Lord of the Forest – Elizabeth Keysian

CLEMENCE FİTZPAYNE GLARED at her father. “But the queen won’t want me for a maid-of-honor if I’m forced to marry Walter de Glanville. What if I should get with child? I’d be sent home straightway.” She winced as her father, Master William Fitzpayne, slammed his hand on the table, making the ink pot and quill pens jump. “I’ve never heard such nonsense in my life. You, at court? Your duty is to marry well and relieve us of the burden of your keep. What’s wrong with Walter de Glanville? He’s young, stands to inherit a sizeable manor, and is reasonable to look at. To anyone other than your addlepated self, he’s the perfect match for you.” Clemence twisted her hands together and glanced through the diamond-paned windows at the herb garden beyond. It was almost May Day, and the plants were burgeoning—she could start harvesting them for her medicines and perfumes soon. One day, her knowledge of the latter would make her the ideal companion for Good Queen Bess, who—she’d been told—liked to keep herself clean and sweet-smelling. But if her father had his way, a less rosy future beckoned. “Why such haste? Aye, Walter’s personable enough, but I cannot care for him. There’s something about him that makes the hairs on my skin stand up, and not in a pleasant way. He seems always like a banked fire, waiting to explode in a shower of sparks.

I cannot be calm with him, and I cannot trust him. In very truth, I cannot even like him.” Her father twirled a goose feather quill between his fingers. “Something about him? But you can’t say what. It seems the fault is in your perception and your lack of experience, not in his nature. Allow your mother and me to be better judges of character. And forget this nonsense about going to court. You’re far too pretty—you’d be back with a bastard babe in your belly before one turn of the spindle, and spoiled for marriage entirely. Is this how you intend to help us resurrect our family fortunes, by returning to us with an extra mouth to feed?” A babe in her—? How could her father think her so lacking in intelligence? She had conned ancient herb lore by heart. She was an avid reader and knew enough of the world not get herself with child the instant she set foot in Elizabeth’s court.

She hoped. “Father, you know I’m no fool. I can read French and Latin, and have studied the classical authors. I—” “What has that to do with anything? Reading isn’t going to teach you how to deal with the kind of men you’ll find at court.” His neatly-trimmed beard bristled as he prodded at a book she’d inadvertently left on the table. “What’s this? Your latest reading. Toxophilus. Since when does a discourse on the art of archery equip a young woman to navigate a sea of ardent suitors? Nay, ’tis more fitting to let your parents protect you, and decide for you.” She’d been going to say she was reading Toxophilus because it was by Roger Ascham, Queen Elizabeth’s former tutor. She hoped, if she were ever to meet their queen, it would give them a mutual topic of conversation.

Telling Father she was reading it to curry favor at court would fall upon deaf ears. He was dead set on her marrying Walter de Glanville. But she wouldn’t give up without a fight. “Young ladies with no experience do go to court,” she insisted. “And they don’t all return to their parents in disgrace. No one would ever go if that were the case.” Her father heaved a sigh and drummed his ink-stained fingers on the table. “Don’t answer me back, Daughter. You’re not too old to escape punishment, no matter what your mother has to say on the matter. I’ve already accepted Master de Glanville’s suit on your behalf.

He will be here within the hour, to plight his troth to you. I know him to be a God-fearing Protestant, which, to a sensible and well-read girl like yourself, is a particularly important recommendation. You will greet him pleasantly, and respond positively. The matter is now closed.” Clemence’s fingers tightened on the vellum cover of her book. Fury raged through her veins, but she refused to give vent to it. Her father would pour scorn on her for succumbing to a fit of female hysterics, and she’d be locked in her chamber until she calmed down. Which usually happened quickly, because she always had an agenda for the day, and hated being unable to complete it. “Yes, Father. I’ll speak with him.

” She curtseyed and left the parlor. Perhaps she could poison Walter de Glanville—the stillroom contained distillations of henbane, monkshood, and belladonna, as well as packets of dried toadstools. Mostly, she used these against vermin or insect infestations. How much would one have to increase the dose in order to kill a grown man? Shaking her head, she laughed at herself. Nay, she could never inflict harm on a fellow human being. No matter how abominable or comparable to vermin. Unable to shake the feeling of doom that had descended on her, she threw open the stout oak door and erupted into the garden, where she paced irritably up and down the yew-edged walkway. Why did men have to trample on the ambitions of women? Why had her father taught her to read if he didn’t intend her to free her mind? If men hadn’t read, if they hadn’t questioned the established order thrust on them by Church and State, there would have been no Protestantism, no Reformation. Her father was an arch-Lutheran, yet he’d never have heard of Luther had he not broadened his horizons by reading. He must change his mind and let her go to court—he had to.

What was the point of all her book learning and practical skills if the only person to appreciate them would be her future husband? She wouldn’t give in—she could never give in. To do so would crush her. “God give you good day, Mistress Clemence.” She spun around, and in her surprise, hurled Toxophilus from her. It was neatly caught in Walter de Glanville’s gloved hand, and he gave her a satisfied smirk. “I never thought to have my sweeting throw books at me. What is this? A volume of Sir Philip Sidney’s poetry? A tome on huswifery? Ah. Roger Ascham.” The smirk vanished. “Do you mean to take up the longbow? It will ruin your figure, you know.

I never took you for an Amazon.” “Then that shows how little you know me, sir. I’m interested in many things, but it doesn’t mean I intend to take them all up.” “You have too much time for idling, fair maid. Once settled, with a house and family of your own, you’ll cease being so bored that you have to read Roger Ascham.” Her chin went up. “What if I’m happy with the house and family I have, Master de Glanville? There’s no heir but me. I can manage everything here with a few servants, and still find time for reading.” He raised an eyebrow. “And who shall be the heir when you are gone, if you don’t take a husband? Do you want all you have built here to go to a stranger or to wrack and ruin? Would you not prefer to see small children being led by their nurse’s hand along these delightful shell and gravel paths? But I get ahead of myself.

” She glared at him, at the thin lips with their queer curl that was always so close to a sneer, the dark impenetrable eyes, the cruel hook-like nose. Taken together, especially when his face was animated, he was not an ugly fellow, but he lacked warmth. Every move, every word, was calculated. His clothing was perfection—there was no dust on him to indicate his long ride to Clairbourne Manor, and no splatter of mud on his boots. She could swear he’d just combed his hair—not a wisp looked out of place beneath the high conical felt hat with its dancing feather and gold braid embellishment. The smirk that was almost a sneer was back. “You find nothing lacking in your perusal of me, I trust. A gentleman goes a-courting in his finest as I’m sure you’re aware. Ah, forgive me, has your father spoken to you yet?” “He has, indeed, sir. And I have informed him, as I must inform you, I am not ready for marriage.

” He ran his eyes over her with insulting insolence, lingering on her breasts, her waist cinched in by her tight bodice, and the full swirl of her skirts where they splayed out over her rouleau. “I’d say you were more than ready to be wed. You have seen a full score of summers now. It would not do to waste your prime in loneliness.” “I’m not alone.” Her chin was still raised, but she’d taken a step back. Master de Glanville had an irksome habit of standing too close, but she didn’t want him to think she was afraid of him. “My mother and father provide ample company, as do my friends.” “Ah, but are they young and vigorous like me? I know you were close to young Simeon Bayliss, and since his death, have found a friend in his father, Kester, but what manner of company is that old man? You should be dancing, riding to hounds, draping jewels about your bosom, and being bounced in the bedchamber by an adoring husband.” Before she could retreat any farther, he stepped forward and seized her wrist in a cold, hard grip.

“I could give you all those things if we were wed. I could give you pleasure of which you— thankfully—know nothing. Give me that opportunity, Clemence, and you’ll not regret it.” Oh, but she would. Most of the things he described could be done if she were a maid-of-honor at court, and she wouldn’t have the burden of a husband to please, only the queen. The man had no idea how long she’d felt like a caged bird, desperate to spread her wings and fly to freedom. “Let go of me, sir. You have no right to touch me.” “You don’t want to be touched by a man?” He leaned in and inhaled deeply, then gave his twisted smile. “In that case, why do you wear such heady perfume? It is designed to attract and intoxicate a lover, is it not? It must have cost a pretty penny.

” “Only the base from which I made it, which was imported from Venice. The rest I prepared myself, from flowers in the garden.” How dare he suggest she made perfume for the sole purpose of luring men! “You impress me. I look forward to learning more about your skills and sampling them. I’m told you’re also a good housekeeper and cook.” Her father really had been selling her to this man. Although he would only have concentrated on the attributes a man would look for in a wife. “You are too kind, sir. Yet I wonder why you display an interest in me when I clearly have none in you.” He pressed a hand to his breast.

“You wound me, Madam. I thought your difficulty was with the concept of marriage at this time, not with me as a potential suitor. But perhaps I’ve not laid out my stall with sufficient temptations. Pray, walk with me, and grant me the chance to display my advantages before you. I see a charming bower yonder, decorated with a rambling rose. What better place for a lovers’ tryst?” It was the very last thing she wanted to do. “You’ll have to excuse me, sir. I must hie myself to the dairy. There’s a soft cheese hanging that needs my attention, lest it dry out. Another time, mayhap.

” His smile didn’t reach his eyes. “I’ll escort you thither.” He offered his arm. Now was the moment of truth. He would be greatly insulted if she didn’t take his arm, and Father would be furious. She’d be confined to the house for weeks, unable to call on Simeon’s father, Sir Kester Bayliss, or any other friend. She’d be unable to go on her rambles in search of wild herbs for perfumes and potions. By the time she was let out again, they’d all be past their best. It might, after all, be better to be in the rose arbor where they could be seen from the house, rather than out of sight in the dairy. She took de Glanville’s arm.

“Thinking on it again, sir, the dairy will be unpleasantly noisome at present. The rose arbor will do.” As she walked beside him, she couldn’t help but think how different Walter de Glanville was from her precious, departed Simeon. How long had she been in love with Simeon? Two years alive, and three years dead. She’d never recovered from his death and never expected to. It had been almost this time of year that he’d passed away, having suffered horribly from the mysterious sweating sickness, that deadly disease that flourished in warm weather. She nursed a forlorn hope that, one day, a remedy would be found—none of the ones she’d mixed up and sent over to Hackpen Court had done more than ease Simeon’s suffering. Which, she supposed, was better than nothing. Her heart clenched as she thought of Simeon. If only she could have cured him! Prayers had failed, tears likewise, and none of the incredibly expensive physicians Kester had employed had succeeded in saving his son.

“You seem melancholy, my dear. Mayhap I can cheer you with an image of what your life would be like with me.” She returned to the present with an unpleasant shock. Nay. There was definitely no comparison between Walter and Simeon. Where Simeon had been young and slender, with a poetic soul and an almost ethereal male beauty, de Glanville was thickset, hirsute, and dark in a fundamental way, like the trolls and ogres in which the simple folk believed. “I don’t know what you have to say that will sway my opinion, sir. But we have reached the arbor now, so marshal your words carefully.” De Glanville settled himself on the turf seat, releasing the scent of the sweet-smelling chamomile planted there. Not wishing to be any closer to him than she need be, Clemence pulled away and stood in front of him.

“As I said, I have little time to linger. Pray, make what you wish to say brief.” She was desperate to buy herself some thinking time, and find a way out of the impasse into which her father had cast her. “I am sole heir to a large manor in Suffolk.” De Glanville’s eyes were hard as if daring her to contradict him. “Far greater than your Clairbourne Manor and its appurtenances. And I already have, as you know, a fine house at Glemham. Once I come into my own—which should not be long now— you’ll want for nothing if you become my wife. Obviously, you can rely on my spotless character— I’m a good Christian.” He cleared his throat and then continued, “I rarely gamble, keep no whore, and am sound in mind and body.

My lineage is good, and I have all my own teeth. I may not have high connections, but have every expectation of making them once I come into my inheritance.” And he’d have her dowry, should his inheritance not materialize. Had her father no idea this man was as keen to get his hands on that money as he was to win her? The dowry was a small one, as Clairbourne hadn’t prospered of late. Of course, Father wouldn’t have told him that. Both men were as bad as each other. She rolled her eyes. Walter hadn’t finished his list of attributes. “You, with your skills at huswifery, will enable me to entertain lavishly at Emborough—when ’tis mine. Your beauty, too, will attract the interest of gentlemen, and many will come to enjoy your playing and singing, which I’m told are superlative.

” So, that was the crux of it. He thought she’d be an asset in helping him to better himself. But what if she didn’t want to be viewed as his tropaeum uxor—his trophy wife? “You haven’t touched on what advantage I will get from that, sir.” He rose to his feet, his face darkening. “Do not all women want to be the center of attention, to be courted, flattered, and fawned over?” “Only those with no wit. I should like to go to court and wait upon the queen. That would be the best use of my talents, as far as I can see.” After Simeon’s death, it had been the only thing that had stopped her drowning in sorrow. She had to keep that dream alive. De Glanville seized her wrist again, and she went rigid.

“You think much too highly of yourself, Mistress Clemence. You need a husband to tame that pride of yours. I see it—your father sees it, too. Make sure not to deny me for too long, or you may live to regret it.” She shook—partly in anger, partly in fear. There was an expression in de Glanville’s hazel eyes she’d never seen before. His lips were pushed back from his teeth, making him look like a mad dog. She tensed with the urge to run. But no—they were in the rose arbor at Clairbourne Manor, her home, in full view of the house. What harm could he, would he do to her here? Yet she read that unspoken message in his eyes, daring her to test his wrath, to try his resolve.

Her temper rose to her rescue. With her free hand, she dealt him a sharp blow across his stubbly cheek, then yanked her captive wrist free. “Sir, you go too far. This unmannerly behavior is more likely to drive me from your side than attract me. Our discourse is at an end.” Picking up her skirts, she swirled away from him and headed for the safety of the house as fast as she could. “Lady—no one strikes me without a reckoning. Yours will come sooner than you expect.” She heard no footsteps crunching on gravel to indicate he was coming after her, thank heavens. But his parting words shot a shard of ice into her soul.

She’d just made an enemy of Walter de Glanville. And she knew from the tone of his voice that he had no intention of letting her get away unpunished.

.

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