Authors: Zelma Orr
Tags: #Romance/Historical Fiction
The Yearning Heart
by Zelma Orr
NOTICE: This work is copyrighted. It is licensed only for use by the original purchaser. Making copies of this work or distributing it to any unauthorized person by any means, including without limit email, floppy disk, file transfer, paper print out, or any other method constitutes a violation of International copyright law and subjects the violator to severe fines or imprisonment.
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(C) copyright by Zelma Orr, December 2008
Cover art by Alex DeShanks, December 2008
New Concepts Publishing
Lake Park, GA 31636
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This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and places are of the author's imagination and not to be confused with fact. Any resemblance to living persons or events is merely coincidence.
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Sir Stephen Lambert was tired. In fact, he was exhausted. His trips into London became more complicated with each passing fortnight, and on this late summer day of the year 1166, he decided that, as King Henry's favorite manorial officer, he was destined to starve to death or become ill from lack of sleep.
The king and queen argued like two spoiled children, each demanding Stephen's ear, complaining of insults real or imagined one from the other.
Queen Eleanor. Such a lovely woman. A headstrong, determined, lovely woman. Stephen sighed, struggled with the laces on his waistcoat, and bent to remove his boots.
And the king. Never the twain shall meet, he muttered to himself. As wife of the king of France, Eleanor must have presented an irresistible challenge to King Henry, someone he must win and claim for his own.
“Now that you have her, what do you propose to do with her?” Stephen's dark mutterings filled the room.
King Henry was energetic and too intelligent for his own good in Stephen's estimation. The king's efforts to establish a workable judicial system for his country, no matter how good the idea, was going to cause him no end of worry. The church courts had already condemned him for his recently issued Constitutions of Clarendon limiting the jurisdiction of the church. It was going to get worse.
King Henry and the Archbishop of Canterbury had been close friends until the Constitution was signed. Now, Sir Thomas Becket was putting a crimp into that friendship by withdrawing his support.
Still, the king is right, Stephen thought as he stretched out across the bed in the room prepared for him. The church clerks cannot be exempted from capital punishment. If guilty of murder, they're guilty, church clerks or no. Everyone must abide by the laws if they are to work. Everyone.
He was between sleep and waking when the knock sounded on his door.
“Who is it?”
“Sir Oliver. A game is commencing in the great hall. Join us?”
Stephen cared little for gambling, but he needed something to distract him from his royal worries.
“I will join you within the half hour,” he said.
In spite of only a short rest, he felt his energy returning. If he could find something to eat, he'd feel better. It seemed all the day he had been too late for a meal or too early.
He did get a portion of fresh bread and roast meat from a sympathetic servant down the hall, and then settled in to enjoy the game of chance with Sir Oliver Grinwold and three other gentlemen he'd met in the past.
At the end of several hours, Sir Oliver was into Stephen for a goodly sum of money.
Stephen was about to suggest an end to the games when Sir Oliver laughed loudly.
“Well, Stephen, I have you now. I call you and raise one thousand pounds.”
An indrawn breath came from around the table as the others placed their cards face down and pushed back in a gesture of defeat.
Stephen looked at the rotund man across from him, his double-chinned face alight with expectancy. From experience, he knew the man was an accomplished gambler but was prone to foolish betting. Stephen's eyebrows drew downward in deep thought as he tried to decide whether to call the man's bluff or withdraw, thereby saving Sir Oliver from embarrassment.
“I will see you, Sir Oliver,” Stephen said.
When the cards were shown, Sir Oliver lost the bet. Stephen watched the color drain from the man's face in disbelief.
Sir Oliver chewed on his full red lips. He made an offer.
“One more hand. All the money against my lands.”
“Sir Oliver,” Stephen said. “Mayhap...”
“You know my land holdings, Sir Stephen,” Oliver said, his voice deep with rage.
“Yes, but you...”
“They are worth more than the money.”
“I know and, for that reason, you should think about this. I will hold your note until you can pay.”
“No. This is the better way.”
The bet was made. Sir Oliver lost.
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Sir Oliver followed Stephen to his room and once inside, slumped on the chair near the door.
“I will have to deed the lands to you from Gloucester if you will trust me.”
“Of course, Sir Oliver. Your word is good.”
Stephen, a brooding look on his face, watched the other man. Sir Oliver was almost round, product of over-indulgence in food and drink, and sitting at a table rather than overseeing his lands. There were two sons, Stephen knew, who took care of the land holdings at Grinwold. Sir Oliver needed to use his own body in performing physical labor.
“You are a widower, Stephen?” Sir Oliver said.
Stephen grew still. He did not discuss his past life with anyone. Especially with this man—he would not talk about his beloved Mary.
“My wife died several years ago,” he said.
The other man gave him a probing look.
“I will give you my daughter in exchange for the debt.”
Stephen looked his surprise. The Lady Grinwold he remembered from a brief meeting a year or so ago was a skinny young woman whose big blue eyes overflowed a plain face.
“And what would I want with the Lady Rebecca?”
“She is good at work in the house. She sews, cooks and is learned from two years in Suffolk School in London,” Sir Oliver said. “She is young and will make a good wife.”
The man groveled as he expounded the virtues of his daughter. Stephen, disgusted, turned away. He'd heard that men bargained for wives, but he had no desire for a wife, no matter how accomplished or how young. What man would trade a daughter for a gambling debt, be it small or large?
“I will be ruined if I lose my lands. Elizabeth will never forgive me.” Oliver buried his face in pudgy hands.
That would serve you right, Stephen thought, but he didn't tell that to the man in front of him.
Instead, he thought of the big house in Glastonbury, long without the touch of a gentle woman to place flower cuttings in dark corners or one to meet him when he returned from the tiring trips around the royal kingdom. Mary had been everything to him, but she was dead, lo, these many years.
He had not thought to marry again. His tired brain fumbled with the idea. There would be gains for Stephen with such an arrangement. Mayhap ...
“Very well. I will arrive at Grinwold seven days hence to pick up the Lady Rebecca.”
Long into the night, he pondered his sudden insanity in making such a foolish agreement. My mind is becoming unsettled between the constant royal battles and collecting more and more taxes that the king's subjects can ill afford, he decided. But, he reasoned, Sir Oliver will have a chance to think over the arrangement and change his mind. Or Lady Elizabeth will refuse to let her daughter go for such a reason.
He could only wish it would be so.
The summons from King Henry came early. Stephen faced his royal highness without enthusiasm, recognizing his reddened countenance as a mark of the king's well- known fits of temper.
Without benefit of a greeting, the king faced his senior manor officer.
“What say you, Stephen?” The king waved mighty arms in the air, his large round head on a short neck shaking from side to side. “What say this young upstart I gave all to? Even to my son he teaches as he wishes. And to what end?”
The king stomped across the room, tearing at the reddish hair behind his ears.
“I put him in the highest office of my lands, yea, even above me, and he insults me.”
Stephen silently sympathized with Queen Eleanor as he watched her husband's awesome display of temper. Who could blame her for straying afar from the castle grounds?
The king, aware of Stephen's silence, turned. He shook the paper he had crumpled in one big hand.
“Sir Thomas begs to inform me—
me—that I have no rights toward ruling the church, that townships, castles, farms, everything must be returned to the church or—” The king unfolded the offending letter and read to Stephen. “Otherwise, know for certain that you shall feel the divine severity and vengeance.”
“I will speak with Sir Thomas, Your Highness, and ask his rethinking the problem,” Stephen said when the king lapsed into a sullen silence.
King Henry eyed him for a moment, and then waved thick arms in dismissal.
“You are my rock, Stephen,” he said, and retreated morosely to his private rooms.
His talk with Sir Thomas Becket was as fruitless as he'd known it would be. How could two men, formerly close friends, end up in such obstinate disagreement? Would that I could quit this thankless job and live out my life at Glastonbury where there's no quarrel between the church and me, Stephen thought as he waited for Sir Thomas to reply to his request he visit the king to soothe him.
Sir Thomas turned sorrowful eyes to Stephen.
“I knew if I accepted this post, I would lose either the favor of God or that of the king. I warned King Henry of the nomination. Now it seems I should have refused as I thought to.”
“Yes, Sir Thomas,” Stephen said, not agreeing, only letting the archbishop know he was listening. He thought there was substance to gossip Sir Thomas envisioned himself as important as Jesus Christ, at the least. Stephen had not succeeded in bringing the king and his protege any closer together. It would take a bashing of heads to get their attention.
King Henry had made a mistake he was unwilling to admit. His headstrong appointment of his friend, Thomas, chancellor at the time, as archbishop, was a perfect solution to reconciliation of differences between church and state ... so reasoned the king. By combining the two offices, Henry had counted on a pawn at Canterbury to favor him, but his pawn was asserting his independence much to the king's royal displeasure.
If this problem is ever resolved, Stephen vowed as he left London, I shall retire and live out my old age at the manor house in Salisbury—should the king ever allow me time to complete it. No, that is too close to the royal grounds. I shall dwell at Glastonbury, even with its sad memories. His body swayed inside the carriage as the driver sought to miss the deepest holes in the narrow roadway between London and Gloucester. Stephen shook his head, wondering as he had a thousand times what possessed him to accept a young woman in exchange for Sir Oliver's vast lands. He would have been better served to allow Oliver to oversee the lands until such time as he could arrange to buy them back.
Do I not have enough trouble with the king and the archbishop that I should gain an unwanted wife in the bargain? For a certainty, I am insane, he thought now, as he watched the desolate scenery they rode past.
In truth, he reckoned, there were times having a wife would benefit him. Perchance it would keep the ladies of the royal court from inviting him to their bedchambers. And he could satisfy his own desires at home rather than depend on favors. The favors, he acknowledged, were satisfactory enough, but it was the sly offerings of marriage later that he found hard to combat. He had no wish to marry again.
I can take the Lady Rebecca home with me and keep her for my pleasure. It will not matter to Sir Oliver whether I marry her. He has his lands back, which is what he wanted most.