a little uneasy about acting the spy. However, so long as his purpose was to discover the truth, not to find evidence by hook or crook to condemn an innocent man, Raymond was willing to gain his freedom by a small subterfuge.

“But I do not know this man,” he pointed out, “nor even Earl Richard. What am I to say to him? I do not see—”

“Oh, I will give you a letter, saying—if you will forgive me the jest—that you came penniless to my court seeking succor. I will ask Sir William to take you into his household. As to why I send you to him rather than to another, I will say Richard has spoken well of him to me and so I thought he would be a kind master to a young man needing kindness.”

At that Raymond laughed aloud with relief. He could scarcely be accused of spying if he came with a letter from the king. Apparently Henry did not wish to de­ceive his brother’s vassal, only to discover the real truth.

“Excellent,” he agreed. “I can be a simple Sir Raymond from Aix. That will not give me away. Every third man in Provence and Aix is named either Raymond or Alphonse.”

“Perfect,” Henry approved, and they laughed together like children over the mischief they were brewing.

Then Raymond’s smile faded. “But how long am I to stay with Sir William? What if I find nothing that suggests either guilt or innocence?” He smiled wryly. “Sooner or later I suppose I must go home or at least tell my father where I am.”

“I did not intend that you should spend the rest of your life as a hireling knight,” Henry laughed. “I have not yet told you the end of the tale. There has been trouble in Wales. I will not take the time to explain that in full now. There is always trouble in Wales. But it grows more and more likely that we will have to march in with an army and lesson this David ap Llewelyn. What this clerk Theobald overheard was that Sir William’s new plan for enraging Richard against me was to force me to attack him.”

“Attack him?” Raymond said with patent disbelief.

“Not with an army, but to seem to persecute him,” Henry explained. He paused, and his face darkened again. “I am always accused of unjust persecution. When I wished to free myself from being shackled like a slave to the will of Hubert de Burgh, that was unjust persecution. When I wish to obtain a see for a dear friend and a relation I am accused of persecution of Walter Raleigh. When Richard protects his friends, that is noble. When I do it, that is persecution.”

Raymond was appalled. The king’s voice had risen to a petulant whine as he recounted his wrongs and there was nothing Raymond could say. What Henry complained of was both true and not true, according to the tales Raymond had heard in Aix. De Burgh had certainly become too great and needed a set down, but Raymond’s father said he thought the king had carried the matter too far and too long. It was the action, Alphonse d’Aix pointed out, of a young man who still feels the chain of tutelage when all others can see that it has fallen away. Thus he continues to strike out for freedom after the enemy has fallen and should be shown mercy.

In the matter of the see of Winchester, which Raymond had heard about in every hospice in France, Henry again was not totally innocent nor totally at fault. He had begun a perfectly legitimate campaign on behalf of a perfectly worthy man, but the see of Winchester had long been held by a great man of affairs who was more often absent from his diocese than in it. Those who held the right of electing the bishop claimed they had suffered neglect because their lord’s attention was so much drawn away from them. Thus, when the king suggested to them another man much like Peter des Roches, the previous bishop, they said they would not have him and elected Walter Raleigh, also learned and wise but with no political interests or foreign connections.

Fortunately for Raymond, Henry did not expect a response to his complaint. Until he was made aware of the fact by near brutality, the king assumed that everyone to whom he spoke was in complete agreement with him. It was an unfortunate assumption and the cause of much pain because, when someone was finally forced to disagree violently enough to make the king understand, Henry was all the more shocked and hurt. This time, however, the long-dead de Burgh and the see of Winchester were side issues. Henry shook off his petulance to return to the immediate problem.

“Sir William’s plan, as I understand it, was either to be so slow when called to fight in Wales that he would be fined or reprimanded, or to cause such disruption in the campaign against the Welsh as to produce the same result. Then, when accused or blamed, to fly to Richard saying I wished to disseisen him or some such. That, on top of the Winchester affair and perhaps some other things of which I do not know, was to rouse my brother against me.”

There was something wrong in what Henry was saying. If Sir William was Richard’s vassal, it should be Richard who would summon him to Wales. However, Raymond was aware that he did not really know whether the terms of vassalage were the same in England as in his country. Besides, he was not in a mood to examine things too closely. He was thrilled at the idea of a masquerade in which he would not have to play the role of a responsible heir of great territories. He nodded gleefully when Henry told him the Welsh affair would surely come to a head within six months. Six months would be a delicious spell of freedom. It would be a pleasure after that to go home and be cosseted. Then, if his mother still sought to shackle him, he would tell her plain he would be off again and see if that taught her wisdom.

Siren Song

By: Roberta Gellis
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