The Deed Reissue
August 30, 2011
Avon
ISBN-10: 0062019708
ISBN-13: 978-0062019707

First edition
April 1997
Dorchester
ISBN 0843948108

Lady Emmalene Eberhart was dying to do it. She even begged the King to make her husband do it to her- because she wanted to be a good wife. But then her husband died, and Emmalene was still as much a virgin as on the day she wed. Suddenly, the innocent young beauty found herself the fulerum of a struggle for feudal power: Along with her ample dowry, Emma found herself promised to Amery de Aneford, a landless knight whose able sword had preserved the King's crown - and whose rugged good looks made her heart skip a beat. But on the wedding day, as a rival knight galloped toward the bridal chamber, Amanry would find that making love to his naive new bride would take consummate skill. For in the conjugal bed, Emma was astonished to learn there was more to a wedding night than just a sound sleep - and more to true love than she'd ever imagined.


My first published novel. The idea germinated while I was in University. I came across a book of royal decrees from Medieval times. One of the decrees concerned a lady complaining that her husband wasn't attending his 'husbandly duty'. The king ordered he do so or give up 500 chickens. I wondered what kind of woman would have the courage to go before court to admit this. Emmalene Eberhardt danced into my head. And she was still there years later when - a year after my mother's death - I decided I needed to write something to cheer me and make me laugh.


Chapter One

"Damn ye, Alden! Go give your ears a shake! Did I not say my green tunic?!"

"A-aye, my Lord." Alden cringed and took a nervous step backward.

Dressed only in hose and braies, his wide chest bare, Lord Amaury de Aneford looked just as fearsome as he did in full battle dress. Especially now in the foul temper he was in.

Alden had only been with the warrior for a matter of two weeks. Despite this short length of time, he did not think his Lord's present mood was natural. At least not to de Aneford. He based his judgment on the reactions of the other soldiers and the exasperated amusement Lord Blake had been showing over the man's behavior. Alden wasn't exactly sure what had brought about the man's displeasure, but knew it had something to do with the King's message. A courier had brought it to Amaury as he had been concluding his business with Lord Chesterford the day before. The warrior had paled as he had read the missive, then crumpled it into a ball, tossed it into the fire, and stormed out of the Keep bellowing for his horse to be saddled. Seconds later he had canceled the order, stormed back indoors, and proceeded to get drunk.

He had been behaving thusly ever since. Storming and rushing about, then pausing to get drunk and dally. His antics were beyond Alden's young comprehension and made him terribly anxious in the man's presence.

The slap of material against his face as the tunic was tossed back at him in disgust drew Alden out of his thoughts and sent him stepping backward to trip over a boulder. Scrambling quickly back to his feet, he began sidling away. "I-I will f-fetch the g-green one, my Lord. Forthwith."

Amaury watched his squire go with narrowed eyes, then turned back to peer at the cold lake he had just left.

"You should not vent your anger on the boy."

Amaury glanced over his shoulder at those laughing words, his displeasure obvious as he eyed his friend. "He is a clodpole."

"He is nervous of you." Blake countered, smiling easily as he clapped his friend on one bare shoulder. "He will be less clumsy once he is more confident."

Amaury grimaced at that. "He will ne'er become more confident."

"Not if you continue to take your anger out on him."

The warrior frowned over that but remained silent, his gaze returning to the placid lake with discontent.

Blake followed his gaze, then sighed. "Refuse to marry her." he suggested for the hundredth time since this trip had begun.

Amaury snorted at that, just as he had every time the suggestion had been made. "And give up the opportunity to be Lord of mine own estate?"

Blake smiled slightly and shook his head. "Fine. Then marry the wench, but if 'tis what you want, why be so surly with everyone about you?"

"'Tis not what I want," Amaury countered at once. "'Tis what must be done to get what I want. Who in his right mind would wish to be married to an ugly old hag?"

"You have not even met her yet," Blake protested at once and Amaury turned on him in disbelief.

"Are you not the one who told me that she had to petition the King to get her husband to sleep with her?"

"Aye, that is the gossip at court, but no one knows what she looks like save the King and he refuses to discuss it. 'Sides, her husband died on the way home to perform his...er duty."

"'Twas probably suicide," Amaury muttered grimly.

Blake hid a smile at that. "Then refuse to-"

"Nay!" Amaury turned on him, frowning. "You know I can not." He sighed unhappily. "It may be my only chance to gain a home."

Blake nodded solemnly, then glanced to the side as Alden returned, a green tunic in hand. Smiling slightly at the boy, he strode forward and relieved him of the item. "That will be all, Alden. Mayhap you could have your lord's horse prepared. We ride shortly."

"Aye, my Lord. Thank ye, my lord." Relief shone on the boy's face as he turned and charged back to camp.

It had only been midday when they had stopped the night before, a mere hours ride from Eberhart castle. Amaury had used the excuse of wishing to clean up from the trip before presenting himself to his new bride for the delay, but after making camp he had promptly set about getting dead drunk. For the first time since Blake had known the man, he had had to be carried back to his tent. Then he had woken late this morning and dilly dallied as long as possible about his breakfast and bath. Now it was noonday again and he had yet to complete his dress.

No doubt he would insist on pausing for lunch before leaving as another stall tactic, Blake thought as he returned to his morose friend and held the top out.

"Thank you," Amaury accepted the tunic and shrugged into it quickly before walking to the rock where he had left his sword and vestments. "Mayhaps we should have lunch ere we go on," he suggested with a frown as he belted the tunic. At Blake's burst of laughter, he turned to him with a frown. "What?"

****

"Lord Rolfe!" Sebert hurried down the steps of the keep as he recognized the fair-haired man dismounting at the front of the party baring the King's colors.

"Sebert!" Rolfe tossed his reigns to one of his men and clapped the steward on the back in greeting. "How do you?"

"Fine, my Lord. And all is well with you, I hope?" he responded, his gaze moving curiously over the Bishop and the King's guard that had accompanied him.

"Fine. Where is Em?"

"In the kitchens, my Lord."

Nodding, Rolfe gestured toward the mounted men behind him. "See to the Bishop's comfort please, Sebert. I'll find my cousin."

Nodding, Sebert turned away as Rolfe continued up the steps and into the keep.

The heat that met him when Rolfe reached the door to the kitchens and pushed it open was enough to make him pause. It seemed to roll at him in waves. Swell after swell of the damp heat surged over him. It came from the pots by the fire. Three of them. Each big enough to boil a full pig in. Frowning, he squinted through the steam at the darkly garbed figures near the cauldrons, fancying for a moment that he had stepped into a witch's dwelling...then he recognized his cousin. She was the tiniest figure in the room. Had it not been for her voluptuous figure, Rolfe would have thought her a child as she carried her small stool from one pot to the next, set it down, then stepped up onto it to peer down in to the cauldron.

A much larger woman stood by with an air of forbearance as Emma gave the pot a stir before moving on to check the next one. Expression exasperated, Rolfe stepped into the room and let the kitchen door swing shut behind him.

Emma never had been able to keep her nose out of the servant's business. He blamed it on her husband and her father before him. Cedric Kenwick had allowed his only daughter free run of the castle as a child...and Fulk, Emma's husband, had never bothered to stick around long enough to notice her, let alone bother about what she did.

Shaking his head, he moved up behind his cousin to tap her on the shoulder. A mistake. She was bent over the pot at the time. His touch startled her enough that she nearly tumbled into the blessed vessel of boiling liquid. Catching her by the waist, he drew her back in the nick of time and sighed. "Em, can you not leave this to your servants?"

"Rolfe!" The petite blonde squealed and turned to throw herself into his arms as she recognized his voice. Then, remembering that she was in mourning, she stepped back and presented a suitably solemn demeanor. "How do you?" she asked more sedately.

"I am boiling to death, if you must know," he told her dryly, taking her arm. "Let us go into the next room and speak-"

"Oh nay, Rolfe! I can not. I must see to the last of the blacking."

"The last of the-" His gaze shot to the pots, missing her proud nod.

"Every piece of cloth in the castle has been blackened," she informed him, moving back to the pots.

"Every piece?" Rolfe let his gaze drop down over his cousin's black gown. He recognized it at once as the one she had worn to her audience with the King. However, then it had been a pale blue. Suddenly recalling the somber weeds Sebert had been wearing on greeting him, Rolfe glanced instinctively toward the laundress, noticing only then that she too was adorned in black. It seemed his cousin thought the entire population of the castle should mourn Fulk's death.

"Aye. This is the last of it." She turned to stir the pot she had nearly fallen into. "The bed linens."

He goggled at that. "The bed linens? You even blackened the bed linens?"

Emma frowned over her shoulder at the disbelief in his voice. "We are in mourning, Rolfe. My husband died this last week."

"Aye, but... Faith Em! You hardly even knew him! Good Lord, from all accounts, he hardly spent a week here if you put all the days together of the last year."

"Aye," she said unhappily.

"Surely you did not love him?"

She frowned at the question. "Of course I loved him, he was my husband. 'Twas my duty to love him."

"But-" He shook his head as he realized he was being side tracked and took her arm once more, pulling her away from the pot. "I must speak with you. This is important, Em."

"So is this, Rolfe. I am in mourning now. I must show the proper respect."

"Aye, but this is important."

"Well then talk to me here."

Rolfe opened his mouth to argue, then shrugged. There was no sense fighting with Em when she got the determined set about her shoulders she was portraying just now. Besides, once he informed her of the reason for his visit, he would no doubt be able to get her out of the kitchen.

"I bring greetings from the King," he began staunchly, pausing when she whirled around again, excitement on her face once more.

"Really? Is that not exciting? It means he remembers me."

"Aye, well, I doubt he shall ever forget you," Rolfe commented dryly. "At any rate, he sends his greetings, his best wishes, and an order for you to be married."

"What?" She gaped at him briefly. "Married? Again? But my husband was just buried."

Rolfe considered her displeased expression and decided the Bishop really should be allowed in on this chore. Taking her arm determinedly, he steered her away from the pots and their heat. "Come. Bishop Wykeham accompanied me and is no doubt waiting impatiently in the hall."

"Bishop Wykeham is here as well?" Emma smiled with pleasure. She had met the Bishop a time or two and liked him. He was a kind and gentle soul who had managed to remain so despite his time at court as Lord Chancellor. It was her opinion that the church had lost a good man when he had retired.

"Aye." Rolfe looked uncomfortable. "He accompanied me here for this business of your remarriage."

"And we have left him alone all this time? Fie Rolfe! You should have told me he was here," she chided, handing the stick she held to the laundress.

Rolfe smiled slightly as he watched her attempt to brush the wrinkles out of her slightly damp skirt and pat ineffectually at her hair. It was a wasted effort. Several strands of the golden glory had slid out of the chignon they had been placed in and the heat and steam had managed to turn them into frizzy little ringlets about her face. In his opinion, the gossamer curls resembled a halo about her face and added to her charm, but then he supposed he was biased. He loved her dearly.

"Come," Emma said now on a sigh, as she realized her appearance was beyond repair. "We can not leave the Bishop unattended so long. 'Twould be rude." Turning to lead him through the room, she asked over her shoulder, "Who does the King wish me to marry?"

"His name is Amaury de Aneford." Rolfe muttered, side stepping a pile of already dyed linens on the floor.

"Amaury de Aneford?" Emma paused at the door and repeated the name thoughtfully. "I have ne'er heard the name, but then I fear I do not hear much news out here. We are quite out of the way of society."

"He has been newly Lorded. He was a knight. His majesty titled him out of gratitude for saving him from assassins during the expedition in Ireland."

"He saved the King's life?" Emma peered up at him wide eyed.

"Aye."

"Oh," Turning, she pushed through the door into the hall. "He must be a great warrior. Is that not nice?"

Rolfe rolled his eyes at her statement and followed her into the hall.

"My Lord, Bishop." Emma held out her hands as she moved to welcome the man who stood patiently by the mantle. "How nice to see you. And how kind of you to come all this way simply to help my cousin tell me I am to be remarried."

The Bishop's eyebrows rose at that. "But my Lady, I am not here to inform you of your marriage. I am here to perform it."

Emma blinked at him. "Perform it?" She turned to glance at her cousin with a frown. "But... That can not be so. I am newly widowed."

There was silence for a moment as the two men exchanged glances, then the Bishop cleared his throat. "His majesty is aware of the timing being poor, my Lady, but he wishes that this marriage occur. Immediately."

Emma looked taken aback. "Well...That is simply not possible. Surely you misunderstood him? I have not been widowed even a sen-night."

The Bishop glanced at Rolfe who threw him a warning look and stepped forward to say, "Aye, but Emma, he feels since you are so desirous of having children, you would wish to remarry...soon."

Emma bit her lip as she considered that. She was aging swiftly. Goodness, she was already two and twenty. Truth to tell, she had nearly reached the end of her child bearing years. "Aye, mayhap due to my age we might shorten the mourning period," she murmured uncertainly.

Rolfe and the Bishop looked relieved.

"Aye," she decided with a nod. "Certainly we can shorten it. Three months should be acceptable under the circumstances. Do you not think?" She glanced at the men questioningly to see that the Bishop was staring at her cousin wide eyed.

Rolfe shifted uncomfortably, then sighed. "Emma, you do not comprehend. You are to be married as soon as de Aneford gets here."

Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "When is that to be?"

Rolfe shifted on his feet, then sighed. "Today. We hope."

"Today?" Her eyes widened. "But... That is not proper. And..and I have nothing to wear."

The Bishop turned to share an amused smile with Rolfe, thinking this the usual woman's cry, but his eyebrows rose in question when he saw the frown on that man's face.

"They just finished blacking everything," he explained.

"Well surely there is something-?" He paused at the younger man's expression.

"Did you not notice that even the servants are in black?" Rolfe asked dryly.

The Bishop glanced around the empty room at that. Truthfully, he had not noticed. He supposed he had been wrapped up in his own thoughts. Frowning now, he walked to the door of the keep and tugged it open to peer out at the bailey. His jaw dropped when he saw that every man, woman, and child was running about in various shades of black clothing. Slamming the door, he turned back to peer at Rolfe in mingled bewilderment and irritation.

"Emma had everything blackened," her cousin explained, suddenly finding the situation amusing.

"Everything?"

"Even the linens."

"Even the..." The Bishop's voice faded away.

"It seemed appropriate," Emma said uncertainly now, feeling a bit foolish. She supposed it was going a bit far to include the linen, but truly, it had seemed appropriate at the time. After all, it was not just the mourning of her husband that had caused her to do so. It had been in honor of the mourning of her hopes of having children as well, all chance for which she had thought dead along with her husband. She was more than aware that at two and twenty, no man would have offered for her hand. Even now she was sure that had it not been for Rolfe' s favor with the King, she would have been left to whither in this old castle, a childless widow.

Sighing, she shook her head. "It matters not. My husband, despite his neglect, deserves at least a short mourning period. I simply can not remarry for at least three months." she announced firmly.

Frowning, Rolfe glanced at the Bishop who murmured, "Mayhap this would be a good time to explain the difficulties to Lady Emmalene."

"Aye. Indeed," Rolfe said on a sigh, then turned back to his cousin. He opened his mouth twice to begin these explanations, then sighed and urged her to sit in the seat before the fireplace, positioning himself with his back to the mantle so that he could see the empty hall and all it's entrances. It would not do for anyone else to hear what he had to say.

"Understand you Em, this is a delicate situation. You see, due to your request of the King." He hesitated forehead furrowed, then caught his hands behind his back and paced before the fireplace some before turning again to where she sat patiently. "You see, Em, by requesting that the King order Fulk to..er.."

"Attend his conjugal duties," the Bishop supplied.

"Aye. Well... by doing that, you see, you made it public knowledge that your marriage was ne'er..er..."

"Consummated," the Bishop murmured.

"Just so," Rolfe agreed, tugging at the top of his tunic and clearing his throat. "That being the case, there is the problem of Fulk's family. You see, Fulk's Aunt and cousin are claiming that the marriage is null and void because it was ne'er...er..." His gaze slid to the Bishop.

"Consummated."

"Just so."

Emma's forehead puckered. "But Rolfe, it was consummated."

Rolfe froze and turned to her in surprise. "'Twas?"

"Aye." She scowled slightly. "I explained my wedding night fully to the King. My husband and I shared a bed."

Recalling the King's words to him that Lady Emma was so naive she had not even realized the marriage had not been fully consummated, Rolfe shook his head. He briefly wondered how to explain things to her, then decided it was beyond him. Duty to the King not withstanding, no man could be expected to-

"'Tis true," Emma interrupted his thoughts. "That my husband ne'er repeated his...duties. Truth to tell, he neglected his...er..duties horribly. However, only the King knows of this and he is aware that I did not wish it so. I can not think that he would punish me because of my husband's lack of attention."

"Nay, Emma, he is not trying to punish you, he is trying to protect you. And himself. Fulk's Aunt and cousin know of your husband's neglect. There is no heir. They know that. They are a bold, greedy pair. They can cause much trouble for the King and trouble is the last thing he needs just now. They are claiming Fulk's neglect makes the marriage invalid and are requesting that the land and title be turned o'er to Fulk's cousin Bertrand."

"Bertrand?" Emma frowned over that. She was not terribly surprised to hear that Bertrand sought Fulk's home and title. She had met him at her wedding and had not cared overly much for him. It was not anything he had said or done that had caused her dislike. He had not been rude or mean. In fact, if anything, he had been very gracious to her. Gallant even. Too much so. There had been something almost oily in the man's ingratiating manner. And his apparent chivalry had not hidden the avaricious gleam in his eyes. He had peered at the castle, everything in it, and even herself with an oddly greedy glitter in his eyes that had made her feel like a chest of gold he coveted. "He seemed overly ambitious," she murmured to herself at last.

"More than you know," Rolfe muttered, catching her words.

Emma glanced at her cousin curiously. "What mean you?"

His gaze slid warily around the empty room, then he said quietly, "The King suspects Bertrand and a few other Lords of plotting to depose him."

Emma gaped at that and Rolfe nodded grimly. "He suspects the Lord Chancellor is involved as well."

"Archbishop Arundel?" Emma gasped, recalling the grim faced man who had stood at the King's side through out her audience.

"Aye."

"But why? What would they hope to gain?"

Rolfe sighed. "I can not know what the Chancellor hopes to gain. We are not even sure if he is allied with Bertrand, but Bertrand, I suspect, hopes to gain power."

Emma frowned at that and the Bishop explained, "As a boy, Bertrand squired and became quite close friends with Henry of Bolingbroke."

"The King's cousin." Emma murmured, her frown deepening.

The Bishop nodded. "Should King Richard be deposed, Henry would be the most likely person to succeed him."

"And as a friend of the King's, Bertrand would be well positioned," Emma realized grimly. "So, Henry wishes to take his cousin's throne?"

The two men exchanged glances, then Rolfe shrugged uncomfortably. "There is no evidence of that, Em. Bertrand and the others may simply be using the King's cousin for their own gain. Henry has always shown himself loyal to his cousin."

"I see," Emma murmured, her gaze moving to the fire thoughtfully.

Rolfe allowed her her thoughts for a moment, then added, "Knowing of Bertrand's greed for power, his Majesty does not wish to give him any means with which to increase it. Bertrand has a small holding which he inherited from his father, but 'tis nothing in comparison to the wealth and power he would wield should he gain this holding. Hence, Richard has arranged this marriage. On marrying you, de Aneford gains the title of Lord Eberhart with all it includes."

Emma grimaced at that. "That will not please Bertrand."

Rolfe shook his head. "Nay. No doubt Bertrand and his mother shall be quite displeased with this turn of events. Howbeit, by the time they approach the King with their complaint, it shall be done. Or at least that is his hope."

"By the time they approach?" Her eyes narrowed. "Have they or have they not made a complaint to the King?"

"Well..." He looked uncomfortable for a moment, then sighed. "Nay. They have not had a chance. The King heard gossip about their plans before they made a request to see him and he managed to delay seeing them until after arranging everything. We left the day before the appointed audience with the Fulks, which means they will be one day behind us."

"They?" Emma frowned.

"Lady Ascot and Bertrand."

"Lady Ascot is heading here as well? Oh dear Lord, of course she is. She seems to go everywhere that Bertrand does, doesn't she?" Emma stood up, anxiety on her face. She could very well recall her husband's Aunt from the last time she had suffered her presence. While his cousin had seemed as oily as a greased pig, his Aunt had been a harridan of a woman, terrifying the servants. Emma had never met a more unpleasant woman. Cold, complaining, and just plain mean, the woman had actually started to beat one of the serving girls with her cane because she had not served her quickly enough. The last thing she wished was to see that woman return here, let alone have any power over the people who had served Emma so well. She would never enjoy another heartbeat of peace knowing that the people she had once led were suffering under Lady Ascot's rule. That being the case, she could only be grateful that King Richard had vexed their plans.... But if he had, why would Bertrand and Lady Ascot be heading for the castle? Emma asked that now and watched with suspicion as her cousin's discomfort grew.

"The King intends to tell them that he was unaware of their discontent an-"

"Lie."

Rolfe winced at her accusation.

The Bishop looked disapproving. "Lie is a strong word, my Lady."

Emma waved that away impatiently. "What else is he going to tell them?"

Rolfe hesitated. "He is intent on keeping the peace."

"Of course," Em agreed dryly. "And?"

"He intends on telling them that as it was so obvious to the court that you were more than willing to..er...."

"Do your duty," the Bishop supplied.

"Aye. That being the case, he had not thought they would bring such a petty claim."

"He hopes to shame them into recanting their claim," the Bishop pointed out with satisfaction.

"Howbeit, should greed win out o'er honor-"

Emma rolled her eyes at that. There was no doubt - in her mind at least - that given a choice between saving their pride and getting their hands on Eberhart castle, greed would win out.

"Then he shall tell them that ne'er having considered such a problem and having been concerned for the safety of the castle, it's occupants, and yourself now that it has no Lord, he commissioned the marriage between yourself and Lord Amaury. Howbeit, he will supply them with a letter to the effect that should they arrive before the wedding is accomplished...and..."

His gaze swam anxiously to the Bishop again, who sighed and supplied, "Consummated."

"Then they may call a halt to the wedding and reclaim the property....."

Emma's eyes narrowed at that. The very thought of those two vultures gaining power over her people made her blood boil. Then she noticed the way Rolfe was suddenly avoiding looking at her. "And? What else?"

Rolfe, turned his gaze unhappily away and Emma found herself wringing her hands again as she waited impatiently. Finally, she took a step forward. "What else, Rolfe?"

When he could only look at her pityingly, it was the Bishop who filled the silence. "Bertrand also wishes to lay claim to you, my Lady. As his wife."

"What?" she turned on him in horror. "But I do not like him." A foolish argument mayhap. Liking had little to do with duty and marriage. 'Sides, she had not even met Amaury de Aneford, but had not protested his possible suitability as a husband. Still, Emma was not thinking too clearly just then, she was a might overset by the fact that Bertrand had even included her in the deal. 'Twas astonishing to her. After all, Fulk had not been able to bare his husbandly duties, why would his cousin wish to saddle himself with her? Good Lord, this was a worry, she thought.

"Bertrand claims 'tis the only fair resolution," Rolfe put in dryly. "That way you shall not be 'deprived' as he puts it. Though we all know it simply is not true. He's commented to one and all that he would like nothing better than to get his hands on your-"

"Dowry," the Bishop interrupted with a sharp look at Rolfe.

"Aye, that too," Rolfe muttered. Eberhart castle had been falling apart when Emma had married Fulk. Without her funds it would have fallen completely to ruin. No doubt Bertrand and Lady Ascot would not wish to have to return that....If there was any left.

"The PIG!" Emma bellowed, surprising both men with her volume. She'd rather lie down with snakes than share her bed with Bertrand. Aside from that, the idea of having his mother here - for she would no doubt move in with her son should he become Lord of the castle - gave her the vapors. Good God the woman would take over. She'd run the place as if it were her own. She'd order Emma about like a servant and most likely treat the servants like slaves. Emma could almost feel the beatings that would occur then. The spilling of a tankard of ale would probably bring about the breaking of bones. By God, she would not have it! "This will not do at all. We must- Where is my husband?"

"Your husband?" Both men peered at her in confusion.

"Amaury," she said grimly. "He is to be my husband, is he not? Well, where is he? Does he not realize the seriousness of the situation?"

"He has not been apprised of the situation as I understand," the Bishop said carefully. "However, the King sent him a message to make himself available here forthwith to be married." He glanced at Rolfe, then back. "We actually expected him to arrive before us as he was only-"

"Well, where is he?" Emma demanded, then frowned suddenly as a thought struck her. "Mayhap he has been beset by bandits."

Rolfe smiled slightly at her suggestion. "I do not think a couple of pesky bandits would even slow down, let alone stop de Aneford, he's-"

"Then mayhap Bertrand had him assassinated."

"My Lady," the Bishop said soothingly, but Emma was in no mood to be soothed.

"SEBERT!" she roared suddenly, moving to the door.

"She has quite a set of lungs for such a petite woman," the Bishop murmured with a mixture of awe and horror to Rolfe.

"Aye." Her cousin smiled crookedly. "I had quite forgotten about that aspect of her personality. She has not displayed it since our youth that I know of."

"Aye... well..." the Bishop murmured, then winced as she bellowed for her steward again.

Emma had just reached the door when it burst open and the man presented himself. Alarm was written all over his face. His Lady was a sweet and gentle woman. Surely only the Great Hall being afire, or some other equal catastrophe, could get her to behave so?

"My Lady?" He peered briefly around to see that all seemed in order and confusion immediately covered his face.

"Take a dozen men and ride out in search of my husband," Emma commanded at once. The steward goggled at her.

"But, my Lady-"

"NOW, Sebert! Or all will be lost. MOVE!" she roared when he continued to stare at her.

Sebert nodded and started to withdraw, then paused and turned back, his gaze moving helplessly to the two men by the fireplace, before flying back to Emma herself. "But, my lady, yer husband is dead," he pointed out miserably.

Emma rolled her eyes at that. "Sebert, why can you not be like other stewards and listen at key holes?"

"I...." Sebert drew himself up indignantly, but Emma continued.

"Had you done so, you would be aware that I am to marry Lord Amaury de Aneford... Immediately. Before Lord Fulk's cousin and Aunt can get here and Bertrand can lay claim to the manor and myself."

"Lord Bertrand? And his mother?" Sebert looked horrified. He too recalled the wedding and Lady Ascot's cruelty to the staff.

"Just so," Emma said dryly. "Now do as I say and fetch some men and search for my husband. He is lost or something. He must be brought here forthwith. And in future, do please try to be privy to such serious conversations so that I do not have to waste time explaining things to you."

"Aye, my Lady," Sebert said at once, nodding and hurrying out the door.

Rolfe opened his mouth to try to calm his cousin once her unfortunate steward had fled, but Emma gave him no chance. Moving to the bottom of the stairs, she peered up and bellowed again. "MAUDE!"

The female servant presented herself at once, flying down the stairs as if demons were on her heels. "Aye, my Lady?"

"Flowers. I must have a garland of flowers and a veil. And a fresh gown."

"A veil, my Lady?" Maude's plain face became as blank as slate.

"Aye, Maude, a veil," Emma said between her teeth with forced patience. "I am to be married. I need a veil."
"Married?!" Maude gaped at her.

"You do understand the word, do you not?" Emma asked grimly.

"Aye. But, my Lady....your veils...all your clothes are-"

"Black. Aye, I know. Bad luck that. There is little help for it. See to my instructions, Maude."

Swallowing, Maude nodded, turned back toward the top of the stairs, hesitated, turned back, then threw her hands up. "Mavis!" she shrieked at last and flew up the stairs. A moment later another female servant, a younger one, nearly as fair as the first had been plain, came flying down the stairs. Presumably, this was Mavis and she had been sent for the flowers while Maude apparently sought out the necessary clothes.

"If you will excuse me gentlemen, I must change," Emma said now, with a calm that was in direct contrast to the uproar she had caused. "Go you to the church. We shall await my husband there."

The Bishop watched her move sedately up the stairs with something akin to amazement, then turned to Rolfe. "Quite a...Lady," he pronounced at last.

"Aye," Rolfe sighed and moved to the table where a tray holding a pitcher of wine and three glasses sat. "A drink Bishop?"

The Holy man started to purse his lips in disapproval, then changed his mind. "Aye," he said heavily, moving to join him. "It may be just the thing."

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