Authors: Dana D'Angelo
Tags: #historical romance medieval England
One True Knight
The Knights of Honor Trilogy
A Novel by Dana D’Angelo
Copyright © 2012
All rights reserved. This book, in its entirety or in parts, may not be reproduced in any format without expressed permission. Scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book through the Internet or through any other type of distribution or retrieval channel without the permission of the author is illegal and is punishable by law. Please purchase only legitimate electronic versions of this book and do not engage in or encourage piracy of copyrighted material. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
The characters, places and events portrayed in this fictional work are a result of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarities to real events, locales, or people, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.
Rowena tried to catch his eye, searching to find a clue as to what was happening, but her father, unsurprisingly, was looking at everyone else but her.
She tensed her jaw. Her hands underneath the trestle table curled into tight fists as if by clenching them she could crush the prickles of annoyance and frustration that built up inside her.
The hound beside her stool raised its great head.
“My good people…” Sir Philip de Belleville, the Lord of Ravenhearth stood at the high table, his voice booming across the great hall, ricocheting off the cold stone.
The minstrels stopped in mid-song, and the normal hum and chatter dwindled as everyone waited expectantly for him to continue.
Now that Rowena’s father had everyone’s attention, he pulled the collar of his tunic as if loosening the tension would somehow release the proper words. He coughed into his hand and then as if coming to a decision, he surveyed the room and allowed a slight smile.
She narrowed her eyes, and noted that everyone in the great hall was riveted by his odd behavior. What was he up to? She sensed the importance of the news that he was about to impart and knew without a doubt that everyone in the room would be affected. Yet she, being the mistress of Ravenhearth, had no idea what it was.
The traitorous hound beside her wagged its tail as if to encourage the castle lord in his speech.
Rowena brought her hands up to rest on the table surface, her fingers lightly drumming the wooden structure, assessing her father. The Lord of Ravenhearth held a goblet of wine. He stood at the high table, an imposing height, dressed in a rich blue tunic and a burgundy overlaying mantle that accentuated rather than hid the slight bulge in his belly. His dark hair was peppered with white and reflected the light from the fire pit in the middle of the hall.
From where she sat, she saw his hand tremor and his knuckles turning white just as his grip tightened on the goblet. The one thing that she couldn’t understand was the smile pasted on his face. If the news was good, why was he nervous? Her father had a reputation of being self assured and not easily given to nerves or indecision. Bouts of anger, yes, although his anger, fierce and intense, usually passed as quickly as a summer storm.
She pushed the trencher away as if it contained poison and not the tasty pheasant that Cook had labored over. All the food she had eaten tonight felt like it converged into one unmoving stone in her stomach.
“I do not have a good feeling about this, Ava,” she murmured to the nursemaid sitting beside her. “He has changed since his return from Airndale.”
Ava sat with her head tilted to the side, watching Rowena’s father with rapt attention. “Did you say something, child?” she asked, turning around. Upon seeing the look on Rowena’s face, she leaned over and squeezed Rowena gently on the hand. “Do not look so troubled,” she whispered. “I am certain ‘tis nothing to worry about. Sir Philip looks in a good mood for once.”
“Raise your tumblers and goblets,” Rowena’s father continued. His deep voice rumbled across the silent hall, sounding triumphant, and he raised his cup high in the air as if he possessed the Holy Grail. The nervousness he displayed earlier was shed like a cloak. “In a fortnight, this man before you shall be a married one. I invite every last one of you to join me in the forthcoming celebrations.”
His words crashed down on Rowena’s head like scattered pebbles. And just as the cheers exploded in the hall, her heart stilled as if it had forgotten its own rhythm.
Her father was going to remarry. Remarry after ten long years… Rowena closed her eyes, hoping that she would wake up from this nightmare. But when she opened them again, everything was the same.
Her hands felt as if they had turned to ice. She sensed Ava studying her; she could see her mouth moving, but Rowena was unable to respond.
Several of the men-at-arms who sat at the low tables rushed to the raised platform, and surrounded her father, slapping his back and laughing uproariously as if they had just heard the greatest news on earth. Even the hound near her foot jumped into the fray, barking its approval along with the enthusiastic clamor.
Men-at-arms still seated at their tables held out their tankards while several young pages raced around the room to fill the empty vessels with ale.
Jared, her father’s garrison commander, pulled him away from his chair, and with the help of another strong knight, lifted him up over their heads. In their merriment, they shouted and carried on as if her father had never been a happily married man.
Rowena clutched at her stomach, fighting back a wave of nausea. What had she done to have God punish her so?
“Will you be all right, child?” Ava asked hesitantly, her eyebrows furrowed with concern.
“All right?” Rowena repeated. She shook her head. “Nay, I shall never be all right again.”
Rowena heaved a sigh, and turned back, surveying her bed chamber as if it belonged to someone else.
A low fire burned at the far end of the chamber and cast shadows on the sparse furniture that was there. The large poster bed sat in the middle of the room, right next to Ava’s pallet. And at the foot of the bed, rested the ornately carved chest which had once belonged to her mother and now held all of Rowena’s worldly possessions.
On one side of the wall hung a tapestry that her mother had commissioned several months before she had taken ill. It dangled on the cold stone wall, a circle of flowers and herbs surrounding a raven haired woman with an infant in her arms. On the woman’s face reflected pure joy. It was intended to warm the room, she knew, and to remind Rowena of her mother’s love, but looking at it now made her feel lonely.
She walked over to the tapestry as if it beckoned her. Lady Rosalid. Her mother. She was beautiful in every way. Ava said she resembled her mother, from her flowing black hair to the ivory complexion of her oval face. Like Rosalid, she had a small, upturned nose and generous lips that lit up her face when she chose to smile, which was rarely these days. Her stormy, expressive grey eyes surrounded by black rims, her decidedly stubborn chin, and her fiery temper were traits, Ava informed her, inherited from her father.
Lifting a finger, she traced her mother’s likeness, wishing that she could conjure her out of the picture and have everything back to the way things were before her death.
Her mother had died when Rowena was seven and most people said she was too young to remember her. But she did. How could she forget the gentle, loving blue eyes, the soothing sound of her mother’s voice, and the warm embraces that had made her feel loved and secure?
She wrapped her arms around herself as if she could bring back the warmth that she missed so much.
Her mother had been a gentle soul everyone said and those who knew her had fierce loyalty toward her. Ava was probably the most loyal. She had taught Rosalid everything she knew about the curative powers of plants, and Rosalid developed a talent for mixing remedies to heal a number of ailments.
During the horrific plague that spread across the land, Rosalid and Ava worked side by side, tirelessly trying to develop an herbal remedy. And they thought they discovered a cure when a drink made up of ale, marigold flower petals, crushed egg shells, and treacle relieved the painful sores. But the relief their patients experienced was only fleeting as a tidal wave of deaths ravaged Ravenhearth. Then to no one’s surprise Rowena caught the dreaded disease. Rosalid urged Ava to stay in town to assist the physician with bloodletting and surgery, while she stayed at the castle. She focused all her curative powers, administering garlic, wormwood, and a host of other things to her only child.
And just when Rowena managed to recover from the illness, her mother’s ivory skin broke out into ugly black spots. Large swelling appeared on her neck, armpits, and groin. Fever overtook her, and she became crazed with sickness and fatigue. By the time Ava learned about Rosalid’s illness, she was too far gone, and neither Ava nor the physician could save her.
In her mind’s eye, Rowena clearly remembered that dark moment, the moment that life had fled from her mother. Still weakened by the illness, she had sat by her mother’s side, crying uncontrollably, helpless while her father sat on the other side of the bed, his face a frozen mask of despair.
The few servants left at the castle wailed as if they had lost a beloved sister. And despite their love for her, they declined to pay their last respects for fear that they would catch the disease.
Rowena sank to her knees, and leaned her head on the coarse material that hung to the floor, all the while clutching her stomach as if she could crush the streak of misery that coursed through her body, weakening her, making her feel helpless.
She took in a ragged breath. “Why now?” she whispered as if the tapestry had the answers that she sought.
“‘Tis because he no longer loves Mother,”
a voice inside her whispered back.
“Just as he no longer loves you.”
A part of her fought to hush the haunting whispers. How could they be true? Her father must have loved her mother. Her mother had been gone for over a decade, and her father showed no interest in marrying another woman. Through all the years of wealth and prosperity, he seemed indifferent to the fact he had only one daughter and no sons to inherit his lands. And even though her father left Rowena to fend for herself during his time of grief, she had no doubts at the time that he cared for her. The memories of happier times were still fresh too. All she had to do was close her eyes and return to that special place filled with love and belonging. When her father went away on long expeditions and she missed him, Rosalid would embrace her and say, “The most important thing we have is love. That is all that matters.”
She remembered one day in particular, the day after her father had returned from battle. He had searched for them, and found her and her mother in the garden. “My two lovely ladies,” he said, his arms opened wide. Rowena had run to him, overjoyed to see him once again. With one swoop, he gathered her in one arm and eagerly embraced her mother with the other. “I have missed you both,” he said. And he smiled at them as if they were more precious than all the gems in the world.
So no one could really blame Rowena for thinking that she and her father could weather the grief together. But her father turned his face whenever Rowena was present. She was deeply hurt by his rejection, and she convinced herself that he needed more time to mourn. To make herself feel better, she laid on her bed at night, playing the scene of his homecoming over and over in her mind, hoping that one day her father would come to terms with his grief and notice her.
When things didn’t change, Rowena took matters in her own hands. She clamored for her father’s attention, trying to embrace him every time she saw him, trying desperately to make him remember the good and happy times that they had shared as a family. But each time he brushed her aside as if she was an unimportant servant.
Angered by his lack of attention, she became reckless then, pulling a dangerous stunt by disguising herself as a page and venturing into a place a girl of noble birth would never be allowed — the martial training grounds. When her father discovered what she had done, he punished her by locking her up in her chamber for a fortnight without any company other than Ava.
Ava tried her best to comfort her, stroking her hair gently as if she wanted to take away all the pain that her father caused. “Remember he loves you,” she had whispered soothingly. “He loves you very much, and that is the reason for this punishment.”
But nothing that Ava said could take away the pain in her heart. And it was during those lonely days and nights that Rowena wished that it was she who died and not her mother.
After her father finally released her from her prison, she accepted that life would never be the same again, and the need to claw for her father’s attention shriveled like a dead tree. And so they lived in harmony of sorts — she didn’t bother with him and he didn’t bother with her. This living arrangement suited them both.