Excerpt The Cold Light of Dawn
They were both there next day, Kit so angry she refused to speak to Adam. He ignored her and concentrated on the events unfolding before them. The large hall of the royal palace was filled with the scions of the French nobility, standing as tightly packed as salted herrings in a barrel in their eagerness to watch the young English king bend knee to Philippe Valois. The air was heavy with the scents of roses and lavender, of wormwood and mint—some of the ladies present were wearing finery normally consigned to the depths of their storage chests, carefully packed away with herbs to deter moths.
King Philippe, magnificent in a fleurs-de-lis mantel, sat on his throne while King Edward approached—just as magnificent, the scarlet of his embroidered samite robes contrasting with his fair hair—kneeling once upon entering, a second time halfway down the room, a third time at Philippe’s feet. Every time he knelt, Edward’s jaw tightened. Once at Philippe’s feet, he stared straight ahead as he spoke the words of his vow, his hands clasped firmly between Philippe’s.
King Edward’s oath was short—and conspicuously lacked a promise to serve Philippe during war. A hushed whisper flew through the room; Queen Joan’s hands tightened on the shoulders of her young son, Prince Jean. King Philippe was not pleased. His mouth turned down; his bushy brows lowered threateningly over his deep-set eyes. One heartbeat, two, and Adam moved that much closer to his king, eyes on the French men-at-arms who stood on each side of the dais.
Philippe cleared his throat and pasted a benign smile on his face. King Edward kissed his hand, and Philippe rose, as did King Edward, turning to face the assembled people. When they stood side by side, it was like seeing an English sun beside a French moon.
Adam was given the honour of attending on King Edward during the following feast. If anything, this had Kit throwing black looks not only at Adam but also at the king.
“You must rest,” she hissed. “Not stand about for hours while dancing attendance on your precious king.”
“Our precious king,” Adam corrected. “And if it gets too bad, I’ll have someone take over.”
Kit snorted, clearly not convinced. “Let me check on it.”
“Here?” He looked about the huge hall.
“Of course not here.” She led the way down one of the side aisles to a narrow staircase.
There was sufficient room beside the stairs for her to kneel down and undo his hose, a light finger ensuring the bandage sat as it should. It didn’t hurt much—it mostly itched—and Adam had been injured often enough to know the itching was a good thing, a sign of healing. Another good sign was the other effect her touch had, those fingers so close to his groin causing his member to harden somewhat.
“Adam!” But her eyes glittered, her hands more intrusive than strictly necessary as she helped him adjust his clothing.
Adam kept Edward’s goblet supplied with wine while his young lord feasted on capons with grapes and pigeon breasts boiled in wine. Warm bread, smoked tongue, pork with prunes, roasted lamb—Adam’s mouth watered.
The two kings shared a trencher, conversing lightly about horses and dogs, the merits of Norwegian birds of prey, and the future of the papacy. Philippe was of the opinion the pope should remain in Avignon forever, while Edward made the point that it was in Rome, not Avignon, where St Peter had died a martyr’s death.
“I heard some interesting news today,” Philippe said casually, spearing a piece of cheese with his eating knife. “Very interesting.” He glanced at Edward. “Does you credit, I suppose. After all, deception is better than patricide.”
“I do not know what you are referring to,” Edward said stiffly. “Yes, my father is dead—but I can assure you not by my hand.”
“Is he?” Philippe drummed his fingers on the table. “And here I have an informant telling me your father lives.”
“The informant is wrong—or a liar.”
“Well, someone is lying, that’s for sure.” Philippe belched discreetly. “Imagine what havoc it would cause if your father should reappear, risen from the dead.” He chuckled. “What would dear Isabella do then? Come to think of it, what would you do? He’d be entitled to have you hanged, drawn, and quartered for treason.”
“We will never know, dear cousin,” Edward replied calmly. “As I said: lies. Someone is trying to sell you a falsehood. I hope you didn’t pay too much for it.”
Philippe clouded. “De Langon swore it was true.”
“De Langon? Robert de Langon?” Edward’s knuckles stood stark against the skin of his hand.
“The same.” Philippe smirked. “A useful man.”
“My subject,” Edward reminded him coldly.
“And mine.” Philippe stared him down. “He holds his Gascon lands from you, but you hold them from me.”