The Saxon Lord’s Unwanted Bride – Emily Royal

THE EVENİNG SUN cast a red glow over the battlefield, highlighting the bodies of the fallen. Sitting on horseback, next to the Duke of Normandy, Alain de Morigeaux looked out across the site of the battle of Hastings, which had taken place barely a month before. “So many bodies—and my son among them.” “Nay, Alain,” his companion said. “Our men were buried with honor, including your Henri.” “What of these Saxons? Will their bodies be left to rot? The field is a sea of blood.” “’Tis only the sunset, Alain, and it was necessary.” “As is the conquest of England?” “Aye, but only because their fool of a king did not give me what he’d promised. He could have prevented this bloodshed.” “You’ll find opposition here,” Alain said. “They won’t take kindly to yielding their homes and estates to your men.” “What of you, Alain? I wish to grant you an estate in recognition of Henri’s service.” “I’ve no desire to leave Morigeaux.” “Let me bestow it on your daughter.” “Eloise?” “It’s time she had a home of her own.

” Alain shifted in his saddle and his horse snorted, dipping its head in protest. “Could you find her an estate with a convent nearby?” he asked. “You want Eloise to take holy orders?” Alain shook his head. “I had thought, after her—illness—she might retire to a convent, but the life wouldn’t suit her.” “Then she must marry.” Marry? Alain shook his head as panic rose within him. “No, Your Grace.” “I can’t grant her an estate and leave her unwed,” his companion said. “These Saxons won’t accept my rule without protest. I’ve had to quell six uprisings already.

How would they react to an unmarried woman presiding over one of their estates? She must have a husband.” “I cannot permit it.” “I’ll find a husband for her, Alain. One of my barons…” “Not a Norman!” Alain cried. “Is there a Saxon you could give her to?” “Have a care, Alain.” The duke’s voice grew quiet, a sign of danger. “Would you make demands of your lord?” Alan shook his head. “Not a demand. A request—a favor for an old friend.” The duke fingered the reins of his horse, then his lips curved into a smile.

“So be it,” he said. “I’ll bestow Wildstorm on your daughter.” “Wildstorm?” “An estate a day’s ride from here. Its lord fought honorably and yielded to me when the battle was won. He has sworn fealty and I’ve no reason to doubt him.” “Won’t he object to surrendering his home?” “He understands the penalties of the vanquished. Marriage to a Norman woman would enable me to recognize his loyalty by permitting him to remain at his home.” “Is he a good man?” William chuckled. “Harald of Wildstorm is a big red-blooded brute with Viking blood in his veins. The Saxons call him the Butcher, and he’s more than capable of controlling his countrymen.

” “Mon Dieu…” “Don’t worry, Alain. Despite appearances, he’s a man of honor. He demanded I spare the lives of his men, even when I had the tip of my sword at his throat. A man shows his true quality by how he treats his subordinates rather than his equals—or his conqueror. He’ll make Eloise a fine husband.” “I shall do as my king wishes.” “I’m not crowned yet, Alain,” William said. “But I ask you to trust me. I wouldn’t give Eloise to a beast. I’m most distressed she never fully recovered from her illness, and I would see her happy again.

” Alain sighed. “She’s my only child now. Perhaps she’ll be happier in England.” “Then so be it. Prepare Eloise to travel immediately you return to Morigeaux. The wedding must take place as soon as she arrives at Wildstorm. I shall send her a token of my affection.” Alain nodded. “You have my thanks.” “Come, Alain.

We sail tonight.” William spurred his horse and galloped down the hill. Alain sighed, closing his eyes to fight the fear of giving his gentle little lamb to a man known as The Butcher. He tipped his head skyward before spurring his horse in the duke’s wake. I pray you’ll help my daughter to heal, Harald of Wildstorm. W C H A P T E R 1 ildstorm Estate, December 1066 HARALD BASKED in the afterglow of his climax, the woman’s moans of pleasure ringing in his ears. Marlin might be the best whore in the village but Harald knew the difference between a woman genuinely enjoying a good rutting and one screaming with false enthusiasm in order to secure an extra coin. He sighed at the thought of the evening to come. Honor dictated that after today he must deny himself the pleasure of his Saxon beauties. And though he might be called the Butcher—and rightly so—he was, at least, a man of honor.

Marlin ran a fingertip down his face then brushed her lips against his own. He jerked his head away. A second pair of hands caressed his chest, wiping the leaves off before he felt a hot mouth on his stomach which worked its way down to the apex of his thighs. “Be off with you, Gertrude,” he growled. “But my Lord, it’s my turn—and I ache to taste you”. “Very well,” he murmured. Gertrude, anxious to ensure he paid her as handsomely as Marlin, administered to him enthusiastically, showing no disappointment when his body was unable to summon similar enthusiasm. Marlin caressed his shoulders and murmured words of encouragement in his ear. Harald closed his eyes, taking in the sensation of the two whores desperate to please him and the hard, cold ground against his back. The moans turned from groans of pain into screams of agony.

Thousands of voices cried in terror until some were silenced, others left to scream for hours. Blood, always blood, the field bathed in the blood of his men. The metallic odor thickened in the air, morphing into the sickly sweet smell of flesh rotting—flesh of the men who lay on the battlefield without hope, dying, watching while their bodies dissolved into the ground… He sat up, and let out a hoarse scream. “My lord!! Marlin reached for him but he pushed her away, shaking. “Are you well, my Lord?” “Aye, Marlin,” he said. “’Tis only the cold.” “Let us warm you,” Gertrude coaxed. “No time,” Harald said. He tossed a coin to each of them. “I must return to Wildstorm.

” “To visit Roswyn?” Marlin pouted. “Jealousy doesn’t become you, Marlin,” he said. “I care not for your sister, and she cares for none but herself.” “Forgive her,” Marlin whispered. “Her husband does not satisfy her needs.” Harald grunted. “Neither do I. I can tell when a woman’s pleasure is genuine; even yours.” Marlin chuckled. “I could teach you how to pleasure a woman.

” “Are you eager for another coin?” “No, my Lord. It would be a favor for a friend.” “I’ve no desire to further the pleasures of women,” Harald said. “The last woman to take genuine pleasure when I rutted her, destroyed my life. I won’t be taken for a fool again.” “Not even by Roswyn?” He laughed bitterly. “Roswyn thinks I care for her, even though I’m to marry tonight.” He silenced their protests with a wave of his hand. “It’s merely a marriage of convenience to enable me to retain Wildstorm,” he said. “Honor dictates I shall remain faithful to her, however little I like the idea.

” “Then you must take pity on us,” Marlin said. “My bride is a Norman wench, who I hear is past her prime, and deformed,” Harald said. “’Tis I who must be pitied.” The trees thinned out on their return to the village and the drum of hoofbeats carried across the winter air. Harald spotted a party travelling towards Wildstorm; a cart laden with trunks and servants, and four men on horseback, flanking a carriage. The bridal party. Duke William’s words burned in his ears. I expect you to hold your oath to me, Harald of Wildstorm. I’ve known the Morigeaux family for many years. Treat your wife well, or suffer the consequences.

I will be eager to hear how she fares in your care. Perhaps she’d been sent to spy on him. He had sworn an oath of fealty to William. Covered in the blood of his enemies he’d knelt before his conqueror and yielded. Willian was a brilliant strategist and leader—a worthy victor and a man of honor. But Harald would never forgive the suffering—the loss of lands, homes and dignity that his countrymen endured at the hands of the Normans. He could not forgive the horrors that invaded his dreams. The losses his countrymen suffered came with a price. He would marry this woman being forced upon him, but nothing would induce him to love her. “ Eloise woke to the sound of Papa’s voice and the carriage door opened.

“Come, little lamb. Lower your veil.” Eloise complied. She was already wearing her bridal gown. At Duke William’s insistence she was to be married immediately. She took Papa’s hand and his eyes narrowed at how violently her fingers trembled. “You’ve nothing to fear, little lamb. William himself says this Harald is a good man.” “There’s no such thing, Papa, save you and dear Henri.” “You must marry him whether you wish it or no,” Papa said, sharply.

“This marriage will help ensure peace between Norman and Saxon. Do not let me down.” He kissed the top of her head and spoke more softly. “Don’t let the past cloud your judgement, chérie. This is a rich and fertile land. The people are hard-working, and some of them know a little of our language. Your situation couldn’t be more fortunate—and the convent is barely an hour’s ride away.” “You’ve secured—her—a place? I’ll be able to visit her?” “Aye, but hush, child,” Papa said. “Do not speak of her.” Through her veil she saw a large rectangular wooden building with a thatched roof, together with a number of outbuildings.

Smaller dwellings surrounded the main hall—a village, which stretched into the forest. A river ran alongside the village, disappearing between the trees. Beyond, a soft hill rose, bathed in the watery light of the setting sun. Men worked on the hillside, clearing the ground to lay the foundations for the stone castle William insisted be erected. Though built from both English and Norman stone, signifying the union between the two peoples, it would tower over Wildstorm as a reminder that England belonged to the Normans. The people here must feel oppressed by her arrival. She’d have a difficult task convincing them—let alone her husband—that her countrymen desired peace. My husband. Papa led her toward the main building, where two men waited, together with a handful of servants and villagers. Both men bowed.

The taller man, clearly a soldier, wore a sword and his lips curled into a scowl. His companion was dressed in the manner of a nobleman. Though shorter than his companion, even he towered over her slight frame. He stepped forward and bowed. “Greetings, Alain de Morigeaux, and Lady Eloise. I bid you welcome.” A sense of relief rushed through Eloise and she dropped a curtsey. The man spoke with the cultured tone of a scholar, and he spoke almost perfect Norman French. Through her veil she distinguished a kind face, deep brown eyes and soft dark hair. He took her hand and kissed the back of her fingers.

Her bridegroom was not as barbaric as she’d feared. “My Lord Harald,” Papa said. “It gives me much pleasure to present…” “Forgive me,” the man interrupted, “I’m Edwin. Harald is my brother. I apologize he’s not here to welcome you.” “Where is he, if he’s not here to greet us?” Eloise heard the irritation in Papa’s voice. The soldier barked out a laugh. “I’ll wager he’s rutting in the woods.” “Jeffrey!” Lord Edwin admonished. “Do not disrespect our guests.

” “They’re conquerors and oppressors, not guests,” Jeffrey replied in French, before repeating in English. The villagers murmured among themselves, but fell silent as Edwin raised his hand. “Your lord has sworn fealty to William,” Edwin said. “Anyone not treating our guests with respect will be dealt with harshly. Is that understood?” “Forgive me.” Jeffrey inclined his head. Ignoring him, Papa turned to his entourage. “Take the Lady Eloise’s belongings to her chamber.” The Norman servants scrambled out of the cart, together with Jeanette, Eloise’s maidservant, and began unloading the trunks. Edwin nodded towards a group of Saxons dressed in brown homespun tunics, and they scurried forward to assist.

“Monseigneur de Morigeaux, you must forgive Jeffrey,” Edwin said. “The battle is still fresh in our minds.” “I understand loss in battle myself, Edwin of Wildstorm,” Papa said. “But you must understand that England now belongs to William, and he granted Wildstorm to my daughter. If your brother does not wed her tonight, I shall declare the betrothal null and void and turn you out. Do I make myself clear?” “Papa…” Eloise protested. “Daughter, be silent,” Papa said. “Edwin, take us to the chapel. Your brother has until nightfall.” “HARALD, YOU’RE A FOOL.

” Harald’s brother stood at the main door of the hall, frowning as his gaze settled on the two whores. “Be off with you, wenches,” Harald said. Marlin and Gertrude each blew him a kiss and hurried towards the village. “Your bride awaits you in the chapel,” Edwin said. “Her father threatens to forfeit the betrothal if you’re not wed by nightfall.” Harald snorted. “Is he desperate to rid himself of her?” “It’s no laughing matter,” Edwin chided. “You could still lose Wildstorm.” Harald ignored his brother’s warning. “Is the woman comely?” he asked.

“I don’t know. She was heavily veiled.” Harald sighed. “So the rumors are true. William has saddled me with a deformed crone.” “Looks aren’t everything,” Edwin said. “She may have other qualities.” “I doubt it.” Edwin smiled, sympathy in his expression. “Perhaps she’s kind.

Women devoid of looks often are. And if she’s as hideous as you say, she’d appreciate a little kindness from you.” “Women exist for one thing only,” Harald said, “and they use that to manipulate men into giving them what they want. Liars and harlots, the lot of them.” “This one may be different.” “Edwin, William granted Wildstorm to her. Not her father. How do you think a woman would entice such a man into doing so? This marriage is purely to further peace between Saxon and Norman.” “But not the peace between man and wife?” Harald pushed open the doors to the hall. “There can never be peace between a man and a woman, brother.

I learned that lesson, to my cost, a long time ago.” EDWİN GRASPED his brother’s arm and tried to restrain him, but Harald was too strong for him. Their father’s Viking ancestry was more visible in Harald, with his dirty blonde hair and broad muscular frame, enhanced by years of training with a sword and axe. Their only similarity was in their eyes, both the shape and color of their Saxon mother. Harald’s were a deeper brown than Edwin’s and they would change to a dark mahogany, almost black when aroused. Or angered, as he was now. “Put something on that befits your status,” Edwin hissed, “and get thee to the chapel.” “Do not fear little brother,” Harald said. “I shall wed the wench, but let me drink a horn of ale first. I won’t be able to stomach the sight of her sober.

” Edwin sighed and watched his brother retreat into the hall. Though he loved Harald dearly, and knew the horrors he suffered at night in his dreams, he almost felt sorry for the wench. A woman that small, would snap in two at the hands of any man. And Harald was not known for gentleness—in bed, or out of it. STANDİNG in the chapel next to her bridegroom, Eloise trembled as the priest declared them man and wife. She now belonged to the giant whose hand engulfed her own, and who stared straight ahead, jaw set firm, as if he gritted his teeth. His eyes seemed almost black with rage, and he swayed sideways, the odor of ale on his breath. As soon as the priest finished the declaration, he dropped her hand as if it burned. Then he turned and stumbled out of the chapel leaving her standing, alone and humiliated in front of the witnesses. He hadn’t even bothered to lift her veil.

He had no wish to look at her. Papa took her hand. “Perhaps he’s unwell, daughter.” “Aye,” she said. “I saw the nature of his ailment.” Edwin appeared at her side. “I apologize for my brother,” he said. “May I escort you to the feast?” “Leave us,” Papa said. “My daughter and I will join you later.” “As you wish.

” As Edwin’s footsteps and those of the guests faded, Papa took Eloise in his arms. “I wish you’d wed the brother,” he said. “A gentler man would suit you better.” “Papa, we both know that a gentle appearance can disguise the monster beneath.” Papa kissed her forehead and led her out of the chapel.

.

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