Authors: The Rose,the Shield
THE ROSE &
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright © 2009 Elaine Barbieri
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance
P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140
To my readers, with love.
Dagan clutched Rosamund closer. “Nay, you are meant for more than de Silva’s crude intentions. You are too intelligent…too beautiful…too worthwhile in both body and spirit for a man who has the reputation of having used so many, only to discard them when his interest waned.”
Intoxicated by her scent, by the feminine warmth of her, Dagan stroked Rosamund’s hair. He marveled that the pale tresses were as silken as he had imagined and whispered, “Your hair glows despite its cut, you know. Although my vision was impaired when you first tended my wounds, I recall that your hair looked like a halo surrounding delicate features that I struggled to see. As I recovered, I spent hours imagining how it would feel to stroke those gleaming tresses…to feel them slip through my fingers. I longed to smooth the curve of your cheek…to follow the contours of your ears with my tongue…to follow a course that could only lead to your lips…”
This title was previously published by Dorchester Publishing; this version has been reproduced from the Dorchester book archive files.
arold was crowned King of England on the day of King Edward’s funeral in January 1066, but he enjoyed his royal title for less than a year. Duke William, the illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy, was enraged at Harold’s ascension to the throne. Claiming that Harold had broken his promise to support him as Edward’s heir, Duke William launched an invasion of England.
Harold was killed defending his royal title at Senlac.
Duke William was crowned King of England on Christmas Day, 1066, as vanquished Anglo-Saxons mourned.
Standing proudly with Duke William as he donned his crown were knights who had proven their loyalty to him in fierce battles for the throne. These men were rewarded for their fealty with the land and titles of those they had conquered. They imposed their will on the Saxons under their reign. Some were generous and fair despite the rancor that naturally followed bloody battles.
Others were not.
y what right do you dare to refuse me your services?” Baron Guilbert de Silva demanded. “You are my vassal! You live on this land because of my generosity. You may be evicted from your meager dwelling at any time and left to wander homeless if that is your wish.”
“That is not my wish, my lord!”
From inside the meager hut she shared with her father, Rosamund listened to the heated exchange outside. “I wish only to serve you as you wish,” her father continued, his tone placating. “I desired only to explain that age has left its mark on me. I am not the same person who raised the castle walls for you years ago.”
“You look fit and well to me.”
The baron’s voice was soft yet threatening. “Tell me now if you refuse to gather the laborers needed to finish the cathedral I envision. The former master mason failed to make the progress he promised. He was not worthy of the title
. Indeed, he no longer bears it…or any name at all.” His point coldly made, the baron continued, “The necessary artisans are gathered at the site of the cathedral, but they argue incessantly,
awaiting the leadership of a knowledgeable master to guide them. The walls you built for me still stand strong. You proved that you have the ability that is needed to accomplish this task. The cathedral that I envision may not be large in size, but it will be so aweinspiring as to have no match on William’s soil. It will be my plea to God to forgive me for the lives I’ve taken in battle.” The baron paused to add, “And I
have my vision realized.”
Peering through a crack in the door of the hut, Rosamund assessed the baron with a gaze steeped in animosity. His innate arrogance was obvious in his manner, and his flawless, magnificently tailored attire of red and black was silent testimony to the wealth he had wrung from the simple people of Hendsmille. Yet she had to admit the baron was handsome in a sinister way. He was tall and fit despite the gray hair sprinkled among the dark at his temples. His cleanly shaven, aristocratic features had besotted many a maiden. Rumor had it, however, that he lost interest in even the most comely of maids after he had had his way with them.
Nine years ago, the baron’s army had overwhelmed the simple Saxons defending their fief with rakes and pitchforks. He had not hesitated to shed the blood of those brave, poorly armed villagers. Now, after nearly a decade ruling the people of Hendsmille—after the Saxons had lost their heritage to the Norman invader and had become chattel on land they had once considered their own—he still felt no hesitation shedding their blood.
Rosamund was brought back sharply to the present
when her father protested, “Your purpose in raising a cathedral is noble, but I—”
Unprepared for the baron’s fury, Rosamund stumbled backward when he bellowed viciously at her father, “It is not for you to judge my intentions! I come to charge you with the privilege of building my cathedral—my edifice to the Lord before whom we all bow. I demand that you tell me now yea or nay, if you will undertake this righteous project.” He lowered his voice as he warned, “I caution you, consider your answer well.”
Rosamund saw the color slowly drain from her father’s face. Perspiration appeared on his forehead and upper lip as he scrutinized the baron’s expression. She saw him stare for long moments into the dark eyes that glared into his. Only she heard the reluctance in his tone when he replied, “I will see to the construction of your cathedral and gladly, my lord.” He paused to lick his lips before he added, “I ask only that you allow my assistant to aid me when I see fit to lean on his youth, and that your soldiers not protest his presence or his help when it is needed.”
The baron scoffed, “Is that all?”
“That is all.”
“The favor is granted.”
“Do not thank me.” The baron continued, with true menace in his tone, “You will find that I am a meticulous taskmaster who will demand the best of your skill—for only the best will do.”
With that last warning, Baron Guilbert mounted his great black steed and turned away.
Her expression dark with intensity, Rosamund straightened up as the baron rode off. At eighteen years of age, she was a true Saxon beauty, with finely sculpted features that appeared too fair for a common woman. Her long blonde tresses swept over shoulders that seemed too delicate for her unusual height, and her silver-blue eyes flashed with emotion. Narrow-waisted and high-breasted, she had finally grown into the long legs that had marked an awkward youth.
She frowned uneasily when her father stood unmoving where the baron had left him. She knew the fear that the short, stocky, rapidly balding Hadley Wedge concealed was not for himself. He had always put her well-being ahead of his own. Nine years ago he’d insisted on keeping her by his side when he took advantage of the “wander years” allowed a master mason to travel throughout the country. Even engulfed by sorrow, she had sensed his true reason for doing so: not to learn the latest ways of working at his craft as he claimed, but so that the passage of time would bring about changes that no one would question.
During those years of travel, she learned as much about the silent hatred the Saxons bore for the Norman invaders as she had learned about the intricacies of his trade. Yet what she remembered most was her father’s emotion when they stepped once more on the soil of Hendsmille. Tears came to his eyes when his wood-and-wattle hut came into view. It was then that she realized fully for the first time that Hadley’s real motive in leaving was to ensure her safety, and that, true to the promise he had made, he would guard her with his life.
She also knew that if not for the sudden reversal of
their positions—if not for his present
for her— she might follow another path.
In truth, she was still unsure which to take.
Rosamund emerged from the hut as her father turned to walk unsteadily back toward her.
“Take care, Father,” she warned. “There is a stone on the ground in front of you.” Grasping his arm, Rosamund guided him into the hut and helped him to a chair.
“The baron wants you to oversee the building of his cathedral, but you know as well as I that God has nothing to do with his intentions. He has ambitions that far exceed his position here. By building this cathedral, he seeks to gain the approval of influential figures within the church. You will function as nothing more than a slave who will allow him to gain a stronger connection with William.”
“I tried to explain my deficiency to him, but he would not listen.”
“Do you, Rosamund?” Hadley concentrated on Rosamund’s sympathetic expression as he said, “I have made a decision. I am the only person who knows your secret, and for that reason I am necessary to your future.”
“No, do not speak. Allow me to finish. I asked permission to lean on a youth because of my age. Do you know who that young man would be?”
“One of the many apprentices you have trained in your craft.”
“You are my right hand, Rosamund. I have come to depend on your expertise where mine has faltered.”
Rosamund took a breath. “Father…”
“I am unable to meet the baron’s demands without you.”
“But I am a woman!”
woman. The baron would use you and throw you away as he has done so many women before you.”
“Father, the baron’s words were clear. Your life relies on your ability to provide what he desires.”
“I would strike a compromise, although it would entail some sacrifice on your part.”
Rosamund looked lovingly at the small, portly man who had protected her through the years. “My life is yours.”
Rosamund stroked the long length of fair hair she held in her hand. Morning light seeped through the windows, illuminating the hut’s oak and chestnut frame and its wattle walls plastered with clay. The meager furnishings sat close to a central hearth that glowed day and night.
Rosamund stood before the small mirror that her father had bought during their travels. She should have seen a Saxon maiden with pale hair, fair skin, and blue eyes that flashed silver when she was angry. Instead, she saw a fair, spindly youth with cropped hair that concealed her brow and all but hid the frustration in her eyes as she viewed the short, shapeless garment she wore belted at the waist with a leather thong, the baggy
Gallic breeches, and the worn hose gartered below the knee. She glanced at the calf-length mantle draped over her arm, knowing that the simple article of clothing was to be fastened at her shoulder so it might cover her head when needed. Her father had purchased her new attire from a young serf traveling through the fief with his master. Rosamund’s only consolation in donning the costume was that her ample breasts, presently bound, were hidden by the loose garments, and that the bulky fabric concealed the narrow waist that had come to her with womanhood.
“Are you ready?”
Rosamund jerked her head toward the sound of her father’s voice coming from outside the hut. He had allowed her privacy in order to complete her costume— and to shear her precious hair.
A tear slipped from her eye, and Rosamund brushed it angrily away. The sacrifice was little in light of all Hadley had done for her.
“He is approaching, Rosamund!”
Rosamund’s lips tightened. The baron wanted to see for himself that her father had complied fully with his wishes and gathered laborers from the nearby village. She knew what the outcome would be if he had not, and she ground her teeth tighter.
Rosamund tucked the shorn length of fair hair beneath her mattress beside the treasured ring that she also hid there, and then walked to the door with a long, exaggerated step far different than her normal tread. As the baron drew near the group of men her father had gathered, she murmured, “I hope you warned the others
to hold their tongues, Father, and that they will remember to refer to me as Ross.”
Hadley sighed. “I did. They will keep our secret because they know the baron’s reputation and despise him for it. You must remember to call me Hadley, just as the others do.”
Rosamund nodded. She grasped her father’s arm and walked beside him toward the assemblage. Everyone knew that Hadley’s vision had declined, but no one realized that the deterioration had recently escalated and that at times Hadley saw only foggy outlines rather than clear images. Rosamund had resolved to be his eyes. His secret was safe—just as hers was with him.
The baron halted his mount and waited for them to approach. Her head held high, Rosamund was unable to conceal the contempt in her gaze when she saw that he had arrived with three men-at-arms following close behind him.
Protection…against lowly peasants.
The baron’s dark brows rose in an arch as he asked bluntly, “Is this the youth you spoke of Hadley?”
“Yes, my lord. It is he.”
“He has little muscle to recommend him.”
“He is thin, but he has proven his worth.”
“Then you had best advise him not to expect his youth to protect him when he taunts me so openly.”
“Yes, my lord.” Turning toward her, Hadley ordered, “You must look at your betters with respect, Ross!”
Blood colored Rosamund’s face at Hadley’s words, but she lowered her eyes dutifully. She raised them again to find the baron staring at her.
“Were this youth not important to you, Hadley, and
were the task before you not so critical at this time, I would find work for him in my personal service…for I find him surprisingly intriguing, considering his gender.”
Hadley blinked when the baron laughed. He then turned toward his men to say, “The privileges of position are many, are they not?”
Rosamund saw the baron’s men turn to regard her more intently. Their eyes crawled over her baggily clad figure, and she experienced a sudden urge to retch; yet she refused to allow them that acknowledgment. Instead, she jerked her gaze hotly toward the baron. Then, remembering, lowered it to the ground.
“That’s better.” The baron’s expression darkened as he added, “But I fear that more than a mere reprimand will be necessary to tame the fire in this youth’s eyes. Perhaps further
Rosamund’s heart pounded. Barely controlling the retort that rose to her lips, she glanced at Hadley, then lowered her gaze.
“That is better.” Abruptly glancing away from Rosamund’s lowered head, the baron said, “But the sun rises and a full day’s work lies ahead.”
The baron followed his comment by digging his spurs cruelly into his mount’s sides as he urged it forward. Similarly mounted, his armed men fell in behind the force of workers, who remained silent as they trudged toward the work awaiting them.
Allowing himself to fall behind them, Hadley whispered to Rosamund, “Take care. The baron watches you.”
“He may watch me all he wants, but I will not fall
into his trap.” Looking directly into her father’s concerned gaze, Rosamund whispered more softly, “I will stay by your side and become lost in this throng.”
She frowned when Hadley stumbled on the uneven terrain and took his arm more firmly.
Rosamund did not see the baron glance back from his position ahead of her. Nor did she see dark interest spark again in his obsidian gaze.
It was unseasonably hot.
His dark hair slick with perspiration, Dagan pulled uncomfortably at the neck of his heavy traveling attire as he moved relentlessly forward on the king’s errand. He swayed weakly in the saddle and glanced around him at the empty wilderness of primeval forest and heath, aware that although men ventured out by day through the thickets, streams, and marshy places of Hendsmille in order to herd the remains of their livestock, few of them would attempt to spend the night there for fear of the wolves and
that were said to roam the woods.
His sharply chiseled features drew into a frown. He did not believe in spirits. He struggled to clear his mind and recall the evening when William had summoned him secretly to his chambers. He remembered that William’s infrequent smile had been spontaneous when he entered. Dagan had been little more than a youth when Duke William had accepted him as one of his soldiers. Like William, he had been ridiculed throughout his youth because his Norman father had chosen an English bride—the same English bride who had insisted he become fluent in her language as well as in his
father’s native French. His language skills had served William well, but it was Dagan’s intelligence and loyalty that had earned him his knighthood and William’s favor. He had truly earned William’s full trust and confidence, however, when he risked his own life to save William’s.