Excerpt, Days of Sun and Glory
Adam had hoped to be able to escort his wife to supper, but an afternoon spent at the quintain ended with a hasty wash before entering the hall with his young lord, and all he could do was share a rueful smile with Kit as he followed the prince to his table. All through the meal, he kept on glancing at his wife, now and then earning a responding smile, but mostly covertly, thinking he was a fortunate man to have such a comely wife.
A strand or two of her dark red hair had escaped her heavy braid and veil, caressing her face. The recent days of sun had given her skin a golden glow and he knew that should he look closer, he would find her nose covered by a smattering of minute freckles. And then she turned the other way and he saw the jagged scar that ran across her cheekbone, and he fisted his hands under the table, hating Despenser, the man responsible for marking her thus.
The heat of the day still lingered when they stepped outside after the meal. Adam looked for his wife, but couldn’t find her, not at first. A flicker of movement caught his eye, a veil fluttering in the evening breeze as she disappeared in the direction of the river. Adam frowned; he didn’t like it that his wife went about unaccompanied. A quick look the other way, and there was Hugh Despenser himself, the king by his side. The queen had not left her sickbed to partake of supper, and however disloyal it made him feel, Adam had to admit her absence had been a relief rather than a disappointment, with the presiding king relaxed and merry.
“Ah, de Guirande,” the king said when he was within hailing distance. He beckoned Adam towards him, and there was a gleam in his eyes Adam didn’t quite understand.
“Sire.” Adam made as if to kneel, but was arrested by the king’s hand.
“Walk with us,” the king commanded, and suddenly Adam was hedged in by the king and Despenser. The king’s eyes glittered with suppressed amusement, while Despenser looked as if he’d been force-fed horse shit.
“No traitorous plans brewing in your head?” the king asked. Adam came to a halt, his skin prickling.
“My liege?” he said.
“Just asking, de Guirande.” King Edward fixed him with an icy stare. “After all, your former lord is our greatest traitor, and who is to know what he may be up to?”
Despenser chortled, but a look from the king silenced him as effectively as if the king had sliced his throat.
“No traitorous plans, my liege – unless you count escaping from yet another of Prince Edward’s chess challenges as one.” Adam managed a smile. “It is embarrassing, to be repeatedly defeated by a lad less than half your age.”
The king gave him a genuine smile. “Yes, he is good, is he not? That son of mine will make me proud.”
“Assuredly,” Adam replied. “You and his lady mother both.”
A shadow crossed the king’s face at the mention of his wife, just as Adam had intended.
“Watch your tongue!” Despenser snarled.
“My lord?” Adam gave him a vacant look. “I was merely expressing the hope that one day our prince may rule both England and France – assuming, of course, that an amicable relationship between our countries is established.”
Adam laughed inside at the harried look on Despenser’s face. It was no secret that it was Despenser who had advised King Edward to escalate the conflict in Gascony, and God alone knew what could be salvaged of that debacle, what with the French king having sent his formidable uncle to invade the English possessions. As Adam heard it, the young Earl of Kent had been thoroughly trounced by that wily warrior, Charles de Valois.
Adam continued, “It is therefore fortunate, is it not, sire, that the French king holds his sister in such high esteem – a bond of blood uniting our two kingdoms?”
“A bond of blood?” King Edward scowled. Adam swallowed nervously. What was he playing at, baiting the king like this? “What sort of a bond is that when my brother-in-law welcomes Roger Mortimer in his kingdom – no, even worse, he entertains that traitorous bastard in his own palaces!”
“My liege, I was but making the point that King Charles has no male heir,” Adam said.
The king shot him a look. “Were you? How kind of you to point out the obvious.” He stroked his beard. “My son sings your praises,” he said abruptly. “Well, not at chess,” he continued with a little smile, “but when it comes to sword or mace, to bow or lance, it would appear Sir Adam has no competition, and will make my son a true champion of the lists.”
“That is not true, my liege.”
“No?” The king looked him up and down. “Then what purpose do you serve?”
“I teach him to survive,” Adam replied. “Wars are rarely won by the dead, no matter how many tournaments they may have won.”
“So who wins the war?” The king had come to a halt.
“Those that live, sire. Those that persevere and never give up.”
“Like your precious baron?” Despenser said.
“Not my baron, not anymore. And Lord Mortimer lost, my lord – as you well know.” For now, Adam added silently.
“And if it came to my son or Lord Mortimer, who would you follow?” The king sounded only mildly curious. Adam raised his face.
“My prince,” he replied emphatically. “I serve your son.”
For a long time, the king held his gaze. Finally, he gave Adam a curt nod. “You may go.”
“My liege.” Adam bowed and went to look for his wife.