Authors: Sharon Kay Penman
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Retail, #Kings and rulers, #Llewelyn Ap Iorwerth, #Wales - History - 1063-1284, #Biographical Fiction, #Historical Fiction, #Great Britain - History - Plantagenets; 1154-1399, #Plantagenet
“Penman brilliantly evokes the medieval world…. As usual, she illuminates the events of individual lives as well as the political and cultural forces that characterized this tumultuous era, in a thoroughly engrossing book.”
Falls the Shadow
has that rare ability to simultaneously entertain and instruct…. While most history books only scratch the surface of this time period, Ms. Penman does justice with her vivid and realistic novel.”
“A wonderfully constructed story…sure to please fans of Penman and those unfamiliar with her work…as fine a love story as any set in modern times.”
“Penman is a superb storyteller…. One of the many pleasures of Penman’s novel is that while she shows how different and difficult life was then, it is still, in its fundamentals, recognizable to us today…. Good historical novels—and good histories, too—do not isolate the past. They give warning or cheer to the present. In this mission, Penman has succeeded admirably.”
—The Miami Herald
“Penman…takes real people and real events, and she creates a book that is as compelling as a bestseller…. You many judge for yourself her consummate skill in storytelling and her ability to re-create an era in a way that makes the thirteenth century seem as immediate as the twentieth century.”
—The Knoxville News Sentinel
“Like a splendid medieval tapestry, rich with intertwining threads in brilliant colors, Sharon Kay Penman’s latest book,
Falls the Shadow
, brings the world of thirteenth-century England and Wales alive to the modern reader.”
“Few can match and none can surpass Sharon Kay Penman when it comes to writing great historical fiction…. Readers can almost see, feel, taste, and smell the people and places in this turbulent tale.”
To Marian Wood
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”
They crossed the border into Brittany at noon, soon afterward found themselves in an eerily silent landscape, shrouded in dense, spectral fog. Simon showed neither unease nor surprise, merely commented that they must be nearing the sea. But his squire was not so sanguine. Geoffrey fumbled within his mantle, seeking his crucifix. Bretagne, he whispered, as if the ancient name of this ominous realm might prove a talisman, protecting him and his young lord. It was a land steeped in dark legend, a land in which the people spun firelit tales of Merlin and the Celtic King, Arthur, a land with its own myths, its own arcane tongue, not a land to welcome strangers—Bretagne.
Geoffrey did not fear Breton bandits, for he’d never seen a better swordsman than Simon. But he wondered how they’d fare against shadows, against the demon spirits that were said to haunt these dark, foreboding forests. Once he broached the subject; Simon only laughed. Geoffrey was very much in awe of his lord, but understanding so far eluded him. How was it that Simon seemed so blessedly free of the fears that plagued other men? How could he believe this mad quest of his might succeed?
So thick and enveloping was the fog that they were upon the castle before they realized it. They drew rein while Simon studied the fortress, almost as if he were planning an assault. And indeed, Geoffrey thought, he was! It was a formidable edifice of Caen stone, erected by the most ruthless of Normandy’s dukes, William the Bastard, who—against all odds—had won the crown of the island kingdom of England. Geoffrey wondered if Simon was thinking of that now, if he was daunted by the odds he himself faced. But Simon’s face revealed nothing. Urging his stallion forward, he emerged from the swirling, smoke-colored mist, his sudden, sorcerer-like appearance before the gatehouse drawing an immediate challenge from the startled guards.
Simon raised a hand. “I am Sir Simon de Montfort,” he said, “of Montfort l’Amaury in France. I am here to see my cousin, the Earl of Chester.”
The chamber was as dimly lit as if it were dusk, for all the windows were shuttered against the fog, the damp, chill air. A sputtering oil lamp at Simon’s elbow cast flickering shadows, occasionally flared up to illuminate the face of the man across the table. As brown and sun-weathered as any crusader’s, it was a face that attested to every one of his sixty years, attested to a lifetime spent in the saddle, on distant battlefields in the service of his King. He shared with Simon the dark coloring of their kindred, but his hair was scanty, well-silvered, and the narrow black eyes were oblique and wary, utterly lacking Simon’s hope, his eager zeal. They were first cousins, but strangers, and some of Simon’s confidence began to falter; his dream seemed suddenly as elusive as the Holy Grail, as fanciful as tales told of unicorns and winged griffins. Why would Chester ever agree?
“You’re your father’s son for true,” Chester said at last. “Do you remember him?”
Simon shook his head. “My memories are blurred. I was only ten when he was slain.” Chester had provided mulled wine, and Simon started to drink, then stopped. Why delay? Better to plunge ahead, to gamble all on one quick throw of the dice. “I am here, my lord, to talk to you of the English earldom that was once my father’s.”
If Chester was surprised, he didn’t show it. But then, Simon suspected, it had been many years since Chester had allowed an unruly emotion to break free. “The earldom of Leicester,” he said, and in his voice, too, there was nothing.
“It was my lord father’s by right, unjustly taken from him by King John of evil fame, and then bestowed upon you, our kinsman. I have come to St Jacques-de-Beuvron to ask you to restore the earldom to me.”
Chester leaned back in his chair. “Now why,” he said, “would I want to do that?”
“Because you need it not, my lord, because you hold far more lucrative earldoms, those of Chester and Lincoln, whilst your nephew and heir, John the Scot, also holds the earldom of Huntingdon in his own right. Because you are said to be a man of honor and my claim is a just one. Because the greatest attributes of knighthood are prowess on the battlefield and generosity.” Simon paused for breath, then grinned. “And to give away an earldom would be an act of the most extraordinary generosity imaginable—or else an act of utter madness. In either case, my lord, you’d pass into legend for certes!”
Chester’s mouth twitched; he gave an abrupt cough of a laugh. “Most men would vote for madness,” he said dryly, and then, “How old are you, lad?”
“Twenty and two.” Simon had rehearsed his plea until it was memory-perfect, but now instinct kept him silent. He watched the older man intently, sought in vain to read the expression in those slanting dark eyes. “The earldom means little to you, my lord,” he said softly. “To me, it would be a rebirth.”
Chester nodded. “It is no easy thing,” he said, “to be a younger son. And you were the youngest of four, if my memory serves. There’d be little left for you, I expect.” Another thin smile, another hoarse laugh. “But if you lack for lands, by God you do not lack for gall!”
Simon took heart; laughter was in itself a bond. But at that moment a servant entered the chamber, leaning over to whisper a message in the Earl’s ear. Chester pushed back his chair. “A royal courier has just arrived from England. You must wait upon the King, Cousin, as must we all. I’ll send a servant to tend to your needs.”
Soon the table was laden with food, kept warm by silver chafing dishes. But Simon could not eat a morsel, so keen was his disappointment. He’d besieged enough castles, fought in enough battle skirmishes to know the strategic importance of momentum. Now that his initial foray had been checked, how likely was it that he could rally his forces, regain this lost ground?
“Love, I have the most wondrous news—Oh!” The girl was already in the room before she realized she had the wrong man. She came to an abrupt halt, staring at Simon.
She was very young; Simon judged her age to be fifteen, sixteen at most. She had the vibrant prettiness of extreme youth, but there was a hint in her bone structure of more, of the possibilities that maturity would bring. Although her hair was hidden by veil and wimple, she had the fair skin, the blue eyes that their society so prized, and a gown of soft sapphire wool revealed to Simon both that she was well-born and that she had her full share of womanly curves.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I thought my lord husband would be here.” But she made no move to depart, appraising Simon no less unabashedly than he was studying her.
Moving to the table, he poured a second cup of wine, held it out toward her. “Good news,” he said, “is meant to be shared, even with strangers.”
She had the longest lashes he’d ever seen; they fluttered like fans, cast deceptively demure shadows upon those elegantly hollowed cheekbones. And then she smiled, displaying a sudden dimple. “Why not?” she said, and reached for the wine cup.
“This letter is from my sister Joanna. Well, my half-sister, actually, although no less dear to me for that. Joanna is wife to a Welsh Prince, Llewelyn of Gwynedd, and for the past year, they have been estranged. All thought the marriage was doomed, and I grieved for Joanna, for she loves her husband well. But there was naught to be done. Yet now…she writes that she and Llewelyn have reconciled, that he has…that she is back at his court, in full favor! Is that not miraculous?”
“Indeed,” Simon agreed politely. He suspected there was much more to this story than she was willing to reveal. Those telling pauses of hers hinted at scandal; so did that incautious phrase, “in full favor.” An elusive memory flitted just beyond the boundaries of recall, half-forgotten gossip of a Welsh lord and an unfaithful wife, a lover caught in her bed, a sin shocking enough to reach even the French court. Could this lass’s sister and that adulterous wife be one and the same? No, not likely; what man could forgive a betrayal so great?
He shifted in his seat, and as the light fell upon his face, she exclaimed, “Why, your eyes are grey! Your hair is so dark that I assumed your eyes would be dark, too.” A blatant bit of flirting, yet so obviously innocent that Simon was touched when she then blushed. It occurred to him now that, as youths must be schooled in the use of arms, so must pretty girls learn to wield their weapons, too; this one, he’d wager, was just becoming aware of the formidable arsenal at her disposal.
Picking up his wine cup, he clinked it playfully to hers. “Let’s drink then,” he suggested, “to your sister’s miracle. A pity they are in such short supply, for I could use one myself.”
“Ah,” she said, quick to comprehend, “so you seek a boon from the Earl of Chester? I think you’ll find him to be generous. Lords are expected, after all, to be open-handed. Within limits, of course; I’d not suggest you ask him for his favorite roan destrier!”
Simon joined in her laughter. “No,” he said, “I’d never ask a man for his best horse. I ask only for an earldom.”
Her eyes widened. “You are jesting…are you not?”
He shook his head, and then, caught by the wonderment in those rapt blue eyes, he heard himself say, “My claim is a just one. My name is Simon de Montfort. My lord father was Count of Montfort and Evreux, Viscount of Beziers and Carcassonne.” But he got no further. If up until now the girl’s interest was sparked by his smile, he’d just fully engaged her curiosity.
“I’ve heard of your father,” she cried. “Who in Christendom has not? He led a crusade against the French heretics in Languedoc, and won great renown for his daring, although men did say he was utterly without mercy—” Too late, she clasped her hand to her mouth. “I’m sorry, in truth! When will I ever learn to bridle my tongue?”
Had that comment come from a man, Simon would have taken quick offense. With her, though, he was prepared to be more tolerant, and he was amused rather than irked by her injudicious candor, mollified by her contrition. “My father’s mother was heiress to the earldom of Leicester,” he explained, “and the title passed to him in turn, but then it was seized by your English King, John, and eventually given over to my cousin of Chester. I have just asked him to restore it to me.”
“Indeed, you do need a miracle. The young knight come to seek his fortune—what a marvelous tale your quest would make, just like Sir Lancelot’s arrival at Camelot!”
Simon was heartened by her enthusiasm. “But how does my quest end? Even if I get my miracle and the Earl agrees, I must then convince the English King, and that—”
“—will be right easy,” she assured him. “Henry is truly kind-hearted, too kind-hearted for a king, I sometimes fear. I think he’d willingly grant your petition, and I will certainly speak to him on your behalf.”
Simon brought up his cup to hide a smile. “Few, indeed, have the ear of the King. May I know your secret?”
As much as she enjoyed teasing others, she’d been little teased herself; her husband was fondly indulgent, gravely tender, and always protective, but the one virtue he lacked was humor. For a moment, she studied Simon, while deciding if her pride demanded that she resent his banter. And then that beguiling dimple flashed again.
“My secret?” she murmured. “Well, it might be that the King thinks so highly of my husband. Or Henry’s aforementioned kind heart. It could even be because I am Henry’s favorite sister.”
Much to her delight, she more than got her own back; Simon almost choked on his wine. “You are the English King’s sister?”
“I am the Lady Eleanor, Countess of Pembroke,” she said serenely, holding out her hand for him to kiss. He brought it to his lips, but as soon as their eyes met, they burst out laughing, rollicking, spontaneous laughter that continued even after they’d forgotten the reason for their merriment. And it was at just that unpropitious moment that her husband strolled into the solar.
“Nell? You were looking for me?”
Simon tensed, for he knew many a man might have bristled at the sight meeting Pembroke’s eyes, might have misread the innocent intimacy of their laughter. But Nell was utterly unconcerned by her husband’s sudden appearance, rising to greet him with an eager smile.
Pembroke acknowledged her introductions with the aloof benevolence, the disinterested courtesy due an unknown, impoverished knight. Although he was much older than Nell, he’d not yet reached that age when his young wife’s beauty might no longer be cause for pride, but rather for unquiet dreams, fevered suspicions, and when she confided the story of the de Montfort lost earldom, he politely concealed his skepticism, wished Simon well.
Now that Pembroke was here, Nell was impatient to share with him the news of her sister’s deliverance, and Simon soon found himself alone in the solar. His pride had been rankled by Pembroke’s condescension, and the waiting seemed suddenly intolerable. Crossing to a window, he fumbled with the shutter. The fog still held the castle in a state of siege, blotting out all traces of the sun; the air was cold, carried the scent of the sea. He stood there until he’d begun to shiver, not turning away until he heard the door opening.
“You did not eat?” Chester strode toward the table, seated himself, and gestured for Simon to pour them wine. “Your brother Amaury is the firstborn,” he said briskly, as if their conversation had never been interrupted. “As I recall, there were two other brothers, now dead. Which leaves you and Amaury, Amaury with your father’s titles, his estates, and you with…what? Assuming for the sake of argument, that I would entertain this mad proposal of yours, what of Amaury? Should I relinquish the earldom of Leicester, would it not then pass by rights to him?”
“No, my lord.” Simon leaned across the table. “My brother has agreed to renounce all claims to the English earldom.”
For the first time, he saw surprise flicker in Chester’s eyes. “And how,” he asked, “did you ever manage that, lad?”
“Amaury is Constable of France, sworn liegeman of the French King. He well knows that the King of England would never permit an English earldom to pass to a French Count. So my chances, however meagre, are still better than his.” After a moment, Simon grinned. “And in all honesty, I do not think he expects me to succeed. It is always easier to make a generous gesture when it is likely to remain just that—a gesture.”