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Dedication
This novel is dedicated to Raghda. I have been corresponding with Raghda for some time. She is a student in Baghdad, Iraq. I haven’t heard from her in nearly a year. The last I heard she tried desperately to attend college and get her degree in computer programming. She told me of watching teachers, students, and guards being gunned down in front of her. I haven’t heard from her. I try to believe she is alive and living in Syria with her family. Raghda loved “Conquer My Heart” and asked me to write another Medieval Novel. Raghda, I dedicate to you, “Stone Heart.”

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Stone Heart
All Rights Reserved © 2007 by Payton Lee No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information storage retrieval system, without the permission in writing from the author. Contact Payton Lee at http://www.paytonlee.com Email: pyoung8@cfl.rr.com Ebook authorized for free download only by Payton Lee. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author. Once again the author had has added a character who is a friend. She is Kris Tulloch. The character Christofre reflects the personality of Kris. Christofre is also the master of her kitchen and is a superior caterer displaying the medieval talents of a modern day Kris. Here is to you, Kris.

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Chapter One
The three knights were weary from the journey. They left London a week ago. The baggage wagons slowed the progress of the cavalcade when they became stuck in the muddy ruts of the road paths. It seemed the rain never stopped since they left London. “Your sire picked a horrid time of year to command your presence at Keyes,” Sir Lewis grumbled pulling his hood down further to cover his face. William shrugged. He was not in a pleasant mood. The rain was running down his face like small rivulets. He was soaked through to the skin and his woolen tunic was emitting a very unpleasant odor from the soaking. The wagons had stopped them three times this morning. They were still at least four days from Keyes Castle. If this rain continued it could very well take another week to get to the castle. He was starting to chill with the cold rain. Dusk would soon be approaching. Sir Gaston was returning, he had ridden ahead looking for shelter. A town was nearby, but they weren’t certain how close they were. “Wills, there is a town ahead only a short distance. It has a hostel. I’ve arranged for shelter.” “Blessings upon you,” Lewis shouted. He spurred his Destrier into a run passing William and Gaston. “At last a warm dry bed, dry clothes, warm hearth, hot food, and warm Ale. Lord be praised.” William and Gaston watched the knight disappear down the path as he galloped around the curve. A copse of trees shielded the path from observation. “I have to admit I intend to enjoy those same comforts,” Gaston laughed. “I nearly did not return to you. The hearth was most inviting.” “Then let us enjoy such comforts post haste,” William grinned. His thoughts were of a good meal, ale, warmth, a dry bed and of course a wench to warm him. William spurred his horse into a gallop. Gaston was behind him. The squires, pages, wagons, and camp followers also picked up their pace. ***

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“At last, there it is,” Reimond stated raising his bowed head to look at Keye’s Castle with relief. Ahead there were warm hearths. There would be food and ale. Keye’s Castle would offer comfort and respite from his sodden journey. He was also worried about his eldest daughter, Sarra. She was soaked to the bone. She had been sneezing the last furlong. He was worried she might catch the ague. If anything happened to her he didn’t know if he could go on. His youngest daughter, Sabina was already happily married and expecting his first grandchild. He was thrilled, but Sarra was always his favorite. It was Sarra that continued making his cold castle of Mondel a warm and inviting home. Reimond remembered his beloved Joy. Reimond considered his great fortune to have Joy as his good wife. She was perfect for him. Sarra was trained well by her mother. Sarra not only continued her mother’s work, she looked like his beloved wife. Sarra looked to her father. She was soaked from the rain down to her skin. The cold rain was giving her chills. Her teeth were beginning to chatter. “No..oo..tt.. tt a mo..mo..ment anon,” Sarra chattered with her teeth. “I am co…old to my...my...bo...ones.” “We will have warm shelter and warm drink soon,” Reimond promised. This was a poor time of year to travel. He could not understand why his liege lord would summon, not only him, but his daughter also. Reimond had always known Edmond to be considerate of his Stewards. Edmond had been a fierce and powerful knight, but he followed the rules of chivalry. It was a bit unreasonable to travel in the early fall. The roads were almost impassable during this season. It was difficult at best for a knight, even an old knight, but expecting a young woman to endure the journey was unreasonable to say the least. It certainly did not fit Reimond’s respect for his liege lord, Edmond. There must be something important for Edmond to call him and Sarra. Sarra was cursing the Earl of Sussex under her breath. This weather was most foul indeed. She felt she weighed another fifty pounds under the wet woolen cape, tunic, and gown. She was also worried for her father riding in this weather. He was no longer a young man to endure such a journey with these weather conditions. The men at arms were not used to such travel either. Sarra worried most about her maidservant, Roese. Her maid was two score and four. Roese was maidservant to her mother and was like her second mother. Even today Roese would worry over her care like a mother hen. This was not the weather to expose a delicate older woman like her Roese. As soon as they entered Keye’s keep, she would ask for hot cider to warm them and then a good meat broth. 6

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A few minutes later, although it seemed like another hour, the travelers crossed the drawbridge into the bailey. Reimond had identified whom they were and the drawbridge was lowered immediately. The guard had been told to expect Lord Albyn. Sarra’s spirits were beginning to improve with the warmth of hearth so near. She thought it strange that there was no greeting for them. The Marshal had been called and approached the small caravan to care for the unloading of the wagons and the care of the horses. But there were no knights or men at arms to give proper greeting. Sarra’s father was the Steward of Mondel Castle. It was a large manor and he was given the dukedom of Mondel. Chivalry demanded a proper and respectful greeting. There was no greeting. The Marshal assisted Sarra from her palfrey. “Welcome, my lady.” “Thank you, kind sir. Why is there no one about?” Sarra queried. “We were summoned to Keye’s Castle by his lordship. Yet, we are not greeted. Surely it is not the weather. You must have known we approached. The gate keeper was told to expect us.” “Lord Edmond told us to expect Lord Albyn and his daughter, but we did not know when to expect you. We were heralded when told a caravan approached, but we did not know it was you. The rain obscured our vision and your pennants,” Marshal Bouvier apologized. He realized the lady might be insulted. “We did not know who you were until you hailed our guard. Until then we assumed you might be merely travelers seeking shelter from the weather.” “I understand the confusion,” Sarra replied quietly. “We are truly sodden and in need of a warm fire and hot drink.” “Lord Edmond is in residence and in the keep,” Marshal Bouvier informed. He motioned for his helpers to assist the Lord Albyn and ladies maid. He personally walked Sarra to the keep and led her to the great hall. Sarra was shocked at the interior of the keep. The rushes were in need of changing. The hearth was not warm and welcoming for such inclement weather. She also noticed there simply was not a single lady present. There were women servants, but not a single lady to be found, not even at the ill kept hearth where the women usually worked on embroidery. Sarra was also surprised to see that there were only a few knights sitting near the hearth. The inclement weather should have brought most of them near the fires and warm drink. Where were they? This was a very large castle and would have an equally large retinue of knights, men at arms, squire, and pages. She couldn’t 7

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think about that right now. She attempted to remove her soaked and heavy woolen mantel. She could barely walk for its weight. Her hands were so cold she could barely move her fingers. Marshal Bouvier noticed Sarra struggling with her mantel. He came to her assistance and unpinned the heavy brooch holding the mantel in place. In a smooth hand movement, he removed it and placed it on an iron hook near the fireplace to dry. “My gratitude,” Sarra appreciated. “Would you help my Pere’, please?” Sarra looked to Roese. The older woman could barely walk. Sarra was still soaked through to her skin, but removing the weight of the mantel had helped. Although her hands were still stiff from the cold she managed to undo Roese’s brooch holding her mantel. The two women let it fall and left it. Sarra ushered Roese and her father to the two empty chairs nearest the fireplace. Marshal Bouvier was already stoking the fire after adding another large log to the hearth. The fire was beginning to emit a welcoming heat. Sarra warmed her hands near the hearth. “Where are the ladies of the castle? I would like a solar for us to change into dry clothes. We are in need of a warm drink, hot broth, and bread.” Marshal Bouvier looked sheepishly. “This castle has no lady.” “What?” Sarra gasped. “The baron has no lady to tend his manor? Surely he has wards?” “Lord Edmond has a granddaughter, she is but a maiden child. Oriel is a mere four years in the King’s reign,” Bouvier explained. He continued on with the story of why there were no ladies present. “His daughter in law passed shortly after birthing Oriel. His good wife passed many reigns back. She died soon after the birth of her fourth son. The lord did not want to marry again, for reasons of his own. We have had many wards, but they do not like the strain of keeping such a large manor. They quickly marry, or King John takes them off to his court in London.” Sarra was exasperated. “Is there any person here to see to our needs?” “Aye, we have Christofre,” Bouvier stated. “She has been with the castle before the eldest son was born to Lord Edmond. She served the Lady Laurette as cook until she took over the care as nurse to William. When William, Henry, Andrew, and Edward were grown, she returned to managing the kitchens. Tis her greatest love and interest.” “Then Christofre is the Lady of Keyes,” Sarra deduced.

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“No, she is the closest the keep has to a fine lady, but she is not of noble blood,” Marshal explained. “We are all fond of her. She is like mother to us all.” “This is strange indeed,” Sarra commented. At least there was someone to turn to for the running of the castle. “Where is Christofre? Should she not be here to greet us?” “Our Christofre is quite devout. She is attending mass,” Bouvier clarified. “Christofre attends twice a day and never misses a mass.” “Then I will have need of a female servant,” Sarra requested. She looked around and found an older women coming from a door holding fresh tablecloths to spread upon the tables for the evening meal. She looked over her shoulder and spotted an older female servant coming through the archway looking about for someone or something. Sarra called to her. “Come hither!” The women obeyed immediately seeing the dress of a lady. The lady was also speaking to Marshal Bouvier. “Milady?” “Would you kindly take me to the kitchens? I need a hot stew for my Pere’ and companion. We are chilled to bone. I would also ask you to find room for us. We need to change from these sodden clothes,” Sarra requested gently. “Are there other servants about to assist us?” “This way milady,” Jacoba responded walking briskly toward the kitchens. “We will find other servants there to care for your needs.” Sarra was baffled by the lack of care for the castle and the lack of staffing. “Where are all the servants, knights, men at arms, pages, squires, and where is the lord of Keyes?” Jacoba responded quickly and honestly, “When Christofre is at mass and the Lord Edmond takes his rest, especially during weather so bad as this, the knights and men at arms warm their pallets with willing ladies. The squires and pages take refuge in the walls to play their games. The rest of the servants such as myself see to the keep, aide in cooking the meal, and prepare for supper.” Sarra entered the kitchen when Jacoba had finished with her explanations for the lack of staff. Sarra was furious. She would never allow a keep to be run so slovenly. The kitchen was completely different; it was clean, organized, and well staffed. Everyone here knew what he or she was about and what was to be done. The aroma was heavenly and it felt warm with friendliness about it. The pots, pans, and working tables were clean. The cooks and bakers worked in the same area without interfering or disrupting another. 9

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Jacoba started ordering the younger cooks. Several trays were ready with hot stew, warm bread, and hot cider. The young servant girls each took a tray into the hall. Jacoba offered Sarra a cup of hot broth. “The gels will take care of your Da and companion. Drink this and I’ll take you to a fine woman’s solar. It used to belong to the Lady Edith.” Sarra took the cup and supped slowly. The broth was very deliciously spiced and tasted wonderful. It was also a hot broth that she savored greedily. She was indeed cold through to her bones. “The Lady Edith?” “Aye, the pretty young wife of the Lord’s Heir, Sir William de Warre,” Jacoba answered. “She were a fine lady, but so delicate. Tis a tragedy for the little moppet to grow without the loving guidance of her Mama and care of her Da.” “The Lady Edith passed?” Sarra queried simply for conversation as she enjoyed her cup of hot brew. “Aye, the little moppet not more than two score den since birth,” Jacoba sighed. “Lady Edith were delicate. She be too delicate for childbirth. The poor lass never recovered from the child lay in.” “Was her husband with her?” Sarra questioned. Why that question popped into her mind she didn’t know, but the words were out of her mouth before she knew it. “No, tis makes the tale I tell even more sorrowful,” Jacoba related enjoying the telling of it to the lady visitor. “Sir Wills was here for the birth but left after the maiden child was presented to him. He looked at the child and coldly told me to take it back to its mother for care. He had no interest in a maiden child.” Sarra arched her brow. It was an affectation everyone noticed. It was a signal she was upset at some news. “How cruel!” “Oh, his lordship isn’t cruel. He has a cold stone heart. He inherited it from his Mamma, he did. She was a cold woman. The Earl suffered greatly wed to the Lady Laurette.” Sarra felt a concern for the innocent child. “What of the maiden child. How old is she? What is her name? Does she still live at Keyes, or did her mother’s family foster her?” “Our little Lady Oriel lives here with us,” Jacoba smiled. “She is strong like her Da, but sweet like her Mamma. The Earl dotes upon her and is his delight. She is nearly six years in the king’s reign. Such a beautiful adorable moppet she is.” Jacoba loved talking about the little Oriel. Everyone in the castle keep adored her. She was also a spitfire who loved to play pranks. Jacoba didn’t feel that was necessary to inform the visiting lady. 10

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“Come with me,” Jacoba invited. “I will take you to the solar. Marshal Bouvier is sending your baggage there. Your Da will be sleeping in the solar next to the great hall. Duns Bouvier will take him there after his hot meal. Duns will see to it that servants are sent to light the hearth, warm the bed, provide a hot bath, and help him to dress.” “And my companion?” “She will be brought to the solar after her meal,” Jacoba promised. Sarra was led to the solar on the third floor of the castle keep. She was pleased to see several servants bringing in hot water to a large tub for her bath. Chambermaids were already unpacking her clothes and storing them properly. Other maids were lighting a fire and putting fresh linens on the canopied bed. The room appeared to recently have been cleaned and aired. Several minutes later the servants left the room. Sarra eyed the tub with the steaming water longingly. She began to disrobe when Jacoba insisted upon assisting her. Jacoba took Sarra’s fine linen braes folding them perfectly and placing them upon the bed. “Would you have me wash your hair, milady?” “Aye, that would be appreciated,” Sarra sighed slipping into the hot water tub. The water was a perfect temperature. It was not to hot, but not warm. Sarra noticed the soap offered for her bath and wrinkled her nose. She was pleased she brought her lavender soap bars with her. “Jacoba, in my small chest, the one with the rose carving, are bars of my soap. Would you bring it to me?” Jacoba cocked her head and thought for a moment about he lady’s request. She had put soap out for her bath. She spotted the chest. Jacoba moved swiftly to open it. She thought, why not retrieve the soap? It would also give her an opportunity to placate her curiosity. What servant didn’t enjoy looking at the belongings of a lady? It often revealed what the lady was all about. Opening the chest she found wimples of the softest sheer fabrics, several soft linen and silken braes, and there were the bars of soap. An aroma of fragrant lavender rose from the chest and the surrounding fabrics. Jacoba was astounded. The bars of soap smelled of fragrant lavender. The soap in this castle was made with caustic lye and fat. It was a terrible aroma just to get clean. “Milady, this soap is so fine. Your demesne must be wealthy indeed to afford these luxuries from the merchants.” Sarra choked back a chuckle. She was surprised that Jacoba was so impressed with the soap. She was more surprised that Jacoba thought this soap could only be purchased. Then she looked at the simple lye and fat soap Jacoba had laid out for her bath. Perhaps this keep did not know the recipe for 11

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making fragrant soap. “Our demesne isn’t wealthy, Jacoba. We make the fragranced soap?” “Oh, such a treasure,” Jacoba sighed bringing Sarra the soap. “I truly wish you could share this recipe with our soap maker.” “If there is time,” Sarra promised. “I will show your soap maker.” Jacoba rolled up her sleeves and dipped the soap in the tub. She took a cup to fill with water and gently dipped Sarra’s head backward to wash her hair. Sarra was enjoying her hair washing when she sensed another presence in the room. Roese moved silently to Sarra’s chests and checked on the servants’ work of storing her ladies garments. Sarra recognized the flash from the corner of her eye. “Roese, when I am finished would you like to bathe?” “Aye, that I would,” Roese answered instantly. Her clothes were dry, but still had the unpleasant aroma of wet wool. She itched, felt filthy from the road grime, and dearly wanted a bath. Jacoba was rinsing Sarra’s hair when the new voice was heard. “You’ve done well, Jacoba. I am so pleased with your hospitality in my absence.”

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Chapter Two
William was grateful for the small, but clean hostelry. Walking to the blazing fire he held out his hands to warm them. Lewis was already sitting at a table drinking a large tankard of hot cider. “Keeper, bring me one of those.” The keeper was thrilled to have the sodden knights as his guests. Few people traveled during this time of year since it was just past Michaelmas and the heavy rain didn’t help matters. To the innkeepers delight, his guests were nobility. Berold rushed to do the knights bidding. In the kitchen he took the cauldron with the warming cider and poured it into two tankards. “Mirabel, how long until the trenchers are ready?” “Not long, good husband,” Mirabel smiled sharing her husband’s excitement at the travelers’ arrival. Not only were three royal knights here for shelter, but also a small cavalcade would soon arrive. There was money to be made on this day. “Good man,” William complimented the innkeeper when Berold handed him a tankard of hot cider. “Our cavalcade will arrive soon. I will be responsible for their care. Is it possible to get a hot bath?” Berold nodded his head up and down. The knight would pay for food and drinks of an entire cavalcade. How fortunate. “Mirabel will heat water and I will prepare your bath after your trencher.” “Good man,” William appreciated. “A woman named Elena will be arriving with my cavalcade. Feed her and send her to my room when the bath is prepared. She is...ah… my personal servant.” Berold again nodded his head with excitement. He knew what the knight was inferring. It was not for him to say yea or nay. He would be getting a great deal of money. Mirabel brought in the trenchers, served William, Lewis, and Gaston. She quickly returned to the kitchen to prepare more trenchers for men at arms, squires, and camp followers. She expected at least a dozen more guests. They had plenty of food and now they would have a substantial income to last over the winter months. The cavalcade arrived. The hostel was too small for an additional twelve people. Berold put the squires and men at arms in the stables and served them trenchers. The two women and a young boy they put in the 13

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hostel with the knights. Berold asked which one was Elena. When she identified herself, he gave her a trencher before the other two and the boy. He whispered to her that the tallest and handsomest of the knights would be waiting for her after his meal. He explained to Elena that he was to bring up hot water for a bath. She was to assist the great knight with his bath. Elena smiled. She accepted the trencher and ate slowly. She had plenty of time until the bath water would be ready. She had become William’s favorite light skirt. She was grateful. William was a generous lover and she could actually save some coin. She wanted a better life for her young son. It wasn’t his fault his father was killed in the king’s service as a man at arms. Her Gilbert had nothing except his pay in the army. He knew they shouldn’t wed, but they loved each other. She really had no one except a sister and brother in law that made her feel like a burden. When Gilbert was killed she had nothing except the babe he left growing within her. She loved her son, but living with her sister became impossible. There wasn’t a day that went by that didn’t have her brother in law complaining about not only the burden of a useless sister, but now a child. The decision to leave occurred when her brother in law trapped her in the field and tried to rape her as payment for her living with them. If she were to become a prostitute she would be paid for it. It wasn’t too bad a life. She pleased the knights and they paid well. Her son, Paulin was a good boy. He was quiet and stayed with Beata or Gunora when she was working. The three women found each other at the same camp not too long ago. They became friends and stayed with each other finding only the most noble of knights to offer their services. Beata was the favorite of Hubard, a man of arms in attendance to William de Warre and was returning to Keyes Castle. Hubard wanted to remain at the castle keep. Beata was hinting that she and Hubard would wed and both would remain there. Elena was happy for Beata. It meant she would work at her plan to remain at Keyes Castle. How fortunate this weather brought her to William’s bed before they arrived at Keyes Castle. *** Elena used the soap and rag to wash William thoroughly. Currently she was massaging his back with soapy hot water. William enjoyed Elena’s machinations completely. Elena was one of the best light skirts he had relations with. She rarely spoke and more importantly took a tea of pennyroyal every morning. William did not want any bastards from his dalliance. He already had a maiden child from his wife. What was the child’s name? He had forgotten. He hadn’t been back to Keyes 14

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Castle since the death of his wife, Edith. Prince John needed every knight possible for his foray into battle with the French. William was willing and eager to get away from the responsibility of Keyes Castle. Besides, what was he going to do with a maiden babe? His brother, Henry left with him leaving his younger brothers, Andrew and Edward at Keyes. Andrew left a year later for his last year of training before becoming a knight, and Edward left as Squire to Sir Leofric near Wales. William rose from the tub. Elena brought his cloth and assisted in drying. Soon William took Elena’s hands and kissed them. In a moment his lips were upon hers as his hands deftly removed her gown, tunic, chemise, and braes. His hands were soon fondling Elena’s ample breasts as he moved her nearer to the pallet. He laid her gently upon the pallet and commanded, “Open for me.” Elena was obedient. She sighed as William slid his sword into her wet and warm sheath. Elena palmed William’s broad shoulders in synchrony to William’s physical movements as he eased his sword in and out to the need of his release. Soon he would have his ease. She was enjoying the sexual tryst. How fortunate for her that William was not only a generous lover, but also a handsome one and a pleasure giver. William roared with his pleasure and release. He enjoyed Elena’s body for his physical need, but he always felt there was something missing. He could never figure out what it was. She was certainly more pleasurable than his wife had been. Edith had been completely unresponsive to his need. She even cried whenever he entered her. She bemoaned how painful it was. Could that have been true? She was never wet and ready for him. How they created a child he would never understand. What was the babe’s name? He should remember? Shouldn’t he? He refocused his attention to Elena. She had moved to the side allowing room for his massive body on the pallet. Of course she would sleep with him this evening. He was still cold to his bones from their travel. The exercise had warmed him, yet he wanted to be warm all night in this skimpy pallet. “Ah, Elena,” William sighed. “You are a good Leman.” He rolled to his side extending his arm to fondle her breasts. He waited for her to compliment him as a lover. She usually did. He waited. He waited for sometime. She gave no response. “Elena?” “Wot?” Elena questioned distractedly. “Something is weighing heavily on your mind?” Again there was no response. “You are worried for Paulin? Is he ailing?” Elena shrugged. “No, Paulin is well.” 15

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Again came the silence. This was beginning to unnerve William. Elena was usually happy, gay, and talkative. William turned her to face him. “Is something ailing you? You are not with,” William hesitated. He could barely say the words. “You are not breeding?” It would be his bastard if she were breeding. He really did not want any bastards. Finally he saw a smile cross Elena’s lips. He took a breath in relief. “No, I am not breeding. I do not want a bastard child either,” Elena responded. “I was just thinking.” “Share with me your thoughts,” William offered cheerfully. He was relieved what ever was bothering Elena was not his bastard. To his dismay Elena’s countenance once again turned serious. “I have been thinking of my future and of Paulin’s future.” “Surely the coin I give you is better than most,” William suggested in confusion. Why would she worry about a future now? “Aye, you are generous,” Elena agreed. “Still, this is not the future for the rest of my life and I want to give Paulin a more secure home.” “You are still young and attractive,” William complimented. “Why worry now? When you are older, Paulin will be a man and off on his own.” “Then wot will I have? Wot will I have given him?” Elena sighed sadly. “I want and need a place to stay. I do not like wandering about. Wot of you? Will you not be staying at Keyes Castle? Your men at arms seem to think this will be the future.” “My father is ailing. That does not mean I will be taking over Keyes Castle. I have finished my obligations to King John. What my future will be is still uncertain. I do not wish to return to London Court. I do not wish to take over the responsibility of the Earldom. What started this thinking?” “Beata will be staying at Keyes Castle. She is to wed one of your men at arms. It is my dream to live in one place with my son,” Elena replied quietly. Her emotions were barely in control. It was something she really wanted. She held her breath and hoped Sir William would allow her to continue. “You desire to wed?” William questioned. He was curious about this new side of Elena. “No. My lost good man was my true love. Unlike Beata I have not yet met another to make my heart sing. What I want is an honorable place in a nobleman’s keep. I desire a way to make a simple but happy living. I need just enough to provide my son with a quiet warm place to sleep every night and food in his belly every day. This is wot I desire.” 16

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William stroked Elena’s long brown hair. “If you really desire this life I will see to it that you obtain a position in Keyes Castle.” Elena brightened. Her face glowed with a warm smile. “You will do this for me?” “You truly want this? You are a talented leman,” William chuckled twirling a lock of her hair. “Aye, m’lord. I truly want this.” Elena was elated. If anyone could procure her a position in the castle, it would be the old lord’s heir, Sir William. “Then you shall have your dream,” William promised. It was a simple task that he could easily take care of. With Elena in the castle, he could still use her services when needed. It was not unusual for a lord to use the servants in such a manner. Especially use a comely wench such as Elena Foster. He felt Elena’s warmth near his body. Once again he placed his arm across her and began fondling her breasts. He was extremely tired. In moments he was sound asleep. *** “I refuse to leave until the rain stops,” Casse snapped angrily stomping her foot. Her father and mother had stopped at a nearby fief manor when the heavy rains began. After several days of heavy raining the downpour turned into a light mist. “The rain has eased,” Crispin cajoled. It had taken him the better half of the morning to convince his wife they must leave the manor. He promised her more jewelry and fine cloths. He knew Olive would still not cooperate unless his daughter Casse agreed. Casse would be more difficult. It was his fault. Casse was so beautiful, that even as a child she merely had to look softly at any man and he would give her anything she asked. He certainly had given her everything he could. He nearly bankrupt his own demesne to provide Casse her wants. He was putty in her hands as was any man. Yet, he feared his liege lord. Edmond had commanded his family to Keyes Castle posthaste. It was a long journey from Tomes Castle. They were still three days from Keyes Castle. The weather had made Crispin long for the shelter and comforts of such a large castle as Keyes. He also had little money to spare for hostels and food for his caravan, since most of his money he had left would be used to buy more pretty things for his wife and daughter. He was worried about the return trip home. He doubted he would have any money left for food and shelter. He would have to borrow from Sir Edmond. That wouldn’t be very good either since his demesne had little money. A very sad 17

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state of affairs since this Michaelmas was only a few weeks ago. The older his daughter became, the deeper in debt was his demesne. He would cut more corners. There was nothing else to be done. “Our Liege Lord has commanded us to Keyes Castle. We must continue.” Casse’s eyes turned cold. “You care more for Lord Edmond? I thought you cared more for me. How can you expose me to this horrid trip? Why did Lord Edmond even call you to his castle? Why bring me? What does he want? Of what purpose is this misery to me?” Crispin was immediately contrite. “There are no answers to these questions. I have asked myself over and over again. No one is more troubled than I to bring you and your Mere on this journey. I can tell you nothing other than I suffer in my heart for answering my Lord’s missive. I must however answer to my lord.” Casse rolled her eyes. There was only her world and her comfort. She could never comprehend her father’s cowing to this Baron. Who was he compared to her? “Then you continue on, alone.” Crispin finally had a counter to use for accomplishing Edmond’s command. “Daughter, what will you do here alone? There are no merchants or fairs. This hostel is nothing compared to a fine castle such as Keyes. There you will have merchants with fine silks, damasks, and velvets. There will be jewelers. All of them will be vying to offer their wares to a beautiful woman, my daughter.” Casse smiled. Of course merchants! Her vanity had been touched. She had heard of Keyes Castle. It was wealthy and large. Many merchants and tradesmen lived in the keep or bailey. There would be many more choices to be made. Perhaps they would go to London. How she wanted to go to London. Keyes Castle wasn’t that far away from Westminster. It was only three or four days. “Of course, Pere. You must obey your Lord de Warre.” Olive and Casse huddled in the covered cart. They were covered with warm fur robes. Crispin rode on his horse in the misting rain. At least it was not pouring rain. The servants walked along side the horse pulled cart. Two knights rode in the front of the cart and four men of arms walked behind the cart. “Have you been to Keyes Castle, Mere? Is it truly as large a keep as I have heard it to be?” “Aye, I have been there once. It was before you were born. I was coming from London. I had been a lady in waiting for the queen. King Henry betrothed me to your father and sent me with escort. We passed through 18

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Keyes Castle. The keep is large and wealthy,” Olive sighed. “It is beautiful to remember.” “Are there many merchants and tradesman in the keep and nearby?” Casse inquired. “It has been nearly a score since I visited the castle keep, but even then there were plenty,” Olive smiled. “We will have many choices to shop.” Casse was pleased, but curiosity still plagued her. “Do you know why Pere was called to Lord de Warre’s castle?” Olive shook her head. “I even read the missive. It commanded your father to bring us to Keyes Castle with post haste. That is what the missive stated and nothing more. It did truly confound your Pere. Lord Edmond has never called us before. This time of year calling for an audience is also rare for the problems with weather and traveling.” Olive trembled slightly. “Our keep has not been prosperous of late. I hope we are not called to count. Our castle and keep are relatively small in comparison to Keyes, but we are comfortable.” “I still would like to see all that is not available to me,” Casse remarked. She was thinking of all the luxury and wealth she would enjoy. She smirked a little. She should have thought of all this wealth when her Pere first told her they would have to leave their little world.

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Chapter Three
A tall woman stood in the solar. She offered Sarra a warm friendly face. “I regret not meeting you upon your arriving at Keyes Castle and seeing to your needs. Unfortunately the servants find numerous places to hide and play when I am attending mass and the Lord takes his rest.” Sarra felt comfortable in the woman’s presence. She was dressed well, but not the jewels, materials, and wimple of a lady. Instead she wore comfortable linen clothing of muted earth colors and a linen wimple. Sarra had never recalled seeing a woman of such height. This woman was taller than most villeins. Sarra returned a warm smile, “You must be Christofre.” “Aye, that would be myself,” Christofre answered walking into the solar. “I was told you are the ruling lady of Keyes Castle,” Sarra remarked relaxing back in the tub and running her fragrant soap down her arm. “That would not be a truth,” Christofre denied. “Tis true I rule the kitchens, but have had little training in the running of a demesne or castle. Truly it has been only time and again when this castle did not have a lady ruling it. None I liked overly much, and none that would take time to instruct me in such lessons.” “I heard the Lord de Warre has a petite fille. I heard the enfant lives here and is not being fostered. Does this mean the enfant is not receiving training from a lady?” Sarra questioned. Her curiosity always had been more powerful than common sense and courtesy. “Is there no one to train the servants in courtesy, serving, responsibility, and accounting?” That was incredible to Sarra. She had been trained for running a castle since she could walk. Sarra and her sister Sabina had the king’s best instructor, their mother. Christofre offered Sarra a bright smile. She had been taken into Lord Edmond’s confidence. Christofre knew that Lord Edmond had sent for two ladies, one to be chosen as his eldest son’s wife. Oriel had been in a particularly dangerous situation. They found her walking the parapets at night. Lord Edmond could not discipline his beloved granddaughter, even when she placed her life in danger. He realized Oriel needed a lady’s hand. She needed to be trained in the fine arts of being a woman. That was something he simply could not do. Oriel needed a mother, 20

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and he determined Wills needed a wife. It was about time Wills learned his duties as Baron of Sussex. Lord Edmond had hoped Wills marriage to Lady Edith would produce offspring and an heir. He had forced William to marry Lady Edith believing her quiet gentle nature would suit him. His nature was cold, removed, and strong. Instead he watched Edith cower in his son’s presence. The lady feared her husband. It was said Lady Edith died from fear after delivering William a daughter instead of a son. His son did not even visit his wife after birthing Oriel. When William was told it was a female enfant, he told the servant to return it to its mother. He had no interest in it. He remained only a few days after Lady Edith died. He saw to her burial and left for a battle somewhere in France. Wills often wrote missives to his father. Lord Edmond usually knew where his son could be located if needed. William was needed, now! Oriel needed her father and a mother. Keyes Castle needed heirs, and most definitely Keyes Castle needed a lady to run the castle. Even the servants were now complaining about the state of Keyes Castle. The women previously running the castle were not well liked, but there definitely had been a more organized management. Christofre was capable of learning under proper tutelage, but she really wasn’t interested. At the time, Lord Edmond had no desire to take another wife. The one chosen for him had been his nightmare long enough to last a lifetime. It was also the reason he selected a simple and gentle woman like Edith for William. This time he brought two women for William to choose. The women were chosen for their ages and inheritance. He wanted to see them with his son before he made a decision, or allowed his son to make a decision. He had heard of Edith’s quiet gentle nature. He was wrong to pair his son with her. He didn’t know how timid Edith was. This time he wanted to watch interaction with not only his son, but also his beloved Oriel. Christofre was pleased Sarra had inquired about Oriel’s training. That was the first plus for Sarra in Christofre’s mind. Education was important to Sarra. The little girl she had not yet met, was important to Sarra. “There is no lady available for training our precious, Oriel,” Christofre replied. “One is needed. Oriel has reached the age to begin training.” “You could foster her,” Sarra suggested rising from the tub. She reached for the towels to dry her body. Jacoba was there to assist her. Roese brought a clean soft chemise tunic and gown for her lady. Soon it would be time for the dinner meal. Christofre drew in her breath. “No, milady. We adore her. I can’t imagine life in Keyes Castle without her. She is such a happy child and so 21

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energetic. She is so much like her Pere when he was a boy. The Lord Edmond surely would not give up the light of his life.” A paradox, Sarra thought. He won’t foster the child but he is having problems with her already. “Why did not Lord Edmond take another wife?” That remark made Christofre laugh heartily. “Lord Edmond swore an oath that one wife in his life had been more than enough. Never again would he allow a pretty face and young body muddle his brain.” “Then he should find an ugly old wife with a good spirit,” Sarra suggested in wit. “He swore no wife ever again,” Christofre countered, “but he should have thought of those possibilities. Perhaps it is not too late. I think I shall suggest it, or perhaps you might when you meet his lordship this evening at the table.” Christofre assisted Sarra with her gown and tunic. It was a lovely dark blue velvet tunic covering the lighter blue bliaut with tight fitting sleeves. The tunic was decorated on the neck and trumpet sleeves with intricate silver embroidery of leaves and flowers. She left her hair unbound, but Roese covered it with a sheer wimple held in place with a simple circlet of silver. Sarra was not a raving beauty. Her simplicity radiated an inner beauty that enhanced her average appearance. Christofre had been immediately impressed that Sarra showed concern for the child, Oriel. Christofre was extremely talented in sizing up character and this Sarra was approved as a potential mother. Christofre liked Sarra right off. “I must return to the kitchens and prepare for the meal to be served. I will see you anon.” “I hope you will avail yourself tomorrow to show me the castle operations and servants?” Sarra asked hopefully. She felt comfortable with Christofre and Jacoba just meeting them. How strange that the Lord of a Castle like Keyes would not take a lady wife and still no lady to handle the castle when he had talented people like Jacoba and Christofre to assist. *** A short while later Roese and Sarra descended the main staircase to the hall for dinner. The great hall was filled with knights, men at arms, squires and pages. It was a surprise from when it was so empty upon their arrival. There were women about the hall, but they were servants and most of them were attempting to serve the food while dodging the groping hands of the men. The squires were going to and fro looking for the butler’s wines and ales. Sarra determined that if she were lady of the house she would have the tankards filled before the pantry opened with the hot breads and creamy 22

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butter. The butler should have his men running before the meal started with casks of wine and ale to fill the urns of the squires. She pushed the thoughts out of her mind. That is the way she ran Mondel Castle. This was none of her business. She spotted her father at the high table sitting next to an extremely tall and handsome older man. That had to be Lord Edmond by her father’s description of him. Lord Edmond was tall muscular and a handsome man. At his age it would still be easy for him to turn a woman’s heart. He had strong Roman features with a chiseled brow, classic nose, strong cheekbones, and square chin. His hair was still blond with only the sides turning gray. Reimond motioned for his daughter to sit next to him. Roese left her ladies side to sit at a table with Jacoba. “This is my daughter, Sarra,” Reimond introduced proudly. His daughter was his delight and pride. She reminded him of his beloved wife, Joy in looks and action. She ran his castle manor not only efficiently, but also prosperously. Mondel Castle never lacked for food, necessities, or assistance. Lord Edmond rose to his full height and offered his arm to Sarra. He must be over six feet tall and quite muscular. “Come sit next to me. I should like to talk with you.” It was then Sarra noted a little Cherubic face sitting next to Lord Edmond peering at her with curiosity. The Cherub’s face was creamy white and without blemish. Her hair was long and golden the color of fresh straw. Her eyes were brilliant blue almost sparkling like the gem sapphire. Her cheeks were a rosy and healthy pink. “I should be honored, my lord,” Sarra returned gracefully taking Lord Edmond’s extended arm and then addressed the adorable little face. “May I take a place next to you? Milady?” The little cherub looked puzzled and then pointed to her chest. “You are addressing me? A lady?” “Of course,” Sarra replied. “May I take a seat near you?” The little golden brows furrowed. “I am no lady and Grandpere invited you. Sit!” Sarra raised a brow but held back her chuckle. “Thank you, you are most gracious.” The little cherub looked at her grandfather. “What is gray shush? Is that bad? Have I been bad again?” Sarra bit her lip to stop a smile and laugh. Lord Edmond lifted his granddaughter onto his lap. “No my little moppet. Gracious means you are nice.” 23

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The little girl bent her head and put a finger to her mouth. “I try to be nice.” “Of course you do,” Sarra cooed. “I am Lady Sarra. What is your name little moppet?” The cherub looked up and gave Sarra a wide smile. “I am Oriel. This is my Grandpere. We live here in Keyes Castle. My Grandpere is a great lord.” “Aye, your Grandpere is a great lord. I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Lady Oriel,” Sarra stated extending her hand in greeting. Oriel took Sarra’s hand. She looked up again at her grandfather. “Lady Sarra called me Lady Oriel.” Before Edmond could respond, Sarra said, “Indeed you are the Lady of Keyes Castle. Tis time you know it and take your responsibility quite seriously.” This time Oriel looked at Sarra with question in her eyes, but she did not speak. She was thinking about what Sarra had said. Her thoughts quickly changed when a trencher was brought to the table. Being a child was difficult work and she was hungry. Lord Edmond engaged Sarra in conversation as he cut pieces of meat, vegetable, and potato for Oriel. “Your Pere sings your praises on running Mondel Castle. I was wondering if you might work with our servants during your sojourn here. Our castle runs, but not well. It could do with a Lady’s hand of experience. Would you help?” “Mon Pere is of course prejudiced of course, but I would be happy to offer my assistance. I do hope you will aide me, Oriel. I must learn all the servants names and places in the castle,” Sarra offered. Oriel stopped eating and answered with a mouth full of meat pie, “I will on the morrow. Grandpere usually sees me to my pallet after dinner. He says I am too young to stay up for the frolic after the meal.” Again Sarra bit back her laughter. This child was adorable and quite precocious. “I find I am quite weary myself. I should find my pallet early this evening.” Sarra’s mind was already working on things that needed righting in Keyes Castle. The food was delicious but would have been better if served hot. Her meal was warm when she received it and nearly cold by the time she finished it. The cider wasn’t warm and she imagined the ale was barely warm as well. Her first change in Keyes Castle would be the serving of the meal. Sarra watched the servants clean the tables to prepare for entertainment and knew that would be the second change. The table cloths were unnecessarily soiled even more than usual and the waste of food was disturbing. Sarra also 24

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never allowed any animals in Mondel’s Great Hall. Dogs especially left unhealthy messes not counting fleas. If there was a hound man she would see to it he built a kennel for the dogs until needed for a hunt. If Keyes Castle did not have a hound man, they would have in the morning. Lord Edmond disturbed her thoughts. “Lady Sarra,” Edmond hailed motioning her with one hand. His other hand held tightly to Oriel’s little hand. “Would you join us? We are taking our Oriel to her Solar.” Sarra looked to her father. She had barely spoken to him during the meal. “Go,” Reimond ordered. He was proud of his daughter. Lord Edmond had shared his plans with Reimond earlier. He was certain his daughter, Sarra would be the new Lady of Keyes. No one was as perfect for such a high position as his Sarra. Oriel ignored Sarra’s offered hand. After all, she didn’t know this lady and her life had been wrapped around her grandfather. There was no one else in her world. The only exception had been Christofre. She adored her. Mainly it was a special game every day to see how far she could push Christofre, or what impish prank she could play on Christofre or some scullery maid. Sometimes she would pull pranks on the servants and rarely she could manage to pull a prank on one of the knights or men at arms. She was also rarely caught playing a prank on a knight. She was extraordinarily careful about getting caught with knight pranks. At such a young age she had already made it clear in her mind her reasons for plaguing Christofre. The straight-faced strict woman actually had a great sense of humor and put limits down for her to follow. Christofre was the only one that put limits down. Oriel appreciated that. No one else dare tried to contain her in any way. Her grandfather loved her too much to restrict her. Sarra wasn’t upset that Oriel didn’t take her hand. She understood she was the stranger in the house and Oriel didn’t know her that well. They walked the staircase to a solar on the second floor. Sarra’s solar was on the third floor. Climbing the stairs Sarra was pondering the invitation by Lord Edmond to assist him in bidding Oriel goodnight. Why would he ask her? He wanted a Lady’s influence? What good would her influence accomplish in a short stay. Of course men thought little of futures. Men seemed only to focus on the present and current needs. The exception to such short sightedness was that of fortifying the castle and keep. Arriving at the solar Edmond stood silently. He waited for a man at arms standing next to a larger door on the opposite side of the hall. 25

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The man at arms walked briskly forward to open the oak door. Lord Edmond led Oriel inside. Sarra followed. Sarra’s eyes rounded in surprise. She had never seen a solar such as this. The windows were made of Venetian glass letting in the beauty of a full moon’s light. The moon illuminated an embrasure with a thick goose feathered velvet blue pillow. The bed was gigantic with blue velvet bed curtains, a huge down filled mattress covered with fine white linens and deep blue velvet covers lined with rabbit fur. There were finely woven tapestries of mystical unicorns and champion knights. In the corner were ornate armoires, chests, and chairs. The chairs had blue silk cushions. A wooden horse on wheels stood proud in one corner. Sarra noticed rabbit furs on the floor sharing space with assorted toys. Her room at Mondel Castle was comfortable, but nothing compared to this decadent and luxurious solar. To the right Sarra noticed a closed off area used for a latrine. A large brass tin tub was offset in another corner. A carved wooden screen separated the tin tub from the open room offering a modicum of privacy.

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Chapter Four
Two male servants appeared carrying four buckets of hot water. They walked to the tin tub and poured. Two female servants appeared with two buckets of cold water that they added to the tub. “Your bath is prepared,” Lord Edmond said to Oriel lovingly. “I’ll take Lady Sarra on a short tour of our family floor while you bathe and prepare for bed. We’ll be back to hear your prayers and tuck you into bed.” “Aye, Grandpere,” Oriel returned with the same tone of love and devotion. She obediently walked to the female servants setting down her nightclothes and cloths for washing and drying. Edmond turned to Sarra and offered his arm for her hand. “Come and see our family level. Tell me what you think.” Again Sarra pondered the oddity of Lord Edmond’s words. Why show the family level to her? What would it matter to Lord Edmond? Lord Edmond led her to a larger door across the hall from Oriel’s chambers. “This belongs to my eldest son. It faces the northern winds. You might find it a bit chilly for it.” The man at arms opened the door. Sarra was indeed blasted with a chilly draft entering the room. The chilly draft was quickly traced to the ill fitted window. The window could quickly be repaired be a skilled carpenter. The shutters also looked as if they needed repair. At Mondel castle she had also been faced with the problem of a chilly northern solar. She had velvet draperies with silk linings placed over the window. It was held in place by a large rod over the window casement. During the winter months the shutters were closed and the draperies pulled across the shutters providing two barriers for chilly winds. The bed was also misplaced. The footboard faced the window. She would have that bed moved closer to the hearth and the length would face the window casement and be further away. She noted there was no bed warming pots or stones. Perhaps the Lord’s eldest son preferred the cold. She hoped he didn’t make his first wife sleep there. The room was sparsely furnished. It was completely opposite of Oriel’s room. The bed had linen bed curtains, linen bed sheets, and a fur coverlet. The walls had decorations of swords, battle-axes, and 27

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shields. It was a cold room even without the drafts. She shivered at the thought of any woman sleeping in this room. “Shall I get you a mantle?” Lord Edmond quizzed in concern. He noted Sarra’s shiver. “No, we shan’t be here long,” Sarra excused rubbing her arms. “Of course,” Lord Edmond agreed. He walked to the door but hesitated. “If this were your solar, what would you do with it?” What an odd question. Sarra saw no reason not to respond. “I would send for a carpenter to repair the window casement and shutters. I would curtain the window embrasure. The bed should be moved lengthwise to the northern wall and closer to the hearth. A warming pot and stones would be nice. The room could do with some furniture such as a table and comfortable chairs by the hearth. Perhaps it might use an armoire or two and a few chests. The bed curtains, linens, and coverlet might improve a mood with different materials. I would prefer gold velvet with white silk lining on the curtains. A velvet gold coverlet lined with furs and filled with down would be very nice indeed. I of course would allot the swords, axes, and shields to the main hall. The walls would be covered with finely woven tapestries.” Lord Edmond smiled broadly. “Good! I expect it completed in a day or two.” “What?” Sarra gasped. “This old castle needs some finer touches. While you are here with your father, would you find it so difficult?” Lord Edmond asked. Sarra knew one did not gainsay a Baron. The Baron expected her to do this. She would happily. Sarra liked keeping busy. As long as she was here why shouldn’t she keep busy doing things she enjoyed doing. “Of course it would not be difficult. I would be delighted to accept this task.” “Wonderful!” Lord Edmond exclaimed. “We will next visit my solar. You must tell me what you think of it.” Sarra could find no fault with Lord Edmond’s chamber. It was quite cozy and comfortable. The bed was set high on three levels above the floor. The curtains were dark purple velvet. The bed was near the hearth. There was a large ornately carved armoire; several large chests, a carved wooden table, several comfortable chairs, and the walls did have tapestries depicting flower gardens, woods, and the Castle Keyes in a landscape. The room was well suited and warm for the Lord of the castle. “Your solar is lovely,” Sarra commented. “And quite comfortable. How long has it been since your good wife had passed on?” The change in 28

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Lord Edmond’s demeanor changed quickly. His body stiffened. A look came upon him. Sarra could only describe it as grim. “The Lady Laurette has been gone nearly a score years,” Lord Edmond said quietly. Sarra studied Lord Edmond. He showed no emotion. His face was inscrutable. She wondered if the ladies memory brought sorrow. How would she know unless she asked? Fortunately she did not ask. She remembered Christofre saying she didn’t care for any of the ladies of Castle Keyes. How many ladies had there been? There had been Lord Edmond’s wife, Lady Laurette. There was also Oriel’s mother. Were there any others? It didn’t really matter she supposed. Still the solar was comfortable. It was neither too masculine nor too feminine. Had the solar remained this comfortable after score years? His son’s room was stark and overly masculine. His wife had only passed on four or five years ago. Sarra stopped her thinking. None of this mattered to her. Her curiosity was a troubling side of her she simply could not control at times. She followed Lord Edmond down the hall and showed her the other rooms used by his other three sons when they returned to Castle Keyes from their adventures or training. Sarra listened intently to Lord Edmond speak with great pride of his younger sons, Henry, Andrew, and Edward. Again her mind queried why he spoke so little of his eldest son, Wills. Lord Edmond identified him but didn’t speak about Wills like he was talking about his other sons. “I have perhaps worn you out with all my stories,” Lord Edmond chuckled. He noted Sarra’s attention was wandering beyond his tales of Henry, Andrew, and Edward. Reimond had told him she was observant, and she seemed to be observing. “Our Oriel must be ready for her prayers. Let us tuck my angel into bed.” Although it was bold, the question slipped from Sarra’s lips before she thought about it. “You love Oriel very much, don’t you?” Edmond smiled broadly. “Oriel is my life. She keeps me young and fulfilled. She reminds me so much of my eldest son at the same age. He too was a bright and happy child.” The memories of Laurette shrouded Edmond’s thoughts once again. His wife had been so jealous of his love for Wills she took him over completely. Wills changed from that happy child to a cold selfcontained hollow shell of humanity. He walked rather briskly to Oriel’s solar. He needed to see his darling granddaughter immediately. Her warm and loving smile always dissolved those sad memories of his life with Laurette. Oriel was waiting in the bed for her grandfather. Her skin was still pink from her bath. Her hair was tucked neatly under a silk bed cap. Her 29

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nightdress was white silk. Her eyes blue eyes sparkled a warm loving greeting to her grandfather when he entered her solar. Edmond sat on the side of her bed and took her hand. “Blessings my Oriel. Let us say our prayers together. He took her hand and brushed her knuckles across his lips offering a sweet kiss. Sarra was deeply moved by the affection these two obviously had for each other. She watched as the two quietly spoke soft words of prayer. Lord Edmond’s great masculinity and power showed the little girl only gentleness Sarra would have believed impossible for such a great Baron, lord, and knight. Edmond rose to his full height by Oriel’s bedside. “Now you must close your eyes and sleep for Grandpere.” Oriel obediently shut her eyes. “I have sweet dreams because my Grandpere tells me so.” Sarra smiled at the little girl’s words. She was touched deeply. Should she have a daughter she hoped she would be as sweet and beautiful as the little angel before her. It was impossible to believe this cherub was a trial as hinted by Christofre. Lord Edmond once again placed Sarra’s hand upon his arm and led her out of the solar, down the stairs, and returned to the Great Hall. “We have some entertainments planned in honor of you and your father.” The hall was filled in stark contrast compared to her arrival. Currently musicians were playing for entertainment. It turned into a long night. She wanted to speak with Christofre, but could not find her the entire evening until she left the great hall and walked toward the staircase leading to her solar on the third floor. She watched Christofre and Lord Edmond walking up those stairs engaged in deep conversation. What was that about? *** Sarra awoke with a start. The light of the sun was already shining through her window. How could she have slept so late? The entertainment last night had been fun. She had danced with her father and Lord Edmond. The difference between her arrival to a nearly empty hall and this filled and lively party was as different as day and night. She was very tired when she finally went to her guest solar. There was so much work to be done today. Last night she had met the castle carpenter and gave him specific instructions for the repair of the windows and shutter. She had told him about the rod she wanted made to hang over the window embrasure. The carpenter promised he would begin the work at first light. 30

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Sarra pulled off the bedcover and swung her feet over the side of the bed. Her heart nearly stopped when a face suddenly appeared from the side of her bed. “Good Morn,” Oriel bubbled. “Did you sleep well? We are about to break the fast. Grandpere sent me to your solar to wake you. I don’t understand why Grandpere likes you. He doesn’t like any femme, except maybe Christofre. All of this is strange. Why are you here?” Sarra held back her laughter. What a precocious child. So many questions in one breath. “I slept quite well, thank you. It is all very strange to me as well. I am here with my father, Lord Reimond Albyn.” “What is your Pere doing here?” Oriel questioned pursing lips as she asked her immediate thought. “Your Grandpere, Lord Edmond, commanded him here and requested I accompany him,” Sarra answered rising and selecting a warm woolen blue bliaut to wear over her white linen chemise. “Why?” “I have no answer for that,” Sarra replied tying the laces on the sides of her bliaut. “Perhaps you might ask such of your Grandpere or Lord Reimond.” “Perhaps I shall,” Oriel said thoughtfully placing her forefinger upon her lips. “It is most unusual you see, to have ladies invited to Castle Keyes.” “Really?” “Oh my Aye,” Oriel stated in confidence. “Grandpere distrusts ladies. All know this.” Sarra finished pulling on her stockings and put soft slippers on her feet. “I would learn much about Castle Keyes from you. First thing to do though is eat a good meal. Shall we go?” Entering the great hall Oriel headed toward her grandfather. Lord Edmond saw her arriving and opened his arms wide for her. Oriel leaped into his open arms. He placed her on his lap. He began offering Oriel a collection of potatoes, vegetables, and fowl. Sarra took a seat next to her father. “Did you sleep well?” “My quarters are quite comfortable. I slept very well. Castle Keyes is most impressive for guests,” Reimond responded. “Surely you cannot tell me you are uncomfortable here?” “Only our welcome,” Sarra reminded. “Yet, I have a feeling that our presence here has not been revealed.” “It has,” Reimond stated simply. He returned to his trencher and ale. 31

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Sarra’s curiosity was aroused. “You know why we were sent for? Tell me? There is no war, no battle, no siege, and no summons or argument from King John.” Reimond looked directly into Sarra’s eyes when he answered. “The summons is for a personal matter.” He turned and returned to his trencher. That raised Sarra’s brow. Her father was never one to speak enigmatically. The father she knew was open and at times embarrassingly blunt. “Indeed!” There was only one thing to do this morning. She would concentrate on matters at hand. Her first objective was to discuss the serving of the meal with Christofre. She was tired of warm and cold meals. She spotted Christofre in the kitchen when she passed by the butlery. Sarra rose quickly. In moments she was in Christofre’s efficient kitchen. The room was clean, filled with delicious aromas. Scullery maids, wafer makers, bakers, and cooks. All were about working together congruously. Christofre was offering instructions on occasion, but everyone seemed to know what she expected of them. Christofre watched Sarra entering her kitchen and wondered what it was about. She greeted Lady Sarra. “Have you need of something?” Sarra returned Christofre’s warm smile. “Aye, I need your assistance. I can’t help but notice how efficient your kitchens are. Yet, the serving is lacking. I was wondering if I might offer you a suggestion at serving we use at Mondel Castle.” “If you desire to change the serving, do so. You are a lady. I am not. I choose to stay in my kitchens and not stretch too far out.” Sarra thought she might have offended Christofre. “I only meant to offer a suggestion.” Christofre smiled. “My Lady Sarra, I choose to run my kitchens. I see to other things, but truly if I spent trying to correct all things, the one thing I enjoy, my kitchens, would suffer for it. In the stead, I concentrate completely on my kitchens and merely dabble in the other affairs of running the castle. So, do you wish to change the serving of food? Do so!” Sarra did just that. After the meal and the hall emptied, the servants began cleaning the tables. Sarra stood in the center of the hall and called the servants to a stop. She addressed them. The women, the butler, the pantry servants, and the pages and squires still about, were given instructions. After they understood their instructions, Sarra ordered a run through. It took several times until the pattern was practiced and understood. Only then were the 32

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tables cleared. Sarra had also given instructions to the servants as to organization of the leftover foods. The uneaten food was placed on large trays. The servants were instructed to place one of the extra large trestle tables outside in the bailey. The pages were sent to the bailey to inform the keep that henceforth, after meals a table will be spread for the orphans. A tent pavilion was set up to protect the trestle table temporarily. A permanent structure would be built later. Sarra once again stood in watch. Guards were pressed to allow young orphaned children, widows and their children, and the elderly admittance to take the food. Her orders were to be followed every day henceforth. Anyone capable of working, but seeking the free food would be put to work in serving and cleaning before they were allowed to eat. Before the evening meal Sarra had the old rushes removed and fresh rushes spread on the floors of the entire keep. A fresh scent of lavender added to the clean smell of the rushes. It was one day the guards, servants, pages, and squires didn’t disappear to places unknown for fun, recreation, or naps. Sarra put them through solid work and long hours. Next, Sarra ordered the dogs be put out and barred from the hall. Many of the guards took exception to that request. They were fond of their pets. Sarra insisted and Lord Edmond commanded her order followed. “In the morrow a proper kennel will be made for the dogs. There they will be kept when not working with their masters or used for hunting. They will be bathed regularly with lavender oils. This will inhibit their fleas. A regular feeding and exercise program will be initiated and master of the kennels will be chosen,” Sarra announced to the guards as they individually led their dogs outside. Edmond looked to Reimond when he took his seat at the dais table. “Is this how things are at your keep?” “Oh, Aye,” Reimond bragged. “The meals are orderly and animals are well kept in kennels.” “No,” Edmond laughed. “Is your daughter always in command like this? Is she always in control?” Reimond smiled with pride and answered, “Aye, she is a strong and intelligent woman just like her mother. Sarra was trained well by her mother. I was and am a contented man. These controls are for our comfort and benefit, my lord.” “I like the smell, Grandpere,’ Oriel bubbled. “It’s nice.” Edmond looked lovingly at his darling granddaughter. “It is nice, isn’t it? Even my food is still hot.” “And good,” Oriel agreed eating a slice of partridge. 33

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That evening Sarra put Oriel to bed. “I think I like you,” Oriel said while Sarra tucked the bed covers. “I like you too!” Sarra offered with a smile. “Can I help you make the keep all pretty?” “You certainly may,” Sarra replied. “There is so much to do. The walls must be scrubbed and whitewashed. Why I saw cobwebs so thick on the candle torches the spiders seem to have built another wall.” “We will clean them,” Oriel yawned. She had only known Sarra a short time, but Christofre trusted her. She now had a younger and pretty Lady to instruct her. Oriel had overheard her Grandpere and Christofre talking about teaching her how to be a lady. Christofre told her Grandpere she should receive proper instruction. Christofre often scolded Grandpere about spoiling her and letting her have her way too often. Christofre told her Grandpere she needed a loving but firm hand, and she needed proper training as a lady. She wasn’t supposed to be listening to them. She didn’t mean to eavesdrop. She really didn’t mean to listen, buy she couldn’t help herself. She left her bed and went to look for Christofre. She watched as Christofre opened a back wall and walked up the stairs lighting torches along the way. It had been very late. Oriel knew she was supposed to be in bed sleeping. She followed Christofre thinking it was great adventure. The stairwell led to an opening behind a large tapestry. Through the crack of the door Oriel watched her Grandpere greet Christofre with an embrace. Oriel had put a toad in the water urn that day and Christofre had scolded her for scaring poor old Nettie. Oriel tried to explain that Nettie wasn’t supposed to pick up the urn. It was supposed to be her mean son, Arnold. She was getting even with Arnold for teasing her. Christofre had really been upset with her. It took Christofre nearly the entire day to calm Nettie. Oriel didn’t understand why Christofre would go to her Grandpere so late at night, but she knew she shouldn’t be listening anymore. She returned down the stairwell to the kitchen and returned to her bed. “We will clean them,” Sarra repeated. “But you must go to sleep and get your rest. We have a busy day tomorrow.”

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Chapter Five
A warm tender feeling surrounded Sarra after she tucked Oriel in her bed. Sarra told Oriel a story about a magic dragon and a daring knight who fought a wicked ogre. Oriel fell asleep within the first minutes of Sarra’s story. Sarra watched the sleeping cherub and decided she loved the little girl as if she were her own. The thought of fostering Oriel crossed her mind. She would discuss that idea with her father when she had the opportunity. Thinking of her father brought a frown. He simply had been ignoring or avoiding her these past days. When she broached the reason for coming here and the daylong discussions with Lord Edmond, he changed subjects instantly. It was simply not like her father to be evasive with her. Sarra was straining at the bit and wanted to know when they could return home. She was also beyond simply curious to find out exactly why their liege lord had summoned them to Keyes Castle. It was also strange that Lord Edmond not only did not interfere with her righting the running of the castle, he encouraged her to do so. Sarra also liked Christofre, but thought it strange that she also encouraged Sarra to change the running of the household. Christofre also helped and encouraged Sara in making her changes. A woman of Christofre’s knowledge, capability, and experience should resent a younger woman coming along and making change. Christofre didn’t. This entire journey was strange indeed. *** Sarra awoke before dawn. She dressed in her woolen gown and put on an older worn brown bliaut. She was going to do a lot of work today and the work would be dirty work. She was determined to clean the torch light iron holders on the hall’s wall. Sarra planned to break her fast, check on the changes made to Lord Edmond son’s chamber, supervise the making of scented soaps for the castle, check on her changes in candle making, clean the iron works in the hall, and speak to the carpenter to build a permanent pavilion for the trestle table outside to be used to feed the poor. She would also speak to the vassals and choose a kennel keeper to train, groom, and care for the dogs in the dog kennel that was to be built. She would speak to the 35

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carpenter about that project as well. For the time being she had just barred the dogs from the keep’s hall. This was to be accomplished before the nooning meal. Although the behaviors of people were odd, at least Sarra kept herself quite busy and was enjoying the challenge of righting the large and powerful Keyes Castle. If she were to admit the truth, it was a fact Mondel Castle was far too easy to run. Under the training of Sarra’s mother and her following her mother’s tutelage, Mondel Castle was so efficient it could run itself. There was little challenge anymore. Fortunately the carpenter was still in the chamber adding final touches to the new Venetian glass window installed. The change in the chamber was tremendous. The sunlight added more warmth. The new framework held back the blowing cold winds. The chamber was indeed warmer and with the two padded chairs in front of the hearth, table, closet, chests, and tapestries on the wall it was certainly cozier. The women had finished the new gold brocade bed curtains. The curtains were pinned leaving only the hemming to be finished today. A new gold brocade quilted coverlet lined with furs covered the feather stuffed mattress. Sturdy bed slats were added to the bed frame to hold the mattress. This bed had never been disassembled to take with the lord’s son, so it would harm nothing to make the bed more comfortable and permanent. Sarra was captivated with the light reflecting on the gold curtains and bed covers. The room radiated warmth and comfort. The austere cold chamber was completely gone. The carpenter had already put up the rod to hold the draperies to cover the window at night. The needlework of the castle seamstresses was incredible. The draperies fit perfectly. The rings to move the drapes across the rod were fit perfectly. The hem of the drapes hung a mere inch from the floor. The drapes were stitched as Sarra had requested. They were gold brocade with a white silk lining. The draperies matched the bed curtains. Sarra could hardly wait to show Lord Edmond. Sarra spent an hour talking with the carpenter to give her instructions on the outbuilding and kennels. The carpenter promised to bring her drawings before the evening meal. Sarra thanked the carpenter and turned to leave the solar. She stopped suddenly and nearly catapulted over a small body that seemed to appear from nowhere. Catching her balance on a quick stop Sarra greeted the little girl. “Oriel, good morn.”

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Oriel grinned up at Sarra with an expectant glimmer of joy. “Good Morn, Lady Sarra. I have already broken my fast. You promised to spend the day with me and we will make the keep pretty. Remember?” “Aye, I remember and we shall begin with checking on the making of soap,” Sarra replied with a light and happy feeling. Oriel’s exuberance and her own new understanding in the delight of the challenge of righting Keyes Castle gave energy to a happy Sarra. Everything was right with the world. Sarra and Oriel were developing a close bond. Sarra and Oriel walked to the lower area of the keep. “Phew, it stinks,” Oriel commented pinching her nose. The soap making was in the first stages. The tallow and lye process was a pungent part of soap making. “Aye, it does. This is the worst of it,” Sarra concurred. “Are you certain?” Oriel questioned warily still holding her nose. “My soap bars don’t smell much better.” “Do you doubt me?” Sarra teased with enjoyment. “I have a fine smelling soap.” Oriel’s eyes widened. “Your soap smells nice?” “It does,” Sarra replied seriously. “I shall prove it to you when you take your bath tonight.” “I don’t need a bath,” Oriel scowled. “Not yet, my little moppet,” Sarra laughed taking her small hand. “When we have finished our work today, we will indeed need to bathe. You will see. I will give you one of my soap bars.” “The soap is ready now, milady, we’ve cooled it to prepare for the molds” Beatrice informed Sarra. “Add the goat milk and the rosemary leaves,” Sarra instructed taking a wooden spatula to stir the mixture in the large iron pot. Beatrice was a middle aged woman who had been making the castle soaps since was a child. She learned the art from her mother and her mother learned the art from her mother. Beatrice was a pleasant heavyset woman. She was married to a castle guardsman. Beatrice and Marcus had four children. They had three boys and one girl. Their little girl was just a baby of a few months. Beatrice was proud that she produced a daughter. Her daughter would continue the proud profession. The soap making was difficult and pungent, but it was an art. Beatrice was excited when Jacoba told her the new lady would be showing her to make fragrant soft soap. Jacoba had even brought a slice of the soap to show Beatrice. It was fragrant. It smelled of Roses. The texture was smooth. Each of Beatrice’s generations had improved 37

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the soap making process. Now, Beatrice would make the finest of soaps. The luxurious soap sold by Merchants. She could barely contain herself as she watched the lady add to the soap bar process. “Pay attention, Oriel,” Sarra ordered concentrating on the pouring of the goat’s milk. “It has to be the right consistency. See, now it is just smooth enough, but not to watery. We add the rosemary leaves now.” Oriel was captivated. No one had brought her here before. She was being treated like an older child, not a baby. Her eyes were wide with observation. She nodded eagerly and was watching intensely. “For this size pot, I would add no less than one full bowl of rosemary leaves,” Sarra instructed stirring the leaves in slowly as she poured the leaves in the pot. Oriel could see clearly. Sarra had pulled a large wooden crate near the large pot so the little girl could watch. Oriel usually chattered constantly. Oriel was so captivated she didn’t say a word. Beatrice also served as a laundress and was well aware of the exuberant child Oriel was normally. She was amazed at the child, but pleased the child took such an interest in her profession. Beatrice remembered when she was a child. She was certain her daughter would also be such an apt student. The soap mixture was beginning to cool. “We will place it in the molds,” Sarra stated. “Aye the soap will begin to harden now,” Beatrice agreed. “I have the soap molds ready, milady.” She brought the molds forward. The two women ladled the soap mixture into the molds. “This should last milady and the castle at least a season.” “Will you make more?” Sarra asked. She had promised Jacoba and Christofre to show the soap maker. She didn’t know if Beatrice would want to make more. “Aye milady,” Beatrice replied excitedly. “Tis so fine to have such fragrant soft soap to bathe. Many of us will love this new soap. I have already made all the laundry soap bars for the season. I thank you, milady, for showing me how to make this fine soap.” Sarra smiled wiping her hands on the linen apron she had wrapped around her gown and bliaut for protection if the lye and tallow had spilled on her. “It was my pleasure to share with you, Beatrice.” “I have to ask milady,” Beatrice quizzed putting the molds in the dry corner to harden. “Where did you learn this wonderful recipe?” 38

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“My mother taught me,” Sarra replied proudly. She assisted Beatrice by lifting the molds and placing them in the dry temperature corner. “My mother purchased her first scented bar at a market fair. She loved it so much she returned and begged the merchant to give her the secret of the scented silky soap. The merchant didn’t give in at first, but my father convinced him to share the secret with a large purse of coins. The merchant’s servant was an infidel from the holy lands. She was ordered to our castle where she made the soap and showed my mother and our soap maker.” “Tis so fine,” Beatrice admired holding the small sliver of soap Jacoba shared with her. “You must make another batch as I showed you, but use the lavender leaves. I must use some of those for the dogs,” Sarra instructed. “The dogs will smell nice,” Oriel chirped laughing. “Aye, they will smell nice indeed,” Beatrice laughed. “They will smell better than some of their masters.” Sarra laughed with them but remarked, “Tis true they might smell better than their masters, but will give them relief from the fleas that afflict them.” “Then their masters will need to bathe with such a soap to rid them of their fleas,” Beatrice giggled. “I will need to double the batch.” Sarra and Oriel left Beatrice still laughing at the thought of the guardsmen and villains smelling like lavender. “What are we going to do next?” Oriel questioned holding tightly to her new friend’s hand. “We will check on the making of candles next,” Sarra answered leading her into another chamber in the lower part of the castle. “Will it smell like the soap?” Oriel queried. “You mean smell nice?” “No will it phew?” Oriel asked again running ahead and spinning in a circle holding her nose. “Does everything that’s made down here phew? Sarra stopped she looked around and thought a moment. It was true. Nearly everything made or done in this part of the lower chamber of the castle did have horrendous odors. It’s strange she had never thought of that. Even the laundry vats were near the soap making chambers. The hot steam filled with the smell of lye soap was powerful. Sarra thought of the servants that worked these labors. They didn’t seem to mind. Perhaps the servants became accustomed 39

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to the odor. Why, even she knew what to expect and wasn’t too assaulted by the smells. “What is it milady,” Oriel questioned in concern. She was a bit worried when a frown of worry suddenly crossed the lovely face of Lady Sarra. “I was contemplating an answer to your question, moppet,” Sarra replied. “Aye, the things made down here do smell. You are absolutely correct. I’ve never thought of that before. Think of those poor vassals living with that smell all day long.” Oriel frowned offering a pensive look. “We should make their life a little better. Do you think so? We must work on this. Perhaps Christofre can help. She could make them special sweet cakes. She’s good at that.” Oriel was feeling pleased with herself. First, the Lady Sarra had told her one of her thoughts was correct, not foolish or silly like most of the adults she knew. Second, it always made Oriel feel good inside when she did nice things for others. She also loved playing pranks, but never hurtful ones. She liked playing pranks that would make her laugh or giggle. “Aye, I think we should do something special now and then for these people who work so hard and diligently.” Sarra stated thoughtfully. “We shall ask Christofre to make her special tarts or some other ideas to brighten their days.” “You like making people feel good,” Oriel remarked recognizing the same trait in her new friend. “So do I.” Sarra smiled at the child. Oriel reminded her of her own childhood. Yes, she liked this little moppet. “Come, let us see to candle making.” Sarra went through each step of the candle making. She stopped at the wax-melting vat and questioned Otis stirring the beeswax in a blend with tallow. “Have you added the oils as instructed?” “Aye, mistress,” Otis replied. He nodded to the other vats being stirred by his assistants. “We followed your instructions to the letter. Each of the five candle vats has the five different oils. It has made a pretty smell in here.” The other assistants had begun the wick dipping to make the candles, others were pouring wax into molds that wicks were already held in place. The larger candles in these molds would be used for the candelabras on the walls and ironworks in the great hall. These molds 40

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had a scent of lavender. Smaller candles whose wicks were now dipped held aromas of heather, sandalwood, violets, and roses. The rose scents were made specifically for Sarra’s chambers. The violet scents would be made for Oriel’s chamber. The heather would be for Christofre and other women of the castle. The sandalwood would be used for Lord Edmond, Lord Reimond, and the chambers for Lord Edmond’s sons should they visit. Sarra had already spoken to the castle healer and was given promise of the essential oils needed for the candles. Sarra smiled at the thought of surprising all the people of Castle Keyes at how really nice the castle would begin to smell. It would be just like her Castle Mondel. “We are finished here. We will proceed to the laundry.” “The laundry?” Oriel asked in surprise. “I thought we were going to clean the webs in the great hall.” Oriel was already thinking about gathering spiders to put by Sir Hugh’s sword sheath. He hated spiders

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Chapter Six
“We’re off to the laundry to obtain a bucket we will fill with used laundry soap,” Sarra replied moving briskly towards the laundry. “We will also acquire some rags to use for the wiping.” Oriel nearly ran to keep up with the Lady Sarra. She was delighted that Sarra always answered her questions and gave her adult answers. Everyone usually treated her like a baby. Oriel was truly happy to be sharing her day with the Lady Sarra. She was looking forward to cleaning. Imagine, actually playing in dirty water with a purpose. How much fun is that? Lady Sarra had two male servants tote the two buckets of warm laundry water to the great hall. Two more male servants followed carrying a wooden ladder. She and Oriel carried the rags into the great hall. “My lady,” the man at arms addressed Sarra before she entered the great hall. “We see knights approaching.” Sarra sighed. She had only been in Keyes castle for two days, but already the servants, man at arms, pages, squires, and freemen were looking to her for direction. Sarra could not stay idle and could not keep her mind away from reorganizing the castle. It was natural to expect her to give them instructions for everything. “How far off is the caravan?” “They will arrive before the noon meal.” That didn’t give the castle much time to prepare. “How many will be arriving? Do we recognize the banners?” Sarra asked pointing the two servants a location to place the ladder. “Over there.” “Aye, they are the banners of the Lord’s son, Sir William. He has a troupe of 100 or more. His brother, Sir Henry, is also traveling with him. There would be added at least forty more,” Haggard replied hurriedly. He was nervously twisting his hands in his tunic. All the castle servants knew of Sir William’s cold heart and short temper. William was always complaining about the dark cold castle and its inefficiencies compared to the royal court. “And of all of these, how many are mounted knights?” Sarra queried. She was already contemplating how to shelter and feed such a large number about to enter Keyes Castle in a few hours. 42

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“There would be nearly thirty, milady.” Mounted Knights required a higher standard of sheltering. There was also the problem of such a large contingency entering the castle. Her first orders came for shelter. “Notify the marshal of the impending arrival of the mounted knights. He will need time to prepare for the number of horses to be groomed and quartered. You will see to it that several large pavilions are raised in the outer bailey to shelter the entourage. Ask the villeins to assist you with feeding the foot soldiers warm trenchers. Ask the Steward for some coin to pay the villeins for their services. Roese, Christofre is at her mass. You will notify the cook of increasing the noon meal for an additional 150 trenchers. It is a dreary cold day, will you also see to it that tankards of hot cider will be served upon their arrival.” She suddenly remembered that Sir William was Oriel’s father. She looked down at the little girl dressed in drab woolen tunic. Oriel’s blue eyes shone with delight. Her golden hair in a mass of flowing curls bouncing on her back. Her cheeks were bright pink in a natural beauty. Her bowed lips perfectly formed and smiling at her. Oriel’s father shouldn’t see her dressed as a servant. “Perhaps you would like to go to your chambers and change into pretty dress, Oriel?” Oriel’s cheerful face disappeared. Her brows furrowed together. Her lips pursed dejectedly. “You don’t want me to help you?” “Of course I do,” Sarra responded quickly. She didn’t mean to infer she didn’t enjoy Oriel’s company. “I merely had the thought you might like to dress up for your Pere. He is almost here.” “My Pere?” Oriel questioned in a minute of confusion. “Oh, yes. I’ve never met him. At least I don’t think so. I don’t think he even knows he has me.” There was a bit of sadness in her voice. Oriel’s response tore into Sarra’s heart. What a beast the man must be. Not know or care about his daughter? She was so fortunate to be loved by her mother and her father. This darling little imp had neither. She had the love of a grandfather and Christofre, but not that special love of a mother and father. “Well then, we will finish our task. We will change to greet everyone before the noon meal.” It took Sarra and Oriel longer than anticipated to clean the large iron wall candelabras. Sarra climbed up and down the ladder. She showed the servants how to clean the large iron wrought works. First she used a large dry rag to swipe away the cobwebs. Then she came down the ladder to get a damp cloth from Oriel that was dampened with the laundry water. Every so often Sarra would ask Oriel is she was paying attention to what Sarra was doing. 43

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Oriel would nod to Sarra eagerly, but in fact was more concerned about collecting the spiders and their webs in a dry cloth. She was ever so careful not to let anyone catch on to what she was doing. The servants were paying close attention to Sarra and her instructions. No one appeared to be concerned about Oriel. Sarra did not have a timepiece, but knew the noon meal would soon be served. So would the guests. She wanted to change and appear as a lady for the welcoming. She was on the last candelabra, the one nearest the entrance to the great hall. The servants were making a clamor moving the large tables into position, including the added tables needed to serve the forthcoming mounted knights. Other servants were taking fresh bedding and pallets into the inner walls for the knight’s sleeping arrangements. Sarra was cleaning rapidly and concentrating on her task. She didn’t have much time left to change and see to it that Oriel was cleaned up and dressed properly. Christofre would soon be out of mass, and Lord Edmond would be waking from his nap. She didn’t want to greet them and the guests in a servant’s woolen tunic. She heard boisterous male voices in a distance, but continued to finish cleaning the ironworks. Suddenly the ladder was jolted away from her feet. She felt her body falling and grabbed hastily for the ironwork. The sudden grabbing of the iron set her feet into a forward swing. Her feet slammed into something hard and the pain radiated up her legs and continued through her spine to the back of her head. “Christ’s Toes!” Wills cursed shouting when he turned into the hall and his shoulder slammed into a wooden ladder. He hit the ladder so hard it flew three feet across the floor and landed on the floor in a clatter. Before he realized what he hit, two solid objects rammed his face. Suddenly bright blood spurted from his nose. He was hit with such a force he stumbled back and strained to regain his balance. Harry saw the flying feet and followed them up to notice shapely legs and ankles. The tunic was one that belonged to a servant. Harry was in love. He would bed this wench, he thought. Harry put his massive arms around the flailing legs and held on. “It’s alright, love. You can release yourself.” Sarra didn’t know if she could continue to hang on to the candelabra. The pain jolted her and she lost some of her grip. It was in a breath when she felt powerful arms holding your legs. She looked down to see a truly handsome face attached to a tall muscular knight. His eyes were the brightest blue. The same color eyes as Oriel and Lord Edmond. She released her hold on the ironworks and felt the strength holding her legs support her. Slowly she slid down over the massive rock that was solid masculine muscle. She 44

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placed her hands upon the knight’s shoulders. His shoulders felt like hard rock. Sarra once again looked into those beautiful sapphire eyes. They had changed to what? Oh yes, she recognized that look. It was bestial lust. Of course those looks were never cast to her before. That look was saved for attractive female servants. Sweet Jesu, she was dressed like a servant. As she slid slowly down the frame of his body she felt his arousal. Her automatic response was to turn rigid. After all, she was not a leman or servant. She was a Lady. She was a virginal Lady. Harry felt her tense in his arms as she slid down his body. Safely on the floor he continued to hold her. “You’re safe with me, wench.” Sarra felt her cheeks flush with embarrassment and rage. She certainly was no wench. How dare he address her with such an insulting term? She was about to rail at him for his audacity when a rough hand squeezed her shoulder. “This wench may not be that safe,” Wills roared angrily. His other hand was covering his nose. “There is a price to pay for inflicting damage to the lord of this castle!” “Hold brother,” Harry said quietly. “Cannot you see the wench meant no harm to you? Twas an accident, simple and pure.” “Her feet slammed my nose,” Wills retorted angrily. “Tis not you in pain, brother. Hold your rutting instincts at bay for a change.” Sarra’s simmering temper went into a full boil with the knight’s baseborn language in the presence of a lady. She would be angrier if she knew Oriel was still standing near and hearing the conversation. Sarra turned to face the man’s chest. She looked up to see the identical version of the man who had rescued her from a fall. The difference was first the hair color. The knight holding her had carrot red hair. The knight with a bloody nose facing her had golden blond hair. Their eyes were both sapphire blue. The knight facing her did not relate lust. Those eyes shot pure anger toward her. She was really angry herself. “Sirrah, my feet would have never met your bloody nose if you had not knocked the ladder out from under me.” The eyebrow raised in an arch. “Sirrah? You are bold with your tongue, wench.” “No more than you,” Sarra snarled in return. “You might find yourself making soap or candles instead of cleaning the great hall wench,” Wills threatened. Oriel stepped forward informing the huge knight. “We’ve already seen to the soap and candle making.” 45

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Again that eyebrow arched looking down to the little girl. “Then perhaps next is the Garderobe? This is your Mere?” Even Oriel knew what a Garderobe was. She had spoken to defend Lady Sarra. Now, this knight made her angry. “I wish it could be so. My Mere died after I was born.” Harry recognized the face and the eyes of the little girl. He knew instantly just who the little imp was, even through the woolen tunic, dirtied apron, and smudged face. “Wills…” Harry warned softly. William ignored his brother. He had little sympathy for the child with such an audacious mouth. “How lucky for her.” He turned once again to Sarra. “Wills…” Harry warned more urgently. He was holding Sarra tighter. She was attempting to pull away. Sarra heard the knight address her antagonist. “You are Lord William de Warre, son of Lord Edmond de Warre?” “I am,” William replied haughtily. “Your Lord! Ashamed of your impertinence yet?” “Nay,” Sarra replied silkily and deceptively calm. “I would have forgiven a baseborn knight his rude insolence, but the son of Lord Edmond? I would have preferred to break your teeth and swell your tongue.” Oriel understood this man was supposed to be her father. She also understood he had insulted her and her mother. Tears welled in her big blue eyes. She began to choke back her upset. William was about to release a diatribe when Harry interrupted, “Wills, hold your tongue!” Harry’s warning shocked William to hold his flow of rage. He looked at Harry with question and anger. His brother had never spoke to him like that before. “Wills,” Harry stated calmly. “Listen to the Lady’s speech, and that little smudged moppet is your child!” “What?” William screeched in denial. He leered at Sarra. “Look at her dress.” He looped his pointed finger in circles at the filthy woolen tunic Sarra was wearing. He looked at Oriel’s dirty face and filthy clothes. “My offspring? I doubt such highly.” It was enough to fan Sarra’s temper more and her acid tongue spewed out with venom, “I will send someone to tend your wound. Such a fearsome wound I am certain a knight of the realm would never have withstood ere now. Come, moppet.” Sarra took Oriel’s hand and tugged her to follow. 46

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Oriel stood fast and glared at the blonde stranger. “I wouldn’t want you as a Pere! You are mean, and cruel, and…and…and…” She really couldn’t think of any other words that she shouldn’t even know and get in trouble for saying. “You’re as ugly as an ogre!” She stuck out her tongue and marched toward the kitchen with Sarra. Her eyes filled with tears. She knew instinctively that man was her father. She had heard enough about him. The rejection burned like a fire in her mind, it hurt deeply. The sobs began when she and Sarra entered the kitchen. Sarra sat on a bench near a trestle table and pulled Oriel to sit on her lap. She hugged Oriel and let the child cry on her shoulder. “Hush, little moppet. Don’t let words that mean nothing make you cry.” “He’d like me if I was a boy,” Oriel sobbed hysterically. “He always wanted a boy. He’s never wanted me. Never! Ever! If only I were a boy.” “I’d much rather be a girl,” Sarra reassured. She noticed Jacoba staring at them with deep concern. “Jacoba, would you take clean cloths, healing salves, and tend to some minor cuts on Sir Williams face. Take Genoa with you. She should please him.” Jacoba stared in confusion. Sir William was wounded and he was to be tended by the loveliest light skirt in the castle? She shrugged her shoulders and left to follow her orders even though she was deeply concerned over the crying Oriel. “Why would you say you’d rather be a girl?” Oriel questioned looking up at Sarra. Her eyes were swollen and red. Her cheeks wet with tears running down through the dirt smudges. “You’ve never been a boy. Boys are more important and get to do more things.” “Oh, but I have been a boy,” Sarra replied framing Oriel’s face with her hands. Her fingers began rubbing the tears gently away. “Well, I dressed and acted as a boy. Everyone thought I was a boy.” “You did?” Oriel asked enthusiastically. “You dressed like a boy, and people believed you were a boy?” “Yes,” Sarra replied simply. “It is not such a great thing to be a boy. I did not like it one bit.” “Tell me,” Oriel ordered. Her hands balled into fists wiping the tears away from her eyes. Sarra took a deep breath. “I was just a little older than you. Like you I watched boys and noticed they were treated differently than me. Their parents seemed to pay more attention to them than their daughters. I noticed the priests and teachers favored boys. I thought I would like to be a boy.” “You see it is true,” Oriel choked. 47

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“In a way,” Sarra agreed. “But there are drawbacks as well.”

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Chapter Seven
Oriel cocked her head. “What drawbacks? How do you know?” “I’ve always been talented with cloth, thread, and needle. I made myself a fine boys outfit. I sewed a lovely hat that hid my hair. I set out that day to enjoy myself at the fair. I hadn’t gotten very far into the fair when I ran into two much larger boys. They taunted me and bruised me. Then they stole some coin I had brought with me. A priest spotted us and came immediately. The bigger boys ran away leaving me to face the priest. The priest pulled my ears and asked why I was alone in the fair. When I couldn’t answer him properly he gave me penance. Because I didn’t know the prayers and penance given to boys, the priest pulled my ears harder and led me to a small cottage. There I was forced to groom his horse. When finished I was led to the small parish where I spent two hours on my knees in prayer.” “That was just one happening,” Oriel countered. “Surely it isn’t like that all the time. You were just unlucky that day.” “I thought the same,” Sarra agreed. “So I put on the boy clothes several times. Once I was forced into servitude as a page, another I was put in the practice field and was made to do mock battle. It took me a week to recover from all the bruises. Then another time I ended up cleaning the stalls. Shoveling horse dung is worse than making soap, I can assure you. After all these experiences and several more, I can tell you truthfully, it is much better to be a girl.” Oriel seemed to ignore the stories. “Would you help me to be a boy?” “Did you understand the stories I told you?” Sarra questioned. “Surely you don’t want to try after all my bad experiences.” Oriel raised her brow. It was an affectation similar to her father’s. “If they were so bad, why did you keep trying?” Oriel interrogated. Sarra grinned. This was a child with an adult brain in reasoning. “Actually,” Sarra hesitated a moment. “Some of it wasn’t so bad. I did have some fun.” “Will you help me become a boy,” Oriel pleaded. “Oh please say you will. It’s only fair for me to try.” “I was older than you,” Sarra hedged. “How much older?” Oriel pushed. 49

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“I was nearly ten,” Sarra replied. “That’s nearly twice your age.” Those red swollen eyes opened wide pleading in silence. “Please, oh please, Lady Sarra. Let me try.” “We’ll do it together. I’m much older now, and perhaps it would be a bit of fun,” Sarra answered thoughtfully. Her fingers were tapping her lips lightly. It might be fun. “You must give me a few days to make us some clothes. Will you wait the time?” Oriel bounced from her lap onto the floor and twirled around on her tiptoes. “Yes. Yes, I will wait. We’ll have so much fun.” “You must also listen to everything I say,” Sarra chided. “Do you swear?” Oriel nodded her head rapidly in agreement. “Say it,” Sarra insisted. “I swear to listen to you.” “And not to wander off from me.” “And not to wander off from you.” “Good,” Sarra smiled to the little girl. “Come, we must wash and change for the noon meal.” Sarra took Oriel’s hand and started walking toward the staircase leading to the Solars. Sarra called two female servants to bring a bucket of warm water and clean clothes for them to wash. She also called another servant to take Oriel to her solar and assist her in washing and dressing. Sarra instructed the maid to select one of Oriel’s finest silk tunics and gown. She wanted Oriel’s father to take note of his beautiful offspring. Those jeweled sapphire eyes matched her father’s eyes to a tee. The golden locks were also the same color of spun gold. *** Genoa couldn’t believe her good fortune. She was asked to administer healing salves to the handsome heir of Keyes Castle. Every maid, chambermaid, scullery maid, every young female in the castle would envy her duty. Genoa left Sir William no doubt as to her offerings. Genoa was simply tired of waiting and hoping for Henry. She flirted with the lord, touched him sensually as she applied the salve as Jacoba instructed and even stood for several minutes stretching her arm upright to hold the cool cloth on Sir Williams blackened eye and bloody nose. When William was given a chair, she sat upon his lap still holding the cool cloth. Normally, a knight would pleasure her by feeling her breasts and playing with her hardened nubs. William was apparently too angry to be seduced. Her plan to make Henry 50

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jealous did not work. Instead she did not hear words of seduction, she heard curses and words of anger. “I want that wench brought back here right now,” William demanded. Harry accepted the offered cup of wine. He was noting Genoa’s actions and found himself becoming a bit jealous. He took a slow drink and repeated, “That is not a wench, brother. The fearsome woman you complain of is a true lady. To my sorrow.” “Your sorrow?” William growled. “I am the one in pain. I have cuts, bruises, and a bloody nose.” Harry spewed his wine in laughter, “Aye, fearsome battle wounds, brother. I must go to mass and praise God for your deliverance.” “Your humor is dumb witted,” William snapped angrily. “The wench will be punished for this insult. I shall have her working in the Garderobe. See if I do not.” “Brother,” Harry sighed patiently. “I saw her fine boots and held onto her soft skin. Her speech is pure Norman. She is a Lady!” William raised his brow. He never liked being challenged. He was right always simply because he was William, the firstborn and heir. He addressed Genoa. “Tell me, who ordered you to tend to me?” “I was summoned by Jacoba,” Genoa replied sweetly. “Who is this Jacoba?” William demanded of Genoa. Genoa was shaken by William’s intensity. She hesitated with her answer. Jacoba had always been kind to her. “You are frightening her,” Harry warned being a bit protective of Genoa. They did have a history together. “Calm down a little, Wills.” William was determined to find and punish the wench that knocked him almost on his arse. No one had ever blackened his eye or bloodied his nose, even in battle. He had scars from wounds, but never on his fair face. He was vain about his striking good looks. Since a child he was told of his handsome face from his mother, servants, friends, and strangers. He spoke in a more even tone, “Who is this Jacoba?” “I am Jacoba,” she answered stepping forward with the tin of salve in her hands. “You?” Wills asked with astonishment. “Haven’t you been here for years?” “Aye, for nearly two score years,” Jacoba replied. “I was born in Keyes Castle.” “Then who sent you to tend me” Wills queried taking his goblet of wine. He was surprised to find his wine warmed and tasty. It was a fine wine 51

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most likely from Normandy. Usually he was given tepid ale when he arrived at Keyes Castle. He found he was calming down. He noted a different aroma in the Great Hall. It was pleasant and even soothing. Was he imagining this due to his injuries? “Lady Sarra,” Jacoba stated simply. “The Lady was busy comforting your daughter. Your child was quite distraught, my lord. Did you scold the darling moppet?” She realized what she said to the Lord of the manor, but it was too late. She bowed her head in submission quickly. She expected to be disciplined for speaking so boldly. Instead she heard laughter. Harry snickered, “I told you so! That smudged urchin was your daughter.” “Jacoba!” William roared. Jacoba trembled uncontrollably. She knew of William’s hot temper and cold heart. “You’re terrifying the woman, Wills!” Harry barked sharply. Williams could see his younger brother was right. He didn’t mean to frighten anyone except enemies on the battlefield, yet he always seemed to. It was his anger and his voice. He took a deep breath. It was difficult for him to accept that filthy and poorly dressed child was his child. “Jacoba?” William asked softly. “If that urchin is my blood, what type of care is she receiving? Who is her caregiver? What training is this child receiving? Such incompetence is incomprehensible. I shall talk to Pere about this neglect and set things aright here.” Jacoba took offense to Sir William’s tirade. She no longer cared if she would be punished for insolence. “It appears to me that her Pere has never taken any interest in the moppet. Your child is loved and cared for by none other than Lord Edmond. There is no one caregiver, but receives the finest tutors in science, languages, mathematics, and spiritual training Lord Edmond can buy. The moppet just started her lessons in running a Castle from Lady Sarra.” Jacoba’s intended barb for William hit its mark. First he was hit in the face by flying feet, tended to by a wench intending to lead him to her bed, and now an elder servant calling him to task for being a bad parent. “Where is Christofre?” At least he could count on her to straighten these things out. She was always there for him when he was a child. Christofre fixed everything. Soon this Castle would feel normal again. “Here I am,” a familiar voice came from behind his chair. “What happened to you?” 52

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William turned on the chair and peered around his chair. He saw Christofre and his father walking toward them. He rose from the chair to greet Lord Edmond. The smile on Lord Edmond’s face grew broader when he saw his two oldest sons sitting in front of the hearth. He was proud of his offspring. The four boys were handsome men, strong, and well favored by the court of King John. This alone was a feat most noble men envied. His marriage to Laurette had been horrible and what he considered his hell on earth, but his sons were his joy. “Wills, Henry,” Lord Edmond greeted. “Have Andrew and Edward arrived as well?” “You’ve sent for all of us?” Harry asked in concern. “Is something amiss, Pere? Are you ill? Has something happened?” “There are some things afoot. I felt it necessary to call a family meeting,” Lord Edmond answered enfolding Harry in his embrace. “And it has been far too long since I have dined with my sons. Only Edward sees to visiting me regularly.” He stepped back after patting Harry on his back. Edmond turned to greet his eldest son. “Christ’s Toes, what happened to you? I’ve heard of no recent battles.” Harry began laughing heartily. “It seems Pere, that you have a termagant living in these walls. She’s as deadly as a Norseman, disguised as a wench, and as lovely as flower.” Edmond furrowed his brows in confusion. “Does this deadly foe have a Christian name?” “Aye,” Wills grumbled. “I am told she is called Lady Sarra. Do you know of her?” Lord Edmond began laughing uproariously. Several minutes later he wiped tears from his eyes. Wills was gritting his teeth and trying to contain his anger with calm. “Would you care to share with us your humor, Pere?” Lord Edmond wiped away the tears with the end of his tunic. He calmed to the best of his ability. He cleared his throat, “Well, ahem, Lady Sarra is the daughter of my good friend and vassal, Lord Reimond. They are visiting.” He tried desperately to smother his chuckles, but the grin covered his mouth. ”Lady Sarra is hardly a vicious Norseman or Norsewoman. She is a Norman bred lady pure. You will have to explain to me what happened to your face.” “Your highly bred Norman Lady kicked me?” Wills growled angrily. “And she was dressed as a common serving wench.” 53

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Lord Edmond tried not to laugh. “She kicked you, did she? I hadn’t noticed she was that long legged.” “Let me tell it,” Harry butted in. “Wills and I were discussing John’s court when we turned into the great hall. Wills slammed into the ladder the Lady was balancing upon. She appeared to be cleaning the iron candelabras. The lady grabbed onto the ironworks. Her legs swung out and connected with Will’s face. I rescued the lady and she went scurrying off to the kitchens.” Lord Edmond was slightly more serious when he asked, “Why did you knock Lady Sarra off the ladder?” Will’s groaned. He was getting nowhere with his father. “The ladder was in my way.” “You should have moved around it,” Edmond chided. “No need to knock Lady Sarra off her perch.” “I didn’t see it,” Wills defended. “The ladder?” Edmond queried in astonishment. “What fully spurred noble knight can miss a ladder in front of them? “Enough,” Wills conceded. He always had difficulty understanding and dealing with his father. He would deal with this Lady Sarra later. “Good,” Edmond crowed. He relished his all too little triumphs over his son. The boy was everything a father would be proud of, but William had a little too much arrogance and pride. Those weaknesses could only take him down a dark and lonely path. They were also weaknesses they could be his undoing in a battle or match of wits in the treacherous courts of King John. Christofre stepped from behind Lord Edmond and gave Harry a warm embrace. She turned to Wills and embraced him. “Ah, my dearest Christofre,” Wills greeted bestowing her forehead with a warm kiss. “You are truly one person I do miss on my leaves of Keyes Castle. Are you doing well?” “Things have never been better, waif,” Christofre cooed softly. She knew she was the only one that would dare give him and call him by an affectionate name. Waif was his special name. In his mind he never seemed to please his father or mother and as a young child would complain to Christofre. “I see Genoa and Jacoba took care of your injury. Lady Sarra sent her special salve of horse hound. I recognize it. You will heal quickly.” “Just who is this Lady Sarra?” Wills asked testily. “Your Pere told you, waif. She is the daughter of Lord Reimond. They are our guests,” Christofre answered. With a large doting smile she continued, “I must be off to the kitchens. You take your seats at the high table, the meal will be served any moment.” 54

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Lord Edmond led the way to the high table and indicated to Wills and Harry the two seats on his left side. He of course sat at the highest backed cushioned chair. His chair was brilliant red velvet with a golden rose having five petals embroidered in the center. The adjoining chairs were also of red velvet each with matching roses, but smaller in size. On Lord Edmond’s right hand side there remained four empty chairs. The one nearest Edmond had a very large cushion resting upon the seat of the chair. Wills watched as a middle-aged man obviously acquainted with his father took the second chair adjacent to his father. Squires began filling the goblets with ale when he noticed an attractive lady accompanied by a young girl enter the hall. They walked directly to the high table. Edmond rose from his chair and opened his arms wide. The little girl ran to him.

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Chapter Eight
Wills had no idea Harry was as interested in the woman as he until he heard, “the wench cleans up well, don’t she?” Harry smirked luridly. “I hope to make her acquaintance.” That remark infuriated him. That wench was his. He was going to seek revenge and train that wench. It became his current challenge. “The termagant is probably wed to a simpleton.” “I believe Pere would have indicated that when he commented on his friend’s daughter.” “Would he?” “Perhaps I shall find out for myself,” Harry chuckled. “More fun that way.” Wills felt like clouting his impetuous and notorious younger brother. How many women had he known? Harry was the well-known rake of the family. He said nothing. Even he didn’t understand his feelings of primal territory towards this wench. He was only aware of this odd sensation that over came him when he looked at her. He was already getting hard and wanting to bed her. This never happened to him before. He watched as the little girl ran to his father. He watched as Edmond picked her up, embraced her, kissed her forehead, and then gently placed her upon the high cushioned chair next to him. The little imp laughed gaily. Her eyes sparkled with love and admiration for his father. What had happened these years he had been gone? The beautiful child, now that she was cleaned up and dressed properly child was surely his daughter. “She looks just like you,” Harry whispered into his brother’s ear. Wills turned suddenly towards Harry. His brother sat back quickly to avoid Wills hitting him on his face. There were enough bruises on Wills face. “Who?” Wills barked. He had no idea Harry was watching him peruse the little girl. “Who looks like me?” “Your child of course,” Harry laughed quietly. “I remember us as children. You are only a year my senior, after all. I always envied your golden locks, cherubic face, pink cheeks, sapphire eyes, and long golden lashes. You were beautiful,” Harry sighed. 56

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“You’ve made up for it since,” Wills retorted. “I don’t believe there is a woman in Christendom you haven’t bewitched with your handsome looks.” “Only those that haven’t seen you first,” Harry grouched. “Even with your stone heart. Who is that?” An older woman dressed richly with violet satin gown, deep purple velvet tunic, and lavender sheer wimple took the place next to Sarra. *** The pages began bringing the trenchers and trays filled with delights to the tables. Roese addressed Sarra. “I’ve heard you’ve met the Lord’s sons.” She giggled. “I heard you ran into the eldest.” “Your information, as always is flawless, Roese.” Sarra replied sampling a seasoned piece of partridge. Sarra often relied on Roese’s talent of gathering information from other servants. They worked together to use all information in creating a smooth running castle. In these few days alone, Roese and Sarra spent several nights putting to good use Roese’s information. An example of how they worked together was when Roese learned a spinner named Elaine hated spinning and much preferred sewing with thread and needle. It turned out she was quite talented in the art of mending and creating tunics, gowns, and braes. Elaine had a natural talent for selecting the perfect fabrics for certain cuts of fashion or clothes. Sarra immediately had her exchange places with Miriam who hated sewing and was quite bad at it. A steward that had no inclination of talents for positions placed the two in these positions. He merely placed them where he needed them at the time of their application. Roese was proud of her talents. It seemed any one could talk to her at any time, and she could talk to them comfortably. Since most people ended up much happier in other places, Roese’s reputation as a friend, confident, and helper of the down trodden was almost spiritual. Roese also learned every bit of gossip in the castle. She didn’t necessarily share everything she learned with her lady. Every now and then a small bit of gossip helped her lady. Roese had shared that Genoa was not only the most beautiful and sought after light skirt in the castle; she was also interested in healing herbs. That little bit of knowledge helped Sarra select Genoa to attend William the cold heart with hot temper. Poor Sarra didn’t know that Genoa got absolutely nowhere with William and barely cooled his temper at all. Roese did learn William brought a camp follower with him. The woman’s name was Elena and Jacoba had been instructed to find a position for her. Jacoba immediately came to Roese 57

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looking for the Lady Sarra to decide on a position. Roese took it upon herself knowing Sarra would give her blessings to question the light skirt. Roese was impressed with Elena. She was a woman come to a hard time upon the death of her soldier husband. Elena was merely trying to support her son the best way she knew how, and wanted a permanent place for her son to grow. Elena would work anywhere she was asked. It turned out Elena loved animals and almost seemed to charm them. Roese decided to make her a milkmaid. Her duties would be to milk the goats and cows and tend to them. Elena was delighted. Roese supposed William would make her his leman also, but that would be his choice. With Roese’s choice, Elena would have a little house near the barns she could call her own. Roese planned on telling Sarra after the meal. During the meal there were other more interesting observations Roese noted. It appeared William and Sarra would glare at each other on and off throughout the meal. When the other noticed or felt the icy glares and stares, they would bow their heads or begin a conversation with the person nearest them. Roese felt the sparks flying across the table. She laughed inwardly. Roese would soon tell Sarra the love story of her mother and father. She would relate to Sarra the courtship of her parents as never was told before. Reimond was also paying attention to his daughter and Edmond’s eldest son. He chuckled silently. Ah the memories he had. He was certain his daughter would be the chosen heiress to Castle Keyes, that is if history repeated itself and they didn’t do bodily damage to each other first. He was looking forward to the conversation with Edmond this afternoon during their chess game. Finally the meal was finished. Oriel turned her attention from her grandfather and returned to her favorite new friend, Lady Sarra. This afternoon they were going to sort through clothes and select materials for their boy’s clothes. Lady Sarra would start teaching her how to measure, cut, and sew. Every day with Lady Sarra provided a new and wonderful experience. The lower tables were being cleared when Roese hurried off to the pavilion outside where the leftover food would be dispersed. It was her duty to announce the delivery of foodstuffs and organize the comers by category and need. The soldiers would be there to assist her in anyway. It had only been a few days since the practice began, but it was already run like a welloiled drawbridge gate. Lady Sarra spoke to her father briefly and then looked for Oriel. Oriel had given her grandfather a kiss on his cheek and turned to find Lady Sarra standing nearby waiting for her. How she loved the Lady. Oriel 58

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knew Sarra would always be her friend and someone to trust and love, almost like a mother she thought happily. Oriel took Lady Sarra’s hand and was about to turn and leave the great hall when a deep threatening voice was heard. “Hold!” Oriel looked up to the hard face of the man she was told was her father. His disapproval was etched onto his face like a carved statue. Oriel was of no mind to pay that man any attention. She ignored him as any stubborn five years old would. She turned and began to tug on Sarra’s hand. Sarra couldn’t believe Lord Edmond’s son would dare to speak to a child in such a manner. She was about to give him a royal piece of information when he reached for Oriel’s hand and pulled her back. “I said, hold!” William growled. “You will obey my command!” He pulled tighter on Oriel’s hand forcing her to turn to him. Sarra was furious. She was about to raise her booted foot and give the hulk a good kick in his shins when Oriel surprised her with a soft cooing answer to the beast. “Why would I obey your command, sire?” Oriel said softly. “Who are you to speak to me in such a manner? I see only a stranger in my presence.” She smiled broadly. Her grandfather had taught her well. He once told her that soft words would take the strength out of any bully. Those words from an impudent urchin that William was told was his daughter flattened him with shock. He remained disoriented for a moment. William regained his thoughts when Oriel once again turned her back on him walking with Lady Sarra out of the great hall. This time William walked furiously ahead of them and stood before them with his hands balled into fists resting on his hips. “Listen to me. I will speak to you privately. I am almost ready to warm your backside with my hand for your impudence,” he threatened Oriel. Oriel steeled her sapphire eyes and returned her father’s angry stare. “Again sire, I say, who are you to order me about and threaten my person. You are a stranger to me!” “I am no stranger. I am your Pere!” William announced haughtily. “It seems to me I should know my Pere, yet I do not. How are you to prove this? Do you even know my name? A Pere certainly would know his child’s name.” Oriel demanded. This was a pain she long held. He never wanted anything to do with her. She was a girl and unimportant. The pain in her heart nearly brought tears to her eyes. Her own father didn’t even know 59

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her name and never bothered to learn it. She wouldn’t give in to the hurt. She held her stare. William was caught and he knew it. He tried to think of the child’s name. He was told it once or twice. He didn’t remember. “I am your blood. I am your Pere. I state it!” “You don’t know my name. You aren’t my Pere. Go away and find some boy to order about! You only care about boys. You only want sons.” William was shocked. Of course she was right. He had so stated his disinterest on the day she was born. A girl would be like her mother. Edith was weak, a simple mind, frigid in bed, shallow in thought, and too terrified of him as if he were a monster. He believed a girl would be just like her. Of course he had no interest. Yet, before him now was a child of strong will, like him. She was brave like him. She looked like him. He was pleased with his seed. Indeed he was proud of his offspring. This child was nothing like her mother and everything like him. What was her name? He should know her name. He really should. The little imp had tongue tied him. She was as deadly as the woman she favored, the Lady Sarra. Ah, he remembered her name well enough. Again his strange reaction to the Lady dumbfounded him. He had no control and his sword came to attention. He hadn’t lost control of his manliness since he was a page, well maybe a squire, but not since then. He watched as the two turned their backs on him and walked toward the hallway that led to the door opening to the inner bailey. He heard his voice muted and soft, so unlike him. “Where do you go?” “To the pavilion feeding the needy,” Lady Sarra replied sweetly to match the soft tone. It was insolence, but she didn’t care. She looked down to meet Oriel’s eyes. She bestowed to the child a look of pride and love. She was proud of the child. They swung their arms gaily as they marched out of sight. William felt humiliated and didn’t like the feeling at all. He glared at the servants filling large trays with the left over food. The servants quickly averted the lord’s glare and busied themselves with their tasks. Soon the women followed lifting the tablecloths and folding them to be taken to the laundry. He recognized Genoa and pulled her to the side. Pages and squires were moving swiftly to and fro carrying large trays of leftover food outside and empty ones inside to be refilled. Other maids were lifting the cloths for washing after the food was removed. Genoa was thrilled she couldn’t help but notice the bulge under his tunic. At last she would please the lord of the castle. She would be well paid 60

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and perhaps a bauble or two if she really pleased him. She was surprised when he stopped at the hearth. “What goes on here? Where are they taking that food?” Genoa tried to hide her disappointment. If she responded incorrectly she might never have the opportunity to sleep with the stonehearted knight. “My Lord, there is a pavilion in the inner bailey near the great hall.” “Yes, I’ve seen it when I arrived. I wondered what purpose it holds,” William stated sounding like an inquiry. “Eventually it will be permanent. The leftover foods from meals are distributed to the poor there. First are the ill and aged, then orphaned, and then the widows and widowers. Lady Sarra does this at Mondel Castle and established the practice here. Several trays are also taken to the kennels for the hunting dogs,” Genoa explained quietly. She watched anger flash across William’s sapphire eyes. Just as quickly a cold calm took over his eyes. “I decree this to be a good practice,” William declared as if sitting on a throne to his vassals. “We hereby decree this system as fact of Keyes Castle” Genoa looked up in confusion. Why did he decree this practice that was commonplace? She said nothing because she had seen that rage in his eyes only a moment ago. She was not about to make him angry with her. That might spoil everything. “Isn’t that a bit like putting the cart before the horse?” Harry questioned innocently. Since childhood he enjoyed teasing William, especially when in Harry’s mind his brother was being a bit turgid. That jealousy was coming at him again. He and Genoa had been lovers. He didn’t want her with someone else, especially his elder brother. William ignored Harry’s remark, still he was aware of the meaning. Of course Harry was right. He couldn’t allow a woman to make decisions of such castle practice. Women needed to be instructed in all things. It was without question that men were superior. William saw Lady Sarra in his mind’s eye and immediately developed an uncontrollable urge to mate once more. He needed to find Elena. Once again he queried Genoa. “A woman was sent here to seek employment in the kitchens. Her name is Elena. Have you seen her?” Genoa couldn’t hide her disappointment. The gossip quickly made the castle rounds. Nearly every woman already knew that Elena was William’s light skirt. She had been his camp follower for nearly three years. Paulin was only five years old and some of the servants were already considering the possibility Paulin might be William’s bastard, even though Paulin seemed to bear no resemblance to William. Genoa wanted dearly to become William’s 61

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leman. She loved Harry, but she believed he would wed only a noble woman. In the chambermaid world, it was an elevation in status and possibly financial gains. She had tried earlier to attract him. It hadn’t worked then. Genoa knew she was younger and prettier than Elena. She didn’t understand why William wasn’t attracted to her. Harry of course was paying attention. He had watched Genoa flirt with William and read her disappointment correctly. Harry was jealous. He cared for Genoa and felt she was his. “Lady Sarra directed Elena to take over duties as milkmaid. The current one was elderly and wanted to retire in the village with her widowed brother,” Genoa said quickly covering her anger and disappointment. “She took over the duties and the little cottage near the pens.” William nodded and left the great hall heading for the kitchens. He knew the cottage was located just off the back kitchen door. Genoa’s lips pouted as William walked away. Harry came behind Genoa with his own comfort in mind. He bent his head and whispered in her ear. “You are most desirous. Pay Wills little mind. He finds change troubling. Come with me, my little sweet.”

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Chapter Nine
William walked directly to the cottage. Paulin was outside talking with an old man whose job was to keep the pens clean and feed the animals. William snapped at him, “Stay with the boy. I’ll have a word with his mother.” Elena was preparing a stew for the supper meal and humming happily to herself. She was going to like it at Keyes Castle and at last had a hope for a normal life. She had already met the man who was a guard and it was an instant attraction. She dreamed of a happy contented marriage. Her dreams shattered when William came through her door, slammed it shut, and bolted it. He was already untying his braes. “Elena, I have need of you.” To Elena’s shock, William merely pushed her onto the pallet in the corner, raised her skirts, untied and pulled down her braes. He was on top of her instantly. He drove into her like an animal. He did not prepare her. The joining was painful until her body finally responded. Just as her body prepared for the assault, she felt William stiffen. Elena felt William’s seed pour into her. He collapsed upon her and was breathing heavily. Something was very wrong. She could sense it. Elena gently stroked William’s head as she would stroke her son’s head to relax him when he was upset. “It was bad, wasn’t it?” William said softly breathing heavily. He still hadn’t moved. “It was not usual,” Elena replied quietly. She owed William a lot, but she still wanted a normal life. It couldn’t happen as long as she remained William’s leman in the castle and he demanded her to fill his needs whenever he had need. This episode also made her feel uneasy. William had only called for her at night when she was part of the camp followers. William had always been a lover. This had felt like animals rutting. She thought it best to let William talk. Elena did not want to offend him. He had been a generous and kind lover. Upon her words William rose from the pallet, retied his braes, and straightened his tunic. “No, it was not usual. I do not what possessed me. I assure you it will not happen again.” He hoped he wasn’t lying. He really didn’t know what had possessed him to lose control. William left the cottage after he tossed a small bag of coin on the table. He took a few coins from the 63

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lining in his tunic. Once outside he tossed the coins to the old man. He strode past Paulin and patted his head. Paulin looked up and smiled at William. Paulin recognized the knight. The man had always been kind to him and he knew the man spent time with his mother. He was to young to understand what was happening between them, but his mother treated the man with respect, so would he. *** Sarra and Oriel went to the spinning, weaving, and spinning rooms after spending a few moments with Roese and Jacoba. The pavilion distribution of leftover foods was working well. The villeins were becoming healthy and happier in a short time. The bailey of Keyes Castle was coming to life. An aura of happiness seemed to surround the castle. William needed sometime to think. Everything was not usual. He didn’t like that at all. He was a man who required rigid routine. He did not like or respond well to change. He walked back to the kitchens. There he found Christofre bending over a simmering pot. She was adding spices to a stew. “Christofre,” William heard himself say. He suddenly felt exhausted. Christofre turned to William’s voice. “Is something wrong, Waif?” William sat on a bench near the trestle preparation table. “Nothing is right,” he answered tiredly. “Even Keyes seems different. Everything here feels different.” Christofre sat next to William. Her fondness for the boy was near to being his mother. She put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently. “Yes, our guests have made many good changes. The changes needed to be made,” Christofre whispered kindly. She placed her palm against William’s cheeks. “You are tired from your journey. You should go to your solar and rest before the evening meal. I have prepared a new recipe for venison stew. You love my stew remember? That remains the same.” William felt better, but still tired. Christofre was a solid sameness. His comfort in her presence was all so usual. He nodded wearily. Slowly he rose, placed a tender kiss on Christofre’s forehead and walked up the kitchen stairs to the solars where his room was located. His squire was waiting in the anteroom to the chamber and was grinning broadly. “Wait til you see, sire.” ‘Now what?’ William thought to himself. He indicated to Geoffery to open the door. He walked in inhaled deeply. This was no longer his room. It was absolutely luxurious, warm, aromatic, and comfortable. It had a homey quality to it. William headed to the large cushioned chair in front of the fireplace. He was feeling a bit dizzy. He never expected his room to look 64

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like this. What had happened while he was gone? The cushions matched the head table dining chairs but were in velvet gold. A red embroidered heart with brown lions embroidered on each side was centered on the back cushion of the chair. Before him was a cushioned stool to rest his slipper feet. The last time he used this room it was austere, cold, and definitely not homey. William looked to the window that usually blasted the room with cold. There was a new window fitted perfectly with Venetian glass. He could see shutters on the sides and long heavy velvet drapes on a rod. His bed was now close to the hearth. It too had a magical transformation. It looked comfortable. He felt really tired now. He didn’t like change and this change was drastic, but it didn’t make him angry at all. He liked the warmth and comfort the room offered. “Geoffrey, help me prepare for bed.” Geoffrey was at his lord’s side instantly. He assisted William disrobe to his braes. A clean linen nightshirt was ready on the top of the bedspread. After William was under the silken covers and the warm heavy woolen blanket was laid upon him, he was sound asleep. Geoffrey closed the shutters over the new windows that allowed a bright light into the solar. He stared at the heavy drapes considering their purpose when Christofre appeared in the room. “Pull them together,” Christofre ordered. She looked at William asleep under the covers and smiled. He hadn’t looked that angelic asleep since he was a child. She nodded her head in approval to Lady Sarra’s handiwork. There was no doubt in her mind that Sarra should be the new lady of Keye’s Castle. Somehow she would slant the balance in Sarra’s favor. *** Sarra was enjoying Oriel’s company tremendously. For a child she was observant, eager, and good student. In a few short hours Oriel had selected fabric for her new boy clothes. It seemed she had a natural talent for observation and knew what fabrics and colors a boy would wear and select if he were a merchant son. She also had not only mastered threading a needle, but was already applying even stitches on a sample fabric. “You are a natural talent,” Sarra praised. Oriel’s eyes beamed with delight. Everyone had always been good to her, but no one had ever really praised her. She was happy. Her grandfather was wonderful, but she had never really felt this happy before. She was actually accomplishing something. She was talented in her studies, but her tutors never offered praise, just harder work.

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“We may be off to our adventure sooner than I thought,” Sarra beamed proudly. “Tomorrow in the morn, after breaking fast, we will return here. I will help you measure and cut your tunic.” Oriel was about to bubble over with happiness when a stern looking monk appeared in the room. “Mistress, you are late for your geographic study, and then we will begin your French language lesson.” Oriel’s face dropped. “Aye, Brother Mark.” Sadly she placed her needle and cloth in Sarra’s hand. She left the room with her smile turned into a frown. Sarra chuckled. Oriel felt about her lessons the same way Sarra used to dread them as a child. As an adult, she realized how important they were. She promised herself she would surprise Oriel with something special to help her through the studies. It was something her mother had done for her. Sarra finished her stitches, walked to her solar, put on her hooded woolen cape, left the castle and walked briskly to a merchant located within the bailey walls. Oriel wasn’t a very good student for Brother Mark this afternoon. Her mind didn’t follow his lessons at all. She was thinking about her boy togs, the making of them and the wearing of them. “Mistress!” Brother Mark exclaimed in exasperation. “Where is your head this day?” “Attached,” Oriel replied sweetly knowing it was quite a sarcastic thing to say. She enjoyed needling the devout and always serious monk. She could never imagine becoming that religious. If religion took away fun in life, she wanted nothing to do with it. Still she recited all the prayers, knew the mass, and listened to all the teachings of the Church. The one subject she loved was mathematics. There was something wonderful about playing with numbers on the abacus and doing sums. The steward taught her practical math, the dealing of foodstuffs, coins, and costs of running a household. Normally a castle steward did not spend time in such instructions to a young child, much less a girl, but he was ordered to do so by Lord Edmond. After these boring classes she would meet with Baldwyn for the instruction. It was as much fun as being with Sarra. Sarra had barely left the castle for the merchant when Marshal Bouvier was seeking her for instruction. Two other parties had been spotted approaching Castle Keyes. One entourage appeared to have only two mounted knights, several baggage carts, a retinue of servants, a small carriage cart, a mounted lord, and five or six foot soldiers. Another group had at least ten mounted knights and two had the shield of de Warre. It must be the younger two brothers, Andrew and Edward. 66

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Roese handled Marshal Bouvier’s problems and gave orders to take care of the next onslaught of guests. “It’s a good thing this is such a large keep,” Roese clucked. Christofre told her shortly after their arrival that Lord Edmond was expecting another lady and her parents as a guest. She was told it was Lord Crispin of Tomes Castle, his good wife, Olive, and their only child a daughter, Casse. Their daughter, Casse, was near the same age as Sarra. As the two groups merged to enter the bailey, Roese left the great hall to greet them. It was a sunny day, but chilled. The fires had been lit for warmth to greet them. Ale was brought up from the casks to be warmed and served. The sleeping arrangements had all been made and information sent to the kitchens for the increased service for the evening meal. Watching them near was a shock. The group appeared to be surrounded by men who seemed to be in a daze. The men were staring at the enclosed cart. She knew what was going on when the cart stopped in front of the entrance to Keyes Castle. Roese greeted her guests, saw to their comfort and left them in the hall of tongue dragging imbeciles. She prepared one of the open solars for the women and gave instructions to prepare Lord Edmond’s sons solars for their needs. It appeared Sarra’s decorating of the solars would have to wait. *** The evening meal was ready to be served when Christofre, Lord Edmond, Lord Reimond, Andrew, and Edward walked together into the hall and took their places. Sarra arrived a few moments later holding Oriel’s hand. Both were beaming happily. When Oriel saw Edward she ran toward him to greet him. She didn’t really know her other uncle, but Andrew and Edward visited often and treated her with affection. Sarra was startled at the men sitting next to Lord Edmond. They looked like younger versions of Sir William. It was like William had been stopped in time at various ages of his life. Harry walked into the hall and greeted the boys heartily with hugs and back slaps. He was another older version of Sir William, well nearly a twin. Quietly she took her place to find it a seat down from her father. A short rotund man was sitting next to her father. Sarra heard him addressed as Lord Crispin. So they had finally arrived. She looked forward to meeting Lady Casse. Christofre had told her and Roese that Casse was near the same age as Sarra. It would be fun to talk with a maid about her same age. The meal had just been served. There were courses of partridge, fish, venison, and pork. The trenchers were filled with vegetables and trays were brought with sweet apples, tarts, and candied berries. 67

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Christofre had gone all out to welcome her four boys. The castle was filled with people, laughter, and with Sarra’s touches, a bit of comforting home and hearth. Suddenly the room became silent. It was a deafening silence. Sarra looked up and turned her head to where every male in the room stared in amazement. At the base of the stairs from the solar stood the most beautiful woman Sarra had ever seen. She was dressed in a deep purple velvet tunic. Underneath was a lavender velvet tunic with tight fitting sleeves. The purple tunic was covered in a gold embroidered pattern of vines with flowers. The flower petals were made of precious gems. The lady wore a wimple of sheer cloth as fine as Sarra had ever seen. It was the same color lavender as the gown she wore. Upon her head was a crown of gold covered with jewels that radiated the light of the candles into a multitude of rainbows everywhere. Locks of golden hair peeked out from her wimple to frame a perfect oval face. The Lady’s lips were cherry red. Her cheeks pink against an ivory flawless skin. Brilliant violet eyes added to the perfection of her femininity. Sarra’s good mood dropped. She felt inadequate. No room had ever turned for her. She was attractive, but not beautiful. She had a solid boned figure. The Lady Casse’s figure was slight and delicate. She was a toad in comparison to a queen. Why that mattered she didn’t understand. Every male in the room was dumbfounded. She looked at Sir William who had entered just before the meal was served. His mouth had dropped open. Sarra quickly noticed the lust in the eyes of the young men. Only her father and Lord Edmond seemed completely unaffected. The two men had looked up at Casse and Olive’s entrance. Edmond spoke to Reimond and the two continued their meal. Sarra watched Casse cross the hall like a wisp floating upon the air. There was something sensual about every move she made. The silence was still there, but a few older men were talking once more. Some of the women gained attention of the men to help them regain their senses. After Casse sat next to her, Sarra attempted to engage in conversation. It was impossible. William, Harry, Andrew, and Edward rose from their seats and attempted to speak with her. At least another half dozen young handsome knights surrounded Casse. Several knights including Lord Edmond’s sons nearly cut each other trying to serve Casse from her trencher. Sarra lost her appetite. The flirtatious Lady Casse thrived in the attention. “Enough!” Lord Edmond roared. “Return to your seats and let the damsel eat in peace. 68

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The order sent the knights scattering. Harry and William ignored their father. Sarra had enough. She washed her hands in the finger bowl and left the meal. She went immediately to her room where she sat and moped. Oriel noticed Sarra leave early and whispered to her grandfather. He nodded and Oriel scurried to go to Sarra’s chamber. When Oriel had left the great hall, Lord Edmond rose from his chair and angrily shouted at William and Harry to return to their proper places. “Aye,” William grunted. “No need to shout.” Harry took Casse’s hand and brushed his lips lightly over her fingertips. “Until later, milady.” Genoa watched from a lower table and glowered at Harry. The next time he needed a little entertainment he would have a large price to pay.

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Chapter Nine
Sarra paced her solar back and forth. She was muttering about the idiocy and carnal mentality of the male specie. “No intelligence, no logic, no communication, just lust, pure lust” Sarra grumbled. “I mean why care about a woman that can mend your clothes, run your house, have intelligent conversations. Oh no! Just look at the pretty adornment at my side.” “Where?” Oriel asked looking at Sarra’s side. Sarra spun around to find Oriel looking at her quizzically. “What?” “Where is the pretty adornment at your side?” Oriel asked. “I don’t have one,” Sarra laughed at her own previous words. “I really don’t. Unless you come here next to me, then I will.” Oriel ran to Sarra’s side and hugged her thigh. “You think I’m a pretty adornment?” Sarra’s fingers combed through Oriel’s golden locks. “No.” Oriel looked up a little disappointed. “I believe you are a beautiful adornment, my little moppet.” Oriel beamed. “I think you’re beautiful. You are the most beautiful lady I have ever met.” “The most beautiful lady is downstairs in the great hall,” Sarra sighed. She knew she shouldn’t show her little jealousy in front of Oriel, but it simply flowed from her mouth before she could stop it.” “The purple lady? How we would we know if she’s beautiful? We haven’t talked to her, seen her with others, or gauged her warmth.” Sarra was astounded. Where did Oriel come up with these wisdoms? She was only a child. “How do you know all these things, moppet?” “Grandpere,” Oriel replied proudly puffing out her chest. She led Sarra to the bed, sat down, and pulled Sarra down next to her. Her face was quite serious. “Grandpere explained to me many many times that beauty is to be judged by the complete person. He told me that a rose is the loveliest and most fragrant of flowers, but that it is nothing more than a green leaved bush covered with thorns until the rose emerges.” Sarra’s eye’s rounded contemplating the allegory. She felt a sudden rush of admiration for Lord Edmond. Immediately she pondered where such wisdom derived in a man. Her mind floated back to the meal. Lord Edmond 70

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had shown little to no interest in the beautiful Casse. What witchcraft kept Lord Edmond immune to the male lusts for a beautiful female? “Do you understand?” Oriel questioned pushing Sarra away from her thoughts. “I believe I do,” Sarra answered. “A person with a kind spirit can be a beautiful creature.” “Grandpere told me about my little dog, Plato. Plato was a scruffy ugly dog. No one liked him. His hair was long and knotted. He had to be bathed daily if he wanted to be near me. Plato allowed the baths, because somehow he knew he could stay with me then. Plato was gentle with me. He hovered over me, used his nose to play ball with me and was a warm and gentle friend. To everyone else he was ugly and ferocious. He would bare his teeth and threaten any stranger near me. To me he was beautiful. To everyone else he was ugly,” Oriel narrated. “Grandpere told me Plato was beautiful, especially to me. The others didn’t try to see his beauty. His beauty was made by his fierce love and loyalty. I loved him, so Plato was beautiful.” “I understand my little moppet,” Sarra said taking Oriel in her arms and hugging her fiercely. “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.” “Grandpere also told me that sometimes something plain and ordinary, like a green leafy bush will produce a beautiful rose,” Oriel continued. “Sometimes you have to hurt and bleed a little to get that beautiful rose.” Sarra couldn’t believe Oriel brought up this conversation on her own. “Did you talk to Grandpere before you came to my solar?” Sarra asked suspiciously. “Of course,” Oriel answered strongly. “I saw you leave and you were upset. I whispered to Grandpere and asked if he knew what was the matter. He told me to tell you the stories about the rose and Plato. He was right wasn’t he? You were upset about the purple lady?” “Oh moppet,” Sarra stated. She was fighting tears in her eyes. She didn’t want to cry. Instead she released Oriel, put her hands on Oriel’s cheeks, and kissed her forehead. “Grandpere was extremely right. I’m glad he told you to tell me the stories. I feel much better and realize how foolish I have been. Thank you.” Sarra took Oriel to her solar and assisted in her bathing and preparations for bed. *** Directly after the meal William leaned toward his father and requested a moment for private conversation. Edmond agreed and led his son to a small alcove near the great hall. 71

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“Pere, there is something that is troubling me,” William began. “It concerns my child.” Edmond said nothing in the silence. He waited to find out exactly what was on his eldest sons mind before he would speak a word. William looked at his father in the ensuing silence. It was always difficult for him to talk to his father. He wasn’t certain how he would even put the question. “My child, she is strong willed.” Edmond contained his chuckles and replied quietly “Much like you, is she not?” William cocked a brow. “Like me? I am not strong willed. I am restrained and contemplative.” Edmond choked on his laughter. “As you say. What troubles you about your strong willed child? And why converse with me about this trouble?” William recognized his father’s rebuke was a mild one. He sensed no anger in his father’s tone, but he could swear by Christ’s toes, his father was smiling. “This child rebuked me as her Pere. She tells me I am not her Pere. She is impertinent. She shows no respect, honor, or obedience.” “I see.” “Well then, you must see that I should take her into hand. I should see to her proper training,” William suggested arrogantly. He felt of course he could raise a child properly in discipline. “I have never seen my moppet behave so poorly as you suggest,” Edmond countered quickly and with authority. I have lived with moppet since her birth and this is not the same child you speak of. My moppet is soft spoken, loving, obedient, and respectful.” “Perhaps you are blinded by your fondness for the child,” William answered pompously. “You love the child so much you do not see her faults.” “And it would be good to turn her over to you?” Edmond growled losing his good humor. His son was still arrogant to a fault. William’s stone heart still as solid as rock. “I should allow a Pere without love or sensitivity give lessons in respect? What would you do? Would you beat her? Would you train her as a page?” Edmond’s anger was something William could deal with. He and his father seemed always to be at odds. This was the usual and he felt comfortable with the event. He feared and admired his father, and that made the challenge of battle with him exhilarating. “I believe the child needs a little belting to teach her respect.” 72

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Edmond flushed red with anger. “You will not touch my moppet!” He watched his son grin. It was a smug grin. Once again his son had taken him to anger. He fell into Williams trap time and time again. Didn’t Christofre warn him constantly? William felt he had won when he caused his father to lose his temper. It was William’s game to provoke his father. Then and only then did William feel he had the upper hand and was superior to his parent. Christofre had explained it so simply. It was the young male testing and trying the old male to dominate the territory. It was an admirable trait for the child who would be his heir, but it was an irritating one. Edmond regained his composure. In a quiet tone he added. “After all these years you have suddenly taken an interest in your offspring. Why is that?” William’s win was short lived. His father had rallied with a blow he had to answer first within himself. Why had he suddenly taken an interest in a girl child, his girl child? His conscience answered swiftly. She was so like him. She wasn’t a weak timid little thing like her mother. His child was strong in his blood. She looked like him. She acted like him. Her strength was obviously something she inherited from him. He was proud of her and wanted to be a part of her life. He certainly couldn’t admit that to his father. He wouldn’t admit it to anyone, not even Christofre. “I realize upon seeing her that I have been remiss in my duty. The child’s disrespect and impertinences, not withstanding the rags I saw her dressed in upon our meeting the other day, has reminded me of this neglect of my duty.” “Moppet has never once been disrespectful to me or anyone in this castle,” Edmond related calmly. He was in control again. “Why do you feel she disrespects you?” “Mayhap the female termagant currently instructing her is partially to blame,” William answered switching the guilt he was feeling to blame another. “Lady Sarra is a strong willed woman much like your child is, but Sarra is a true lady. I have never known her to be disrespectful.” “She dressed the child in rags! She bloodied my face!” William roared. Now he had lost his temper. This woman was driving him mad. “It seems these behaviors only are bestowed upon you, my son,” Edmond enlightened. “Mayhap your behavior is boorish. Mayhap their behaviors are in defense of your misconduct.” Edmond was interested in the fact William brought Lady Sarra into the discussion. There was an attraction there he was certain. Had the Lady Sarra managed to chisel a small chip off his son’s cold heart? It had been difficult for him to watch his firstborn son and heir inherit the cold heart of his wife. He accepted his blame for allowing 73

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this development. He had been too busy arguing with Laurette to take the time he should have with his sons. At least he saw the error of his ways in time to be a father to Andrew and Edward. William boiled. Again his father was reprimanding him and defending the actions of his guest and his own child. It took several minutes of silence for William to hold back his anger. He regained his calm by concentrating on biblical verses he was forced to memorize by Brother Paul. It was his penance each time he lost his temper or lost his concentration. “The child openly defied me. She stated I was not her Pere. She told me I was a stranger to her,” William attempted in explanation. “Is this not so? Your seed created her, but not once have I seen or heard you conduct yourself in a paternal way? Have you comforted her when she was ill? Have you seen to her education? Have you cherished her? Tell me when you have even once guided as a Pere would?” Edmond reprimanded. There was no answer. Silence loomed heavily between the father and son. The truth caused anger and pain to William. He had felt his father had not been an example of a good parent since he was a young child. His father always seemed to be at war with his mother, his beautiful mother. There was no time for him or Henry. There was only time for arguments between his mother and father. Later after Andrew was born and later Edward, the parents barely spoke to each other and his younger brothers received some attention from his father. He was a page during that time. He was fostered far from his parents. He had received letters from his father during that time. His father’s letters were encouraging and supportive, but brief. He admitted to himself he had been envious when he saw the child and his father sharing a close and loving relationship. He had reminded himself it was because the child was a female. He would not release his long buried hurt to reveal what he considered weakness. William decided to play the guilty. He needed to find out his daughter’s name. His father would be the only one who would know he did not know his own child’s name. His father had been right. He had never been a father. Until he saw how much the child was like him he found he was envious of his father and wanted to be a part of her life. “You call her moppet, why is it you do not use her Christian name?” “I wondered why you do not,” Edmond quickly countered. “You know,” William uttered angrily. “You do not know her name. You did not attend the baptism. You ignored the babe from the moment she was born. You had no interest in a 74

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female offspring.” Edmond chided. “You chose to avoid all parenting duties. Suddenly you seek respect and obedience from the child you rejected.” William felt his anger rise. He quelled it. His father was right. He had rejected his child and did now suddenly want respect and obedience. He asked himself why that was true. He would have to sort that out later. He answered his father with a half-truth. “What did you expect of me? What could I do with a newly born babe? Could I nurse the babe? No! I had to do the work of the king and protect our holdings. As heir I chose my duty. You have sent for me and for what purpose I still do not know. I find the child nearly grown and she has no love, respect, or duty toward me. I intend to correct that.” The tenure of his voice was controlled, but the anger and resentment was obvious. Edmond raised his brow to his son’s tone. He knew his son was raging inside. He hoped it was a rage concerned with his own failings. Edmond did not pursue the anger. Instead he decided to give the answer his son sought. “Oriel is the child’s name. She is most precious to me. I would not allow her to suffer in any way,” Edmond warned quietly, but firmly. “Do not frighten my Oriel, or harm her in any way.” William returned his father’s affectation. “Think you I would harm my flesh and blood?” His anger was simmering and ready for a battle. Edmond would not raise the challenge. His son needed to battle with himself, and not his father. “Mayhap not a purpose, yet I would be deeply offended if the child came to me in tears.” “Place your trepidation aside, Pere.” William dismissed his father with a bow and left for the solar room he knew his daughter was in preparing for bed. *** Sarra had finished Oriel with her bath and was combing Oriel’s long golden hair. They were talking about their upcoming adventure. The boy togs would soon be finished. They chose the fair day to begin their first excursion as young boys. Sarra was excited about once again taking on the façade of a young man. She wondered what it would be like this time. Her last foray into the young boy world had ended in misadventures. She would certainly have to protect Oriel on these outings. It was one of those selfimposed challenges Sarra enjoyed. This time they had already planned out their day and the time allowed. They would not venture far and be back to the castle within a short period of time. William approached the solar and heard the feminine laughter. He entered by stood at the door watching the domestic scene. There was the 75

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woman, Sarra, again. She was combing his daughter’s long blond hair. How typical of a mother that was. He felt his heart soften just a little. How he would have loved the tender touch of his mother. How much he had wanted that as a child. The chambermaid, Gwen, had been preparing the bed when she looked up and noticed the dreaded and feared Stone Heart standing in doorway. When he motioned for her to leave, she fled in a fright. Sarra and Oriel had shared another laugh when a voice boomed from the doorway. “Lady Sarra, leave us!”

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Chapter Nine
Sarra jumped hearing the deep baritone voice give an order to her. Not only had she been startled with the intrusion of her surrounding tranquility, but also as the lady of the keep she had never been ordered about. At Mondel Castle, she usually issued the orders. Oriel was frightened. Never had any male except her grandfather ever entered her solar. The solar was her private area and simply never intruded. Before her was the dreaded man she knew to be her blood father. He ordered her lovely Lady Sarra out. What was going to happen to her? She whispered, “I’m frightened, Sarra.” Sarra’s temper soared. She turned her head to look at Oriel. The child’s eyes revealed fear. Sarra draped her arm around Oriel’s shoulder. “Show him no fear, moppet. I’m here.” As a guardian angel protective of her charge she glared at the intruder with challenge. The fire in Sarra’s eyes ignited his passion. He was reacting swiftly. What was it about this woman? “I ordered you to take your leave, my lady. I do not often repeat my commands.” “How dare you enter this child’s solar? This is a private area!” Sarra spat in rage. She couldn’t stand little Oriel looking scared. William stepped forward. He needed to get this woman out of here before he lost control and bedded her in front of his child. He had to focus on the purpose of his coming to Oriel’s solar. “The area is not so private to a Pere. I wish to speak with my child.” “Suddenly she is your child? You offer years of neglect and now you are interested enough to burst into her solar and frighten her!” “I am not interested in your judgments, woman. Leave us now or I shall remove you physically.” Dear Jesu, make her leave or if I touch her she would end up on her back. I would make her eat her words of insolence. To gain his control he focused on his daughter. “Oriel, there is nothing to fear. It is time you and I engage in conversation. I wish only to speak with you.” Oriel’s head jerked upward. Had she heard correctly? Her father said her name. For as long as she could remember she had heard about this man who was her father. Her favorite uncle, Edward often told her about him. She dreamed of having such a conversation with him and ridding her anger 77

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verbally. So she wasn’t a boy, she was still his child! “I wish Lady Sarra to stay with me.” “Your wishes are of little concern to me at this moment, Oriel.” That answer caused Oriel to pull her anger through, losing fear. Her eyes narrowed and glared at the man. Her chin jutted out in defiance. “You will leave, Lady Sarra,” William growled menacingly. “I will deal with your insolence at a later time.” He walked to her reaching for her arm to remove her physically. Sarra jerked her arm violently away. “I shall leave, Sirrah!” she snapped accenting the insult. “I shall leave of my own free will, but if one tear drops from my moppet’s eyes, you shall pay dearly.” Sarra gave Oriel a hug, winked at her with a smile and laid the brush on the chest. “You are strong enough to take the Stone Heart down, my moppet.” William said nothing as Sarra walked to the door and left the room. He found her reference to Oriel as her moppet had irritated him. His daughter loved a stranger and showed him dishonor and disrespect. Oriel sat stiffly waiting for her father to take a seat. He surprised her by walking to her bed and sitting upon it. “Come to me, Oriel,” William said in softer tone. “I only wish to speak with you.” Oriel did not show her fear and was certain her wobbly legs did not reveal her dread. Slowly she walked to her father and gasped when his strong arms picked her up and placed her gently on her bed. “See now little one. I intend you no harm. I only wish to speak with you.” Oriel wasn’t about to forget her hurt and anger. “What do you desire to speak about? Did you come to inspect my solar? Perhaps to see if I am properly prepared as a femme for the night?” “The impudence of Lady Sarra is rubbing off on you,” William grumbled. His daughter’s defiant look reminded him of his own childhood. It was his defense against his neglectful parents. The truth struck him like a Norse hammer. He had been a neglectful parent. His own childhood came to haunt him. How he longed to hear approval, praise, and affection from his arguing parents. Oriel jutted out her chin a little further. “It is my impudence. I need no assistance.” Oriel’s response brought a smile to William. His daughter was very much like him. She was strong and willful. He was proud of his seed. 78

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The smile softened William’s face and surprised Oriel. What was he smiling about? Such an answer was cause for rebuff or punishment. “You are much like me,” William chuckled. Now was the time to offer his child what he wanted so desperately as a child. “I am proud of you, Oriel.” Oriel narrowed her eyes and stared at the Stone Heart. She couldn’t believe what she had heard. He was proud of her. She was a girl. He wanted a boy child. He had ignored her these six years since her birth. He was proud of her? He was proud of her defiance? “Your Grandpere shows you affection. As a child he showed little to me. I often responded with anger and defiance to gain attention. I remember all I needed was for your Grandpere to say he was proud of me,” William shared. His own eyes misted in the memory. “I thought perhaps you would like to hear me say those words for you. I am proud of you.” Those words were the ones Oriel had wanted to hear. As young as she was, she still couldn’t believe she heard them. In a small shy voice she asked, “You are proud of me?” “Oh yes,” William offered quietly. “You are beautiful, strong, and intelligent. You are everything a Pere could hope for.” To William’s surprise Oriel leaped off the bed like a projectile fired from a crossbow. She propelled herself to her father. Her arms encircled his neck and he felt a wet kiss plastered on his cheek. William found his arms wrap around Oriel and hugged her tightly. It was a warm wonderful feeling he found he liked. A small chip of stone melted from his heart. Tears were streaking Oriel’s cheeks when she finally pulled away from her father and looked up at William. “What causes these tears, little one?” William asked wiping Oriel’s cheek with his thumbs. Oriel sat on the bed and folded her hands upon her lap. “I did need you to tell me you were proud. I have heard whispers many times of your distaste for me at birth,” Oriel sobbed a little. “Since, I was not a male.” William considered his answer. His reply would be the truth. There would be no denying or taking back of his words after her birth. He knew that would breed distrust on the relationship he had just forged. Such denial would strike against his noble Knightly vows. “Little one, a son and heir is required for such manors as Keyes Castle. Later your mother, quite sickly, passes on. What could a Knight do with such a young babe? I had obligations as the heir of Keyes Castle and the King’s Realm. I went to fulfill my duties. We all have duties. Your Grandpere had passed on the responsibility to me and only 79

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had to run Keye’s Castle. He took your care and had the time to guide you with love and concern. As a child Grandpere had no time for me. You can see the responsibility left me no time for you. Do you understand?” “I think I do,” Oriel replied furrowing her brow. “Yet, Andrew and Edward were here lots of times and played with me. They had time for me.” “Andrew and Edward do not have the heavy responsibility as heir to Keyes Castle. Henry is nearly as responsible as I. Have you seen much of him?” Oriel shook her head. Her Uncle Henry came only once or twice a year and spent most of the time with Grandpere and she blushed a little thinking of the fact Uncle Henry spent time with female servants in the castle. “The question now becomes, do you accept the truth that I am your Pere and will offer me respect?” Oriel nodded. She gave her father a beaming smile. “I offer respect, yet I am not always good at that.” William chuckled. “I hope not. I would like to believe I could yet guide you on the path to adulthood. It is time for prayers and your rest.” He knelt by the bed. Oriel left her bed to kneel next to her father. Together they said the memorized prayers and giving blessings to special people. William lifted Oriel into his arms and placed a small kiss on her cheek. He placed her on the bed and covered her with the satin coverlets. He then lifted the heavy fur pelt blanket to lie over the satin coverlets. Her room was warm, but during the night the fire might dwindle and the room could be chilled. He had no concept that Oriel’s fire was kept high by three servants each taking a watch during the night to tend to the fire. It was their duty to keep the fire blazing and check on the sleeping Oriel. William stood for a while in Oriel’s solar. He watched the blazing fire and watched Oriel until he noticed she was sleeping. His thoughts had turned to the Lady Sarra. He felt his lust rising. What was it about this woman that all he had to do was think of her, and he wanted to insert his manhood between the soft pubic hairs of her womanhood. He shook his head. He had to deal with her insolence first. She was a stubborn and willful woman that needed to understand the superiority of man. Lady Sara especially needed to learn the superiority of noble Knight and heir to the vast manor estates of Keyes. William left Oriel’s solar to meet the object of his carnal thoughts waiting outside the chamber. 80

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Sarra had remained outside the solar listening for any cries from Oriel. She was already knowledgeable of the household layout and services. She knew she could reach Andrew, Edward, or even Sir Edmond’s solar in moments. If they were not present, she knew their staff would be preparing for them. She would have squires and servants in moments. The beast would not be allowed to hurt her precious Oriel. William emerging from the solar startled Sarra. She had not heard anything but soft tones and murmuring. She was beside herself in worry. She had to check on little Oriel. William approached her. She attempted to dart around him. She was determined to check on Oriel’s welfare. Her purpose was deterred when a strong hand grabbed her arm. “Where are you headed?” William’s voice boomed angrily. He pulled her back to face him. His hold on her arm tightened. “Let me go, cur! You are hurting my arm. I shall be bruised. Is this a new knightly war practice? Hurting women?” Sarra snarled pulling away to gain her freedom.” “I asked where you are headed,” William returned angrily. His manhood was now at full alert. He blamed his discomfort on Sarra. “I wish to see Oriel,” Sarra scowled in disgust. She saw no reason to discuss anything with this stonehearted beast. He was not her idea of knightly honor at all. “The child sleeps!” William barked impatiently. “Leave her be.” “I choose to see that for my own!” Sarra snapped irately still trying to pull away from his grasp. Surely she would have a huge bruise on the morrow. William had enough. In one swift movement he lifted Sarra over his shoulder and tossed her over his broad shoulder. She landed with an ‘oomph’. Sarra’s breath was taken away when she landed belly first on William’s shoulder. Immediately she started pounding her fists on his back and kicking violently. She felt an arm hold down her legs. She couldn’t move them. Her next assault was to pound harder with her fists on his back and shout angry expletives. Even she couldn’t believe the curses emitting from her mouth. Then she felt it and was shocked into silent. A large hand slammed her buttocks. And again it slapped. She fell into absolute shamed silence. The clod plate was spanking her. It was a stinging pain, but it was more humiliation. William walked directly into his solar and kicked the door shut. He actually felt good to physically spar with this woman. She deserved the spanking he was giving her. At last he could make this woman pay for her 81

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insolence. Perhaps at last he could get this woman out of his mind, and hopefully his body. He sat on his bed. Quickly he removed Sarra from his back and placed her body across his knees. Once firmly placed he continued his hand spanking of those cute little globes of her derriere. He stopped when he heard Sarra’s strangled sobs. William lifted her to the bed, held her hands with one of his, and laid his body across hers to firmly keep her in place. He immediately regretted his punishment when he saw her tear filled eyes and tear-streaked cheeks. “I see you regret your insolences at last,” William stated angrily attempting to cover his regret. “Beast! Cur! Swine!” Sarra wept. Her backside was still warm and stinging. She glared with rage at the heir to Keyes. Her embarrassment was insurmountable. William’s manhood swelled. Her punishment had only increased his lust. Sarra was innocent to male organs and mating ritual. She literally knew nothing of lust or carnal relationships. Even as a child her studies were only mathematics, accounting, management, literacy, and languages. She loved knowledge and truly knew nothing else. The hard hot bulge she felt on her abdomen meant nothing other that part of the heavy weight lying upon her. William looked at the women beneath him. He wanted her. Dear Jesu he wanted to enter her secret warmth and bury his manhood in her. He wanted to derive all the pleasure he could get from her. His lips were suddenly upon hers. His tongue teased her lips and between one of her sobs his tongue delved into the sweetness of her mouth. He tasted mint. She was sweet in every way. Sarra had no idea what was happening. William’s tongue was in her mouth. Was this another punishment? But it began to feel pleasant. Her sobs ceased. She responded to his tongue’s intrusion with challenges of her own. She felt a hand squeezing her breast. He found the hardened nub and was toying with it. Swells of warmth entered her body and began to flow toward her private woman’s area. She heard moaning. Was it her? Was it William? The hand left her breast. She felt the hand raise her tunic, her gown, her chemise, and open her braes. Fingers began probing her private area. Instead of disgust or shock, she felt fluid warmth respond to his fingertips. The warmth had turned into a heated need. All anger had disappeared. She had lost all reason as well. Sarra was responding to primeval animal needs and enjoying it. 82

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William was receiving ultimate carnal pleasure. This was different from Elena or any other sexual experience he had in his lifetime. The woman was obviously an innocent. Her instinctive responses were testament to that. He savored her innocent response to his kiss. William thrilled at the instant hardening of her breast nubs to his touch. When he fingered her private area, his hand was flooded with welcoming moist warmth. All he needed to do was lift his tunic and undo his braes. He needed this coupling and knew it would be the best erotic experience he had ever had.

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Chapter Ten
“What is this, brother?” Harry shouted walking into William’s solar. “You forget yourself! This is a Lady, noble borne.” Startled, William broke away and sat up. Embarrassed beyond any human acceptability, Sarra bolted from William’s bed and ran toward the door. She was merely a blur to William and Henry’s eyes. “A pox upon you, Harry!” William growled. He called for his squire and ordered a bath, a cold bath. Harry sat down in one of the cushioned chairs in front of the fire. “You should be thanking me for saving your soul. Sarra is a noble woman, not a light skirt.” “I was carried away in the moment,” William excused only slightly embarrassed. He was in a needful pain at the moment. “The cold stone heart carried away?” Harry teased. “It’s more than that. There was fire there. I think you have finally met your perfect match.” William spun in defense. The verbal attack was too close to the truth for his comfort. There was fire and passion. It was something he had never felt. He had never lost control and that frightened him if the truth were known. “That plain looking noble woman? When in residence is the most radiant beautiful jewel on earth?” Harry was picking at his nails. “You mean, Casse the beautiful. Who is the daughter of our steward Crispin?” “Aye, the same one you have been tripping over to make acquaintance.” “I have made acquaintance. You have been too busy fighting the fire burning in you with the maiden, Lady Sarra. As for desire, that is well in check with the Lady Casse. You know very well I do not play with noble born ladies. I am far too sated by other safer delights.” “Ah, yes. I have seen you sneak into the corners with the lovely Genoa,” William accused. Harry did not take the bait. He grinned wickedly. “Genoa is quite delightful. I never leave in want. You might try her. I notice you have not 84

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visited Elena since that first day. It is rumored she is trying to change her life. Your own little wench has sent her to a finer position, milkmaid, I believe.” “Your Genoa is really quite informative,” William said in irritation. Where was his cold bath? As if reading his thoughts, his squire and servants carried in the large bathing tub, stool and buckets of water. William began removing his clothes. His mind totally focused on the cold bath to relieve his aching groin. Just as he stepped into the tub he heard Harry laughing. He turned his head as he sat on the stool in the tub and his squire began soaping his body as the servants poured in the tepid water into the tub. “Is there a reason for your humor, brother?” Harry could barely speak for his laughing. “I truly feel sympathy for you. You must be in dire agony. Your sword is obviously in dire need of sheathing. I almost feel guilty. Almost!” He continued laughing. William glanced at his manhood. It was still aching and it was still fully erect. He glanced toward his squire and noticed a small smirk on the boy’s face. “Wipe the smirk from your mouth or you shall face several days of Garderobe duty!” William growled menacingly. He reached for one of the buckets of cold water near the tub. Picking up the bucket he poured the cold water over his head. The cold water worked its wonder. He shivered violently and felt the immediate ease in his groin. Harry watched his brother intently between his laughter. When Wills shouted at the poor squire and dumped the water over his head it was too much. Harry rolled off the chair onto the floor in hilarity. He laughed so hard his ribs were causing great pain. Tears of laughter rolled down his cheeks. Never in his life had he thought he would see his stern, controlled, and elder brother in such a state. He would be certain to thank his father for the invitation to Keyes Castle. Harry’s laughter was grating on Wills nerves. Even his squire was having a difficult time keeping the laughter from erupting. “Christ’s Toes!” William shouted. “Enough! Both of you leave me anon!” Harry and the squire left immediately upon the order. Harry took the squire’s shoulder as both left the solar laughing heartily. *** Sarra fled to her solar. She was shaking violently. She was brilliant red in embarrassment, but feeling wanting in her body. She didn’t understand what was happening to her. She enjoyed the warmth of William’s body upon hers. She enjoyed his touch. She enjoyed his kiss. Was she going insane? 85

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He was a stonehearted insensitive beast! No woman should let any man touch her the way he did. She had decided many years ago never to marry and become subservient to a man. She hated the control certain men held over women. If she were to every marry it would be a man like her father. Marry? What brought that thought into mind? Surely she was losing her sanity. Sarra bolted her door and paced across the wooden floors. She concentrated on being angry. How dare William de Warre treat her like a common wench, some servant maid to use for his animal need? She willed her anger to the forefront and fanned it until it was blazing. Of course, everything was William’s fault. He was a beast. He was an animal. She would be on her guard. She was a noblewoman, not some common light skirt. Sarra vowed she would not give William an opportunity to treat her in that manner again. It would not happen. She paced faster. Her fists balled at her sides. If he were near at this moment she would pounce him. No she wouldn’t. After all he was stronger and she would again be humiliated. In her fury she had forgotten how he had spanked her. She rubbed her sore bottom. The memory fueled her anger. A knock on the oak door startled Sarra. She had been so deep in anger. “Sarra,” Roese called from outside the solar. “Your door is bolted, dearest.” There was no way Sarra wanted Roese to see her in this condition. She would know something was very wrong. “I’m fine, Roese,” Sarra replied toward the door. “I find I am extremely tired. I have already prepared for bed.” “Without my assistance?” Roese queried. She heard a slight difference in Sarra’s voice. She was worried, but knew there was nothing she could do on the other side of a bolted door. “Pray let me in. Something is amiss.” “I am simply tired. I’m going to bed now.” Sarra replied as calmly as she could. “I do not feel right about this,” Roese called once again through the door. “Good night, Roese. I shall meet with you on the morrow,” Sarra sighed wearily. Her bruised arm was beginning to hurt. She was tired. Sarra walked away from the door and began to disrobe. After she had removed her gown she saw the huge bruise on her arm where William had grabbed her and pulled. Her anger once again rose. How could she hide this bruise from Roese? Her friend and servant would want to know how she came by it and 86

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there was not a way she could ever tell her of her humiliation. Sarra noticed her bottom was also warm. Her cheeks flamed in embarrassment. Sarra put on her softest linen nightgown and returned to pacing. She was in a rage and it was centered on that beast of a man. Then the horrible thought struck her. If that beast could do this to her, what must he have done to his innocent little child? Dread covered the anger and worry took control. She couldn’t leave her solar. She needed to soothe the bruise with her medicinal balms first. Even then Roese might come across her. “A pox on you Sir William de Warre!” Sarra cursed wringing her hands. Sarra pulled her sack containing the medicinal herbs. Preparing a paste for swelling and bruising she applied the mixture on her arm. Carefully she wrapped the arm in clean white linen. Roese would not be dissuaded from attending to her two nights in succession. She would tell Roese she woke up in the night and fell upon the chair hurting her arm. Sarra rarely fabricated and had always found it difficult to do so. She hoped it would suffice for Roese. Sarra pulled the bed curtains closed and climbed into the large bed with a feather mattress. The sheets were clean white linen and smelling sweet from the drying in the sunshine. Her thoughts were of little Oriel. She prayed the little girl was safe. Sarra’s imagination saw Oriel curled in a ball, sobbing in the middle of her bed, and calling for her friend, Sarra. “You beast!” Sarra exclaimed slamming her fist into the pillow. Sarra knew the first thing she would do in the morning was check on Oriel. As for the stone heart, well she would give him a wide berth. Even now she felt his warm hands making her feel things a maiden woman should not. Sarra tossed and turned in the bed willing the memories to stop. At long last, well into the darkness of the night she finally fell asleep. William dried his body with the linen cloths left for him. He sat in front of the fire relishing the cool air on his naked body. He poured tankard after tankard of wine until he was well into his cups. William stumbled to his bed and fell into it. The linen sheets were cool and fragranced with clean air and sunshine. He fell into sleep still feeling the power of lust for the Lady Sarra. Sarra woke to Roese pounding on the door and shouting her name. Roese was frantic. Sarra rarely slept past the hour of dawn. Last night Roese was forbidden entrance and this morning, her Sarra did not wake to prepare for breaking the fast. 87

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Sarra was still groggy when she walked to the door bolt to open it. She hadn’t slept well and was still half asleep. Roese was less frantic, but still worried when Sarra opened the door. Roese saw her mistress’s hair was uncombed and knotted. Her linen gown was more wrinkled than usual. Sarra’s arm was bandaged. Roese did not ask any questions at first. Instead, Roese took Sarra’s hand and led her to the chair so she could comb Sarra’s hair. Jacoba and Genoa followed Roese into the chamber. Roese had anticipated extra assistance this morning. “Genoa, get the man servants to bring in hot water and tub for my lady’s bath,” Roese commanded taking the brush to care for Sarra’s hair. “Jacoba, find one of my lady’s finest tunics this morn.” Sarra grasped Roese’s hand in mid brush stroke. “I must see to my little moppet. I must see that Oriel is well.” The worry in Sarra’s voice fueled concern in Roese. “Is there something amiss, my lady?” “That beast threw me from Oriel’s room. He went in there, alone with my little moppet. If he hurt her I shall see he is punished!” Sarra vowed now she was fully awake. “Is that how your arm was hurt? Sir William brutalized you? I shall see he is punished for that,” Roese promised angrily. “I did not say it was Sir William,” Sarra excused startled by Roese’s assumption. She could not take the chance of Roese or her father finding out what a wanton she truly was. Roese stopped brushing and smiled knowingly. How much she and her mother were alike, and how similar Sir William and Lord Reimond had been. It was the marriage that changed Sarra’s parents by bringing out the best in each and how the driving forces merged into the finest loving pair Roese had ever known. Something happened between those two. Roese knew it instinctively. It was the something the two would fight fiercely until they surrendered to its wonderment and happiness. “Your bath is waiting. You will dress and then we shall see to your little moppet.” Oriel was already dressed and a bundle of energy ready to spring into action. She was happy beyond words and wanted to share the news with her Grandpere’. She wanted to run to her father and hug him fiercely. He was proud of her. He told her that he cared for her. They were wrong. All her thoughts about her father were wrong. He was just too busy. The hurt disappeared. Her father was here. She finished her dressing and ran out the door to the solar she knew was her father’s. She went to the door and found it opened. Her little eyes rounded in surprise. Her father was snoring loudly on 88

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his bed. Her father was nearly naked to the sight save for a small sheet covering his male parts. Oriel knew she shouldn’t be there. She ran to her Sarra’s solar. Sarra had finished dressing. She turned toward the door as Oriel ran in the room. “Moppet! You are safe!” Oriel clamped her arms around Sarra’s legs. “Everything is wonderful!” Sarra knelt to look Oriel in her eyes. “Wonderful? Your Pere did not hurt you?” “Oh no, Lady Sarra. He told me he was proud of me! He is glad I am his child.” Sarra was breathless in shock. The man hadn’t hurt Oriel at all. She had worried for nothing. Yet, the beast had bruised her arm and warmed her behind like she was some insignificant chambermaid. She had been used and abused. A fiery rage took control. She hid it from Oriel. She would avoid that animal completely. She tried to be happy for Oriel, but knowing how beastly Sir William was, she would not trust him ever! “Have you told your Grandpere?” Certainly Lord Edmond would caution the little girl about having such faith in the beast he knew as his son.

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Chapter Eleven
Olive and Casse had finished preparing to break the fast. Casse was in a foul mood because her mother had the servants wake her so early. Usually she slept until near mid day and her repast was served to her upon her will. Olive ordered the servants out of the guest solar. Casse noticed her mother’s excited nervousness. “Do tell us mother, there is something upon your mind.” “Of course,” Olive agreed readily bolting the door behind the last servant leaving the solar. “Sit down, daughter. I have something important to share with you before we break fast.” “This had better profit me. You know I am not happy of being woken so early in the morn,” Casse snapped irritably. “It is most profitable for you, precious,” Olive assured taking the chair next to her daughter’s. “Last night I learned why we were summoned here.” This news did interest Casse. She had wondered why they were taken away from the warm castle and the comforts she enjoyed. “Last night? From whence did this news arrive to your ears?” “I was resting in an alcove when several servants walked by. It was a woman chambermaid to Lord Edmond. She had overheard this servant Christofre talking quietly to Lord Edmond. Of course the chambermaid was thrilled to share the gossip with the other maids. I was fortunate to hear the gossip.” Olive was clearly excited. “Lord Edmond had decided it was time his eldest son and heir to Keyes Castle remarry. You my daughter are one of the chosen.” Casse frowned. “One of the chosen? That is nonsense. Surely, I am the chosen.” “Lord Edmond also brought Reimond’s daughter. He wants his son to choose between the two of you,” Olive shared eagerly. Casse laughed. “There is no contest. Lord Edmond pits me as a contestant against that plain and dull wench? I don’t believe Sir William even noticed that little plain no one. He certainly has paid attention to me.” “I noticed he has made your acquaintance. This is such wonderful tidings,” Olive gloated. 91

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“Mother, men always pay attention to me. I agree Sir William is an attractive man; there are other sons just as handsome and not as old. What makes Sir William so special to you?” “Because, my daughter, for years I have heard tales of the great wealth of the de Warre family. It is rumored the de Warre’s have a hundred fold more wealth than King John.” Casse was truly interested now. “Greater wealth than King John?” “I have heard for many years that King John is completely dependent upon the lords of realms coffers. He spent the entire kingdom’s coffers on his merchant army and wars. The De Warre’s wealth keep his kingdom financed. That is why King John favors Sir William and leaves this lord and manor alone.” Casse was slightly skeptical. “King John would simply take his merchant army and take the wealth from de Warre if this were true.” “Not if he didn’t know where the wealth is hidden,” Olive protested. “Hidden?” Casse queried. Where would this Lord keep his hidden treasure? “Aye, the de Warre’s have been in league with the Knight’s Templar for decades. They have exchanged great wealth with the Templar consistently throughout the crusades. They helped finance King Richard with the Templar to fight the Saracens. This financial arrangement has increased their wealth without any king knowing where it is kept. It is told the Templar have vaults across Christendom. There could be a vault in this very castle, or in a cave nearby. The de Warre wealth is also distributed in many vaults in many Templar places including Scotland, France, Spain, and the Holy Land.” Casse was shocked but intrigued. “Where did you learn all this, mon Mere?” “I learned it from many years listening to the tales from your Pere and his friends upon their visits. Their lord has always been a topic of conversation with your Pere.” “And William is the heir to all of this,” Casse crowed knowing she had little competition and no competition if she put her mind to it. Her mind was already thinking of a thousand ways to spend the de Warre wealth on her luxury. “Do you think William knows of the total de Warre wealth?” Olive snorted in a most unladylike manner. “Of course he knows. He is Edmond’s heir. Why do you think William spends so much time with King John? He gives the King bread crumbs hiding the loaves of bread. The King is grateful and leaves the de Warre family fortune alone. Your Pere has always said King John the Lackland is an idiot.” 92

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“As William’s wife and lady of Keyes Castle I would have a fortune to spend!” Casse said softly considering her new thoughts of satins, silks, jewels, and golden jewelry. Her clothes would be the finest in all of Christendom. “You understand my joy, Casse!” Olive concurred thinking of the luxury she would live in due to her daughter’s marriage. Of course she would stay in this grand Keyes Castle. She would have the best gowns, the most servants, and the finest food. Her own thoughts filled with her future luxury. “You will of course take heed of Sir William’s interest?” “I shall lead him to me as a moth to a flame,” Casse cooed. “Come Mere, we shall break the fast with my future husband.” “There is one other thing you should be aware, daughter,” Olive informed in a whisper. “It appears Sir William has a favored light skirt. Her name is Elena. He brought her into the castle as a milkmaid. She is here to pleasure him.” Casse did not like that at all. She felt nothing toward Sir William, and that was a shame, but he dare never look at another when she the most beautiful gem he should treasure. Once they were married, the Elena woman would be cast out of the castle back to the camps. Casse floated into the Great Hall. She wore a deep blue velvet tunic over a light blue silk gown. The gown’s sleeves were long trumpet bell design accented by detailed dark blue embroidery. The embroidery was filled with semi precious stones that sparkled in the candlelight. Her slippers matched the gown. She noticed every man, old or young, turned his head to look at her. It was common, but filled her with happiness every time. She was the most beautiful of the realm. Of course she heard King John had married a woman rumored to be incredibly beautiful. It didn’t matter, King John had not met her ever, or he would have never married anyone but her. Her eyes scanned the great hall. Sir William was not present. Lord Edmond was arriving and his three other sons were present. Perhaps she would tease one of the sons to find out more about the eldest. She watched with a smile as Sir Henry rose to greet her. She frowned when a serving maid appeared to bump into Sir Henry and dump a trencher onto his tunic. The maid then spoke to Sir Henry. He suddenly looked sheepish and left the great hall in a rush. The second son was gone. The next boy, Andrew approached. She graciously took his hand and allowed him to take her to high table near him. Olive took a seat at a lower table to watch her daughter. She was irritated that Sir William was not present. Lord Edmond took his seat at the high table and perused for all that were present and those arriving. 93

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Olive noted a smile on Lord Edmond’s face when he turned and spotted the Lady Sarra. Or, was it because she held his granddaughter’s hand? Of course, the little snipe was building a friendship with Sir William’s daughter to catch the heir’s eye. She would speak to Casse about that. Casse needed to pay attention to the heir’s daughter. Oriel led Sarra to her grandfather. Lord Edmond offered Sarra a seat near him so she could stay near Oriel. Edmond was pleased Sarra had developed a close friendship with Oriel. He had planned all along that Sarra would be his son’s heir, but he wanted his son the choice of physical beauty and cold heart, or attractiveness with pure spiritual beauty and passionate heart. He had studied the two women for one year. He had sent secret emissaries to find out all they could about both the women. The results were exactly what he hoped for. Casse was beautiful, used her beauty to get whatever she wanted. Casse was egotistical and selfish. Sarra was simple and caring. She helped her father to operate an efficient and profitable manor. He only hoped his son would make the right choice. From his meetings after dinner with Reimond, he was convinced his son was on the right path. *** William finally woke well after the great hall had been cleared. His head was pounding from the excessive drink he imbibed the night before. Carefully he moved to the chest that held a bowl of water and a towel of fine linen laid out the night before. With every movement his head throbbed. He splashed the cool water on his face and found a little comfort. He was thirsty and drank some of the water from the urn sitting near the washbowl. William returned to the bed. He sat upon the mattress dueling with the need to eat and the need to seek more sleep. Geoffrey, William’s squire made up William’s mind by entering the solar carrying a trencher and a cask of ale. Geoffrey placed the trencher and cask on the stool between the chairs in front of the fireplace. He avoided looking at his knight lord for he was still thinking of last night. He could tell by William’s countenance his knight lord was not only in a surly mood, but looked to be in pain. William did appreciate his squire’s sense not to bring up last night. It was in the squire’s best interest to remain demure and silent. One word and the squire would be tending the Garderobe. He needed peace and quiet at the moment. He would not get it. He looked up to see his brother, Harry watching him move to his trencher. “You determined to wear your trencher 94

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this morn instead of consuming it?” William chided noting his brother’s soiled tunic. Harry had the good sense to look a bit sheepish. “It seems Genoa had an accident this morning. I determined it was greater valor to fast this morn. Since you seemed to be of the same mind, I thought we might have a go at the practice field.” William rubbed his aching head. “Not this morn, brother.” “Are you ailing?” Harry chuckled recognizing a hangover. He had also endured such an ailment many a morning when over imbibing the night before. William was not in a mood to deal with the dry wit of his brother. “I do not approve of your habit of entering a chamber without invitation.” Unfortunately that set Harry off in laughter once again. “I concur my intrusions can be most untimely.” “I’ve changed my mind,” William growled. He was feeling a little better after the food and ale. “I’ll meet you in the practice field anon.” “I’ve changed mine,” Harry laughed uproariously. He turned to leave the solar. “You certainly are in a sour mood. No one to spar with this day.” Geoffrey was still afraid of being assigned to the Garderobe and assisted William in dressing silently. *** William felt better after eating and dressing. He chose a long velvet deep blue tunic with matching slippers. He looked and felt quite regal. He was after all, the heir to Keyes Castle. He felt in control once again. He would not allow his lust to carry him away again. William had planned to spend time with his daughter on this day, but first wanted to discuss some things with his father. He was on the way to the great hall to find his father when the beautiful Casse approached him. He was surprised to see the beautiful Casse gracefully bestow him with a bow. He gulped when Casse addressed him in a very sultry voice. “Good morn, my lord. There was news about that you were ailing. I came to see if there was aid I could give. I have a servant that is talented with certain herbs.” The demeanor of this beautiful woman pleased William. His ego rose proportionately. He was the heir to one of the largest portion of King John’s realm. The de Warre’s were also one of the wealthiest families in all of England. No woman had ever showed him such reverence. Of course it was his due. “Lady Casse, I am well. The concern you show is appreciated, but where did you hear such rumor?” 95

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“I confess my lord, that when you did not appear to break the fast I grew concerned. I asked of your where about. Later, your squire appeared seeking a trencher for you. My concern was so great I inquired of the lad. He informed me that you were not well this morn. After the meal ended and a few duties required of me were finished, I intended to seek you out.” William’s ego swelled. The beautiful Casse had noticed him and sought him out. He straightened his back in pride. He took Casse’s offered hand. “No need to worry. As you can see I am in good health.” It never occurred to him that a woman like Casse was interested in his money and future inheritance. He knew he was a tall and handsome knight of the realm. At Westminster and King John’s court all the women fell over him. As a child everyone remarked on what a handsome boy he was. Casse beamed when William took her hand and placed it upon his forearm. She looked up at his face giving him a flirtatious smile. She had him. She would soon be the mistress of Keyes Castle. *** Sarra thought her day would be wonderful when she did not find William at the high table. Her father had beckoned her to sit next to him at the high table. Oriel had accompanied Sarra to the high table and took her seat next to her grandfather. Little Oriel was speaking to Lord Edmond with great animation. It was obvious the child was quite happy and sharing all the information about her meeting with her father. Sarra noticed Lord Edmond listened patiently. She also noticed Lord Edmond would look at her occasionally and smile at her. Her day changed immediately after the morning meal. The candle maker called her. There were problems with the bee keepers providing the beeswax. Then the soap maker complained about interference with the soaps and fragrances by Casse and her mother, Olive. It became known to Sarra that Olive had noticed the fragrant soaps offered to them to bathe and ordered that stores of special oils kept in Keyes Castle that came from the Holy Land be used just for her and her daughter. Sarra was surprised to learn of myrrh oils. She wondered how Olive learned of it. The soap maker told her she had no idea how any one learned of the precious oils, but she did know of them. A long time ago, Lord Edmond’s great grandfather had started working financial investments and banking with the Templar Knights. The Templars often brought myrrh with them as gifts for the Lord’s wife and continued to this date. It was a special treat for the wife of the lord to bathe in the oil. The Templar Knights and Keyes Castle Lords had a long lucrative financial arrangement. Lord Edmond was currently 96

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enjoying the fruits of this long-standing friendship. The gossip Olive shared with her daughter just happened to be fact. Lord Edmond’s wealth was indeed greater than King John and his realm. The wealth was secure in hundreds of Templar vaults across England, France, Spain, Portugal, and other numerous countries of the world. The soap maker had tried making some soap bars with the myrrh. The soap would not harden. Beatrice did not want to waste another drop of the precious oil. She wasn’t even certain she should be using the myrrh Olive handed her. The gossip among the servants had been that Olive brow beat the steward to give it to her. It was a small vial and Beatrice knew it was precious oil. Sarra had used other oils in soaps and explained to Beatrice how the recipe needed to be altered slightly. Sarra also explained how the other mushy soap bars could be altered to make the hardened soap bars. Once finished, Sarra requested that Beatrice give Lady Olive only two bars at a time. She should conserve the rest for later requests so she did not have to go through the extra trouble for a time. Beatrice shared the story of Lord Edmond coming down to the castle cellar to offer her congratulations. It seemed Lord Edmond approved and enjoyed the rosemary and sandalwood scented soap he was now using for his bath. Beatrice was proud of her new learned skills and shared with Lord Edmond that it was Lady Sarra that had taught her. Beatrice shared with Lady Sarra that Lord Edmond said he was well pleased. The compliment did lift Sarra’s spirits temporarily. The laundress now approached her. One of the vats iron bandings had rusted open and she needed the smithy but could not find him. Lady Sarra was needed to order the guards to locate him and bring him back to repair the vat. She joined the search. She had just left the courtyard when she spotted Lady Casse and Sir William walking the grounds. Casse kept looking up at Wills with adoration as he spoke of his knightly deeds. They found a carved bench and sat upon it engaging in flirtatious conversations. Sarra was disgusted. She was working herself to the bone righting this castle and Lord’s heir was flirting with a useless lazy ornament. Why was it that men only cared about having a beautiful woman on their arm? Wouldn’t it be much better to woo a capable caring woman? Sarra pushed the thoughts out of her mind. Why should she care? They would return to Mondel Castle. Whatever the lord’s son did was no concern of hers.

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Chapter Twelve
Sarra was concentrating more on Wills and on Casse than she believed because a male voice startled her from behind. “Disgusting isn’t it? Poor Wills does not understand a thing. That vixen is after his inheritance. Wills has always been addled by women and made poor choices in the matter.” Sarra turned to see the younger image of Sir William. It was Edward. This son of Lord Edmond was rumored to be the scholar of the family. Edward preferred books and sums to armor and swords. Yet, he dutifully fulfilled the squire requirement to become a knight. It was gossiped that at Edward’s rate of training, he would be a score and ten before he acquired his spurs. This gossip immediately endeared Edward to her heart. “They seem happy enough.” “Wills seems happy. The vixen is weaving a web around my brother’s ego that will be the end of him,” Edward remarked. He started laughing and added, “and my brother will smile until his death.” Sarra understood what Edward meant but she countered, “I doubt Lady Casse will murder your brother.” “Physical death? Perhaps she will, when she tires of him and seeks another fortune, but most certainly my brother will die a slow painful death after falling into her snare,” Edward chuckled. Sarra couldn’t help herself. “And you are so old and wise with such vixen experience?” Edward liked Lady Sarra at once. He had noticed the changes in the castle. He asked many questions of the household staff and learned quickly these wonderful castle changes were directly the result of Lady Sarra’s hand. Now that he met Sarra he was enjoying her wit. One thing Edward admired it was wit. “One need only be near the heat of the fire to know you will be burned.” Sarra couldn’t help herself. She laughed heartily. “You have observed your brother for some time then?” Edward smiled broadly. “I have observed my elder brothers, all three of them! It is almost as good as enjoying a good story, book, or minstrel 99

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watching them. The three are extremely susceptible to the charms of the fairer sex.” Sarra focused on Edward’s face. His face was still boyish, but his eye’s had a certain mischievous twinkle that captivated her instantly. “I hope at sometime to hear your observations, but right now I am seeking the smithy.” “I was sent to inform you the smithy has been found and taken to the laundry,” Edward informed taking Sarra’s hand. He placed her hand upon his forearm. “It is near the noon day meal and I would be honored to escort you to the table.” Sarra was enjoying this young man’s chivalry and thought that if spurs were given for such honorable actions Edward was far ahead of his older brothers as a knight. Alas, spurs were given for sword wielding and arrogance. Sarra was delighted as Edward talked of everything in the courtyard as if it were the finest prose written by a master poet. William rose to escort Casse to the noon meal. When he placed her hand on his forearm he noticed his youngest brother walking in like manner with the Lady Sarra. For no explainable reason he felt anger rise in him. He was furious with Lady Sarra. His brother was a babe in arms. What was that woman doing with Edward? The reality was that Edward and Sarra were nearly the same age. Edward was actually two years older than Sarra. Those facts did not matter. Sarra was robbing the cradle. She was a woman. He would have a talk with his younger brother as soon as possible. He would remind him that he needed to concentrate on obtaining his spurs and keep his mind on that alone. *** Edward entered the hall with Sarra on his arm. Oriel sitting by her grandfather clapped gleefully watching her favorite uncle walk in with her dear friend. Oriel scowled when she watched her father prance in with the Lady Casse. Oriel had not told anyone, but for some strange reason she did not like the Lady Casse. Remembering her mother’s advice, Casse stopped by Oriel and smiled at the child. “I give you greetings little Oriel. Would you like to sit near your Pere and I this meal?” The voice was smooth and silky. To Oriel the voice was deceiving. “No, I always sit with my Grandpere and near the Lady Sarra.” Oriel pointed to Sarra taking a seat to her father and Edward sitting next to her.

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William noticed Edward’s choice in seating. He wanted to pull his brother up by his tunic and give him a lecture right then and there. To fuel his anger, he noted Edward and Sarra were enjoying their conversation. Casse was furious. She noticed William was no longer paying absolute attention to her. “Wills,” Casse addressed irritably. She used an endearment only the family had used. It was forward of her, but even that did not return his attentions to her. Her only recourse was to tug on his tunic forcefully. Finally William returned to Casse, but it was obvious he was distracted. She couldn’t imagine what it could be. It certainly was not the little scrawny plain Sarra. Perhaps it was his youngest brother. That must be it, a macho knight thing. “My lord, perhaps you are hungered?” Casse oozed sympathetically. “Let us take a chair and indulge in the wonders your Christofre has created for us this meal.” Casse did enjoy the meals at Keyes Castle. There was never any scrimping at this table. Their own castle suffered the scrimping of foods since she and her mother cut back on food portions to purchase more jewels, gems, and cloths for their wardrobe. *** The meal was pleasant for Sarra. She enjoyed conversation with Edward. He offered to show her his portion of the library. He loved books, parchments, and papyrus he collected. Many of his friends were also Templars and they copied several ancient scripts for him. Sarra was truly excited when they left the table. Oriel had watched her father during the meal. He had only looked toward her once or twice. Casse kept drawing his attention. That upset little Oriel. She looked to Sarra and her Uncle Edward. They were happy and laughing. When she saw them leave she ran to her Uncle. Edward stopped at once and lifted his niece into the air giving her several spins. He kissed her forehead and tucked her safely in his arms. Sarra was delighted with the warm affection shared between the uncle and niece. She watched the two and readily agreed when Oriel asked if she could accompany them to the library. The scene before him was an edge of a cliff that he was about to fall over. He concentrated to keep control. He found Casse’s incessant chatter irritating and not conducive to keeping his anger in control. Yet his logic could give him no reason for his anger. William would never admit to such an emotion as jealousy. That of course was beneath his demeanor. He allowed Casse to lead him away. He wasn’t even certain where he agreed to go with her. He found himself being led out of the keep to the bailey where a fair was beginning to assemble. Before he realized what had happened, he agreed to 101

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purchase a piece of velvet cloth. It was an unusual color of plum. The expensive cloth seemed to change from a deep plum to a purple plum as the cloth moved in her hands. He couldn’t imagine what possessed him. Perhaps he was possessed. He shook his head to clear it. “I need to return to the castle. I have forgotten an important appointment,” William lied. He was not about to succumb to every whim of the woman. He was not an open bank. “Who?” Casse asked innocently batting her eyes. William had to think quickly. “Harry. I had promised to share with him some battle methods on the practice field.” It seemed logical enough to Casse for a knight to consider a training session more important than a woman. It didn’t matter at the moment. Casse had him purchase her precious velvet, fabrics, ribbons, and some precious stones. *** Upon returning to the hall, Casse left for her solar. Christofre was at mass and his father taking his daily nap. William knew they would not be able to help him locate his brother. He saw Harry on the practice field that had given him the idea to rid himself to Casse. Harry would not know where Edward was. That left Andrew, but he couldn’t find that brother either. He didn’t want to wander room to room. Where would his brother be? Then he remembered how much time Edward spent in the library. William was proud of his deduction. The two were in the library reading a parchment together and engaged in an animated conversation. Oriel was on Edward’s lap apparently a part of the fun. “Edward!” The thundering voice shattered the aura of fun. When Sarra saw it was William she gritted her teeth. Why was it he always seemed to appear to intimidate her and destroy the pleasures she found at Keyes Castle. Edward appeared to be bored at his brother’s bellow. He was used to the bully his big brother could be, but somehow never did he suffer from the bully. He instinctively knew William’s bark was far worse than his bite. Oriel straightened. Should she be frightened? Her Pere told he was proud of her last night. Edward felt his niece stiffen. He whispered in her ear, “It is fine little one. Your Pere only sounds gruff. Perhaps you and Sarra might run along now.” Oriel didn’t need a second suggestion. She leapt from Edward’s lap and scurried over to Sarra. “I want to go and check on our clothes for our adventure tomorrow.” 102

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Sarra certainly did not want to be in the same room as Sir William de Warre. She took Oriel’s hand and walked out of the library completely avoiding a look at William. Edward slowly rolled up the parchment and put it back in the library cubbyhole. “What do you want of me, brother?” “I only sought you to perhaps share with you some military techniques,” William replied hoping Edward would believe the lie he came up with. “I am concerned for you. You are a score and still have not obtained your spurs.” To William’s surprise Edward laughed. “Oh brother,” Edward replied wiping the tears of laughter from his eyes. “You expect me to believe your stone heart has suddenly warmed? Come now brother, you have not taken an interest in me or my spurs ever before.” “I am home now and not in the realm of the English Court. I have time to consider my family,” Wills excused. Edward laughed harder. Edward wiped the tears from his eyes and the realty of the situation struck him. His brother was jealous. He did not take well to Edward enjoying the Lady Sarra’s company. He probably was not too happy about his daughter liking her Uncle so much. Still, Oriel’s affection never seemed to worry him before. Of course he hadn’t seen the child since she was a babe in arms. He liked Sarra and her company. He didn’t want to give her up to his stonehearted brother. Didn’t he prefer the beauty by his side than the intelligent capable woman Edward admired? After all he knew exactly who had made the wonderful changes to Keyes Castle. His favorite change was the sandalwood scented candles in his room. They burned brighter and longer. They also provided a soothing aroma Edward found great pleasure. “Where is your pretty arm ornament? Has she lost interest in you so soon?” “Christ toes, what are you babbling about?” William stormed at his brother. Why did his younger brother always attempt to trick him by changing subjects? He wanted to continue on his purpose. Then he became angrier when he realized he really had no purpose. He just wanted to separate his brother from Sarra. That he had accomplished. His temper eased. “Your beautiful Casse. Where is she? The last I saw she was hanging onto you like ivy upon a wall.” William did not care for the metaphor. He stood silently glaring at Edward who was too accurate for comfort. Finally regaining his calm he replied. “She is off doing her woman things. You do not seem interested in my assistance for your training.” 103

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“Ah, brother. You do pay little attention to me at other times. I am to receive my spurs this spring. I am to holiday at Keyes Castle for the winter. You need not concern yourself any further.” William sat on a bench. “Good news. You can ride with me.” “In truth, Wills, I will stay at Keyes Castle,” Edward had no desire to war. He obtained his spurs for his father’s sake alone. A wicked thought crossed his mind. He had found Sarra to be wonderful and enjoyed her company, but he saw how William stole angry glances toward him while in her presence. He needed to find out what his brother’s true feelings were about her. “It is my hope to stay here at Keyes and live happily. I wish to wed and raise a family. I wish to share my life, love, and knowledge in this way.” William became rooted to the spot in shock. “Wed? You’re a child! You need to live before you tie yourself to a wife and the responsibility of a home and family.” “You have missed me some time. I am a man. My choices are far different than yours. If I am not a man it is only by your judgment.” “All these plans,” William growled. He and his brother were different. His brother’s wishes shocked him. Life was about war and battle. There was no need to think of wife and family. What was Edward thinking? “Have you selected your wedded wife as yet?” William queried sarcastically. This was Edward’s opportunity. He grabbed it. “I find I enjoy the company of Lady Sarra. She is all that I hope for. She is intelligent, quick, well schooled, and quite capable in running a household. Yes, I think I have selected my future wife.” William stood straight. He clenched his fists. “Are you mad? That wench would eat you alive! She nearly beheaded me!” “I heard you knocked her off her ladder. Her feet ran into you as accident as she swung holding the candelabra to save her from falling. Your face merely got in the way,” Edward chuckled. At least he knew that Lady Sarra could not be his good wife. Whatever William wanted he would have, and he would have the Lady Sarra if he knew it or not. His brother defending the Lady Sarra was too much for him to bear. Since he had arrived everything was about the Lady Sarra. Even his daughter preferred her company to his. He stomped from the room. His next stop would be the practice field. There he would vent his fury on every knight in his path. *** 104

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Early next morning after breaking the fast, Sarra was in Oriel’s room. The chambermaids had been ordered out. Sarra and Oriel were trying on their new clothes. It was their boy clothes. The two giggled and laughed in enjoyment. Sarra bound her hair and placed the cap upon her head. Carefully Sarra bound Oriel’s hair and placed the velvet cap upon her head. They looked at each other in approval. Both of them looked like wealthy boys. They had succeeded in looking like children of wealthy tradesmen, but not of the nobility. Sarra knew the nobility were always treated with deference. She did not want to risk looking poor. Looking poor would cause far too many problems or dangers. Sarra suggested they leave through the storerooms beyond the kitchens. Their only problem would be getting down the stairs and past the great hall without being recognized. It was then Oriel remembered the passage behind the tapestry in her room. “I know a way without ever being seen,” she bubbled running toward the large heavy tapestry. Oriel crawled under the tapestry. She struggled to stand lifting part of the tapestry with her body. It was then Sarra saw the large door.

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Chapter Thirteen
The sun was rising. Oriel and Sarra quickly made their way to the bailey. The fair was opening after setting up the day before. The fair just before the long winter months was the last frolic until the spring. This fair was a big event. The wind was nippy. Sarra and Oriel grasped their cloaks tighter about them. They had taken a pouch of coins with them. They intended to enjoy the fair fully buying any small desire, tasty pastries, other foods, and drink. Oriel stopped at one of the first tables. She spied a slingshot. It had been many times that Oriel had watched the younger boys playing with them. She bought it immediately. Oriel was careful counting out the money and hiding the purse carefully as instructed by Sarra. When they left Oriel bounced cheerfully along Sarra’s side. “I will learn to use this. I have always wanted to do so. It will be so much fun.” “I also wanted to learn and did,” Sarra shared. “You must remember that the slingshot can also be dangerous. Never sling in the household and make certain all area around you is clear when you are first practicing.” Oriel took Sarra’s hand. “You are older and wiser. Of course I shall listen to you.” *** Casse was sleeping in late this morning. She believed William was successfully wound about her finger. She told her mother the betrothal would be announced soon. She was certain of it. Olive was delighted at the news. They could stay at Keyes Castle and enjoy all the comforts and wealth. William was awake early this day. He was present at the table for breaking fast. He ignored his two brothers and did not even seem to notice that Casse was not present. Instead he watched his daughter and Sarra laugh and whisper with enthusiasm. William made the decision to spend the morning with Oriel. He would learn a little more about his daughter. Perhaps he would take her on a hunt. He would share his skill at Falconry and impress the little one. After the last trencher was cleared he watched Oriel and Sarra return to the solar. He went to the huntsmen. He then went to the Falconry to give orders to prepare his bird. The next place he visited was Duns Bouvier. He instructed the Marshal 106

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to prepare his great Destrier. When everything was in order William returned to the castle and went to Oriel’s solar. No one was there. He went to Sarra’s solar. No one was there either. He questioned servant after servant only to find out that no one had seen either since breaking the fast. Something was amiss. His instincts told him there was no foul play, but he was furious that the two disappeared. The plans were all made and he did need a diversion. He returned to the Marshal. Everything was prepared for the hunt. He left with his Falcon for an early morning hunt informing the Marshal to watch for his daughter. Bouvier was ordered to command his daughter to her solar to wait for him. He would be back before the Noon meal. Oriel and Sarra were thoroughly enjoying themselves. They played the part of wealthy young boys well. Oriel had kept her promise to follow all of Sarra’s instructions. She had practiced boy things every day faithfully. Even Sarra had to control her mirth when Oriel snorted loudly at a jester, wiped her nose with her sleeve, and gave a huge belch after drinking some mead. No one seemed to take unusual notice. They visited nearly every table, but refrained from buying many things they normally would have since a boy would have little interest in fine cloth or fancy ribbons. They were able to enjoy perusing and purchasing some books. After all, boys were allowed books to read. Sarra had to admit being a boy was sort of wonderful. When a woman went to fairs they would not be able to look at purchasing personal items since it would be embarrassing for them. A man would always hold the purse and limit their purchases. They could stay as long as they wanted at any table and enjoy everything. Sarra purchased a beautifully carved oak treasure box she cradled in her arms lovingly. Inside the box was a silver medallion she purchased for her father for his birthday. As a woman, a male escort would have berated her expensive purchase and grudgingly pulled out the purse. As a boy, she was free to do with her money as she wished. It was turning out to be a fabulous day. Sarra decided that she and Oriel would do this again at the Spring Fair. It was ever so much fun. The day had been eventful, but pleasurable until Sarra spotted Edward heading for the book trade where they were looking over books. “Oriel, quickly pull down your hat. Your Uncle Edward is walking toward us,” Sarra warned in a whisper bending her lips near Oriel’s ear. 107

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Obediently, Oriel pulled her hat down to cover her brow and eyes. She dipped her head forward to chin. Oriel did not want to be discovered. This day was truly a fun adventure. She wanted to do it again and again like Sarra had. If she were caught, she would be prevented and would have to promise to her Grandpere never to do it again. Sarra pulled her cloak hood over her hat and bowed her head. Either Sarra or Oriel wished to leave the wagon just yet. These were newly penned books filled with prose, books of copied wisdoms of seers, and copied works of ancients. Oriel wanted one of the prose books. Sarra wanted the book of ancient stories. Edward always attended every fair and found the books. He walked to the cart. He paid no attention to the two young boys standing by the book wagon. Edward ignored the rolls of parchment and spied the book of ancient stories. He reached for it to purchase. Sarra reached for ancient stories. Edward’s arrival was something she didn’t anticipate and wished to leave immediately. Both their hands reached the book at the same time. Edward inhaled quickly when his hand touched the boy’s hand, except it was not a boy. He recognized that hand. It was the hand of Lady Sarra. He didn’t even have to recognize the signet ring of the Albyn family. What on earth was the Lady Sarra doing disguised as a boy at the fair? If she had wanted to attend the fair he would have happily escorted her. Whatever her reason he would find out, but he would not reveal her now. “It seems we have the same taste in reading.” “Aye,” Sarra replied breathlessly. She caught herself and restated the word in a deeper tone to sound like a boy. “Your voice appears to be changing,” Edward teased knowing whom he was addressing. “These are difficult times for a young boy. First you sound like a young girl and then you sound like a man. You never know what you are going to sound like or when your voice will change.” Sarra was stunned by the comment. She was nearly caught. She decided not to respond, but tugged on the book. Edward found it difficult not to chuckle. “You were here first. The book is yours. I shall find others for purchase. Strange that such a young boy would find such reading of interest.” Sarra was caught. The best defense was an offense. She knew that much about the male warfare. In her deepest voice she replied, “Strange that a grown nobleman would find such reading of interest.” Edward tipped his head back and laughed heartily. “Touché!” 108

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After Sarra paid for her book and Oriel’s book, they started to leave. It was nearly noon. The two had agreed to return to Keyes Castle before the midday meal. They would be missed if not at the meal. This day had been so much fun, Sarra and Oriel certainly wanted to do it again. Edward pretended to peruse the book collection and absently picked up one of the books. He had no idea what he purchased. He watched the two walk toward the castle keep. With enough distance between them he followed. He was surprised when they changed their course and veered toward the woods on the other side of the keep. Sarra and Oriel were nearing the secret entrance to the castle when a large Destrier emerged from the woods. It was Sir William holding his falcon. His companions and fellow knights, Sir Lewis and Sir Gaston rode behind with their falcons. Two guards and a huntsman were behind them holding several partridge. Sarra groaned. Why was it that the stonehearted Sir William de Warre always appeared to ruin their fun? Perhaps she would be lucky this time. He didn’t know it was her or his daughter. William didn’t pay attention to the two young boys walking toward the woods until he had a strange feeling that the two figures were strangely familiar. He reined his horse toward the boys. “You there!” “Oh no,” Sarra sighed stopping on the grassy meadow. She held Oriel’s hand tightly even though it was difficult while holding her box, book, and other small purchases they made in the morning. Oriel whispered in a fearful voice, “Do you think Pere will know us? We will be in trouble.” “Be brave moppet, we will be safe. He will not know us,” Sarra answered bravely hoping she was right. The huge Destrier came to stand by the two figures. “Where are you off?” William queried trying to put his mind at ease wondering where he felt he knew the two. Sarra was about to answer in a deep voice she practiced to hide her femininity. As she opened her mouth a deep voice spoke behind her and a strong hand gripped her shoulder. The hand gave a tight squeeze as if a warning to remain silent. “Wills, these are children of merchants at the fair. He gave them on loan to bring my purchases back to the castle,” Edward explained. William looked at the many sacks in their hands. “You have purchased quite a bit little brother.” 109

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“As did you yester eve,” Edward grinned mischievously. He loved bedeviling his oldest brother. He had accidentally ran into the servant carrying bolts and bolts of fabrics, ribbons, and some precious stones on his way to delivering the wares to Casse’s solar. He was surprised when he learned these packages were purchased at the fair by William for Lady Casse. His brother enjoyed beautiful noble women at King John’s Court, but his eldest brother was usually quite stingy. William looked at Edward quizzically. He truly did not know what Edward was talking about. He had taken Casse to the fair as they were setting up. He remembered agreeing to Casse’s purchase, but did not remember what she had purchased. His mind was elsewhere the entire time he had been with her. His mind had been on the Lady Sarra and her enjoyment in the company of his youngest brother, Edward. He did not want to think about this any further. “Hurry to the keep, Edward. On the horizon the cold clouds are forming. We will have a strong wind come. There will be storms, perhaps ice following.” *** William had been an excellent weather forecaster. Edward, Sarra, and Oriel just entered into the keep when a strong wind howled outside. The wind brought icy sleet. Sarra realized she would be needed within the castle as the ice storm began. She also knew their disguise had not fooled Edward. He was continuing as their escort through the great hall up to the solars. William fortunately was not in the great hall when they entered. He had gone to his solar upon his return. “To Oriel’s room, quickly!” Edward encouraged. Sarra couldn’t help herself. She turned to Edward removing her hood. “How did you know?” “Your ring,” Edward laughed picking up her hand and kissing the golden-jeweled band. “Your family signet. I noticed it that first night in the library. Your hands are too slender, delicate, and small even for a boy. You fingers are beautifully formed, and quite feminine.” Sarra giggled. “I had no idea you were so observant. Thank you for saving us from possible trouble with Sir William.” “My pleasure,” Edward replied bowing low. “Now, hurry. I’m sure the staff will need your instructions soon, and the mid day meal is about to be served.” The first winter storm of the season raged outside the Great Hall walls during the mid day meal. Sarra’s experiences had been needed as the castle 110

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staff battled the storm’s onslaught. Sarra had ordered that all the western wall fireplaces have roaring fires. The extra heat was a bulwark against the icy rage outside. The Great Hall remained warm and comfortable. *** “Your daughter is a blessing to this castle,” Lord Edmond shared with Reimond after the meal. “She has secrets she now shares to keep us warm, comfortable, and a cleanliness to keep our health. Reimond agreed with a father’s pride. “My Sarra will make her husband a happy man.” Edmond laughed. He whispered to his good friend. “You need not remind me of our course. Things are going as planned. There is fire between them. Surely you feel it?” “Exactly like the courtship of my dear Joy. We took far too long fighting our strong desire for each other. I hope your son and my daughter do not follow in the same path.” “I cannot wait much longer. We will pass this winter season. If they have not realized their need for each other by then, I will push the desired result,” Edmond promised. “The Lady Casse is upon Wills like a bee upon nectar,” Christofre remarked quietly so only Edmond and Reimond would hear. She was walking near the two men as they left the Great Hall to sit together in Lord Edmond’s private sitting area. In the privacy of the quiet room Lord Edmond shut the door behind Reimond and Christofre. He bolted the door. “I will share the next steps with you Lord Reimond. Christofre and I have been watching and listening.” “Before you begin, I must advise you. Sarra has bothered me for the past two weeks as to the date of our return to Mondel Castle. It is my good fortune this early storm has come. My excuses are no longer needed through this winter. I can only pray the two find each other,” Reimond informed his liege lord. Edmond sat upon his favorite cushioned chair. He remained silent in thoughtfulness. “It is a concern to me that they desire so much they fight to stay away. I see the Lady Casse flitting about my son to catch his interest constantly. It makes me uneasy, but I trust Christofre.” Reimond took a chair after Lord Edmond was seated comfortably. Christofre brought a skin filled with fine wine and poured it into three goblets.

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Christofre gave each man a goblet. She sat upon a bench between the two men. “You noticed Casse has taken a dogged interest in Wills?” Christofre asked Reimond. Before Reimond could remark to the question Lord Edmond interrupted, “It was Christofre’s plan to allow the servants overhear us discussing the real reason Sarra and Casse were brought to our court.”

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Chapter Fourteen
“Aye, the Lady Olive is a gossip monger. I’ve watched her listen, then run to the solar to share all news with her daughter. I wanted Casse to understand her reason for being brought here, and watch her work.” “My Christofre is not disappointed,” Edmond chuckled. “The Lady Casse is presenting quite a theater.” Reimond was a bit concerned. He had watched Casse’s flirtations with the man he hoped would be his son in law. “Casse could lead William to be wed.” “If that were to come close,” Edmond assured confidently. “I will interfere completely. I shall not allow Wills to end up as I.” Reimond had the good sense not to question Edmond’s odd reply. His face unfortunately revealed his question. “William’s first marriage was arranged by me. I wanted a sweet quiet girl for him. I wanted William to have a wife totally and completely different from my wife and his mother. Edith was a complete opposite. I feel I was at fault that she died. She could not live with William. The poor girl was terrified of him,” Edmond confessed. “My wife was a harridan. I fell into her web of beauty. I paid no attention to who she was. I suffered in that marriage. Our children suffered with us. Every day was a heated argument. We learned to hate each other. Finally, when our boys were fostered we simply stopped talking with each other. It was then I achieved some measure of peace.” Edmond stopped with that explanation. He seemed to withdraw into himself. There was a small uncomfortable silence that lasted a few seconds. Christofre’s face paled and she appeared to sadden. It looked as if she felt the pain for Edmond. Edmond recovered. “All of that is history. I’ve achieved a measure of happiness now. I want my son to have that measure without the years of agony.” “I would like to inform Sarra as to our reason for being here. Surely she will hear the gossip,” Reimond suggested. Edmond looked to Christofre. “We have discussed this. Is it time?” “It is time,” Christofre concurred. “Tell Sarra in your own way, as any father trying to make a match.” 113

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The next morning Reimond called for his daughter. He led her to a quiet alcove outside the Great Hall before they would enter to break the fast. “My daughter, I had hoped you and William would meet and find each other acceptable. In the stead, I see the two of you avoid each other. You seem to favor the company of Edward.” “William is too captivated by Casse’s beauty to be aware of anyone, much less me,” Sarra responded not truly understanding her father’s point. “I like Edward. He’s interesting. We share the same interests, especially journals, scrolls, parchments. It is a world of knowledge we enjoy.” “Lord Edmond called us to Keyes Castle to pursue a betrothal between you and William,” Reimond stated bluntly. Sarra was stunned. Her mouth dropped open and her eyes rounded in shock. “Never! He is a boor, a clod plate, a Stone Heart!” she hissed quietly so others could not hear. “I could never, I would never, accept that man as a husband. If I was brought here for that purpose, then so was Casse. Let her have him! She is just as cold as he. Let us return to our home. I miss my home.” Reimond was not surprised by Sarra’s denial of feelings toward the man. How could she admit her true emotions when she hadn’t recognized them? It was just like those many years ago when he and Joy were matched for betrothal. “We cannot go home. Look at the weather. I feared for our health when we were called in the foul weather of autumn. I will not risk our health to try and return to Mondel in the horrid winter season.” Sarra sighed heavily. “I will try to make the best of it. I do enjoy Oriel’s company, and this cold drafty misdirected castle is a challenge of sorts. I do like Edward. I enjoy our conversations. Do not tell me I cannot enjoy his company, father. I would be distressed and unhappy.” “You know I can deny you very little. I would only interfere if your life were at risk,” Reimond reassured. “Couldn’t you try to smile for Sir William, just a little, for me?” Sarra rose from the bench in the alcove. She placed her hand upon her father’s arm. “It shall be a total failure. He cannot tolerate me. Yet, I will try. Come, we will break the fast.” “Let me sit here in my disappointment for a moment,” Reimond protested. Sarra felt somewhat guilty. She adored her father and never meant to disappoint him. “Not too long?” 114

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Reimond reached for his daughter’s hand. He squeezed it gently. “Not too long.” He wondered if history could be repeated. He was deep in memories when a voice startled him. It was Edward. “Are you well, Sir Reimond?” Edward queried in concern. “I have no problem. I am in good health,” Reimond replied. He turned his head and looked up at the handsome young man. “Do you have feelings for my daughter? I see you in her company a lot these past days.” “I truly like your daughter. I enjoy our conversations. I enjoy her company. In time I could hope we could love each other and make a match, but alas,” Edward sighed. “I fear she and my eldest brother will end up as a match.” Reimond looked quizzically at Edward. How could everyone see the fire between Sarra and William? “Try not to think so hard on it,” Edward laughed cheerfully. “Come, let us break the fast.” Sarra had already taken a seat near her father. Oriel was busily conversing with her before she took her seat next to her Grandfather. Reimond took his chair at the high table near Edmond. Sarra was next to her father and Edward sat next to her. He was like a royal courtier in a suite for his true love. He focused on every word. They laughed and smiled over little jokes. Edward cut the finest portions of meat and offered them to Sarra. Casse took her chair next to William. She flirted consistently. She did everything to keep William’s attention. She cajoled him in every way. Casse asked him about his knightly duty to the King, jousts, battles, anything she could think of to keep his attentions. William was Casse’s lute string. He thought he gave everyone the impression she was his only focus. He only offered side-glances to his brother Edward and Sarra’s obvious enjoyable conversations. He gritted his teeth on more than one occasion. Andrew caught his brother’s glances toward the Lady Sarra. Andrew was the brother of the land. He loved all of nature and preferred the forests and hills to the cold stone castles. He too had learned of all the changes he enjoyed at Keyes were the result of Sarra’s handiwork. Most of all he enjoyed the lavender scent of the rushes and candles burning for the evening meals. In his rooms he enjoyed the pine aroma of rosemary in his soap and candles. It helped him to sleep comfortably in the closeness of stonewalls. Andrew was also noticing the attention his younger brother Edward was paying to the Lady. At the same time Andrew was contemplating his older brother, Harry. 115

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Harry was well known as the lover of the family. He loved women. Harry loved beautiful women, yet Harry was paying little to no attention of the beautiful Casse. Andrew knew William to be self confident and sure of his own beauty. Andrew wondered why William was paying attention to a beautiful woman that would only conflict with William’s self-importance. He ran the questions of these odd behaviors back and forth in his mind throughout the meal. Andrew couldn’t understand any of it. He couldn’t understand the consistent glancing with a look of anger, passionate anger toward the Lady Sarra and Edward. What was going on? There was no answer for it. After the meal he would discuss this question with his father. Then he would get the answers. Lord Edmond knew and understood everything. Andrew waited until his father was alone by the hearth. He spoke in a whisper as he asked all the questions that came to him this morning. Lord Edmond listened to his son, patiently. Once all the questions were posed he responded. “My son of the woods and land,” Edmond began. “What causes the male wolf to select his mate in a pack of ten other females? What makes this one female so special?” Of course Andrew knew the answer. The she wolf is selected for her strength, wiles, and scent. The male wolf knows which she wolf would produce the strongest offspring. The male wolf knows which she wolf would build the safest and secure nest den for her pups. The male wolf knows the she wolf would be the best mother for their pups.” “Exactly,” Edmond answered simply. “The lead male wolf may look at prettier females. He may even court them, but in the end he chooses the female that will provide the strongest bloodline and safest home.” Andrew understood immediately when his father explained Will’s odd behavior. “My eldest brother is courting the pretty young thing, but is keeping his eye on the best choice. Tell me, Pere, what of Edward. Will his heart be broken? He surely seems to be a young wolf seeking the prime mate.” Edmond could not help but laugh uproariously upon that description. When he gained control and wiped his eyes of laughter tears he spoke quietly. “Your youngest brother, Edward is a very intelligent young man of reason. He has already spoken to me of his enjoyment of the Lady Sarra. He is also wise enough to realize his eldest brother will have her. For this wisdom, I have agreed to let him keep her company.” 116

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“Yet, that is a danger for the young pup. The lead wolf will eventually challenge him for the prime mate,” Andrew evaluated. “Your great intelligence is in the understanding of nature my son,” Edmond endowed placing his large hand upon Andrew’s shoulder. “For this you must protect the young pup’s person. I count on you to do this.” Andrew nodded. He took his father’s word quite seriously. “I vow to protect the young pup. And what of Harry? Of all our brothers, I would have expected him of all to be besotted of the beautiful wench.” “Your brother Harry has found his mistress. She is a woman of great control over him. He needs that you see. Although this woman is not of noble birth, I will agree to the match. She is formidable and will keep the erring boy in control to his benefit. I feel she will provide the boy with guidance and fine healthy children.” “Who is this woman?” “Look for yourself. The proud Harry is her puppet on a string.” “Genoa? The light skirt?” Andrew said incredulously as he watched Harry take Genoa’s hand and lead her to the gardens. “Genoa, the chambermaid. She reminds me a lot of Christofre. Don’t you agree? Do you not feel a love and respect for Christofre, though she is a servant to the Castle of Keyes?” His father questioned. “At one time, Christofre was thought to be a light skirt. In fact she was not. She merely loved a man. A man that was a fool not to recognize it and left her for a beautiful noble woman.” “You know I feel our Christofre is our surrogate mother. She may be servant, but my adoration of her is that of noble born,” Andrew replied. “So Genoa is thought to be a light skirt, but has only given her favor to one man. She has tried to live up to her reputation and failed. She loves that one man too much,” Edmond elucidated walking now to sit at his chair before the fire and near to his dear friend Reimond. He was surprised to see Crispin sitting on a bench next to Reimond. Crispin appeared to be waiting for his lord. “I wonder what this is about. Crispin is usually involved in tally in his head for our wealth and show envy. He jumps to his daughter’s demands as if he were the king’s own jester.” “Shall I stay with you?” Andrew offered to show his support of his father. He had always been a defender of his father’s happiness. “Aye, come by my side,” Edmond answered lovingly. “Let the other sons be about their course. I would like your support at my side.” Edmond took his chair and Andrew stood behind his father. His hands braced upon the chair back. 117

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“Crispin, this is a surprise to see you at the fire this morn,” Edmond commented. “Is there something you desire to communicate to me?” Crispin was a shy man, but his wife had nagged him continually since last evening. He was more afraid of Olive than his liege lord. He had to live with Olive and she could drive a man mad if she desired. “My Lord,” Crispin began humbly. “If you noticed, your son, William has developed an interest in my daughter, Casse. William is marriageable as is my Casse. I thought we might consider a match. We could discuss a betrothal.” Edmond remained silent. He wanted to choose his words carefully. Before he could form the words, Andrew responded. “I do not recall my brother requesting a betrothal. Perhaps this attraction you speak of has not yet reached such proportions.” “Putting the cart before the horse, so to speak,” Edmond chided. Crispin became very nervous. He was uncomfortable being so forward without having William approach him, but his wife was insistent. What was he to do? He remembered Olive’s haranguing. “My lord, it is obvious of your son’s interest in my beautiful Casse. He spends most of the day with her. Why just yesterday he purchased lovely cloths, expensive fabrics and ribbons as gifts for her. He is besotted my lord.” Edmond had just lifted a cup of mead to his lips. He nearly choked at the besotted description and spat the mead across to the hearth. “Besotted?” Crispin was surprised at his liege lord’s reaction. “My daughter is the most beautiful lady in all Christendom. What man would not be besotted?” “I for one,” Andrew stated calmly as he twirled his cup of mead. “Your daughter is beautiful, but not attractive to me.” Crispin inhaled sharply. He couldn’t believe his ears. What man wouldn’t fall passionately in love with his beautiful Casse? “I noticed my elder brother Harry shows little interest, and then there is Edward my youngest brother. I see he shows no interest in your Casse,” Andrew gave for examples. Edmond was enjoying his son’s statements, but raised his hand for Andrew to stop. He wished to respond. “My dear Crispin, my son, William, has not come to me for any discussion involving your Casse. I sincerely doubt he has come to you for such discussion either. Until the time arrives William does address me, I will not discuss any betrothal. I appreciate your family’s enthusiasm for uniting with mine. I will ask you to bear patience with me.” Crispin knew his proposal had been defeated and his liege lord would not discuss the possibility until it became factual. He dreaded returning to his 118

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wife Olive. What was worse that Casse would be told she would have to work harder to make William fall in love with her and ask for her hand. Casse never had to work for anything. Whatever she wanted was given her. He had no idea how his wife and daughter would understand the need to work for something. Quietly Crispin rose from the bench. He bowed slightly to Lord Edmond and left the great hall with shoulders rounded and his face downcast. He was defeated.

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Chapter Fifteen
While Lord Edmond was dealing with Crispin, William was dealing with his own drama. He watched his daughter run to Edward and Sarra when his father left the high table. It ripped into his stone heart when he saw his own child smile and laugh, when Edward picked her up and kissed her sweetly on the cheek. It was obvious to William that the two were sharing a special secret, or should he say three? Casse was attached to him when he strode quickly to his brother, Edward. His address was to his daughter, “Oriel. I wish you to spend the day with me. I had planned yesterday to take you hunting with falcon. I could not find you the day. Today is a good day for sledding. Would you like to do so?” Casse usually concealed her emotions well, but this surprising invitation to a five year old from a score and eight aged knight was incredulous. She hated the cold. She hated the outside. She hated snow. She hated ice. She did not like children or children games. What was she to do? Edward noticed Casse’s face change. He saw the panic in her face. All other eyes were on little Oriel waiting for her reply. Then he saw the face turn again to the ice queen emotionless countenance. The change made him shudder. Oriel looked to Lady Sarra. “Sarra, I have not sledded ere now. Have you? What is it? Sarra had been taken away to her memories of the fun she and her sister had from childhood to present. They had taken sled at Mondel Castle at every first storm and throughout winter. “My moppet! It is ever so much frolic. My sister, Sabina and I sled every winter. You fly on the ice. You will enjoy it very much!” “Wills, a smashing idea!” Edward regaled happily. “It has been years since we sled. My Lady Sarra, would you be my companion for this frolic?” “Please Lady Sarra,” Oriel pleaded. “We shall have fun!” Edward glanced at Casse and noted a sneer quickly covered again. “I shall gladly come with you to sled,” Sarra bubbled. She would keep her vow to her father. She would make the best of it. Indeed this was the best of it. Sarra felt a bit giddy. She was looking forward to the sledding. 120

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“We’ll meet at the great hall one hour past the mid day meal. Then we shall go to the northern side of the castle,” Edward beamed. He watched Casse’s eyes round in horror. “The northern side of the castle?” Casse squeaked hiding her normally sensually sultry voice. “It is the coldest part of the bailey! The northern winds are quite icy!” She struggled to gain control. “After all, consider the little child. It would be too severe.” “The best hills are on the northern side. Oriel is her father’s daughter. We boys sled those hills every winter. It is healthy exercise,” Edward responded quickly. He didn’t want his brother to change his mind. This was an idea he never expected of his cold brother. Perhaps there still was a bit of fun loving child left in that stone heart. For some strange reason he wanted to sour the beautiful Casse. He was also looking forward to the playtime with Oriel and with Sarra. He would like her as a wife, but he would still enjoy her company as a sister in law. In addition to watching Casse, he had been watching Wills. His brother scowled when he invited Sarra. He had been trying to avoid her, but his eyes lit with passion whenever she spoke. Lord, William was a lucky man. Edward would do his part to make the two collide into an explosion of passion this castle would not forget too soon. William smiled at his daughter, she seemed to bubble with the same anticipation of joy he used to feel as child when he and his brothers had their adventures. Those happy days flooded his mind. How long had it been since he had fun. He had pleasure, but he had not had fun in far too many years. The court had hardened him. In the court enemies surrounded you. People would slice at you if they spotted any weakness. It was all about power in the court of King John. The work of court was exhausting. There was no fun at court. “I shall take you upon my sled and teach you the ride,” William said to Oriel. “You will be master of the sled by twilight.” Oriel’s eyes lit up with delight. Her father was taking time to play with her. If only Casse would not be coming. Oriel knew instinctively that woman would spoil the fun. “I don’t think the child should go out in such foul weather,” Casse insisted. Jesu, she did not want to go outside, much less sled? She never rode a sled. It wasn’t noble! “I’ll see to it she is properly clothed,” Sarra offered. She was looking forward to the sledding. “She will be protected from the weather.” “The weather is not foul,” Edward declared. “The sun is shining now. The winds are low, the ice beneath a pack of snow. The weather is perfect!” 121

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“Aye,” William agreed readily. “The weather is perfect for sled rides. You do not have to sled with us, my lady, if you feel the weather is too foul for you.” He was watching Oriel and Sarra walk briskly away laughing with secret giggles in happy conspiracy. He felt warm and good. When he turned to Casse that warmth faded quickly. He was reminded of the coldness of John’s court. He hoped Casse would not accompany them. “William,” Casse returned with her sultry voice. “My concern is only for the child. Of course we shall sled.” She placed her hand upon his forearm. “Let us go to the hearth. We shall enjoy a mug of mead and conversation. I will call for my hoop and I will show the stitchery I am well known for.” The last thing William wanted to see was fancy stitches in a tapestry. He never liked the feigned interest of young swains at John’s court and he liked it even less here at his home. “I’ll walk you to the hearth, but excuse me my lady. I will be going to the stables where our sleds are stored. I shall have to see to their appropriation, cleaning, and waxing. Then I will prepare my clothes for the outing.” He seated Casse on the bench his father had been occupying and walked briskly away before she could call for some other thing. Reimond, Andrew, and Edmond were preparing for a game of chess when William seated Casse at the hearth. Andrew was curious about William’s odd behavior. He seated the lady and walked away fast. It was as if the castle were under siege. “William seems in a great hurry.” Casse responded quickly. There was only a hint of irritation to her sultry voice. “He is off to the stables. It appears the sleds need tending.” “Sleds?” Andrew asked excitedly “Sleds.” Casse replied coolly. “We are to have a sledding party after mid day meal. He intends to teach Oriel to sled. Of course, I warned him for the child’s health.” Casse was going to say more hoping to sway Lord Edmond to prohibit the outing, but she was interrupted as she opened her mouth. “Smashing idea,” Edmond decreed. “The outing will be good for Oriel. For my health she has not had the physical outings she should. Was it Oriel’s idea?” Casse held her irritation in check. No man had ever cut her words short. “It was Sir William’s plan. Surely the child is too young.”

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“Nonsense! The outing will be good for her,” Edmond disputed. “The sun is shining. The air is fresh and sweet. The wind is docile. Tis a perfect day for sledding. The snow has packed wet against the ice.” “I shall aide William,” Andrew laughed. If there was one thing he was the master of, it was sledding. Even as a younger brother he bested Wills and Harry. How long had it been since he sledded? It had to be at least four or five years while he served as squire before his knighthood. He bounded out of the great hall. Casse was peaked. Were these men mad? Since there were no men at the hearth to serve as adoring courtiers, she determined to excuse herself immediately. “Forgive me my lords, but I believe I should prepare my wardrobe for the sledding.” Reimond and Edmond nodded their assent. They were both relieved to see her go. The chess set was set for the men. The two were soon embroiled in the game. Andrew hastened to help Wills with the sleds. He accidentally bumped Harry in his hurry to the stables. Harry grabbed Andrew’s tunic. “What is this, Andrew? First Wills charges out of here like we are under siege and now you? Is there a siege I am not aware?” “Only on the sledding hill where I shall once again conquer the title of master sled!” Andrew laughed heartily. “We shall have a sledding frolic this mid day after meal. I’m on my way to assist William with the sleds. We are going to instruct our Oriel in the art of sledding.” Harry’s grin was wide with delight. “You will excuse me, Genoa. I am off to the stable to care for the sleds. What fun! Of course you will join us?” Genoa was thrilled. She loved sledding. When she had opportunity in the winter, she would sled with other maidens and children of the keep. “I shall love it!” Harry gave her a chaste peck on the cheek. “Good! Be sure to inform Christofre. I should love to have her hot ale and warm meat pies waiting after I win the title of master sled. Then you must dress warm, my love. You will see me crowned Master of the Sled.” Genoa waved happily to her love as he ran to reach Andrew. She heard the two arguing and boasting while running to the stables. This would be the most wonderful winter at Castle Keyes she could remember. Genoa finally had her man, her love, and he called her love. Genoa nearly floated across the Great Hall to the kitchens to find Christofre. 123

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Christofre took the news with great cheer. It was as if time reverted to when the sons were her boys. She sang while she saw to the making of the meat pies in between the preparation of the mid day meal. Ale was brought from the lower dungeons and readied. This is one day she would not walk to the chapel after the mid day meal. Today she would stand watch over her children while they frolicked in the snow. A sigh of happiness emerged from her lips. The servants had not seen Christofre like this for as long as they worked there. The older servants remembered that happiness in their mistress and were happy. The joy spread across the castle like a pebble swell across a lake. Everyone was in happy mood. All but three did not feel the joy. “They are mad! No, I am mad to even consider this,” Casse ranted angrily. “This William wishes to sled! Sled in the cold and foul weather of winter! I hate the outdoors. I hate it I tell you! Still, I return to my rooms to find out from Mere that you, Pere, have failed to procure my betrothal. I am told to try harder to get William! I have never had to try to gain a man’s attention! This is insane! How dare you expect this of me? I must go out in that cold and pretend to enjoy myself?” Olive had always submitted to Casse’s temper and offered her anything to calm her, but Olive wanted to live in this castle. She wanted her daughter to be the mistress of these wealthy lands. She wanted the wealth and comfort this match would bring. “You are to do exactly that. If you want the wealth William, as your husband, will provide. You will do everything necessary to achieve that goal. You will dote over his child. You will be her best friend. The child is too close to that Sarra. You tell me William wishes to win his child’s love. It was he that thought of this sledding. You will do everything to play with that child and become her friend.” Casse plopped upon a chair. “You ask too much of me. I do not even like the child.” “She is William’s blood,” Crispin said tentatively. “When you wed you still must deal with the child.” “I shall not!” Casse nearly shouted. “The child shall be fostered.” “First you must become the mistress of this castle,” Olive snapped sharply. “Come, we will select your warmest clothes for this outing. You will have a wonderful frolic this day!” Casse rose angrily. Her face showed all the petulance and pouting of a spoiled child forced to do something she did not want to do. *** 124

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Sarra laughed heartily most of the day. She and Oriel were wearing their boy togs under a simple woolen tunic lined with fur. They wore furlined cloaks and warm knitted woolen gloves covered by fur line hunting gloves. They also wore woolen caps tied under their chins. After donning their cloaks, Roese tied long woolen muffler scarves around their necks. Casse’s servants had never dressed their lady for outdoor activities. Casse was more concerned for her finest velvets and silks than her comfort. Sarra was certain Casse would not last outside longer than an hour before all her body froze. The large troupe walked outside the north gate toward the hilly landscape of the northern sled trails. Sarra clapped in delight when she saw at least ten children of the castle servants sledding with rough timbers and large old serving trays that were to be cast aside. There were at least six trails already made ready by the children’s slides. The children upon seeing the noble troupe started to scatter. To everyone’s surprise, William called to the children and bade them to stay and play. Andrew ran ahead pulling his special sled behind him. He was sledding down the hill passing one child after another. His laughter could be heard all the way to the castle gates. Edward pulled Sarra into a run with him. He too was pulling his sled behind. Reaching the crest of the slide. Edward placed his slide, put Sarra on his lap between his legs and took slide down the hill skillfully avoiding the children sledding and climbing the hill. He also had to watch for trees, stumps, and rocks. The children had made the slides to challenge the most skillful of sled drivers. Oriel clapped in glee watching her two uncles. “Hurry Pere, hurry. Look at my uncles.” Harry was sledding down the hill with Genoa upon his lap. William was literally dragging Casse. He did not even ask her to participate. He was listening to her complain how cold it was. He thought angrily of how foolishly she was dressed. Of course she would be cold. He wondered why most men thought she was so beautiful. Her whining, complaining, and clinging to him made her appear uglier every day. “Madam, your servants will tend to you. I will take my child to sled. I cannot let my brothers best me.” He lifted her hand from his arm. In the next movement he lifted Oriel in his arm and took the leather drive straps on the sled from his 125

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squire. He took off in a run. In two minutes he was sailing down the hill with his daughter on his lap. Oriel screamed in absolute delight on the ride down the hill secure in her father’s arm. In the short ride he pulled the straps one-way and then the other as he explained how pulling the straps moved the sled from one side to another. He passed one happy child after another also avoiding trees, stumps, and rocks. Returning to the crest, Genoa and Sarra took possession of the sleds they had selected for their rides. Both women were expert riders and had chosen their sleds with a discerning eye. They took their first rides surprising the noble knights with their swift and expert descents. “I cannot have a woman besting me,” Andrew declared teasingly. He pounced on his sled and took his second ride. Two hours were spent laughing, boasting, racing, and earnest competition about the sled rides. Edward became concerned when Sarra stayed at the end of the sled ride kneeling in the snow. “What is it, Lady Sarra? Are you injured?”

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Chapter Sixteen
Sarra turned her head toward Edward. He recognized a mischievous look in her eye. Suddenly he was pelted with a ball of snow. “This snow is perfect for rolling balls into weapons,” Sarra laughed. “Indeed!” Edward concurred taking a handful snow. He created a ball and threw it at Sarra running away in glee. His snowball hit Harry as he rose from his sled ride. “What the?” Harry grumbled in laughter. In moments everyone was pelting everyone with balls of snow. Even Oriel learned how to make a snowball and was pelting her uncles and father. Genoa and Sarra were holding their own in the snowball fight with the noble knights. William was the first to see the servants’ children rolling a large ball of snow. “Cease!” he shouted. “The children wish to build a man of snow. Come brothers, let us help them.” William, Harry, Andrew, and Edward rolled the ball to a large height and perfect roundness. Genoa, Sarra, and Oriel rolled a smaller ball. The children rolled the smaller of the balls. The brothers with the male servants and attending squires lifted the medium ball onto the large one, and then the smaller of the balls onto the middle ball. A child offered William the end of an eaten carrot to be the snowman’s nose. William put it into the center of the top ball. “What is this? Our man of snow can smell, but he cannot see,” William chuckled. The children picked stones from under the snow near the bank of the frozen lake. Soon the man of snow had eyes and mouth shaped into a large smile. The younger of the servant children brought two twigs to be his arms. “I think the man is grand, but surely he must be cold,” Andrew said seriously. He removed his woolen knitted muffler and placed it around the snowman’s neck. “There he shall not be chilled.” “He can judge the Master of Sleds contest,” Edward suggested. “The children can watch with him and give him their counsel.” The servant’s children agreed bobbing their heads up and down. 127

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Sarra and Genoa were mounting the hill for the crest. “I shall select my run,” Sarra shouted already half way up the hill. “And I,” Genoa agreed right behind Sarra. The de Warre men came up from behind in hot pursuit. Oriel stayed behind to judge the race. William’s squire was commanded to give the shout to start the run. “Proceed!” The six sleds were skimming down the slide runs gracefully. Genoa and Sarra were expert sled drivers and had selected their runs carefully. The men were surprised they took the steeper more perilous runs. Surely they would beat them. They did not realize their heavier weight on the easier slides would actually slow them down. The deeper sloped runs would be much faster for the lighter weight women on their sleds. The runs required more expertise in driving the sleds, but a lot faster. Genoa won the race with Sarra close behind. Coming in well behind the two women humbled the De Warre men. Andrew was the first de Warre, William the second, Harry the third, and Edward came in last. No one was upset, but good-natured teasing took place for several minutes. Oriel pretended to discuss the race with the man of snow and then announced, “Genoa, chambermaid of Keyes Castle is hereby declared Master of the Sleds this tenth year of our King John.” The children cheered and brought the woven ivy crown they had fashioned. William placed the crown upon Genoa’s head. Harry knelt on one knee before Genoa. “Your servant!” “Rise sir knight,” Genoa laughed. “This Master of the Sled accepts your homage.” William, Harry, and Edward also knelt for honor from the Master of Sled. Everything was in good humor. Sarra was so involved in the fun she had not noticed she had moved to the end of the icy sled run. She slipped landing on her buttocks with a whoosh of air from her lungs. She was paralyzed for a moment. William was closest to her, near his Oriel and watched her fall. She was motionless and he thought her badly injured. He ran to her and slipped on the same icy patch. He knew he was going to fall upon her so he braced his arms to prevent his full weight from falling on her. His arms did break his fall, but his body slammed into her putting her directly under him. He felt the softness of her body. Her body fit perfectly, so perfectly under him. He was reminded of the time in his room when he meant to punish her and it was he who suffered. In an instant his man sword erected itself as if seeking the 128

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warm sheath of the woman’s sacred protection in this cold. Sarra was the warmest and most comfortable mattress he had ever laid upon. Sarra was laughing and looked into William’s eyes. It was then she saw the passion reflected there. She was also reminded of the heated passion her body felt in his room that night. Her eyes returned that look. The world faded away and the two were wound into their own world. William allowed his arms to bend to the elbow. His head bowed to kiss the lips of this sensuous woman. Edward broke through the fog. “Sweet Jesu! Wills, are you hurt? Is Sarra injured?” Reluctantly William rose from his comfortable and inviting mattress. He offered Sarra his hand to assist her. “I’m fine. My derrière may be bruised, but my pride is definitely injured,” Sarra joked. “Do not look so worried, Sir Edward. I merely slipped on an ice patch.” From her perch on the crest of the hill, Casse had watched the play for hours. She ordered her servants to build a fire to keep her warm before she froze to death. No one had bothered with her or cajoled her to join the fun. She was furious. Why didn’t William take her for a sled ride as Edward had taken Sarra, and Harry taken Genoa? No, William had only taken that brat of his. He didn’t care at all that she sat up on the hill freezing. Even the little fire her servants had built for her did not take the chill from her body. Still, Casse remained watching everyone for hours. How they ever thought such childish antics were considered fun was beyond her. It was when she saw William fall upon Sarra and the hesitation there she could stand no more. She rose abruptly and grabbed the sled. She had been watching them all day. Surely driving this thing took little talent. She would not allow William to even touch any woman but her. Casse plopped her body on the sled and started down the hill. To her terror she found she could not control the sled. Instead of guiding the sled by pulling on the right or left strap, she held both tightly. By good luck she barely missed trees and stumps. Her scream of terrors brought the attention of the group below. “Sweet Jesu!” William cursed. “The woman is mad!” “More incompetent than mad,” Andrew observed. “I can only hope she does not kill herself.” He winced as she missed another tree by pure good fortune. Just at the end of the slide the sled tipped over dumping Casse in a bank of snow. 129

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Andrew was the first to pull Casse from the snow bank. William was the one to face her and receive her angry blows and vicious tongue. He listened patiently as she regaled him! Sarra and Genoa stayed behind with Edward and Harry. The four of them turned their backs to the scene unable to withhold their laughter. “For such a ride, perhaps Lady Casse should be made Master of the Sled,” Genoa teased. “I should give her my crown. Do you think so?” Again the four laughed hysterically until the tears began to freeze on their cheeks. Oriel had run behind her father. She was not pleased with the lady railing at her father. “You should not have taken the slide if you did not know how to guide the sled,” Oriel chided Casse. That was too much for Casse. She spat out her venom at the little girl. “If your father had taken time to spend with me, you little brat, perhaps I could have learned. No, you kept your father from me for spite!” William did not like his daughter accused when innocent of charge. He had thoroughly enjoyed this outing with a zeal he forgotten he had. He had simply forgotten about the complaining wench. “Enough!” William roared. “Are you injured?” This was Casse’s chance and she grabbed for it. Her face contorted in pain as she moved. She also realized her tongue had gone farther than it should have. “I think I may have twisted or broken my ankle. It hurts so. I am sorry for my anger, but the pain is great. I am sorry, Oriel. It was the shock and pain you see.” Oriel was not moved. She knew what true venom and feelings about her the words were. William and Andrew were not fooled either. Casse’s voice and countenance had changed to quickly. Both were well experienced in the artificial faces of courtiers. Andrew more observant of false faces than even William, but of course his older brother had many more years experience. Sighing heavily William said, “I shall return the Lady Casse to the Castle. Andrew, I had promised Oriel I would let her have her own sled and ride down the lower hill. Will you keep my word?” He lifted Casse. She was heavier than she looked. He believed there was weight under the slender top hidden by the flowing skirts. Still, he lifted Casse and carried her in his arms. He turned back to Andrew and shouted at him. “Take Oriel’s care. She is smart but reckless.” “Like her Pere,” Andrew shouted back. That comment brought a smile to William. 130

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Casse had wrapped her arms around William’s neck. She was whining pitifully as if in great pain. Again she took her opportunity at William’s warning. “You must take care and bring the child back to the castle. You see sledding is dangerous. Look how I have been injured.” “Oriel is in safe hands,” William replied grudgingly. He wanted to say that if she was injured at all it was because of her own ignorant folly. The walk toward the castle gate gave him the opportunity to ask the question that had bothered him. “Why did you leave your safe warm fire and take that break neck ride down the hill?” Casse felt caught for a moment. She could never tell William the truth. She had been envious of Sarra. She was angry with him for leaving her for the frolic. She felt she was the center of the world and all should see to every one of her whims. She of course did recover quickly with a silky lie. “I saw the Lady Sarra fall and was concerned for her health. Little did I know I would risk my person for my concerns.” Another lie? William couldn’t help but sense it was another lie, but the words were reasonable. The words were reasonable from Genoa’s mouth, or Christofre’s mouth, or Sarra’s mouth. This Casse was a lying courtier vixen and William was becoming more and more aware of it. Christofre, Edmond, and Reimond had been watching the frolic from a window on the third floor tower room. They were drinking hot ale and laughing with every antic. “It has been so long since I have seen the boys have such fun,” Christofre stated wistfully. “Manhood takes away too many of those fun times,” Reimond offered. “And responsibility takes away even more,” Edmond added. “Tis good the boy thought of this for his child. The entire castle is glowing in the happiness.” “With the comforts Lady Sarra has brought to this castle, the ignited happiness of Oriel, and the boys return, this is going to be a very happy winter,” Christofre commented. “Aye,” Edmond returned with a smile. “At last there is true joy once again in this keep.” He put his arm around Christofre’s waist. “At last. Mayhap it will be the time for us,” he whispered in her ear. Of course Reimond heard them, but pretended he did not. He had soon realized on his visit here there was something special between the two. He had recognized it quickly as love. He never commented on it. It was not his place. Still he did not understand why they tried to conceal the love they had for each other. It was true Christofre was not of noble birth, but Lord 131

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Edmond had done his duty for that. He had married noble and produced not one, but four heirs. His lands and property were secure. Edmond had the protection of the Templars and a portion of the great wealth in those agreements. He could marry her without comment from anyone. What was he waiting for? Christofre blushed to her toes. She dreamed of being Lord Edmond’s wife before he had even married Laurette. Would it ever be possible? Would she dare hope? It was then the three saw Casse take the slide run. They watched when her sled turned over in the snow bank. The concern all shared at first turned into tumultuous laughter. It had been a funny scene. Edmond watched William lift Casse and start walking toward the northern gate. “Christofre, send for your herb woman and see to any injury should she have if any. You may want to prepare the servants to ready those warm meat pies and hot ale. I fear the Lady Casse may have thrown the festivities a hot iron.” “No doubt,” Christofre agreed. “I shall see her needs are taken care of away from the happiness less her hot iron extends into the great hall. I do not want this happiness to end thus.” Once again Edmond boldly placed a kiss on Christofre’s cheek. “Blessings to you, and be on your way.” *** Once inside the castle Casse moaned louder to draw attention to her person. The knights now back from the quarters and waiting the coming of the dinner meal turned quickly. William was surrounded by the awe struck knights. He wished he could turn the complaining harridan over to them, but he could not. He was a knight and heir to Keyes Castle. He would take the responsibility whether he liked it or not. It struck him hard. He didn’t even like this woman that was so beautiful every man would have been proud to have her as his wife. Yet, having the beautiful ornament on his arm did not move him. He would never choose such a woman to wife. He was forced to take Edith. Even she was not as horrible as this woman would be as a wife. Whatever put him into these thoughts? His thoughts should be elsewhere. He should be thinking about a new game to teach his Oriel, or new chess move. He should be thinking about his responsibility to his father and Keyes Castle. Oddly, this castle had begun to feel like home. He no longer wanted the challenges of the dangerous games of power in London and John’s Court. He was changing and finding he liked the changes. 132

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“Take me to my solar, dear William,” Casse moaned pitifully. “I shall need care and comfort.” Grudgingly William started up the hall steps to the next floor where her solar would be. He was a bit concerned that she might entrap him in a snare if alone in her solar. There was a strong relief from those thoughts when Christofre and the old healing woman met him in the corridor. “Put her upon the bed,” Christofre ordered. “Then take your leave. We shall care for her.” “What do you know of my care?” Casse demanded angrily. She had hoped to seduce William when they were alone. Everything was going wrong. “The lords and I were watching the frolic from the tower. We saw your spill.”

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Chapter Seventeen
The great hall shuddered with the moans, groans, and complaints shouted by the Lady Casse. William was determined to return to the slides, but found all had returned to the Great Hall and were being served hot ale and meat pies. At last, there was silence from the solar above. Christofre descended the stairs wiping her hands on her apron and looking about to see that all were safe, warm, and eating her pies. Edmond rose from his chair to meet her. William followed his father. The silence was wonderful. He hoped she was not injured, but hoped Christofre’s healing woman had given her a strong sleeping potion. Christofre chuckled at the two men greeting her. She knew what was on their mind. “Lady Casse is uninjured. Of course she is nearly frozen. I gave her hot ale and the healing woman gave her a sleeping potion with it. We buried her under numerous coverlets.” “Blessings upon you,” William blurted out. He didn’t mean that Casse was unhurt. He blessed the potion to put her to sleep. He wouldn’t be dealing with the clinging vine during supper. “Tis her own fault,” Edmond scowled. “Imagine dressing like that to sled. The woman asked to be near frozen!” “Be kind, my lord,” Christofre admonished covering her mouth with her hand to cover her smile. “Come with me,” Lord Edmond requested placing Christofre’s hand upon his forearm as if she were his noble lady. The servants looked in astonishment. “What are you doing,” Christofre whispered in embarrassment. “Everyone is looking!” “Tis time I put you in your proper place!” Edmond responded leading her to his study. “I wish to discuss our future and happiness.” Christofre blushed. “I have to get back to direct the dinner.” “You’ll have plenty of time for that,” Edmond promised with a grin.

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William returned to his brother Harry. Edward and Harry were concentrating on a game of chess. Andrew was sitting with Oriel playing cat in the cradle. Sarra had brought her hoop. She was sitting next to Roese working on her tapestry. Sarra was retelling the day to Roese. The two were laughing and giggling. He felt warm inside. It was a homey and comfortable scene. He suddenly longed for that. He wanted just that kind of contentment. He sat down upon his father’s chair taking in the scene. Was he falling love? Was this love he felt? Those two times Sarra was beneath him she felt as if she belonged there. What was he to do? Lady Sarra hated him. She tried to avoid him. She was far more interested in Edward. What would he do about Edward? Fortunately Edward won the chess game. “Who shall challenge me?” Edward boasted announcing his win. “Let Harry challenge Andrew,” William shouted. “The two need the practice to bring you down little brother. Harry rose to the challenge. Genoa smiled for her man and went back to her stitchery. After Harry and Andrew were engaged in the game and Oriel took her stool to be near Sarra and participate in the stitching, William called over to Edward. “Brother, we must speak privately.” Edward sensed this was the time the conversation would center on Sarra. Watching his brother lay upon Sarra he knew instinctively William had finally realized he was in love with the Lady Sarra. William led Edward to his room. There he closed the door and bolted it shut. It was habit from John’s court to bar the door so no one would come in or try to listen through a cracked door. Edward sat upon his brother’s bed. He revealed a broad knowing smile waiting for his eldest brother to begin. William began pacing his room. He locked his hands behind his back as he paced to and fro. Several minutes later he found his lost courage. “Edward, I must ask you what are your intentions for the Lady Sarra?” “I intend to be her friend and enjoy her company,” Edward replied calmly. He was enjoying his brother’s discomfort. “What I mean is, do you intend to seek her hand?” “No.” William was completely surprised. “You follow her like a lap dog.” “I enjoy her company. Lady Sarra has a quick wit, intelligent and inquisitive mind, and she knows how to run a demesne. Of course I follow her as a lap dog.” 136

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“Is Lady Sarra aware that you have no intention of making a betrothal to wed?” Edward nearly laughed. “Lady Sarra is fond of me. She does not love me. She is in love with another.” That news nearly drove William mad. “Who is this vermin that does not stand by his lady? What fool will allow his lady to be escorted by you without a care?” This statement caused to Edward to laugh. He could no longer hold it in. “My lady does not know she loves this man any more than the man is aware he loves her until now?” “You did not answer my question. Who is this man?” William demanded. Edward was rolling on the bed holding his ribs and wiping his tearing eyes at his brother’s rage. “Answer me you clod plate!” William roared in anger at his brother’s strange antics. Edward caught his breath. He sat up on the bed, still wiping his eyes, responded. “I shall answer you anon. It is you, William. You are the man she loves but has not yet recognized it. I am hoping our conversation is indicative of the fact you have just realized you are in love with the Lady Sarra?” Edward’s response stunned William. William took a chair by the hearth and caught his breath. After a few moments of silence William responded, “Aye! I realized this afternoon. It is the truth you speak. I am in love with the Lady Sarra. How can this be? She despises me. I have treated her poorly. What am I to do?” “What of the Lady Casse?” Edward queried. “What of her? She is a harridan beneath that beautiful body. She is a harpy and bore.” “Harry told me you called Sarra a termagant and harridan soon after you met her. Are you so fickle?” Edward teased. “A deserved barb brother,” William sighed heavily. “I did indeed. Our first meeting was tragic for me.” “I saw your blackened eye. Harry told of us your meeting our Lady Sarra. We laughed for days,” Edward answered bursting with mirth. “Is it possible to contain you humor, brother,” William said irritably. “Tis hard to contain brother. Harry also told me he found you lying upon the Lady Sarra attempting wedded bliss.” “Does Harry tell you everything on a constant basis?” William growled. 137

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“Aye. It must be at your expense of course,” Edward continued in tease. Then he became serious. “Yet, this afternoon Andrew told Harry and I that Lord Crispin is already petitioning Pere for a match between you and the Lady Casse. Although we notice she is hanging upon you, the Lord Crispin sees your togetherness as the perfect betrothal behavior.” “Sweet Jesu, I would rather have another Edith. The Lady Casse complains constantly. She is totally involved with her own being and selfishness. She is also greedy and would bankrupt this castle’s coffers in a fortnight.” “I understand she and her mother are the primary reason for the poor coffers of Tomes Castle and demesne,” Edward shared. “Where did you come by this knowledge?” “Genoa shared this knowledge with Harry upon their first arrival to our home. It seems Genoa hears much gossip from the family’s unhappy, ill fed, and poorly treated servants,” Edward shared readily. “I believe this gossip,” William conceded. “As did I,” Edward agreed. “The Lady Casse is a spoiled child with no hope of saving. She would have been a bad match for you. Which is why Pere must have chosen her so you could compare her to Lady Sarra.” William’s brow arched. It was a warning sign to those who knew them. Edward knew him and realized what he had revealed in his simple conversation. “Pere brought these women here for my choice to wed?” There was no hope to get out of his slip. Edward decided to face his come up pence. “Tis true. Andrew shared with me his conversation with Pere. Our Lord Edmond wants you to marry again, but marry into happiness this time. Pere believes that if you could see through the shallowness of physical beauty to the true beauty of honor, intelligence, caring, and talents you would marry his choice, Lady Sarra. He admitted he chose badly for you with Lady Edith and it was bad for the both of you. He still feels guilt for Edith’s death. He told me that not long after Edith passed on. Pere believes Edith was so delicate your powerful personality scared her to death. Christofre has tried to comfort him with facts that Edith’s death was the result of childbed fever.” “Pere is quite devious,” William moaned placing his head in his hands while leaning on his knees. “He loves us. I understand you did not receive much of that love during the arguing years of our Mere and Pere, but he does love us. He wanted you to make the correct choice. You have,” Edward explained hoping 138

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his hotheaded brother would not explode in a rage. To his surprise, William sat back against the chair. “Pere did make a poor match with Edith. He was right about Casse and Sarra. Unfortunately I find myself lusting for the Lady Sarra. She excites me as no other ever has. What am I to do?” William confessed. “Lady Sarra despises me.” “Fortunately you have a strong ally to assist you in wooing the Lady Sarra,” Edward announced cheerfully. “You?” “Not I!” Edward chirped gleefully. “Tis your own, Oriel. You gave Oriel of yourself today. She is completely happy like I have never seen the child. Harry told me Oriel wasn’t fond of you at your meeting not long ago. You have won Oriel over. Surely you can win Lady Sarra. Our little moppet adores Sarra. Do you not believe she would do anything to help the two of you come together. She is also a child that would love the fun of secrets.” “You truly are a most intelligent brother,” William chuckled. “Assist me with a plan of action.” “You have many supporters including our Harry, Andrew, Pere, and Christofre.” “Christofre is a part of this conspiracy as well?” Edward nodded his assent. “As is Lady Sarra’s own servant, Roese.” “I am the last to know of my fate,” William groaned dejectedly. “No, Lady Casse and her family are the last to know.” “That does not speak too well of me,” William snapped. “Your hardened stone heart forged by the contemptuous court of King John blinded you. You have excuse.” “Your words are treasonous should you be in that court,” William warned. “The same reason I have little intention of going to our King’s court,” Edward replied. “I saw you change slowly from a brother to a stone heart becoming a part of that place. You had to do what you did, I know. Yet, I would not do the same and fortunately I do not have to. You have the opportunity to have a strong and loving partner to keep your soul from those blood sucking bats.” Even William roared in humor with those descriptive words. “Come Edward, help me with my battle plans.” “After dinner,” Edward protested. “The outing was wonderful, but even the meat pies and hot ale have not filled my belly.” 139

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Christofre left Lord Edmond’s private sitting room. She had a small grin on her face as she rushed away to the kitchens. Edmond followed with a scowl. “You are a stubborn woman, Christofre. You are stubborn indeed, but I shall win this battle. You will see!” “What is that about?” Andrew muttered sidestepping his father. *** The dinner was quiet. The entire Crispin family did not appear. No one was surprised. Crispin would be in deep discussion with his wife while their daughter slept. Olive’s plan for her daughter to flick her finger and obtain William as a husband simply was not working. Sarra enjoyed the company of her father, Oriel, and Edward. He was once more her dutiful servant at her side. The three regaled Lord Edmond and Sir Reimond with all the activities and fun of the day. William sat with Andrew. He was finding it difficult to control his lust and jealousy of the Lady Sarra. What was it about Edward she felt so comfortable with? Why could she laugh and joke with Edward, yet scowl at him. He couldn’t stop watching her now that Casse was not interfering and harping for his attention. He noted Sarra would look to him knowing he was watching her, return a glance, and then continue her conversation with Edward. “Edward,” Sarra started in question. “Your brother, Sir William keeps staring at us. Mayhap he is angry with you for sitting with the enemy?” Edward glanced toward William and noticed the attention. Edward smiled at his brother and returned to Sarra. “Sitting with the enemy? Whatever do you mean by that?” “You heard of our first meeting?” Edward nodded and chuckled, “There is not one in the keep that has not heard of your meeting my brother’s head with your dainty feet.” “The clod plate thinks I did it a purpose,” Sarra confessed sadly. “Of course I did not. He knocked the ladder from under my feet. I was hanging on to the ironworks for my safety. I kicked him most accidentally. Actually he walked into my feet.” “Aye, I heard the tale. Why do you think he considers you his enemy?” Sarra would not tell him of his hard hand on her bottom. “He was angry with me for Oriel. He thought I kept her from him. He also hates the changes Lord Edmond directed me to make upon his rooms.” 140

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“Gentle Sarra, I can understand William would try to find a reason other than his fault for the initial feelings of Oriel toward him. It is most difficult for William to admit to any fault,” Edward agreed finishing his fruit dessert. “As for his rooms, I envy the comforts he has and hope you will change my room to be so warm and comfortable. You will believe me if I tell you our brother is enjoying your handiwork?” “He enjoys it? He hated it!” “Do not let the bellowing roar of the lion cause you to tremble. He is a pussycat once you make him comfortable,” William advised. That remark caused Sarra to laugh uproariously. “That is a large tale of great purport.” “Tis true,” Edward encouraged. William could not stand another moment. Edward’s ability to make Sarra laugh was too much. He rose from the table knocking down the trencher and mug of ale. William pulled Andrew with him. Andrew held on to his mug of ale. William motioned to Harry while he walked directly to Edward. The storming visage on William’s face frightened Sarra when she watched him march toward them. “Do not fear,” Edward tried to assure. It did not work with Sarra. She bolted from the table with excuse of tending to an important matter.

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Chapter Eighteen
“I say you did well endearing Sarra with that move,” Edward chided taking a small bench by the fire in William’s solar. “The poor wench is terrified of you and you help that view with every move you make. She thinks you consider her an enemy.” “And that is as I shall see her,” William concurred. “Sarra is my siege. We are here to plan that battle.” “Do you want women to fear you?” Harry asked in astonishment. “You must have faith when I tell you kindness and tenderness bring you great and comfortable rewards from the fairer sex.” “She is not afraid of me,” William protested. “She should be, but she is not. She looks upon me with contempt and scorn.” “Edward says she is afraid of you,” Andrew reminded. “I have faith in Edward’s words. He understands more things of subtle natures than we.” “I believe she is more than that,” Edward added. “She is fighting her attraction to you.” “I will attest to that,” Harry concurred. “ Me thinks she was a willing partner on your bed that night.” Andrew and Edward’s heads snapped to attention and stared at Harry. In unison they turned and stared at William. William had the good sense to look sheepish. “You bedded the Lady Sarra?” Edward asked in shock. “Nay, I did not!” William defended. “You would have if I had not innocently entered,” Harry reprimanded. “I would be pleased if you said no more,” William stuttered in guilt. “It takes away from our subject at hand. I would remind you, Harry, you are not up for sainthood. How many bastards have you? Are you not creating another with Genoa?” “Watch your tongue!” Harry shouted rising with fists to slam into William’s face. Andrew was larger that Harry and managed to pull him back to the chair. “There is no purpose in fighting amongst ourselves. We are brothers first and last. We are none of us pure.” 143

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Edward was too stunned to agree or disagree. He sat on the bench pale faced and speechless as Andrew calmed Harry. William took the chair next to Edward. “Are you well? You are pale!” The brothers for their life will not forget what happened next. Edward turned his face to William. He balled his fist and slammed it into William’s cheek below his eye. “Scoundrel,” Edward snarled. “You seduced an innocent and have taken a virgin’s maiden head without responsibility or care!” William toppled over with the chair. It was what Harry needed to calm down. “Hear! Hear! Little brother,” Harry cheered. “Who would guess you had such fire in your intellectually weak blood.” Harry hooted in laughter at William. “Would have done it myself if not stopped by the peacemaker.” William rubbed his cheek. It was already swelling and bruising. “I deserved such. Tis true I was carried away with lust, but I assure you, Edward, I would not have taken her maiden head and not made it right.” “Why?” Edward asked simply with innocence. “I do not know. From the first moment we met she raises a lust in my person I cannot control,” William admitted. “It is as if I am a man possessed. I cannot control my manhood.” “She was responding,” Harry added in observance. “Mayhap there is a passion arisen with the two that neither can control. It is like such between Genoa and I.” Andrew was the reason in thought. “We speak of fear and passions. These are all strong emotion. Mayhap it would be wise to find out what the lady truly thinks of William and not try to surmise.” “It cannot be William to ask,” Edward offered quickly. “He cannot control his lust when near.” “It cannot be you, Edward,” William grumped with opposition. “She likes you overly much.” “It should not be any of us,” Andrew stated firmly. “In that I agree,” Harry agreed. “A lady speaks more honestly and openly with a lady. I shall ask Genoa for her assistance.” “She is not a lady,” Edward hesitated. “No offense, Harry. I know you find comfort with her, but she is not a lady.” “Genoa is a woman,” Andrew interrupted. “Sarra is a woman. I think it a good plan. Roese is too close to Sarra and we do not know her. I would be too shy to share this with Christofre. Genoa is close enough to us with Harry, and still about the same age as the Lady Sarra. Yes, I feel Genoa is a good ally.” 144

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“What should a say to her,” Harry questioned. “The truth is always the wisest path to take,” Edward advised. “Tell her of William’s interest in the Lady Sarra. It is important to him to know what her feelings are toward him. It might be wise for Genoa to begin a conversation of what she thinks of the Lord’s heir.” “It shall be done,” Harry agreed. He was anxious to return to Genoa. The lady soothed him and kept him comfortable at all times, especially during the night. They did enjoy each other’s company. *** Sarra was busy in the kitchen checking on the delivery of the food to the tents for the poor. This cold weather made it even more important to provide a warm place to feed the hungry and impoverished. Under her direction the tent pavilion was nearly removed. In the pavilion’s place a nearly completed building was built. She had wisely directed that the first wall to be built would be the northern wall. The western wall followed it. The Eastern wall was nearly built so only the southern wall and roof remained. Even in the cold, the workers continued to build the distribution hall. At last it was time for her bath. She looked forward to the hot water of the tub. She was still a bundle of energy when she arrived at her solar. Roese was waiting for her. The hot tub was ready for her bath. “You were quite merry this day,” Roese commented helping Sarra remove her tunic and gown. “It seems Sir William is closing the break with his child.” Sarra removed her chemise and braes. She slipped into the soothing and calming hot water of the tub before she answered. “Aye,” Sarra concurred. “My moppet was well treated by her Pere. He was most attentive. It made Oriel quite happy. She rode the slide in his arms the day long.” Roese took a cloth and rubbed the rose scented soap into it before she used it on Sarra’s back. “It seems the cruel man is not so cruel. The rumors of his rejection of the child are not true. Mayhap he is not such a beast as some would think of him.” Sarra shuddered at the memory of the beast’s attack on her person, and worst of all, how she responded to him with such wanton behavior. “Even beasts are good to their young.” Roese would have laughed but at the moment she was too serious about her match making. “Sir William reminds me of your father.”

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Sarra jerked her head back at those words. Her movements were so sudden she received a soapy cloth in her eye since Roese was in the motion to apply the cloth to her neck. The next few moments were spent trying to clear Sarra’s eyes. The pain was burning. It took several rinses and dry cloths to clear them again. Roese was beside herself with guilt. “My regrets dearest,” Roese apologized. ‘Twas my error, Roese. It was simply your words that shocked me. How can you say Sir William reminds me of my Pere? There are no similarities at all. Pere is kind, soft spoken, gentle, loving, wise, and peaceful. Sir William is brusque, cold, rude, unkind, self involved, boorish, and bestial.” “That doesn’t sound like a man, but a demon,” Roese snapped in exasperation. She took a deep breath to bring calm and proceeded. “Yet, one would have described your Pere that way until he and your mother realized that although their passions were different they fulfilled each other’s passions. They complimented each other so well. Your Mere and Pere once wed brought out the best of each other.” “I cannot believe my Mere would have ever married such a boorish man. No, I won’t have it. My Pere is too wonderful of a man to be compared to Sir William,” Sarra defended fiercely. “What is the reason for this topic of conversation?” “You may not believe my words, although they are true,” Roese responded with her own temper rising. She did not appreciate being doubted. “I introduced the topic because Sir William does remind me of your Pere as a young man.” Roese provided stone silence as she continued her administrations. The silence was about to drive Sarra mad. “What have I done?” “Proven you are simply as stubborn as your Mere once was. You are as maddening as your Mere once was. I made a statement, that is all it is and all it was.” “I apologize if I offended you. It is difficult for me to imagine Mere and Pere other than what I have known them to be.” “You did offend me. I have known your Mere and Pere much longer than you. I like it not being doubted,” Roese replied grumpily. She sat Sarra down on the bench to comb her hair. ‘People change, Sarra. We always change by our experience. The Sir William that arrived is already different today through experience with his Oriel. Think on it, Sarra. Are you the same person you were as a child, or even since you arrived at Keyes Castle. You have changed.” 146

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“How have I changed?” Sarra demanded. “You never locked me from your rooms ere this visit. You have never hidden your person from me for days at a time,” Roese answered quickly crossing her arms across her abdomen. With her glare she dared Sarra to deny her words. “You have suddenly and strangely become secretive.” Sarra blushed. She could not deny Roese’s statements. She never had a need to be secretive until now. Even she was surprised how easy it was for her. She had strange and unnatural emotions and physical feelings she couldn’t share them with anyone. She was struggling to understand them. Those encounters with Sir William had changed her. Her happy times with Oriel had changed her. She felt longings to have her own child. The conversations with Edward had changed her. She no longer felt all men other than her father were short of being idiots. “I concede, dearest Roese. You have made your point. Even I have changed a little.” “Now you will listen to what I have learned of the Lord of this castle and his sons?” “Indeed, I am interested in a good tale,” Sarra encouraged walking to her bed and sitting upon it. She patted the spot near her side for Roese to sit. Roese took her advantage. She sat next to Sarra and smoothed her gown. “Our Lord Edmond was one of the finest and bravest knights of the realm. He was even more successful in arrangements with the Templar than his father before him. He was and is still a handsome man. Lord Edmond believed he was worthy of only the finest. It was then he met Laurette. She was the most beautiful woman in the realm. Like Lord Edmond, she believed she was worthy of only the wealthiest and handsomest man of the realm. She charmed Lord Edmond and he soon begged his Pere and her Pere for her hand. A betrothal was quickly signed. They were wed soon after. Lord Edmond began managing Keyes Castle, its lands, finances, and manors. Two sons were born quickly, but each of the pair demanded too much of the other. Soon arguments were common. Laurette took little interest in the children she bore. It was only Sir William she paid any attention. She spoiled him and told him how handsome he was. The arguments continued to the point that after Edward was born it had gotten so horrid they stopped talking. For the castle it was a time of peace. The castle was icy and cold, but the peace was desirable. Lord Edmond’s Pere passed on. Lord Edmond threw himself into the management of Sussex. He had little or no time for his sons. Laurette kept such animosity within her and became ill and passed on a few years before the reign of King Richard. It is said after her death Lord Edmond regretted those lost years with his son but nothing could be done for it. He did 147

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not want William to follow his path of folly. He selected a simple woman that was meek, Lady Edith. Unfortunately Lady Edith was not a sturdy woman. She weakened for the breeding. The birth was difficult and the poor woman had no strength. She died of childbed fever.” “I heard Sir William frightened her to death,” Sarra interrupted still intent on discrediting the knight. She was still interested in the story. “Aye, I’ve heard the same. Jacoba has told me, as have the other women who worked in this castle during those times that the lady did indeed die of childbed fever. Even knowing this truth, Lord Edmond blames his folly for her death. Jacoba told me the lord holds this guilt. It was one of the reasons he took charge for the care of Oriel. His responsibility turned into deep love for the child. Tis the reason they are so close today. He sees the child as his and enjoys the joy of the child he missed when his sons were growing.” “Lord Edmond is a true father of love for Oriel. I know the child adores her Grandpere,” Sarra concurred. “Tis difficult to believe Lord Edmond had ever ignored his sons.” “It proves that we all change in time, does it not?” Roese asked knowing she was succeeding in proving her point. Sarra began to thumb her temples. She often soothed her thoughts with this motion. “What is the point of all these tales? You want me to believe Sir William can turn into my Pere? You want me to seek his favor? Are you forgetting that he spends most time with Casse? Are you forgetting Casse is the most beautiful woman I have ever laid eyes upon? She moves and every man casts his eyes upon her. She flicks her finger and tens of men fall to her service. She is everything a man wants attached to his arm. It gives men a triumph of their superiority as a man to have such a prize. You and Pere wish me to seek Sir William’s favor. You tell this to me showing he is a good match. Roese, I have not a prayer to even gain Sir William’s notice. Tis folly to think he would have a slight interest in me.” “And why not? You are beautiful. What is more, you have talents, knowledge, and intelligence to accompany your beauty. Casse’s beauty is a shallow empty hull,” Roese stated quickly in passion. “Enough! If Sir William would show a favor to me, I would have doubts to the truth of it. He would be making jolly of me. It would be a trick to humiliate me,” Sarra countered with emotion. She knew she was fighting back her own hopes he could be interested in her. He made her feel so different, so wonderful when he kissed her. 148

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“You are beautiful and strong. You have never backed down for a thing or anyone since you were a child. Your mother taught you never to succumb, and you father gave you his courage.” “Tis done! No more will I listen. I accept the challenge, but do not be of heavy heart when you see his interest lies with Casse. Do not be faint when you see he has no interest in me!” Sarra slipped into her warm comfortable bed. In moments she was asleep. The fresh cold country air and exercise, along with the soothing hot bath made it possible for her to sleep deeply without thought or bother.

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Chapter Nineteen
Although Sarra had given her word, she wished to avoid the confrontation and the truth that would crumble her pride. The storms came nearly every day. She kept busy with winter projects. She spent two weeks on the finishing of the pavilion to feed the poor. Sarra was in and out of the spinning and weaving rooms. She kept several weeks in the sewing rooms. Sarra could be seen darting about the castle from room to room. She completely decorated Edward’s room to his delight. She spent days with the accountants and Keyes Castle Steward. She saw to more soap and candle making. Oriel would spend some time with her, but spent more time with her father. Genoa was frustrated. She promised Harry to engage Lady Sarra in conversation about her feelings about Sir William. Genoa had even rehearsed the conversation in her mind for weeks, but could not find or keep Sarra in one place for a private conversation in all these weeks. It was becoming more difficult for William to avoid Casse. He groaned inwardly whenever Casse trapped him. It always seemed to be the time Sarra was in the same room. Surely, Sarra must think Casse was his chosen and there was nothing he could do to shake Casse from his arm. Casse was Sarra’s excuse for weeks, but when it turned into months, Roese began nagging incessantly. *** It was one of those evenings as Sarra prepared for bed she when gave her vow to Roese to at least speak to Sir William. The reality of it was she often had times to speak to him. Oriel divided her time between her father and Sarra’s company as equally as she could. In the afternoon after the mid day meal Oriel and Sarra would sit by the smaller hearth and work on embroidery or tapestries. Sir William would often come to the smaller hearth and check on Oriel’s talents. He would stay for some time praising her work and talking with her about any new adventure they might be planning. William and Oriel had managed to sled several more times. Sarra had participated, but Casse was also present. Casse would interfere as often as possible to prohibit any conversation between William and Sarra. It was no 151

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longer as much fun for Sarra. Edward stopped participating and Sarra was left alone in the sledding party. *** “This plan is failing!” William grouched. “It is now two months and still the Lady Sarra has not spoken to me. What is worse? The Lady Casse is pushing more and more for me to speak to her Pere of betrothal. I am at the end of my patience.” “Genoa has tried,” Harry attempted in excuse. “The Lady Sarra is avoiding all. It is said she is slipping into depression. She longs for her home.” “How can she be depressed when she darts about the castle doing one chore after another?” Andrew questioned. “Edward, you spend the most time with her,” William stated with worry. What would he do if Sarra returned home? “Is the wench depressed?” “I do not believe that is the case,” Edward assured sensing his brother’s distress at the thought. “There is something troubling her. I noticed this difference with her. In truth, I believe it is the constant presence of Casse near you consistently. She looks at the two of you together more often than not. There is a sadness in those eyes at this time.” “Are you saying Lady Sarra is jealous?” Harry asked incredulously. “No, Lady Sarra is too fine a woman for such low emotion. I would call it more a longing to be Casse. A longing to be near William,” Edward replied. William guffawed. “How I wish that were to be true. In the stead, she ignores me and runs away if I enter the room.” “We are here to share our thoughts. We are in agreement the original plan of battle has not worked. We should listen to all thoughts and come up with a new plan of battle,” Andrew reprimanded his brothers. “I personally wish to see my eldest brother happily wed, and this castle comfortable and warm. I do not wish to lose the lovely lady that makes this home so nice. I would wed the lady myself to keep her here.” Andrew received a glare from William for his remark. “Wills, I am here to help you achieve this fortune. If you are too stubborn or dense to obtain the fortune, I will seek it,” Andrew responded in rebuke. “If it were possible, I would do the same,” Edward said soothingly. William was beginning to seethe. “I think the only person to win the maiden fair is our Wills. I have a suggestion.” 152

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William sat down on his chair. He leaned over to warm his hands near the hearth. “What is your suggestion?” “A frontal siege. Ask her directly to walk with you,” Edward replied simply. “How will I shake the shadow Casse?” William complained. “Casse rarely rises for the breaking of fast,” Edward offered quickly. “This is the time to take Lady Sarra off to the side for a walk and talk.” “There is Oriel,” William added. “She now expects me to walk her to her classes in the morn. I dare not disappoint her during this fragile time. We have grown close. I enjoy this time with my cheerful offspring.” *** The morning began. William agreed to the new battle plan. Sarra had vowed to speak to the man she was attracted. Edward spoke to Oriel after she had finished her meal. He picked her up and put her on his shoulders. The two left the great hall and mounted the stairs for Oriel’s lessons. William rose from his seat immediately following Edward’s planned diversion. In a moment he was next to Sarra. His huge frame shadowed her petite form. “Will you accompany me on a walk?” Fortunately for William, the sun was shining. It was cold, but the weather was pleasant for a walk. Sarra was shocked at the invitation. Her first thoughts were that the beast had decided she must stop fostering Oriel. She did not think she could bear not enjoying Oriel’s bright and cheerful company. Yet, she had vowed to Roese to take an opportunity to speak with the man. She should not be judgmental without truly knowing Oriel’s father. William was Oriel’s father. She could not forget that. Her voice caught in her throat. “Of course, my lord. I should need my cloak.” William spotted Sarra’s maid, Roese. “Mistress Roese, would you be so kind and retrieve Lady Sarra’s cloak?” Roese smiled broadly, gave a curtsy and ran up the stairs to retrieve Sarra’s warmest fur lined woolen cloak. William nodded to his squire and he was covered with his cloak instantly. When Roese returned with Sarra’s cloak, William took hold and put it upon Sarra. He took his time fastening the brooch to close it. He looked directly into Sarra’s eyes. He saw what Edward described. She was reacting to him as he was with her. William took Sarra’s gloves from the cloak pocket and put them on her hands, slowly, carefully, and sensually. 153

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Sarra stood unable to move or assist. She was agitated being close to William. Those strange feelings took hold. Her body longed for the man. What was wrong with her? William donned his gloves and took Sarra’s hand. He placed her hand on his forearm. Harry and Andrew took positions at door to the bailey. They had promised William to keep Casse away at all cost. Lord Edmond and Reimond raised brows at the unusual behavior of the boys, but smiled to each other when William and Sarra walked out of the great hall toward the bailey. William directed Sarra toward the completed pavilion for the poor. “This is your project I am told.” Sarra was still trembling being so near to William. Thank sweet Jesu he picked a topic she was fond of. She didn’t have to pull up too much courage to respond. “It is the same at Mondel Castle. My Mere thought of it. There was much hunger and sickness surrounding us in the bailey and demesne. Mere had a wonderful mind. She managed the castle accounts well. Our demesne flowered under her care. There was abundance, but the orphaned, sick, and widowed could not share. She built a pavilion to bring the uneaten trenchers for distribution to those poor. It was soon after everyone noted the demesne became healthier. There were far less illness for my Mere to tend. The orphans began to blossom. They grew to be healthy workers that provided more abundance to the castle stores. The widows grew healthier. Some remarried providing a solid home for widowers and their children. It did not cure all ailments or make everything right, but the abundance continued to increase.” “It appears to be working the same here. In this short time it has been noted there is less illness this winter season,” William offered with compliment. His gloved hand covered her hand on his arm. He sensed the lady would bolt if he did not continue to hold her to him. “The principle is simple,” Sarra replied humbly. “Your Mere taught you all these things? Including the management of a demesne, keep, and castle?” William queried hoping to engage her more in conversation. Sarra’s eyes glowed with pride. “My Mere did. She taught my sister and I everything. We were blessed to have such a Mere.” William flinched upon those words. He would have loved a mother such as Sarra’s. His mother was cold with indifference. Her only talent was 154

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to look beautiful. There was never a thought in his mother’s head to think or care for the populace and castle. Sarra felt William’s unease she attempted to remove her hand. William held fast and did not release her. “You carry your mother’s inheritance well. Have I told you how well pleased all of Keyes Castle are with the changes you have made. My brothers Andrew and Edward are especially pleased. They sing your praises to me daily.” “My lord, there is no praise to be given to me. My Mere trained me. I do not seek such words. I am not worthy,” Sarra protested struggling to remove her hand. Did William think she sought to be a braggart? Did he think she did the changes to impress? Those were not her goals at all. She pulled free to turn and face him. “I did not…” William took his opportunity taking both her hands and pulling her body into his. He bent his head taking her lips to his. He kissed gently at first. Releasing her hands he pulled her into the warmth of his body enfolding her in his arms. One hand pressed her back into his body and the other cupped her bottom squeezing lightly. His mouth covered hers slowly opening her lips with his warm tongue. Soon he was invading the warmth of her sweet mouth with his tongue. He penetrated and withdrew continually repeating until he was bursting in need for her. Breathless, Sara succumbed to his assault. Her head was swirling. Her body was heating. The cold no longer surrounded her. Sarra’s body felt weak and her knees began to fail her. Sweet Jesu be praised the man was holding her or her jelly legs would have fallen to the ground. An unexplained heat began in her private area. It grew until her body was flushed. Sarra felt wetness between her legs. When William’s tongue withdrew she felt incomplete and sought his tongue with hers. When his tongue returned she met it hard with her own. What was happening? Sarra did not know and did not care. The sensations were feeling too good. She felt him pull her tighter into his body. Sarra felt the hardness of his manhood press against her belly. It grew and felt harder with every minute he held her in his arms and kissed her with an abandoned passion. Yes, this must be the passion all talk about. This is wonderment. William was bursting in need. He wanted to lay Sarra down on the icy snow and drive his manhood into her warmth. He needed her so badly he was near screaming. He pulled away to look into her eyes. He saw in those lovely gray eyes the dreamy passion he was feeling. At that moment he was thunderstruck. She was truly his match. He knew it instantly. This match 155

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was more than lust. He would not take her as a leman. He would take her to wife. “Sarra…” William uttered in wonder. Sarra was still in a threshold of ecstasy. “My lord?” “Wills,” he commanded. “Wills,” she whispered. “Love me,” William responded breathlessly. “Love me forever as my good wife.” The proposal shocked Sarra into reality. “My lord, do you know what you have just proposed.” William’s gloved hand stroked Sarra’s cheek. “I have known for months, mayhap the first week I met your feet, I needed you as wife. I will speak to your Pere and mine upon our return. I should like to wed as soon as possible.” “What of Casse? You have spent all this time with her. She is beautiful!” Sarra demanded with unbelief of what she thought she was hearing. “Casse spent her time with me. She wished to ensnare me as a husband,” William chuckled softly. “I made every effort to avoid her, but could not. It is not chivalrous to be rude. Nor would you speak to me, seek my companionship, or even bear to be in the same room with me.” Sarra would not admit she was afraid to be in the same room with him lest her passions take control of her head and body. “Were you jealous?” William asked hopefully. He wished she could care for him enough to have that emotion. “No. It is not meant for a lady to interfere with another woman’s affair of the heart,” Sarra excused coming up with the thought quickly. She was proud of her response. “As a chivalrous knight would be conscious of a women’s tender feelings.” “Tis not for a man,” William stated fervently. “I was jealous for every moment you enjoyed Edward’s companionship.” Sarra’s head snapped up to look at William. His eyes were twinkling in merriment. “You tease me, my lord.” William pulled Sarra back into his arms and held her tightly. He kissed the hood of her cloak and rocked her gently. “My dearest Sarra. I do not tease you. If you sought the companionship of any other man than my beloved brother, Edward, I would have felled him on the jousting field. Since I have met you I have been mad with longing for all those wonderful things you manage and do. I have been mad with want and need for you.” He bent down and kissed her lips once more. He loved the warm feeling and 156

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belonging. If only she could give him what he needed most. “Love me,” William whispered again between kisses. All Sarra could do is reply sweetly, “Yes, my lord.” “I must stop,” William croaked with a dry throat. “Let us walk into the bailey. It will give me time to cool my ardor.” Sarra obeyed without thought. She was still in a world of happiness and dizziness. William’s words of love aroused to a joy she could not describe. There were many serfs and freemen about in the bailey. Most were enjoying the nice weather and were socializing or playing with their children. They stopped short and stood as statues to watch the couple. The people knew immediately it was Stone Heart and the blessed lady of kindness. They looked happy together. Could they hope the lady would stay and become the Lady of the Castle?

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Chapter Twenty
Back at the Castle, Casse made her appearance. Her mother and father followed her entrance. “Looks like the lady brought reinforcements. I think she intends to make battle and demand the surrender of our Wills,” Harry observed walking toward Edward and Andrew. “Aye,” Andrew agreed. “Did it work?” Harry asked. His brothers would know what he meant without saying a word more. “Smoothly,” Edward replied. “The two have been gone for some time.” “The wench is looking about for Wills,” Andrew warned. “She has spotted us. Be ready.” Casse walked briskly toward the brothers. Her smile was forced. “Good day, m’lords. Have you seen Sir William this morn?” “No,” Andrew answered bluntly. Casse was irritated by his shortness. She turned to Harry. “Perhaps you might know where he is about?” “Sorry, I have missed breaking the fast as well,” Harry chortled reminding her of her late arrival. “I have not seen Wills. I have first found Andrew and Edward. We planned on meeting to check on some of the accounts with the steward.” “Mayhap, Sir William might already be with the steward?” Casse asked with disdain. He should be waiting and anticipating her arrival. She should not be chasing a man down like a common light skirt. “Mayhap,” Edward answered. “We have not seen Wills since breaking our fast this morn. We have been waiting for Harry.” Casse furrowed her brows with anger. “The three sons without the fourth? That is a bit odd.” The three lifted their arms in resignation. “Sir Henry,” Casse addressed as if a queen. “Lead me to the office of steward. I should like to see if your wayward brother is there. It might be a right time for me to see the steward and his office.” “Since that is our way to go, we shall all accompany you, milady,” Andrew offered. 159

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Casse held out her hand. The brothers ignored it and proceeded her walking out of the great hall toward the staircase leading to the steward’s office. Crispin quickly took his daughter’s hand and followed the de Warre brothers. He was anxious to see the steward’s office and look upon what chests and parchments were sheltered there. Olive followed behind as anxious to see the office as her husband. She was already counting the wealth of Keyes Castle in her imagination. Last night the Crispins also had a family meeting. Casse was in foul temper and tired of trying to gain Williams attentions. She had tried everything save giving her maidenhead to him. It was now up to her father to insist and demand of Lord Edmond to prepare the betrothal announcements. Edmond had after all brought the two women for that event. William had spent the majority of time with her. He was hardly ever in the company of Sarra unless it was for reasons of being with Oriel. Edmond must agree to the betrothal. Casse and Olive bullied Crispin into forcing the issue with the lord. Casse had little patience left. She could be enjoying the attentions of many courtiers instead wasting her time engaging in a frustrating chase for a stonehearted knight. The only reason for pursing the man this long was the wealth and title it would provide. *** A child had come up to Sarra and curtsied. “Milady? Will you be staying on?” Before Sarra could utter a sound William answered. “Milady will be staying on. She is going to be Lady of Castle Keyes.” Sarra’s mouth dropped. This wasn’t a pleasant dream. It was happening and it was real. The beast wanted her as his wife. The little cherub clapped for joy and ran to tell her parents. Soon all the people in the bailey were bowing and curtsying before Sarra and William wishing them well. *** “Wills is not here,” Edward stated with false concern. “Nor would he be,” Baldwyn thundered. He was a short man with balding head and round about his waist. He dressed elegantly with velvet tunic, silk shirt, and soft leather shoes. “Sir William and I finished the weekly accounts two den past.” Casse was simmering her anger. “Would you know where Sir William might be?” 160

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Fortunately Baldwyn had also missed breaking the fast. “I have not an idea where he might be. Isn’t he usually with Oriel seeing to her classes in the morn?” “Of course,” Casse growled. “I should have thought of it.” She turned and strode to the staircase leading to the upper family rooms. Casse had never been to the upper floors before and did not know which solar was Oriel’s. She knew Lady Sarra was housed here, but that was only because she had arrived first. Casse also required a larger room with a sitting area. She opened the first door on the left. It was magnificent and empty. She noticed Geoffrey sitting on a bench polishing William’s sword. This was William’s room. “Squire, pray tell, where is Sir William?” Geoffrey started at the interruption. “I do not know milady.” “Sir William told you nothing?” Casse snapped irritably. She was near the end of her tether. “He told me to polish his sword,” Geoffrey replied innocently. “Clod Plate!” Casse growled leaving the room in a fit. She opened the next door across the hall. She saw Roese seeing to the making of the bed. This was Sarra’s room. She was across the hall from Sir William’s room. What would she make of that? The next room next to William’s was Andrew’s and next to it was Edward’s. They were well decorated smelled sweetly and looked comfortable. The largest door must be Sir Edmond’s but she opened it any way. There were two chambermaids tending to the bed, hearth, and room. Oriel was studying her parchment with her Latin teacher watching carefully. Casse forced control of her anger. She smiled sweetly. “Oriel dear, have you see your Pere about?” The Latin Teacher glared angrily at Casse for interrupting his student’s concentration. Casse was tiring of this castle. Before she came here courtiers were constantly writing her love poems and singing ballads of true love. Men fell over her all the time. At Keyes Castle the only ones paying her attention were men of little substance. There certainly were no titled men paying court to her. Once she became lady of the castle she would convince William to return to the king’s court. In London she would be around men of title and wealth. She would once again be the center of courtiers’ attentions. “Have you a thought on where your Pere might be?” Andrew followed Casse. He was concerned about Casse asking Oriel where Wills might be. Andrew head shook his head vigorously for a no answer as signal to Oriel. 161

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Oriel being a bright child knew immediately Andrew wanted her to reply, no. Of course she did not know where her father was. “I know not. I last saw Pere breaking the fast this morn. Uncle Edward took me to class this morn.” “Speaking of class, you are interrupting mine!” The priest snarled angrily. “Out! Out all of you!” The priest slammed the door behind Casse. “Where is he, Sir Andrew?” Casse snapped. “You and your brothers are keeping me from him. What purpose do you have?” Andrew only smiled and walked away. Crispin and Olive arrived at that moment. They received the solid brunt of Casse’s fury. Half the castle heard the ranting and ravings of an angry woman for several hours. It was a blessing when Casse finally lost her voice. *** At Casse’s intrusion, Roese felt a concern for Sarra. She had watched William and Sarra depart together. Her special baby had finally kept her vow and was talking to her beast. Roese had high hopes for Sarra’s future happiness. She took her cloak and decided to search for Sarra. Reaching the end of the staircase and looking past the great hall, Roese watched William and Sarra enter. William was beaming with happiness. Sarra looked a bit mystified. Roese saw William place a tender kiss on Sarra’s brow, bow and turn toward his father’s private sitting room. She rushed to Sarra’s side. “An occurrence?” Sarra nodded her head. Roese quickly pulled Sarra to her solar. She expected good news. Sarra obviously had made an inroad with the beast. Roese was anxious to hear all the details. William walked directly to the sitting area. He knocked on the door and his father bid him enter. “Pere, I would have a word with you,” William requested tamping down his happiness. Reimond rose to leave. “No, my Lord Reimond. You must stay. This will concern you as well,” William announced. Edmond sat back on his chair and folded his hands on his lap. Was that a smile on his son’s lips? What could he expect?

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“Lord, Pere, I desire you to make contract with Lord Reimond for his daughter. I seek to wed the Lady Sarra Albyn. Let us discuss the betrothal contract,” William stated in determination. The news shocked Lord Edmond and Reimond was heard to draw a large gasp. The news was a surprise. Since Edmond had brought the women to Keyes Castle it had appeared Casse monopolized William’s time. It also appeared Sarra and William avoided each other. Both fathers had nearly given up hope for the match they desired. Suddenly, without a visible change William stood before them now asking for the marriage contract. What had happened and when? Reimond was the first to gain equilibrium and pursued the questions. “This is quite sudden, Sir William. It has not escaped my notice that you and my child have avoided each presence since you have met. Now you ask for contract? Forgive me, but I worry for Lady Sarra’s future and happiness. What has happened to change this?” William poured wine into a goblet and sipped before he answered. Her revealed a wide smile. “Actually your Sarra attracted me the moment we met. I fell for her literally and feet first,” William chuckled at his own joke. He was feeling good about this. He would get what he wanted. “The time problem was understanding my attraction. It took me time to work it out.” “And what of Casse? You spent a lot of time with her. I thought she would be your preferred match. She is quite beautiful,” Edmond interjected to quell his own curiosity. “Casse is beautiful on a physical level, but a wise man does not marry for that one virtue alone. It would be a happy man whose wife had many virtues as beauty, wit, intelligence, and happiness. Casse is beautiful but can claim no other virtue. Underneath that physical beauty is a hollow shell with nothing more to offer,” William answered sincerely. “Lady Sarra holds beauty physically, but holds more beauty with her wit, intelligence, caring, happiness, and capability. Mayhap the time spent with Casse enlightened me to the true facts of what a man should seek in a lady wife.” The depth of William’s words shook Edmond to his soul. If only he had reasoned that out before he married Laurette. If only he had the courage to defy his father and marry the woman he loved. He shook his head to clear it. What was past was unchangeable. It was folly to regret decisions made, for they forged what you become. He was however proud of his son for making what he considered the correct decision. “What of my child, the Lady Sarra? Has she agreed to this betrothal?” 163

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“Aye, I have presented my desire to wed and Lady Sarra has agreed,” William replied stoically. “Then we will call Baldwyn and the priests. We will scribe the betrothal contract,” Edmond announced. His plan had worked. His son would have a suitable wife and Keyes Castle would now have a capable lady able to manage the keep and bailey. He could rest. He would make his announcement to retire the inheritance to William. He would at last find his heart’s contentment. *** Roese pulled a numb Sarra into her solar. She spun Sarra around to look at her. Roese saw the swollen lips that had been well kissed. “Do tell all!” “I don’t know. I am not sure myself,” Sarra responded still in shock from the splendid occurrence “He kissed you! That is obvious. You are besotted. That is obvious. What did he say?” Roese nearly screamed in frustration trying to bring Sarra to reality and find out what happened. “He proposed, I think. He would speak to Pere about the contract,” Sarra answered softly. “Betrothal?” Roese nearly shrieked. “William asked me to love him,” Sarra whispered looking up to Roese. Her eyes showed confusion in the words. “Oh, Roese. I am feeling so strange. When he is near and when he kissed me, I felt like I did not have a mind or body.” “That is love.” Roese bubbled in glee hugging herself. “That is frightening!” Sarra exclaimed with panic. “I do not wish to be a rag puppet on strings. I am a woman of character and strengths.” Sarra threw herself on her bed face forward and pounded her fists upon the mattress. “I do not wish to marry! I cannot marry that man. He will destroy my will!” Roese stood watching the temper tantrum. She remembered Joy doing much the same thing when her betrothal to Reimond was announced. Roese would allow Sarra to exhaust herself and then would be able to calm her. After Roese left the room she heard the denial and anger turn into sobs. She smiled. Soon her charge would fall into a deep sleep that would calm her. *** Wills announcement in the bailey spread quickly from one to another. In a short time nearly every servant in Keyes Castle was whispering the news 164

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that William had chosen a lady and would soon wed. Unfortunately the news spread too quickly and the name of the lady was lost. Genoa was one of the first of the chambermaids to hear the news. She was afraid William had chosen Casse. Genoa did not want that woman as Lady of the Keep. She would leave first and that made her sad. She wanted Harry and would lose him if she returned to her family in the village. She must find Harry. She must speak with him.

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Chapter Twenty-One
The contract was finished and sand was poured upon the signatures. It was final. William de Warre would wed Lady Sarra Albyn. The three men were celebrating when Christofre entered the study. “There is news wandering about the castle,” Christofre announced. “The whispers of gossip mongers say our William has chosen a lady and he is to wed. May I ask of this rumor?” Edmond rose from his chair quickly. He pulled Christofre into his arms. “Aye, tis true. To my happiness, William is to wed the Lady Sarra.” He then whispered in her ear, “You have little time left, my stubborn wench. You gave me your vow and I shall hold you to it.” Christofre pulled free and gave Edmond a crooked grin. “Tell me, Wills, how do you accomplish this matter? I have only seen you in the company of the Lady Casse, if you were to call her a lady.” Wills raised a brow. “It appears you are not fond of the Lady Casse. That is odd for my special Christofre. You were always chiding me to be understanding and fair.” “Selfishness and pride have always turned me away,” Christofre answered with intensity. “The Lady Casse is both. Frankly, she is dangerous to the coffers and running of a demesne. Have you seen the jewels she wears, the cloth of her gowns, and even the stitchery and gems sewn upon her gowns?” “I have noticed,” Edmond said quietly. It has caused me to investigate Crispin’s ledgers with scrutiny. Baldwyn and I have been studying his ledgers since their arrival. It shows tampering and adjusting. Nothing is as it should be in household accounts. I am surprised their servants have not all starved to death. In spring I am sending Harry to manage the estates. I will send a new steward that is strictly my man.” “You note also that since their servants have arrived a Keyes Castle they are healthier,” Christofre noted. “The servants are filling out. They are robust. Upon their arrival they looked ill and starved.” Reimond and Edmond nodded in agreement. “Strange I did not notice this,” William pondered.

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“Exactly the reason it must be time for you to run this demesne,” Edmond explained. “It is also the reason you must have a fine lady wife, like Sarra Albyn to be a help mate to you.” “It was Sarra that first noticed the state of Casse’s servants. She and her lady maid, Roese made certain they received extra portion. Sarra saw to it that they received light duty until healthier. Until that time, Sarra ordered our strong young men servants to do the heavy work when demanded of Crispin’s family,” Christofre interjected. “Mayhap this Lady Sarra should be made a saint,” William joked. “No man or woman achieves such holiness quickly,” Reimond warned. “My daughter has her faults just as you have, Sir William. Example you have not learned to feel fully. Sarra has a quick temper. She fights for her beliefs as you do. It will require patience for the both of you to enhance each other.” “I have seen her temper,” William confessed. “I did not like it.” “Then you must work to avoid it,” Reimond stated. “Sarra is strong willed and stubborn.” “As you are,” Lord Edmond added. “The two of you must learn to listen to each other and come to an even answer found in the middle. I made a great error with Edith. I still feel guilt for her death. I believe this Lady Sarra is your match. I am happy you selected her. I was greatly concerned you might have chosen Casse. Initially, I had brought women for you to make a choice.” “That is what this family gathering was all about?” William asked. “Aye,” Edmond confessed. “If I had chosen Casse, would you have interfered?” “When I saw the state of Crispin’s family, his ledgers, and the Lady’s behaviors and gowns, I believe I would have interfered,” Edmond replied stoically. I did not plan to interfere when I first sent for them.” “Tell me,” William question curiously. “Did Reimond and Crispin know of your plans? Did Lady Casse or Lady Sarra?” “Not at first,” Lord Edmond replied. “Reimond knew of course, but he told no one. Eventually we allowed them to learn. I wanted to see behaviors after they learned of the purpose of their visit. I was not surprised at the behaviors. Casse became more aggressive. Sarra seemed sensitive to your choice.” “Lady Sarra avoided me,” William grouched. “It nearly drove me mad when I believed she preferred Edward’s company.” 168

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“I’ve wondered about that,” Reimond confessed. “I wonder if she loves him.” “Edward told me she does not,” William shared. “He tells me they are wonderful friends who enjoy written words, knowledge, and poetry. I don’t believe I could learn poetic words.” “Poetic words are shared by friends. The two of you need the challenges each other would provide,” Christofre said wisely. “This is a time for celebration. I will return to the kitchens anon and prepare a fine meal.” “You always prepare a fine meal,” Lord Edmond praised. Christofre smiled and curtsied. “Thank you milord, but this will be a meal of celebration.” “William, my steward will be arriving soon. We plan on looking over this month’s ledgers and accounts. I want you to stay with us,” Lord Edmond ordered. “I will take my leave and see to my Sarra,” Reimond stated happily. “I wish to congratulate her on the betrothal.” *** Reimond was surprised to find his daughter sound asleep in the middle of the day when he went to her solar. He covered her with a satin coverlet. After Reimond watched his daughter for several moments, he decided to take a chair by the hearth and wait for her to wake. Something inside nudged him to stay. He knew his daughter would need him. The sun was casting a pink glow when Sarra woke from her sleep. At first she was disoriented. What happened this morning? It must have been all a dream. Of course it was. Why had she slept? Was she ill? Yes, she must be ailing. Wiping her eyes she heard the soft snoring of her father. She must be very ill for her father to sit with her. Slowly she rose from her bed removing the satin coverlet. Her father must have placed it on her. She walked over to the hearth. Gently she touched her father. “Pere?” Reimond woke slowly. His daughter stood before him. With a small smile he opened his arms. “Mon Cherie.” That movement and greeting was Sarra’s special sign to climb upon his lap and enjoy a quiet loving moment with her parent. She hadn’t had this moment since she became a woman at age twelve. Happily she sat upon her father’s lap. Her father surrounded her with his arms and pressed her head onto his shoulder. Sarra felt her father’s lips give her light kisses on her forehead. She sighed heavily. “What are you feeling, my child?” Reimond asked quietly. 169

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“A bit of confusion,” Sarra replied softly. “It seems I had a real dream. Do not laugh if I tell you, but I must share it with someone. The dream was most distressing.” “Go on, tell me,” Reimond encouraged. He was a bit worried. Sarra did seem a bit melancholy. “I dreamt after breaking the fast, Sir William asked me to walk with him. We did walk and talked of many things. He took me in his arms and kissed me. Oh, Pere, I confess I did enjoy the kissing. It happened in my dream he asked to be wed. For a strange weak moment, I agreed. We kissed again. It was very nice. I seemed to float next to him and we returned to the keep. Why would I dream of such a thing? Do you think though Sir William despises my person, I would desire him? How could I desire such a man? He frightens me.” Reimond rubbed his hand up and down Sarra’s arm in a soothing motion. “Why does Sir William frighten you? Why would you be afraid to be wed to him?” “He would dominate me. I would resist and I would be beaten. He would beat me. I should be wounded and bruised for my entire life. He has a cold heart that would freeze me. I need warmth and caring like you give to me,” Sarra elucidated. “I could not be a submissive wife. I enjoy independence. I enjoy doing things, as I believe they should be done without constant consent of a man that does not know or understand the running of a household. I would not be a good wife. Yet, I dream of it?” “Sarra, you of all women in the kingdom would be the best wife,” Reimond whispered. “You are much like your Mere. I am reminded every day I live of her, through you. Your Mere was the best wife there could ever be. For that you have no fear.” “What of Sir William as husband? I am stubborn and strong willed. Would he beat me? I could not bear it to live as wife to a cold heart when I crave warmth.” “I do not believe Sir William would raise a hand to you. He is a knight and trained in chivalry. I do not believe his heart is that cold. I see him with his child, Oriel. He has changed greatly upon sharing his heart with the little moppet. I have seen his heart melt and long for the love and pride of family that he was denied as a child. You are helping to melt that cold stone heart.” “He wants Casse. She is beautiful. How could any man resist her?” Reimond chuckled. “Many men could easily resist her. They need be in her presence for a short time to know how shallow her beauty is. A man 170

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needs loving as a woman does. It is a different life for a man and woman, but it is the same in caring one for another. Sir William does not want Casse. I know this as fact.” “How can you know this?” Sarra countered in exasperation. “This is not a dream, Sarra. William has signed contract to wed with you. Lord Edmond and I scripted the contract this day. Baldwyn is copying the betrothal to present to the priest and another copy to send to King John for his approval. It is done, Sarra. William desires you to wife,” Reimond stated lovingly. He continued to rub Sarra’s arms. “I did not dream this?” Sarra asked in alarm. Reimond shook his head. “Tis real. I came to tell you all is accomplished. I found you sleeping soundly in the stead.” “I am afraid,” Sarra whimpered trembling in her father’s arms. “I am very afraid.” “Nonsense, there is nothing you fear!” Reimond consoled. “Love conquers all. Your Mere accomplished this with me. You are your Mere’s child. You will conquer William with the loving heart beating within you.” “Mere accomplished love with love returning. You are a loving man twas not to hard,” Sarra countered enjoying the warm embrace of her father’s arms. “Tis time you heard the tale of two knights a long time ago. Twas not an accident or not done without thought that you and Casse were chosen to come here for Sir William to chose a wife.” Sarra sat up straight. “Casse and I were chosen?” “Aye, I will tell you the reason you were chosen and then I will tell the tale,” Reimond murmured. “Lord Edmond and I were close as brothers. We were fostered in the same castle. We served as pages. Then we served as squires. We were parted for some time until we joined once again as Knights. We received our spurs together. It may be difficult to imagine, but once your Pere and Lord Edmond were handsome young men. Our appearances at court had many a maid try to gain our intention. We were young knights completely full of ourselves. We had our choice of any beautiful maiden. I wander into the story without explaining your selection, my pet.” “You are here because your mother was, Joy. Casse is here because her aunt was Laurette.” “I don’t understand.” “Precious child, you inherited all that was the best of your Mere and Casse inherited all that was the worst of Laurette. It is why Lord Edmond 171

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called all of us here at this time. He wanted Sir William to wed, and this time he wished the boy to see the differences together and choose you.” “Is he mad? Casse is beautiful beyond words. Sir William would have chosen her over a simple woman such as I,” Sarra chortled snuggling into her father’s arms a little more to get comfortable. “Lord Edmond’s wife was Lady Laurette. She was even more beautiful that Lady Casse. Laurette was a vision, and when she walked it was if she glided on air. There were no so fair as Lady Laurette.” “Mere was beautiful,” Sarra countered in defense at her father’s description of Lord Edmond’s wife. “Aye, Joy was beautiful. Her beauty transcended all that is good, loving and wonderful. Laurette had only the physical beauty, the fair of face, and nothing else.” “You knew Lady Laurette?” Sarra queried. Her curiosity was piqued. “Aye. Lord Edmond and I both sought her favors. We looked at her and were mesmerized. We lost all reason. We only saw and wanted the most beautiful woman we had every met. There was nothing we did not do to impress the Lady Laurette.” “We know Lord Edmond won the Lady Laurette,” Sarra said simply. “When did you meet Mere?” “Your Mere was there at the court. She watched us make fools of ourselves. You see, your Mere was sent to court by Lord Edmond’s father to be his betrothed. Edmond would hear nothing of it. He had to have Lady Laurette. It turned out that Lady Laurette had wanted Edmond. He had all the wealth and power she wanted. Like the Lady Casse she was concerned with the finest gowns, jewels, and servants to wait upon her.” “Mere was at court with you and Lord Edmond?” “Aye, and she loathed us for our foolishness.”

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Chapter Twenty-Two
“Mere was there, loathed you, but still became your wife?” “Thank Sweet Jesu for that. I was very fortunate. One day I saw her working in the garden pulling herbs and flowers for medicines. I stopped to talk to her. She was pleasing to the eye, although not the beauty Laurette was, and I had noted that wherever she would go, there would many servants flocking around her. They respected your Mere. She was so kind and good that all tried to stay in her favor. All servants avoided the Lady Laurette as if she bore the plague. “I asked her what she was doing and she replied that she was getting herbs to take care of love madness. She needed to be prepared to help the afflicted males when they learned Laurette wanted the most money and the most power. She told me Laurette desired Sir Edmond and would have no other. To her surprise I agreed with her. She told me quite disdainfully that mayhap I may not be too mad and there might be hope for a cure. I laughed and laughed so hard it hurt. I never had laughed like that. It was contagious and your Mere found she was laughing as well. It was a good start. We met again and our discussions increased to sometimes argumentative states. Still we found we enjoyed the company even when we were at odds. Your Mere humbled me with her wisdom, knowledge, and understandings. There were times when I quite resented it. There were times when she became so upset with me she lost her calm. I found I admired her, although in my eyes she was still a child. “ Laurette did wed Lord Edmond. Your Mere’s parents were furious. They had wanted the king to agree to the contract with Lord Edmond. I went to Mondel. There I stayed as knight. My Pere began to train me as lord of the demesne. I heard Joy’s Pere had wed her to another. Rumor was the marriage was not a happy one. I was told there was a child, a son. The child became ill and passed on. The husband was killed in a joust. Your Mere was breeding at the time and she lost that child. I heard later your Mere had become a recluse allowing no one to enter her dead husband’s demesne. Her servant’s were devoted and would die to serve her. They were happy, content, and fruitful under her guidance. The dead lord had been hard and selfish. In that 173

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marriage contract it had been agreed that Joy would inherit all the lands, the keep, and maintain stewardship to Lord Gifford, Lord Edmond’s Pere.” Sarra was caught up in her father’s tale. She eagerly listened to every word. This tale was somehow soothing for the turmoil she was feeling. Reimond continued, “Your Mere was so wound into my soul I sought to hear news of her. Fortunately her demesne was a part of Mondel’s holdings. I sent our steward to attend to those accounts. He kept me informed of all the rumors, facts, and accounts. The demesne showed higher and higher profits under your Mere’s guidance. It grew in wealth after the lord husband had died. Your Mere was now a woman of a score and one. I was a man of a score and ten. I went with the steward on his next trip. Your Mere remembered me well. I stayed there the winter and in spring we petitioned my Pere to arrange our marriage contract. My Pere was a wise man and agreed readily. In that spring, your Mere and I wed. I was the happiest man for all those wonderful years we had together. We both cried in elation when you were born. Our wonderful child, and then blessed again with Sabina. I believe that our separation for all those years and the unhappy first marriage allowed us to grow and appreciate each other.” Sarra noticed her father’s eyes tear in memory. The love for her parents was a reflection of their love for each other and the love for their children. She began to feel her tears and throat tighten in emotion. Sarra also realized why her father had told her this part of the story. Perhaps William might change with time after his disastrous first marriage. She didn’t want to think of that possibility at the moment. Sarra wanted to know more about William’s parents and deceased wife. “What of Lord Edmond and Lady Laurette?’ “Their life was that of argument and anger. The castle was unhappy. Laurette gave Edmond sons, but at a high cost. Each bedding was a cost of a new gown, a new jewel, or a visit to the court in England. Each breeding was a time of argument and anger. Edmond remained true, but often came to visit me at Mondel. He rued the day he chose Laurette over Joy at every visit. He saw the happiness of our lives. He enjoyed the comforts and pleasures of our hospitality. It is true he envied our happiness, but he was always kind. He came to visit to escape. He came to us when you were born. He is your godparent. I think even when he watched you growing from a babe to a toddler he hoped you and his oldest son would be a match. Edmond knew how Joy was training her two daughters and he wished he could have such comfort in his keep. Soon after Edmond’s last visit, Laurette passed on. We knew Edmond then realized his own contentment and he married William to a 174

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woman he hoped would be suitable. As you know, that did not work well. Yet, Edmond was given a second chance to raise a child and he has done well with Oriel, don’t you agree?” “Oriel is a magnificent child. She is smart and loving,” Sarra readily agreed. “It is obvious Lord Edmond has raised her well.” “Edmond was filled with guilt after Edith’s passing. Her death was not his responsibility, but he took it. He knew you were of marriageable age when we petitioned for your sister’s betrothal. It was then Lord Edmond determined to bring contentment for William. He had enough faith in his eldest son to choose you over the shallow beauty of Casse. My friend was correct. We are thrilled at William’s choice.” “Pere, I feel trepidation. Should I not be thrilled? I am not certain of what my emotions are,” Sarra said with a hint of uncertainty. “If you put down your guard and let yourself feel what is between you, it will work out for your great happiness,” Reimond assured. “Between us? I don’t understand.” “Dearest, the powerful attraction between you and William has been obvious to all with the exception of you and William,” Reimond chuckled softly. The two didn’t know what was happening between them for a long time. To his happy surprise, William did figure it out even before his intelligent daughter. “William has realized it. It is your part to realize it now.” Sarra sighed and laid her head upon her father’s shoulder. If she were truthful, those were wonderful feelings being near William. She enjoyed the kissing and that moment on his bed actually felt right. William made her body do things inside she had never felt before. The silence hung in the air for sometime. Reimond broke it. “Simply try it sweet child. Let it happen. Make the effort. I want you to know the contentment and peace your Mere and I had together. I truly want only for you to be happy.” “I vow to make the effort. I shall,” Sarra promised. The two spent the next few minutes as they were when a blur of energy burst into the room. “Lady Sarra,” Oriel squealed rushing into the room. “Grandpere told me you are to be my Mere. Oh how wonderful.” Oriel spun around in the room clasping her hands and giggling in delight. “I hoped for a Mere. I wished for her to be like you and then you came. Please be my Mere.” Sarra’s heart opened wide. At that moment her mothering and nurturing instincts conquered all else. She had forgotten that marrying 175

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William would make her Oriel’s mother. The thought thrilled her. She already loved the child. Rising from her father’s lap she stood and opened her arms to Oriel. Oriel ran into those welcoming arms and relished the thrill of the loving embrace that she had always wished for. Oriel had liked Sarra immediately. Everything had worked out wonderfully for her dreams and hopes. Sarra hugged Oriel tightly. Her hand lovingly stroked Oriel’s hair. This lovely moppet would be her precious child. She would do everything she could to make this child hers in heart. Reimond watched the scene and once again tears formed in his eyes. If only Joy could share this moment. His dear wife would have smiled that great smile. The simple memory of his wife was sufficient in his mind that he was sharing this happy moment with Sarra’s mother. *** In other parts of the castle, Olive was listening to servant’s gossip when certain words perked her interests. Listening carefully she heard the rumor that William had indeed planned to wed. He would be speaking to his father. Naturally Olive assumed the contract would be made with her daughter, Casse. She was so excited to tell Casse and Crispin she failed to hear the rest of the gossip. William had been seen together with the lady in the bailey earlier today. Olive had been looking for Sir William for Casse since he had disappeared and the brothers had led her daughter Casse on a merry chase. Casse was sulking in her solar. She had wrapped her throat and was drinking warm mead to soothe the hoarseness. Never before had she needed to work for a man’s attention. She was determined to make William pay for his insolence. When they were wed she would make him beg for her. When she would give in, he would pay a high price for her favors. The thought of the gowns and jewels he would be forced to buy her calmed her. She was considering her future wealth when her mother entered the room. It was obvious Olive was excited. “Darling, such news I bring,” Olive stated nearly bubbling over with excitement. “I heard just now that William has decided to wed. He is to speak to Lord Edmond about the contract. How exciting. We thought ill when we could not find him this morn. In the stead we find out he was considering to speak to his Pere. 176

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It never occurred to either Olive or Casse that William could have chosen someone else. Casse had campaigned for William and placed herself at her side continuously for these past months. She even went outdoors in the winter! She truly hated the outdoors especially in the cold of winter. At last this would be settled. Crispin entered the solar upon the summons sent to him by Olive. The servant Margaret had given him the message to go at once to Casse’s solar. He had also received a summons from Lord Edmond. The written summons had indicated he was to meet with the lord in the private study right after the evening meal. He still held the parchment in his hand. He couldn’t help but notice the cheerful faces. “At last, Crispin. At long last it has happened. William had discussed the marriage contract with Lord Edmond,” Olive bubbled over with joy. Our Casse is to wed with Sir William.” Crispin smiled in relief. “That is why I have been sent for.” He held up the parchment. “I am to meet with Lord Edmond after the evening meal.” This had been a trial for him. He never let anyone know but he secretly had wanted this contract as much as his wife and child. His demesne was nearly bankrupt. He was looking forward to living comfortably in Keyes Castle. “Let us look at the fabulous silks William bought for me at the market. I should choose one and began my wedding gown. I shall plan a large wedding. I shall have the grandest foods prepared. We shall feast for at least three days. I want drink and entertainment,” Casse rattled off quickly. Olive nodded her head in agreement. “We shall demand the finest of wedding feasts and clothes. You will inherit the de Warre family jewels and should wear them. I think we should send invitation to the King, don’t you Crispin?” Crispin nodded in agreement. He was caught up in the financial security and success of this contract. His troubles would soon be over. *** Casse, Olive, and Crispin were among the first to arrive for the evening meal. Casse wore one of her favorite gowns. It was a lilac color satin gown with a deep purple velvet tunic. The gown enhanced her fair complexion and violet eyes. The tunic had tiny pearls and gemstones of amethyst embroidered onto the fabric. She wore ropes of pearls around her neck. Her wimple was a deep purple to match the tunic. A small golden circlet of pearls held the wimple upon her head. Olive wore one of her favorite gowns. It was deep red satin with a matching apple red velvet tunic. 177

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The trumpet sleeves and neckline were edged with fox fur. Even Crispin dressed up for the occasion. He wore a deep blue velvet tunic edged with ermine. His shoes were made of the finest doeskin leather and fur lined. To the Crispin family’s surprise William did not appear. Lord Edmond took his chair. Harry, Andrew, and Edward followed Edmond. They their seats and Lord Edmond signaled for the meal to begin. Reimond arrived soon thereafter and took his seat. Sir William, Sarra, and Oriel were evidently absent from the meal. Once again Casse held her temper. She had taken the chair next to William’s and had anticipated his proposal and conversation regarding their contract. Instead she found herself sitting next to Andrew. She smiled gritting her teeth in irritation, but politely asked Andrew, “I had expected Sir William to dine with me. I have not seen him all den. Has Sir William a malady?” Andrew nearly laughed with delight at the question. He understood her true meaning. She wanted to dig her claws into his brother. He had no idea how she would take the news of William’s betrothal to Sarra. He had no intention of being closer than a league to Casse when she found out. He certainly was not about to tell her. “William is taking his meal with Oriel this eve. He has many things to discuss with her.” Casse felt immediately placated. Of course he had to tell his daughter about the marriage contract. After all, Oriel was about to receive a new mother. Casse held her laughter. She couldn’t imagine herself as a mother. She would be expected to birth an heir, but nursemaids could care for the brat. The child Oriel would be sent off to some demesne for fostering. A doting grandfather already spoiled the child. Casse enjoyed the rest of the meal. She flirted openly with many knights throughout the course of the meal. Olive and Crispin felt their tension leave when Casse relaxed. Obviously there had been a valid reason for William’s absence. They both enjoyed the meal and ate nearly every offering of food and wine. Edmond was not enjoying the meal. He barely ate. First he missed his Oriel laughing and teasing him at the table. Second, he wanted William and Sarra to take over his head position, but he understood William’s request to have a quiet meal in Oriel’s solar with her future mother. The third reason he did not enjoy the meal was what had to be done and said in his meeting with Crispin. It was rare he ever had to have words with his stewards. He had never had to revoke a demesne until recently. 178

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Edmond focused on his sons. He was content knowing all his sons were with him. With the thoughts of his peace he sampled some of the food and forced himself to eat. The meal completed, Lord Edmond rose and walked to Crispin. “It is time, Crispin,” Edmond spoke quietly with authority. “We will retire to my private room. Baldwyn is meet us there.” Crispin was smiling broadly. He had been anticipating this meeting. Soon his daughter would be Lady of Keyes Castle. He would have access to the de Warre wealth and lands. The Lord had also spoken to him directly. He did not send a servant. The Lord had given him the command in front of Olive. This would be a wonderful evening. Crispin rose to follow Lord Edmond who was already walking toward the private room.

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Chapter Twenty-Three
William spent some time with his brothers in discussion of his betrothal to Sarra Albyn. He had walked with Oriel to Sarra’s solar knowing his precious daughter wanted to talk to her about the wonderful news of Sarra becoming her new mother. He still marveled at how happy the child was when he told the news. His cheek still felt her warm lips upon them. She kissed him many times telling him consistently how happy she was about his marriage to Sarra. He felt his father’s disappointment early when he announced he wanted to spend a quiet meal with Oriel and Sarra instead of the loud and bothersome meal at the large table in the Great Hall. His father did assure him he understood, but wanted William to know that as soon as the wedding was consummated he expected William to take the place at the head of the table, with Sarra on his right side and Oriel on his left side. William agreed. He assured his father it would be a difficult wait until the nuptial ceremony. William was anticipating the bedding. In his mind he still remembered how perfect Sarra felt beneath him. He realized since Sarra came into his life he no longer desired Elena or any winsome willing light skirt. He only wanted Sarra. This wait would be an eternity. He was pleased his father agreed to the nuptial in a fortnight. Sarra found she was enjoying the quiet meal in Oriel’s solar. A cloth had been laid upon the floor as a table. To her amazement, William dictated an imaginary campfire. The food would be camp food prepared over the open fire in the center. Sarra and Oriel were his primary captains. They were conferring a battle plan to siege the stronghold of King Harold the fierce. At one point William who on all fours, played the Destrier for Oriel when she planned a frontal charge to Harold’s stronghold. Sarra played the stronghold with great dramatics. William lost his balance during Oriel’s charge. When he and Oriel fell to the floor the laughter was boisterous. Sarra could hardly believe the man playing with his child was the cold stone heart she met only a few months before. The change was incredible. She began to believe she could be happy within this marriage of convenience, power, and design. When Sarra looked into William’s eyes she saw a sparkle that simply was not there when her feet met his face. Those eyes were cold, 181

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hard, and lifeless. Of course she had to allow for the swelling and bruise her feet did cause. Now, those eyes were filled with life. To Sarra it was amazing how his precious child, Oriel had brought warmth back into his life. She couldn’t credit that great change to her doing in any way. Sarra could not know how much her touches of small changes in this castle had made Keyes Castle feel more like a home. It was the home William had always longed for, but never hoped for. The passion he felt for Sarra when near her filled him with a lust he had never felt. His seed, Oriel, was so much like him. William found an urge to be a type of parent he had needed so desperately as a child. Sarra could not know how this combination had worked to melt the cold stone heart almost completely. “Come little, Oriel,” William commanded scooping a giggling girl into his arms. “Your chambermaid is waiting patiently to give your bath and prepare you for night. I must attend to matters with your Grandpere. I bid you goodnight, sweet maiden.” William waited patiently as Oriel placed her arms around his neck and gave him a wet kiss on his cheek. He then turned his charge over to her chambermaid. He did not hesitate to take Sarra’s arm and pull her to him. “I am readily pleased with this evening, great King Harold and conqueror of this poor knight’s heart. Thank you sweet Sarra for agreeing to wed. I need you. Until I met you, I did not know how much I needed this pure love.” Sarra was speechless. Her mouth attempted to move but sound choked in her throat. What could she say to such a declaration? Her heart soared in joyous emotion. Sarra lifted her arms until her hands touched his face. She pulled him lower and touched her lips to his. All doubt and uncertainty of the rightness of this marriage contract was erased for Sarra in the next moment. This kiss was special. The other kisses she shared prior with William were passionate and enjoyable, but this kiss was wonderment. At first the kiss was sweet. They touched each other’s lips lightly. Soon, William had drawn Sarra into his body. She felt his hard muscular chest against her breasts. She heard his beating heart. Their lips slowly parted finding a want to be closer in exchange. William pulled her closer. She felt his lips press down upon hers. His tongue intruded seeking warmth and solace. It was a need to be as close as he could without benefit of church blessing. Sarra felt as if a glow of warmth surrounded her and invaded her. She wanted to climb into him and stay there. She had known love all her life, but she had not imagined this kind of love. A sense of security increased 182

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exponentially. Her father had been right. Even the strangest of couples can be attracted to each other. A love match of untold proportions could truly happen between people without them realizing how or when it happened. Oriel watched in delight. To a child of vivid imagination and childhood hope, the picture before her was a dream come true. She would have a loving mother and father. Still her little mind could not comprehend one small thing. “Pere, can you or Sarra breathe? Surely the two of you must breathe.” The kiss ended immediately. Both Sarra and William tried not to laugh at the innocent question. William took Sarra’s hand and brushed his lips over her knuckles. “I must leave to attend to matters with my Pere. I count the days until you are my wife. Until that moment we are betrothed. I shall be available for your whim or command.” He bowed and left the solar. Sarra assisted Oriel with her bath and toilette. She thought of having pleasant dreams this evening. *** Baldwyn was waiting in Lord Edmond’s private study. With him were all the documents, accountings, and parchments from Tomes Castle. The Tomes Castle steward was also there awaiting his fate. Wilbert had been summoned to Keyes Castle within a few days of Lord Crispin, his family, and retinue of servants’ arrival. Wilbert had spent these past months secreted with Baldwyn going over every line of accounts. Baldwyn had also demanded a verbal accounting of all transactions made within Tomes Castle. The past month this information was shared with Lord Edmond. Last week a decision had been made. Lord Edmond had hesitated until he was certain of William’s decision. Fortunately, William had come to the correct decision and Edmond could progress as planned. Edmond preceded Crispin into the private room. He greeted Baldwyn with a nod and took his large upholstered chair behind the large carved wooden table. Edmond signaled Baldwyn and Wilber to take the seats on either side of him. Crispin entered the room with a light gait. He wasn’t even surprised to see Wilbert at the table. He noticed his accounts set before them on the table and didn’t even think about that as a warning to what would happen next. He had assumed this was all about setting the marriage contract. “Crispin take a seat,” Edmond commanded somberly. “Do you have an idea to what this meeting is about?” He nodded to the parchments spread before them. 183

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William was about to enter the room when he heard Crispin’s response to his father’s question. “Of course, my Liege Lord,” Crispin expounded gaily. “We are here to set the marriage contract of your heir, Sir William, and my child, Casse.” Edmond’s mouth dropped. The shock of Crispin’s answer shook him. He had never considered Crispin to be so thick. “How did you come to this conclusion?” Crispin grinned widely. “Tis the talk of everyone. Tis told Sir William spent the day cloistered with you to conclude the courtship of Casse and scribe the betrothal contract.” Crispin took a short breath and continued in excitement. “Of course there are a few requests I have to make regarding this betrothal.” William succeeded but found it difficult to hold his mirth. He knew the talk of everyone was about the people of the bailey seeing him kissing Sarra and telling them she would be mistress of Keyes Castle. How Crispin had believed it was Casse he could not comprehend. Edmond could not help himself. He led Crispin into further conversation. “These requests are?” Crispin sat against the chair folding his hands upon his lap as if he had complete control of the contract. “Our family is quite close. I would see to it that my good wife, Olive, and I remain here at Keyes Castle. We would require a living income of course and I do expect a large dower for my child’s hand. Casse is so completely beautiful that the highest lords of the land would seek her.” Edmond felt his teeth grind in anger. “Which lords are greater in wealth and land than the Earl of Sussex?” Crispin had the sense to blush. “Excuse me, Lord Edmond. Of course you are the greatest lord of King John’s realm. Still you must see how valuable a commodity is the beautiful Casse.” Edmond could not resist, “Actually, no I do not!” Crispin cocked his head. He couldn’t believe what he heard. Edmond brought down the axe. “The truth be known, my heir did spend time with me to arrange a betrothal and marriage contract. The petition has already been sent to King John. However, my heir pleaded not for the hand of Casse in matrimony, but the hand of Sarra Albyn.” It was Crispin’s turn for his mouth to drop. William entered the room. “Your Casse is beautiful of face and pleasing to the eye. She is difficult to the ear and heart. I chose a beautiful heart, a comfort for the body, a pleasant grace to the ear, and someone capable 184

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of the simplicity of love. I seek a hearth and home, not an ornament. Tis true for the longest time I did enjoy the sparkle of an ornament, but my life felt cold and vacant. After all these years I find my castle changed into a home of life and comfort. It was then I understood exactly what I longed for. I found it here. My cold hollow heart warmed and glowed in the contentment. Yes, all I ever needed I found in the Lady Sarra Albyn. Your Casse is beautiful and she will achieve her goals, but it shall not be at my cost.” Crispin’s mouth moved but incoherent sounds were heard. Edmond lost patience. “We are here to balance accounts of Tomes Castle, Crispin. Your demesne is in bankruptcy. I have testimony from your steward that foods were sold to merchants for purchase of cloths, perfumes, cosmetics, shoes, and jewelry. The fore mentioned were in such quantity your treasury was emptied for foodstuffs. Your servants, serfs, and freemen are near starvation. This is unacceptable for a demesne as wealthy as Tomes. You have rich agricultural land that brings large harvests. You have sheep and cattle. You have woods full of fowl and venison. Tomes’ has streams filled with fish. All is taken for baubles? I cannot have such a steward under my lands. You are hereby removed as Lord of Tomes. You and your wife will be sent to Brothshire Manor. Your child will be sent to the court of King John. The king will find a suitable match for your Casse.” Crispin was trembling. He had lost his demesne. He had lost the wealth of Tomes and its luxury to live in a small manor house. The humiliation was devastating. He had lost all for satisfying the unending greed of his wife and daughter. “My lord,” Crispin began to plead. “Give me another chance.” “That I will not,” Edmond stated emphatically. “Baldwyn had sent a man he trained to Tomes. We have had reports that the servants, serfs, and freemen health is improving. Most of the thousands of yards of cloth have been sold and used for foodstuff and care of Tomes Castle. Your bulwarks are in need of repair and I have sent finance to cover those costs. Your men at arms and knights have also received recompense. They are now, my men. I will be sending Harry as the new liege lord. I suggest you begin your packing for your journey. Another of Baldwyn’s men will accompany you. He will keep strict accounting of your manor. Any difficulty with finances will be brought to my attention. Inform Casse that she will be going to King John’s court in early spring. You may take your leave!” Crispin rose in dejection. His shoulders were rounded as he walked. He kept his head bowed. He would not go to his solar, or to Casse’s solar. He needed time to think. He needed to comprehend what had just occurred. He 185

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was angry and ashamed. Crispin’s mind was flashing in different emotions and directions at the same time. He returned to the hearth. He sat upon a chair and stared into the fire. It took several hours and late into the night before he left for his solar. *** Sarra heard Oriel’s prayers, gave her kiss goodnight, and nearly floated into her solar. Roese was waiting with her bath. “You seem content this eve,” Roese commented casually washing Sarra’s back with a soaped cloth. “You remind me of your Mere when you are at peace.” Sarra was not really thinking about peace. She was quiet only because she was remembering this last kiss and the maelstrom in her body it caused. She truly did not understand these feelings boiling and churning inside. It felt wonderful, but it was frightening. Would she lose her identity? Some men believed they owned their wives, body and soul. Her body was lost, but could she bear losing her soul? “Roese, did mon Mere and Pere stop arguing when they were wed?” Roese arched her brow at the question. “Do not look at me so,” Sarra protested looking directly into Roese’s eyes. “This is important to me. I must know.” Roese took a seat on the bench. She took Sarra’s hand. “There were more love words than arguments, but they argued. In the beginning of their marriage it was more oft than not. Your Mere and Pere would find many points to quarrel. Your Pere believing that simply being a male made him right infuriated your Mere. Your Mere was stubborn with her logic and intelligence, which infuriated your Pere. The making up of the quarrel was most delightful for the both. The making up was so delightful; your Mere logically determined the making up was far more valuable than the effort of the quarrel. I shall not forget the day she ended the quarrels. “I was combing her hair preparing her for bed when Lord Reimond entered. Quite sweetly she invited him to sit by her. In a sensual voice your Mere said to him that since he was so well trained in the art of war, chivalry, battle, and knighthood she would concur with all decisions of his. After all, she could not offer advice on those things she knew little of. Your Pere beamed with pride. Then your Mere stated quietly ‘Of course you understand this since you were not trained in running a kitchen, making soap, or preparing wool for weaving and would not be able to make such decisions.’ I watched your father’s face and knew immediately your Mere had won the war. Your Pere readily agreed to her logic of his superiority in the masculine 186

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arts. He graciously replied that of course his Joy would make the decisions in all of the feminine responsibility. Your Mere had placed him exactly where she wanted and with the sweetest voice won her war of identity and power. You dear child are much like your Mere.” “She was so strong and wise. I wish I could be exactly like her,” Sarra said wistfully. “Joy had her faults. You must not strive to be exactly like her. She was a different time. She was a different woman. Be yourself, that is all you ever need to do,” Roese counseled. “Never regret, only consider wisdoms learned with trial and error. Go to bed. You have a new day to begin as a betrothed.”

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Chapter Twenty-Four
Geoffrey was helping William finish dressing when Andrew, Harry, and Edward entered his solar. All brothers were smiling. “Is there a special event?” William questioned addressing his brothers. I do not recall even as a child all of you suddenly appearing in my chamber.” Harry stepped forward. “We have never had the opportunity to celebrate a betrothal together. All of us agree that this time, brother, you have made an excellent choice.” “I didn’t make the choice ere this,” William countered. Edith had been his father’s choice and command. He followed the decree of the Lord Edmond. At the time in his life, a marriage really didn’t matter to him. A wife was simply a vessel to bear an heir. His marriage was hardly amiable. Edith was so frightened of him she stuttered when they were together. He couldn’t recall when they ever had a conversation. Edith was subservient at bedtime and for mating. There was no feeling, emotion, or fulfillment. He was surprised when Edith announced she was breeding. At that time she separated from him and remained separated until her death. He wondered what this marriage would bring. He was certain it wouldn’t be the same. Sarra made him burn with desire. She certainly responded to him. One of the things he was looking forward to with this marriage was the bedding. “Tis true you did not choose Edith, but this one is your choice,” Harry agreed. “And a good choice it is,” Edward interrupted. “This castle will become a true home. I look forward to living here for a time.” “Pere wishes I should remain and take charge of Keyes Castle. I intend to fulfill my duty,” William stated. “I may send you, Edward, to the Court London. My betrothed likes you too much. I do not deal well with jealousy.” Edward’s face drained. He had served his as squire in London Court and hated it. He hated the politics, the debauchery, the subterfuge, and rigidity of the nobility. He found few scholars to share his interests. Most discussions were of the French and invasion to reclaim land. “Sweet Jesu give us mercy.” 189

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“Spend too much time with my good wife and see what may happen,” William teased. Harry and Andrew laughed heartily. None of the brothers with the exception of William could tolerate London Court. William’s personality found the intrigue a personal challenge. He enjoyed playing the mind games. He was usually the winner of the games. “Since we are such gay moods this day, I will share Pere’s meeting with Crispin and the results.” “Will it take long?” Andrew chuckled. “I am quite hungry.” “You are an empty keg,” Harry chided. “I wish to know what occurred with our guest. Pere and Baldwyn have been studying the accounts of Tomes for months. Genoa discussed the how the health of their servants has improved since their arrival. Genoa indicated the Crispin servants were half starved.” “Your Genoa is an excellent information source,” William remarked seriously. “All she has told you is fact. Crispin had run the demesne nearly to bankruptcy. All but the Crispins are near starvation. Even the knights and men at arms are weak from hunger. The castle keep is in need of numerous repairs.” “The Crispin wenches seem to be dressed in expensive finery. They don’t show such poverty,” Edward observed. “The jewels alone could be sold and purchase bread for the demesne for a year.” “Precisely what Pere is planning. Baldwyn has dispatched one of his finest apprentices to Tomes Castle. There all Crispin personal assets were taken over and sold for silver. The money was used for foodstuff and repairs.” “I’m certain Crispin didn’t take that well,” Harry commented relaxing into the chair by the hearth. “He was in a sad stupor when he left the meeting. Crispin is to be sent to a small manor in the Tomes demesne. Pere has decreed a new steward of Tomes.” “Interesting,” Andrew stated. He was curious about who would be the new steward. It would need a strong knight and noble birth to run the castle in its current state of affairs. “Who did Pere select? It is a powerful responsibility that lies ahead.” “Aye. It requires a man of Noble birthright, skills,” William replied with a grin. “Exactly the reason Pere and I concurred that it will be Henry to be new Lord of Tomes.” 190

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Harry sank deep into his chair. “This is a prank, isn’t it? You will not pull my chausses. I will not fall into your trap.” William’s demeanor turned serious. “This is not a prank. Pere expects you to leave for Tomes immediately after Lady Sarra and I exchange our vows.” “I can not!” Harry protested with terror. “I have never been trained.” “You have been trained for battle, you know battlements, and the running of accounts will be learned from Baldwyn’s apprentice,” William insisted calmly. “Come, let us greet my betrothed for breaking our fast.” *** Sarra had finished her toilette when a knock was heard on her solar door. Roese had already left for the Great Hall. Oriel never knocked. She ran into the room in full energy. “Enter.” To her surprise William and all three brothers entered her solar. “Good day, my lady,” William greeted. He offered his arm to accept her hand. Today felt like the first day he truly was alive. There was magic between them. He didn’t understand it. Only the good emotions mattered. “We will greet our guests this morn in breaking our fast.” That moment rendered Sarra speechless and breathless. She felt the full impact of his words. She was to be the Lady of Keyes Castle. The awesome responsibility of this marriage was frightening. She had never surrendered to fear and would not begin. Sarra squared her shoulders, held her head high, smiled, and took William’s offered arm. William realized how fortunate of a man he would be with Sarra as his wife. She was a true lady. She would be his partner and equal to his need. He smiled remembering his first meeting with her. Even then he knew the power was between them. He fought it. Now he was happy he gave into it. Proudly he took her hand upon his arm and together they walked to the Great Hall. Harry, Andrew, and Edward walked behind. They nodded with smiles to each other. This castle would be a home at last. Genoa appeared from an alcove and motioned to Harry. In a whisper she said, “I must speak with you my lord.” Harry left his brothers and went to Genoa. There was something about the furrow in her brow that concerned him. He had always known her to smile or show anger with him, but never worry. Had she already heard he was to be sent to Tomes Castle? *** 191

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Crispin slept on a pallet in the Great Hall and was woken when the servants began preparing for breaking the fast. He walked slowly to his chamber. He would face Olive. Most of his restless night he had come to terms with his fate. Crispin had realized this revocation of title had been his fault. A true manager of a demesne is concerned for all and his lord, not just the whim of a beautiful wife and child. He had been such a fool. Crispin accepted his fate. He knew Olive would not, but she had no other option. Perhaps for the first time in their marriage he might have to beat her. He laughed at that. Olive had beaten him everyday with her beauty. *** “You did not come last night,” Olive remarked casually upon hearing her husband enter the chamber. “Did your talk with Lord Edmond take all night?” She turned to look at him and noticed his grim face. “What is this? You look so sour. Mayhap you were too afraid to get all we deserve upon the betrothal of our beautiful Casse to Sir William? No need to regret it. What news do you bring? Tell all, I wish to attend breaking fast. Soon we will enjoy all the comforts of Keyes Castle.” “We have done that since our arrival,” Crispin retorted bitterly. “This castle is wealthy, well run. The serfs, freeman, and servants are content and well fed. Our servants are healthier. The keep is clean, organized and wealthy. Our keep is crumbling, bankrupt, and little food. Why is that?” “Tomes is a poor demesne,” Olive replied. “That is the reason for us to stay and enjoy this wealthy demesne our Casse will marry into.” “Tomes was once powerful and wealthy,” Crispin responded angrily. “Then I married you. I wed the most beautiful woman in Sussex, save her sister that was wed to Lord Edmond. I gave her everything she wanted. This beautiful woman gave me four children. Three sons died, but a beautiful daughter survived. The child was even more beautiful than her mother. I was the envy of every Knight at Court along with my Lord. The beautiful woman wanted more and more. The daughter took more and more until nothing was left. There is never enough, is that true?” “What are you babbling about?” Olive snapped impatiently. She knew exactly what her husband was referring. The jewels, the cloth, and the comforts for both she and her daughter were too costly for Tomes finances. She bullied the steward to sell food to merchants. Repairs were logged as financed, but the money went to her and Casse for luxuries, jewels, and the finest cloth in the realm. If the peasants went hungry it was their problem. She was envious of her sister Laurette who had married the wealthiest lord in 192

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Britain. She had to have more than Laurette. Her sister had given her husband four sons. Olive’s sons had died in infancy. She let her enmity carry her to the best of all material luxury she could get. “It does not matter any longer,” Crispin sighed. He sat upon a bench. His legs were still weak from the reality shock of last evening’s meeting with his lord. “There is no betrothal between Sir William and Casse. That was not why I was summoned to the meeting.” Olive was about to shriek in anger. Crispin held his hand up flat to silence her outburst. “The sorry state of our affairs was presented to Lord Edmond upon our arrival. Our Liege Lord sent for our accounts and our steward immediately. These past months Lord Edmond and Baldwyn have scrutinized our records. It is the end.” “Explain your meaning!” Olive demanded with rage attempting to cover the fear that suddenly gripped her. Instinctively she knew this was going to be bad. “Tome’s lands have been revoked. We are to be sent to a small manor in Brothshire,” Crispin said quickly. He had to get it out. Olive must be told. It had to be done. “Lord Edmond has been gracious enough to promise us a small income. It will be enough to live comfortably. There will be no more luxuries.” Olive inhaled quickly. She nearly choked. “Sent to Brothshire?” What of Casse? What of her betrothal?” “William de Warre is betrothed to the Lady Sarra Albyn.” “No! That is impossible!” Olive screamed. “I heard it from Sir William’s lips,” Crispin stated firmly. Olive raised her hand to her mouth and bit on it. “What is to happen to our Casse? We had planned on this marriage. Who will our precious jewel marry?” “Lord Edmond is sending Casse to the King John’s court. He is putting her betrothal into his hands,” Crispin informed. The rage returned to Olive’s blood. “You are telling me we shall have no say in our Casse’s betrothal?” “Aye, that is what I am saying,” Crispin replied. He knew the torrent was arriving. “That is insane. Is our liege lord mad? I am the mother. I have protected her beauty for these years. For What? I am to be cast aside. How can you let this happen? What kind of man are you? I shall speak to Lord Edmond. This is impossible. I will not tolerate it!” Olive raged pacing back and forth in fury. 193

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Crispin watched his wife with great interest. How ugly the beautiful woman now looked. Why hadn’t he seen this before? He was brought to this humiliation for the love of his illusion of beauty. Quietly shaking his head he left the room to wake his daughter. He would tell Casse before Olive stormed into the chamber with her selfish anger. *** Casse was still sleeping when her father walked into her chamber. Gently he shook her arm to wake his child. “Casse, I must speak to you.” Casse was not ready to wake and her irritation was heard in her response. “What is it Pere? Why do you disturb my rest and wake me? It had better be of extreme importance.” Slowly she raised her body to a sitting position. “Well, go on!” “There was a meeting last night with Lord Edmond.” “This I already know,” Casse retorted. “It was about my betrothal with the lord’s son. It is about time. I am quite bored with this game. I don’t think I could have continued on with it. William de Warre is quite a bore. The only thing worth this marriage is the castle keep and the wealth he brings.” “It was not about your betrothal,” Crispin stated emphasizing the word your. “Do not tell me it is not final!” Casse growled. “I am quite tired of this game. I do not like to play the pursuer. I prefer to be the pursued. This William is far to self-involved for my taste. He needs to be more involved in me. I do not like it!” “William de Warre’s betrothal is final, but it is with Sarra Albyn.” “What?” Casse screeched. “He chose that mousy do gooder? He chose a woman that would spend his wealth on the lowly serfs instead of spending it on the beauty that surrounds him? What a fool! They deserve each other!” “Tis good you feel this way,” Crispin responded. His family truly was shallow. If only his sons had lived. He would have had a small life of his own. The sudden loss of wealth suddenly struck Casse. “When do we return to our home?” “We shall not return to Tomes. Lord Edmond has revoked my stewardship. I have been given a manor in Brothshire. Your Mere and I will return there after the marriage ceremony of William de Warre.”

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“Brothshire? That is a sty for boars! What is to happen to me? Surely I will never marry to my station! How could you do this to me?” Casse shrieked. “Do not worry. It is your Mere and I that will go to our proper exile, not you!” “Proper exile, indeed! You are a fool as a Pere to let this happen to your wife and child!” Casse pontificated. “Pray tell, what is to happen to me? Am I to be scullery maid?” Crispin could not tolerate his daughter’s insults any longer. In the next moment he would raise his hand and give her the beating she richly deserved. “Lord Edmond is sending you the King John’s court. There, the king will arrange for your proper marriage.” Casse’s mood changed suddenly. She would be sent to court. Since a child she wished to go to London Court. At last, she would receive the adoration she craved. Surely the king would give her the best of the lot. She smiled. “And King John will appoint a fine match. You agree, Pere?” The poor girl had no idea what the English court was truly about. She would learn soon enough. “Of course,” Crispin stated rising to leave the chamber. He was surprised that he felt no regret at his daughter’s departure. What he loved was an illusion. He could not expect an illusion to return his love.

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Chapter Twenty-Five
Sarra entered the hall with her betrothed. To her surprise, and obviously not William’s, the guests in the great hall rose and applauded. William knew his father had entered the hall early and made the announcement of his betrothal. He also knew Lord Edmond announced he was resigning as Lord of Sussex and giving the title to his son and heir. It would be from this day forward Lord William would be Earl of Sussex. He and Lady Sarra would be the lord and lady of the land. “See how you are loved,” William whispered into Sarra’s ear. “All have been told of our betrothal. You are now the lady of Keyes Castle.” A small knot twisted in Sarra’s stomach. She forced her body to ignore her weak knees and trembling hands. She had nothing to fear. Since her mother’s passing she had been running Mondel Castle. This was simply a larger version. She also had Christofre to help her with this large castle. The running of the kitchens was never a problem since her arrival. She knew she had been running Keyes Castle since her arrival. It was to make life more bearable for all, and certainly kept her from boredom. William led Sarra to the lord’s place at the table. He sat her next to him on the lord’s right. Oriel was already sitting on his left. William nodded and the food was served. It was the beginning of the age of contentment at Keyes Castle that would continue for several generations. Reimond sat on his daughter’s right. He was beaming proudly. Edmond sat next to his granddaughter and to everyone’s surprise; Christofre was sitting on Edmond’s left. Andrew and Edward took places next to Christofre. Harry took his place next to Reimond. Genoa sat next to Harry. William raised a brow when Harry and Genoa took seats at the High table. He had wondered about Christofre for many years. She had been like his loving mother and noted his father’s deference to her on many occasions. There certainly was no secret of the affair between Genoa and Harry. The two of them had been lovers for years. They truly seemed happy when they were with each other. Yet, to display this honor upon a chambermaid was unusual. He would speak to Harry of it after the meal. Crispin had returned to the great hall for his meal. He did not take a seat at the high table, but took a table near the stair well. He was humiliated 197

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and soon others would learn of it. He couldn’t bear it if Edmond told him publicly to sit at a lower table. He chose to do it without command. He did not know or care where is wife and daughter was. Sarra found she enjoyed this first meal as lady of Keyes Castle. She cast a glance at Christofre. When Christofre looked back, Sarra smiled. Christofre had seen to it that all her favorite foods had been prepared. What a sweet and kind woman Christofre was to her. Sarra had been surprised when Christofre took a seat next to Lord Edmond, but had always suspected something was there. She didn’t blink when Genoa sat next to Harry. She had known for a long time how much Genoa loved the Lord’s second son. Genoa had loved him as a child and although she foolishly lost her maidenhead to him some time ago, it was just Harry and only Harry. “This is truly a feast,” Sarra remarked to her betrothed. “Indeed, for there is much to celebrate. I feel I should learn even more,” William replied looking first to his father and then his brother, Harry. “I believe you are correct,” Sarra concurred. “It is truly a happy feeling this day.” “The beginning of responsibility for me,” William moaned pathetically. “The marriage?” Sarra questioned defensively. She choked on her response. What was wrong with her? This was not the way to start a betrothal. Surely a true lady like her mother would have weaved her way with soft and kind words. William stared at Sarra with a look of shock. “Why would you ask that? I look forward to the marriage, dear Sarra. I especially anticipate the bedding.” William’s bawdry comment should have repelled her. Instead it was stated as a compliment. Sarra flushed. She never imagined a man would find her attractive in that way. “I meant, what troubles you?” Sarra stuttered in an attempt to correct her error. William looked upon Sarra’s beet red face. Without trying, he had inflicted upon her embarrassment. When he first met her, he had wanted to achieve that. Now, he was sorry for it. “Today I am Earl of Sussex with all the burdens. I have served and learned for many years to be able to accomplish the matter. It is here and I can only hope to do as well as my Pere.” Sarra felt an immediate empathy for her future husband. The responsibility was overwhelming. She felt it. A soothing word would be 198

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right. “Your Pere came into this post with the same amount of training. He has succeeded perfectly. You will do the same.” “Mayhap better,” William grinned. How nice it was to hear soft and reassuring words. He needed that. He needed someone to support him. “I will have the hand of a capable woman to hold me when I fall.” Sarra couldn’t believe her ears. This man who at first meeting was obtrusive and arrogant had complimented her again. She felt almost giddy. “I of course will do my best.” William squeezed her hand in response. It was love. This was truly love. He was content. “The meal is nearly over,” Sarra choked with emotion. “I must see to all my duties if I am to be a good Lady of Keyes Castle.” “Of course,” William agreed giving her a broad smile. “First you will see to it that the feast is not wasted. You will give the food and alms to our widows and orphans. Then you will see to the laundry, the candles, the soap, the weaving, and of course the sewing.” “How do you know all this?” Sarra asked. This was very strange. “A male, much less a lord, knows of womanly duty.” “I have watched you carefully over these months. More importantly I have enjoyed the changes you made to this cold stone castle. Think you I have not noted the softness of my bed?” This was the wrong thing to say. His sword sprang to attention at the thought of sharing that magnificent bed with Sarra. He changed the subject quickly. “I have noted the clean and sweet scents in the Great Hall and chambers. Know it well, my lady. I am aware of you and your duty. You are like a true knight in loyalty to your honor and duty. I am pleased.” Sarra wasn’t certain if she should kiss or kick him. It was a compliment to her she believed, but to be compared to honor of a knight. Hardly! She was a woman through and true. She had no intention of being treated like one of his men at arms. “You are kind, sir. If I could but be capable of wearing armor I might be of greater pride for you.” William reacted with swift reprove. “My lady, if you were to wear any armor, I should have to warm your behind once again.” Sarra turned bright red. She looked around to see if anyone had heard William. Fortunately most had left the table and were involved in other conversations. Her temper flared. “You will do well never to repeat that again.” “What?” William teased innocently. “Repeat the words or the action?” 199

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“Neither!” Sarra stormed speaking through her smile lest anyone might see her shame. “Ah, but my dear love,” William chortled. “That will be completely up to you. Run along and be off to your duties. Henry approaches. I know my duties are about to begin.” Sarra wanted to slap her betrothed. It was with great restraint she closed her hands and gave William a low curtsy. “My lord.” “You are dismissed.” William enjoyed the angry passion he created in Sarra’s eyes. He was once again hard in need for her. He would from now on consider twice before he grated her anger. In the end, he would suffer for it. Sarra stormed toward the food pavilion. Her steps were strong and determined. “Dismissed indeed!” she muttered hotly. “My Liege Lord,” Harry addressed with an exaggerated noble bow. “Enough!” William replied with a cutting gesture. “My mood does not portend a jest this morn.” “Then let us have at it,” Harry growled. He was hoping his brother would be in a better mood. “I would have a private word with you.” “Come to my solar with me.” William began walking in a quick stride. The walk cooled his ardor. He opened the door for his younger brother. “What preys on your mind this morn?” “I am here not as your brother, but to entreaty you as the Earl of Sussex and my Liege Lord,” Harry answered in a subdued tone. “Take a seat and be comfortable,” William invited showing his brother one of the large chairs near the hearth. “You must forgive me, Harry. I am not yet used to be the Lord William. I more comfortable as your elder brother.” “I don’t know which I would prefer at this moment,” Harry sighed heavily. “This is a troublesome matter. Speak to me,” William ordered taking the chair next to Harry. “It is about taking on Tomes Castle and lands. It is about Genoa,” Harry confessed. “Genoa will miss you, but she misses you with every leave.” “This is different. I am to become Duke of Tomes. My duty will keep me from Keyes,” Harry answered almost sadly. He took a deep breath. “Genoa is breeding. It is my seed. I do not want a by-blow. Not with Genoa. I want my child.” “That would only leave…” William started. 200

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“Marriage,” Harry completed. “I ask for your blessing and leave to marry Genoa.” William was stunned. He was not surprised that Genoa was breeding. He was shocked that his brother wished to marry the chambermaid. He sat thoughtfully for several minutes. He had no problem with Harry marrying Genoa, but he had doubts to her capability of becoming Lady of the demesne. “Give me one day before I answer this,” William requested. He knew someone that could help him determine that answer. He would discuss this marriage with his Sarra. William’s thoughts were interrupted with a knock on the door. He was relieved when Baldwyn came in and suggested they begin the accounts for the day. There were several pressing matters. “I will speak with you on the morrow,” William promised his younger brother. He left with Baldwyn. *** The noon meal was served. This time Casse appeared and took her place beside her father. Olive was still absent. Sarra had already been seated at the high table and was speaking to Oriel when William arrived. At his presence and nod the meal began. Sarra noted that William was most attentive. He offered her the best portions and when a selection was brought before him, he slid the dish to her so she could make the first selection. He was a tease and he was chivalrous. He was interesting. At the end of the meal he took her hand. “My lady, it is important that I speak with you privately this evening. There is a matter I need to share with you. Your wisdom is needed to make an important decision. Meet with me after the dinner meal in the private study.” This was serious. There was no doubt in the tone of William’s request. He was asking for her opinion? Curiosity won over any other thought. “I shall be there my lord.” William nodded and once again left the table. He was scheduled to tour the battlements and the men at arms. Both crossed over the Great Hall to the entrance hall. Casse stopped Sarra. Casse stared at Sarra coldly. She spoke loudly so everyone near could hear. “Why our William has chosen you over me can only be answered by logic. Are you breeding? Those little nightly visits across the hall, mayhap?” Sarra couldn’t believe what she heard. She felt William tense under hand. 201

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William’s anger flared instantly. He was about to order Casse out of the castle immediately. How dare she not only affront the chivalry of a knight, but also the purity of a virgin? He opened his mouth to utter the command when he felt Sarra squeeze his arm. He looked to her. Sarra looked up to him and her eyes spoke volumes. Her eyes told him it was beneath his dignity to respond to such lowly accusations. Once Sarra knew she had stopped William’s anger she turned to Casse. “My lady, you are welcome in our midst as long as you act as is expected. It grieves me to think for even a moment that you are less of a lady than your upbringing.” With that barb, Sarra again returned her attention to William. “By your leave, my lord. I have my duties to attend.” “As must I,” William answered. He removed her hand from his arm and brushed his lips across her knuckles. He felt ten feet tall. This woman was a true lady born to nobility. He had chosen wisely. That said something for his intelligence. *** Sarra left to check the fishpond. The early spring had renewed the life in the pond and she wanted to make certain the water was stocked with healthy fish in a healthy pond. The weeds needed to be controlled. Then the gardens would need to be started in a month. She was going to speak with Elena about saving the manure to spread upon the garden. The gardeners would then till the soil so the planting could begin. Upon her arrival at the barn Sarra was disheartened that Elena was nowhere to be found. It was not that Sarra expected Elena to be here at this time of day. She found her son sitting on the doorstep to the barn. “Greetings, Paulin. Do you know where your Mere is this den?” The little boy nodded. “Can you tell me where she is?” Paulin nodded. “Mon Mere was called to Mistress Judith’s cottage. She is ailing.” Paulin was quiet for a moment. “Mon Mere is good with ailment,” Paulin said proudly. “Would you send me to fetch her?” “No,” Sarra responded quietly. Elena was a good person. She hoped Elena and her new love, Man at Arms, Hubert Tillman, would be happy. “I will speak with your Mere on the morrow. Are you alone?” “Nay, the weaver is about to take my care.” Paulin returned to his spot and began his quiet game of cat in the cradle. Sarra walked to the barn and inspected the large pile of cow dung mixed with straw. Elena had been storing the needed fertilizer for the garden 202

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as requested. Sarra was about to turn when a pain ran through her skull. The world twirled and another pain was felt. Her world turned black. In a heavy thud, Sarra toppled to the barn floor. Paulin had heard the strangled cry and then the thud. He went into the barn. Then he saw the happenings. He hid in one of the empty cow stalls. Terrified, he held his breath. *** William arrived for the evening meal. He looked for his lady, but did not see Sarra. It was not that unusual for Sarra to miss sitting at a meal in the Great Hall. There were days that William learned she would become involved in a new process that kept her interest to the point she forgot to eat. Something deep down sent a warning through him. He trusted his instincts. William caught Roese’s attention and waved for her to come to him. “Mistress Roese. Please find Lady Sarra and request she join us for the meal. I would be most pleased to have her company.” Roese nodded and went to find her charge. Sarra held a fairly repetitive schedule for Roese to be able to locate her. Unfortunately, no one had seen Sarra. Roese was worried and went to Sarra’s solar. Roese thought Sarra might have suddenly become ill. Roese screamed in horror at her entry to Sarra’s room.

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Chapter Twenty-Six
William watched Roese race down the stairs. His throat tightened when he saw her paled face. She emanated panic. William rose from the table and met Roese. “Sweet Jesu, my lord. I fear for my lady. Her solar is destroyed. Her gowns and tunics are destroyed. It looks like a demon spent its rage.” Roese could barely control her trembling. “Show me,” William ordered leading her up the stairs. Roese stood at the door too horrified to open the door again. William opened the door. His knightly instinct soared to ready for battle. Sarra’s gowns had been cut to shreds and thrown about. The bed and its covers had been shredded in like manner. Everything had been cast as if thrown in a rage. William knew the destruction of Sarra’s clothes and bed did mean her life was in danger. Without a word William turned on his heels. He returned to the great hall marching directly to his brothers. “Harry, Andrew, Edward! We must conduct a search for Sarra immediately!” William bellowed. The brothers did not need an explanation. William’s face told them everything. Sarra was in great danger. The brothers broke apart to search the castle, the keep, and the bailey. Soon the men at arms and the other knights were combing the grounds. No one had seen Sarra since the mid day meal. Genoa and Harry were walking toward the cow barns. Genoa had been told Sarra intended to inspect the cow barns this afternoon. The two entered the barns calling for Sarra. Harry wondered why Elena did not respond. A small figure appeared from the barn and ran to Genoa. Paulin recognized Genoa’s voice. She had always been kind to him and his mother talked comfortably with her many times. “My lady, my lady,” he uttered nervously. “The lady. She is hurt.” He pulled Genoa toward the stables. Harry saw a body in the center of the manure move. He heard a groan of pain and recognized Sarra Albyn. “Christ’s toes!” Genoa was already at Sarra’s side. “Sweet Jesu, my poor lady! Harry bring me that blanket,” she ordered. 205

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Harry jumped at the command. He noted Sarra’s face when he handed the blanket to Genoa. He cringed. When William saw what had been done to his betrothed the response would be unchecked rage. Harry had seen many battles. He had seen dead men and wounded men, but this made him ill and he wanted to wretch. He helped lift as Genoa wrapped the blanket around Sarra. “No one must see her like this,” Genoa warned. “No one! We will take her into the back door of the kitchens. I will get Christofre and Jacoba to help me take her care. You will get Edward and Andrew to help you keep Lord William away. He must not see his betrothed like this.” Genoa took Paulin’s hand. “You will come with us,” she said quietly to the little boy. His hand was still shaking and his little eyes were filled with fear. Harry lifted Sarra into his arms. He nearly cried when he heard her moan of pain as he lifted her. They walked to the door when Harry inhaled deeply. “Christ toes, do you think Elena did this? She was William’s light skirt. Mayhap jealousy drove her to do this?” It was near dusk when Genoa reached for the door to open it. “Never! I have come to know Elena. She is a sweet kind woman. There is not any way she would bring such pain or hurt to any living creature. This is the work of a deranged mind.” Alma, one of the scullery maids was sent to bring Roese, Jacoba, and Christofre to the lower kitchen. Another maid was sent to have some servants bring the large tub, soaps, with buckets of hot and cold water. Genoa released Paulin’s hand in an attempt to assist Harry putting Sarra on the long bench. Paulin grabbed Genoa’s leg making it nearly impossible for her to walk. Genoa looked down at the little boy’s face. He was still terrified and his cheeks were covered with tears. “Paulin, you need not cry anymore. The lady is safe now. You have been a help to us. I’m certain the lord will reward you.” Paulin started shaking his head and sobbing. “No. No. No. She’ll be back. She’ll hurt me.” Genoa had no idea what the boy was mumbling. Her motherly instincts wanted to soothe him, but there was no time. Sarra required all her attention at the moment. Genoa spotted Leone, a woman of elder years that was everyone’s mother in the kitchens. Leone was too old to do heavy work, but Christofre kept her on since her family still needed the income and left over food. “Paulin, you have met Leone. She will take care of you until your 206

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Mere returns. I must help Lady Sarra. Be a good boy and stay with Leone. Mayhap she might have a special treat for you.” Genoa motioned for Leone to come to her. Leone walked slowly toward Genoa. Her body was old and weak, but her mind was sharp. She knew something terrible had happened to the Lady Sarra and the boy was terrified. As a great grandmother, the old lady didn’t have to be told to care for the boy. Leone took the boy’s hand and led him to the upper kitchen. There she would give him a candied apple and calm him. Sarra was in a delirium. She was sick with the stench of manure, but she was in great pain. Everything seemed to hurt and burn. She didn’t seem to know where she was. She heard voices, but they were hushed and seemed to be far away. Then the agony began again when she was placed on a bench and the binding around her was removed. She went back into the painless blackness of oblivion. Genoa held Sarra in her arms as she waited for assistance. “Harry, you must find your brothers. Tell them how we found Lady Sarra. Then you must tell Lord William. Do not tell him of your suspicion. It is wrong. It could bring harm to a good and kind person. All of this will be sorted out later. First we must take care of Lady Sarra.” Harry rose to obey. “You are a fine lady, Genoa. Take care of the Lady Sarra, but protect my seed.” He leaned over to kiss Genoa on the forehead. *** Christofre was the first to arrive. She had brought with her many servants carrying the tub and water. Jacoba arrived before Roese, who had stopped to get her medicinal bag when she learned Sarra had been found but was badly injured. Christofre waited until the male servants had filled the tub and left. She brought a dirk and began cutting away the ties on Sarra’s clothes. Genoa assisted in removing the clothing. Roese was already preparing a strong concoction to relieve pain. Jacoba added soothing salts and herbs to the tub water. Christofre and Genoa carefully lifted Sarra to place her in the tub. It was then all saw her injuries. Sarra’s face showed a large bruise that swelled to nearly shut one eye. Her lip was swollen to three times its normal size and covered with dried blood. Sarra’s upper body was covered with swelling bruises and cuts. “She has been beaten,” Christofre decreed recognizing the types of injury. 207

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“My poor baby,” Roese wept solemnly. “Who could do such a thing? Sarra only tried to do good, never evil. My baby did not deserve this. What this demon did to her room, her clothes, and her body is the devil’s work.” Roese took Sarra’s favorite lavender scented soap to begin washing the manure from Sarra’s blood soaked and manure caked hair. Jacoba and Christofre carefully washed Sarra’s body. Genoa, because she was breeding, started feeling ill from the sight of blood and smell of the manure sat down near the hearth. The enormity of this attack affected them all. Christofre, Jacoba, and Roese had completed cleaning Sarra when she once again began to waken. Sarra felt soothing warm water surrounding her. Somehow it eased the intense pain she felt when she first woke in the horrible smell. She remembered hearing Genoa and Harry. Where was she? What was happening? In the distance she heard Roese speaking to her. What was she asking? Something about raising her hand if she could hear her. Yes, she could hear Roese. She attempted to lift her arm, but it felt like a lead weight and it hurt. She raised her hand as far as she could. Roese noticed the slight movement of Sarra’s left hand. She put her concoction to Sarra’s lips and ordered her to drink it. Sarra obeyed as best she could. Her lip felt peculiar as she sipped. Soon the pain eased and she felt sleepy. It was then she heard a powerful voice. The voice was angry. The voice belonged to her betrothed. “By God in Heaven you will move out of my way,” William stormed entering the lower kitchen. He was pulling his three brothers along with him. Harry was pulling one arm. Andrew was pulling the other arm. Edward was pulling William’s tunic. All three brothers were trying to hold William back. The struggle to restrain William was useless. Once Harry had told William his Sarra had been found, she had been hurt, and she was in the lower kitchen, William was raging. He only heard Sarra had been injured. Jacoba’s attempt to stop William from entering was useless. Christofre was the only formidable force to prevent him. “You cannot enter,” Christofre commanded standing tall and firm in William’s path to the tub. “Lady Sarra is naked. We are bathing her.” Christofre’s words were reputed instantly. “We are betrothed. She is my wife in name. We lack only the blessing of the Church,” William stated gently moving Christofre out of the way. “Lady Sarra is under my protection. If she is hurt, someone has affronted me. I would know her injuries.” William moved quickly past Christofre. When he saw Sarra he nearly lost his balance. He fell to his 208

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knees. William had witnessed death and wounds from battle, but the injuries to this delicate lady sickened him. He recovered quickly with anger. “Dearest Lady, I vow to punish the person that did this.” Harry remained at the door with his brothers when he saw Genoa sitting on a bench looking pale and ill. He went to Genoa and held her in his arms. Genoa collapsed into Harry’s arms and started to weep. The enormity of Sarra’s injuries had been revealed when placed in her bath. The horror was too much to bear. The odor of the manure had also attacked her senses for her breeding condition. “You should not see my lady like this,” Roese scolded the Lord of Keyes Castle. “She would not have it.” “She is mine,” William growled. “Sarra is under my protection. I have failed her. I will not fail her again. Dry her body, wrap her in a soft linen, and I will carry her to my solar.” “No!” Roese gasped. “It is unseemly to take Lady Sarra to your bed without marriage vows blessed by the church.” “Silence!” William roared. “Do as you are told. Rest your mind, woman. If you believe I would concern myself with lust when my lady is so badly wounded and bruised, you do not know me.” Christofre tried to calm the situation. “Wills, we must salve her wounds.” “Do so when my lady is safe in my bed,” William ordered. He turned to his two brothers, who had stayed discreetly in the back of the room by the door. “Andrew, seek out Lewis and Gaston. Inform them they will provide two men at arms as guards in a three hour rotation for a day.” He turned back to Christofre and Roese who were attempting to lift Sarra from the tub. William lifted Sarra easily and held her on the bench as she was dried. William looked at the filthy manure and bloodied material of Sarra’s tunic, gown, and chemise. “Burn them!” “My lord, if you remember, I showed you Lady Sarra’s room. That is the only garment she has,” Roese contested somberly. “We must wash and repair it for her to wear.” “Never!” William snarled. He noticed Harry comforting Genoa in the corner. He felt sympathy for his brother and his love. Harry had told him that Genoa and he had found Sarra. The delicate breeding lady had been strong for Harry. Genoa had taken care of his Sarra. “Harry!” he ordered. “Have Genoa take you to the markets and purchase the finest cloths for tunics and 209

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gowns. Take them to the seamstresses and have them make all new clothes for my Lady!” “We still do not have a night dress for my lady,” Roese grumped. “Making gowns will take days.” “Sarra will wear my shirt until the new gowns will be readied. My lady will not be going anywhere for a long time as she heals. There is no need to worry for the time,” William replied testily. His only concern at the moment was to place Sarra in his bed and be assured to her safety there. Roese completed drying Sarra and then wrapped her in a soft linen sheet. William lifted Sarra gently in his arms. He placed her head against his chest with great care. Slowly he walked out of the lower kitchen. Sarra was in the middle of dreams and awareness. She felt her body being lifted lovingly. She felt her head pressed against a strong chest. She heard a reassuring strong heartbeat. Her dreams took her back to her childhood. She and her father were riding together inspecting the small villages near Mondel Castle. She was near Oriel’s age and was riding her pony. Something frightened her pony. The pony bolted and after a frightening ride, Sarra was thrown off. She tumbled down a gravel hill. She remembered it now. She had been cut and bruised. It was hurting. Her father came, picked her up and gently carried her. She felt safe and secure. She remembered hearing his heartbeat. That sound calmed her. She felt calm, secure and safe once again. Sarra fell into a restful slumber. William carried Sarra in his arms as if she were Venetian glass. He walked carefully afraid to bump her. Her breathing was slow and even as if she was sleeping. He hoped that was true. William did not want her to be in pain. He felt responsible for her injuries. It was the responsibility of a man to protect his wife, home, lands, and goods. It was his first day as Lord of Keyes Castle and he had failed miserably. William was laden with guilt. He had just left the upper kitchen to enter the hall when his daughter, Oriel, came running toward him. “Tis true!” Oriel sobbed. “My Lady is injured.” She ran to her father with her eyes filled with tears and fright. “Is she deceased?” William knew his daughter needed his reassurance, but now was not the time. He must attend to Sarra first. He turned his head to see Edward behind him. “No, little beloved,” he first addressed Oriel. “Our lady is hurt, but she will heal. Do not worry.” William then commanded his youngest brother. “Edward, take Oriel’s care. I will be with you anon. I must see to Sarra first.” 210

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Edward lifted Oriel into his arms. “Do not worry little moppet. Come with me to the kitchen. Mayhap we will find a sweet for our taste to make us feel happier.” Oriel went willingly, but curled her head into her uncle’s chest. She quieted her sobs in the strength of her uncle’s love. At last William arrived at his room. His squire Geoffrey jumped at the sight of his master. Without an order he opened the door to William’s solar and followed his master, ready to serve. Roese and Christofre followed Geoffrey.

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Chapter Twenty-Seven
William waited a moment while Roese pulled down the coverlet on his bed. Gently and with great care he placed Sarra on the pallet. He smiled when he watched her snuggle into the bed. “She is comfortable. Apply your healing salves. I must attend to Oriel and then confer with my Pere to find the perpetrator of this foul dead.” He took Sarra’s hand, brushed his lips across her knuckles. “I will correct my great error and return to you. You shall be safe.” William turned and left his solar allowing Roese and Christofre to finish their work. At the door, Andrew, Lewis, and Gaston greeted him with two men at arms. “Keep your guard and protect my lady. No one save the lady’s Roese and Christofre will be allowed to enter without my person. You will stay anyone, and I do mean anyone that dare attempt to enter this solar on peril of your lives.” The guards nodded in understanding. “Will she live?” Andrew asked for all. “Aye, she will live and heal, but she is injured severely. My lady must have secure and safe rest. I failed in my duty. I will correct that failure.” Andrew knew exactly what his brother meant. He placed his hand on William’s shoulder. “Brother, it was not a failure. No one could know about this unwarranted attack against an innocent lady. This was not a battle or even defense. This was a vile unwarranted attack. No one could have prevented it. You did not fail.” William greatly appreciated his brother’s words. It eased his guilt. “Still I must find the perpetrator and punish him. I will not rest until this is brought to an end. Find Pere and bring him to me. I must console my child. Edward has taken her to the kitchen.” Before William could go to Oriel, his father called him. “Wills, how fairs the Lady Sarra?” Next to Edmond was Reimond walking briskly with a worried frown. Reimond walked to the solar door and attempted to enter. William blocked his way. “No my lord. The women are tending to her wounds. You cannot enter. In the stead, come with me. Let us investigate this crime.” *** 213

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Edward carried Oriel into the kitchen and put her down. He spoke to a cook requesting a treat for the child. While Edward was busy with food preparation, Oriel spotted Paulin at a table in the corner with old Leone. Oriel had always like Leone and she had met Paulin on a few occasions. He was nice, but a timid little boy. Oriel hoped to become friends with him. Oriel thought she would try now. “Greetings Leone and Paulin.” “Moppet,” Leone returned. The old woman motioned for her to come sit beside her. Oriel took the seat and noticed Paulin was trembling with fear. “What is it, Paulin? You look frightened.” “The lady. She will come back. It was bad. She will hurt me,” Paulin babbled. “I am with you. The lady will not hurt you,” Oriel soothed. Paulin frowned. “You are little like me. The lady will hurt you just like me. She hurt the other lady.” “You saw it? You saw who hurt Lady Sarra?” Paulin nodded his head. Then he looked from side to side as if a monster was about to suddenly appear and eat him. “You must tell me,” Oriel commanded in the same tone as her father gave orders. She was her father’s daughter without a doubt. “Nay,” Paulin replied stubbornly. “The lady will hurt me and hurt you. I must leave here. This place is too close.” “The cow shed is where your lady attacked. Think you this is less safe?” Oriel reprimanded. “In this castle there are many men, knights, and guards. If you think I am too small or weak, what of my Grandpere, Pere, or uncles. Think you your bad lady would defeat them?” Paulin looked wide-eyed at Oriel. Of course he could not contradict that logic. No lady could ever defeat Sir William de Warre. He knew him as the greatest knight of the realm. “There you have it,” Oriel crowed knowing she had conquered the point. “If you will not tell me who the bad lady is, you must tell my Pere.” “Aye,” Paulin agreed quietly. “Sir William de Warre is strong and powerful. He will protect us.” “We will eat our treats and wait until we can speak to Pere,” Oriel ordered assertively. She pulled a piece of bread from the loaf and sliced some cheese. Oriel put both on the plate, pushed the plate to Paulin, and watched him eat with enthusiasm. 214

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Edward stood watch over the children with Leone. The old woman repeated the boys babbling to him. He was concerned the boy was still so frightened. He wondered what exactly the boy had seen. Of course just seeing the bruised and cut Lady Sarra had even upset him. *** It was night under the full moon light as William, his father, and Sarra’s father walked toward the cowshed where he was told Sarra was found. It was then he remembered his leman Elena was now the milkmaid. Sarra had promoted her to this position. Could she have learned of his betrothal and violently attacked Sarra in a fit of jealousy? He couldn’t believe it of the gentle Elena, but he did not understand women. When he approached her hovel he saw Elena questioning the weaver. She looked worried. Next to Elena was Huber Tillman, one of his men at arms. He also showed a look of concern. “Elena!” William shouted. “A moment please.” Elena’s heart sank at the sight of the new Lord of Keyes Castle. Surely he did not want her to service him. Oh surely not. He was with his father and another Lord. Something else was a foot. This was a horrible portend. First she arrived home from nursing an ill friend to find her son was missing. Now, the Lord of the Castle was calling her. She was frightened until she felt Huber Tillman take her hand and squeeze it in assurance. She stood straight and watched William walk purposely toward her. There was no time for pleasantries or delicacy in William’s mind. He was set for answers in this affront to his lordship. “Elena, tell me where you have been since mid day,” William ordered tactlessly. “My lord,” Elena curtsied. She wondered why her former lover was so curt. She also wondered why he asked such a question. “I have been with the Mistress Judith, the cobbler’s wife since this morn. She is ill and needed care.” A thought raced across her mind. It must be Paulin. She had left him in the care of the bailey weaver. The weaver was called into his shop to settle a dispute. Paulin preferred to remain in his home playing his little string game. When the weaver returned, the boy was gone. The weaver had spent a good amount of time looking for him when Elena had returned to her cottage. Paulin must be hurt or injured. Mayhap William was calling her to task for not caring for her son or mayhap Paulin had gotten into mischief. “My lord, has something happened to Paulin?” Elena’s innocent question relieved William’s mind instantly. A woman that had brutally beaten Sarra would not have asked a question 215

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concerning the whereabouts of her son. He could not take any chance on foolery. “Pere, would you and Reimond visit the cobbler’s cottage. I wish to verify Elena had been there attending Mistress Judith.” Elena watched the two men walk toward the cobbler’s cottage. It was strange to her that William would wish to verify her story. “My lord, is something amiss?” “The Lady Sarra was attacked and found in the cowshed,” William replied simply. Elena gasped. She put her fist in her mouth to prevent her cry of horror. “Paulin! My dear son! I must find him. He was near the shed. If the Lady Sarra was attacked he could have been attacked. Sweet Jesu, I must find my son!” Elena ran toward the shed only to be stopped by William’s strong hand on her arm. “I am told Paulin is safe. Sir Henry told me it was Paulin that led him to Lady Sarra. He took Paulin with him to the kitchens of Keyes Castle. You will find him there,” William revealed in a softer tone. “Come with me. It would be best if you were with him when I question the boy.” Elena responded immediately. She nearly ran down the path leading to the lower kitchen. Hubert Tillman was behind her. William brought up the rear. Elena entered the lower kitchen scanning the room. She did not see her son. The other servants recognized her and indicated to her that her son was in the upper kitchen. Elena entered the hallway and mounted the small flight of stairs to the upper kitchen. She found her son sitting at a table with William’s daughter, Oriel. They were talking quite seriously. Paulin looked up at the commotion in the doorway. He recognized his mother. Paulin nearly leapt from the table and ran to the security of his mother’s arms. Elena wrapped her arms around her son. She kissed his head and held him tightly. She sensed his fear as only a mother could sense her child’s emotions without words. Oriel rose from her bench and faced her father. She waited calmly while her father approached. William lifted his daughter into his arms. Quietly he spoke in assurance, “Our Lady is injured, but will live. We will make it our duty to see to her recovery. At this moment I cannot tell you who or why injured our lady, but I will find the answers to our questions.” Oriel leaned her little head on her father’s cheeks. “I know how my Lady Sarra was hurt. We will find out who injured her and why.” 216

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William was stunned at the clarity of his daughter’s thoughts. She was his true blood. “Little Moppet, how do you know of the cause of Sarra’s injury?” “Paulin told me he saw a bad lady hit my Sarra with a heavy log,” Oriel informed anxious to share what she had learned. “The bad lady dragged my Sarra into the cow dung. In the dung pile the bad lady covered my Sarra with the dung and then kept hitting her with a log, about her face, body, and arms. Little Paulin was terrified. He told me he thought the bad lady mad!” William realized that was how Paulin brought Harry to Sarra. The poor little boy had witnessed the act. “Does he know who the bad lady is?” Oriel shook her head. “Paulin told me he only knows she is a lady of noble birth because of her fine clothes.” Again William was shocked. How could a woman of noble birth do something so brutal? Elena was rocking her son to calm him when William approached holding Oriel in his arms. “Elena, I must find out who did this to Lady Sarra,” William stated firmly. “I would speak to Paulin.” “He doesn’t know,” Oriel insisted heatedly to her father. William put his daughter down. He lowered his large frame to one knee and spoke to her. “Paulin might know something to find out who this lady is. He can tell me what happened. I must know.” “My son is frightened,” Elena pleaded in a whisper. “To interrogate the boy would frighten him more.” Oriel took charge. Boldly she walked to Paulin. She took his small tear stained face in her soft hands. “Paulin, I know you are frightened of the bad lady. You know your Mere cannot protect from her. You understand your Mere’s friend, Hubert, cannot protect you. I cannot protect you. My Pere can protect you. He is Lord of Keyes Castle. He is protector of all in his demesne. You must assist him to find this bad lady and arrest her.” Paulin knew Oriel was right. He knew Lord William from the camp he and his mother followed. The children, women, squires, pages, men at arms, and other knights respected Lord William. The lord of the demesne was well known to be a brave and fierce knight. Paulin pulled all the courage from his mind he could manage. He pulled away from his mother’s arms. Paulin walked hesitantly to stand next to Oriel. He allowed her to take his hand. He needed that little extra courage his friend would provide. William swelled with pride for his daughter. She never ceased to amaze him with her nobility. He remained on one knee to be eye level with 217

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the children. William did not want his immense size to intimidate the boy further. With the softest voice he could manage to hide his irritability at not knowing what had happened to his lady, he praised. “Paulin, I am in your debt. When the Lady Sarra was missing at midday, it was you that led Sir Henry to her. You saved Lady Sarra’s life. You are a hero.” Paulin felt proud. His terror eased. “Can you tell me what happened the first time you saw the Lady Sarra this den?” William asked gently. Paulin nodded. “The nice Lady Sarra came to the cottage at midday. She asked me where Mere was. I told her she was taking care of Mistress Judith, who was ill. She asked if I was alone and I told her the weaver was about if I needed him. She went to the cowshed when I heard a thud and a moan. I thought it strange and ran to look. It was then I saw the noble lady use a log to hit the Lady Sarra again and again. The bad lady pulled Lady Sarra into the pile of dung and used the log to smear it all over Lady Sarra. Then the bad lady hit Sarra again and again on her body. She said bad words. The lady was so angry and cruel I thought her mad. I was frightened she might see me, so I ran to hide. I stayed hidden for so long until at last I hear Sir Henry and Genoa call for Lady Sarra. I ran out from my hiding place and ran to get them.” “You are a brave boy,” William complimented. “How did you know the bad lady was a noble lady?” “It were her clothes, my lord,” Paulin replied quickly feeling a bit braver. “She were dressed so fine. Her gown was blue velvet with ermine lining. She had a silken wimple held with a golden circlet.” “Would you be able to show me which lady if you saw her?” William queried. With a small hesitation, Paulin nodded his head in the affirmative. “Then tomorrow when we break the fast, you shall sit at my table next to me. You will whisper to me if you see this lady,” William ordered rising to his full height. “Tonight Elena, you will sleep in the tower room of the castle. I shall have Hubert and men at arms stand guard at your chamber this day. In the morn, you will sit at the high table with your son.” He gave orders to several servants to prepare pallets and make Elena and her son comfortable. Then he gave instructions to Edward to find more guards to protect Elena and her son. William lifted Oriel into his arms. “I am proud of you moppet. You are a treasure to me.” He kissed her on the cheek. He walked toward the stairs to the buttery and then the great hall. “It is late. You should be in your 218

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bed. I am certain Joan is waiting for you to put you to bed. This has been a long and trying day. Even I am exhausted.” Oriel was happy with her father’s praise, but still concerned about Lady Sarra. “Would you let me see Lady Sarra before I am put abed?” “You will see Lady Sarra on the morrow. All of us need our sleep this eve,” William replied quietly. He squeezed his daughter gently in reassurance. “The Lady Sarra will be fine. I promise you.”

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Chapter Twenty-Eight
William was exhausted when he walked into his solar that night. He had spent time with Oriel before Joan prepared her for bed. His father and Lord Reimond met him outside Oriel’s chamber to inform him that everything Elena had told them was verified. Reimond asked once more to see his daughter, but William refused. He assured Reimond Sarra would recover. William did not want to distress Lord Reimond with the sight of his battered daughter. It would upset any man, especially Sarra’s father. Lord Edmond affirmed William’s order and walked Reimond to his chamber. He spent more time with the guards outside his solar. He questioned them to learn if anyone had tried to enter the solar and learned only Roese and Christofre had left and entered. Christofre had left for the evening shortly before William’s arrival. Roese remained vigilant at her lady’s bedside. Without being asked Roese commented, “My lady woke for a short time. We were able to get her to drink broth. Her hunger is a good sign. We have given her more medicines to ease her pain. She told us her lip feels funny. She wanted to see her mirror. We would not get it for her.” “Thank you,” William said gratefully. “You did not tell her of her gowns?” “We thought it best if she knows nothing,” Roese replied. “Did my lady remember anything?” “Nay, my lady only knows she is in pain and feels the swelling. She understands or knows nothing,” Roese repeated. “Leave us,” William commanded wearily. He was tired. The strain of Sarra’s attack and his pursuit of the perpetrator had tired him. “My lord, it is unseemly,” Roese protested. “Your marriage is not yet blessed by the church. Bedding is most irregular without the blessing. It lessens my lady.” “What would be more unseemly is for you to remain in here as Geoffrey prepares me for bed. Would you like to stare upon my nakedness?” William snapped. He realized what he said was obnoxious, but he was extremely weary. 221

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Roese turned pink in embarrassment. She put her hand to her mouth to cover her gasp of humiliation. “I thought not,” William laughed to ease her fright. “Fear not for your lady’s virtue. I am here as her protector betrothed. She is my wife save the church’s blessing, but I am too tired to do naught but sleep and be by her side to keep her safe. Run along now and send Geoffrey in to attend to me.” William’s laughter had set Roese’s ire. She stiffened her back and walked out of the chamber disdainfully and full of pride. She barked at Geoffrey to attend his master. *** The pink tint of dawn painted the castle wall when Sarra began to stir from her sleep. It had been a restful sleep. She had felt no pain and floated in a dream of warmth. She remembered the dream as she began to wake from that sleep. In her dream she was a small child. Her mother was holding her with a blanket of love. Her father stood by and wrapped her mother and her in a large cape made of soft ermine. It was a pleasant dream that made her feel warm, safe, and loved. Sarra moved slightly and felt something rock hard next to her body. Slowly her long eyelashes fluttered and her eyes focused on a huge masculine body that was well muscled. In a start she attempted to leap from the bed. A strong arm flashed out and held her firm against the mattress. Then Sarra heard the voice she recognized immediately. “Lie still woman. I am not ready to wake!” Sarra remained motionless for a second or two. Then her temper took control. “How could I move at all, my lord? Your arm is like a tortuous steel band!” His reaction was not what she expected. He removed his arm as instantly as he had placed it there. He rose up on one arm and looked at her seriously. “Am I hurting you, my lady?” Sarra was more than surprised and didn’t know how to answer him. If she said no, he would lock her in place again. If she said yes, it would be a lie. She felt stiff, but nothing was really hurting except the back of her head. She determined this would be the time for attack, not retreat. “My lord, what are you doing in my bed?” William chuckled before he answered. “You are in my bed, not I in yours.” Sarra focused on the room. “Sweet Jesu! How did I get here?” “I carried you!” 222

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Sarra wiggled to a sitting position. “Obviously I have missed something”. Then she felt a horrible ache, almost pain. She looked at her arm and saw a large blue bruise. It was then she felt the swelling of her lower lip. “I have truly missed something!” William answered with heavy concern. “Are you in great pain? I shall send for Roese.” The thought of Roese finding her in William’s bed was more horrifying than any ache or pain she currently felt. “No!” Sarra nearly shouted. Gaining control she said quietly, “First I must know what happened and why did you bring me to your bed. Are we wed? Did I miss this in some type of stupor? Am I…” she hesitated and blushed to a bright red. “Am I bedded?” Her anger flared again when the look on William’s face turned from concern to humor. “Is this so humorous a question?” “My lady, had I bedded you I will assure that you would have remembered it,” William replied testily. He did not like his honor or his manhood challenged by his betrothed. Frustrated, Sarra crossed her arms over her chest. She noted that it was painful, but didn’t give an inch. “Mayhap you would explain why I am in your bed and not mine?” “It is my duty to see to your protection. Since you were attacked, there is no safer place at night than my bed,” William explained dryly. Sarra arched her brow. “A virginal maiden protected by her betrothed in his bed? Mayhap a priest might argue the fine point of that treatise. I would appreciate an explanation of my attack. Who was it that attacked me? Where was I attacked? I should like a reflective glass. My mouth feels strange.” “We do not know who attacked you. Do you have any memory of what happened in the cowshed?” “Cowshed?” Sarra asked trying to remember. It hurt to think. She pressed her fingers to her head and felt a large painful bump. What had happened to her? She felt her lip. It was swollen. “Was I in the cowshed?” “Genoa and Harry found you in the cowshed. You were unconscious and badly beaten,” William responded gently reaching toward her face. His fingers traced a soft line down her cheek. “I had hoped you would remember something. We are trying to find the person that did this to you. He will pay dearly for the harm brought to you.” “Where is the looking glass?” Sarra requested anxiously. “I must look horrendous.” 223

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“Not as bad as that. I have seen others bruised much worse,” William chortled. “Of course they were men after battle.” “I think I could have lived awhile without learning that,” Sarra barked defensively. In a moment she would cry. The tears were already forming. She looked down and realized she was not wearing her chemise. She was wearing William’s shirt. To stop her tears she flared her anger in defense. “Where are my clothes? I want to go to my solar.” “You will remain abed until Roese and Christofre allow you to leave it. It will be here in my bed you are to stay,” William answered allowing no quarter of discussion. “Your clothes are removed until you are healed. From then on you will be wearing the new clothes appropriate for the Lady of Keyes Castle.” He did not want Sarra to find out about her clothes and bedding being shredded until her new clothes were made and the solar was set right. William was truly concerned for his woman’s well being. He understood at that moment what it meant to love someone. He loved Sarra. Even with her bruises and swollen lips, she still looked beautiful to him. More importantly he did want to protect her from all harm. Sarra couldn’t hold back her tears. They began to stream down her cheeks. She released a sob. William took her in his arms. Careful not to hurt any bruise, he gently rubbed her back. He kissed the top of her head. He didn’t know any soothing words. He felt helpless. After several moments of a cleansing cry, Sarra removed herself from William’s arms. “Why would someone hurt me? What have I done?” William kissed Sarra’s forehead before he responded. “There is no reason any would have to hurt you. All I know believe you to be kind and good. I can only think some evil possessed someone. Whoever it was will be punished. I promise you.” Sarra did believe his promise. He was kind and gentle. It did make sense that the safest place was with him. She looked at him and realized she could love this man. It was then she noted William did not have any clothes on. “My lord, I need to do my toilette. I would call Roese if you please, but please my lord, would you cover your nakedness first?” William laughed. “For Roese I would not show this nakedness. Soon my dear lady, you will be my wife. You will accustom yourself to my nakedness. Soon.” He laughed again as he rose from the bed. Sarra turned her head quickly. It made her light headed. She groaned and fell back onto the bed with her eyes shut to stop the spinning room. William called Geoffrey to see to his dressing. 224

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Sarra remained quietly on the bed during William’s bath. Later when William was readied, he sent Geoffrey to bring Roese. He sat down on the edge of the bed. “You may open your eyes,” he teased. “I am fully dressed.” “I would like to bathe and dress,” Sarra growled. “I’ve sent for your Roese. You shall bathe, but you shall not dress. You will remain in bed for several days until you are healed.” William retorted with authority.” “There is work to be done. It is not right for me to stay abed!” Sarra protested. “The work will always be there. You fill your duty well, and always will, but until you heal your body remains in this bed.” With that command William left the room. The order left Sarra in a huff. She was not yet wed to the lord of this castle. She was still her own woman. She wanted her own clothes. Sarra wanted to return to her solar. She wanted to break her fast. She was hungry. Then she wanted to get about her duties. Sarra also wanted her looking glass. She saw the bruises on her body, but she could not see what her face looked like. It felt a bit swollen. She had felt two very tender hard bumps on the back of her head. There was no doubt in her mind she must have been attacked. Sarra couldn’t remember anything other than the strange noon meal and how William had wanted to speak to her about a matter after the evening meal she never had. More importantly, Sarra wanted to learn who had attacked her and why. Sarra took a silken sheet from the bed and wrapped it around her body carefully. She knew Geoffrey had followed his lord down to the Great Hall. It would be her moment for escape. Sarra walked through the anteroom where Geoffrey kept his pallet for sleeping. She opened the door slowly. She choked back a start of surprise when a guard’s face greeted her. “Good Morn my lady,” Arthur greeted cheerfully. “Shall I send a boy to fetch your lady maid? Is there something you need I may send for?” “I merely wanted to walk to my room,” Sarra replied sheepishly. She blushed at the thought of these guards thinking the lord had bedded her without blessings of the church. “I am sorry my lady,” Arthur apologized. “Lord William instructed us to allow no one to enter or leave his solar without his presence, or Christofre, Jacoba, or your lady maid Roese.” “I am a prisoner!” Sarra exclaimed incredulously. 225

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“Nay my lady,” Arthur corrected gently. “You are under my lord’s protection.” “Tis the same,” Sarra countered. She was really upset when she returned to William’s solar. She sat on the bed with a sulk. Sarra’s stomach growled in distress. “Wonderful,” Sarra groaned. “For your temper you forgot to request food. You will starve if you do not learn to control your temper.” “You will suffer for your stubborn will,” Roese chided entering the room with a large trencher of food. “You will not starve for it.” *** Oriel was waiting in the corridor for her father. Oriel was still quite anxious about Sarra. She pulled away from her chambermaid’s hand and ran to her father. To her joy, William lifted her in his arms and brushed a fatherly kiss on her cheek. “Lady Sarra, is she well? May I see her now?” “Lady Sarra is well. She is not ready for visitors as yet,” William told his daughter. He smiled for his little girl. Already she was a young woman. What a bright child he had fostered. His smile grew when he thought of the feisty woman who would be his wife. Sarra and he would produce strongminded healthy children. “We will give her time this morn to settle before we visit. There are still more important things you and I must focus upon. You are to assist me find the brigand that hurt our Lady Sarra. The boy, Paulin, he is comfortable with you. I expect you to care for him as the representing lady of our castle. It is Paulin who will identify the bad lady.” Oriel’s back straightened with pride in the confidence and responsibility her father gave her. She would be a strong lady of Keyes Castle just as her stepmother would be. She would make Sarra proud of her. “I shall see to Paulin.” William kissed his daughter’s cheek once again and put her down. “Walk with the dignity becoming the lady of our castle.” Oriel walked in faster steps to keep up with father’s long ones, but kept her aura of lady. Entering the hall, all the guests rose in respect when Lord William and his daughter entered. Conspicuously, Lord Edmond did not attend breaking the fast. To the utter surprised of the guests, William did not walk to the high dais, he instead walked to Elena and Paulin. Both were standing near the kitchen entry waiting for instructions. William lifted Paulin in his arm and offered his right arm for Elena’s hand to lead her to the high table. William guided Elena to the high table and seated her two seats to the left of his. He 226

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called for cushions and seated Paulin next to his chair. He turned to Oriel and lifted her to the seat next to his on the right. The murmuring in the hall increased at the unusual seating. Olive and Crispin were seated in a far corner of the hall. “This is a shocker,” Olive sneered. “The Lord of Keyes elevating his leman to the high dais? Mayhap the boy is his. You think he will acknowledge the boy? What an insult to his future lady? Ah, he may be changing his mind on his betrothal.” Crispin nearly choked listening to his wife. He wondered if the woman was going mad. His wife never approached life beyond her own selfish view. She of course had not been there when Lord Edmond had revoked his title and lands. Crispin knew there was no hope for his family in Keyes Castle. Olive continued her unheeded conversation. She smirked believing that her beating of Lady Sarra had caused Lord William to be repulsed. He was now showing the upstart who truly held his heart. This would be a perfect time for Casse to re enter the contest.

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Chapter Twenty-Nine
Even with the unusual seating the meal continued on as normal. Paulin ate with gusto. He never had so many foods placed before him. Elena cut his meat and vegetables to smaller size. She doted over him and greatly appreciated William’s kind attentions to her son. Paulin delighted in William’s conversations. He was kind to the boy and praised him for his heroism. Upon the completion of the meal, William rose to address the guests of the hall. “Beside me is a brave young lad, Paulin. He brought my brother to the badly beaten body of our Lady Sarra. The boy is by my side in gratitude for rescuing my betrothed. I would have all of you honor the boy for fulfilling his duty to the Lord of Keyes Castle,” William announced. “There is more to this praise which will come later. For now, I would have all the men stand from the table. The men will then walk to the north wall and remain there. I ask all women to remain seated.” No one noticed several men at arms taking stations in all corners of the hall. The murmuring of the women rose in volume when the men complied with the command. William turned to Paulin and led him to the outside of the high table. He bent over and whispered to the boy. “I need you to look at all the women here and tell me if you see the bad lady.” It was at that moment Casse descended the stairs to enter the great hall. She was holding the arm of Lewis, William’s friend and favored knight. Olive ignored the lord’s command for the women to remain seated. She spotted her daughter and ran to her. She wanted to share the lord’s unusual behavior and her hope that Lady Sarra was out of the picture. The motion caught Paulin’s eye and he gasped. He began to tremble with fright. William noticed the boy’s trepidation and went down to one knee to speak to Paulin eye to eye. “Have you identified the bad lady?” “It’s her!” Paulin pointed his finger at the two women standing by the entry stairs of the great hall. “There’s the bad lady.” Paulin was terrified. “Have no fear,” William said soothingly. He pointed to Casse and Olive since he didn’t know which lady Paulin was pointing. “Hold them!” 229

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William ordered the men at arms. He returned his attention to Paulin. “I will protect you from any harm. Come with me and tell me which woman is the bad lady.” Oriel came to Paulin’s side. “Mon Pere has promised you protection. Nothing bad will happen to you. You can be certain you are protected.” Oriel took Paulin’s hand in hers and walked toward the Ladies Casse and Olive. “What is the meaning of this?” Olive screeched struggling to remove her arms from the guards restraining hands. Casse remained motionless. She was too surprised to move. Lewis drew his sword but sheathed it upon his Lord’s command. William walked to stand before the women. He took Paulin’s small hand in his after Oriel presented it to him. His daughter stood straight at his side showing no fear. “Paulin, tell us which lady you watched hurt Lady Sarra.” Paulin raised his trembling finger and pointed directly at Olive. “It is she, the bad lady.” Olive stilled at the accusation. “What nonsense is this?” “The boy saw the beating of Lady Sarra,” William explained coolly. His stone heart came to the fore. He would show only strength. He would not allow his rage for Sarra’s beating to surface. “He was brought to the honored table for the purpose of showing us the bad lady. He has identified you, Lady Olive.” Olive became immediately emotional and defensive. “Tis nonsensical babbling of a boy. He needs only to import himself to your graces. I do not appreciate his accusation. Tis a lie he made up.” “I believe the boy,” William responded serenely. “You may believe him, but that proves naught!” Olive spat out angrily. “The boy is truthful, but I shall see to evidence,” William stated icily. He spotted Olive’s lady maid hiding in the alcove near the stairs. “You, come here.” The maid slowly walked forward. “Is this the same gown your Lady Olive wore yester den?” William questioned the maid. The woman shook her head in the negative. “Do you know which gown she wore yester den?” William pursued. “Aye,” the maid squeaked. “Which gown was it?” “The blue velvet in the morn. Then my lady changed to her deep green velvet for the evening,” the maid replied hesitantly. 230

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“Have these gowns been sent to the wash?” William asked. Again the maid shook her head in the negative. “Fetch them and bring her boots worn these past two days,” William commanded. He turned to Casse. “You may release her. Lewis, take Lady Casse to the table and take a place along the north wall with the men.” Lewis obeyed his lord. He took a position near Casse’s father, Crispin. Crispin stood fast although he knees were shaking. He had no idea what was occurring. The north wall was farthest from the entry stairs. He could hear nothing, but saw two guards were restraining his wife and standing before the Lord of Keyes Castle. He started sweating profusely. What had his wife done? Several minutes later the maid presented Lord William with the bundled clothes and boots. William looked at them. The blue velvet had ermine lining just as Paulin described. He took them and gave them to Jacoba and Christofre. “Tell me if there are any unusual stains upon the gown, its hem, or upon the boots.” Christofre took the green gown and boots. Jacoba took the blue gown and matching boots. Upon careful examination Jacoba held the gown and showed dung stains on the gown and hem. She showed the caked cow dung and matted straw on the boots. “It appears you had a visit to the cow stables yester morn,” William accused coldly. “Tis then you visited your mayhem upon the person of Lady Sarra.” “This proves nothing,” Olive snarled. “It proves I walked in the bailey yester den.” “This is the evidence,” William countered. “We have the boy as witness and your clothes with boots condemn you. I have no concept of your reason to harm my betrothed, but the evidence is here.” “It proves nothing!” Olive screamed in panic. She could not admit to her perfidy. It would mean her life if she admitted what she had done even though in her mind she was righteous in her action. “Take her to the tower. Lock her in the solar there and see to it she is guarded well,” William commanded the two guards. “I shall determine her punishment at a later time.” This was a difficult order for William. If it had been a man, the punishment would have been death. He did not know what punishment could be given to a noble woman. A lashing? The thought disgusted him. It would be difficult for him to order that as a punishment for 231

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a woman. He would think on it and discuss it with his father. He might discuss it with Sarra. After all, it was she who Olive attacked. He looked for Crispin. He found the old lord looking at him quizzically. William was certain Crispin did not know what his wife had done. The guards led Olive away. Casse and Crispin did nothing. They remained where they had been told to stay. Crispin stared at William in confusion. He stiffened when he watched the new Lord of Keyes Castle walk toward him. Crispin bowed to William as he approached. “My lord?” “Crispin, you are wondering why I have ordered your wife taken away,” William stated coldly. He used all his will power not to use Crispin as a vehicle for his anger. “I am concerned,” Crispin replied sheepishly. “Have you heard the Lady Sarra was attacked yester den?” Crispin shook his head in the negative. “I had not heard of this.” “It was your wife that brutally attacked the Lady Sarra. My betrothed suffered severely, but will recover,” William informed icily. “Do you know the punishment for attack on a noble born? Especially the wife of an Earl?” Crispin shuddered. “It is death, my lord. Is my wife to be executed?” “What say you?” William prodded. “I beg mercy,” Crispin cried. “My good wife is frivolous and selfish, but she has been my wife for a score and seven years. We grieved together for our sons. I am used to her and her ways.” “Yet, you did not see her way for the attack on my betrothed,” William snapped. “No my lord,” Crispin replied humbly. “I could not believe Olive was capable of such evil work. My lord. I beg mercy.” “I have not yet determined her punishment. You will learn this evening what I decide. Until then, start your packing for the manor. You will leave the den after the morrow,” William stated with absolute authority. He turned to leave Crispin and return to Elena and Paulin who were still waiting near the stair entry with Oriel. William knelt down in front of Paulin. “You have been a very brave lad. This entire den you will eat with me at the high table. I would have you and your mother rewarded with this pouch of silver.” William handed the leather pouch to Paulin. He rose to address Huber Tillman. “Tillman, it is my decree that you wed dame Elena. Take her as your wife this den. You will be rewarded with promotion as Captain of Guards. Take care of Elena and her son, or you will answer to me.” 232

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Huber beamed with happiness. He took Elena’s hand. “Most happily my lord.” His other hand took Paulin’s and together the three left the great hall. Huber was heard saying, “We find a priest anon. We wed this den.” William took Oriel’s hand. “I am proud of you. You acted as a true de Warre this den. Now it is time to keep my promise. We visit Lady Sarra. I warn you not to let on your concern to her facial bruises. We do not wish to upset her in any way.” “I understand,” Oriel replied stoically. “I would not want to upset my lady. She is to be my Mere. I love her dearly.” “As do I,” William admitted. He led his daughter to his solar. When they entered Oriel ran into the room. They found Roese standing watch at Sarra’s bedside. Sarra was sound asleep. “My lady will heal faster if she sleeps. I drugged her wine,” Roese stated without being asked. Oriel stood by the bedside looking up at Sarra sleeping. “My poor Mere. How that beating must have hurt her so. Is there a way I can help my lady?” Roese smiled tenderly. “Give no cause for your lady to worry for you. Attend your classes as if nothing has occurred. This morn my lady asked for you. She wished to see you to your classes. She was concerned that she did not greet you this morn.” “I missed my lady,” Oriel sighed stroking Sarra’s hand. Sarra’s eyes fluttered after Oriel’s touch. She fought the sleep potion and woke. She focused on Oriel and smiled. “Moppet, I missed you this morn. What is the time? Are you late for classes?” “I am taking her this moment,” William answered from the foot of the bed. Oriel climbed on the bed and kissed Sarra’s cheek. She was careful to avoid the large bruise and swollen lip. “I will visit with later. I will bring one of my parchments to read to you. You would like that, wouldn’t you?” “I would like that,” Sarra answered. Her eyes were heavy and she felt herself drifting back to sleep. “Has a gown been sewn for my betrothed yet?” William queried Roese before he left the solar with Oriel. Roese was surprised by the question. “It will be ready by the noon meal. We have had two seamstresses working day and night for a gown.” She didn’t want to tell him that two other seamstresses had already finished braes, chemise, and nightdress. They had just brought them to her before William and Oriel had walked in. 233

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“See to it my betrothed is dressed by the end of the noon meal,” William ordered as he left his room. He walked to his father’s room and entered. Lord Edmond was busy straightening an old tapestry when his eldest son walked in. He turned suddenly and snapped at William. “Do you enter my solar without a knock?” “I apologize, Pere,” William answered curtly. “I will not neglect to knock anon. Is something amiss with your wall?” Edmond recovered quickly. “What is your need? It has been many years since you have sought my counsel.” “I come to inform you I am to wed Lady Sarra this den,” William stated. “Are you mad?” Edmond gasped. “We have only sent the banns to England and John. Would you defy this precarious king?” “Pere,” William replied softly. “I have spent five years with King John. No one has played his games more than I. I know how he thinks, his fears, and his petulant tantrums. I also know he fears the Earl of Sussex whether it is you or I. John knows of our strength, power, alliances, and vast wealth. He is jealous of us, but fears our family. He has proven to me time and time again he desires only to keep us beside his throne. He will have only blessings sent to this merger.” “Of course you are right,” Edmond conceded easily. He trusted his sons. He was especially proud of William and the knight he became. “What can I do to assist?” “I need you to bring the priest anon,” William requested. “I will begin the categorizing of dowry and the contract with Lord Reimond.” “What is the cause of this sudden urgency to wed? Is it the attack on your betrothed? I assume you have found the perpetrator or you would not be with me this moment.” “The attack has shaken me. Moreover it was a noble woman that attacked my betrothed. I will not be comfortable until Lady Sarra is my wife and solely in my protection by marriage contract. When I saw what the mad woman had done to Sarra’s room and gowns I was distraught. I will not sleep at night unless I know she is in my bed and no one dare enter on pain of death. Unfortunately my lady and her maid are upset at sharing my bed without blessing of the church,” William shared Edmond embraced his son. “I agree. I will bring the priest. Go to Baldwyn and bring Lord Reimond. You will be wed this den.” 234

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“You planned this,” William chuckled. “I and the Lady Sarra fell into your trap.” Edmond released his son and smiled. “It was our plan. We are most pleased with your actions, although it took you long enough.” “I am pleased with your plan. I feel a sense of contentment never known to me ere now.”

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Chapter Thirty
“This gown is wondrous!” Sarra exclaimed in delight holding the gown and tunic made of the softest silk imported from the east. The gown was silver in color and reflected rainbows when catching sun rays. The tunic was made of the same delicate fabric. The gown’s belled sleeves, neck, and bodice were lined with soft white ermine. A cobbler had also stayed awake the night and prepared a set of matching slippers. Her new chemise and braes were of the softest linen she had ever worn. Once she was dressed she spun around in delight. “It is sinful this feeling. I should be in my linen gown seeing to my duties.” “You are the Earl’s betrothed,” Roese scolded lovingly. “It is your duty to be his lady.” She choked back her emotional tears. Her charge looked radiant even though her face was marred with a large bruise and fat lip. Thank the heavens the lip was near normal in size once more. Roese concentrated on the wimple. She positioned it just right to cover nearly the entire dark bruise. Roese was also careful of the lumps on Sarra’s head when she placed the silver jeweled circlet to hold the wimple in place. “I must see myself,” Sarra insisted. Before she could say another word a knock at the door stopped her request. A priest entered the solar. “I am here to bring the Lady Sarra Albyn to the chapel.” “The chapel?” Sarra questioned with surprise. “You are to come to wed Lord William de Warre. Your vows will be blessed by the church,” the priest responded. “Wed this den?” Sarra squeaked finding she had lost her voice. “Our marriage was to be at least a fortnight from now.” “Our Lord William wants you under his protection and name this den,” the priest answered offering his arm for Sarra’s hand. “Your Pere, Lord Reimond has already signed the contracts. I am told the kitchens are already preparing a great feast.” “I was told to remain here,” Sarra responded stubbornly. “I will not wed with this notice.” “You already wear the gown of a bride,” The priest countered serenely still keeping his arm extended. “You are betrothed, the marriage contract is 237

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signed. You are wed. You only need the church to bless it. Would you defy God and be wed without the church blessing?” There was no point to an argument. Sarra was well aware she was betrothed and now learned her father has signed the contracts. She would not bed de Warre without church blessings. Sarra knew he had been in bed with her last night. He made no bones of telling her she would be sleeping with him from now on. Of course she needed the church blessing for propriety sake. Sarra laid her hand upon the priest’s arm and walked to the chapel. In the chapel archway her father greeted Sarra. Lord Edmond stood by the ornate altar with a person she had believed would be there with William’s father. It was Christofre beaming with joy. Sarra was now convinced her initial feelings that Christofre was involved with Lord Edmond were a fact. Sarra offered Christofre a smile. Sarra walked into the chapel. She turned suddenly to watch William walk in the chapel with his brothers behind him. All of the de Warre men were smiling. William walked directly to her. He took her hand, brushed his lips over her knuckles and whispered to her. “You are magnificently beautiful my lady.” His words were genuine. Sarra could believe him. He truly meant what he said. It made her feel warm inside and erased some of her doubt. She still had not seen what she really looked like with her wounds. The ceremony of blessing the marriage contracts was brief and simple. They repeated their vows before the priest and left the chapel as husband and wife. “Would you care to rest? This did not tire you overly much?” William asked his new bride with concern. William’s concern touched Sarra. He did care about her. Of course he did. She was not a raving beauty like Casse. He was of the highest nobility. He was rich and needed no lands or coin. Yet, he wanted her as his wife and mother to his child. William de Warre had chosen her to be his bride. Even with her swollen face he wished to wed her. He was there to protect her. The attack on her had truly upset him. She should learn to please him. She found she was beginning to care deeply for him. Little by little he was burrowing into her heart. She chuckled. Perhaps she was the one with a stone heart. “I have spent far too much time abed. I feel better being about.” William gave her a tender smile. “Then come with me to my private study. There are things I would like to discuss with you privately. I would share with you two pressing matters that I would like your insight.”

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William led her to the private study used by the Lord of Keyes Castle to study accounts, hold interviews with stewards, or other important matters. He closed the door behind them and bolted it. Sarra jumped at the slamming of the door and thud of the bolt being dropped. She really didn’t know the man she wed. Should she be frightened of this husband? He had been so kind, gentle, and attentive these past days. William pulled a chair from the wall and put it next to the large chair behind the large carved table in the center of the room. He bent down under the table and pulled a cushioned footstool out. It was the footstool his father used for his aching feet. Lord Edmond would spend hours walking the bailey and battlements of Keyes Castle. Then Edmond would come to his study. He would spend hours developing lists for his steward. The lists would include instructions on repairs. Baldwyn would bring back the lists with costs. After the costs were discussed the masons, carpenters, or any craftsman needed would discuss and refine the repairs. This was only one part of the many demanding duties of the Lord of Keyes Castle. William kept the stool there knowing it would be a comfort to him in the future. William placed the stool in front of Sarra’s chair. He carefully lifted her feet and placed them upon the stool. “Are you comfortable? You are not in pain or too tired?” “I am quite comfortable, thank you,” Sarra replied quietly. “You are kind to give me your foot rest.” “I prefer to keep your feet where I can see them,” William teased. “The last time I did not see them until I was wounded.” Sarra laughed openly. This man had surprised her again. He had a wonderful sense of humor. Would she ever know the man? Would the surprises ever stop? The thought made her smile. She hoped he would always surprise her. “Is there some meaning for the closed locked door? “You ask many questions. I had hoped to converse with you. Shall you allot me some time? William sat in the large chair. He reached across the chair arms and took Sarra’s hand in his. “Over these months I have learned much about you. I have learned you make your decisions wisely after great thought. You are now my wife and Lady of Keyes Castle. I am asking you to share my great responsibility. There are two important items presented to me on my first day as Lord. I wish to discuss them with you. The two are most troubling to me. I would share these two items and request your advice.” Sarra felt William’s hand close around hers. This man was everything she had ever hoped for in a husband. In this moment of time Sarra realized she loved William de Warre with her life. She vowed to be his most perfect 239

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wife and hoped he could love her as she now loved him. “I am your servant. What are these troubles to share?” William released her hand and leaned his form into the great chair. “The first is my younger brother, Harry. Crispin has been removed as steward of Tomes Castle lands. I have given the lands to Henry. It is Pere’s and my desire he should be lord.” Sarra remained silent. She sensed there was more. The elevation of Henry de Warre to status of Tomes Lord was a typical thing, not unusual. Surely it was something William would not need advice. Of course, she wondered why Crispin was removed. “Crispin was removed? This is a strong decree. Why was Crispin removed?” William appreciated his wife’s question. It showed he was right. She would need all the pieces to make a decision. He needed her advice. He simply was not certain how to answer Harry’s request. “Tomes Castle and lands are in a deplorable state. The keep is nearly bankrupt. The serfs, freeman, and servants are close to starvation while the castle and its former noblemen lived in debauchery and luxury. My first directives were to send part of our stores to the castle. I gave instructions to follow your pattern of feeding the poor from the castle banquet remains. It will help the people of Tomes,” William said proudly. “I am also grateful to you for your frugality and care of our harvest stores. We have much to share with Tomes for it.” “I understand the need for a new lord,” Sarra replied blushing slightly for the high compliments she had been paid. “Your decisions are sound. I have nothing to add.” “Those acts were simple and commonplace. What I need your advice for, is that of Harry’s request. It seems my brother is in love with a serving maid. He has planted his seed and the woman is breeding. He wishes to make her his lady. What think you of this?” “Genoa,” Sarra stated as fact. She did not need to be told whom Henry had impregnated. She knew. “Aye,” William concurred. “A noble woman is born and trained for the duty of Lady. I am not certain a serving maid can be a proper mate for Henry.” “Do you think serving a noble man is different than serving a castle?” Sarra quipped. “Service to the castle is not much different than serving a husband.” “I look forward to proof of that belief,” William retorted. He leaned a bit forward. “What I mean is, you as a noble woman are trained to run a 240

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castle. You have authority to run a castle and give orders. You are trained in accounts and stores. You know what I mean. You handle all the household things.” “I do know what you mean,” Sarra commented. “I see to the cleaning of ironworks, making of soaps and candles, read and sum the kitchen accounts, as well as laundry, mending, and sewing.” “Aye.” Sarra sat back in her chair. “I learned all those things from Mere. She taught me. Genoa has also learned all these things from serving in the castle. Tis true Genoa cannot order these things done because of her status, but she knows all these things. She has been a part of all of them. It would be Henry’s responsibility to stand behind her when she at last gives those orders.” “What does Harry have to do with Genoa being a lady?” “I learned the skills. Genoa has learned the skills. It is up to the Lord of the Castle to see to it the Lady has the authority,” Sarra explained patiently. “That is not to say there will not be mistakes. Personally I have made many. I learned from them. Mon Pere never chided me publicly for any error. Only if the error were troublesome would Pere override me. If Henry can support Genoa in this, I believe Genoa will make a fine Lady of Tomes.” “I still hesitate. A serving maid is not a noble woman,” William insisted. “At some point in the past there were no noble women. The women grew and learned as their roles changed,” Sarra remarked. “Genoa has still much to learn, but I have conversed with her many times. She is an intelligent woman. More importantly, she loves Henry. She would leap through fire for him.” “That is another point,” William stated. “Genoa, at one time had her sights on me. Would she be true to Henry? There were rumors of Genoa being a light skirt.” “Those rumors are false,” Sarra reputed. “I learned Genoa has always loved Henry. She showered favor upon you because you are Henry’s brother. When she learned of the gossips, she stopped attempting to please you or any brother. Those rumors about her being a light skirt were malicious. I am certain jealous women perpetrated the rumors when Genoa did give herself to Henry. It was a foolish move on her part, but the passion between them was powerful.” William blushed. He certainly understood uncontrollable passion. He had experienced it himself several times when he was near Sarra. “You are 241

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saying I should give my approval and blessing for Henry and Genoa to wed. You believe Genoa could be a Lady for Henry and Tomes.” “Aye,” Sarra replied. “I am not saying Genoa will not make errors. I will discuss many things with her and more importantly advise her on certain matters. I would also send with her some of the best servants of Keyes Castle. She should have from here an expert candle and soap maker. She should also take an expert weaver and seamstress. Genoa must dress and be presented as a lady or all would be lost before it began. You must speak to Henry about opening his purse strings to purchase some of the finest materials to dress his lady.” “I understand your points,” William said thoughtfully. “I will instruct Henry with your wisdoms. I expect you to instruct Genoa.” “You will give them your approval?” Sarra asked hesitantly. “And blessings,” William added. “I would not have asked for your opinion if I would not consider it.” Sarra choked. Never in her wildest imagination could she believe she could have found a more perfect husband. “Are you tired?” William questioned with concern. He heard her choke. She shook her head in denial. “You said there were two things?” “Aye. The latter is the most distasteful to me.” Sarra folded her hands and waited patiently. She couldn’t imagine what would be coming next. “It is about your attack,” William stated after thinking carefully about how to put this to Sarra. He decided it was better to merely state it bluntly. “Your attacker was a noble woman. I do not know how to deal with it.” Sarra gasped. She hadn’t thought too much about her attacker. She had been trying to convince herself it was an accident or a case of mistaken identity. She couldn’t believe she heard it right. A noble woman was the attacker? “It is most troublesome,” William agreed after hearing Sarra’s gasp. “If it were a man, noble or serf, the penalty is death. The crime of attacking a noble man or woman is most severe. I find I cannot command the death of a noble woman. She must be punished, but I cannot think of a proper punishment deserving of such a crime that I can order upon a noble woman.” Sarra took a small gulp and in a small voice asked, “Who attacked me and how do you know for certain who it was. Has she confessed?” William rose from his chair and began to pace with his locked hands folded on his back. “She continues to deny her guilt, but the evidence is 242

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strong. Young Paulin, Elena’s son, saw her attack upon you in the cow shed. The gown and boots she wore that day were stained with straw and cow dung. There is no doubt it was she that attacked you.” The only person Sarra could think of was Casse, but she asked. “Who was it?” “Lady Olive. Crispin’s wife and Casse’s Mere was your attacker.”

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Chapter Thirty-One
Sarra placed her hand over her breast, she was stunned. She would not have thought a noble woman of Olive’s stature could be capable of her attack. Casse was spoiled and jealous. It would have been incredible, but more believable, that Casse was her attacker if it was a woman. “Sweet Jesu!” “And there is more,” William added. It was the time to tell Sarra about her room and gowns. Sarra gave her attention to William. She met his eyes directly and without waiver asked, “More?” “I could not allow you to return to your solar for recovery. There were two things that prohibited it,” William shared somberly. Sarra raised a brow. “Two?” “Aye. The first was I could not protect you to my satisfaction unless you were in my room. There is only one way in. That would be through two guards and Geoffrey, then me. The window overlooks a direct drop to rocks below. This was the reason Pere gave me the room. It was extra protection for his first-born and heir. Your solar has two doors. One of the doors is accessible to a hallway with many alcoves. The solar is too accessible for my mind.” William’s explanation seemed logical. “And the other reason?” “The day you were attacked Roese had found your solar destroyed and your gowns destroyed. The bed, curtains, sheets, draperies, and all your garments were shredded to rags. I cannot prove that Lady Olive had done this, but there is no doubt in my mind that she did it,” William told Sarra. “You could not recover in your solar because your solar had not yet been restored.” Sarra wondered if anything about this attack would ever make sense. All her garments were destroyed? No wonder she had been dressed in William’s shirt. This wedding gown was the first one the seamstresses had sewn for her. The new undergarments now made sense. “You ordered this wedding gown made first?” A sheepish grin appeared on William’s face. He nodded. “I knew you were uncomfortable having me share your bed without blessing of the church as your husband. I doubted I could continue to sleep with you without wanting you. It seemed the right thing to do.” 245

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Sarra’s heart filled with love. This cold-hearted knight was not a stone heart at all. He was a kind loving man that only needed the return in kind of his loving generous person. Her arm reached over the table until her hand rested on his. “I do believe I am a fortunate woman indeed to have you as husband.” “And I to have you as wife,” William replied taking Sarra’s hand and lifting it to his lips. “You are wise and I feel I shall be in need of your advice on many future occasions. Tell me, what shall I do with the Lady Olive?” “She has confessed to nothing? We still do not know her motives or her madness?” Sarra asked quietly. She could make no sense of this attack on her person or her clothes. She sighed and realized there was no purpose in pursuing the cause of the attack or Olive’s motives. The problem would be the proper punishment for an attack on a noble person. Sarra knew the penalty was death. She was also more than pleased her new husband did not want to give the death order to a noble woman. She had to come up with a punishment quickly. Then her thoughts raced like lightening in her mind. Crispin had been removed as Lord of Tomes. Olive had lost her prestige, wealth, and title. The destruction of Sarra’s clothes was an act of revengeful jealousy. Sarra was receiving everything Olive had wanted for herself and her daughter. Olive only understands greed and self-gratification. That was the answer. “My Lord,” Sarra began slowly. “I believe there is a nunnery near Keyes Castle. It is a closed cloister.” William understood immediately Sarra’s suggestion. “Of course! It is the answer. Olive shall be taken to the cloister. There she will be kept behind the gates. The nuns will teach her humility and prayer. Crispin could even visit his wife once a year if the nuns allow it. That is brilliant! It shall be taken care of this day. I shall have Baldwyn write the decree with all information to be given to the Prioress. We will send Lady Olive to the nunnery on the morrow with armed guard,” William stated triumphantly. “You are a most wise and gracious good wife.” William pulled Sarra onto his lap. His head bent and captured Sarra’s lips. His tongue opened her lips and his kiss was passionate. Sarra felt William’s thumb and finger begin to play with ther breast. Under the gown she felt her nub harden. Her head began to swirl in sensual pleasure. William’s tongue continued to challenge hers in a duel of passion. Sarra’s tummy began to twist and knot with tension and growing desire. She felt a need and want in her nether area as William’s hand played with her breast. She felt wet warmth in her most private of area. 246

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William groaned. “This is not the time or place. I must hold back my need for you. There is much to be done now. How unfortunate for me that I am now Lord of Keyes Castle, for I must see to my duty although my body is only yearning for my wife. Tonight, you will be well bedded my lady. You will also learn that this poor knight has talents to please you as well as you please me.” Sarra was trying to catch her breath and gain control of her sanity. She was floating in a cloud of wonderful sensations created by William’s magical mouth and hands. “I look forward to it,” she managed to breathe out. She looked up at William’s eyes and saw hot passion there. She was sorry he was lord of this land. She felt a hot need and wanted to achieve respite for it. Sarra’s dry wit was exactly what William needed to bring him back to the reality of his responsibility. “Come with me. We will speak to Henry.” William placed Sarra upright on the floor. He felt her hold on to his tunic. He didn’t know her legs felt like jelly and she was trying to stand upright. He rose from the chair keeping her body upright. Fortunately Sarra regained the movement of her legs just as William offered her his arm. Together, the new Lord and Lady of Keyes Castle walked to the Great Hall where the celebration was waiting for them. Upon their entrance they noted both Christofre and Lord Edmond were sitting at the high table. They were sitting to the left of the high chair and William’s three brothers were sitting next to them. Genoa was nowhere to be seen. Sarra noted the change in Christofre’s clothing. Normally Christofre wore a simple linen tunic and gown with an apron covering. At the table she was wearing a fine plum color velvet gown and matching tunic. Her head was covered with a silky gray wimple and a silver circlet holding it in place. Christofre looked every inch the lady of the castle. The brothers were in deep discussion with their father and Christofre. William led Sarra to the table. While walking toward the high chair the people of the great hall stopped talking. The Great Hall was silent. They all stared at Lady Sarra. Her father rose from the high table. He had been sitting next to Oriel. Reimond greeted his daughter with a hug and kiss. William seated Sarra to his right and next to Oriel. Oriel was bubbling with excitement. She began to talk to Sarra as soon as her father had seated Sarra next to her. “You are well. I was so scared. I love you very much, Mere,” Oriel said exuberantly. “I have a new Mere and a new Grandmere.” Sarra looked at Oriel in astonishment. “A new Grandmere?” Oriel bobbed her head up and down excitedly. 247

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At the same moment Lord Edmond rose from the table. He lifted his goblet of wine in the air to give a toast. “A blessed day for Keyes Castle. Today my eldest son has taken control of Keyes Castle as its new lord. He has also has taken a wife. Keyes will have after many long years a Lord and Lady of the castle. I introduce to all, Lady Sarra de Warre.” He lifted his goblet to Sarra. “A long and happy life blessed with many children.” William grinned and winked at Sarra after listening to his father’s toast. Soon he would be satisfying his insatiable lust for this woman. He couldn’t explain his physical need for her. He simply accepted it. Sarra blushed. Edmond turned to Christofre. “And a toast to my new wife. After many long and lonely years I finally convinced my Christofre to be wife. She became my lady this den after the wedding of my eldest son.” William’s mouth dropped. Sarra was surprised, not at the marriage because she had always sensed there was something between the two. She was surprised at the timing and swiftness without word to anyone. “Tis time,” Oriel grumbled merrily. “As long as I can remember they would sneak to be together.” “Sneak?” Sarra questioned curiously. “The secret chamber we used as escape to spend our day as boys, remember?” Oriel asked. “I found that place because I always heard footsteps and my dog would sniff at the same nook when he heard the foot sounds. I found out it was Christofre going to Grandpere’s room. You don’t think Grandpere slept everyday and Christofre went to mass at the exact time? They were always together at those times. I thought it quite romantic. I couldn’t tell anyone. I knew it was a secret because they never told anyone.” “You kept the secret well,” Sarra praised Oriel. They spent the rest of the meal and the evening festivities sharing little secret conversations. Some of the communication was about Oriel’s newly found and loved father. Other talk was about another time they would pretend to be boys. Oriel stayed up quite late that evening and finally fell asleep in her Uncle Edward’s arms. He took her up to her solar and placed her in her bed. Her chambermaid was waiting there to take her care. Near the end of the festivity Harry approached William. “Have you an answer for me regarding Genoa?” He had already decided that regardless of William’s answer he would marry Genoa. He would give up title and family for her. He truly loved her as she loved him. Genoa was carrying his child. 248

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“Aye,” William replied quickly. “It is agreed that Genoa will become your bride. There are some pieces of advice I will offer to you and Sarra plans to advise Genoa before the two of you leave for Tomes Castle. Sarra also plans to send several experienced servants with you. The most important thing Sarra wanted me to emphasize is that Genoa is still in training to be a noble woman. She will make some errors. You are to support her in everyway. You must never counter command her unless it would be an injustice. Even then you would do it quietly.” Harry was smiling. It was wonderful to have a kind and thoughtful brother as well as liege lord. He blessed the day William had discovered Sarra. She was a good influence on him. He knew Genoa would influence him the same way. He would certainly listen to his brother’s advice and knew Genoa would listen to Sarra. After a sad and lonely childhood the both of them would bloom in the arms of loving women. “I am listening to every word, my lord.” “On the morrow,” William chuckled. “This night is getting old and I am ready to bed my wife.” William left Harry’s side and joined Sarra in the dance. When it was over he took her quietly to an alcove and kissed her passionately. When she was soft and pliable he lifted her in his arms and took her to his solar. The door slammed shut on any that attempted to follow. *** The couple was not seen again until after the breaking of fast. Both of them had broad smiles upon their faces. Roese went directly to Sarra. “How was your evening my lady?” “Wonderful,” Sarra sighed dreamily. “My husband told me he was a talented lover. He was true to his words.” Roese laughed. These two were in the same type of wonderful marriage Joy and Reimond shared. Her lady would be very happy indeed and she was certain she would have many of their children to care for. “We have much to accomplish this den,” Roese stated leading the way toward the kitchen. “Christofre is already in the kitchens ordering a fine meal prepared for the noon meal.” “First I must see to Genoa. Roese, I need you to bring Marta the weaver, Joyce the seamstress, Margaret the candle assistant, Jolene the soap assistant, Christofre’s Adel in the kitchen, and Louisa the second chambermaid to the Great Hall. They will be assigned to Lady Genoa at 249

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Tomes Castle. I will be speaking to Genoa in the Great Hall,” Sarra ordered. She found Genoa walking toward the Great Hall and called her. *** After that day Keyes Castle was a warm welcoming thriving castle of happiness. Everyone lived happily ever after.

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Epilogue
Keyes Castle – 10 years later Oriel was grasping the large draperies as she looked at the practice field below. “Sweet Jesu. He will kill him!” Sarra still holding her three-month-old daughter, Avery, in her arms, walked briskly to the window. “Who? Is Sir Guy hurting your Pere?” “No! Pere is striking Guy without mercy. This is a practice. Why is Pere being so brutal?” Oriels questioned. She tensed more when William slammed another hard blow of his sword on Sir Guy’s shield. “I hate this!” Oriel exclaimed gritting her teeth. “Why do men enjoy such brutality? To them this is sport!” “I’m afraid so,” Sarra concurred. Avery fussed a little. She started rocking her child and humming. “Roese, take Avery to the nursery. Jacoba, take my sweet angel, Elizabeth with Roese. She is already yawning and needs her nap.” Roese took the infant and Jacoba lifted three-year-old Elizabeth up from her scattered toys. The two women took the youngest de Warre children to the nursery for their afternoon naps. “Do not fret,” Sarra soothed her stepdaughter. “Your Pere would never harm your betrothed. He is merely forging the iron.” “Forging the iron?” Oriel scoffed. “What is that supposed to mean?” “It means your Pere is only trying to make certain your young man is strong enough to protect his precious daughter,” Sarra shared hugging her fully-grown daughter. “He is having a hard time surrendering you to another man.” “But he agreed to the betrothal,” Oriel insisted. “The contract is most generous. It will add even more lands to the de Warre holding.” “I don’t believe there is enough land or wealth in all of England to dissuade your Pere from being certain you will be well cared for,” Sarra teased. Then she saw the four boys running to the practice field. “Your brothers are running to the field. Where on earth is their guardian, Hubert? He promised to care for them.” “Charles, George, Phillip, and Richard are a handful for only one Captain of the Guard,” Oriel chided. “My brothers are too much like Pere. 251

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They are tall, muscular, strong, and foolhardy. Look, there is Uncle Andrew and Edward.” Sarra breathed a sigh of relief when Hubert, Andrew, and Edward grabbed the tunics of the three younger boys. Charles made an escape with his sword and managed to give a hard blow to Sir Guy. It was too much for Guy. The wooden sword of nine-year-old Charles de Warre and the heavy blows of Charles’s father were too much. He lowered his sword and shield. He knelt before his Liege Lord and surrendered. “Too much,” Guy laughed aloud. “My lord the sneak attack was too much. I surrender.” “You surrender too easily,” William crowed. “How can I give my daughter to you in wedded contract if you cannot defend her?” “Because I love her,” Guy replied simply. “I would give my life for her, My Lord. This is just a practice.” He tousled Charles’s head of hair. “That was a good broadside on my flank.” Charles beamed and held his wooden sword high. William laid his hand on his eldest son’s shoulder. “It was a good attack on the flank. You are learning.” Hearing Charles receive praises from their father inspired, seven year old George, six-year-old Phillip, and five year old Richard pull away from their captors. They brandished their wooden swords and charged toward their father. William was soon holding Phillip and Richard in his arms. The two older boys walked alongside their father toward the great hall. Guy walked with Edward and Andrew. Hubert returned to his duty. *** Sarra and Oriel were waiting in the Great Hall for their men when they arrived. The noon meal was prepared and ready to serve. Guy held out his arm for Oriel and escorted her to the high table. William held out his arm for Sarra. He whispered in her ear when she placed her hand on his forearm. “Where are my baby daughters?” “They are put down for their naps,” Sarra responded. “Oriel loves him.” William sighed, “I am aware. If it was not for understanding this wonderful emotion I could not give her to any man. She is a woman now. You have trained her well. She is ready to become lady of her own castle. Guy is a most fortunate man.” “I love you,” Sarra whispered sensually. 252

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“I know,” William chuckled. “For this love of ours we have four sons and three daughters. And I am most content. My heart is warm with pleasure. You have made this castle a happy place for all of us. I am a most fortunate man.” “And I a most fortunate woman.”

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