Bliss Chapter Eleven

"He's gone!"

Helen forced her eyes open as her aunt rushed into the room; then she pushed the hair out of the way and sat up slowly as the older woman rushed to her chest and began to rifle through it. Confusion overwhelming her, she asked sleepily, "What? What is going on?"

"Your husband is gone. Richard de Lucy sent for him in the king's name. The earl ofLeicesterhas put ashore at the mouth of Deben inSuffolkwith Flemish mercenaries. Bigod has joined him."

"The earl ofNorfolk?" Helen asked faintly, beginning to wake up now.

"Aye. They plan to invade and overthrow in Henry's son's name. Holden has been called to help fight them off."


"Aye. Get up! We must hurry."

"Hurry to do what?" Helen asked, feeling her confusion return.

"Lord Templetun plans to leave, too," Nell explained, holding up a dress, examining it briefly, then tossing it aside. "He is breaking his fast right now, but plans to leave directly afterward. If you wish to talk to him before he does so, you must hurry."

Releasing a panicked squawk, Helen shoved the linens aside and leapt from her bed. Her aunt tossed at her the gown she had apparently chosen, then scuttled around the bed and back toward the door. She paused there, turning back to watch as Helen began to pull the dress on over the thin chemise in which she had slept.

"We shall have to do something about your hair," she announced as her niece's garment settled into place and Helen began to tie her laces.

Catching the concerned tone, Helen reached up to feel her hair, grimacing at the knotted mess it had become. She had ordered a bath brought up the night before, but hadn't had the heart to demand Ducky's assistance; the smell had been still very strong. She had sent the maid away and done the best she could at washing her own hair, finding the task difficult in the small tub. Afterward, she had been relaxed but rather weary. She had fallen asleep without even thinking of brushing out the long strands.

Now, her hair was a wild mess about her head.

"I shall fetch your maid," her aunt decided and turned to the door.

"Nay, I shall brush it out as best I can and tie it back. There is no time to have Ducky tend it." Helen grabbed a brush and began dragging it viciously through her hair.

After watching Helen struggle to tug the brush through her hair for several moments, her aunt said with exasperation, "Here. Let me help, then."

"I - " Helen began, then paused when she caught sight of Nell. Rather than approach her, her aunt had moved to the chest and pulled out a clean chemise, which she was presently tying around her face. That finished, Nell moved to Helen's side and held her hand out for the brush.

Helen gave the object up silently and turned her back to hide the shame on her face. It was humiliating being a pariah. If she had known she would have so little chance to inflict herself on Hethe, she would have had Joan fully remove the scent. The thought made her frown.

"Mayhap I should bathe before I see Lord Templetun," she suggested.

Aunt Nell hesitated briefly, then shook her head while continuing to work on Helen's hair. "There is no time for that, now. You will have to go as you are and hope he does not notice."

Helen snorted at that possibility, then realized she was scratching one hand with the other and forced herself to stop. She would send for Joan after this meeting, she decided. She would cleanse the stinkweed away and get more salve. Perhaps then she would feel more human.

"There. That is the best we can do for now," Aunt Nell announced, pulling Helen's hair into a ponytail and tying it back. Once her relative had finished and stepped away, Helen turned and hurried for the door, aware that her aunt was on her heels. They were starting down the stairs before Helen glanced over and saw that her aunt had not removed the chemise from around her face. Grimacing, she gave the bottom of it a tug to remind the woman, shaking her head when Nell paused abruptly to remove it.

"Go ahead," her aunt said. "I shall just return this, then catch up to you."

Helen continued down the stairs. Much to her relief, Lord Templetun was still seated at the trestle table finishing the last of his meal.

He wasn't the only one, of course. A good half of her subjects had already finished and returned to their work, but that left many still breaking their fast as she started across the great hall. They did not stay long.

As soon as she was spotted, the talk in the room died, each person nudging the person beside them to point out her presence. News of her little problem must have spread, because Helen was barely halfway across the great hall when there was a sudden mass exodus. Rising almost as one, her people left their meals behind and fled as if for their very lives.

Helen thought, a bit irritably, that she had never seen them so eager to get back to their work. Not that her people were sluggards, but they enjoyed the morning meal as much as the next person. Not today, apparently. At least not if they had to suffer her ill wind....

Glancing up with a start at the sudden sound of shuffling feet and hurried whispers, Lord Templetun watched with amazement as the great hall cleared. Helen was halfway across the chamber before he glanced around and spotted her. The man immediately got to his feet, a smile of greeting replacing his confusion.

"Ah, good morn, my lady. I am glad you decided to join me ere I leave. I - " He hesitated, his nose twitching; then his eyes widened incredulously as she drew nearer. When he took a nervous step back, Helen promptly stopped, aware that an embarrassed flush was rising along her throat and spreading across her cheeks.

They were both silent for a moment; then a high-pitched whine sounded behind her. Glancing over her shoulder, Helen spotted Goliath asleep by the fireplace. Ducky had warned her the dog had taken up position there since the little stinkweed incident. Now he whimpered in his sleep, covering his nose with both paws.

Heaving a sigh, she turned back to Templetun. He had a sympathetic expression on his face... for the dog. "My lord?"

Giving a start, the old man turned to her politely, then seemed to hold his breath and take another step backward. Realizing that she had unconsciously advanced again as she spoke, Helen made herself stop and gave the king's messenger a crooked smile. She meant it to be reassuring, but she suspected it came out as pitiful.

"Uh... I was just breaking my fast," Lord Templetun announced stupidly, using that excuse to move back to the table and take his seat - a good distance from her. Helen hesitated, then moved to the table as well, sitting what she thought would be far enough away to avoid overwhelming him with her stench.

She'd thought wrong, apparently. The man promptly shifted to sit sideways, then perched his elbow on the table and moved his hand before his nose in as nonchalant a manner as possible while he eyed her.

"Er... You appear... Is that a rash?" he asked suddenly, his hand lowering briefly to reveal a concerned expression. After one breath, though, he replaced his hand over his nose.

"Aye." Helen sighed. "I had a bad reaction to something in my bath."

"Your bath?" he asked with surprise, then realized what he had said and grimaced. "I mean, you reacted badly to something you bathed in?" He tried to make his words sound like a legitimate question, but it was a poor save. She supposed she shouldn't be surprised that he found it difficult to believe she had bathed. The facts did not exactly support that assumption.

Deciding it was best to leave the subject alone for now, she cleared her throat and said, "My aunt tells me that you are leaving us today."

"Aye." He seemed to cheer somewhat at that thought. Helen tried not to be insulted.

"Aye, well..." She hesitated, unsure, now that she was talking to him, exactly how to state what she had to say. After a moment of consideration, during which Lord Templetun turned his face to the side to breathe in deeply through his mouth, she decided that the fastest way possible was her best bet. Perhaps he would appreciate her consideration regarding the trauma through which she was putting him, and she would be more sympathetic to her cause.

"I want you to petition an annulment from the king," she blurted.

Lord Templetun stiffened at the request and began to frown. "I do not understand, my lady. Surely you realize that a marriage cannot be annulled once it is consummated."

"Aye. But the wedding wasn't consummated."

Templetun blinked at her pronouncement, then shook his head. "But I was given the proof. Lord Holden gave me the bed linen."

"He gave you a bed linen," she corrected. "It was not from my bed. And it was not my blood on it."

Helen did not really know what reaction she expected, but it surely wasn't what she got. Lord Templetun froze up entirely at her claim, his expression tightening, his eyes narrowing to slits that examined her rather icily. She had never really thought of him as intimidating, but for one moment, she had a sudden urge to run away and hide. Instead, she began to babble.

"I am sorry, my lord. But I simply cannot stay married to him. He is - Well, just smell me! He did this to me," she announced with sudden inspiration. "And he caused the rash, too. The other day, he laughed when I fell out of the boat and into the river. He - "

"The river?" Templetun interrupted sharply.

Helen felt herself flush guiltily. "Aye. We... er... He thought a little row about in the river would be nice, and - "

"Lord Holden does not like water. He has not since he was a child." Templetun repeated what she already knew. "I do not see why he would suggest a row about in the river."

"Ah, well... Perhaps it was my idea," she mumbled, peering down at her hands.

Templetun was silent for a moment, then asked, "And this odor you exude? How did he cause that?"

"Hmmm? Um..." She shifted guiltily on the bench, her gaze shooting everywhere but on him. "He...

er... put a lot of different scented oils in the bath with me. Conflicting scented oils."

"On your wedding night?"

Helen's eyebrows shot up with her surprise. She hadn't seen Lord Templetun since the wedding night.

The alleged stinkifying by her husband could have occurred anytime since then. "Yes. How did you know?"

He stared at her silently for a moment, then proved he was no fool. "I noticed a faint unpleasant odor when Lord Holden opened the door to shove the linens out on the morning after your wedding. It was this odor ." He waved his hand vaguely to indicate the invisible cloud surrounding him; then his eyes narrowed. "There was also an odor the night before, when we brought him above to place him in your bed. I wondered about it then, and the fact that you were wearing furs under the linen, but the room was chill and everything seemed fine the next morning." He shrugged impatiently, then fixed his eyes upon her.

"The odor in the room the night of the wedding was faint. Still, I am sure it was not this one."

"Oh?" she murmured nervously.

"Why did he pour oils and such in your bath?"

Helen struggled briefly for a viable lie, then sighed and confessed the truth. "I rubbed stinkweed all over myself to dissuade him from consummating the wedding." Seeing the outrage and fury appear on the king's man's face, Helen went on the defensive. "I did not want this marriage. I still don't. I will do anything to get it annulled. I - "

"Enough!" Lord Templetun .stood. "I suggest you find your maid and have her pack a small satchel.

Enough for a day or two, I should think. Then come back down here and be ready to leave."

"Leave?" Helen peered at him in alarm. "Leave for where?"

"For Holden. It is closer to where the king and his men are fighting the earl ofLeicesterand his Flemish mercenaries. I shall leave you there, then go on to fetch Lord Holden back to complete what should have been done on your wedding night. If we leave quickly enough, we may catch him before he joins the battle."

"Oh, but - "

"There will be no buts, my lady," the old man snapped, silencing her. "The king entrusted me with seeing to this, and I will see the deed done - whether you like it or not."

"Damn him!" Helen cursed, pacing her room furiously as her aunt and Ducky looked on sympathetically.

"The stupid, stubborn irritating old man!"

Pausing before one of her chests, she kicked it viciously and began to pace again. "This time, Lord Templetun will not be satisfied until he has seen for himself that the marriage has been consummated. He is leaving me no way to annul this union. I shall be stuck with that... man till death parts us!"

"Perhaps you will be lucky and he will die during this campaign against the earl ofLeicester."

Helen paused and whirled on her aunt at that suggestion. "Do you think so?" she asked with pitiable hope, then just as quickly shook the thought away. "Nay, I should not be so lucky. The man has survived too many battles to hope that this one will do him in. It would seem that God has seen fit to see me firmly married to the bastard."

She paced the room again. "Templetun will force him to bed me this time and nothing will stop it. No smell, no rash - " She paused at that thought to scratch irritably at her arm, and Aunt Nell took the opportunity to interrupt.

"Then perhaps we had best prepare you for that," she suggested calmly, moving forward to take Helen's arm and urge her to sit on the end of the bed.

Helen gave up on scratching herself to snort with disgust. "If you mean by 'prepare' that I should bathe and powder myself for his pleasure, you can forget that! I am not preparing. Let him suffer my smell. The odious man."

"I do not know if that is a smart decision, dear. It might be best if you made yourself as amenable as possible."

"What?" Helen gaped at her aunt. "Do not tell me that you think I should just surrender gracefully?

Because I will not. I will go down fighting. I will - "

"Nothing can be gained by further battle now," Nell interrupted, giving her arm an impatient shake that startled her niece into silence long enough for her to try to explain the situation. "My dear, I have supported you in each of your endeavors to avoid this marriage before now, but it would appear that there simply is no evading it. Templetun will see this marriage consummated. Any further resistance on your part will only see you hurt."

Rising, Helen waved such concerns impatiently away and resumed her pacing. "I am not afraid of Templetun or - "

"I mean physically hurt - by the joining," Nell interrupted again.

Helen stilled at that, uncertainty covering her face. "What?"

Nell opened her mouth to speak, then hesitated, her gaze moving helplessly to Ducky. The two exchanged a glance, then the lady's maid cleared her throat and tried to help. "You know the essentials of joining, my lady. I know her ladyship explained them to you."

"Aye." Helen's lips twisted in disgust as she recalled the lecture Nell had given her when she had reached marriageable age. It had all sounded vaguely revolting at the time. It didn't seem much more appealing now despite those exciting kisses she had exchanged with her husband on their wedding night.

She preferred to think that her response to him had been some sort of aberration. A reaction to the stinkweed. Perhaps it had caused some odd effects. "He will stick his poker in my - "

"Yes, well," her aunt cut her off quickly and cleared her throat. "That is true, and usually you see there is some, er... The woman is prepared, and without that preparation, there is horrible pain. There is pain anyway the first time of course, but damage can be done if... she is not prepared."

Helen considered her aunt's words carefully, then asked slowly, "So if I do not bathe and powder myself for him I could be damaged?"

"Not... No, I - " Nell gave up and turned to Ducky for help.

"She means that if you fight him, if you don't bathe yourself and make nice, he may not be gentle with you and will not trouble to prepare you," the maid explained.

"He has to prepare me?" Helen squawked.

"He has to..." Nell began, but apparently couldn't bring herself to say it.

"You remember last summer and the May Day games?" Ducky asked suddenly. Helen and her aunt both turned on her with bewilderment.

"Aye. What of it?" Helen asked at last.

"Do you remember how the blacksmith wrestled the greased pig?"

Helen nodded her head with a smile. "The pig kept slipping free of his arms."

"Well!" Ducky smiled at her brightly. "You're the blacksmith and Lord Holden's poker is the pig and if there isn't any grease, his pig's likely to pain you when he pokes you."

Both women were silent as they stared at her satisfied expression, then Helen squealed, "What?"

"Oh dear, Ducky. Please do not help any more," Nell hurried to say as the maid frowned and opened her mouth again. Helen's aunt then rubbed her forehead briefly, then turned to take her niece's hands in her own. "For all that Ducky's explanation is flawed, perhaps we can use it. You see, a man prepares a woman with his kisses and touch. It causes the woman to produce some of the - er - grease, as Ducky referred to it, down there." She gestured vaguely to Helen's lap, then struggled on. "This eases the way for his, er, pig to - "

"I understand," Helen interrupted, flushing bright red. "And you are saying that if I do not bathe and encourage some kindness in Lord Holden, he may not trouble to - "

"Exactly!" Nell cut her off, then she heaved a breath out and said, "As there is no longer any use to fighting this, I really think it behooves you to try to encourage some gentler feelings in his lordship. For your own sake."

Helen stared at her aunt despondently, the blood draining from her face as she considered the news.

"Do you really think that my bathing and being amenable will make him forget all we have done to him ere this?"

She could tell by the older woman's expression that she very much doubted that such would be the case, and Helen suddenly wished that she had shown a little more restraint in her battle, or not bothered at all. It seemed to her that all she had managed to do was make her situation worse.

"There are ways to encourage softer feelings in a man." Ducky drew the gaze of both women again with her words.

"There are?" Helen asked hopefully.

"Aye. Seeing you naked should help. Men forget a lot of things at the sight of a naked woman. You've a good figure and that should be a good start at distracting him."

Helen goggled at the suggestion, the blood returning to wash through her face at the idea of stripping bare before the man.

"And if that doesn't work, jiggling your breasts at him should."

"Jiggling my breasts?" Helen cried in disbelief, but the maid nodded firmly.

"That worked real good with my Albert when he was still alive. Any time we had an argument, one little jiggle and he forgot he was mad at me. Nothing raised his poker faster than a jiggle."

"Ducky, I really think - " Aunt Nell began, getting to her feet, but was stopped from finishing her thought by a knock at the door.

"Enter," Helen called, standing as well, then wished she hadn't when Lord Templetun stepped into the room. The king's man took one look at the three of them standing huddled together and his pinched face tightened even further.

"I knew you would be up to no good. You haven't even begun to pack," he berated.

Slipping past her aunt and Ducky, Helen tried to appease the man, but he didn't give her a chance, grabbing her wrist, he turned for the door. "Throw an extra gown in a bag and bring it below!" he ordered over his shoulder, dragging her out into the hall.

"But I haven't bathed yet," Helen protested as he tugged her along.

"And you will not. If you think for one moment that I am going to give you the chance to plot more nasty little tricks to play on Lord Holden, you are very much mistaken, my lady."

"But we were not plotting," Helen protested, tugging at the hand he held as he started down the stairs, pulling her behind him. After that little chat in her room, she was desperate to wash some of the stench off of her. Helen was a realistic girl: if she was going to have to go through with this, she would rather not be injured in the bargain. "I really do need to bathe and prepare, my lord. I - "

"As you bathed and prepared on your wedding night?" the old man interrupted with a angry laugh, tightening his grip. "Not likely. Holden hardly needs you to smell worse than you do now. We shall be lucky if he can accomplish the task as it is. Nay, you are not leaving my sight until I have you safely away from here and at Holden. And you can be sure that if we do not catch up to Hethe before that, I shall be ordering his second to keep an eye on you and not bring you anything you request, so do not think that you shall be able to do anything there to worsen your state and put off this matter."

That little speech carried them across the hall and outside. He was leading her down the stairs to the bailey when a breathless Ducky burst out of the keep behind them. The woman caught up to them as they reached the saddled horses that the men who had accompanied Lord Templetun held for them.

The king's man took the bag Ducky held and handed it to one of his men, then urged Helen toward a horse, but the maid suddenly threw her arms around Helen and hugged her hard.

Helen was a bit startled by the desperate display, until she heard the woman hiss in her ear. "Jiggle the breasts, my lady. Jiggle 'em good."

Helen didn't get the chance to respond to her maid's advice. She caught a glimpse of her anxious-looking aunt hurrying down the keep steps toward them, then Templetun tugged her from the servant's embrace and forced her to mount.

"That rash is obviously a judgment from God. He is punishing you for your disobedience."

Helen's hands clenched a little tighter around the reigns of her mount. Lord Templetun had been lecturing her since leaving Tiernay. She was an evil, naughty, disobedient female. She had flouted an order from her king. She had gone against her husband. And if that were not bad enough, she had disobeyed God when she had taken the vow of obedience during the wedding ceremony, then turned around and broken it by not heeding her husband. She was an evil, nasty little sinner, and even God had judged her so by punishing her with the rash and horrific smell she was forced to endure. The smell, of course, reflected the putrescence of her soul.

Lord Templetun's sympathies were most definitely with Lord Holden at this point. Still, Helen could not help but notice, a little cynically perhaps, that his sympathies were not enough to make him annul the marriage and save Holden from her corrupting influence.

"Here we are."

Helen glanced up at the walls of the castle looming ahead. Holden. She had thought they would never reach it. Lord Templetun had forced them to ride at a slow trot so that he might lash her with his tongue along the way, thus the trip had taken much longer than it should have. It was past themiddaymeal now, she was sure.

The king's man fell blessedly silent as they passed through the bailey, and Helen took the opportunity to take in her surroundings. She had never been to Holden. Or if she had, she had been quite young, for she did not recall it.

Curious, she peered around at the people going about their business. She felt the difference at once, of course. At Tiernay, there were children playing, dogs running about, and laughter echoing in the air as her healthy, happy people worked. Such was not the case here. She did not see a single child or smile, and the majority of people here seemed lean, pale and grim.

Much to her surprise, that fact actually caused Helen some relief, and it took her a moment to realize why. Lord Holden's behavior since meeting him had been something of a shock. The man had been nothing like she had expected. Rather than being a big, ugly ogre as she had always presumed, Hethe had been handsome and hale. Rather than stomping around, glaring ferociously at everyone and ordering servants and serfs punished for the smallest misdemeanors, he had been smiling and almost charming.

And despite his treatment - bad food, a cold room, the bath his first day and everything that had taken place since - he had not once demanded punishment of anyone.

True, he had played that trick on her in the clearing, setting up the picnic on the posies, but he had also given her an escape from that, offering to return to the castle before they sat down. It had been she, bent on forcing him to suffer the unpalatable fare she had brought for their picnic, who had insisted on staying.

All of those facts had combined to make her fear that she had been mistaken, that perhaps she had been taken in by some very clever serfs and villeins from Holden who had spun a sad tale to gain her charity.

She'd begun to imagine that perhaps he wasn't really the cruel, heartless bastard she thought, and that she had played those awful pranks on a blameless man. Which would have made her feel just awful.

But the atmosphere of the people of Holden seemed to indicate that she'd been correct. These people were miserable. They were also full of fear. There had been a flicker of relief on nearly every face they passed as the people saw who was come to their village, and she suspected that relief was because it wasn't their master.

They reached the front door of the keep, and Helen automatically began to dismount, but she was stopped by Lord Templetun's hand on her arm. Turning, she peered at him reluctantly, suspecting he had more to say on her disobedience. She was not wrong.

"I will be heading out to hunt up Lord Holden as soon as I find His Lordship's second and place you in his hands. I suggest that while you await our return, you repent and seriously consider changing your ways - else you will end up in a nunnery or the pillory."

Helen felt herself pale at his threat. She was very glad for the sudden distraction of the door before them opening... until her husband stepped out. At least, for one brief moment she thought he was her husband.

Then the man stepped out of the shadows and she saw that it wasn't him at all.

The warrior was as tall and strong-looking as her husband - in fact he, like Sir William, had the same shape as Hethe, which was the reason for her brief mistake, she supposed - but that was where the resemblance ended. Where her husband's hair was dark, this man's was a deep red. Where her husband's skin was tanned from being out of doors so much of the time, this man's was paler. And his facial features were softer, his forehead more lined with worry.

"Ah, Stephen." Lord Templetun greeted the younger man and quickly dismounted. "I have brought Lady Holden here to await your master."

Helen gave a start at the old man's words. In truth, it was the first time anyone had addressed her by her new married title: Lady Holden. She didn't think she liked it. Holden was a name she had reviled too long to wish to bear it as her own. Still, she forced a smile for her husband's second, who was now moving quickly forward; then she nearly groaned aloud with the realization that he was moving to her side to help her dismount. Unless the man had no sense of smell at all, he would -

Aye. He had a sense of smell, she thought with a sigh as the man stumbled abruptly to a halt, his eyes widening in incredulity even as his nose tried to pinch itself closed. Helen offered an apologetic smile and started to dismount unaided, but Hethe's second was too chivalrous to allow such a thing. He turned his head to the side, and she saw his chest expand as he sucked in some fresh air; then he rushed forward and caught her as she would have leapt from her mount.

"Thankyou," Helen murmured, then realized by his panicked look that she had put him in a deplorable spot. The man was holding his breath, trying not to be overcome, but by thanking him, she had made it rude for him not to release his breath and respond in kind. Trying to save him the trouble, she struggled free and started moving toward the keep, babbling as she went. "Well, I am sure you will be off now, Lord Templetun. I shall just go inside and see if there is anything left from themiddaymeal so that I might eat. Have a safe journey."

If Templetun answered her, Helen didn't hear it. Her little speech carried her all the way to and in through the keep's doors. She bustled across her husband's great hall toward the trestle tables. Stephen stayed behind, presumably to have a talk with Lord Templetun. It wasn't a very long talk. Helen had barely reached the trestle tables when she heard the door open behind her and glanced around to the spot the man entering and hurrying after her. She shook her head at his anxious expression. He really should have taken the opportunity to remain outside a bit longer. She would have, had she been him.

"Lord Templetun is here."

"What?" Hethe stopped his horse abruptly at the news from his squire as he rode into camp. "What does he want?"

"I do not know, my lord. He just said that he had come to collect you to take you back to Holden, to do something you had not finished."

Hethe cursed at that, suspecting he knew what that "something" was. No doubt his wife had gone running to Templetun as soon as he himself had left Tiernay. Why was it that women could never keep their mouths shut? If she had just done that and waited for his return, they might have sorted things out without dragging Templetun and the king into it. But, nay, not her. She had to -

"Did you say back to Holden?" Hethe asked suddenly as the boy's words fully sank in.

"Aye, my lord."

He frowned. He had left his bride at Tiernay. Holden was closer, though. Perhaps Templetun had taken her there, then ridden on to collect him. Unless he was mistaken about what the man wanted. Mayhap he had forgotten to sign some papers or something. That thought raised his hopes somewhat.

A moan from the wounded man slouched in the saddle before him drew Hethe from his thoughts. He urged his horse forward again, riding to the center of camp before easing the unconscious knight from his saddle, then following him down. "Have someone tend to this man Edwin. I shall go see Lord Templetun."

"Aye, my lord."

Hethe started to lead his horse away, then paused to glance back at the squire now kneeling over the wounded soldier. "Where is he?"

"I showed him to your tent to rest until your return, my lord."

"Good." Turning away, he continued on toward his tent, handing his reins over to one of his men as he went.

"Lord Holden." Templetun got to his feet as Hethe entered the tent. The king's man looked terribly relieved at his arrival. "How goes the battle?"

"They burnt down Haughley. But the king has them on the run."

"Haughley?" He frowned. "That was an old Norman keep. Built of wood."

"Aye," Hethe agreed. "It went up like tinder."

Templetun nodded, ruminating, then cleared his throat. "I am here because of Lady Tier - Holden," he corrected himself impatiently. "She said the wedding was not consummated."

Hethe grimaced. Surely enough, she had blabbed. Now it was up to him to try to save the situation.

"You saw the proof of the consummation."

"She claims you faked that proof."

"Well, I say she is lying," Hethe countered with a pointed look. He really wasn't eager to bed the silly woman. If she didn't smell so much... well, that would be one thing. Unfortunately, she did. He did his best not to squirm guiltily under Lord Templetun's narrowing gaze.

"Will you really force me to have her examined and then come back?" the king's chaplain asked wearily.

Hethe considered. There was a good possibility that if he put this off long enough, his wife's smell might fade enough that it wouldn't be such a chore to bed her. On the other hand, he could get in trouble with the king for lying if he was caught. Shifting impatiently, he shook his head. "I will tend to it once I return - "

"I am afraid that will not do," Templetun interrupted. "The king instructed me to see the marriage done, and I intend to do so. You will have to return to Holden with me. I left Lady Helen waiting there."

Hethe opened his mouth to argue, then merely shrugged. Arguing would not get him anywhere. He may as well just go back and do his duty so that he could quickly return here to the battle. "Oh, hell! When do we leave?"

Templetun's eyebrows rose in surprise. Apparently, he had expected more of a fight. "Oh. Well... er...

Now?" he asked hopefully.

Hethe's response was to turn and duck back out of his tent. "Edwin, bring my horse," he yelled, aware that Templetun followed right behind.

"I will just go see that my own horse is ready," the older man murmured, hurrying off. Hethe watched him go, then smiled at his squire as the young boy hurried up with his mount still saddled.

"Are Sir William and the others back yet?" he asked as he remounted. He had ridden ahead to get the wounded soldier to treatment as quickly as possible. William and the others had stayed behind to see if any of the other men sprawled on the battlefield still lived.

"Nay, my lord."

"Well, tell him when he gets back that I have gone back to Holden, and assure him I will return as soon as I can."

"Aye, my lord."

Nodding, Hethe settled in his seat and glanced around. Templetun was waiting impatiently for his horse to be saddled. Hethe took the opportunity to give a few more orders and instructions and to ask how the man he had brought back was doing, then urged his mount over to join the king's man for the journey back to Holden.

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