Excerpt of The Queen's Lover by Vanora Bennett
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Thomas of Clarence nodded and half-winked thanks at
him, aware of the youth’s embarrassment. He was a kind
man in his way. Then he stepped up to the casket to take
out the huge ruby on its gold necklet and offer it to the
Princess. Obligingly, she moved closer, looking down at
Owain, her cheeks pinker than ever, her eyes opening very
wide and the beginning of a smile on her lips. She wasn’t
really seeing him, Owain thought; he was just something to
fix her eyes on so she could look composed. She was embarrassed
too. But he could see she had green eyes; beautiful
eyes, he thought gratefully, gazing back at her, feeling his
leg muscles strain in their precarious one-knee position,
hoping he wouldn’t wobble. This part of the procedure, at
least, was going well.
No one expected an interruption. So everyone was startled
when a thin, reedy male voice suddenly said, with a note of
challenge in it: ‘My family has a history of English marriages,
The Duke turned.
A young man, a few years older than Owain and the Princess,
had appeared in the doorway. He was lounging there insolently,
with a nasty little sneer on his handsome face. Owain’s
leg suddenly started shaking so badly he thought he might fall.
He shifted, put a hand quietly on the floor, and lowered himself
to a more stable two-knee position. He didn’t need to worry
about looking a fool before the entire room, at least; all the
eyes had shifted to the young French nobleman in blue silk.
As Owain looked furtively round to make sure no one had
noticed his lapse of dignity, he saw just one pair of eyes still
on him. To his horror, he realised it was the Princess staring
down at him. But even that was all right. When she saw the
panic in his eyes, it was as if she’d suddenly focused and
realised there was a real person down there on his knees. She
was looking straight at Owain, and reassuringly; she briefly
screwed up her face and nodded at him.
Then she turned, like everyone else, to stare at the young
man in the doorway. Still hot and cold with his own embarrassment,
left stranded, kneeling in the middle of the room,
Owain stared too.
‘You will recall that our sister Isabelle, now called to God,’
the young man was saying, eyeing the Duke of Clarence,
‘was also married to a king of England. The late lamented
Watching the French faces cringe, Owain realised that this
unpleasant young man must be one of the Princess’s older
brothers, a prince of France, and that he’d come to this room
deliberately to pick a fight with the English delegation. The
shame and embarrassment that swept over Owain now, on
behalf of his master and of England, was of an altogether
different magnitude to what he’d felt on his own account a
moment before. He could hardly breathe.
Thomas of Clarence crossed himself briskly. ‘Late lamented,’
he agreed in a peaceable mutter, without letting his eyes meet
those of his challenger. Owain could see he wasn’t going to
get himself embroiled in that discussion. The Duke was a man
who picked his fights carefully and this wasn’t a good fight
for any English ambassador. Richard II had been deposed by
a cousin after his French marriage nearly twenty years before;
and Richard’s wife Isabelle, this Princess’s eldest sister, sent
weeping and humiliated back to France. The new King, Henry
of Lancaster, had tried to keep her in England: he’d wanted
to remarry Isabelle to his own eldest son, the man who now
reigned as King Henry V of England. But Isabelle had been
proud enough to refuse. So Henry IV had let her go, but kept
her dowry and jewels. They’d probably been spent on funding
the English armies now skirmishing around Normandy. The
French still thought of the new Lancastrian kings of England
as usurpers. And they’d never forgiven the insult to their
Excerpted from The Queen's Lover
by Vanora Bennett. Copyright © 2010 by Vanora Bennett.
Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.