Authors: Roberta Gellis
An Ellora’s Cave Romantica Publication
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Siren Song Copyright © 1980 Roberta Gellis
Cover art by Dar Albert
Electronic book Publication September 2009
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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons,
living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The
characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
The elegantly clad court functionary looked down his long
English nose at the ragged knight who had asked anxiously if the king or queen
was in residence. The young man had a thin, dark face, a high-bridged,
aristocratic nose, and light gray eyes, which were startling. His features and
expression bespoke breeding, but his armor was covered with dirt and rust, his
surcoat was stained, muddy, and torn in several places. Even the French he
spoke was ragged, carrying an odd, rough accent. Another foreign beggar, Michael
Belet thought with contemptuous irritability. Ever since King Henry had
married, the court had been full of them.
“They are here,” Belet said shortly. “What is it to you?”
The young knight smiled in relief. He had a sweet temper
and, besides, was of such station that he did not notice subtle insult from a
stranger, being unable to conceive that anyone would dare offer it. In fact, he
rather pitied the elegant functionary, believing his bad manners to be an
unconscious result of a lifetime in this barbaric backwater.
“I have already been to London and Windsor in hot pursuit,”
he said merrily, “and if I follow my aunt about much longer, my destrier and I
will both need new shoes.”
The courtier’s lip curled even more scornfully. The young
man looked as if he needed new shoes right now. He had been right. This was
another office seeker close on the trail of some woman in the queen’s service.
Then that woman would beg the queen for a place for her nephew and the queen
would go to the king… Belet’s face flushed with rage. The young knight misread
the flush for one of embarrassment. He would have been embarrassed if he had
spoken so crudely to the nephew of the queen. He smiled again.
“It does not matter,” he said kindly. “Just point out the
proper person to announce me—or give me his name.”
“Announce you? To the king?” Belet’s shock made his voice
somewhat faint. He could only suppose that this tatterdemalion came from some
tiny, jumped-up principality where the ruler was little richer or more powerful
than the pauper knights he led. Before Belet could put the creature in its
place, however, one of the queen’s women came out into the hall.
“Sir Michael,” she began, then stopped and goggled.
“Raymond?” she gasped, “is it you?”
“Yes, indeed, Lady Blanche.” The young knight smiled and his
eyes lit with mischief.
“Oh!” the woman gasped again, her eyes running over his
soiled clothing and battered mail. “What has befallen you?” And then, before he
could reply, “No, never mind. Come with me.”
Belet opened his mouth to protest, but then he bit his lips
together. That scarecrow would find a place—and a good one. Lady Blanche was
one of the queen’s favorites and had come with Eleanor from Provence.
Nonetheless, one could not help liking Queen Eleanor. She was good-natured and
a peacemaker between the king and those who had incurred his wrath for little
things—and she did not interfere in great matters of state. Lady Blanche had
pushed Raymond along a corridor and into the antechamber of the queen’s
apartment with all haste.
“How did you get into such a disgraceful condition?” she
cried. “What happened to your clothes? Where are your servants? Why did you not
tell Eleanor you were coming? Oh, Raymond, is something wrong? Your father?
Emotion flickered across the dark, young face, but it was
gone before Lady Blanche noticed, and Raymond shook his head. “Everyone is
well, very well. I have only come for a visit. I suppose I have outstripped the
messenger or, likely, some accident befell him.” Raymond’s voice was stiff. In
general he was a truthful young man, and he did not like to lie.
“But Raymond, where—”
The voice was warm, a little high with surprise. Both Lady
Blanche and the young knight turned toward the inner doorway. Lady Blanche
sketched a curtsy. Raymond bowed low, but the dark, beautiful woman who had
come through the door did not wait with dignity for him to complete his
obeisance. She ran across and threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.
“Raymond, dear, I am so happy to see you. How are my brother
and your dear mama?”
“Very well, and the rest of us also. I understand you have
had no word of my coming. I hope it is not in any way inconvenient to you.”
“Of course not,” the queen cried, kissing him again.
“And for heaven’s sake, do not ask me where my servants are
and what happened to my clothes,” Raymond said, laughing. “Let it stay that I
have come to no harm, that I was well pleased to be without them, and that I do
not intend to answer such questions as the answers would not be fitting for your
That was, of course, a jest. Eleanor and Raymond were almost
exactly the same age, Eleanor being one month to the day the elder of the pair.
She was the soberer of the two, however, and Raymond always teased her about
being an “old aunt”.
“Raymond, what sort of scrape are you in?” Eleanor asked
characteristically, but when he only laughed again and shook his head at her,
she sighed resignedly. “If you will not tell me, will you tell Henry?”
Raymond flushed slightly. “It is not a matter to trouble a
king with. Truly, madam, it is of no consequence. I am here, safe and sound.
Your husband has far more important things to think about than how I came here
without clothes or servants.”
Voices and footsteps interrupted and Henry, third of that name
to rule England, came in. Lady Blanche bit her lip. She had gone out to tell
Michael Belet, the royal butler, to have a flagon of the king’s favorite wine
sent to the queen’s chamber and, in the excitement of seeing Raymond, had
forgotten her errand. Dropping a curtsy, she edged out of the room.
By the time Lady Blanche was in the hall, looking for Belet,
Eleanor had introduced her nephew to Henry, who blinked. As far as he knew, his
wife had only one sister older than herself, married to the king of France, but
certainly not married long enough to produce a son of this age. Eleanor trilled
with laughter at her husband’s blank expression and explained that Raymond was
the son of her half brother, Alphonse d’Aix. The king’s expression cleared. Of
course, during the negotiations for his marriage, he had been told of the count
of Provence’s youthful indiscretion—but that had been eight years ago and at
the time he had paid little attention. All he had cared about was that the
natural son born of that union would not complicate the succession in Provence.
Now, taking in the young man’s ragged appearance, Henry
smothered a sigh. Apparently something had happened in Aix to reduce his wife’s
relations to penury. Why the devil could they not go to the count of Provence
for help? However, Henry did not remain irritated long. It was flattering to
his ego that he was known as so rich and so generous that Raymond would prefer
to travel all the way to England from the very south of France to beg succor
rather than go to his grandfather or—suddenly Henry smiled warmly at
Raymond—rather than go to that sanctimonious, tight-fisted Louis of France, who
was his other uncle.
“We are happy to welcome you,” he said to Raymond, “and we
hope you will be happy here at our court. Be sure you will be welcome to us as
long as you wish to stay. What else can we do for you?”
“Sire—” Raymond began, but Eleanor cut him off.
“You can give him something decent to wear, for one thing,
Henry,” she laughed. “Really, he cannot show himself in this condition.
Everyone will think that my family has fallen into ruin.”
Since that was exactly what Henry had thought, he was much
surprised by his wife’s remark, and even more when the young man made a gesture
as if to urge silence on his aunt.
“Er…certainly,” Henry replied. “I am sure something suitable
can be found.” His voice held a note of petulance. He had been prepared to be
generous, a bountiful lord to a poor suppliant. It seemed from Eleanor’s light
remark, however, that his bounty was not necessary. Her nephew’s problem seemed
to be a temporary embarrassment. Henry did not like to have his generous
gestures frustrated, but fortunately, before he could begin to feel spiteful
toward Raymond, Eleanor spoke again.
“And he is in some trouble, Henry. Do make him tell you. He
will not tell me!”
Color flooded into Raymond’s face. Henry felt better at
once. Apparently his help was necessary. He smiled first at Raymond and then at
his wife. “Very well, but if you want him decently dressed for dinner, I will have
to take him away to my chamber now. It would scarcely be fitting if suits of
men’s clothing were to be carried into your rooms, my dear.”
Eleanor agreed to this with laughter, although she was
somewhat reluctant to part with Raymond when she had not yet really heard any
news from Provence. To pacify her, Henry suggested that they have dinner
together privately. Then he bore Raymond away to his own apartment. After he
had seated himself and pointed out a stool to Raymond, he looked closely at the
young man—who was still very flushed—and said, “Well?”
“I am not in any trouble,” Raymond said. “It is only because
I have come without servants and baggage—”
“Yes? Well, that is an odd thing to do,” Henry remarked,
with twitching lips. “Surely it cannot be a comfortable way to travel. And
servants and clothing are easy enough things to obtain with money—so you have
no money either.”
Henry gave in and grinned, his voice was warm, his blue eyes
glinted with amusement. Raymond hesitated and then yielded to the charm that
prevented Henry’s barons from hating him, no matter how much he plagued them
and exasperated them.
“You will think me ridiculous,” Raymond sighed. “I have run
away from home.”
There was a brief silence while Henry wondered if his ears
had played him false. Men in their twenties did not “run away from home”,
“You are escaping from an unwanted marriage contract?” It
was the only sensible thing Henry could think of, but Raymond shook his head.
“My mother will not let me
,” he groaned.
“Your mother?” Henry’s throat closed and he could not get
out the words,
wishes you dead
Henry had always adored his mother, passionately and
hopelessly. He did not know his love was hopeless. Isabella said all the right
words and made all the right gestures. Her voice was soft, her embrace graceful
and scented. Nonetheless, Isabella could not or would not love, and Henry,
although he would never admit it, felt the utter rejection of her frigid
nature. Thus, he recoiled in horror from what any man with a more natural
parent would have understood at once.
“This last matter was too much to bear,” Raymond continued,
so wrapped in his private frustration that he did not notice the king’s
reaction. “One of the vassals on her lands in Gascony had some idiot complaint
and, instead of coming to my father in the normal way, flew to arms.”
“That is normal for Gascons,” Henry interposed bitterly.
“Yes,” Raymond agreed, but without being deflected from his
personal problem. “It was all arranged that I should give that idiot a firm
setdown. It was
. One small keep and one small fool of a man
bawling defiance. But my mother forbade it!”
“Does she not trust you?” Henry asked sympathetically.
“Trust me? What has that to do with it?” Raymond raged, in
full spate now. “Put on a cloak, it is too cold for you, Ray. Do not go into
the sun, it is too hot for you, Ray. That beast is too wild, you will fall off
your horse, Ray…”
Henry was beginning to understand, and he could not help
laughing at the young man’s fury of frustration. However, there was still a
puzzle he wished to have explained. “I see,” he said, grinning broadly, “that
your mother is a little too fearful for your health and safety, but I do not
understand how she could forbid what your father ordered. I suppose it was by
your father’s order that you were to go to Gascony?”
“Yes,” Raymond grated. “Perhaps ‘forbade’ is the wrong word.
She wept, she wailed, she held her heart, she could not breathe…” He let his
voice fade out at the king’s smiling gesture.
“But your father…” Henry said.
“When it is a matter of real moment, my father endures. I
understand he lived away from her for near six months when I was sent out to be
fostered. But…but he loves her, and in other ways she is a good wife.”
Henry nodded full understanding. Because of his mother’s
coldness, his wife’s warmth had made him utterly her slave. Eleanor was a
sensible woman, fortunately, but had she wept and wailed over something, Henry
would have yielded also.
“I see that in a small matter like the Gascon business, he
would surely give way for love of her. Still…” Henry’s mind was devious. He
would yield to Eleanor when she wanted something, but if she did not know she
wanted it and did not ask… “Why did your father tell her? Or did you tell her?”
“We are not so stupid as that,” Raymond replied. “I am not
sure how she found out. Where I am concerned she seems to smell our intentions
in the air. Six months ago I wished to ride in a tourney, only a tourney, and
she fainted thrice and wept all night until my father told me to bide at home.
I tell you, she will not let me live.”
The king nodded sympathetically. He had suffered the same
frustrations as a boy, although with him it was his guardians who held him so
precious that they watched every breath in and out of his mouth. So, warmed by
the memories, Henry liked his wife’s nephew all the better.
“Well,” he said, “you are welcome here, and no one will keep
you from such action as is available and that you wish to engage in. But, I am
afraid it cannot be for long. Eleanor will write, no doubt, to say you have
Raymond slapped a hand to his forehead. “What an idiot I
am,” he groaned. “If I tell her—”