Lion Heart Page 73

Leicester declared that his daughter would be married on Sunday, two days after Eleanor were meant to arrive.

Margaret didn’t come to the gardens anymore. She didn’t want to see de Clare, she didn’t want to see Winchester. I rather thought she wanted time to grind to a halt before Sunday ever came, but that weren’t in God’s plan just yet.

The nobles gathered in the garden. Rob and Winchester seemed engaged in a serious debate with Suffolk, and I could no longer walk aimless in a strange place where nature were made careful and pretty instead of wild and free.

David followed me as I left the gardens, but I waved him off. I didn’t want to be followed; I just wanted to be alone.

There were a little brook past the gardens, and I crossed it, walking through a field and making for a copse of trees ahead. The farther I walked, their tittering whispers faded out, replaced by birds talking animatedly to one another, flying and swooping above me. The blades of long grass in the field slid against one another, shushing me, and the sun beat down on all of it, making it glitter.

Inside the copse of trees, the air were cool and fresh, and I shut my eyes, wishing myself back in Nottingham.

Just a few days more, I promised myself. And all this will be finished.

As soon as the trunks of silver arrived with Eleanor, we could spring into action. Prince John or not, we could protect the realm, and we could be free.

I stayed as long as I could, hiding in the trees, trying to draw on their strength. Maybe Prince John wouldn’t arrive until the next day, and we could finish this after Eleanor arrived.

As I crossed the brook to come back to the castle, riders on the road kicked up dust to come around the curve, slowing at the gate. My blood went cold and still as I saw Prince John riding at the forefront, and he saw me clear in the sun.

His horse and men stopped as the portcullis were raised, and I curtsied. “Prince John,” I greeted, tight-lipped. “Welcome to court.”

He dismounted, coming to me with a bright, false smile. “Lady Huntingdon. My God, you just keep on turning up alive, don’t you?” He laughed like he’d said something funny, coming close to me. I backed up. “You know, it’s simply so difficult to enlist able men these days. So next time I try to kill you,” he said, meeting my gaze, “I’ll be the one holding the blade.”

I stopped backing up as the gate opened full and knights came out, taking the prince’s horse and men inside, keeping people between us. Prince John gave me a grin and inclined his head to me, walking into the palace.

Eleanor arrived within a few hours, and when she did, she called me for a private audience. “You did as I asked?” I said.

“Hello, my darling granddaughter,” Eleanor said, embracing me. “So lovely to see you.”

“I know you like your manners, Eleanor, but now is hardly the time.”

She looked wounded. “There is always enough time for exquisite manners, Marian.”

I rolled my eyes.

“And yes, I did as you asked. Since I’m certain it will all be for nothing, I prepared the chests for you.”

Drawing a breath, I nodded. “Thank you.”

“So you’re going to steal this money?” she asked.

“Move it. To force his hand.”

“Because there are French guards.”

“He claims they’re from Aquitaine, that he called them to protect the treasury so he could protect you with his knights,” I told her.

“That is a very sensible reason for them to be there,” she insisted.

“But the timeline doesn’t work out—and consider the alternative, Eleanor. You yourself said he would need to buy armies. You said France would be the first place he turned.”

“But these are not armies,” she said. “If they’re knights, you can’t buy them, they’re dedicated to someone. And if they’re not Aquitanian, they belong to someone else. So they must be Aquitanian, because who else would offer him men?”

“Then there will be nothing to worry about,” I told her.

She shook her head. “Of course there will. You are striking a hornet’s nest, and I’m holding the ladder to let you do it.” She frowned. “How is Margaret?”

“Miserable,” I told her.

An eyebrow lifted. “And still here?”

“Yes,” I said, confused.

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake. That fine earl of hers needs to toss her out a window and run off with her. Why are they still here?”

“She wants to obey her father.”

Eleanor drew a breath, and raised her stone chin. “Take me to her.”

She rapped her jeweled walking stick on the ground, and I nodded, leading her quick out of the room to where Margaret were. I knocked on the door and announced Eleanor, and when the maid answered, she looked frightened. “My lady Queen,” she greeted, curtsying. “My lady Margaret is not quite here.”

“Not quite?” I questioned.

“Has she gone to the meal?” Eleanor asked. “Is she walking? It’s after dark.”

The maid shook her head. “Your Highness, she’s not . . . here.”

Eleanor’s eyebrows rose sharp. “She left. The palace. Of her own free will?” Eleanor asked.

“Yes,” the maid said quiet. “With . . . someone.”

“With Winchester?” I asked, worried sudden. What if de Clare—or the prince—

“Yes,” the maid said. “I’m not meant to say anything.”

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