Blush sensuality level: This is a sensual romance (may have explicit love scenes, but not erotic in frequency or type).
Lovely Nyssa Wyndham, as fair and proud as her mother Blaze, is lady-in-waiting to Henry VIII's fourth wife.
Scandalizing all of England, Henry has his marriage annulled, for the queen cannot meet the bawdy desires of the insatiable king. Henry seeks a spirited, lusty new wife--and eyes the beautiful Nyssa. But in a land rife with conspiracy and rebellion, there are those in secret power determined to thwart Henry's intentions. A drugged Nyssa awakens in the arms of the notorious rake Varian de Winter. With her virtue destroyed, the outraged king orders them to wed.
Handsome--and soon smitten--Varian de Winter dares to conquer his spitfire bride. But the intrigues and dark side of the court intrude upon their brief happiness as Nyssa is trapped in a devious plot and witness to the deadly wrath of Henry Tudor. Suddenly, jealousy and revenge grow bloodthirsty, and all that Nyssa holds dear is in dire jeopardy.
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Posted September 02, 2012 by LOVE, REMEMBER ME , The United StatesLove, Remember Me carries the reader into a world of royalty and intrigue. The characters are refreshing, and I thoroughly enjoy reading about their culture and the atmosphere of their era. At times, this reader could almost get a feel of the characters expressions and actions through their dialogue. Ms. Small pens a story rich in history, along with loyalty, deceit and a blossoming love filled with romance. She makes convincing players that interact with the reader in this charming historical novel.
Reviewer for Coffee Time Romance & More
Ellora's Cave Publishing, Incorporated
May 23, 2012
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Excerpt from Love, Remember Me by Bertrice Small
Well, he did say that he might visit RiversEdge one day," Lady Blaze Wyndham, the Countess of Langford, said to her husband. "You know he did. You heard him yourself."
"I thought he was being polite," the earl responded, aggravated. "People always say that they'll visit you someday, but one never really expects that they will come, and usually they do not. Did you honestly expect to ever see the king here? In our home? I know that I did not." Anthony Wyndham ran an impatient hand through his dark hair. "We are not a great house, Blaze. How long is he to stay? How many will be with him? Is it really possible for us to entertain the king well?" He glared at his wife, who was certainly, because of her long acquaintance with the king, responsible for this disruption of his life.
Blaze laughed. "Oh, Tony," she said soothingly, "it is not an official visit that Hal makes us. He is merely hunting nearby. When he realized that RiversEdge was in the vicinity, he decided to come and see us. He will arrive with no more than half a dozen companions to break his fast in the noonday hour." She patted her husband's hand. "It will be all right."
"There's not enough time to prepare properly," the earl grumbled. "How typical of the king to give us so little notice."
"Indeed, my lord, and when did my household become your province?" Blaze demanded sharply. "The king comes tomorrow. There is more than enough time for me to prepare to receive him. You need do nothing more, Tony, than be your charming self." She kissed his cheek in an attempt to mollify her handsome spouse. "By the way, my love, I have sent to my parents in Ashby to come to meet the king, and to my sisters as well."
"All of them?" her husband asked nervously. Blaze was the eldest of eleven children, eight of whom were female.
"Only Bliss and Blythe," she reassured him. "Mother may bring my brothers Henry and Tom, though. Gavin's wife is too near her time. He will not leave her, I know. After all, it is their first child."
The Earl of Langford felt relieved at the knowledge that he was not to be inundated with all of his wife's relations. Of his sisters-in-law, he knew best Bliss, the Countess of Marwood, and Blythe, Lady Kingsley. They were nearest in age to his wife. The fourth sister, Delight, had been swept off to Ireland by her husband, Cormac O'Brian, the Lord of Killaloe, years ago. They rarely heard from her. The next of his wife's siblings, Larke and Linnette, had been married to twin brothers, the sons of Lord Alcott. They were content to be country wives as long as they remained together. Proud Vanora, the next-to-youngest sister, had married the Marquis of Beresford, and the last of the Morgan sisters, Glenna, not to be outdone, had wed the Marquis of Adney. The daughters of Lord Robert Morgan were all famed for their beauty and their extraordinary ability to bear healthy offspring.
"This is really the most wonderful opportunity," Blaze said to her husband, who was drawn back to reality by hearing that tone in her voice.
"Opportunity for whom?" he demanded. "And for what, madame?"
"Our children, Tony! Nyssa, Philip, and Giles. Now that the king has ceased mourning Queen Jane and is betrothed to the Princess of Cleves, his mood should be very good--particularly if the hunting is excellent tomorrow morning and the repast I serve him is particularly to his taste."
"What is it you are planning, Blaze?" the earl asked her.
"I want places at court for Nyssa, Philip, and Giles, Tony. They need the polish, and we have settled no matches on any of them yet. I think Nyssa can attract a good husband at court. Perhaps the boys will appeal to certain fathers, not the high and mighty, of course, but good families looking for good matches. Philip will be the next Earl of Langford, and I have given Giles my manor of Greenhill with its comfortable income. Our two eldest sons are most eligible catches," she finished with a smile.
"I do not know if I like the idea of Nyssa going to court," the Earl of Langford said. "The boys, yes, I agree with you there, but not Nyssa."
"Why not Nyssa?" she pressed him. "There is no one hereabouts to whom we would marry her, nor is there any who takes her fancy. The Princess of Cleves is, I am told, a most gentle and refined lady. If Nyssa could find a place among her maids, she would be protected, but she would also have the opportunity to meet the eligible young men she otherwise would not meet. If the king still harbors tender feelings for me--and I know he does, for Hal is a sentimental man who remembers what pleases him through a rose-colored mist--then he will be willing to do us this kindness, and place the children at court. Ohh, Tony! We will never again have such an opportunity to advance the future of our children. And the people they meet at court may be of help to our other sons when they are old enough to go to court. The others, not being propertied, will need all the help they can obtain."
"Richard may take holy orders one day," the earl said. "What need will he have of a visit to court?"
"The archbishop goes to court," Blaze returned with a smile. "What a fine contact for our son!"
Anthony Wyndham laughed. "I had forgotten how resourceful you can be, my darling Blaze. Ohh, very well, make your plans. If God wills it, then so be it. Nyssa, Philip, and Giles will go to court, and Richard will one day meet the archbishop." Reaching out, he patted her very distended belly, for Blaze was in the final days of a pregnancy. "And are you certain that this is a son also?"
"You only seem to sire sons on me, my lord," she said with a smile. "Five fine boys I have had by you."
"And Nyssa," he said.
"Nyssa is Edmund's child," she answered him softly. "You have been a good father to her, Tony, but she is Edmund's blood."
"My blood as well," he insisted, "for were not Edmund and I related? He was my uncle. I loved him well, Blaze."
"He was more a brother to you," she said. "You were but a few years apart in age, and your mother, his elder sister, raised you both."
"My mother! God's blood, Blaze! Did you send to Riverside for her? She would want to pay her respects to the king."
"The messenger going to my parents stopped at Lady Dorothy's home first," Blaze said with a chuckle. "Poor Hal! He knows not what awaits him when he pays his little call tomorrow."
The king arrived late the following morning. His mood was a most jovial one. He had personally taken two does, plus a stag with a set of antlers "As fair an English rose as I have ever seen," the king said in complimentary tones. "How old is the lass, madame?"
"Nyssa is sixteen years of age, Sire," Blaze answered him.
"Is she betrothed?"
"No, my lord," Blaze replied.
"Why not? She's pretty enough, and an earl's daughter. She has a goodly dowry, I have not a doubt, madame," the king said.
"There is no one with whom we would match her hereabouts, Hal," Blaze told him. "Her dowry is indeed a very good one. It includes Riverside, a fine house, and the lands that go with it. Nyssa is a well-propertied and dowered girl. Actually, I should like it if she could go to court for a time." Blaze smiled sweetly, but looked pointedly at the king.
He began to chuckle, wagging an admonishing finger at her in mock reproach. "Madame," he growled, "you are shameless, but then I always knew that. You seek a place for your little wench, don't you? Do you know that every family with an unmatched daughter, indeed any daughter, is importuning me right now for a place in my bride's household? Great names and small ones too plead for my ear." His glance swung to Nyssa. "And you, my pretty lass, would you come to court to serve the new queen?"
"Aye, and if it please your majesty," Nyssa said pertly, looking straight at him for the first time.
The king noted that she had her mother's beautiful violet-blue eyes. "Has she ever lived anywhere but her home?" he asked.
Blaze shook her head. "Like me, Hal, she is a country girl."
"She would be gobbled up whole by the rakes at court," he said. "It would be poor repayment for your friendship, Blaze Wyndham."
Bliss FitzHugh, Countess of Marwood, who had been listening, now spoke up uninvited. "I have been told that the Princess of Cleves is a most chaste and good lady, Sire. I believe my niece would be safe within her household. Then too, my husband and I are returning to court this season. I should be there to watch over Nyssa for my sister."
Blaze threw her sister a grateful look even as the king said to her, "Very well then, madame, I will appoint your daughter one of the new queen's maidens as long as my Lady FitzHugh is there to act in your stead. Is there anything else I may do for you?" he concluded dryly.
"Appoint Philip and Giles as pages to the Princess of Cleves's household," Blaze said daringly.
Henry Tudor burst out laughing at her audacity. "I do not think I shall ever play cards with you again, madame," he chortled. "As I recall, you always beat me. Very well, I will accede to your request. They're pretty lads, and mannerly too, I can see." Then he grew serious. "When you were with me, Blaze Wyndham," he said quietly, "you never asked anything of me. I remember there were many who called you a fool for it."
"When I was with you, Hal," she replied in equally soft tones, "I wanted for nothing, for I had your affection and respect."
"And you still do, my little country girl," he said. "I look at your fine brood, and I wonder if they would have been mine had I taken you for my wife instead of the others."
"Your majesty has a fine son, I am told, in Prince Edward," she answered him. "You want the best for him even as I want the best for my children. I ask now for them. You know I would not presume upon your generosity otherwise."
Reaching out, the king patted her slender hand with his fat one. "I never knew any woman, nay not even my sweet Jane, whose heart was as pure and good as yours, my little country girl," he told her. "My new queen will be pleased to have your children in her service." He looked to Blaze's sons. "What think you, Master Philip and Master Giles? Will you be happy to serve us, and our queen?"
"Aye, Your Grace!" the two boys chorused brightly.
"And you, Mistress Nyssa? Will you be as content as your brothers?" He chuckled and went on without even waiting for an answer. "She will have all the young men eager, I'll vow. You will have your work cut out for you, my Lady FitzHugh, watching over this English rose."
"I am quite capable of looking after myself, Your Grace," Nyssa said. "After all, I am the eldest of my mother's children."
"Nyssa!" Blaze was scandalized by her daughter's impudence, but the king laughed good-naturedly.
"Do not scold her, madame. She reminds me of my own daughter, Elizabeth. Nyssa is of the same ilk. An English rose, but a wild rose, I am thinking. It is a relief to know she is a strong girl. She will need that strength at court, as well you know, Blaze Wyndham. Now, am I to be fed? I have agreed to your requests." He chuckled. "There is no need to starve your king into submission."
Blaze signaled her servants, and immediately they began to hurry forth in a line bearing the kitchen's best efforts to please their sovereign. As the Countess of Langford had promised, there was beef, a great joint of it, which had been packed in rock salt and roasted until its juices began to seep through its saline armor. There was a large country ham, sweet and pink, trout, broiled with lemons and served upon a bed of fresh raw spinach from the garden, and of course, the partridge pies, six of them, their crusts oozing gravy, wine-scented steam coming from the decorative vents cut into their crusts. There were several ducks, well-roasted, sitting in a sea of plum sauce upon a silver salver, and a platter heaped high with tender baby lamb chops. Bowls of peas, roasted onions, and dishes of carrots in a wine and cream sauce were offered. There was freshly baked bread, newly churned butter, and a fine small wheel of sharp cheddar cheese.
The king had always been a fine trencherman, but his increased appetite astounded Blaze. He helped himself liberally to the beef and ham, ate one whole trout, a duck, a partridge pie, and six lamb chops. He seemed to enjoy the roasted onions particularly, smacking his lips with pleasure. He devoured a loaf of bread, a great deal of butter, and at least a third of the cheese by himself. His cup was never allowed to grow empty, and he drank with as much gusto as he ate. When one of several apple tarts was presented for his inspection and approval, the king nodded happily.
"I'll have it with clotted cream," he ordered the servant holding the large tart, and when it was readied to his satisfaction, he ate it with obvious pleasure. "'Tis a fine repast you have served me, madame," he complimented his hostess. "I shall not be hungry until dinnertime surely." Loosening his belt, he belched softly.
"If I had eaten that much," Lord Morgan murmured to two of his sons-in-law, "I should not be hungry until Michaelmas next."
As the king was about to take his leave to return to the hunt, the Countess of Langford went into sudden labor, to her great surprise.
"The child is not due for another few weeks," she gasped, horrified to have spoiled the king's departure.
"Surely, Blaze," her mother, Lady Morgan, replied dryly, "you have had enough babies to know that they come when they are ready, not a moment before, not a moment later." She turned to the king. "Go back to the hunt, Your Grace, and take my Lord Wyndham with you. This is woman's work. I've never known a man to be worth anything when his wife is laboring to bring forth their child."
"Because the man does his labor first, madame," the king said with a grin.
The men tramped forth as ordered, and helped by her mother, her mother-in-law, and her sisters, Blaze gained her bedchamber. There, after a relatively brief labor of some two hours, she birthed twin daughters.
"I cannot believe it!" she said, astounded. "I thought Tony only good for lads, and here he has given me two little lasses."
"They are identical in face and form," her mother said with a chuckle. "I was wondering if any of my girls should one day bear twins, as I have four sets of my own. You are the first one to do so, Blaze."
"I shall ride out and tell Papa," Nyssa said. "He will be thrilled, I know." She peered down at the new babies. "They are sweet!"
"Now," said Lady Morgan, "you will have these two dear little girls to raise, and will not miss Nyssa so much when she goes to court."
"No, Mama," Blaze replied, "Nyssa shall always be dear to my heart wherever she may be. She is all I have left of Edmund Wyndham. I must see her happily married else I have not done my duty by him, and he was the best of men, as you must surely remember."
"He was that," Lady Morgan agreed, and Lady Dorothy Wyndham, who had been Edmund Wyndham's half sister, nodded. "Without him your sisters would not have been able to marry so well, nor would your father been able to repair our fallen fortunes. I bless the day when he first came to Ashby. I pray for his good soul each night."
The new mother was made comfortable, and her babies swaddled. Heartha, Blaze's tiring woman, bustled in with a nourishing posset for her mistress. When Blaze had drunk it down, she was left alone to rest.
The women gathered back in the Great Hall of RiversEdge, chatting companionably while they waited for Lord Wyndham and the other gentlemen to return home, as all of the men but Lord Morgan had joined the king's hunting party.
"I wonder what she will call them?" Blythe, Lady Kingsley, said.
"Ah, yes, Mama, I wonder if she will have your flair for feminine names?" Bliss, Countess of Marwood, chuckled.
"Nyssa is unique," their mother noted.
"But Edmund named her," Lady Dorothy told them. "Blaze chose Nyssa's Christian name in honor of Edmund's first wife, Catherine de Haven, but it was Edmund who said his daughter should be called Nyssa, which is Greek for 'a beginning'. Edmund bragged she was to be the first of many children. He could not know it would be my Anthony who would father the Wyndham line, and not he. I miss him even now, though he is dead these fifteen years past."
"Blaze has given her sons very sensible names," Blythe said.
"But these are girls, you silly creature!" sharp-tongued Bliss said to her identical twin. "Blaze will choose wonderful names for them, I am absolutely certain! How can she not, given the example set by our dear mama? Ohh, I cannot wait to learn what she has chosen!"
"Our daughters have sensible names," Blythe countered.
Bliss threw her twin a disgusted look.
Lord Wyndham returned, and to their immense surprise, the king was with him.
"I must go and congratulate my little country girl," he said, his eyes misting with sentiment. He turned to Anthony Wyndham. "May I offer you my congratulations, sir, on your fine family!" He shook Anthony Wyndham's hand heartily.
Blaze awoke to find the king at her bedside beaming down at her. She blushed, remembering a time past when his visits to her bed had been of a more intimate nature. Henry Tudor's eyes twinkled back conspiratorially, but his words were of a most proper nature.
"I am pleased to see you looking so well after your travail, madame," he told her, and he kissed her hand.
Blaze smiled up at him warmly. "There was little travail, Your Grace. I am like an old tabby cat. I've birthed my babies quickly in recent years. Still, it was good of you to return to see me."
"I have looked on your lasses, Blaze. They are as pretty as their mother. What will you call them?"
"With your permission, Hal," Blaze said, "I should like to call the firstborn Jane, after her late majesty. The second I will call Anne, in honor of the Princess of Cleves, who will soon be your new queen and helpmeet. It seems fitting, as you were here this day, the day my little girls were born into the world."
The king, a sentimental man who enjoyed his role as a benevolent monarch, grew teary. Whipping a large square of white silk from his doublet, he dabbed at his eyes. Then turning to Lord Wyndham, he asked, "Have you a priest in the house, Tony?"
The earl nodded. "Fetch him, then," the king commanded. "He is to baptize your daughters this day, and I will stand godfather to them both. This is my desire, my little country girl," he said to Blaze. "Now I shall always have you and your good family in my life."
"Oh, Hal, you honor us so greatly," Blaze said, near tears herself. A servant was sent to fetch Father Martin. The priest had been with the family since the time of Edmund Wyndham, and had grown old in the service of the Earls of Langford. When he was told that the countess had delivered twin daughters that very afternoon, and that the king himself would stand godfather to them, and that the baptisms were to be performed immediately, he hurried to find his best vestments, telling the servant, "Find Master Richard, and tell him to light the altar candles. I will expect him to serve."
"Aye, Father Martin," came the respectful reply.
Blaze was carried to the family's private chapel on a litter, that she might see her daughters christened. Bliss rolled her eyes in disgust, and Blythe was hard put not to giggle when they were asked by the priest to name the infants now being held by their third godmother, their elder sister, Nyssa.
"Jane Marie," Blythe said sweetly.
"Anne Marie," Bliss almost snapped.
The king beamed effusively, and taking each baby in turn from Nyssa, handed it to Father Martin for baptism.
When the sacrament had been completed, the Countess of Langford was returned to her bedchamber, where a health was drunk to the newest of the Wyndham offspring. The king then took his leave.
"A messenger will be sent to tell you when Mistress Nyssa is expected at court, my dear little country girl," the king told Blaze. "I will want her to come early that she may be familiar with her duties before my bride arrives. She must know where to go, and what to do, and who is who, if she is to be of true service to Princess, ah, Queen Anne. I expect the lady late this autumn. You will not have a great deal of time to prepare your daughter, but I promise you, I will see no harm comes to her in my care, or my queen's. She will be safe, Blaze Wyndham."
She took his hand up and kissed it respectfully. "I thank you, Hal, for your kindness to us all," she told him, and then, exhausted, fell back against her pillows asleep.
Smiling, the king arose from her bedside and, returning to the Great Hall, took his farewell of the Wyndhams and their kin. "I shall look forward to seeing you at court, Mistress Nyssa. Your brothers too. Serve the queen well, and you will always have my friendship." He then departed RiversEdge.
"What a day it has been!" Lady Morgan exclaimed with a gusty sigh. "Who would have expected such a day when it began so simply? Three of my grandchildren off to court, and two more granddaughters than I had when the sun arose." She settled herself into a large chair by the fire, and turning to Bliss, said, "And just when was it decided that you go back to court?"
"Indeed, madame?" Owen FitzHugh said mildly. "I was most amazed, nay, surprised, myself, to hear you say it, though I should not have contradicted you before the king. We had not discussed it, Bliss. It has been years since we went to court. I am not certain we belong there now."
"Oh, Owen, do not be so old-fashioned," his spouse returned airily. "It is the most fantastic opportunity for Nyssa. She will be seventeen December thirty-first, Owen, and she is not even betrothed yet! She is going to be an old maid if something is not quickly done. Court is a perfect place for a young woman of Nyssa's background, and wealth, to find a good husband. Besides, with Philip and Giles having been appointed pages to the new queen, Blaze will need a surrogate for her children. We will take our young Owen and Blythe's Edmund with us! It will be such fun!"
"What?" her husband said, startled.
"Take Edmund?" Blythe cried.
"Of course," Bliss replied. "Philip Wyndham, young Owen FitzHugh and Edmund Kingsley have been friends their whole lives. They were all born the same year, within months of each other. They've never been separated, and even though Philip will have his duties, there will still be time for him to be with his cousins. They'll have an absolutely wonderful time," Bliss finished, smiling broadly at her relations.
"I think it an excellent idea," Lord Kingsley agreed, his eyes twinkling merrily. "'Twill be good seasoning for the lads."
"What you mean," his brother-in-law said pointedly, "is that you shall get rid of that young hell-raiser of yours for a few months!"
"They are not going to embarrass me, Aunt, are they?" Nyssa fretted. "Philip and Giles going to court is one thing, but if you are to bring Edmund and Owen as well, Uncle Owen is correct. Together those scamps are really quite wicked. I cannot have them teasing me like they do here at home. Ohh, why did Mother ask for places for the boys too!"
"Do not be selfish, Nyssa," Lady Morgan chided her granddaughter.
"Ohh, Grandmother, you are always taking the boys' part! You know how hard it is for me to put a bridle on my temper. A queen's maid of honor must show dignity, and decorum. If I am constantly being hounded by my brothers, and my cousins, how can I maintain such traits?"
"Why do you assume that they will tease you?" her grandmother asked.
"Because they are little savages," Nyssa declared heatedly. "They have spent their lives torturing me."
"If you were not such fun to torture, sister dear," young Philip Wyndham said, grinning at her, "we should have stopped long ago."
Lady Morgan laughed indulgently. "You are such a naughty boy, Philip," she murmured. "You really must show some respect for your elder sister. Hers is the most important position a woman in our family has ever held. To be a queen's maid is a great honor."
"I would have thought to be a king's mistress was a greater one," the heir to Langford said blandly.
Lady Morgan paled. "Where did you ever learn such a thing?" she demanded, scandalized. "Who has been telling tales?"
"Oh, Grandmother," Nyssa said, "we have known forever about Mother's little adventure at court. She always said if she did not tell us that someday someone else would, and depending upon what they wanted from us, they would put an unhealthy slant upon it. Papa agreed. Because we know the truth, we can never be hurt by the fact that Mother was King Henry's mistress for a few months. There were no bastards, after all, and no harm has ever come of it. Indeed, had the king not felt he owed our mother a debt, we should not be going to court. After all, the Wyndhams of RiversEdge are hardly an important family."
"Well!" Lady Morgan said. "Well!"
"Oh, Mother, do not fuss so," the Countess of Marwood said. "Nyssa is absolutely correct, and very practical in her thinking, it seems to me. As soon as it is known who her mother is, the gossip will begin, and Blaze's tenure in the king's bed be relived in minute, and probably incorrect, detail. It will be a great deal easier for Nyssa, Philip, and Giles to know the truth than to fall prey to cruel gossip. There is very little to do at court for those not involved with the powerful. They gossip more to pass the time than to be deliberately unkind. It is a way of life for them."
"And you would return to such a life, and leave your children behind to servants?" Lady Morgan said dramatically. She had never been far from her home, and had not even seen London.
Bliss laughed. "I've given Owen three sons and a daughter, Mother. He promised me that we would go back to court when the children were able to manage without me, and they certainly can."
"And I will always be there for them," the countess's identical twin sister said. Blythe was ever the peacemaker.
"Am I to have new clothing?" Nyssa asked. She was somewhat irritated by her grandmother and her aunts. She was to go to court! Yet here they sat by the fire arguing back and forth over nothing, as far as she could see. Aunt Bliss's children would be fine without her.
Blythe immediately understood her niece's anxiety, and turned the conversation to Nyssa's advantage. "I should think an entire new wardrobe would be in order for Nyssa. Her gowns are those of a country girl, and not a young woman of the court. What think you, Bliss?"
Bliss, the sisters' fashion expert, nodded emphatically. "She'll need everything from the skin out," the countess declared, "and we do not have much time either. The new queen will be here within the next two months, and the king did say he wanted Nyssa at court beforehand. We must start tomorrow if we are to have Nyssa properly rigged out for court."
"I'm not very good with my needle," Nyssa admitted, shamefaced.
"Neither was your mother." Her aunt Blythe giggled. "When she married your father, most of what was in her hope chest had been made by us. Do not worry, Nyssa. You will have a fine wardrobe in time. We will help, and your mother has always kept a seamstress in her household. There will be plenty of fabric in the storeroom for our use."
The following day, while her mother recovered from the birth of her new sisters, Nyssa, with the help of her Aunt Bliss, chose the fabrics from which her court clothing would be made. In her sixteen years she had never traveled beyond the bounds of her extended family's estates.
"Surely not these, Aunt," she protested as Bliss put aside several bolts of rich, heavy fabrics. "They are far too elegant for me."
"They are exactly right," the Countess of Marwood told her niece. "Everyone at court is dressed to the teeth, my dear." She peered closely at the girl. "You have excellent skin, Nyssa. It is fair and clear. You've inherited your mother's violet-blue eyes and her heart-shaped face, which is to the good. It is surprisingly attractive with your dark brown hair. That you have from your father."
"Mama says my hair is a bit lighter than my father's was," Nyssa noted. She could not remember Edmund Wyndham at all, for he had died when she was not even two years of age. His nephew, Anthony, who had later married her mother, was the only father she had ever known.
"You do have rather attractive golden lights in your hair," her aunt told her. "Your father did not."
"I do look like him, Heartha says," Nyssa noted. "Sometimes I stand before his picture in the gallery and just stare, but he seems a stranger, Aunt. Still, I can sometimes see the resemblance I bear to him."
"He was a wonderful man," the Countess of Marwood said. "You can be proud that you were born of his loins, Nyssa, and thank God you have his nose, not that little retrouss� one of your mother's."
Nyssa laughed. "Mother's nose is sweet," she said, "but I agree with you, Aunt. I like my nice straight nose quite well."
The Countess of Marwood chose fabrics of velvet, taffeta, brocade, silk, satin, and damask weaves for her niece's gowns. Some were plain, and others woven with metallic threads. Lengths of black, gold, and white lace were selected to trim the gowns. There was silk, wool, cotton, and linen for undergarments. Nyssa's hose would be of silk, or wool, cut and sewn for a perfect fit. She would have cloaks of silk, wool, or linen, some lined in fur. There would be delicately embroidered night rails of linen and cotton, nightcaps, caps, and hoods of velvet. Her newly made shoes and boots were of the best leather, and to her great excitement, some of her shoes were decorated with real jewels. She would have jewelry not only sewn to her apparel, but jeweled ribbons, necklaces, and rings of her very own as well.
"I have never had such magnificent clothing!" she exclaimed when at last her wardrobe was completed. "Do people at court really dress like this all the time?"
Blaze, who had recovered from the twins' birth, laughed. "You will be a little sparrow amongst peacocks, my darling," she told her eldest child. "It is not required, however, that you outshine the mighty. You are a beautiful young girl, Nyssa, and your clothing is exactly what it should be, thanks to your aunts' kindness."
"Ohh, Mama!" Nyssa told her mother, "I am so confused! One moment I am excited to be leaving RiversEdge for court, and the next moment I am absolutely terrified over the prospect. I've never been anywhere in my whole life. What if I make a mistake before the king? What if I disgrace the family by my actions? Perhaps I should not go." Nyssa was suddenly pale.
"Did you know that your Aunt Bliss took me to court when I went for the first time?" Blaze told her daughter. "Your father had died in late autumn. I loved him so much. His death and that of your infant brother were a terrible shock to me. Your aunt, however, decided I must not mope about. Shortly after New Year's I went with Bliss and your Uncle Owen to Greenwich. The farthest from Ashby that I had ever been was RiversEdge. I cried. I was very frightened. I felt awkward and quite gauche, despite the fact I was a widow, not a maiden. I just wanted to hide, but your aunt would not let me.
"Bliss had taken to court after her marriage to Owen FitzHugh like a busy duck takes to a millpond. It is her natural milieu. She will guide you safely through the maze of manners and morals there. If you are wise, Nyssa, you will trust her, and listen well to what she has to say."
Blaze put an arm about her daughter. "There is one piece of advice that I must give you, however, my dear. Guard your reputation carefully. Your virginity is the greatest treasure that you possess, Nyssa. The gift of it is yours alone to give, but I would hope you should give it to the man you will marry one day, for he will appreciate it far more than any other. Because I was the king's mistress for a short time, there will be fools crass and coarse enough to believe that you are an easy prey. Remind them sharply, for I know you will not have to remind yourself, that you are the virtuous daughter of the Earl of Langford, not some common drab. You are not to be trifled with by any."
"Was the king in love with you, Mama?" Nyssa asked. She had never before dared to voice the question.
"He was enchanted with me for a brief time," her mother replied, "but I do not believe he was ever really in love with me. We became friends, however, which was to the good, Nyssa. I have ever been the king's most loyal servant. So I hope you will be as well."
"I had always heard it said, Mama, that the king was the handsomest prince in Christendom, but I do not think him handsome. He is quite fat, and the stink from his sore leg the day he visited us was quite dreadful. I do not imagine even a crown could make me want to marry such a man. I do not envy the Princess of Cleves, poor lady. Yet I could see the king thinks himself quite grand. I cannot believe you loved him."
Blaze smiled. The young were apt to be quite harsh in their judgments of their elders. "The king has gained a great deal of weight since our time together, Nyssa. He was in his youth a very handsome man. Time, I fear, has not been particularly kind to him. We do not see ourselves age as others see us. In his own mind the king still thinks himself as a very dashing gentleman. It would be wise for those about him to treat him as such. No one enjoys getting older, my daughter, and even a king is not safe from the ravages of time."
"I shall miss you, Mama, and Papa too!" Nyssa told Blaze.
"I shall miss you also, my darling," the Countess of Langford replied, "but it is time that you began your journey into life. Court will offer you wonderful opportunities. You are certain to find a husband there, Nyssa. He might be a man of stature, or perhaps the brother of a friend that you will make. There is so much ahead of you!"
"I will only marry for love, Mama," Nyssa said.
"Love often comes after marriage, my dear," her mother replied. "I laid eyes on your father only once, and quite briefly at that, before I married him. I didn't even know him, but Edmund was so good. I very quickly fell in love with him. He was an easy man to love."
"But what if you hadn't fallen in love with him?" Nyssa said with firm logic. "It would have been horrible for you! I think I should rather love the man before I marry him, and not leave such things to chance, Mama. Mistress Fortune can be a fickle creature."
"As long as he is a suitable match," her mother said. "It must be a proper marriage that you make, Nyssa."
"But I will first love him," Nyssa insisted.
Blaze smiled at her eldest child. "He will be a very lucky gentleman," she said.