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When Love Awaits(4)

By:Johanna Lindsey

The crowd cheered the kiss, and then all at once the melee began, a mock battle in which all the contestants took part most ferociously. There were strict rules for a melee, rules which distinguished it from real battle, but the rules were ignored that morning. It was immediately obvious that all seven opposing knights meant to unseat the Black Wolf. They succeeded quickly, and it was only the swift work of his own knights that prevented him from being defeated. He even had to call them back from giving chase as his opponents fled the field.

It was over all too soon, and Leonie went home in disappointment, her only satisfaction being the knowledge that some of the Black Wolf’s new vassals had apparently rejected him as their overlord. Why? She could not guess what he had done. It was enough to know that his taking possession of Kempston had not gone easily.

Leonie dismissed Wilda and joined her aunt by the fire, staring pensively into the flames, remembering the fire in the forest and wondering what new troubles the future would bring.#p#分页标题#e#

“You are worried about our new neighbor?”

Leonie glanced sideways at Beatrix, surprised. She didn’t want her aunt burdened with this.

“What is there to worry about?” Leonie hedged.

“Bless you, child, you need not hide your troubles from me. Do you think I am not aware of what happens around me?”

Leonie believed just that. “It is of no great importance, Aunt Beatrix.”

“Then we will have no more rude young knights coming to threaten us with angry words?”

Leonie shrugged. “They are only angry words. Men like to bluster and snarl.”

“Oho, do I not know it.”

They both laughed, for of course Beatrix knew more about men than Leonie did, confined as she had been since the age of thirteen.

Leonie confessed, “I thought we would have visitors today, but no one came. Perhaps they do not blame us for this day’s trouble.”

Beatrix frowned thoughtfully, and her niece asked, “Do you think the Black Wolf might have other plans this time?”

“That is possible. It is a wonder he has not already burned our village.”

“He would not dare!” Leonie cried. “He has no proof my serfs have caused his troubles. He has only the accusations of his own serfs.”

“Yes, but that is enough for most men. Suspicion is enough.” Beatrix sighed.

Leonie’s anger drained away. “I know. Tomorrow I will go to the village and make certain that henceforth no one leaves Pershwick land for any reason. There will be no more trouble. We must see to that.”

Chapter 3

ROLFE d’Ambert threw his helmet hard across the hall the moment he strode in. His squire, newly acquired from King Henry, hurried to catch it. The helmet would need a trip to the armorer before he wore it again, but Rolfe was not thinking of that. Just then, he needed to smash things.

At the hearth across the large hall, Thorpe de la Mare hid his amusement at his young lord’s display of temper. It was so like the boy he had been, not the man he was now. Thorpe had seen many such displays in the years he’d served Rolfe’s father. The father was dead these nine years and Rolfe’s older brother had inherited their father’s title and the bulk of his estates in Gascony. The property left to Rolfe was small, but the greedy brother had wanted even that and had outlawed Rolfe from his home.

Thorpe left with Rolfe, giving up his comfortable position to follow the young knight rather than serve the brother. The years since had been very good, years of fighting as mercenaries, growing rich from the ransoms won at tourneys. Rolfe was now twenty and nine years to Thorpe’s two score and seven, yet Thorpe never regretted letting the younger man lead him. Other men felt the same way, and Rolfe had become a leader to nine knights and nearly two hundred mercenaries, all of whom had chosen to stay with him now that he was settled.

But was Rolfe settled? Thorpe knew how Rolfe felt about Henry’s generosity. The estate gave him more aggravation than he had experienced in years. Much more, and Rolfe would be ready to leave it all and return to France. The estate was something that existed only as an honor, for it gave nothing tangible and drained his purse daily.

“Did you hear, Thorpe?”

“The servants have talked of nothing else since the woodcutter moved into the keep for the night,” Thorpe replied as Rolfe sat down heavily in the chair next to him.

“Damn me!”

Rolfe slammed a fist down on the small table beside him, opening a crack down its middle. Thorpe kept his expression carefully blank.#p#分页标题#e#

“I have had enough!” Rolfe bellowed. “The well fouled, the herds scattered into the forest, the serfs’ few animals stolen, and this was the third fire. How long to rebuild this hut?”