Groomed to be the wife of a knight of good standing, nothing is more alluring to Eleanor than a powerful, courageous man. And she has found him in Troye de Valois, one of the king's own elite guard. Now, with Ellie's reputation unwittingly compromised, King Edward commands her marriage. She's overjoyed that her husband is to be none other than Troye. He has long lived in her heart and dreams. But those dreams are soon shattered when he reveals his anger at this forced marriage, and the emotions she is reawakening in him....
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June 30, 2008
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Excerpt from The King's Champion by Catherine March
Cheapside, London--August 1295
Crowds of people had been waiting all morning for the procession that was now approaching, and a wave of cheering billowed on the warm morning air. The blast of trumpets vibrated on an elusive breeze, stirring dozens of colourful banners that adorned the stands on either side of the lists, and echoed in miniature by the pennons fastened on the end of the lances carried by the knights who would be competing in the tourney.
Resplendent in full armour, the knights gleamed silver-bright in the sunshine, helm-less that they might be seen by the adoring crowds, who had their well-loved favourites, and their loathlings. Above the noise of cheering, the jingle of harness and clop of many hooves upon the dusty road as they entered the stadium, there was also the sibilant hiss of jeering. It was well known that some knights won by ruthless methods other than skill, and whilst all knights must possess a brutal aggressiveness or lie slaughtered upon the field of battle, the manner in which it was applied was a matter hotly debated.
At the head of the procession rode the marshals and the constables, dressed in their frogged livery and full of smug satisfaction at their own importance, for it was they who would keep order, it was hoped, when male tempers raged hot and uncontrollable. Yet they were not held in adoration as the knights were, who each followed behind his own herald. At the forefront of the twenty knights invited to compete this week rode the champion of England, and the people's darling--Troye de Valois.
His chestnut stallion danced, swinging his noble head as Troye held the reins with skilful yet casual ease. His dark hair had recently been cut short to the nape of his neck, so that in the hot summer sun he did not sweat unduly within his great helm. The crowd cheered even louder at his passing. Harlots hung from balconies and windows, eager to catch his attention. From their fingertips fluttered flower petals and ribbons cut from their chemises, for there was nothing more erotically alluring than a handsome man graced with a pair of broad shoulders and clothed in a masculine aura of strength, courage and danger.
Troye narrowed his eyes against the sun and the adulation, in equal measure. He had no doubts that once his rear end landed too often upon the dusty ground, he would be darling no more. At thirty-one he harboured no illusions about the younger men eager to bring about his downfall, and he smiled with rueful acknowledgement, waved his hand in salute, thanking the people of London for their praise, and yet prepared for their inevitable rejection.
Turning his horse into the stadium, he lined up with the other knights before the gallery of spectators, dominated by the King's dais, bedecked and swagged with colourful bunting and garlands of ivy and ribbon rosettes. The sun slanted sideways, burnishing his deep tan and accentuating the hollow cheeks of his lean, handsome face.
In the stands, a fair-haired beautiful woman, Lady Joanna, called to her daughter, a smaller version of herself, with dark auburn hair tied back with silk ribbons.
'Eleanor,' her mother complained in a weary voice, 'do stop jumping up and down and craning your neck like a swineherd. It is most unladylike.'
'But I cannot see Rupert,' Ellie responded, sitting down upon the bench and trying to peer through the dust and the glinting armour and the crowd of horses, with blushes and youthful awkwardness disguising her interest in one knight who was not her kin. And was he not the most handsome, the most strong, of all knights? Her heart glowed and fluttered as she gazed upon the face that been naught but a memory for so long.
'He'll be well to the back,' said her father, reclining in his chair and leaning over to pick up her mother's hand and kiss her knuckles.
Ellie rolled her eyes skywards, exasperated. Why couldn't her parents be like normal people? They were for ever kissing and cosseting, much to her embarrassment.
'What is that look for, demoiselle?' demanded her father, with a small smile touching the corners of his mouth, 'Your mother is worried. Might I not comfort her with a kiss?'
Ellie folded her arms over her waist and hunched her shoulders, looking away as she muttered, 'In private, aye, but not here, where everyone can see.'
'There is naught wrong with a little affection,' rebuffed her father, and then added quickly, all too aware that his daughter was no longer a child, 'between married couples, that is.'
Lady Joanna smiled at her husband, and murmured in her low, serene voice, 'Leave her be, Hal. She chafes that it is her brother who rides in the joust and not herself.'
'Hah!' snorted Lord Henry, 'that will be the day! 'Tis sport for men, not maidens, and you would do well to remember that, young Ellie.'
Ellie sighed. 'Yes, Father.'