The banns were called at mass again next morning, sending Margery into such a state of inward panic that she was scarce aware of the buzz of conversation about her or a page's tug at her sleeve, summoning her to attend my lord of Warwick straightway.
The Earl was waiting for her in his solar.
‘My dear Margery,’ he exclaimed as made obeisance to him. ‘I am so pleased at your change of heart that I have decided to hold your wedding this week. Since your bridegroom is busy on my behalf, it will be more convenient to have it all signed and sealed immediately.’
‘My lord, you ride roughshod over my feelings. I am against this marriage. What makes you suddenly think otherwise?’
Her guardian gave a snort of disbelief. ‘Ah no, you merely flirt and dance with the man as if you care for him. Have you no shame?’
‘I danced with one man last night. Ankarette danced with him t–’ she faltered and her eyes flew to Warwick's as shock and disbelief flooded across her face. She wanted to sink down onto a stool; surely her legs would collapse beneath her.
‘Come let us be done with this fast-and-loose nonsense. You are marrying Richard Huddleston tomorrow and have done. Ah, Richard lad, Margery is a little overcome at the haste of all this but I have explained the situation.’
Richard Stone came through the doorway, removing his plumed beaver hat, and bowed to the Earl. If he knew Margery's appalled eyes were upon him, he seemed unruffled.
‘My lord. I think it may be the matter of my horse's tail.’ He looked round at her now. Did the Devil look so on the acquisition of a new soul? Oh, Jesu, how could she be so stupid? His name was not Stone. Agnes Guppy had told her wrongly. All that time he must have thought she had been deliberately calling him so to rile him. He was Richard Huddlestone.
Be calm, talk yourself out of this, an inner voice advised. Calm? When the deceitful knave was deliberately reminding her who had won all their past battles!
‘No, sirrah, it is the matter of you! I had rather wed a heathen than be yoked to you in matrimony. As I have made very clear, my lord of Warwick, one, I do not want to marry; two, I do not want to marry this week; and, three, I do not want to marry Master Richard Sto – Huddleston.’
‘At least you have finally gotten my name right at last.’ Richard laid his hat and gloves on the table. ‘My lord, there has been some misunderstanding. It seems the lady thought that she was marrying someone else.’
The Earl, appearing half-irritated, half-indulgent at their quarrel, glanced sharply at Margery. ‘Is this true, child?’
‘Yes, my lord.’ Her fingers writhed in front of her. ‘You led me to expect it was someone of your lordship's years. Old was the word, you used, I recollect.’
‘Old!’ Richard regarded the Earl with polite astonishment.
Warwick snorted, ‘So now he's not old, he's known to you and he wants to marry you, though why I cannot imagine, and I want you off my hands, Margery, so there's an end to it. What pleases me and Master Huddleston shall satisfy you. I have two emissaries arriving from the King of France the day after tomorrow. You will be wed before mass and I shall feast you together with the French lords. Tomorrow, Huddlestone, we shall hunt.’
Margery fleetingly closed her eyes and gave an angry sigh, prepared to sweep away in dignity before tears overwhelmed her. Huddleston stepped to block her way. She refused to look at him.
‘My lord,’ he said across her shoulder to the Earl. ‘Permit me to speak to my betrothed privily. This is obviously a shock to her.’ She flinched at the word betrothed, recoiling as if he had struck her.
The Earl shrugged, ‘Well, I suppose there is no impropriety in that since you will soon be man and wife. You may speak with one another here but there is the contract to draw up so make haste.’
Huddleston bowed as the Earl passed them but remained an obstacle between Margery and the door. She turned away from him, her eyes on the ceiling. It was pain enough to endure being married to a stranger but that it was Richard Sto ... Huddleston. She cursed herself for a blind and stupid fool.
His voice was kind. ‘Mistress Twynhoe told me last night that you did not realise that my name was Huddleston. I had no intention of misleading you, believe me.’
Margery took a deep breath, her shoulders proud. ‘Master Huddleston, I value my freedom. I repeat that I do not want to marry anyone. I will not be sold like some Paynim slave to a harem. I came here this morning expecting a public apology and instead’ She waved her hands in despair.
‘If it is the business of my horse's tail that still angers you then I admit my error. You have my belated but humble apology.’ The humility in his voice sounded genuine enough but she turned to see if the sincerity was in his eyes. It was, but he was playing kind, of course.
‘No, it – yes, of course it is your horse's tail and all your insults. How dared you abuse me so for your amusement because I am a landless woman and lack a father's name! Do you imagine I have no feelings because I was born in some unblest bed?’
‘Lady, you shall have land, name and your bed will be blessed.’
The blood flooded into her cheeks at the thought. ‘Blessed, sir, with you in it? I do not know why you have chosen me as a butt for this madness of yours but please change your mind. It will not suit. It will be a marriage made by the Devil.’
He laughed and half-seated himself on the edge of the table, one leg swinging. ‘I am resolved on it.’ He selected an apple from the silver platter and bit into it with his fine white teeth.
Margery's hands curled into fists at her side and she paced the room before she swung back to confront him. ‘Why do you want to enslave me? What have I ever done to you? Why should it be your choice? Why cannot it be mine?’
‘Because I know what is best for you.’ Warwick's voice came from behind her. Huddleston slid off the table respectfully to face the Kingmaker. The Earl's hands settled upon Margery's frozen shoulders, his breath was upon her cheek. ‘I make this marriage for you out of loving kindness, child. Trust me in this.’ He put a finger beneath her chin and made her look at him. ‘A firm hand is needed on your bridle, Margery. Once you start bearing you will no doubt calm down and become a sensible wife and mother.’
‘I am not a horse!’ she exclaimed hotly, and snatching up her skirts, she fled.
Richard left the Earl some half hour later well pleased with the bargain. Everything was going according to his plans. Warwick's fondness for the girl and his determination to dispose of his defiant ward had permitted Richard to demand a higher dowry. Of course, it was all on paper but six manors definitely made it worthwhile.
He was not expecting a slender female hand to reach out from behind a curtain and grab the coney-fur tip of his hanging sleeve. His right hand flew to the handle of his sword as he whirled round.
‘By Christ's blessed mercy, lady!’ He slid the sword back into its black scabbard as he recognised that the blue brocade enclosing the feminine arm belonged to the gown Margery had been wearing.
Her face peeped out at him. ‘Could we please speak about this matter?’ Pink tinged the white around the delightful blue of her eyes, hinting at angry tears. He hated seeing her distressed but you needed to break eggs to make a custard. What was the little witch up to now?
‘Right willingly, mistress, but it seems there is little more to say unless you have changed your mind. This curtain is mighty dusty. Do we have to stand behind it like lovers? Is this locked?’ She gave an angry growl. He rattled the door ring. It opened onto a small storeroom stacked with broken benches, brooms and buckets. ‘Hardly something out of a French romance. Would you prefer somewhere with tapestries?’
His betrothed stamped her foot at him. He grinned at her, revelling in his consistent ability to arouse the desire in her to hit him.
‘I think we should discuss this marriage in a sensible manner, sir. You will have to persuade my lord to reconsider this match.’
‘You want to marry someone else?’ If she did, would he change his mind? There went that little foot again.
‘'No, Master S–Huddleston, I thought I made it clear I do not want to marry anyone.’
‘Least of all me.’' He allowed the good humour to fade from his voice.
‘ Thank goodness, you are intelligent enough to see that.’
‘May I ask why?’
‘Why’' she spluttered. ‘Because we do not like each other.’
‘I am sorry I teased you.’
‘Teased me! You taunted, insulted and riled me. Your arrogant behaviour was insufferable. Just because I have no parents–’
‘–and a doubtful reputation.’
‘Exactly! I am quite unsuitable for you. I am sure your parents - if you have not annoyed them to an early grave – would not approve.’
‘I admit, lady, your besmirched reputation pleases me not one whit but as to your lack of parents, I am pleased to disregard the fact. Besides you come to me with a substantial dowry. I shall be wealthier by several manors.’
‘Dowry!’ He could not decide if she looked like an owlet or a kitten at that point. Tendrils of honey hair were rapidly escaping from her embroidered cap. ‘How many manors?’
‘Five so far, one more to be arranged. Now what's amiss?’
‘Can you not see he's only doing this to mend my reputation and wash his hands of me. You have no need to marry me.’ His patient expression must have exasperated her further for she stuck her hands on her hips like a little fishwife. ‘Jesu, you are not prepared to make him change his mind, are you?’
‘No, mistress, for his mind is fixed like the north star.’ He curbed the desire to pull her across the pace of flagstones between them so he could slide his hands down over her lower curves and cradled her hard against him. ‘You must be a heavy responsibility, Margery. Perhaps I should have bargained for seven manors. The sixth is for your little sin with the King.’
‘If were a man, I should run you through for your continual insults’'
‘But you are not a man, my mistress, so why not try your woman's wiles on me instead?’ It was time he showed her what he wanted from her. By all the Saints, he had been waiting long enough.
‘To Hell with you, Master Huddleston!’
She ran out and down the passageway before he could stop her and flung open the Earl's door. ‘Sutton Gaveston! Let the sixth manor that you sold me for be Sutton Gaveston!’ Then she grabbed up a fistful of her skirts in each hand. ‘You said you did not want used goods. You said I was a bad bargain,’ she snarled at Richard as she hurried back towards him. She would have torn past had he not seized her arm. He was about to kiss the anger out of her when the Earl loudly opened the door of the antechamber.
Warwick's face struggled in a contortion of anger interbred with laughter. ‘Margery, enough!’ he thundered.
Richard's fingers bit into the top half of his betrothed's sleeve. It was like trying to hold onto a spitting cat but he had a point to make and he made it loudly. ‘You said you wanted me shackled and bound. Well, I shall be, for all eternity.’
Margery gave Warwick a deadly glare before she wrenched her arm from Richard's grasp.
‘But I did not mean to me, Master Huddleston, not to me!’
Copyright Isolde Martyn
Excerpted by permission of the Transworld Division of Random Australia Pty Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.