Sir Bishop of Lythe has come to Penwyth for his royal reward?the keep and young Merryn?s hand. But he wonders if a curse will prove his undoing.
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June 28, 2004
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Excerpt from The Penwyth Curse by Catherine Coulter
Four Years Earlier. . .
May 14, 1274
SIR ARLAN DE FROME pulled up his destrier and raised his mailed hand to halt the thirty-two men behind him, experienced and hard, mercenaries all. Horses whinnied, dust swirled, and Sir Arlan smelled fear. Maybe it was churned up in all that dust, or maybe it was in the very air itself. Sir Arlan was familiar with this smell and he liked it, particularly when it poured off a man who had something Sir Arlan wanted.
Sir Arlan saw it in the faces of the men who lined the ramparts of Penwyth Castle, the tidy hold that would soon be his. The town of Penwyth, nestled in the shadow of the stone walls of the keep, quickly became deserted when the people saw him coming. He hadn't let his men stop to loot. After all, it would become his village soon. The keep itself stood solid as the granite of Cornwall's cliffs, atop a rise that looked toward the sea off Land's End, a barren hunk of land that stood between Penwyth and enemies from the sea come to attack England. It was a keep of great strategic value, and Sir Arlan knew in his bones that King Edward would be delighted to make him the heir, once, naturally, he already had Penwyth in his grasp.
Penwyth Castle -- would be his by conqueror's right. Once the girl was his wife -- what was her name Something strange. Lady Merryn, that was it, a silly name, romantic, a name the bards would doubtless sing ringing verses about. Once he married the girl, it would be another encouragement for the king to make him the Penwyth heir. There would be none to gainsay his ownership. He would take the title of Lord de Gay of Penwyth. And why not His own name, given to him by a bastard father who'd hated him, held no prestige, no power. But Arlan de Gay -- it was a good solid name, with at least four generations of steadfast reputation backing it up. It sat well. Sir Arlan smiled. The old lord wouldn't be alive that much longer, now would he He wouldn't really want to stay around, would he, now that the next generation had arrived
He had no intention of razing Penwyth, since it would soon belong to him. He didn't want to kill the soldiers or the servants or the serfs who worked within the keep walls, only as many as it took to make the others believe that he was indeed now their master and they owed him their lives.
He looked around the fertile green land, at the flourishing crops, and smiled.
Sir Arlan hoped the old buzzard who was sitting in the lord's chair had a lot of gold hidden away. Those men whom he couldn't entice to remain with him, he would have to reward or kill. He wanted no looting, no excessive violence.
Aye, there was naught but an old man, an old woman, and a young girl. Fourteen was the age he'd heard, an excellent age for marriage, ripe enough for the marriage bed, young enough that after a couple of clouts to the head she wouldn't ever think to flout him or his wishes. It was good.
He looked up to see a score of faces lined up along the ramparts, staring down at him. He'd heard rumors about all the soldiers here at Penwyth, but he'd discounted them. He would soon see.
He motioned for his lieutenant, Darrik, to ride forward to present his terms. Darrik had a magnificent voice, hard and deep, and it would carry all the way to the sea beyond Land's End.