Lady Solay's eyes met those of a hard-edged man. His implacable gaze sliced through her and, for an instant, she forgot everything else. A mistake. She had no time for emotion when so much depended on her finding favor at court.
Lord Justin Lamont couldn't look away from the late king's scandalous--illegitimate--daughter. Head held high, she walked as if the court adored her. No matter the pain in her eyes, Justin resolutely snuffed out a spark of sympathy. He must guard against her bewitching charms....
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1 . Wonderful story and exceptionally well written
Posted August 22, 2009 by Mary Bassis , Salt Lake CityI read all kinds of Romance Novels from Historical to Contemporary. I found this one a wonderful story. Ms. Gifford has taken a time in history, and circumstances, we can well imagine around the Monarchy, and woven a wonderful and compelling love story. In addition she writes inordinately well. I have never written reviews. But it was this final point, the writing, that compelled me to submit this one.
October 01, 2007
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Excerpt from The Harlot's Daughter by Blythe Gifford
Windsor Castle, Yuletide, 1386
The shameless doxy dragged the rings right off his fingers before the King's body was cold.
They used to whisper that and then look sideways at her, thinking that a ten-year-old was too young to understand they slandered her mother.
Joan had understood even then. It was all too clear the night the old King died and her mother, his mistress of thirteen years, gathered their two daughters and fled into the darkness.
Now, ten years after her father's death, Joan stood poised to be announced at the court of a new King. Her mother hoped Joan might find a place there, even a husband.
Foolish dreams of an ageing woman.
Waiting to be announced, she peeked into the Great Hall, surprised she did not look more outdated wearing her mother's made-over dress. It was the men's garb, colourful and garish, that looked unfamiliar. Decked in blues and reds, gold chains and furs, they looked gaudy as flapping tournament flags.
Except for one.
Standing to the left of the throne turned away from her, he wore a simple, deep blue tunic. She could not see his face fully, but the set of his jaw and the hollow edge of his cheek said one thing: unyielding.
For a moment, she envied that strength. This was a man whose daily bread did not depend on pleasing people.
Hers did. And so did her mother's and sister's.
She pulled her gaze away and smoothed her velvet skirt. Please the King she must, or there would be no food in the larder by Eastertide.
As the herald entered the Hall to announce her, she heard the rustling skirts of the ladies lining the room. They whispered still.
Here she comes. The harlot's daughter. No more shame than her mother had.
She lifted her head. It was time.
Amid the whispers, Lady Joan, twenty summers, illegitimate daughter of the late King and his notorious mistress and the most unmarriageable woman in England, stepped forward to be presented to King Richard II.
Lord Justin Lamont avoided Richard's court whenever possible. He had braved the crowded throne room only because he had urgent news for the Duke of Gloucester.
Last month, Parliament had compelled the reckless young King to accept the oversight of a Council headed by his uncle, Gloucester. Since then, Justin had been enmeshed in the business of government. He was only beginning to uncover the mess young Richard and his intimates had made of the Treasury.
Thrust upon the throne as a boy when his grandfather died, Richard had inherited the old King's good looks without his strength, judgement or sense. Instead of spending taxes to fight the French, he'd drained the royal purse with grants for his favourites.
When he demanded more tax money, Parliament had finally balked, installing the Council to gainsay the King's outrageous spending.
Now, the King had put forth another of his endless lists of favours for his friends, expecting the new Council's unquestioning approval.
He would not get it. 'Your Grace,'Justin said to Gloucester, 'the King has a new list of gifts he wants to announce on Christmas Day. The Council cannot possibly approve this.'
Distracted, the Duke motioned to the door. 'Here she comes. The doxy's daughter.'
Justin gritted his teeth, refusing to turn. The mother's meddling had near ruined the realm before Parliament had stepped in to save a senile King from his own foolishness. This new King needed no more misguidance. He was getting that aplenty from his current favourites. 'What do they call her?'
'Lady Joan ofWeston,'Gloucester answered. 'Joan the Elder.' Calling her a Weston was a pleasant fiction, though the old King's mistress had passed herself off as Sir William's wife while she bore the King's children. 'The Elder?'
Gloucester smirked. 'There were two daughters. Like bitch pups. Call "Joan" and one will come running.'
Wincing at the cruelty, Justin reluctantly turned, with the rest of the court, to see whether the daughter carried the stain of her mother's sin.
He looked, and then could not look away.
Her mother's carnality stamped a body that swayed as if it had no bones and sun-tinged glory.
She dipped of the lad on the King for half his instead of
ever so slightly.
Justin took a * * *
Joan had known the King would test her. Kneel. So she did. Her mother had taught her well. Read his needs and satisfy them. That is our only salvation. This one needed deference, that was obvious. She would give him that and whatever else he asked if he would grant them a living from the royal purse.
At least there was one thing he would not ask. The blood of the old King flowed through both their veins. She would not have to please a King as her mother had.
She heard no whispers now. Silent, the court watched as the King left her on aching knees long enough that she could have said an extra Paternoster for her mother's sins.
Eyes lowered, she looked toward the edge of the wide-planked floor. The men's long-toed shoes curled like a finger crooked in invitation. She stifled a smile. Men and their vanities. Apparently, they thought the longer the toes, the longer the tool.
Yet when her eyes had met those of the hard-edged man at the fringes of the crowd, she had nearly stumbled. His severe dress and implacable gaze sliced through the peacocks around the throne sharply as a blade. For that instant, she forgot everything else. Even the King.
A thoughtless mistake. She had no time for emotion. Only for necessity.
Finally, the King's high-pitched voice called a reprieve. 'Lady Joan, daughter of Sir William of Weston, rise and bow.'
With no one's hand to lean on, she wobbled as she stood. Forcing her shaking knees to support her, she curtsied, then dared lift her eyes.
Tall, thin, and delicately blond, King Richard perched on the throne overlooking the hall. A golden crown graced his curls. An ermine-trimmed cloak shielded him from the draughts. She wondered whether his cheeks were clean shaven from choice or because the beard had not yet taken hold.
His slope-shouldered wife sat beside him. Her plaited brown hair hung down her back, a strange affectation for a married queen. Of course, Joan's mother had whispered, after six years of childless marriage, she wondered how much of a wife the Queen was.
'We hope you enjoy this festive time with us, Lady Joan,' she said. Her eyes held a gentleness that was missing from the King's.
Joan, silent, looked to the King for permission.
He waved his hand. 'You may speak.' 'Thank you, your Grace.'
He sat straighter and lifted his head. 'Address us as Your Majesty.'
'Forgive me, Your Majesty.' She bowed again. A new title, then. 'Your Grace' had served the old King, but that was no longer adequate. This King needed more than deference. He needed exaltation.