‘Is this for me?’ she said, touching the Duke’s arm and indicating the casket with a nod. ‘How beautiful . . .’ and she bent her neck for the Duke to lower the jewel over her head. Startled, but still chuckling, the Duke reached out for the necklet, murmured, ‘Thank you, Owain,’ and leaned over her to do his courtly duty. She was aware of the English page with the name that wasn’t English at all scrambling to his feet and moving quickly away, free at last now his master had dismissed him. She could imagine the ache in his knees; she hoped he was grateful.
Then she concentrated on the English Duke’s thick, corded neck and the giant fingers fumbling over the chased gold at her throat. Thomas of Clarence was rather like a bull with a ring through his nose, she thought, a little smugly: dangerously strong, but quite easy to steer once you had a hold of the ring. Would his brother, the King of England – now, just possibly, her future husband – be as amenable? She hoped so. But she also found herself hoping Henry of England wouldn’t have that thick neck and pop eyes and grizzling temple, and that he wouldn’t wear the muddy, dull greens and browns that these Englishmen were all covered in. Letting her mind flit off to a future in which an archbishop put the crown of England on her head, in a blaze of candlelight and jewels, the husband her imagination sketched in was as young as she was. He was tall and slender and lithe; with dark blue eyes and floppy black hair and a shy, adoring smile.
The ducal fumbling seemed to take a very long time. The first time she glanced up, she saw her little brother Charles, looking very pale and much younger than his twelve years, stumbling out of the hall past Louis and into the corridor, where she could just see Christine de Pizan beckoning to him from the shadows. She hoped that meant Charles was going to be fed. Neither of the royal children had been fed all day. She was suddenly achingly hungry herself now she remembered how long it was since she’d last eaten. But Christine was as loyal and busy as a terrier, and good at gingering up the sullen, scary servants into making them meals. And perhaps Charles would save some of the food for her for later.
The second time she glanced up, as the Duke muttered ‘There!’ in a kind of thick-fingered triumph, she was relieved to see Louis had vanished too. There was no one in the doorway but men-at-arms.
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.
Blood at the Root
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