Chapter One

1360

Palais du Rois, Paris

Poxy, whoring, conceited bastards.

        Cécile d’Armagnac spun to confront her father, her anger far from spent. ‘My betrothal to the Duc de Berri is severed without explanation. Am I to greet this news with lines of poetry, Sir? The Dauphin craves the alliance of Armagnac and I know his brother desires me, so what malady ails them?’ She slammed her gem-encrusted goblet down. ‘Merde! I was to wear gold Luccan brocade and the finest rubies in France. Instead I shall be the laughing stock of the court!’

        ‘Sheathe your tongue, girl! I am yet your father.’ Jean d’Armagnac’s stomach churned at his own words. He sank onto the stool and stared for a moment at the rich tapestries decorating his daughter’s royal chamber. Then he drew a deep breath. ‘The Dauphin still requires the alliance of Armagnac. Duc de Berri will marry your sister, Jeanne, and I am here to give you explanations.’

        ‘Jeanne? Mother of God. She is a milksop! A snivelling baby. She’ll more likely to wet the Duc’s bed!’

        ‘Céci,’ groaned Comte d’Armagnac, ‘give me a little peace.’

        Cécile heard the defeat in her father’s voice and sharply swung around. This parent was everything to her. With growing alarm she noted his drooping shoulders and the dark smudges beneath his eyes. His whole bearing slouched rather than sat.

        ‘Papa! You are ill.’ Almost tripping over her velvet hem she kneeled at his feet and laid her cheek in his lap. She gently kissed his hands. ‘Forgive me, Papa. Forgive my wicked temper. Tell me what grieves you so?’

       Jean d’Armagnac withdrew his warrior-calloused palm and stroked the honey-blonde hair. ‘The truth, daughter. And it is you who must forgive me. The Dauphin was right to break your troth, and the fault is mine alone. For years I have lacked the courage to speak.’ He lifted her chin the meet the clear, blue gaze.

        'Cécile, you were a gift to me beyond my expectations, but you come not from my loins. Your blood is not Armagnac.’

Cécile stared in open-mouthed bewilderment. She drew back slowly, her eyes glazed. ‘I am not Armagnac?’

‘No.’

‘Then Jean le Bossu and Armand …’

‘Are not your true brother and cousin.’

        ‘And you …’ The breath caught in her chest and was squeezed from her in a murmur. ‘God have mercy.’ She rose unsteadily and walked to the casement to stare beyond the palace walls, her hands clutched over her heart, a shield against the pain. ‘You are telling me that for nineteen years I have lived a lie?’

‘Seventeen. You came to me in your second summer.’

‘Tell me,’ she whispered.

        Comte d’Armagnac watched the hurt on his daughter’s face and muttered an oath. God knew he loved her as his own. No. That was a blatant lie. He loved her more but only God, his priest and he were privy to that. Had he been compensating for this one day all along? He’d allowed her uncommon free will in her youth and suffered the ridicule of his neighbours. As her sisters had toiled over needlework, this unfettered daughter had ridden the countryside in play with her foster brother and cousin, her eloquent tongue the result. He had never wished to curtail her spirit. He knew one day she might need it.

         ‘It was long ago,’ he began, ‘when I received a message from a Lady Mary St Pol, Countess of Pembroke, urging me to meet with her. Her father, Guy de Châtillon, was from one of the most notable families in the north and Lady Mary had a strong connection to the Clermonts, my wife's kin. Fearing some scandal was about to fall upon us, I agreed.’  The Comte stared, his attention rooted to the wall as if apparitions had suddenly appeared upon the grey stones. ‘I will never forget it. We met at the Abbaye de Flaran by Larressingle in the dark of night. I can still see Mary standing there clutching her cloak against the wind, her lips pressed tightly as plainsong echoed from the chapel. She beckoned me to follow her through the cloister, up a stairwell to a private chamber. Her finger raised in a gesture for silence as she stepped to an alcove and swept aside the curtain. There, fast asleep on the palliasse, lay a tiny girl shrouded in a mantle of golden hair.’ He smiled warmly at the memory and a twinkle danced in his eye. ‘She was a scrap of a child but Mary knew how to ensure success. “Her name is Cécile,” she said, “and I want you, Jean d’Armagnac, to keep her for me, in honour of our families’ ties. She has nowhere else to go and I could wish for no other to care for her. The world must know her as your own. Silence any tongues that beg to differ. You must ask me no questions and your goodwill shall be handsomely rewarded.”

        A shadow of tenderness darkened Jean's eyes as they fastened upon his daughter. ‘My mother’s name was Cécile. She was a princess. I had no need of questions. I loved you upon the instant.’

With a sob, the young woman flung herself into his arms, their tears mingling as he rocked her. ‘Forgive me, child. I should have told you the truth long ago but I could never find the right moment.’

Cécile slid her arms around her father's neck and felt his love engulf her like a warm, soft blanket. Granting the forgiveness he craved, she tenderly kissed his roughened cheek.

Mon père. I love you.’

‘And I you, Princess.’

Comte d’Armagnac exhaled with relief. The worst was over. There was more, but he would ease it to her gently. She was no – what had she called it? – milksop, but he knew his next revelation would sting. Her recent introduction to court had been a triumphant success. She possessed a radiant beauty that attracted men as surely as syrup drew ants and, raised more tomcat than kitten, she was something of an enigma to them. The gentle-born ladies had immediately despised and shunned her but Cécile reacted to their malicious resentment in her own stoical fashion, with cool disdain. Jean knew that inside the cocoon that was his daughter, there was a butterfly but her jaundiced gender chose only to see the caterpillar.

        ‘Truth be, I am relieved that your betrothal is broken, Céci. Jeanne is biddable and far more suited as wife to the Duc.’

        Cécile wiped her eyes and smiled. ‘If you are telling me that I was to be merely another exotic artefact for his illustrious collection, I but knew it. Only yesterday I dusted myself a space between his gem-studded, leather-bound illuminations and Aristotle’s De Coelo. His study shelves have a wonderful view of the river, but for summer I considered the menagerie, a cage next to his prized dromedaries. The breeze is cooler there.’

        ‘Céci,’ groaned her father.

        ‘Papa,’ she chuckled, ‘we both know I was not swept off my feet in adoration and my heart is hardly broken. Such notions of love are for the feather-headed.’ She wrinkled her nose. ‘I did like the rubies though.’

        Jean d’Armagnac pinched her cheek. ‘Do not condemn love so easily. Your mother and I found it. What you need is a husband who will see the minikin in you, for I would not have you beaten daily. And it would be better for him if he could break your heart.’

        Cécile laid her head upon his shoulder. ‘I have your love, Papa, and Jean le Bossu and Armand. What more do I need?’

        Here was his moment and his heart missed a beat. ‘What of true kin?’

        Cécile leaned back, frowning. ‘What of it?’

         ‘I recently received news of the Lady Mary St Pol. Apparently she has harboured her own ward all these years, a girl called Mary Catherine. She is a novice in Denny Abbey, Cambridgeshire, and I know she is your sister.’

        ‘England!’ choked Cécile. Affronted, she jumped to her feet. ‘You offer this as compensation? Sisters I have. I wanted a husband and title. Ooh!’ In order to give herself occupation, she re-filled two goblets, spilling the wine as she handed one to her father. At his raised brow, her chin jutted into the air with the arrogance of the noblesse. She had been practising the movement for weeks. ‘England has pillaged and raped France for the last ten years. I was to be a Duchess but you give me a dirty-kneed nun from England. How could you possibly think this news would appease me?’

        ‘Cécile, listen to me. I am commissioned to Bourgogne. King Edward advances upon the Duc Philippe de Rouvre and we must know the outcome. The Dauphin has agreed that you may remain here at the palace under his protection until I return. Why not use that time to write to her?’

        ‘Is it not enough that this ill-bred, English monarch has our own King incarcerated in some dungeon in Lincolnshire? He covets all of France and while his grimy boots march across our beloved land, you would have me waste my ink upon one of his subjects.’

        ‘Mary Catherine is in a religious house. Her world is removed from affairs of State.’

        ‘Oh, even better,’ snorted Cécile. ‘We can discuss the latest designs for habits! I believe black is fashionable at the moment. Or is it serge brown? Perhaps we can swap a recipe for a tasty dish. What will it be – gruel or gruel?’

        ‘Cécile. Keep that tongue for your brother and cousin. I am still your father.’

        The young woman’s lip trembled. ‘And there is the crux of the matter, Sir.’ Her tears spilled over. ‘You are not, are you? And to make me write is to force me to acknowledge the fact.’

        Jean d’Armagnac placed their goblets on the table and hugged his daughter to his breast, allowing her tears to soak his doublet. ‘Hush now. A seed makes the child, but not always the father. You are mine own. Never doubt it.’ He permitted her a space for grief and when her sobs quietened he tried again. ‘Write the letter, Cécile. If not for yourself, then do it for me. Perhaps you think you have no use for a lowly nun in your life but what of the girl beneath the robe in England? Maybe she has need of you.’

**

Most reverend Sister Mary Catherine, novice at Denny Abbey, Cambridgeshire, England, I bid you greetings.

My name is Cécile d’Armagnac and by God’s grace I am your sister. It is true. Ask your guardian.

        I am given to understand your circumstances but you can hardly know mine. Before this disturbing revelation, I was to be a Duchess, a princess of France. I am sure you can see that we have little in common but I promised my father I would write and tell you of myself.

        I was raised not far from Condom, the seat of power of the Armagnacs, at Larressingle, a grand fortress perched high upon a hill that commands a spectacular view across lush fields of green and gold. There I grew with two brothers and two sisters and a beloved cousin, Armand-Amanieu d’Albret, who since the age of six was fostered into Comte Jean d’Armagnac’s care.

        Albret is an elite family of large proportions, connected by the marriage of Bernard Aix IV d’Albret to Marthe d’Armagnac, my papa’s sister. The coupling of these two houses is an amicable one, despite the Albrets’ staunch alliance to your King Edward of England, and my papa’s steadfast refusal to take up arms against the French crown. The placement of their son, Armand, into our household is testament to the affection that exists beneath the layers of diplomatic influence. Moreover, my father is an excellent knight and Armand learned much. I am sure this must bore you but I admire those who struggle to preserve the land we hold dear.

        I adore Armand, as does Papa, for he laboured as a son when my brother, Jean le Bossu, could not.

Jean is special to us for he is not physically strong and suffers many bouts of illness, though mentally he is forged steel. At his bidding, he is known as le Bossu – the Hunchback - and I once asked him why he became his own court jester. He replied, ‘Céci, I was bound to become a laughing stock for the lump in my back and that being the case I will tumble my bells at my convenience.’ And for all that is out of place in Jean, there is quite a lot more in place and he is well liked for it.

        The three of us were inseparable as we grew, apart from the long weeks Jean lay abed. During those times Armand and I clung together and when I would not stand for the sons of the noblesse teasing my brother’s deformity, Armand’s fists stopped what my indignant retorts could not. We would hide in Papa’s huge cellar as I cleaned his cuts and bruises, and he would laugh as he twisted my hair around his hands.

        ‘Céci,’ he would say, ‘you are my ray of sunshine, but when are you going to learn the wisdom of holding your tongue?’ But I knew Armand would forgive me, he always did. Black-haired, blue-eyed, with a smile that had the village girls queuing at the confessional, he could have wheedled the last coin from a beggar. I cried for weeks when he took up his soldier’s duty. On the night before he left, over a candle in Papa’s barn, we cut our thumbs with his dagger and, mingling our blood, swore an oath of lifelong friendship.

        Even though my father’s lands now lie under the jurisdiction of England’s Prince, two months ago I was introduced into the royal court in Paris for the purpose of marriage to the Duc Jean de Berri, brother of our Dauphin. It was a strategic ploy to tie Armagnac directly to the French throne and I was well-pleased with my forthcoming status. Besides, the Duc possesses the most wondrous library and his stables house some of the finest horseflesh in France. In these two places I could have felt some measure of happiness, for little can match the home where I grew or the affection that was nurtured beneath those beams. One does not expect love from marriage, so all in all I was satisfied. But my father’s honour was unable to continue with the deception, and he revealed that I was not born of his blood. When he learned of you, my sister, he believed it to be recompense from God, a reward for having spoken his honesty.

Where does this leave me now? I suppose my Papa shall raise my dowry to secure another match. It might help to know who I am… or maybe not. And us, Mary Catherine, what of us? You are about to enter into a lifetime commitment to God, removed from the politika that rules my world. I will become wife to whomsoever will overlook my failings. Even the lands upon which we were raised are constantly at odds. You and I have so very little in common. In truth, we are bound by only one thing. Papa told me the date of your birth, the twelfth day after Twelfth Night, Anno Domini 1341. You see, Mary Catherine, we began this life together in the womb. We are two halves of a whole. You are my twin.

Written by Cécile d’Armagnac at Palais du Rois, Paris, 3 March 10 Jean II

 

lionlionlionlionlion

 

Chapter 2

Letter from Sister Mary Catherine

Aylesbury, England

To Lady Cécile d’Armagnac, with faithful heart and loving consideration, be this letter delivered.

Sister. How do I convey the emotion conjured by just one word? How can I confer the change this has wrought upon me? Like yours, my life will never be the same.

        I had been, in God's good grace, a novice at Denny Abbey, awaiting my time to take Holy Orders, having not yet been able to prove my worthiness. Left at the mercy of my benefactress, Lady Mary St Pol, Countess of Pembroke, and the Poor Sisters of Clare when I was only a babe, I had been led to believe that 

         I was a waif with no family, poverty and piety my hand fast friends. And yet all the while I have suffered as though my heart had been cleaved. Though I have dedicated my soul to the Lord, I could not fill the void within. At last, I know why.

         Two days ago, returning from vespers, I received your letter. But the messenger was no angel from heaven. No, it was Satan, determined to molest me.

         ‘I have you at last.’ His countenance displayed evil intent.

I tried to flee but he grasped a large section of robe hanging from my elbow and pulled me back. ‘Lord God, help me.’

         ‘There is nobody to help you.’ He drew me in and covered my mouth with his hand. His face was but inches from mine, the yellow hue of his teeth visible in the candlelight. ‘I had foreseen a long and difficult search, but here you are. And all alone.’

         My attempts to break free were pitiful and I fought to scream my alarm.

         ‘I know who you are, you and your sister,’ he whispered, a grin appearing on his deeply scarred face as he waved an opened parchment before me, the very same letter I now know you so recently penned.

         ‘Your mother’s foul actions have brought untold misery to my family, but the time has come for retribution.’  

         My eyes widened with shock and confusion. He threw back his head and laughed, then with one quick, decisive movement, wrenched the veil from my head. My hair fell from its clasp and tumbled down onto my shoulders.

         ‘Yes, how like her you are,’ he mused wryly. ‘Another whore.’

         The stench of his breath was overpowering, but his hold prevented me from turning away. He smiled as his tongue, thick with mucus and the remnants of his last meal, flicked out between his coarse lips. He placed it on my chin, lingering for a moment before sliding it up and across to my nose and onto my temple, its trail chilling in the dark, cool air. I choked, my throat constricted with disgust.

         Wiping away his spittle, he released his hold.

         ‘Please, I implore you.’

         He raised his fist and struck my face. ‘Shut your filthy…’

         Before he could finish, my attacker tumbled to the floor and it was some moments before I recognised Gillet, M’lady’s steward, as my saviour. I slid to my knees and watched in horror as the villain drew a knife.

         Gillet’s eyes followed the blade as the shorter man waved it madly from side to side. Timing his attack, Gillet lunged and the two rolled over, a cloud of dust exploding as they thrashed their way across the flagstones. Snatching the intruder’s wrist, the able steward slammed the rogue's knuckles into the ground, loosening his grip on the weapon. The knife and discarded parchment skimmed across the floor towards me. The attacker grunted several times before hitting out. His swing was wide. Gillet’s fist did not miss its mark. The man’s head flew back from the force of the blow and a trail of blood oozed from his lip. Rising to his feet, Gillet retrieved the dagger from the shadows and pointed it menacingly. 

         ‘My Lord Salisbury, what are you doing?’ Lady Mary of Pembroke stepped into a shaft of light, her aura commanding a holy righteousness. ‘Gillet, stand aside!’ The steward reluctantly lowered his weapon. ‘Lord William Montagu of Salisbury, explain yourself.’

          ‘That,’ he replied, indicating in my direction, ‘is the filth which comes from the womb of a bitch in heat, the offspring of lust and the creature for whom I have long searched and now found, and as such I demand compensation for that which I am duly owed.’

         He was standing over the Lady Mary in a most demonic manner yet her courage held fast as she looked across at me. ‘Gillet, help the good Sister from the floor and take her to the infirmary. Then come to my rooms, where I will be discussing this matter with our visitor.’

         As they retired to Lady Pembroke’s private residence, I slid the forgotten parchment into my sleeve just as Gillet reached me.

‘Sister Mary Catherine, are you hurt?’

‘No, no, I am shaken but that is all.’

‘Here, let me help you.’

        ‘No, you must go to Lady Mary,’ I said as he assisted me to my feet. ‘Please, Gillet, I fear for her safety. I can make my own way downstairs. She needs you.’

He shook his head. ‘I will not leave you alone.’

        ‘Then send Anaïs to me.’

Stepping back, he bowed formally. ‘If that is what you wish.’ He peered from beneath lowered lashes to ensure we were alone and then extended his hand, his fingers lightly brushing the burgeoning bruise on my cheek. ‘Catherine?’

         ‘Please, I need you to go.’ I stood watching until he disappeared into the darkness of the corridor.

’Twas with great haste that I made my way to the rear of Lady Pembroke’s rooms, by way of the kitchens, through a passageway in the lower cloister. I peered into the gloom and found the door to the hidden cupboard, which I knew contained a peep-hole into Lady Pembroke’s private chamber. I had discovered it years ago, as a child at play. I was terrified but I had to know. Who was this man and who were the mother and sister of whom he had spoken?

         By the time I arrived they were deep in conversation. Crouching, I peered through the hole, the voices within were muffled, yet I could hear Lady Mary exclaiming her disgust at this man’s behaviour.

‘How dare you force your way into this house of God and assault one of our innocent young novices?’

‘That was no nun, as you very well know.’ He paced the room from fireplace to door.

‘You are mistaken, Lord Salisbury,’ she argued, ‘for that was…’

         ‘Enough! You and Holland can trick me no more! That was Catherine in my grip just now and I can prove it. I want her brought before me and I want it done now!’ He reached forward and pulled the Lady Mary out of her seat.

         ‘She is not here,’ she boasted, as her hands feebly wrestled with his hold on her gown.

         ‘You are a stupid old woman, Mary St Pol.’ He shook her fragile body with each word. ‘She’s in this convent and I will have her, with or without your help.’ 

         ‘I can assure you, William, you will never find her.’

His anger was without conscience and, from my concealment, I watched in horror as he struck the Lady Mary to the ground.

          ‘I have been a fool! I should not have let her out of my sight, but I thought I could convince you to see it my way. No matter.’ He kicked the seemingly lifeless body with his boot. ‘It will but forestall her discomfort.’

         He lifted his arm and with one movement swiped the contents atop the desk onto the floor, then marched from the room.

         I remained in the cupboard, shaking uncontrollably, too frightened to venture forward but desperate to assist the Lady Mary. However, it was not long before Gillet entered and fell to his knees beside my prostrate benefactress.

         ‘Lady Mary, can you hear me?’ he whispered as he gently lifted her shoulders.

         I broke free from my hiding place and within two twists of the corridor was by his side.

         ‘The Earl struck her.’

          He lay the good Lady back down. ‘You saw him leave?’

          I nodded my reply, my gaze now fixed upon the innocent victim before me.

Gillet scooped up the papers strewn across the rug and, quickly scanning them, scowled darkly. ‘Did Lady Pembroke give him anything? Did Salisbury take anything from this room?’

          ‘No.’ I looked up, puzzled at his tone. ‘I am sure he took nothing. Why?’

          He gently grasped my hand. ‘Never mind now. We must flee this place before Salisbury discovers you. I will have the chaplain attend Lady Mary.’ His concern convinced me of his sincerity but before I could leave I begged him to allow me just a few minutes with her.

          She seemed so old and broken lying on the floor. Struggling, she grasped my tunic and pulled me close, whispering but one word, over and over.

          ‘Broughton,’ she wheezed. ‘Broughton… Broughton.’

Bending lower, I was suddenly pushed aside by the frantic Sister Anne, Abbess of Denny.

‘Blessed Lord, what has happened?’

          I relinquished my hold of Lady Mary’s fingers and stepped away to allow Sister Anne to commence her ministrations.

         ‘We must be away, and quickly,’ instructed Gillet as he led me back through the kitchens and out of the garden. We found Anaïs, Denny’s kitchen maid, waiting at the waif’s gate, hopping from one leg to the other, with a small bundle of clothing tucked beneath her arm. The sounds of commotion from within the convent heightened my desperate need to escape and, creeping under cover of the orchard, we fled the great stone walls out into a world completely foreign to me.

             

I never thought I would long for the austere reverence that was my life. I want nothing more than to be on my knees, praying before the plain wooden cross, the only ornament in Lady Mary’s private chapel. Yet the familiarity of my maid is all that remains, for nothing is as it was. I am lost at sea, unable to swim, drowning as each new wave engulfs me.

          Gillet’s smile was encouraging as we sat together within the inn at Aylesbury the following day. The owner, his trusted friend, had greeted our late arrival warmly and, with politeness, held his curiosity in check.

          ‘Salisbury was seen riding towards Norwich,’ said Gillet. ‘Perhaps he has assumed that you will seek sanctuary at the cathedral.’

          ‘I pray you are right,’ I mumbled, unable to meet his gaze. ‘How long before I can return to Denny?’

          ‘You cannot go back.’

          ‘But I will be missed.’

          ‘I was told Salisbury was furious when you were not forthcoming, and swore an unholy vengeance upon you.’

          ‘What could possibly be the reason for this?’ I sobbed as Anaïs placed a comforting arm about my shaking shoulders.

          ‘Did Salisbury question you?’ demanded Gillet, reaching for a goblet from the tray of victuals.

          ‘He asked me nothing, rather, laid blame upon me for a sin committed by my mother,’ I cried. ‘I believe she is the key, for who am I if not an orphan? I must find out who she is.’

          ‘No, it is too dangerous! Once I know Salisbury’s whereabouts I can decide upon the next course of action and where best to hide you.’

          ‘Perhaps France,’ I suggested, removing your letter from my sleeve. ‘This is the parchment that he waved in my face. I have a sister, Gillet!’ I exclaimed, the truth finally dawning. ‘A twin, no less, by the name of Cécile d’Armagnac.’

          The jug of ale crashed to the floor as Gillet spun around. ‘Armagnac!’

          ‘Yes, she resides in France, mayhap I could go to her,’ I replied, frowning at the broken shards. ‘I have always known that I was not a member of the St Pol family as the Lady Pembroke is my guardian, but she inferred that I had no kin.’

          Ignoring the puddled ale, Gillet reached over and took your missive from my hands. ‘May I?’ he asked, but began reading before I consented. He first glanced at the final page and read your name aloud, before returning to the beginning. ‘Comte d’Armagnac has broken your sister’s engagement!’

          ‘Yes, as her breeding was questionable.’

          ‘It would seem that the courier delivering her letter was intercepted. I can only assume then that Salisbury has had you within his sights for some time. Perhaps he was simply waiting for confirmation.’

          ‘Confirmation of what?’ asked Anaïs, her arm remaining protectively about my back.

          He took a goodly sip of ale before answering. ‘Their location.’

             

‘Will you reply to Cécile's letter?’ asked Anaïs as she wiped ale from her mouth with the back of her hand. She is a little older than I and born in Gascony. She once intimated that she had known Gillet when they were children and therefore was able to form a firm friendship with Lady Mary’s steward. Gillet is the centre of my dear friend’s world. She discusses him endlessly and exalts his reliability at every opportunity. I suspect she is more than a little in love with him.

          ‘Of course I shall reply to my sister! I intend to ask permission to seek refuge with her.’

          ‘No!’ retorted Gillet. ‘For we have much to consider, as it seems that Salisbury wants you both. If you go you will be playing right into his hands. Separately, you are much harder to locate.’

          ‘But now we have found each other we must be together and learn more of our mother and father.’

          ‘Mary Catherine, you do not understand. To go now would be to place Demoiselle d’Armagnac in extreme danger. I will deliver your letter to France and seek explanations. ’Tis imperative that you remain hidden within these walls until I return. Adam will see you safe.’

          Rising to her feet, Anaïs appeared somewhat disgruntled. ‘Why must it be you who goes?’

          ‘Because only I can.’

So, my sister, I write this now, for on the morrow Gillet is away to you. I am most desperately sorry for any hurt I have caused. You were to wed a duke. I was to marry into the church. We have both lost a great deal. Yet there is so much to be gained. That you bear a great love for your cousin and brother is obvious. Can you not find a corner in your heart for me?

          I cannot imagine what your life has been like and understand my existence will not be to your taste. Until three days ago I had not travelled more than two miles from Denny, nor frequented an inn, let alone feasted on such delicacies as capons and dried figs. My purse is meagre and my knowledge minute. Yet, though I have been thrust out into a place so frightening, so dark, there is hope, for we have each other. Dearest sister, your friendship would mean more than you could ever know. Will you not grant it?

Dedicating my prayers to your safety and good health.

By your grace, Sister Mary Catherine.

Written from the King’s Arms in the village of Aylesbury, Feast of Saint Paul Aurelian, 12 March 34 Edward III

**

Gillet de Bellegarde reined in his horse. Shielding his eyes from the afternoon glare, he stared at the walled city of Paris. What foolishness had come over him? Madame Fate was playing the whore, opening her legs to entice him. If he succumbed and slid his hand up her thigh, he knew she would snap her knees shut. She always did. But what choice did he have? The girl was Armagnac.

          He swallowed heavily and ran a finger around the collar of his doublet, feeling an invisible noose tightening. Two years ago he escaped the real thing, saved by the intervention of one man – Jean d’Armagnac. But had it saved him or just prolonged his misery? The price had been high. To serve his former master, the Prince of Wales. Were he discovered now, he would die a traitor’s death, but this time he would deserve it.

It was opportune that King Edward had chosen him to carry the ransom for a favoured courtier. It was convenient that the destination was the Dauphin’s palace where the Armagnac girl resided. To the north King Edward moved on Burgundy. To the south, in Chartres, his son, the Prince of Wales, waited. And straight ahead was the daughter of Armagnac. Gillet blinked in the harsh sunlight. Oh, yes, Fate was playing the whore but perhaps if he moved his hand skilfully enough, he could settle his accounts with all three.

 

To read more, you can purchase this book by clicking on the picture.

Top▲