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Authors: Denise Domning

Tags: #Romance

The Warrior's Wife

BOOK: The Warrior's Wife
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This book was previously published under the title:
The Warrior's Damsel
by me using the pseudonym Denise Hampton. All rights reverted to me in November, 2011.

Why did I change the title? Here's what happened: When Lucia Macro at Avon proposed
The Warrior's Damsel
I responded with "You know, Kate's been married. That means she's not a damsel, she's a madame." Of course,
The Warrior's Madame
didn't have the same punch to it. Me, being title defective, let it go because as you can see it's taken me all these years to come up with what would have been a great title for the book:
The Warrior's Wife
. So, here are Rafe and Kate again, refreshed and retitled. I hope you enjoy them as much the second time.

This is a work of fiction; everyone in the book is created out of whole cloth (although I did my best to portray them and their times as accurately as possible).

 

The Warrior's Wife

 

copyright(©) Denise Domning 2011

 

All right reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any way.

 
 

July, 1214

“We are gathered here this day in the sight of our Lord God and in the face of this noble company to join in matrimony Emma of Haydon and Gerard d’Essex."

The bishop’s announcement thundered out over the priory’s quiet courtyard. Every one of the hundred or so watching gentlefolk, Sir Ralf Godsol included, sighed. It surprised Rafe that he could be so affected; he didn’t consider himself a religious man. But then, this was the first church-sanctified wedding he and all the other folk in this yard had attended in years. England had been under papal interdict—all priests forbidden to perform rites, save the first and last—until last month when King John finally agreed to accept the pope’s choice for archbishop of Canterbury. As part of releasing the ban, the king had also been forced to repay the sums he’d stolen from England’s churches and monasteries over this period.

Rafe watched Bishop Robert as the churchman scanned the gentlefolk gathered below him. Jewels flashed in the clergyman’s miter. June’s hazy sunshine made the golden embroidery on his vestments glint. So deep was the silence that Rafe could hear fledgling swallows piping in their nests beneath the church’s eaves. A joyous breath of air tumbled over the priory’s tall stone walls, stirring the clinging ivy and setting all the brightly colored female veils in the yard to fluttering.

“Is there any man here who can give reason why this joining should not proceed?" the bishop demanded, his powerful voice shattering the quiet.

Silk and samite rustled as noblemen, knights and their wives all glanced about as if expecting some response. A low rumble rose from the priory’s arched gateway. Crowded into that opening were the commoners tied to Haydon Castle, come to watch the wedding of their lord’s eldest daughter. Beyond that, no man raised his voice.

The bishop gave a satisfied nod and retreated to stand before the bride and groom, his back to the church’s open doorway, and launched into the list of properties the couple brought with them into their union. Tradition and common sense demanded that the marriage ceremony itself be held out here, where all the world could bear witness.

Emma of Haydon, the bride, was a willowy, red-haired lass of eighteen, beautiful in her green and gold wedding attire. At eighteen she was nearly ancient for a first marriage, but her mother insisted on waiting until her daughter’s marriage could be sanctified by a churchman.

Rafe’s mouth twisted in longing. As the youngest of Sir John Godsol’s three sons, his chances of marrying were slim, and at that the only women he could hope to attract would be some barren, aged widow. The only asset Rafe had, beyond the strength of his arm and the income he earned from his position as one of the king’s knights, was the only thing he’d inherited from his father: his fine looks

“Join hands,” commanded Bishop Robert on the porch, his voice raised so that even those in the gateway heard him.

Rafe laughed quietly as he watched Gerard d’Essex, Rafe’s friend and fosterbrother, give his shining blue and red tunic an unnecessary yank, then ham-handedly grabbed Emma’s fingers. So, Gerard
was
nervous. Rafe, along with the other five of their fosterbrothers, had spent the last weeks suggesting that the youngest among them hadn’t yet developed the manhood necessary to appreciate a wife.

As the bishop launched into the mandatory lecture about the duty of wife to husband and husband to wife, Rafe yawned, the novelty of hearing a churchman speak already wearing thin. Instead, he set his attention to finding the woman who would add that special spark of excitement to his stay at Haydon. She would be married, of course. There was nothing he loved more than borrowing a rich man’s pretty wife for a night. Or longer, this time. After waiting years to stage his daughter’s wedding, Lord Haydon now spared no expense in its execution. There would be ten full days of celebration, complete with nightly feasts including music and mummery, at least three hunts, and even a joust and a melee.

Rafe breathed out in satisfaction as he found the woman he wanted. Not only did the style of her green cap proclaim her a married woman, but the pearls decorating her cap and veil proclaimed her rich as well. Even better, her features were refined, the smooth oval of her face framed in wings of fiery chestnut hair. Fine brows peaked sharply over almond-shaped eyes, while her lips owned a lilt that made her seem on the verge of smiling. Rich yellow gowns clung to her slender body. Bright jewels flashed in her necklet and bracelets. Rafe grinned in anticipation. This was just the diversion he needed.

“Gerard d’Essex, will you have this woman to wife, to honor and—“.

The bishop’s ringing voice demanded Rafe’s attention return to the bridal couple. He raised his fingers to his lips, knowing there were five other men in the crowd doing the same. The vows spoken, the bishop gave the groom a ceremonial kiss, then nodded to indicate the new husband should pass the kiss onto his new wife.

On the porch, Gerard pulled Emma close to him. As she came to rest against her new husband’s chest, Emma set to hiccuping. Their lips touched.

Along with the other five men in the yard, Rafe blew an ear-piercing whistle through his fingers, a salute to the first of their companions to wed. The noise shattered the pastoral quiet of the yard. The crowd began to laugh.

On the porch, Gerard jerked in reaction and his ears flamed red in embarrassment. Still holding his new wife in his arms, he turned his back to both witnesses and hecklers. The kiss, which should have been but a ceremonial press of flesh to flesh, lengthened. Emma’s hiccups ended. Her arms rose to encircle her new husband’s neck.

Commoners and nobles alike roared their approval. Frowning, the bishop parted the couple, then shooed them through the church door for the mass. The guests followed, surging toward the porch stair. In no hurry to join the mob, Rafe once again looked for the woman he meant to pursue only to discover that she was also hanging back to avoid the crush. As she hesitated, she scanned the yard, her gaze moving ever nearer to him.

The thrill of the chase owned Rafe. Shifting to best display the breadth of his shoulders, he lifted his lips into the smile that had more than once won him a willing partner in bedplay. At the very instant the beauty’s gaze should have alighted on him, Rafe’s eldest brother shifted back a step to stand between Rafe and the woman he hoped to impress.

“Move, you lummox. She won’t see me," Rafe hissed, and shoving Will to one side. Too late. The woman’s gaze swept on past, completely missing him.

Although shorter and not as strong as Rafe, Will held all their father’s property and that commanded all the respect he required. “Don’t be shoving me, Rafe," he growled, then peered out into the crowd. “Who won’t see you?”

“Have some respect. This is a wedding, not an alehouse," their middle brother, Dickon, chided. With the cowl of his habit thrown back, the bare skin of Dickon’s tonsured head gleamed in the sun. A year younger than Will, Rafe’s middle brother had been given to the church as a child and was now this priory’s brewmaster. Despite his scold, Dickon shifted to follow where his brothers looked. “Who are you looking at, Rafe?”

“Her,” Rafe answered, pointing to the beauty.

Dickon choked on a laugh. “Why, Rafe, you’ve found just the sort of woman you need. Yon creature is a rich widow."

“She’s a widow?" Rafe stared in surprise at the beauty, the potential of seduction melting into a whole new possibility.

Will dealt his youngest brother a cuff sharp enough to make Rafe’s ear ring. “Turn your gaze away," he commanded. “You’ll marry a serf’s daughter before you so much as look at that bitch."

Snarling at the insult, Rafe’s hand fell to his side as he reached for his sword but his belt was empty in honor of the wedding peace. Will wasn’t their father; he had no right to try and control his youngest sibling. “You’ve no right to strike me, Will,” he snapped. “Nor can you prevent me from pursuing her if I so choose.”

Even as he spoke, depression nibbled at him. Yon widow was too young not to have a father or guardian already planning her next marriage to some man with the substance Rafe lacked.

Will’s beefy shoulders tensed beneath his blue tunic. He balled his fists. Like Rafe, his hair was black and curling but the sun caught on new silver threads as he glared up at his youngest brother. “Defy me, and I’ll slit your throat, as is my God-given right,” he threatened.

“I’m at your convenience,” Rafe returned, his eyes narrowed, his voice low and harsh as he called his brother’s bluff. “Try it as you may.”

“Enough, Rafe, Will,” said Dickon, putting a hand on each brother’s arm, Will, can’t you see Rafe doesn’t know who she is? How could he? Rafe was already fostered and in our king’s court when she was born and rarely home after that to have any chance to know her. Nor can you blame Rafe for his interest. Despite their filthy blood, the Daubneys breed up fine-looking women."

Shock rattled Rafe. “She’s a Daubney?" His voice raised enough that nearby folk sent glances his way. His gaze shifted back to the beauty. How could something so lovely be related to a family so foul?

“Aye, once upon a time. Now she’s Lady Katherine de Fraisney," Dickon said.

Will spat. “She’s not just a Daubney, she’s the daughter of Humphrey Daubney, the bitch’s son who murdered our sire." That Will didn’t use Humphrey’s title as Lord Bagot was a reflection of his hatred for the head of the Daubney family. That Will kept his voice to a bare whisper said he knew better than to utter such insults aloud while unarmed and where a Daubney supporter might overhear.

Wicked amusement came to life in Dickon’s eyes. He glanced at his younger sibling. “You’re the one women like, Rafe, the pretty one. I dare you. Pursue her. Aye, wed her and you’ll be the Godsol who finally reclaims that acreage those loathsome rat-kissers stole from our great-grandsire. You know, she came into our Glevering after her brother died when he and his attacked ours two months ago.” Dickon paused to cross himself. Their father had died along with the Daubney in that skirmish.

Will chuckled, the sound dangerous and deep. “What twisted thoughts wake in me.” He leaned closer, bidding his brothers to join him for a moment’s private conversation. “Humphrey paid our king an earl’s ransom for the right to wed his daughter wherever he wishes.”

Rafe drew a surprised breath. It wasn’t like King John to allow his nobles that much freedom. Surprise tangled with a bud of hope. If John had given away that right it could only mean he cared naught where the widow married, and that meant the king wouldn’t listen to protests should the woman make an unexpected match.

Will sent Rafe a sharp glance. “What sort of man did our king make of you, brother? Aye, you’re pretty, and strong and you fewter your lance well. But are you clever enough to steal a daughter from her sire and do it in the less than ten days our families bide together at Haydon for this wedding? Pursue her, wed her and win vengeance not only for our sire but for our line.”

More than sixty years ago the Daubneys had kidnapped a Godsol heiress, forcing marriage upon her and using her acreage to lift them into nobility while the Godsols went wanting royal recognition.

“No Godsol is strong enough to stomach getting sons on a Daubney,” Dickon taunted.

Rafe shot another look at Lady de Fraisney. With her face lifted to the sun everything about her glowed--her skin, her hair, the jewels she wore. Here was beauty and wealth, his for the taking. Vengeance for his father’s death as well. Of course, there was a good chance the Daubneys would see him dead within moments of speaking his vows.

Will’s grin was the mere baring of his teeth. “I vow to you on my honor, brother. Take her however you can, and I, along with every man sworn to me, will stand with you to see you keep her and her lands as your own."

Against all sense, hope for his future swelled in Rafe. What did he have to lose save either a barren marriage or unending poverty while living as another’s lackey?

“She’s mine," was all he said.

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