The Shattered Rose.
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"You can't live on dreams, you know."
Galeran turned to see Raoul offering a mutton pie. "Food again?"
"We've not eaten for hours. It's a fighting man's duty to keep his body fit for his lord and God."
"I think you just like a full belly."
"And why not?" Raoul put the pie into his hand. "Eat! Your lovely wife won't welcome a scarecrow."
"She'll welcome me in any form." But when Galeran bit into the cold pie his empty stomach cramped with delight. And anyway, he might need his strength.
He hoped he would need his strength.
At the thought of the night and a bed and Jehanne a ripple of painful desire shot through him to land predictably in his cock and harden it.
"How close are we?" Raoul shot a long stream of wine into his mouth from a wineskin then passed it over.
Galeran forced down his lust and tilted the skin to drink. "Less than ten leagues. With God's blessing we should arrive before dark."
Raoul grinned. "With your impatience, we'll push on even if darkness falls. Not that I blame you. If I'd taken a vow of fidelity and was within sniffing distance of my wife, nothing would stop me either."
"The very thought of you taking a vow of fidelity makes my head ache, my friend. Perhaps interest in carnal matters fades after time."
Galeran laughed. "No."
"So, let's press on. We don't want you to explode." He bellowed to the men to prepare the horses.
As they rode, Raoul asked, "Your father's castle is close by our road?"
"That's good. We can get a proper meal."
"Do you think of nothing but food?"
"Someone has to."
"Fasting is good for the soul. We ride by."
Raoul stared at him. "After two years abroad?"
"I can hardly stop, gobble a hunk of beef and leave, can I? And I intend to be home today. I'll do the happy family reunion another time."
After a moment, Raoul said, "Have you thought that it might be a shock, you just showing up at your gate?"
Galeran looked sideways. "Oh, is that it? You want me to stop at Brome and send a polite message to warn Jehanne to air the mattress?"
"It might be a-"
Raoul shrugged with a rattle of mail. "So be it, but if your wife falls into a dead faint at your feet, don't blame me."
"Jehanne never faints."
"The Lady Jehanne has probably never had a husband turn up from nowhere before. You should have written from Bruges."
"What point, when a letter would travel no faster than I?"
"When did you last write? Will she have any idea to expect you?"
"Before Jerusalem." Galeran tried to kick the dun up to speed but Raoul leaned down to seize the reins.
"In God's name, why not?"
Galeran fought him for a moment then gave in. "What was there to say?"
"That you are alive and on the way home?"
"I didn't feel alive."
Raoul's expression was too understanding. "I would have written for you. As it is.... Christ's blood, she won't have had word for over a year!"
"A year? Surely not." But it was. A year absorbed by travel and delay. "She'll know I'm safe."
"She'll just know. As I would know if anything had happened to her."
Raoul shook his head. "She'll faint," he said with certainty.
"I told you, Jehanne has never fainted in her life. She didn't faint when we fell in with brigands and her maid's throat was cut. She just killed the murderer."
"God's death!" said Raoul, clearly impressed, though not, perhaps, favorably. Raoul liked his women soft and pleasing.
"Or when the boar attacked!" Galeran called, cantering on.
"The boar? She killed that too?"
Galeran laughed, loving to talk of his strong, courageous wife. "No, but she would have done had it not fled."
Raoul was right, though. He should have sent warning from Bruges. He should stop and send warning today. He wouldn't, though. He wanted to surprise her.
Then he saw the square stone keep of Heywood Castle beyond some trees and reined in sharply. He'd dreamed of this so many times that it almost felt like another dream. He needed a moment to convince himself that it was finally, blessedly real.
It looked no different. It was as if he'd ridden away yesterday.
Raoul reined up beside him, his horse foaming with effort. "So, we made it, though your men are straggled out behind for a league. Do we wait for them to gather and ride down quietly, as if there had been no hurry at all?"
The thought had crossed Galeran's mind. Trust Raoul to read him so well. "No," he said, and kicked into a gallop to ride round the curve of the road and into full view of his home...
He hauled the dun to a rearing stop.
An army seethed around Heywood.
His castle was under siege!
"By the five wounds, who?"
Raoul shaded his eyes from the flare of the setting sun. "The pennant shows red and green."
Raoul's eyesight had always been remarkable, but Galeran could scarcely believe it. "That's my father's pennant."
"Then your father is besieging your castle."
Galeran couldn't deny Raoul's words. By now he, too, could make out the familiar banner of William of Brome fixed by the handsome main tent. He even recognized the tent. It was his father's pride and joy.
All joy dissolved into dread. He stared at Heywood, at the simple square keep, and at the solid curtain wall, newly completed just before he left. They bore no marks.
Heywood was one of the strongest castles in the north. Who had taken it without a battle? And what had happened to his wife and child?
Ice on his heart, he surged down the slope into the camp, ignoring cries and attempts to bar his way. He was only aware of the sword in his hand when he almost used it on a man.
He halted the action just as the guard stopped his attack, shock on his face. "My Lord Galeran!"
“It's Lord Galeran."
"It's the Lord of Heywood."
The words whispered about him strangely.
Then his father pushed through the crowd, still massive and ruddy-faced, but grayer than Galeran remembered. "Galeran! Is it you? Christ be praised! We thought you dead."
A groom had run to hold Galeran's bridle. His father almost dragged him from the horse into a rib-crushing, back-pounding hug. "Welcome home! Welcome home! We thought you dead! Praise be to God. Praise be to God!"
Galeran tore from the embrace. "Who holds my castle?"
Joy drained from Lord William's heavy features. "You'd best come in the tent, lad."
Galeran realized then that he was surrounded by brothers and uncles, and that none of them was truly meeting his eyes.
She was dead.
The conviction grew in him like a sickness, dizzying him, making him want to vomit. He let himself be steered into the tent, aware of his family cramming in behind, but with eyes only for his father. "Jehanne?"
Lord William poured wine into a goblet and held it out. "Drink."
Galeran almost dashed it from his hand. "Where is she?"
His father placed the goblet on a small table between them. "In the castle."
Galeran almost collapsed with relief. A prisoner only. Thank God, thank God. "Who holds her?"
There was something like a snort from his uncle Thomas. "That's a good question."
Galeran stared around, alerted by tone more than words. It was only when his younger brother Gilbert stepped back, hands raised, that he realized he still had his sword in his hand. He lowered it slowly and just as slowly sheathed it. "What is going on?"
"I'm sorry," said his father. "It's not good. Your wife has installed Raymond of Lowick as master of Heywood. Since she refused to send him away, we've come to insist on it."
Just then the tent flap was swept back and another big man entered -- Galeran's oldest brother, Will. His whole bloody family was here.
"Little brother! You're a sight for my eyes, though this is a hell of a situation to come home to."
Since he couldn't avoid the fierce hug Galeran endured it. It gave him time to think, anyway, to have things settle about him.
Jehanne and Raymond of Lowick.
No. He couldn't believe it. Certainly Lowick had been her father's squire, and she'd fancied herself in love with the handsome young knight he'd become, but that had been years ago...
When he was free of Will's hug, he turned to his father. "I thought Lowick married in Nottinghamshire."
"His wife died childless and he ended up with little of her property. Around that time, your seneschal took a fever and died. Next I knew, your wife had taken him on here."
The air was like gall, but Galeran had to keep breathing. "That is her right. I left her with control of Heywood. Lowick was always a sound knight."
Lord William's jaw worked side to side as it always did when he didn't want to say something. The silence stretched until blunt Will revealed the truth, "Just over a month ago, your wife bore him a child."
Lord William picked up the goblet and pressed it into Galeran's hands. "Drink."
Galeran drained the cup in a haze of disbelief. Had he fallen from his horse and lost his wits? Was he, God forbid, still lying raving by the walls of Jerusalem?
"We heard you were dead." Lord William's voice seemed far away. "Near a year ago word came that you'd fallen in the taking of Jerusalem. It wasn't much to go on, and none of us took it as a settled thing, but it did set off a fine debate about Jehanne's future. Who would hold Heywood. Who would have guardianship of the babe...."
Another silence fell and Galeran stared at the solid tent pole. One thing at a time. Don't think about Jehanne with another man. Don't think about her squandering her hard-won fertility to produce a bastard.
"By what right does she refuse you admittance?"
"By no right," growled his father. "She just knows -- they both know -- that it will go hard with them when I'm in there."
One thing at a time.
Galeran placed the goblet back on the table. "It will go with them as I say."
He turned and walked out of the tent, aware of his father and brothers following, of the eyes of all the camp on him. He didn't even try to look at Raoul.
All his rapturous praise of Jehanne was ashes, and yet....
She'd thought him dead. There was a grain of comfort in that.
He took his reins from the groom and mounted his weary horse. His father grabbed the bridle close by the bit. "What are you doing? If you want to lead an assault, we'll do it tomorrow."
Galeran didn't try to force the horse forward. "Let us first see if they'll open to their rightful lord."
"By Peter's toe, lad, they'll shoot you on sight! It would suit them fine to kill you."
"If my wife wants me dead, I would be better off so." He met his father's angry eyes and after a moment, Lord William released the horse.
Galeran rode toward his castle bare headed. He had no pennant, but enough people should be able to recognize him when he was close. There were guards on the walls.
Heywood was built on a natural rise of heath-covered rock which was kept clear of all larger growth, so the watchman at the top of the keep always had a clear view of anyone approaching. As Galeran rode up the long sloping road at a walk, he heard the man blow his horn. In moments, new people hurried onto the ramparts over the gate.
One was Jehanne accompanied by a tall man in armor. Presumably Raymond of Lowick, though it was impossible to tell.
Lowick had always been a handsome man and Galeran could see no reason that would have changed now he was close to thirty. He'd always been a skilled warrior, too, both in battle and personal combat.
Galeran could tell nothing of how Jehanne looked, or how the two people looked together. In fact, he thought dispassionately, the figures could be another blond woman and another tall knight, and he would be none the wiser yet.
Would an arrow fly? He was wearing mail, so the chance of it killing him was small, but it could take him in the eye. For that matter, if they had the brutal crossbow, a bolt could pierce his mail. He found he didn't care. At this moment, living or dying seemed immaterial.
Unopposed, he rode near to the closed gates. By then there could be no doubt that the woman was his wife.
She had not changed. She was still slender, and her fine blond hair escaped as usual to blow in unruly wisps. She looked pale, but that was to be expected. She met his eyes steadily, but he expected that.
Jehanne would stare down Satan at the gates of hell.
A flare of rage almost shattered his control.
He looked away to scan the armed men on the walls. They, too, looked pale, but all pallor could just be the rapidly failing light. "I am Lord Galeran of Heywood," he announced in a voice loud enough to be heard by all, "rightful lord of this castle. At first light tomorrow I will approach with my men and my family's men and expect admittance. Deny me at your peril."
He waited a moment in case there would be a response, but there was none, not even defiance. The only movement was Jehanne's blue scarf blowing in the chilly wind.
Galeran swung away and rode back down to the camp. There he dismounted and turned his weary horse over to John.
"Why tomorrow?" his father demanded. "If they'll let you in then, they'll let you in now!"
"Perhaps I need time to think before meeting my wife."
With that, Galeran walked away, away from the camp, away from everyone.
And, thanks be to God, they let him go.
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