Lion Heart Page 67

“Your Grace,” I returned with a sigh.

“Is she all right?” he murmured to me, his eyes drifting after Margaret.

I smiled, watching her walk. “Yes. She’s made of strong stuff,” I told him.

He straightened a little. “I know,” he said. He sighed. His eyes darted away and back. “And here we go.”

“Your Grace,” someone said, and we turned to an older man. “Who is this beauty on your arm? You haven’t gone and gotten married, have you?”

“Suffolk, I haven’t ever enjoyed the kind of luck I would have needed to snare her,” Winchester said. “Roger Bigod, Earl of Suffolk, may I introduce Marian Locksley, Lady of Huntingdon. Marian, you’ll remember his son was one of the lords to answer Eleanor’s call for knights.”

He bowed over my hand with a cry of surprise. “Huntingdon, really? That’s been created again?”

Winchester nodded solemn. “One of the final acts before Richard was captured.”

Suffolk’s stare became piercing, calculating. “You must be very important to him, my lady.”

“She is,” Winchester said, raising his eyebrows.

“Come, Winchester, you must be sporting and tell what you know,” Suffolk said.

Winchester glanced toward me, and back at Suffolk. “Far be it for me to say such, my lord, but King Richard feels quite . . . paternal about her.”

The man’s eyes widened, and he turned to stare at me, taking in my face, looking me up and down, like there were pieces of the king hiding in my face, like King Richard would jump out of my skirts at any moment.

And then he smiled at me. “Hm,” he said.

“I was most grateful to see Hugh in the north assisting the queen,” Winchester said.

Suffolk turned from me and beamed. “Yes, he’s a good son. Now if I can just get him married—you’d set an excellent example in that regard, Winchester.”

Winchester’s jaw tightened.

“But Locksley, eh?” Suffolk asked, turning back to me. “That was the old earl, of course. Excellent man. Clearly you’re not his daughter.”

I opened my mouth, but Winchester smiled instead. “Daughter by law,” Winchester said. “You’ll be interested to know Robin Locksley, her husband, is returned to court.”

“Really?” asked Suffolk. “We have all heard such tales of his bravery. It is a credit to the peerage to have him back amidst our ranks.”

“His valor and honor are barely done justice by tales and songs,” I told him, able to speak at last. “It would be a happy task to introduce you to him.”

Winchester beamed at me, nodding slight.

“When did this marriage happen?” Suffolk asked. “I find myself amazed that I have not heard of it.”

“Just shy of a fortnight past,” Winchester said. “A beautiful, joyous affair. I believe the queen mother had all of her minstrels attend to tell Richard of it upon his return.”

His eyebrows shot up, like this were information of particular value. “Ah, a new bride then. We must find a way to properly fete you,” he told me. “And your happiness.”

A celebration—when England were on the brink of tearing itself apart. “Your Grace, your notice and happy wishes are certainly celebration enough. I confess I couldn’t find greater happiness.” Except if your prince stopped killing people I love, of course.

“Your Grace, you must excuse us; a new commodity at court must be widely introduced,” Winchester said, like this were a roguish joke.

Suffolk chuckled. “Of course. Your Grace, it is a pleasure to meet you,” Suffolk said. He dropped his head to me, and I bobbed a curtsy.

Winchester led me away. “You did very well,” he told me, patting my hand in his arm. “He is the only earl to outrank you, and his approval will sway many others.”

“Does that mean I can quit with the curtsies and silly garden walks yet?” I asked.

“Not nearly,” he told me.

“Christ,” I muttered.

“He’s here too,” he said, pointing to an abbot’s hat. “The Abbot of Westminster. The abbey is not far from the palace.”

“You’re very sacrilegious,” I told him.

He shrugged. “Ask him. I’m fairly sure he believes it.”

Drawing a breath, I started toward him. Winchester lifted an eyebrow at me. “I don’t know many things, Winchester, but if we’re robbing the English Crown, we need Christ on our side.”

He laughed.

Chapter 27

By noon, I’d met at least thirty members of the nobility—the women in clusters, eager to fawn over Winchester and Rob, and the men ambling singly around for the most part.

Then the sun rose high and the men grouped, arguing about whether to shoot or hunt as servants brought out tables, piling them with food.

Lady Suffolk, the earl’s elegant old wife, protested that they had to shoot so that the ladies could be within an appropriate distance to admire them.

Rob came to me and kissed me light. “I wonder if it’s better to win or lose to someone important,” Rob murmured with a grin.

I pushed him, grinning back. “Win, or I won’t know who you are when you return,” I told him with a laugh.

“I was hoping you’d say that,” he told me, giddy like a child as his hand slid on my neck, bringing me to him for a dizzy kiss.

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