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When Love Awaits(5)

By:Johanna Lindsey



“Two days with several men working quickly.”

“And so the fields will be neglected. How can I wage war when my flanks are forever being nipped at? Am I to leave Crewel and come back to find nothing left of it, the serfs run off, the fields barren?”

Thorpe knew better than to answer.

“Do you want men sent to Pershwick again?” Thorpe ventured carefully. “Will you punish the serfs?”

Rolfe shook his head. “A serf would not act alone. No, serfs follow orders, and it is the one who gives orders that I want.”

“Then you will have to look elsewhere than Pershwick, for I met Sir Guibert Fitzalan, and I swear that when he heard why I had come, his surprise was too real to be feigned. He is not a man who would stoop to this knavery.”

“Yet someone there is urging serfs to mischief.”

“I agree. But you cannot take the keep. Pershwick belongs to Montwyn, and Sir William of Montwyn has enough keeps that if you try, he can summon more men than you are prepared to meet.”

“I would not lose,” Rolfe said darkly.

“But you would lose your advantage here. Look you how long it has taken just to win two of the other seven keeps belonging to Kempston.”

“Three.”

Thorpe raised his brow. “Three? How?”

“I suppose I can thank Pershwick, for when I reached Kenil Keep today I was so furious over what happened here that I ordered the walls destroyed. The siege is finished there.”

“And Kenil useless until the walls are rebuilt?” It was the only conclusion.

“I…well, yes.”

Thorpe said no more. He knew that Rolfe had meant to use catapults only as a last measure in taking the seven keeps. It was part of a bold plan, conceived when the tourney failed in bringing the rebellious vassals to heel. The tourney had been for the benefit of those vassals, giving them a chance to meet their new lord and judge his skills. But instead of merely testing his skills with theirs, they had tried to kill him. Rolfe was therefore left in the unenviable position of owning eight keeps of which seven would not open to him.

Waging war against one’s own property was never profitable, and least profitable was to destroy that property. So Rolfe recruited five hundred soldiers from King Henry’s forces. Harwick and Axeford keeps made terms to surrender without any damage sustained once the bulk of Rolfe’s army appeared outside their gates. The army then moved to Kenil, and now, after a month and a half, Kenil was taken.

Rolfe sat there brooding and Thorpe took a moment to wonder why Lady Amelia had not come down. She had probably heard Rolfe’s voice raised in anger and decided to hide. Rolfe’s mistress would not know him well enough yet to know he would not take his anger out on her.

Hesitantly, Thorpe asked, “You do see that now is not the time to attack the east? You must clean your own house before you go looking at another’s.”

“I see it,” Rolfe said testily. “But tell me what I am to do. I offered to purchase Pershwick, but Sir William wrote that he could not sell it because Pershwick is part of his daughter’s dower lands, left her by her mother. Blast that nicety. The daughter is under his rule, is she not? He could force her to sell it and give her another property.”

“Perhaps the mother’s will is written just so, and he cannot.”

Rolfe scowled. “I tell you, Thorpe, I will not stand for another offense.”#p#分页标题#e#

“You could always marry the daughter. Then you would have the keep without having to pay for it.”

Rolfe’s eyes, black since he’d entered the hall, began returning to their normal dark brown. Thorpe nearly choked. “I was but jesting!”

“I know.” Rolfe mused thoughtfully, too thoughtfully for Thorpe’s liking.

“Rolfe, for the love of God, do not take this idea to heart. No one weds merely to get a few serfs under control. Go over there and knock some heads together, if you must. Put fear into them.”

“That is not my way. The innocent would suffer with the guilty. If I could catch one of the culprits, I would make an example of him, but always by the time I get there, they are long gone.”

“There are many reasons for marriage, but to quell the serfs of a neighbor is not a good reason.”

“No, but to gain peace where peace is wanted is,” Rolfe countered.

“Rolfe!”

“Do you know anything about this daughter of Sir William’s?”

Thorpe sighed with exasperation. “How could I know? I am as new in England as you.”

Rolfe turned toward his men, gathered at the opposite end of the hall. Three of his knights had returned with him from Kenil, as well as a small troop of men-at-arms. Two were from Brittany, but Sir Evarard was from the south of England.

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