The black lyon, p.1
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       The Black Lyon, p.1

         Part #1 of Montgomery - Taggert series by Jude Deveraux
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The Black Lyon





  To Pamela Strickler, my editor,

  because she believed in me.

  He was a stranger to her.

  Ranulf walked to the carved oak chest that stood against one wall. He lifted her ivory comb and studied the figures on it. “You have spoken to your father and agreed to the … bargain?”

  “Aye,” she answered quietly, “but is not a marriage more than just a bargain?” She began to smile. “At least this marriage, for I fear you do not bargain to gain, since you chose a poor baron’s daughter to wife. Would you not want a rich wife with green estates and…”

  “Knocked knees, perhaps?”

  Her eyes sparkled. “And how do you know my knees do not knock?”

  He did not smile, but the corners of his eyes showed merriment. “That is true, I do not know, so I shall find out. I do not propose to marry a woman with ugly legs.”



  Title Page


  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  About the Author

  By Jude Deveraux


  About the Publisher

  Chapter One

  Lyonene could hear Lucy’s heavy step on the stone stairs and snuggled deeper beneath the thick coverlet. The January winds whistled outside the old donjon, threads of cold air cutting under the wooden shutters, but her bed was warm and she planned to put off leaving it as long as possible.

  “Lady Lyonene.” Lucy pulled the bed-curtains back. She was an old woman now and far too fat. She’d been with Lyonene since the girl’s birth and was much like a mother to her. “The lady your mother bids you dress in your gold tunic with the green surcoat and mantle.”

  Lyonene, who had turned toward the light only reluctantly, now looked with interest at Lucy. “The green mantle and surcoat?”

  “There is a guest, an important guest, and you are to wear your finest clothes for the introductions.”

  Lyonene threw back the bedclothes and put a small foot on the rush-covered oak floor. The shutters were closed tightly against the cold winter, and the only light came from the small fireplace and the tallow candle on the tall iron stand by the bed. The soft glow highlighted the full curves of her slim young body. Lucy helped her mistress into the thin linen shift and then the woolen tunic, the tightness of which emphasized her womanly body. The sideless surcoat hid nothing.

  “Know you this guest? He is friend to my father?”

  “Oh no, my lady.” Lucy fastened the thin leather belt about Lyonene’s slim waist. “He is an earl, a man your father has not met, and he is a young man.”

  Lyonene stopped and stared at her maid. “He is handsome? He is a handsome young earl, fair, and rides a white stallion?” Lyonene teased the old woman.

  “You shall see soon enough. Now get your comb so I may remove some of the tangles from your hair.”

  Lyonene obeyed and then asked, “Tell me more of him. What color are his eyes? His hair?”

  “Black. As black as the Devil’s eyes.”

  Both women looked up to see Gressy and Meg entering the small chamber with armfuls of clean linen for the bed. Gressy, the older girl, spoke. “It is an earl come, and not just any of the king’s earls, but the great Black Lion himself.”

  “And black he is, too,” Meg added.

  “His eyes and hair are black as Satan’s. Even his horse is all black.”

  Lyonene looked at them in horror. She had heard stories of the Black Lion since she was but a girl—stories of strength and courage. But each story was misted with a sense of evil, that mayhaps his strength was ill-gotten. “You are sure it is the Black Lion and no other?” Her voice was quiet.

  “No other man could have such a look. I vow he gave me gooseflesh just to be near him.” Gressy gave her mistress an intense look.

  Lucy stepped forward. “Cease your foolish prattle! You’ll scare the poor girl. Now get on with your work. I must go below to the Lady Melite.” She gave Lyonene’s hair a final combing and settled the transparent circle of silk in place with a thin gold fillet. “Now be still and do not muss yourself.” She paused at the door, pointing a warning finger at Meg and Gressy. “And no more of this gossip. If black hair made us part of the Devil, there’d be a lot of us dreading the Day of Glory.” She sniffed and patted the little bit of gray hair that showed at her temple between the barbette, a piece of linen that totally concealed her neck and chin, and the cascading veil that extended to her shoulders. Lucy imagined that her own locks were still the soot-black of her youth.

  When the door was closed, Lyonene sank to the stone windowseat. “Tell me of him,” she whispered.

  “He is a large man…”

  “Strong…” Meg interrupted, but then, at Gressy’s quelling look, she went obediently to her side of Lyonene’s bed to catch the billowing sheet.

  “Aye,” Gressy continued, looking back at Lyonene and feeling confident in her audience. Lyonene would be the mistress of her own castle someday, but for now there was one area where Gressy was superior, and that was in her knowledge of men. “He’s the Black Lion and named for his Devil’s blackness and for having the fierceness of a lion. It is said he can unseat twenty men at a tourney and that in Wales, in the wars there, he could hack a man or his horse in half with one blow.”

  Lyonene felt her face drain of color, and this encouraged Gressy to elaborate on half-heard tales.

  “It is said his first wife tried to kill herself to escape him.”

  Lyonene gasped and involuntarily crossed herself. Suicide was a mortal sin.

  “And the seven men—seven devils—he has near him…” Meg inserted, too excited to fear Gressy.

  “Aye,” Gressy said, her voice conspiratorial. “He travels with seven men, great huge men, black-haired all, but none so black as the Lion on his black horse.”

  “He has come here and I am to meet him?” Lyonene could not keep the fear from her voice.

  “Aye. Your father and mother are below now with him. No one denies the Black Lion a request, however small.” She straightened. “Come, Meg, we must go to prepare a room for this Devil’s knight.” She left the room, the wide-eyed Meg trailing behind with the dirty laundry. Gressy was smugly pleased that she had caught the undivided attention of the two girls, for she considered them both girls, although neither was more than two years younger than she.

  Outside the heavy door, Meg found her voice. “Is it true, Gressy, that this man is a spawn of the Devil?”

  The older woman put her face close to Meg’s. “They say he never smiles, has never laughed. It is also said that the woman who makes him laugh will become his bride.”

  Meg leaned against the damp stone wall. Gressy’s face was dim in the dark hallway. She felt her heart thud with a sinister terror. The Devil’s bride! That was a horrible thought.

  Lady Melite, Lyonene’s mother, had also heard stories of the Black Lion, and she dressed carefully, scolding herself for her trembling fingers. She already wished he had not come. There had been too much turmoil lately, and now a troublesome earl to care for! She fastened the undecorated belt around the voluminous surcoat, so different from her daughter’s. She pulled the top fabric out a
nd over the belt, completely hiding it. She fastened a dark green mantle about her shoulders with two intricately wrought gold brooches, connected across her collarbone with a short chain.

  “What with Sir Tompkin coming on the morrow, and the house servants to organize…” She stopped her mumbling and then laughed. I am getting to be too much like William, dreading an event before it happens, she thought. He is a man, no more. We will offer what we have, and he must be content. She straightened the long linen veil that covered the back of her head and hair and fell past her shoulders. She prided herself on having a still-beautiful throat and did not wear the covering barbette. Leveling her shoulders, she went below to greet her guest.

  William, Lyonene’s father, was fascinated by the Earl of Malvoisin. The tales he had heard about this man were also exaggerated, but with a man’s point of view in mind. He looked now at Ranulf’s right arm, the muscles outlined clearly by the perfectly tailored chain mail. It was said that the Black Lion could, while riding at full gallop on that black horse of his, cut a four-inch oak post in twain. William hoped he could persuade the earl to demonstrate this impossible feat. The baron could not help staring at the earl’s chain mail. It was silvered. William thought with amusement how difficult it was for him to provide each of his twelve knights with even a mediocre grade of chain mail, and here this man had a hauberk just for tournaments. Even his men were splendidly dressed in mail that had been painted either green or black—Malvoisin’s colors.

  “Ah, here is my wife, the Lady Melite. This is Ranulf de Warbrooke, Third Earl of Malvoisin.”

  Ranulf lifted his eyebrows slightly in surprise at William’s introduction. “It is an honor, my lady, and I hope my uninvited presence will cause you no more hardship than is necessary.” He bowed to her.

  William often accused Melite of making judgments too quickly, and so she had stopped volunteering her opinion to him, often waiting weeks or months for him to reach the same conclusions that she had drawn in but moments. Now that quick judgment did not fail her—instantly, she knew this man Ranulf de Warbrooke.

  “You are most welcome, sir, and it is we who are honored … no … pleased by your presence here, and all will see to your comfort.” Her voice had changed in midsentence from formality to genuine warmth, for she liked this young man.

  Ranulf was startled by her warmth. Usually mothers with daughters were greedy for him, for his money and title, or else afraid of him on account of his reputation. He sensed neither of these in this elegant little woman.

  “Come, sit by me by the fire and tell me of the news. We so seldom get visitors here at Lorancourt.” She held up her arm and Ranulf took it and led her to two chairs by the roaring fire.

  “But I understood that you have had many visitors lately.”

  She waved her free hand in dismissal. “They come to see Lyonene, to appraise our property and eat our food. They come to show their pretty forms to one another on the lists. No one has time to talk to an old woman hungry for news. But sit for a while and let me hear all.”

  William stood behind them feeling as if a bird’s breath could fell him. Melite, usually the most sensible of women, had taken the arm of the most fierce knight in England and had led him to a corner as if he were a gossiping old woman. And whatever had she said about their coming to see Lyonene and to appraise our property? This was too intimate a statement to make to a stranger. He must speak to her.

  “Describe this new thing, a button, to me,” Melite was saying.

  “It is a little ornament on a shaft sewn to the clothing, and lately the women have cut a hole on one side of the garment and inserted the button through it, making a fastening.”

  “I see. Then we would not have to sew on the sleeves of the tunic any longer.”

  William sank on a bench by the fire. The Black Lion, the greatest warrior in all of England, perhaps in all of Christendom, and his wife talked to him of women’s fashions!

  Melite turned to her husband and smiled sweetly. “Would you send Lucy to fetch Lyonene? I desire our guest to meet with our daughter.”

  “Oh, ’tis a handsome man, this Black Lion!” Lucy gushed to Lyonene. “His hair curls about his neck just as my boy’s did once.” Lucy, though proud of her son, who was now a monk in the Benedictine Order, was sad at times about him, too. “He is tall and strong, and your mother has him eating from out her hand. Great warrior he may be, but I would take an oath he is a gentle man.”

  “What of his black hair and eyes? Were you not frightened?”

  “For truth, I was, but your mother knew his character from the first moment, and it is she I trust.” She tilted her head and looked questioningly at Lyonene. “You would do well to choose such a man for a husband.”

  “Husband! Lucy, you have heard the stories of his character!”

  “Aye, stories. I know not one whiff of truth in them.”

  “He is an earl, and an earl does not marry a baron’s daughter. I do not know how you could have such a thought. Know you his reason for coming to Lorancourt?”

  “I did … happen to hear a bit of conversation.”

  Lyonene tried not to smile.

  “He has a brother who is squire to Sir Tompkin, and as that knight is soon to come, the earl wishes to visit a day or so with his brother.”

  “Well, I am glad this Black Lion is not above love for his own kin. You say my mother talks easily with him and he is handsome?”

  “Most terribly handsome, but if you dawdle longer he will be an old man before you see him.”

  Lyonene descended the stone steps slowly, touching the worn walls as they spiraled to the lighted hall below. She found her hand trembling and tried to still it. The stories of this man rang in her head as everyone’s opinions whirled together. She reached the bottom step, paused, and then smoothed her skirts and her hair, taking a deep breath to still the fluttering of her heart. From her vantage point on the dark stairs, she could view the scene in the Great Hall. The enormous fireplace roared with several logs blazing in it. At a small distance from the fire were two chairs, one occupied by the petite form of her mother, the other revealing only a mailed arm, the silver gleaming dully in the firelight.

  She succeeded in calming herself and looked toward the other end of the hall, to the other fireplace, which also was blazing. On low benches or squatted on the floor rushes were seven men, all in mail, all with tabards bearing the Black Lion’s coat of arms. Their voices were quiet and she heard one of them laugh. They did not seem to be the devilmen that Gressy spoke of. They looked rather tired, and Lyonene felt a desire to go to them to see that they were given what food and drink they needed. If the Black Guard were tame, mayhaps the Black Lion would be also. She stepped into the light.

  “Lyonene, my daughter, is come.”

  Lyonene kept her face lowered. She must control her urge to stare and remember her manners. Her mother spoke to this man as if they had known one another for many years. She was aware that the Black Guard had come to their feet and that now the Black Lion also stood before her. Her nervousness increased.

  Ranulf had not felt so at ease in a long time. Only Eleanora, the queen, had ever made him feel so comfortable as this woman had. Even after having seen Melite and knowing that she had once been a beautiful woman, he was startled by Lyonene’s extraordinary beauty. Her head was lowered and he could not see her face, but her thick, curling hair tumbled down her back past her waist. It was tawny, a dark blond with thousands of dancing lights caught by the fire. Her figure was amply revealed by the tight tunic, and it made his mouth dry. A tiny waist, curving hips, a soft, inviting bosom. He could not remember ever having been so affected by a pretty woman.

  Lyonene raised timid eyes to Ranulf de Warbrooke, not sure what she expected but fearing the worst. He was dark, with eyes as black as coals and sable curls of hair that seemed to be ever unruly. The top of her head did not reach his shoulder.

  But the expression in his eyes was what intrigued her. Like her mother, sh
e could judge a person’s character quickly. The Earl of Malvoisin’s eyes reminded her of a dog she had seen once. The dog had been caught in a trap, his leg nearly cut in half, and the pain had made him almost mad. It had taken a long time for Lyonene to soothe the animal and gain its trust so that she could release the iron jaws of the trap, and all the while the dog had looked at her with just such an expression of wariness, pain and near-dead hope as did the man who stood before her now.

  “I am most pleased you could come to Lorancourt, my lord, and pray forgive me for my tardiness in welcoming you.”

  Ranulf extended a hand to her and she put her small hand into his warm, large one. His touch could not have affected her more if he’d put a lighted brand to her fingertips. She almost gasped at the sensation but was glad she had not, fearful of giving offense. Gone was any knowledge of anyone else in the room. She became a disembodied hand, all feelings and thoughts transferred to the fingertips of that one small area. She stared stupidly at the two hands, one small and fair, the other large, battlehardened and coated in short dark hairs.

  He spoke again and she seemed to feel his voice through the tips of her fingers. “A beautiful woman need not ask forgiveness. A smile will be enough.” His voice had lost some of its smoothness; there was a hesitation in it. He put his other hand beneath her chin and lifted her face so he could look at her.

  She looked again at him, seeing a strong face, a jaw wellcut, slightly arched brows over the black eyes, a straight nose, the nostrils somewhat flared. Her gaze fell on his lips, which were well-shaped but held too rigid. Lucy had been correct; he was a handsome man. She smiled, timidly at first and then with more warmth. She looked behind the lips that did not smile and saw a … yes, a sweetness there, the same gentleness that her mother had seen. Of a sudden, she had an urge to laugh, so great was her relief at her findings. She moved against the fingers that held her chin. Never had a man’s touch made her feel so alive.

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