I have been so fortunate to have read all the stories in this series. When Jenna announced this release, I did a Snoopy Dance! Now I get to spend a holiday with one of my favorite couples!
Alyse and Geoffrey, Lord and Lady Longford, have journeyed to the glittering Christmas Court of King Edward III in the year 1349 to wait upon the king and take part in some Yuletide merriment. However, when Geoffrey is suddenly called into the king’s service again, Alyse must remain at court, attending the queen and persuading her rebellious sister to accept an unwanted betrothal. When rumors of Geoffrey’s death arise, Alyse fends off an old suitor who wants to renew their friendship. But how long will he take “No” for an answer?
Alyse stepped back to take in the slight figure. Her sister had ever been more delicate than she. Her face, pale save for flushed cheeks that attested to her hurried steps to their chamber, made the deep blue of her eyes stand out starkly. The dark hair that framed her face made her pallor more apparent. Too, she seemed thinner, than earlier in the year. These changes filled Alyse with sudden dread. She gripped icy fingers and her worry increased. “You are well, my dear?”
“Oh, aye.” She smiled and Alyse’s tension eased. “The queen requires little of me these days. I occupy myself sewing on an altar cloth for her babes.”
“Her babes? Then Prince Thomas…” Alyse swallowed hard. Queen Phillipa had been brought to bed with a healthy son last summer, before Alyse and the other courtiers had sailed with Princess Joanna.
Pippa nodded. “In September. The pestilence.” Her face grew grim. “Even such innocents were not spared. When the news of Princess Joanna reached their majesties in October, the queen was inconsolable. She cried and prayed for days, then decreed new altar cloths and vestments would be embroidered in memory of Prince William, Prince Thomas, and the princess. I am still working on the cloth for the princess. ‘Twill be ready in the new year and used at the mass on Twelfth Night.”
“I will beg the queen to allow me the honor of helping you finish it while we are here. ‘Twill be a final service from me to the princess.” Alyse fought the despair that could overcome her even now when she remembered how the princess’ young life had been cut so tragically short. “But here,” she drew her sister toward the fire, “let us sit a short while at least. You must tell me the news from home, Pippa.”
“Lady Pippa,” Geoffrey broke in with a low bow. “Our way was long and I have a mighty thirst. An you will pardon me, I will go in search of a flagon of ale and a companion to share it with.”
“Welcome, brother.” Pippa embraced Geoffrey gingerly, as if she feared he might break her. “I would not keep you parched when the ale at Havering runs freely.” Her smile, so rare Alyse always forgot how it transformed her face. “Please seek your pleasure.”
“Oh, I do, fair maid. I do.” With a short bark of laughter, Geoffrey went to their chest, opened it, and began to rummage around.
Alyse beckoned her sister to the chairs in front of the fire. “Have you heard from Father or Uncle Anthony? I’ve had no word since we left Beaulieu last spring. I pray nightly they are safe.”
Pippa held her hands out to the blaze. “They were hearty enough two months ago. I had a letter from father telling me they were well,” Pippa sighed, “and that I am to be married.”
“Married? Oh, Pippa, how wonderful! Is it someone here at court?” The thrill of excitement that raced down Alyse’s back reminded her of the one she’d felt when the announcement of her betrothal had been made before the court. She’d prayed to be allowed to marry Lord Braeton, yet her father and apparently the king himself had instead chosen Geoffrey Longford. Mayhap their father would be as canny for Pippa’s marriage.
“Nay. He is a courtier, although in France. We have not met since the announcement was made.” A deep sigh and her sister stared intently at the flickering flames in the grate.
That sigh spoke to Alyse. Her sister was holding something back.
“Do you know him?” For no reason, prickles of fear swept down her arms.
Pippa leaned back, her eyes cool and measured. “Aye, Alyse, I do.” Her gaze pierced Alyse’s. “As do you.”
“I know him?” Who was left alive that she might know?
“Aye, you do. Your old suitor, Guy de Valere.”
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Musings from Michigan