eBook Details


A Silver Mirror

Series: Royal Dynasty , Book 4.0
By: Roberta Gellis | Other books by Roberta Gellis
Published By: Ellora's Cave Publishing Inc.
Published: Jan 14, 2010
ISBN # 9781419921766
Word Count: 199,057
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Categories: Romance>Historical Other


A Silver Mirror (Royal Dynasty) by Roberta Gellis - Romance>Historical Other eBook

Blush: This is a suggestive romance (love scenes are not graphic)

Book 4 in the Royal Dynasty series.

Alphonse d’Aix gave his tourney prize of a silver mirror to a lonely little girl. Since her affairs were also left by her father in Alphonse’s hands, Barbara was quite sure he was the man chosen to be her husband. Alphonse was too kind to laugh at an awkward, unhappy thirteen-year-old, but he made it clear that she was not his chosen.

By the time Barbara returned to France, fleeing the unwanted attentions of Guy de Montfort, Alphonse had long regretted his refusal. His immediate proposal of marriage is swiftly accepted. Barbara had hidden her pain but never recovered from her first love. Still, thinking about Aphonse’s past life, Barbara decides a semblance of coldness will be necessary to hold his attention.

However, Guy de Montfort had not forgotten Barbara’s refusal, and was determined out of spite to have her, even if it meant killing Alphonse. But Guy’s attacks drive Barbara and Alphonse into the hands of the rebellious Welsh, and amid the tension and terror of freeing Prince Edward from de Montfort’s prison, their true love is exposed.
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An Excerpt From: A SILVER MIRROR

Copyright © ROBERTA GELLIS, 1989, 2010

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

Chapter One

"You are making too much of it, Joanna," Barbara said idly, watching the dancing shadows the rose leaves made as a soft breeze stirred them.

The pretty patterns of the shadows made the warm, sweet-smelling garden even more pleasant, Barbara thought. Although the manor house beyond the garden wall was far more comfortable than her father´s great keeps, where the walls breathed damp cold that called for a fire even in high summer, the hall could not compete with a garden seat in the middle of May.

"I do not think I am making too much of Guy´s behavior." Joanna´s voice broke into Barbara´s thoughts.

"I can make Guy wish he had let me be," Barbara snapped. "It was only because he was my father´s guest that I felt I must be polite to him."

Barbara was beginning to wish she had found some excuse other than the unwelcome attentions of Guy de Montfort for her sudden visit to Kirby Moorside. The walled manor was the favorite retreat of her uncle, Hugh Bigod. Could she not have said simply that she wanted a few weeks there in her aunt´s company? No, she could not. Despite their fondness for each other Joanna would never have believed her.

"No, you must not do that," Joanna Bigod said. "You would make Guy hate you. And his father is so indulgent. It would be dangerous. You must tell the earl." Her soft voice trembled a little.

"I could not." Barbara spoke equally softly, now remorseful for her previous sharpness. She knew Joanna was harping on Guy´s behavior because she could not bear to be silent and think. Then Barbara´s distinctive brows drew together in surprise. It was not like Joanna to give bad advice no matter how distracted she was. "You know my father," Barbara said defensively. "He would-"

"I did not mean Norfolk." Joanna shuddered slightly at the idea of the reaction of her brother-by-marriage. "I meant Leicester," she added hastily.

"Tell Leicester that his son Guy is pursuing me with dishonorable intent?" This time Barbara´s brows rose as high as they could go in disdain. Because they were thick and grew straight across without a curve above her dark blue eyes, they made a distinct, burnished chestnut circumflex within her forehead.

"You do not know that Guy´s intent is dishonorable."

There was no inflection at all in the soft voice, and Barbara was about to ask what kind of idiot Joanna took her for when the real implications behind the remark burst on her. Barbara´s eyebrows went down again into a straight, thick line that nearly met over her handsome nose, and she looked at her aunt-by-marriage with considerable respect.

"You mean I should go to Leicester and warn him that I am not a good match for his son," Barbara said slowly, getting interested in the subject herself. The Earl of Leicester had grown so powerful in the last few months that she knew she must be wary. "That would do if I were trying to avoid young Simon, since his father will not take less than a palatine estate for his namesake, but what if he does not think me too far below the despicable Guy? It is true that I am only a natural daughter with no more than small property in France, however, I am also the Earl of Norfolk´s only child. My father is not likely to have another, and everyone knows he loves me. In Leicester´s opinion I might do quite well enough to bind Papa more tightly to his cause."

"All true, but do you think Guy would be willing to marry you even to please his father and ensure Norfolk´s support?" Joanna´s lips twitched, but only once.

Barbara knew her aunt very well, however, and her own eyes brightened with mischief. "Of course not!" she exclaimed, and then burst out laughing and rose from her seat to embrace Joanna. "How clever you are, my love! Guy will only accept a wife with great wealth, but Leicester will never admit his son´s greed. Naturally the fond father will ask if I am really what his dear sweet child desires. The dear sweet child will assure his doting papa that he would not accept me on a platter, even stuffed with pigeons, and his papa will then wonder how I came by my puffed-up notion and warn Guy to avoid me lest I cry that he had made me an offer and then withdrawn."

"Surely Leicester will warn both young Simon and Guy so that you will not, in your `puffed-up notion´ of importance, begin to speak of having a choice between the two brothers."

Barbara was accustomed to her aunt´s subtle way of giving instructions. She wondered with a flicker of amusement whether her forthright uncle had ever come to understand how he was being manipulated. As Hugh came into her thoughts, her glance dropped to the row of little gold and green shields that Hugh´s wife was stitching into a neckband. Some were already adorned with the red lion passant guardant that watched the enemy from her uncle´s shield. Barbara looked away hastily and, having given Joanna a brisk hug, returned to her end of the bench and picked up her own embroidery. She would not think of war. It was better to think of Leicester´s sons.

"Young Simon is not spiteful and vicious like Guy." Barbara shrugged. "He is only spoiled and lazy, but still, God save me from such a choice."

"Taking a husband would save you more finally," Joanna said.

Allowing the sleeve cuff she was decorating to drop into her lap before she had taken a stitch, Barbara stared at her Uncle Hugh´s wife. The one unfailing support she had had in resisting a second marriage during the first few years after she returned from France had been Joanna´s. Of course, her father had not really wanted her to marry. Even seven years ago in 1257 the political situation had been so volatile that Norfolk had feared any choice of husband he made for her would be the wrong choice. However, it had been Joanna who soothed away his concern that he was being selfish and reassured him that what was right for him politically was also best for Barbara. Why was Joanna urging marriage now?

There was more color than usual in Joanna´s face, but she kept her eyes fixed on her own work when she added, "I have learned at long last that first loves may be sweet memories but are not always best, as a rich stew is really more satisfying than a honeyed comfit."

Barbara made a choked, wordless protest, but her angry denial of any "first love" jammed in her throat. She had had a first love, to deny it would be a lie, and she could not lie to Joanna. But was it a lie? It had been so long ago, a child´s fancy, long forgotten. She shifted uneasily on the bench and her foot touched the basket that held her embroidery silks, pushing it into a ray of sunlight. The fresh green leaves of the rose trees, even with their branches clipped and bent to form a bower over the bench on which the ladies sat, provided only a dappled shade. Now the light glinted back at Barbara from the basket, making her turn her head to clear the dazzle from her eyes and reminding her of the small polished silver mirror that lay with her matching comb in the basket. Barbara frowned.

The juxtaposition of Joanna´s remark about a first love and the reminder of the silver mirror in her basket made her more uncomfortable. Nonsense, she thought, when one has hair like mine, one needs a comb and mirror. Her hand went up and sure enough, tendrils of her thick, curling hair had worked free of her crespine and barbette and would have to be combed and tucked away again. The mirror Alphonse had given her was small and pretty and convenient to carry, that was all.

The silence was growing marked. Joanna had stopped working and was staring blindly across the garden toward the open gate in the garden wall. Barbara´s throat ached. Her uncle had been gone three weeks. News was due-overdue.

"My distaste for a second marriage has nothing to do with my first husband," Barbara said hastily, knowing she was talking nonsense but needing desperately to say something, anything, no matter how silly. "You know I never even met Pierre de le Pontet de Thouzan le Thor. I told you we married by proxy and he died on his way to consummate our marriage more than two years later. I was so far from loving him that I almost decided to flee to England to escape him. Why should I marry a second time and become some man´s chattel?"

Joanna had been about to say that she was not referring to Barbara´s late husband, but the last word startled her so much she asked instead, "Am I Hugh´s chattel?"

Barbara made a dismissive gesture. "Yes. You just do not realize it because Uncle Hugh is Uncle Hugh. In any case our situations are entirely different. You were a very rich widow with young sons to protect. You had to have a strong man to fight for you. I am an aged virgin with a small manor in France ably administered by an honest and faithful clerk and overseen by that most selfless and honorable of all monarchs, Louis the Ninth."

Joanna had started to giggle when Barbara called herself an aged virgin and continued to do so at Barbara´s description of the King of France. Not that it was untrue. In fact, Louis of France was so virtuous that he was rather dull. Barbara thought him easy to deceive too, because she herself had managed to do it but that was typical of Barbara.

Still chuckling, Joanna glanced across at Hugh´s niece, seeing her for a moment as if she were a stranger. Nothing in Barbara´s appearance betrayed either her age or her virginity. Possibly because she had not been subjected to ten years of childbearing as most women of twenty-four had been, Barbara´s body was as lithe and slender as that of a young girl. But her manner was not in the least virginal, it was assured, almost bold.

No, Joanna thought, the boldness was more in the way Barbara´s face was made than in her manner. She was not beautiful, her features were too large and strong for beauty, but she had a fascinating face. The eyes, responding to the sunlight of the bright May morning and to Barbara´s joining her aunt´s laughter, shone blue instead of the dull black or sullen slate gray they often appeared. The wide, mobile mouth, its lips when she was sad or serious almost as free of any curve as her brows, had curled upward at the corners, bringing the center of the long upper lip down into a temporary bow that was eminently kissable.

The laughter did not last long. The two women glanced at each other, feeling guilty for having forgotten in a private jest how dangerous the outside world had become.

Joanna sighed. "Oh, well," she said, "this is not a good time to be choosing a husband unless you would consider going back to France. And that would solve your problems with young Simon and Guy de Montfort. I know you hate France, my love, but you must have seen the war coming. Why did you not go with Queen Eleanor last September, Barbara?"

"I could not!" Barbara exclaimed indignantly. "Father was so angry at Uncle Hugh. Surely you did not think I would run for safety when I feared at any moment I would need to thrust myself between them physically to keep them from one another´s throats. Why, oh, why, could they not agree on whom to support?"

"Because," Joanna said dryly, "Hugh believes that if God chose Henry to be king, only God has the right to order the king´s behavior."

There was a brief silence, in which Barbara made a wordless sound, half amusement, half despair. Then Joanna went on, "Is it more reasonable to believe that it is right for any group of men who are strong enough to bend the king to their will? That way lies chaos."

"Oh, Joanna," Barbara sighed. "The king himself creates chaos."

Joanna sighed too. "As you well know, Hugh has done his best to guide King Henry away from his errors. The attempt was not a success. The king flew into a rage and dismissed Hugh from his service."

But her voice had changed over the last sentence into a dreamy softness, almost a purr of complacency. It was a most unsuitable tone for the words. Barbara, who had picked up her work and begun to set stitches, dropped it again and turned her head. "So that was why Uncle Hugh would not come to the meeting father wanted. You were the one who calmed him. I will lay odds that if you had not-"

"I never speak to your uncle about political matters," Joanna said. "It is not my place."

"Pish-tush," Barbara snapped. "I suppose you would not try to stop him if he were going to do something stupid or dangerous."

"No, I would not. He would do what he thought right anyway and only be more miserable because of my tears and entreaties."

"Joanna!" Barbara exclaimed, quite exasperated.

Joanna smiled. "Your uncle never does stupid things."

"Never does stupid things!" Barbara echoed. "What do you call his responding to King Henry´s call to arms after the way he has been treated? Uncle Hugh should have spat in the king´s face instead of going off to fight Leicester in his behalf. Henry is a selfish, petty, spiteful, vindictive, spendthrift-"

"But he is the king," Joanna interrupted softly. "God chose Henry, and only he has the right to rule."

But Joanna´s eyes had filled with tears and she put her work aside and slid across the bench. Barbara put a sheltering arm around her aunt´s shoulders. The sun had slipped behind a cloud, and a breeze was fluttering the leaves of the rose trees, which was reason enough for Joanna to shiver. But Barbara knew her aunt was not cold, Joanna was frightened. Barbara was frightened herself. She could not bear to think of her uncle and the two armies that might even now be rushing at each other somewhere in the south.

Joanna had slipped her arm around Barbara´s waist, and the two women clung together. In a war, no matter who won, Barbara thought bitterly, the women always lost. And Joanna´s situation, with her sons on one side and her husband on the other, was heart-wrenching. Was everyone in England so torn apart? Did everyone have some dear one who supported the king, as did her Uncle Hugh, and another who was sworn to the Earl of Leicester, as was her own father? There must be no battle, Barbara thought desperately. Surely someone would find a way to make peace. She clutched Joanna closer, and Joanna shuddered again.

"Let us go in, you are cold," Barbara said.

"No." Joanna found a smile, released her grip, and sat back, but she did not move away or reach for her work. "The sun is coming from behind the cloud now. And it was not cold that made me shiver. I was thinking of the king."

Their glances met and shifted guiltily because of the unspoken thought in both minds. Henry III of England was old. Why could he not die? Why did he live on and on, bringing misery to all? Barbara thought again of what she had said, and it was true. The king was selfish, petty, spiteful, vindictive, and spendthrift. Unfortunately he was also both more and less than that. Henry was more in that he was clever, often brilliant, in devising political expedients to escape the consequences of his blunders and to thrust the blame for them onto others. He was less in that he was basically weak and had, despite his fifty-seven years of age, a kind of hopeful innocence that seemed to prevent him from learning from his mistakes. Barbara bit her lip. It was the weakest part of the king´s nature that was the most dangerous, that hopeful innocence made even Henry´s worst enemies wish to help him and protect him.

The bitten lip did not dam speech for long. Barbara burst out, "How can Uncle Hugh allow himself to be seduced over and over by that man?" And then she choked on a sob that was half laughter. "How can I be so stupid as to ask when Henry does the same thing to me too each time I speak to him."

Joanna´s lips almost curved into a smile and then drooped again. "The king is not an evil person. His faults are those we all understand too well. Those he loves, he loves too much, so he is blind to the wrong they do. He is of expansive spirit, generous, and gives away what he should not, then when he feels the pinch he seeks a way to get back what he gave so blithely. He is easily frightened and under duress promises what he knows is wrong."

"He is not fit to be a king," Barbara snapped. "He needs a governor, and you know it."

"That does not make it right to govern him," Joanna said slowly. "It was by God´s will that he was crowned. It is not for us to question God´s will. If His holy purpose is served in some way by our suffering then we must endure with patience."

Barbara jumped up and stamped her foot. "You cannot tell me Hugh believes all that. I know he agreed with my father when Leicester first urged the barons to accept the Provisions of Oxford, and he knew quite well that the purpose of the Provisions was to govern the king."

Joanna shook her head. "To help the king govern. That is the difference between what happened when the Provisions were first signed and now. In 1258 the king was willing to accept the Provisions. Henry was truly distressed when he learned of the terrible abuses that had crept into his government and desired that they be amended. But the king became dissatisfied with the reforms over the next three years."

"You mean he missed his greedy and accursed lick-spittle relatives more than he cared about his kingdom," Barbara retorted. Then she bit her lip. "Not that I care. I only care for Papa and Uncle Hugh. Good God, I know Leicester is just as seductive as the king, but could not my father and Uncle Hugh at least have been seduced by the same man?"

"Neither Henry nor Leicester had much influence on Hugh´s decision. In the beginning Hugh supported the Provisions of Oxford with all his heart. But when he saw how they were being used, not only to cure ills but to overturn the natural order, how the king´s right to rule was being taken from him against the will of God by Leicester and his party, Hugh had to side with Henry. I do not think the king seduced Hugh. He is not easily seduced-"

Joanna stopped abruptly and blushed. Barbara saw the blush with her eyes, but it meant nothing to her at the moment. She was remembering her father´s admission that many of the barons had not realized where the Provisions of Oxford must lead if they were fulfilled to the letter. Papa himself had not understood the full ramifications until the king´s will had conflicted with the Provisions three years after they had been sworn to by all. Then her father had been forced to decide whether his oath stood above the will of a bad king or whether the anointing of a weak man as king set that man above all oaths, as Joanna claimed. Papa had decided one way, Hugh had decided the other.

Barbara slowly sank down on the bench again. Three years earlier her sympathies had been with her Uncle Hugh´s Royalist point of view, but she now knew her father was right about the king being unfit to rule. Henry had not only bent the Provisions of Oxford but had arranged for the pope to declare them null and void. And then, as in the past, the king had repeated every mistake that had brought him into conflict with his barons in the first place. Henry had interfered with the special court sessions meant to redress judicial and financial abuses, and he had recalled his Lusignan half brothers, who had caused such turmoil by their cruelty and rapacity.

When Hugh was dismissed from his office by the king, Barbara had been distressed and asked leave of the queen to visit her uncle. She had not told her father where she was going because she had been afraid he would either forbid her to visit Hugh or urge her to plead with Hugh to oppose the king again, which Barbara felt would be cruel at such a time. But her visit had been brief. Her uncle was not brokenhearted, as she had feared. Indeed, Hugh had looked well and rested for the first time since the Provisions had been signed.

Relieved and delighted, Barbara had gone on to Framlingham Castle and confessed to her father that she had been at Kirby Moorside, Hugh´s favorite manor. Norfolk forgave her when she told him that Hugh seemed settled into private life without regret, but he would not agree that she should end her service with the queen. She was a clever chick, her father said, and her eyes and ears at court were useful to him. Unless Eleanor dismissed her out of spite over his opposition to Henry, her father insisted she continue to go to court for her regular months of service and be meek and listen, even if she had to bite her tongue when Eleanor criticized him.

More than three years had passed without giving Barbara much reason to worry about Hugh´s withdrawal from participation in the king´s government. Even though matters had gone from bad to worse, Hugh had kept himself quietly retired. She knew he was not happy about the state of the realm, but because her father and her uncle quarreled each time they met, she had seen less and less of Hugh and Joanna.

Serving at court was horrid. When Hugh and her father were summoned at the same time-and the king seemed deliberately to demand they attend him together-they seemed to Barbara to be a hairbreadth from drawing knives on each other. Nor was her life much easier when her father and uncle were absent. The king´s sycophants said offensive things about Norfolk when he was not there, and the courtiers who were of Leicester´s party made bad worse by trying to protect her. Leicester himself had sullenly retired to France, riding a high horse of pride, after Henry had seized the reins of government again. But the barony in general seemed sunk into apathy, allowing the king to go his own way, except for stubbornly refusing to help him extricate himself from his increasing financial woes.

Then a quarrel between Henry´s son, Prince Edward, and his steward Roger Leybourne had been blown out of all proportion, and in the past year the barons had again combined and risen against the king. Edward had acted like a stupid hothead at first and temporarily lost the support of the lords of the Welsh Marches, who had been his most faithful friends. In their initial rage, the Marcher lords had asked Leicester to return to England and lead them. There had been some minor battles in the west, and the king had withdrawn to London. But even there he found no real support. Instead of being protected, the king had found himself trapped in the Tower of London, and the people of London had stoned Queen Eleanor´s barge when she tried to leave the city.

Terrified by the violent hostility of the Londoners, who had always supported him in the past, the weathercock king had again promised everything to everyone and, as soon as his tether was relaxed, had gone back on his promises and the weary round was about to be danced again. There were differences, however. Although the king had not changed, everyone else had. This time Leicester seemed to have made up his mind to fight. King Henry would have been helpless, but Prince Edward had learned a sharp lesson too and had made his peace with the Welsh Marcher lords, but he had made peace with his old friends in order to make war on Leicester. Not all desired war, but so much harm had been done, so much bitterness aroused, that few were able to keep their balance.

Barbara´s hands were again idle, even though she held her needle poised over the sleeve cuff she was embroidering. She was recalling miserably that even her father, who knew it was wrong to fight, had said bitterly that he could only hold back so long.

"They will call me a coward," the Earl of Norfolk had mumbled, half turning his head from Barbara in shame after his chaplain had read him the Earl of Leicester´s letter and he had waved the man away. "But it is wrong to bear arms against the king and yet Leicester has tried everything else."

"You are no coward," Barbara had cried. "No one will even think it, Papa. If more men had your good sense and no one on either side would fight, there could be no war."

Her passionate remark had brought a faint smile and a rough hug, but then Norfolk had straightened and stood looking out of the window at the teeming rain, one hand still resting on Barbara´s shoulder. At last he had said, "If it comes to battle, Leicester will win, you know. If I thought he needed my help, I would go, but he has men enough and is a far better soldier than any who support Henry."

That was the first time Barbara remembered thinking beyond the fact of the danger in fighting to the results of a great battle won or lost. Until then fighting between the two parties had been raids and skirmishes, tests of strength, perhaps, but with no major effects. She had cried out, "It will not come to battle. It must not! But...but if it does and Leicester wins, what will happen to those who opposed him? What will happen to Uncle Hugh?"

"I will do my best for him," Norfolk had said slowly, "but I do not know how much influence I still have. Leicester is not pleased with me." He shrugged and his lips twisted. "You heard his letter. He thinks me not sufficiently committed to the cause. But if Hugh will remain quiet, I know Leicester will leave him in peace."

Barbara´s relief over those words, and her gladness that her father wished to protect his brother despite all their quarrels had made her smile and say, "Surely he will. I am very certain that Uncle Hugh is sick of King Henry and his lies and excuses."

It had been a shock when her father shook his head and said, "I wish I were sure. I am afraid that Hugh, thinking as I think that the king is the weaker, will answer Henry´s call to arms. Also, he may hope to serve as peacemaker."

"Then you must go to Uncle Hugh. You must stop him."

"I dare not go, chick." Her father´s scarred knuckles had stroked her cheek. "First because Hugh would not listen to me. Second because I might be accused of some conspiracy with him. Guy de Montfort did not come here only to carry a letter from his father. He asked some strange questions of my steward and master-at-arms." He hesitated and looked down at her and suddenly smiled. "But you can go to talk with Hugh."

Barbara had left the very next day for Kirby Moorside despite the continuing rain. She had a head full of reasoned arguments supplied by her father to convince Hugh it was his duty to refuse to respond to the king´s summons to arms. She had been too late; Hugh had been gone when she arrived.

Remembering, a wave of cold passed over Barbara and she glanced up, but the sun was still shining. She did not speak, only swallowed hard, laid down her work, and took Joanna´s hand in hers. At least, she thought, she had had sense enough not to tell Joanna the real reason why she had come. That could only have added to her aunt´s fear for Hugh. The tale of wishing to escape the lewd attentions of Leicester´s younger sons had been the first idea to pop into her head because Guy had made a nuisance of himself whenever he contrived to catch her away from her father. Now the memory of her father´s remark about Guy´s "strange questions" came together with her fear that her uncle might be imprisoned or his lands confiscated, and she suddenly wondered how a victory for Leicester might affect her. Might she be considered a spoil of war, particularly if she were taken here, in an "enemy" household? Might Guy believe that evidence gathered against her father could be used to silence Norfolk if she were despoiled?

Barbara uttered a gasp of laughter as she realized how fear could inflate one´s self-importance. Her father held wide lands from which many men and rich supplies of grain could be mustered, and he commanded many miles of the eastern coast that could be used to land mercenaries from the Continent if he did not oppose the landing. If Guy was trying to find evidence to accuse her father of disloyalty, it would be so that another governor could be set over Norfolk for those reasons, not because that spoiled child desired her. Probably he had only reached for her because she was there and he, like so many others, could not believe that she neither wished to take the veil nor used her single state to lie with any man at any time without the interference of a husband.

"Tell me," Joanna said, squeezing Barbara´s hand. "I would like a cause to laugh, even at myself."

Because she had been thinking about Guy´s clumsy attempts on her, Barbara recalled Joanna´s last words and her blush. She realized that something had happened between her aunt and uncle. When she had been part of their household, Joanna and Hugh had been comfortable together but more like polite acquaintances than devoted husband and wife. Though both had done their marital duty and produced children, nothing in their relationship, even three years ago, could have called a blush to Joanna´s cheek.

Add to that blush Joanna´s urging a second marriage on her and Barbara decided that whatever had happened was very good. It was also none of her business, Barbara thought, so all she said was "It just came to me that young Simon was not really trying to seduce me at all and Guy, that idiot, was only after me to imitate his brother."

"I do not believe it," Joanna said with a smile. "You have never come to see that you are now a very attractive woman, no longer a scrawny child with features too big for her face. Why do you say Simon was not interested in you?"

"Because he was only ardent when Aliva le Despenser was there to see him," Barbara replied, her brows going up in challenge.

"And Guy?" Joanna asked. Then before Barbara answered she went on, "Do not be a fool, my dear. Make a chance to speak to Leicester at the first opportunity. Even if Simon was trying to make Aliva jealous, Guy is the kind who is enraged by refusal. If you leapt at his offer, he would soon be bored and forget you, but if you deny him, he will desire to break your will. Now a word from his father hinting that you have taken his advances too seriously will let Guy turn away from you with contempt. He will enjoy the notion that he is scorning you and depressing your pretensions, so no ill-will will linger in him."

"But I would like to arouse ill-will in that nasty, vicious- Oh, I cannot even think of a creature I would soil with comparison," Barbara protested. "I was about to call him a toad, but I rather like toads. They have such beautiful eyes."

"You like all animals," Joanna chuckled. "I have seen you avoid stepping on an ant or a slimy worm."

"You would not see me avoid stepping on Guy," Barbara remarked tartly. "Slimy or not, worms are very interesting. Guy is not." Then she caught the anxious expression on Joanna´s face and sighed. "I suppose you are right, but I do not need to think about it while I am with you. Guy will not come here."


The sudden flatness of Joanna´s voice made Barbara wish she had stopped after admitting that Joanna was right about telling Leicester as soon as possible that she believed his son was growing too enamored. She had meant only that Guy was not interested enough in her to pursue her all the way to Yorkshire, but it was clear that Joanna had taken the remark to mean that Guy would not come to a manor of his father´s enemy. And before Barbara could think of how to explain, Joanna spoke again.

"But I do not think you should be here with me." Her voice trembled just a little. "I have done very wrong to allow you to stay so long. I thought it could not matter for a few days. Hugh was only just gone and you were such a comfort to me. But I have been a coward to cling to you for three weeks. You must go back to your father. It would look very bad for him if-"

Her voice stuck on the next word and Barbara rushed desperately into speech. "There is no reason at all to drive me out, Joanna. You are just trying to punish me by exposing me to Guy because I will not take your advice and rush off to France to choose a husband."

Barbara expected a denial and a heated defense, but her aunt did not respond other than by an urgent pressure on Barbara´s hand and a sharp gesture for silence. Joanna´s head tilted and her whole body stiffened in an attitude of listening. Barbara´s breath caught. She heard it too, now that the sound of her own voice did not fill her ears. Very faintly from beyond the palisade and moat she heard the thud of horses´ hooves and a thin ringing of metal harness. Armed men were passing outside of the manor´s defenses.


A Silver Mirror

By: Roberta Gellis