The Captive Heart

Bertrice Small - Author

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ISBN 9780451228635 | 432 pages | 01 Dec 2009 | Signet | 8.26 x 5.23in | 18 - AND UP
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In 1461, Alix Givet, the daughter of Queen Margaretís physician, is forced into a loveless marriage with a Northumbrian baronís cruel son. When he unexpectedly dies, she flees over the border into Scotland, and into the mercy of a brooding laird. If she can warm his cold heart, it might provide the everlasting love of her dreamsÖ

The queen knew all was lost. At least for now. Perhaps forever, but no! Not while there was breath in their bodies and their son remained healthy and strong. They would not steal Edward Plantagenet's inheritance from him. Not while she lived. No! It was unthinkable that Edward of York would supplant them.

"Madame, we must go now," Sir Udolf Watteson said to the queen.

Margaret of Anjou nodded. "Oui" was all she said. She did not look about her. The others would be ready because it was their duty to anticipate what was to come. It would not do to be caught now, and besides, if they were, what was to become of their few remaining retainers? Their loyalty to her deserved better than to be caught and murdered by a pack of Yorkist traitors. The queen drew her heavy fur-lined cloak about her and pulled up its hood. "Allez!" she said as she stepped through the farmhouse door.

It was still snowing steadily. Fifteen-year-old Alix Givet followed her mistress, her arm about her physician father. "Are you certain you are warm enough, Papa?" she asked him softly, her hazel eyes concerned.

"I am fine, mignon," he told her. "You worry too much."

"You are all I have left, Papa," Alix said as a man-at-arms helped first her father to mount his horse and then boosted her into her saddle. The girl rode astride, for it was easier for her in their flight.

"We will have at least several days of rest before we must move on again," Alexander Givet replied. "I just need a little time to be dry and warm to recover, ma petite. This ride will be the worst of it, I promise."

"Where will we go then, Papa?" Mix asked him as she gathered her reins into her gloved hands. "We are being driven from England."

"The queen will ask sanctuary from her distant relation Marie of Gueldres, who is Scotland's queen. It will be granted, and then we shall probably take flight for France. You will finally see Anjou, ma petite," he told her. "We still have family there, and I shall make a good match for you, Alix, so you will be safe after I am gone."

"I do not want to marry, Papa. I want to remain with you," the girl told him.

The physician chuckled as they began to move north into the storm. "It is your duty to marry, mignon, so your papa may have a warm place by the hearth in his old age," he teased her. "Unless, of course, you wish to enter a convent."

"Nay, Papa, I am not meant for the church," Alix assured him.

"Then we must find you a good and generous husband who will take us both in," Alexander Givet said. "Or perhaps I could find a nice wealthy widow who would have us. But two women in a household is rarely a good thing. And besides, I could never marry again after all my years with your mama."

"Oh, Papa," the girl responded, "why did Mama have to die?"

"Her heart was not strong in these last years," the physician told his daughter. "The strain and the tension surrounding the royal couple over the past months were finally too much for her, Alix. I would have taken her home to Anjou, but she would not hear of it. She loved her mistress, and they had been friends since they were girls. Loyalty to each other was something that both the queen and your mother possessed in abundance." He sighed gustily. "I miss her greatly, mignon. Blanche de Fleury was the only woman for me." The tone of his voice was sad, and trembled just slightly as he remembered.

Alexander Givet had met Blanche de Fleury at the court of the Count of Anjou. It was a busy court forever on the move, for Rene, the count, who was also the titular king of Naples and Sicily, and his first wife, Isabelle, the Duchess of Lorraine, were sovereigns without a real throne. The youngest son of minor Anjou nobility, Alexander had become a physician. Brought to the court by his father to gain a place among the count's retainers, he quickly found himself assigned to the household of Yolande of Aragon, the count's mother, who was raising his second daughter, Margaret. He was twenty-two at the time.

Negotiations were already under way for Margaret of Anjou to marry the young king of England. Blanche de Fleury was one of the young girls who had grown up with Margaret of Anjou. She had been brought to the Count of Anjou's court at the age of six. Her mother was dead, her father remarrying, and if the truth be known, she had been considered an encumbrance by her surviving parent. She was three years older than Margaret, but the duchess thought that Blanche de Fleury had beautiful manners and would make a suitable companion for her daughter, Margaret.

At first Blanche was like an older sister to Margaret. But as the young girl grew, the two became friends. When Margaret was sent at the age of twelve to her pa¬ternal grandmother to be trained to be a queen, Blanche went with her, as did the young physician, Alexander Givet. But before they departed for Yolande of Aragon's household, it was decided that the young physician should be wed. The count's mother looked among her granddaughter's companions and concluded that the fifteen-year-old Blanche de Fleury was a sensible choice. She sent to the girl's father for his permission, although

it was actually no more than a formality since the count approved the match his mother was proposing. It was, Alix's mother later told her, a fortunate match. She was acquainted with the young physician, and like most of the girls in Margaret's circle, Blanche thought Alexander Givet handsome. She was not unhappy to find herself his wife.

Her new husband was, at twenty-five, ten years her senior. And to her surprise, he was interested in what she thought and what she wanted. And Blanche did in¬deed know what she wanted. She wanted to remain with Margaret of Anjou. In this her husband concurred, for to go to England among the household retainers of its new queen was quite an honor. So Blanche took the potion her husband fed her each morning to prevent any children from being born, and she told no one, not even her confessor. And if the wise Yolande of Aragon suspected, she said nothing. Blanche de Fleury was an excellent influence on her granddaughter, and it was Yolande who made the decision that the physician Givet and his wife would be among those accompanying Margaret to England.

But once in England Alexander and his wife began to long for a child. Perhaps a son who would grow up with their queen's children. But their only child, a daughter, was born to them in April of 1446 while Margaret of Anjou remained childless until 1453. The English king was devout and shy of his young bride, who was acknowledged to be a beauty. Intelligent and vital, the young queen realized her husband's weaknesses at once. Henry was not suited to rule. Still, she became fond of him, and allied herself with the Beaufort-Suffolk faction at court to see her husband's position was protected by his competent relations while he pursued his religious and scholastic leanings, founding Eton College and King's College in Cambridge.

But Henry Plantagenet's weaknesses finally proved too much. His .first bout with insanity occurred shortly after the birth of his only son, Prince Edward. In the year that followed, the next man in line for the throne following the king and his infant son, the Duke of York, reigned as Protector. Upon the king's recovery a year later, the queen and Edmund Beaufort, the Duke of Somerset, grew all-powerful. Almost immediately, rivalries between the Lancaster and York factions broke out. Edmund Beaufort was killed at the first battle of St. Albans in May of 1455.

A rough peace of sorts was made, but four years later the hostilities broke out once again. King Henry was captured at Northampton in the summer of 1460, and forced to accept the Duke of York as his heir, eliminating his own son, little Edward Plantagenet. Furious at this attempt to exclude her child from the succession, Queen Margaret rallied the Lancastrian forces and five months later won a victory at Wakefield, where the Duke of York was slain. Two months later the queen's forces won the second battle of St. Albans, freeing the king, who had been held captive by the Yorkists since the previous July.

But the king's victory over his rivals was brief. The Duke of York's heir was crowned King Edward IV two weeks later in London, formally deposing Henry Plantagenet. The new king then went on to drive the old king and his family up the length of England until they reached Towton, where the final battle had taken place. Now Henry Plantagenet, his wife, his son, and their few remaining followers rode north into the borders as the early spring snows swirled about them.

They were relying upon the hospitality of Sir Udolf Watteson, a Northumbrian baron of minor family and no court connections at all. Their brief presence in his home was unlikely to ever be noted by the powers that be because Sir Udolf was one of those unknown factors, being an unimportant man who, until the battle of Towton, had never even laid eyes on King Henry. He had little but his lands, which were rugged and not particularly arable, a stone house of no distinction, and nothing of value that would appeal to anyone. How did you punish a man like that even if those now in power down in Lon¬don learned of his part in sheltering Henry Plantagenet? But it was unlikely King Edward would ever learn of Sir Udolf Watteson or that he sheltered the former king and his family. In the important scheme of things, the unknown baron didn't matter at all.

The snow fell steadily as horse followed horse. Nose to tail was the only way they were able to keep from getting lost in the storm. At their head, Sir Udolf led them onward until, finally, after almost two hours in the bitter cold and freezing winds, they saw the faint outline of a house ahead of them. Coming to a stop, they waited briefly, but Sir Udolf jumped from his mount and pounded upon the door of the dwelling. It opened, and the faint light of the interior beckoned to them.

"Come in! Come in!" the baron called to them.

And then there were several boys coming to take their horses to the safety of the barns. Alix Givet dismounted from her small mare, patting the beast to comfort it. Its dark mane was frozen stiff. She went to her father's side. He was being helped down from his own gelding and could barely stand. "Lean on me, Papa," she said softly.

"I am rigid with the cold," he murmured quietly, and then came the ominous cough that had been worrying her these past weeks. He balanced himself a moment, his hand upon her small shoulder as he began to walk towards the house with his daughter.

Once inside, they were brought to the hall, where a hot fire was burning in the large hearth. The queen was already warming her hands over it, the little prince by her side. The king had been seated in a high-backed chair near the warmth, and there was quickly a goblet of wine in his hand. His eyes were closed, and Alix could see he was shaking ever so slightly.

"Welcome to my home!" Sir Udolf said. "I have instructed my servants to prepare a place for you. Your Highness," he addressed the queen. "My house is not grand, but you shall have the best I can offer you. My own apartment is yours."

"Merci, Sir Udolf," Margaret of Anjou said softly. "Is there to be food soon? The king needs to eat, and then he must be put to bed to rest. This has been a terrible day for him, and he is not well, as you know."

Seeing the expression of distress upon their host's face, Alix spoke up. "Madame, perhaps it would be best if the king were made comfortable first, and a warm sup¬per brought to him," she suggested quietly.

"Ah, ma chérie Alix, that would indeed be best," the queen said, sounding relieved, for she herself had sud¬denly realized that Sir Udolf's cook would not be ready for guests. Margaret of Anjou went to her husband's side. "Henry," she said, "let us go now to our chambers, and Alix, will you watch over little Edward? I see his nurse has fallen asleep, poor woman. She is too old for all this excitement." The queen helped her husband to stand, and then following Sir Udolf's steward, the royal fugitives walked from the hall.

"This is terrible," Sir Udolf said when they were gone. "That the king should be driven from his lands. He is a good man, and she a good queen. I am glad now more than ever to be a simple man. To have so much power that others would covet it is frightening." And he shook his head, sighing.

"I must agree with you, sir," Alexander Givet said from his place near the fire. "But once King Henry's court was a pleasant place to be. He is a learned man."

"What place had you among it all?" Sir Udolf asked, curious.

"I am the queen's physician. I came with her from Anjou many years back with my late wife, who was one of the queen's ladies. The young girl playing now with the prince is our daughter, Alix. My name is Alexander Givet."

"I, too, am widowed," Sir Udolf replied.

"Have you children?" the physician inquired.

"A son, Hayle. He is twenty. His mother and I were wed several years before he was born. Audrey was not strong. She died when Hayle was four, birthing our daughter, who lived but a day. I married again eight years ago, but she turned out to be a nag. I was not unhappy when she died three years later of a winter ailment. I have a farm wife now, who satisfies my manly urges when I need her. I do not need another wife."

Alexander Givet chuckled. "I am widowed two years now, and I have no need for a wife. My daughter takes good care of me, and we are content in the queen's service."

"Tell me, physician," the baron said, "how am I to house the royal party? My house is not large, but I would not stint on anything or appear inhospitable."

"The king, the queen, and their two remaining servants will share your apartment, Sir Udolf. If there is a chamber for the little prince; Edmee, his nurse; and my daughter, the rest of the party will sleep wherever you have the space for us."

"You must have the bedspace nearest the hearth," Sir Udolf said. "You are not well, physician. I hear the rattle in your chest."

"It has been cold for spring," Alexander Givet said.

"The season can be cruel here in Northumbria," the baron admitted. He waved to a servant, who came to stand by his master's side. "Ask the cook when the dinner will be ready, and bring this gentleman more wine," Sir Udolf said. It was pleasant having another man with whom he could talk. He had had some small education in his youth, but his son could not even write his own name or read. Hayle had not wanted to learn, and could be neither forced nor cosseted into doing it. He was not a man to sit talking of a winter's evening. He preferred the company of his little mistress, Maida.

The servant returned to say, "The meal will be ready within the hour, my lord."

Sir Udolf nodded his acknowledgment. "Go upstairs and tell the queen," he said. Then, turning to the physician, he said, "The meal will be simple compared to what you have at court, I fear."

"The king will be content with a good soup and some bread," the physician surprised his host by saying. "He has never been a man to enjoy a heavy, oversauced meal, Sir Udolt Sauces often hide spoilage of the meat. The king prefers light meals. Watch what the queen eats when she comes to the high board, and you will see her preferences. She has a delicate belly, and always has."

Sir Udolf nodded and gave the orders to his servant. The queen returned to the hall just as the steward an¬\nounced that the dinner was served. She and her son joined Sir Udolf at the high board while the others took their places at the trestles below. Edmee and the queen's tiring woman, Fayme, sat with Alix and her father. The physician had more color in his face now that he was warm again.

"The queen was pleased with the food they brought the king," Fayme confided to the others. "A nice thick hot soup, fresh bread, butter, and a baked apple. We were able to get him to eat it all. I did not believe in a place so rough there would be good food."

"We're fortunate to have a place at all tonight to lay our heads," Edmee remarked. "My poor wee princeling being robbed of his rightful place and his heritage. Well, if those Yorkist pretenders believe they can hold on to their stolen goods, they're wrong. You mark my words, the queen will see to it, and we'll be back in London before you know it." She popped a piece of meat pie into her mouth. Edmee was an old woman now, at least sixty. No one knew for certain. A hot meal had restored her spirits.

"I do not think that we will be back in London quite so soon," Alexander Givet said quietly. "I know for a fact that the queen means to send to Queen Marie of Scotland and ask for refuge once the storm has stopped. She means for us to shelter in Scotland. Queen Marie must give her refuge, for their shared blood demands it, but she will be able to do little more than that. Her own child has only recently become king, and he is near our prince in age. It will take time to rebuild our king's forces. She might even send her son to Anjou for his own safety. He and his father will now be hunted down with an eye towards killing them both."

"Mary, Jesu, have mercy!" Edmee cried, and she crossed herself. "They would not kill a child, would they?"

"Every moment Henry and Edward Plantagenet live, they present a danger to King Edward of York," the physician answered. "The father they will kill outright when he is caught. The boy will suffer a tragic accident. It is the way of our world, old woman."

Edmee and Fayme crossed themselves again.

"Papa, do not frighten us," Alix said.

"I do not mean to frighten you," Alexander Givet answered her. "It is the truth."

"What will happen to us?" Edmee quavered.

The physician shrugged. "Who knows," he said. "The queen has been leaving many of our retainers behind as we moved north. They were fortunate to be put with other noble families who will weather this storm. We are the last. Who knows what will happen to us, but I suspect nothing. We will take refuge in Scotland, and probably in the end return to Anjou. We three came with the queen when she was brought to England. It will not be so bad to go home again, eh?"

The two women smiled tremulously and nodded. "She will not cast you two aside," he assured them. "But maybe the king will be restored," Alix said hopefully.

Her father shook his head. "Perhaps" was all he said. Al¬exander Givet was a realist. Henry Plantagenet had, since his son's birth, been subject to fits of madness. Some lasted as long as a year. Others but a few days or weeks. But he had never been a successful ruler, and now his condition made it impossible for him to rule at all. The rivalries at court had contributed to his downfall. That and his queen. The nobility did not like having a strong queen who was England's actual ruler. It had been inevitable that the king would be dethroned eventually, but the Duke of York's high-handed methods had rubbed Margaret of Anjou and her allies the wrong way. The past few years had been chaotic, and the chaos had but contributed to the king's fragile mental state. Alexander Givet would not say it aloud, but he very much doubted if Henry VI would ever again sit upontis throne. A madman could not rule England, or any other, land.

Sir Udolf had taken the physician's suggestion. While he and his guests sat eating, his servants were cleaning up two small rooms to house the little prince, his nursemaid, and Alix. The young boy was so exhausted by the day he had lived, he fell asleep at the high board. One of the baron's servants carried the lad to his bed, old Edmee following in their wake. After thanking their host, the queen and Fayme departed. Alix remained behind to see her father settled for the night.

"Nay, mignon, I am quite capable of putting myself to bed," Alexander Givet assured his daughter. "The baron and I plan to drink a bit more wine and play some chess," he chuckled, patting her small hand. "Go and rest yourself."

The king's body servant, John, came into the hall on his way to the kitchens for his meal. He had been watching over the king while the others had eaten. "Mistress Alix," he called to her. "The queen needs you to sing to the king."

"Go," the physician said. "I am fine."

Placing a kiss upon his cheek Alix hurried from the hall.

"She sings to the king?" Sir Udolf looked quizzically at Alexander Givet.

"When the king is restless and the dolor comes upon him, my daughter sings to the king the songs that his mother used to sing to him. It calms him."

"She is a pretty girl," the baron said, "and both faithful and true not just to her parent but to her lord and lady, as well I can see. You are truly blessed in your daughter."

"Your son," the physician said. "He was not in the hall tonight."

"Hayle had many things to do for me, and he is devoted to Wulfborn," the baron answered. "Ah, here is the chessboard all set up for us now. Will you play black or white, my good doctor?"

"White," Alexander Givet said. "Wulfborn?"

"The name of our estate. This is Wulfborn Hall. Our distant ancestors were Vikings, or so the legend goes.

Hayle looks very much like I would imagine a Viking warrior would look," the baron said. "He is tall and blond."

The two men sat down to play at chess, talking, sipping at their cups. The hour grew late, and after each man had won, the baron suggested they retire for the night. A servant helped the physician to his bedspace, which was made up with a feather bed and a goose-down coverlet. It was, as the baron had promised, the bedspace nearest the hearth, and the walls were warm. Alexander Givet settled himself comfortably, relieved. He was truly warm for the first time in days, and he prayed they would not have to move on too quickly. These past weeks had been hard on them all.

The king had slipped away into himself by morning, and was unresponsive to all, and everything about him. The queen put on a brave front, but she was frightened more for her husband and son than for herself. Sir Udolf, however, reassured her that the royal fugitives were more than welcome to stay at Wulfborn Hall. He reminded her that his home was isolated, and near enough to the Scots border for a quick escape should one be necessary. Margaret of Anjou was grateful.

"I wish," the queen said, "that there were some way in which we might repay you, Sir Udolf." They had been sheltering in his home for two weeks now, and it was mid-April. The snows had vanished, and the longer days were almost mild. "But as you know, we are little better than beggars now."

"Madame, I am honored to have you as my guests," the baron replied gallantly.

She nodded graciously, but then she said, "My lord, you have a son, do you not?"

"I do," he acknowledged.

"But he is not wed," Margaret of Anjou continued. "Why is that?"

The baron sighed deeply. "He is a good lad, madame, but to be most candid with you, Hayle is a bit odd. We have few neighbors, but those with daughters will not agree to any match with my son."

"What makes him odd?" the queen asked.

Again the baron sighed. "He was a sweet-natured little boy, but when he was four he almost drowned in my mill pond. After his recovery he changed, becoming impatient, determined to have his own way, and subject to terrible tempers when he did not get it. He has a mistress. The miller's daughter. He says he wants no other woman but Maida. I have told him he must have an heir. But there is no suitable bride for my son. I do not know what I will do. I cannot accept the child of a miller's daughter as my son's heir. But if I die before he weds, Hayle will have his way, I fear."

The queen's beautiful face was devoid of expression, and then she said, "Perhaps I may be of help to you, my lord."

He looked at her questioningly. "Madame?"

"As fugitives who will soon have a price upon our heads, we must travel quickly. The fewer in our party the less difficult it will be to find sanctuary. We have not traveled in some months with the royal dignity due us. At the homes of various nobility I have had to leave our servants and beg for their safety." The queen paused briefly, and then she continued. "Alexander Givet and his wife came with me from Anjou when I married the king. Blanche grew up with me. I am their daughter's godmother. Alix is fifteen going on sixteen. Her parents come from noble families in Anjou. Minor nobility to be sure, but then you too, Sir Udolf, are counted among the lesser nobility here in England. The physician is a younger son. His wife was put in my father's care when she was six. Their daughter was born in England. She would make a very suitable wife for your son, and I would know my godchild was safe."

"Would her father accept such an arrangement?" Sir Udolf asked the queen.

"Ah, my lord, there is the small difficulty. If you would have my goddaughter for your son, you must give her father a home too. My doctor is not well, and hasn't been in some time. He can travel no longer, I fear. The cough he had when we arrived has barely subsided in these few weeks despite Alix's vigorous nursing. He misses his wife greatly, and has lived for their daughter. Once he sees her safe and settled at Wulfborn Hall, I suspect he will die at peace."

"I will be happy to have him here," the baron said generously. "I am enjoying his company in the evenings. Very well, madame. If Alexander Givet will let his daughter wed my son, we have a bargain."

"How will you coerce your son into obeying you?" the queen wanted to know.

"He will obey me after much argument," the baron said in a hard voice.

"I do not want my godchild abused," Margaret of Anjou replied. "You must give me your word, my lord, that Alix will be treated with the respect due to the lady of this house. As much as I seek her safety, my conscience will not allow her to be put in jeopardy, my lord. Will you give me your guarantee?"

"I will, Your Highness!" the baron said. "I swear you my oath to treat Alix Givet with kindness and respect. She shall not be harmed in my care."

"Thank you, Sir Udolf. I will speak with my physician on this matter, then," the queen said, and she left the baron to find him.

He was seated in a sunny corner of the hall's small garden. Alix was with him. Reaching them, the queen smiled and said, "Non! Non! Alexander, do not rise. Tuck the coverlet back around him, ma chérie Alix. Then go and relieve Edmee of her duty. I would speak privately with your father."

Alix did as she had been bid, and then hurried off back into the house.

Margaret of Anjou sat next to her physician upon the small stone bench. "Well, mon ami, we have come to the end of our travels together. You are not well enough to go on, and I cannot let you die by the wayside."

Alexander Givet nodded. He, his daughter, Fayme, Edmee, and the king's servant, John, were the bare remnants of what had once been a large royal household. "I will take Alix home to Anjou," he said. "My brother will see my daughter married to a good husband, Highness. It has been my honor to serve you all these years." Then he began to cough, struggling to control the spasms that racked his thin body.

"You have not the strength to reach Anjou," the queen said gently when her physician's coughing had subsided. "And traveling alone with a young girl would be much too dangerous for you in your condition and especially for Alix."

"Then what, Highness, am I to do?" Alexander Givet asked his mistress.

"Sir Udolf has a son who needs a wife. If you will agree to give your daughter in marriage to Hayle Watteson, you will both have a home and a place," the queen said. "Sir Udolf likes Alix, and has given his oath that she will be treated with kindness and respect as his son's wife and the mother of his grandchildren."

"The son is odd at best," the physician said. "He has a mistress to whom he is devoted, madame. Sir Udolf himself has told me his son is prone to unreasonable anger when he cannot gain his own way. I am not certain my daughter would be safe as his wife, especially as he so dotes on this miller's child."

"The girl cannot wed Sir Udolf's son. Her birth is low. Her children, should she have any, cannot be heirs to Wulfborn. Hayle Watteson must have a wife who is suitable," Margaret of Anjou said to her physician. "His heirs must be got on the body of that wife, and no other. This is a good solution, Alexander. You will live far longer safe here at Wulfborn, and you will be here for Alix. And Sir Udolf is a good man. The son will obey his father. Many a marriage has begun like this, between two strangers, as did my own. Yet I came to love my husband, and Alix will learn to love Sir Udolf's son. But should she not, at least they may come to have respect for each other. That is far more common in marriages among our kind than is love."

"Blanche and I loved each other," the physician re¬plied softly.

"I know," the queen said with a small smile of remembrance. "It was your love for each other that gave me courage and hope when we came to England."

"Ahh, so many years ago now, it seems," he answered her.

"You can negotiate your own marriage contract for Alix with Sir Udolf," the queen told him gently but firmly. "Satisfy yourself that Alix will be well cared for by this family. But do not delay, mon ami. In another few days, when my messenger returns from my cousin of Gueldres, we will have to move on into Scotland in order to be completely safe from the Yorkists."

Alexander Givet sighed. "I know if there were another choice, madame, you would give it to me," he said.

"Better she wed here in England than Scotland," the queen said. "I am told the Scots are a wild and uncivilized people. I have always been surprised that the Duc de Gueldres allowed his daughter, Marie, to be sent to their king in marriage."

"I will speak with Sir Udolf this evening while we play chess, as has become our custom. He is a bit rough, but I believe him honest and fair," the physician said. "But if I am gone, madame, who will care for you?"

"I must care for myself now, Alexander," the queen answered him. "Fortunately, you have been careful of my health, and I have learned a thing or two from you over our years together. I will manage, for I must." Then she rose from her seat. "Come," she said to him, "the air is growing chill again, and the sun has gone behind those clouds." She helped him to stand, and together they walked back into the hall.

That evening Alexander Givet and Sir Udolf Watteson sat separated by a game table as they discussed a union between their only children. "My daughter is not penniless," the physician said. "She will come to your son with a dower portion of five gold pieces and ten of silver. Unfortunately, her dower trunk with her linens and her feather bed had to be left behind at Windsor. But she has been raised in the queen's household, and knows all there into know about running a nobleman's hall. And,

of course, she is a virgin. She is modest, obedient, and devout. Your son cannot be dissatisfied with her."

"Your wife had but one child," Sir Udolf noted.

"Blanche chose to have one child because her service to the queen came first. There are ways to prevent conception, though the church might not approve," Alexander Givet told his companion. "Blanche's mother had several healthy children. It was my wife's birth that was her undoing. I am one of nine."

Sir Udolf nodded. "Then I see no impediment to a match between Hayle and Alix," he said. "I will have the priest draw up the betrothal agreement. And, Alexander, you will have a home here at Wulfborn too. You have my word on it."

The physician nodded. "I am frail now, it is true, but I am still capable of performing my trade. One thing concerns me, however, Udolf. Your son does not want a wife. Can you force him to the altar? Will he hate Alix for it and be cruel to her? Will he keep his mistress?"

"I will be candid with you," Sir Udolf said. "He will wed with your daughter because he knows I will never allow a miller's daughter to birth my heirs. And despite his determination to have his own way, he knows he needs legitimate heirs. His loyalty to Wulfborn is strong, for he is a proud man. But he will keep his mistress, and I will not dissemble with you over it,Alexander. I am sorry, but even to gain Alix for Hayle, I will not lie to you, my friend."

The physician nodded. "Your honesty means much to me," he told his companion. "Now I will be honest with you. Were there any other choice, I should take Alix and return to Anjou. But I will never again be well enough to make that journey. I will die within a year or two. I need to know my daughter is safe, if not with a man who will love her, at least with a good family who will appreciate and respect her. If you will guarantee me that, then you may call your priest and we will draw up the contracts."

"I swear to you on the Blessed Virgin that my son and I will always take care of your daughter, Alexander. If I should die, he will honor my wishes," Sir Udolf said.

"Then I will speak to my daughter," the physician said.

Alix was not pleased to learn the future that was being planned for her. "Why can I not just serve the queen as Mama did?" she wanted to know.

"The queen is no longer honored as England's queen," her father answered her. "There is no court or royal household in which we may serve. I am too weak to take you home to Anjou, Alix. You do not wish to devote your life to God. There is no other choice open to you but marriage."

"But who will help old Edmee if I am not with them? Who will sing to the king when the dolor is upon him if I am not with them?" Alix demanded to know.

"There is no other choice," her father repeated. "Have I ever seen this man you propose to wed me to, Papa?" she asked.

"He is the tall young man in the hall with the white-blond hair," the physician said. "He is there in the evenings sometimes."

"I do not recall such a man," Alix answered her father, "and I am in the hall every evening. Wouldn't he sit at the high board? Yet only the queen and the little prince sit with Sir Udolf. The king eats in his chambers."

"I have seen the lad," Alexander Givet responded stubbornly. "Look more closely this evening, mignon. Perhaps if you did not gossip so much with Fayme and Edmee you would pay more attention to the high board."

"We speak of bygone days," Alix told her father. "They miss their old life greatly. I do too, and I miss Mama."

"That life is gone for us all," he replied. "And you will not spend your days at court, ma petite. You will live out your life here in the north as mistress in your own hall. It is not a bad future, mignon. Your mama would be pleased by what I have done."

"You are marrying me to a stranger," Alix said unhappily."At least you and Mama knew each other a little bit when the Count of Anjou approved your match."

"Aye, Hayle Watteson is a stranger to you, but I will be with you, mignon. And Sir Udolf likes you, and I suspect already thinks of you as a daughter. The queen wants you safely wed, and I concur."

Alix sighed sadly. She might protest, but the truth was there was no other choice for her. The queen could no longer keep them, and her father grew frailer with each passing day. At least this marriage she was entering into would give her father a safe haven for whatever time he had left upon this earth. Alix was a sensible girl, and she knew her father's days were numbered. Aye. Her mother would want this both for Alix and for Alexander Givet. And she had to marry sooner than later, didn't she? Sir Udolf was a kind man. He always had a twinkle in his eye, and Alix suspected if she ran his household well, and gave him grandchildren, he would treat her with great kindness and respect. Although she honestly could not recall having seen his son, he certainly couldn't be a terrible person. Not with such a father.

"There is one thing you must know about your in¬tended," her father said, breaking into her thoughts. "What, Papa?"

"He has a mistress he holds dear. He will not give her up even for a wife," Alexander Givet said, looking closely at his daughter for her reaction.

"Many men have mistresses they will not give up. I care not as long as I am treated with the respect due the wife of the heir to Wulfborn," Alix said sanguinely, surprising her father. "Perhaps Hayle and I will come to love each other. Perhaps not. But as long as he is kind and my place is secure, it matters not to me."

"For a maid born and raised in England, you speak like a Frenchwoman," the physician said with a small chuckle. "I suppose it is being influenced by French women all your life that has made you such a practical girl"

"When is the wedding to take place?" Alix wanted to know.

"The contracts must be drawn. Then they will be signed, and we will adjourn immediately to the church for the priest's blessing," her father said. "A few days, mignon. No more than that."

"Am I to meet my betrothed husband before that day?" Alix wanted to know.

"Indeed, you should," he agreed. "I will speak with Sir Udolf."

Alix dressed carefully before she came to the hall that evening. Her gown was simple, of dark green jersey with a high waist, gathered sleeves with cuffs trimmed in a thin skim of brown marten that matched the trim around her neckline. She wore a gold chain to which was attached a small jeweled cross. A slender pretty girl of medium height with long hair the color of dark honey that she wore loose to denote her unmarried status, she had fair skin and hazel-green eyes.

Entering the hall discreetly, she let her gaze sweep about, seeking out those who were already there. Her father and Sir Udolf were sitting by the hearth drinking and talking. Alix was glad that they liked each other. It would make her father's last days pleasant to have a friend. And then she saw him. A tall boy, and yet he was said to be twenty. Still he had a boy's face. His hair was the lightest blond she had ever seen, and he wore a sullen look upon his almost pretty face. Was he to be her husband? Swallowing hard, Alix walked across the hall to greet her father and Sir Udolf. She curtsied to them.

"Ah, Alix, here you are," Sir Udolf said with a smile. Then, turning his head, he beckoned to the young man. "Hayle, come and meet your bride-to-be."

The young man sauntered from his place at the end of the room to where his father sat. He looked Alix over with a bold eye, causing her to blush. "Her breasts are small," he pronounced. "Maida has breasts a man can pillow his head upon." Alexander Givet drew a sharp breath.

Hayle," his father remonstrated, "some thoughts we keep to, ourselves. Greet Mistress Alix politely now, and ask her pardon for your rudeness."

Hayle Watteson looked at Alix with a hard gaze.

"She's pretty enough, and seems biddable. Are you obedient, mistress?"

"I try," Alix said. What kind of man was this who spoke in such a fashion to the girl he was about to wed?

"She'll do, Father, but you know my conditions for this marriage," Hayle Watteson said. "See she understands them. How long do I have before I must wed her?"

"My name is Alix," Alix said sharply. "And I greet you, my lord." She curtsied politely to him.

He looked startled, but then he bowed from the waist.

"Take Alix and walk her about the hall, my son," the baron instructed. "It is a good thing to get to know the woman you are marrying before the contracts are signed."

"They will be signed nonetheless whether I will or no," Hayle responded to his father. "But I will obey you, sir." He offered his arm to Alix. "Come," he said.

Alix took his arm, and they walked away from their fathers. "You are not happy about this marriage," she said. "Would it surprise you to know that neither am I?"

"You don't want to marry me?" He was surprised. "Why not? I am most eligible, and I am said to be pleasing to the eye, wench."

"I am not a wench," Alix told him. "I am a lady. The queen is my godmother. My mother served the queen as one of her ladies. My father is her physician. I had hoped to spend my life at court in the queen's service."

"The queen is brought down, as is our mad king," Hayle replied. "You have no court in which to serve. You must either wed, or enter a convent. Those are the choices open to a respectable woman. Since your father has decided to barter you in marriage so he may have a warm hearth in his old age, you are to be married to me."

"The queen proposed this match to protect us," Alix said angrily. "If my father's health were better, he would take me back to Anjou. Papa loves me, but you are near to correct in your assumptions. However, it is I who agreed to wed you so my father would have a safe place to live out the rest of his days."

"I have a mistress whom I love," Hayle said. "I would marry her if I could, but my father would not accept any children of such a union as his heirs."

"What is wrong with her?" Alix asked, curious in spite of herself.

"She is of low birth," he answered.

"Then your sire is right in the matter, I fear. My blood is more than equal to yours, and so we will wed. I to protect my father, and you to please yours. There is the long and the short of it, my lord."

"You are a hard girl," he told her.

"Nay, I am a practical girl," Alix replied. "If you treat me with respect, I will be a good wife to you, my lord. I will keep the hall, honor our fathers, bear your children, and care for all within my realm as chatelaine of Wulf-born Hall. Keep your mistress. I will not complain, but do not flaunt her publicly, I pray you."

"I am accustomed to doing as I please," he told her.

"That is a child's excuse. You are not a child, my lord. You are a man," Alix said to him. "Once you take a wife, you must act like one."

They had reached the end of the hall, and Hayle sud¬denly pulled Alix into a dark corner. Pushing her against the hard stone wall, he said, "You will belong to me as my dogs, as my horse belongs to me. I will do with you as I please." He pressed himself against her, his hand grasping one of her breasts and squeezing it hard. "Do you understand that, wench?"

Alix gasped with shock. "Take your hand away," she half whispered.

In response, he tweaked her nipple sharply. "No," he said, and he kneaded her soft flesh with cruel fingers. "Are you a virgin?"

Alix flushed. "Yes! Of course! Why would you think otherwise?"

"I thought nothing. I merely wanted to know," Hayle told her. He leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers.

I am going to swoon, Alix thought as his mouth ravaged hers. She had never before been kissed, but she sensed the anger in him.

He lifted his head from her. "You don't know how to kiss, do you? Well, it matters not. All I need to do is get you with child. Then I shall not have to be bothered with you for a while." And releasing his hold on her, he began to walk them back to where their fathers sat by the hearth.

Alix's legs felt wooden as she walked by his side. She was in shock. Would this coldhearted man ever care for her? Did she even want him to? Could she even marry him now? She had to, and tears pricked the backs of her eyelids. There was no other choice. Her father had to be protected even at the cost of her own happiness.

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