The deed, p.1
The Deed, p.1Part #1 of Deed series by Lynsay Sands
For Maggie Willan
You gave all the love, support,
and encouragement that a mother can.
I wish that you were here to see what came of it.
About the Author
Historical Romances by Lynsay Sands
About the Publisher
When Avon Books asked me to write a letter for The Deed, told me they were partnering with the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, and that a certain portion of the proceeds would go to the Alliance, well frankly, it all seemed perfect to me.
You see, I wrote The Deed a year after my mother died of breast cancer. I had spent a year grieving and weeping over her death, had tired of the misery, and decided it was time to stop crying. To help me in the endeavor I went searching for a book that would make me laugh. When I couldn't find one, I decided I'd sit down and write my own. I wrote The Deed and I laughed my way through the story. It was cathartic and lifted my spirits, and the minute it was done I wanted to start another . . . and a career was born.
I hope you enjoy reading The Deed as much as I enjoyed writing it, and that it makes you smile, laugh, and forget your own troubles or grief for a bit.
Leicestershire, England, May 1395
EMMA peered surreptitiously over her companions in the antechamber. Some were pacing off nervous energy, others sat stiff and still, but every single one seemed tense and alert as they awaited their appointed visit with the king.
Glancing down, she noticed that she had begun to shred the hankie she held, and quickly eased her hold, crumpling the piece of cloth in her hand to hide this sign of her nervousness.
It had taken a great deal of begging, nagging, and pleading for her to get her cousin, Rolfe, to arrange this meeting with Richard II. It was not often that women were granted an audience at court. Popular opinion was that any issue they might bring forth would be of little import and therefore better seen to by their husband or father. But Rolfe was one of Richard's most favored dukes. He had also been raised with Emma, loved her like a sister, and was prone to let her have her way whenever possible. Despite her refusal to explain what her complaint involved, Rolfe had agreed to request an audience for her, and-- unfortunately--the king had been in the mood to indulge him.
Tucking her shredded hankie up her sleeve, Emma settled her hands in her lap and tried not to fidget. A difficult task. Now that she had gained what she had worked so hard for, Emma was beginning to regret the impulsive plan she had come up with. Unfortunately, she hadn't stopped to consider it thoroughly before pursuing it with her usual dogged persistence. She had conceived it and struck out to make it happen without thinking about it too much. That was one of her failing sins. She was too impulsive and stubborn in her approach to the problems in her life. Even she could see that. It would see her in Hell some day. At least that was what Father Gumpter constantly told her.
Emma gave a start, then paled at the sound of her name. It was time for her audience with the king! Oh, sweet Saint Gabriel! This was a mistake.
"My lady?" When the steward raised one eyebrow at her hesitation, Emma silently cursed her sudden cowardice and got promptly to her feet. Like it or not, she was here now. By her own request. She had no choice but to go through with her plans and hope for the best.
Straightening her shoulders, she approached the steward, then followed when he turned smartly on his heels and led her through the door people had been walking in and out of for the past hour. Well, most of them had walked in and out, she thought now. There was that one poor unfortunate fellow. Emma wasn't sure what he had said, but he had apparently displeased the king. At least that was the opinion she had arrived at when the guards had dragged the terrified man out by his heels and hauled him away. Probably to the tower, she thought nervously as she was led into the audience room and up to the chair where the king was seated.
A cleric of some sort stood on the king's right, while Archbishop Arundel, Lord Chancellor since Bishop Wykeham's retirement, stood on his left. Emma tried to staunch the unpleasant thoughts that ran through her mind on seeing the prelate. She did not care for the new chancellor. He seemed far too arrogant and sly to her. Her opinion was not softened by the expression on his face as he took in her presence now. It seemed he did not even need to hear her complaint before deciding it a waste of the king's time.
Emma was working herself into a fine temper over that fact when she suddenly realized that what she would say would most likely prove him correct. B'Gad! This had indeed been a mistake.
"Lady Emmalene, Your Majesty."
Grasping at the distraction, Emma turned to watch the steward leave after he announced her, then immediately wished she had not. This was her first visit to court. She was completely ignorant of the proper etiquette in most things, so she had been simply following the example of those around her. However, the steward was bowing his way backward out of the room, leading her to believe she would be expected to curtsy her way backward out of the room as well. If that were the case, she very much feared she would make a horrible bungle of it.
Giving a guilty start, she turned abruptly to the three men before her and dropped a curtsy, staying in that pose until the king bid her rise.
"You are Rolfe's cousin?" The king's voice was gently curious as he looked her over.
"A-aye your majesty." Emma shifted nervously and swallowed the little ball of apprehension that had lodged itself at the back of her throat. She briefly considered discarding her plan and excusing herself, but feared such behavior might find her being dragged out of the room by her feet as the earlier unfortunate had been. A most distressing image. Rolfe would be horribly embarrassed.
"Lord Rolfe asked that I grant you an audience?"
Emma bit her lip and nodded.
The king waited patiently for a moment, then raised his eyebrows slightly. "What did you wish to see me about, my lady?"
Feeling a blush bloom beneath her skin, Emma let her gaze skitter over the two men flanking him. She had never considered that there might be someone else present at her audience. Truthfully, she hadn't really considered the audience itself at all; she had simply determined to persuade Rolfe to acquire one for her. Now she stood before the king and these two other men with little in her poor addled mind but horror over what she had gotten herself into. She was nervous, of course, and had no problem at all in determining where to place the blame for it.
It was the archbishop's fault, she decided, giving that man a firm glare now. While the king was peering at her with nothing more than gentle inquisitiveness and the cleric looked simply curious, Arundel's expression was becoming more scathing with each second that she delayed. It made her nervous.
Emma's gaze slid back to the king at once. He really was not at all what she had pictured. She had known he was not very old-- being perhaps four years older than herself-- and despite living so far away from court and all of its gossip, she was aware of the stories of his sadness and gloom over t
A flicker of movement drew her gaze back to the king to see the impatient way he was now tapping his fingers on the arm of his seat. Emma drew herself up and spoke. "I apologize, Your Majesty, but I wish to speak to you of . . ." She paused, flushing slightly, a pained expression crossing her features. " 'Tis a delicate matter, Your Majesty," she told him unhappily.
The king's expression immediately became sympathetic. "Pray, take your time, my lady," he said gently.
Nodding, Emma glanced down at her wringing hands, sighed, took a deep breath, opened her mouth to speak, then shook her head helplessly. " 'Tis most difficult."
The king nodded, but raised an eyebrow in question and Emma sighed. Deciding there was nothing else for it, she plunged into speech. "My lord, you know that I am married to Lord Fulk, the Duke of Eberhart?"
Richard II inclined his head solemnly. "Aye, my lady. I am aware of this. Does your request for an audience have something to do with your husband?"
Emma nodded helplessly again, silently berating herself for her foolish plan. "Aye . . . well, I. . . . You see, the marriage took place, but to date his lordship has not seen fit to . . . um. . . . well. . . ." She frowned slightly, aware that her face was now completely red. It felt on fire.
The king raised his eyebrows curiously even as the archbishop's brows drew down in unpleasant suspicion.
"He has not seen fit . . . ?" the king murmured now, letting the question trail away, a small frown of concern marring his lips as he leaned forward in his seat. Despite the displeasure evident on his face, the holy man was leaning forward as well, as was the cleric.
Emma gazed slowly over the three men and wailed despairingly, "He has not bedded me since our wedding, Your Majesty!"
All three mouths dropped open at her announcement. The archbishop was the first to recover, his mouth snapping shut in a firm line of definite disapproval. Catching the motion, the king straightened a bit more slowly, his lips easing back into an uncomfortable line. The cleric, however, continued to gape at Emma as if she had just stripped off her clothes and suggested a game of chess.
Doing her best to ignore the servant's rude behavior, Emma caught her hankie as it slid from beneath her sleeve and twisted at it miserably as she awaited the king's pronouncement. It was a long time in coming.
Shifting, he cleared his throat, scratched his head, then glanced at a spot vaguely over her shoulder to ask, "I take it this . . . er . . . situation . . . displeases you?"
He didn't sound totally certain of that even as he said it, and Emma frowned slightly. She supposed his confusion had to do with the fact that ladies were not generally thought to enjoy the marriage act. At least that was what Father Gumpter had told her when she had approached him. Personally, she did not see what all the fuss was about. She did not like or dislike it herself. However, enjoy it or not, she was aware of the facts of life and there was no other way that one might beget a child.
"I would like very much to have children. Your Majesty," she said firmly, then added, "That is after all what the Church says a wife's duty is, does it not? I wish to do my duty and bear an heir to carry on my husband's name." Her gaze flew to the archbishop as she spoke, and she saw the frown he had been regarding her with up until now fade, to be replaced by a blink, then the beginnings of approval as he nodded.
"Ah." The king nodded solemnly, his hand moving to cover the lower part of his slender face. Holding his chin thoughtfully, he nodded repeatedly, wisely, and silently. Emma was beginning to think he would sit their nodding all day when he suddenly shifted, a frown flickering briefly across his face before he suggested, "Mayhap his lordship has been busy with affairs." He paused abruptly to glare at the cleric when that man giggled nervously at his unfortunate choice of words. The cleric sobered at once, and the king amended his words. "Estate affairs."
"For two whole years?"
The three men before her goggled in unison again.
"Do you mean to say, my lady, that your husband has not . . . ?"
"Aye," Emma admitted grimly.
The three men sucked in their breath in unison. Emma shifted under their glances, aware that they were now inspecting her for flaws. After all, why else would a man refuse to bed his bride for two full years? She ducked her head in shame, afraid of what they would see. Many was the time she had peered into her own looking glass, trying to fathom why her husband turned away from her. She did not consider herself a raving beauty, but surely she was not a hag either?
Her hair was honey blond. Her skin pale but flawless. It was true her eyes were perhaps a bit large for her face, her nose turned up just a bit too much, and her lips just a touch too large. And aye, she was not fashionably thin, but she was not fat either. She was well shaped and buxom. And certainly not that ugly, she thought dismally as she once again wondered why her husband had refused to even step into her room since their wedding night.
"What do you wish that we do about this, my lady?"
Emma blinked at the question, surprised by it. The answer seemed simple enough to her. "Why . . . order him to, my lord."
"Order?" The king nearly choked on the word.
He truly looked taken aback at that, Emma noted with a frown. "Of course, my lord. You must explain that 'tis his duty . . . to you as well as to me."
If he opened his eyes any further, surely his eyeballs would fall right out of his head, Emma thought now, and sighed patiently as she explained. "Aye, my lord. He is your servant, and as such he should continue his line so that his sons and grandsons might serve you as faithfully as we do."
The king blinked at that, then glanced at the archbishop who bobbed his head from side to side slightly, then nodded with a small shrug as if to say it was a plausible argument . . . almost. Leaning closer to the man, Richard murmured something Emma couldn't hear. Now it was her turn to lean forward as the holy man responded. She only managed to catch the last of that as well, however.
"What ever the case, sire, 'twould certainly seem a sin to leave such . . . er . . . ripe fruit on the . . . er . . . vine to waste. Or for someone else to pick," he added grimly.
Sighing, King Richard turned back to her, eyed her silently, then sighed again, pursed his lips and leaned forward in his seat, a pained expression coming to his face. "My lady . . ." He paused to frown as he realized that he had almost whispered the words, glanced to each side with irritation to see that the archbishop and the cleric had leaned forward to hear what he said as well, then glanced beyond Emma and glared.
Following his gaze over her shoulder, she saw the guards at the door straighten abruptly from their bent-forward positions. They too were curious to hear the king's words.
Shaking his head, he tried again. "My lady, you said he had not . . . er . . ."
"Seen to his conjugal duties," the archbishop offered softly.
"Aye, seen to his duties since your wedding night. Are we to take it then that he did at least . . . er . . . ?"
"Consummate," the holy man murmured.
"Aye, did he at least--" He waved toward the archbishop.
"Aye," Emma said.
He scowled at her expression. "You do not appear too certain, my lady."
Emma frowned slightly now herself. Truth to tell, she was not sure. She really had no idea what consummation included. Her mother had died in labor-- along with the long-hoped-for son she had been trying to bear-- when Emma was just six. Her father had raised her on his own after that, and while he had been an excellent father, he had not been a mother. When it had come to preparing her for her wedding night and all it entailed, he had hemmed and hawed, his face flushed red, and told her gruffly, "Your husband will
"Aye, Father," Emma had murmured, and awaited further instruction. But he had merely tugged at his collar, nodded, then patted her shoulder and escaped.
"Perhaps if her ladyship could describe her wedding night," the archbishop suggested delicately when Emma simply stood lost in thought.
Her head came up at once. "Describe it?"
"Well, not all of it." Flushing, the holy man peered helplessly at the king.
Suddenly impatient, Richard II muttered under his breath and glared at her. "My lady, did your husband share your bed on your wedding night?"
"Oh, aye." Emma smiled her relief. She had been consummated. "Aye. His men undressed him and put him there, my lord. He made quite a racket, I can tell you. I thought his snore would lift the roof."
"Aye, but did he touch you?" the archbishop put in impatiently.
"Touch me?" Emma looked uncertain again as she tried to recall. For a moment she was quite concerned for she could not recall if he had and judging from their expressions it was quite important, but then she smiled again with relief as she remembered. "Aye, my lord, he rolled upon me in the night. In fact, he near suffocated me." She lowered her voice as she confessed. "He was quite sotted, my lord. He did not even wake up when I rolled him back off."
Rather than being pleased by this news, the archbishop and the king both straightened with disgust. There was a moment while both men were busy grimacing at each other as if in pain; then the archbishop asked wearily, "What happened in the morning, my lady?"
"In the morning?" Emma frowned slightly once more. It had been two years ago, after all. "Well, as I recall, my lord, I woke up first. Aye. Aye, I did. I woke up and got dressed behind the screen. When I came back out, my lord husband was . . . Why, as I recall he had been playing about with his dagger in the bed and cut himself," she told them with surprise at the memory.
"Cut himself?" the archbishop asked, his eyes narrowed suspiciously.
The Deed by Lynsay Sands / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes