When Love Awaits

When Love Awaits
Johanna Lindsey
HarperCollins (1986)

Once Lady Leonie cursed 'the Black Wolf' - handsome Rolfe d'Ambert, the mercenary Lord of Kempston - for his bloody deeds and cruelty to the local peasants. Now she must marry the magnificent blackguard to bring peace to the land.

Young, innocent, and possessing a rare and exquisite beauty, Leonie would be a prize for any man - yet Rolfe seeks the match solely for revenge. But her sensuous kiss ignites within him the fiery need to claim her - and an irresistible desire to unite their warring hearts in glorious love.

Johanna Lindsey
When Love Awaits

Dedicated to Vivian and Bill Walje,
my second parents

England, 1176
.

S
IR Guibert Fitzalan leaned back against the thick tree trunk, watching two maidservants pack away the remains of the picnic lunch. A man of moderately good looks, he was an unassuming man and women, even his liegelady’s servingwomen, had a way of unnerving him. Wilda, the younger of the two servants, caught his eye just then. Her bold look made him look quickly away, heat burning his face.

Spring was in full flower and Wilda was not the only woman to turn her eye on Sir Guibert appreciatively. Nor was he the only man who received one of her hot gazes. Wilda was decidedly comely, with a sleek little nose and rosy cheeks. Her hair was a glossy chestnut, and she was equally blessed with a lush body.

Even so, Guibert was a confirmed bachelor. Besides that, Wilda was too young for a man of two score and five years. Why, she was as young as Lady Leonie whom they both served, and that lady was just nineteen.

Sir Guibert thought of Leonie of Montwyn as a daughter. At that moment, as he observed her leaving the pasture where she had begun her spring herb gath
ering and disappearing into the woods, he sent four of his men-at-arms to follow her at a discreet distance. He’d brought along ten men to protect her, and the soldiers knew better than to grumble at the duty, but it was hardly their favorite. Leonie often asked them to pick plants as she pointed them out. Herb gathering was not manly.

Before this spring, three guards had been enough to accompany Lady Leonie, but now there was a new resident at Crewel, into whose woods Leonie entered to search for herbs. The new lord of all the lands of Kempston was a matter of great concern to Sir Guibert.

Guibert had never liked the old lord of Kempston, Sir Edmond Montigny, but at least the old baron had caused no trouble. The new lord of Kempston made endless complaints against the Pershwick serfs and had done so ever since taking possession of Crewel Keep. It helped not at all that the complaints might be valid. Worse, Lady Leonie felt personally responsible for her serfs’ misdeeds.

“Let me see to this, Sir Guibert,” she had begged him when she first heard of the complaints. “I fear the serfs believe they are doing me a service by stirring up mischief at Crewel.”

For explanation, she confessed, “I was in the village the day Alain Montigny came to tell me what befell his father and himself. Too many of the serfs saw how upset I was and I fear they heard me wish a pox on Black Wolf, who now rules Crewel.”

Guibert found it hard to believe that Leonie would curse anyone. Not Leonie. She was too good, too kind, too quick to mend any ill, ease any burden. But then, for Sir Guibert, she could do no wrong. He doted on and spoiled her. And, he asked himself, if he did not, who would? Certainly not her father, who had sent her
from him six years ago, when her mother died, banishing Leonie to Pershwick Keep along with her mother’s sister, Beatrix, because he could not bear the sight of anyone who reminded him of his beloved wife.

Guibert could not fathom the man’s action, but then he had never known Sir William of Montwyn very well, even though he had come to live in his household as part of Lady Elisabeth’s dowry when she wed Sir William. Lady Elisabeth, an earl’s daughter and the fifth and youngest of her father’s children, had been allowed a love match. The man was in no way her equal, but Sir William loved her—perhaps too much. Her death destroyed him, and he apparently could not bear the presence of his only child. Leonie, like Elisabeth, was small and slender, fair, and blessed with extraordinary hair of silver-blond and silver-gray eyes. “Beautiful” was not adequate to describe Leonie.

He sighed, thinking of the two women, mother and daughter, one gone, the other just as dear to him as her mother had been. And then he froze, pleasant musings shattered by a battle cry, a cry of rage coming from the woods.

Guibert was frozen for no more than a second before he was running toward the woods, his sword already drawn. Four men-at-arms who’d been standing nearby with the horses chased after him, everyone hoping that the men with Leonie had stuck close by her.

Deep in the woods, Leonie of Montwyn had also been stunned for a moment by the unearthly cry. She had, as usual, managed to put a good distance between herself and her four protectors. Now, she imagined some great demonic beast was nearby. Still, her inborn, unladylike curiosity urged her on toward the sound instead of back to her men.

She smelled smoke and broke into a full run, push
ing through shrubs and trees until she found the source of the smoke. A woodcutter’s hut had burned. The woodcutter was staring at the smoldering remains of his home as five mounted knights and fifteen men-at-arms, also mounted, sat silently facing the ruined hut. An armored knight paced his great destrier back and forth between the hut and the men. He let out an explosive curse while Leonie watched and then she knew where the first horrible sound had come from. She knew, too, who the knight was. She moved back into the bush, out of sight, thankful for her concealing dark green mantle.

Concealment was jeopardized as her men came running behind her. Leonie quickly turned toward them, hushing them and motioning them back. She made her way to them silently, and they positioned themselves around her, then moved back toward her land. Sir Guibert and the rest of the men were upon them a moment later.

“There is no danger,” she assured Sir Guibert. “But we should leave this place. The lord of Kempston has found a woodcutter’s hut burned to the ground and I think he is none too pleased.”

“You saw him?”

“Yes. He is in a fine rage.”

Sir Guibert grunted and hurried Leonie along. It would not do for her to be found near the burned hut with her men-at-arms. How would she talk her way out of that?

Later, when it was safe, serfs could return to the woods and retrieve Leonie’s plants. For now, Lady Leonie and the armed men had to be removed from the scene.

As Sir Guibert lifted her into her saddle, he asked, “How do you know it was the Black Wolf you saw?”

“He wore the silver wolf on a black field.”

Leonie did not say that she had seen the man once before. She could never tell Sir Guibert that, for she had disguised herself and sneaked out of the keep without his knowing, to go to the tourney at Crewel. Later, she’d wished she hadn’t.

“Most like it was him, though his men also wear his colors,” Sir Guibert agreed, remembering that awful bellow. “You saw what he looks like?”

“No.” She could not quite keep the disappointment from her voice. “He wore his helmet. But he is huge, of that there was no mistaking.”

“Perhaps this time he will come himself and see the trouble ended instead of sending his man over.”

“Or he will bring his army.”

“He has no proof, my lady. It is one serf’s word against another’s. But get you safe inside the keep now. I will follow with the others and see the village guarded.”

Leonie rode for home with four men-at-arms and her two maids. She saw that she had not been firm enough in warning her people against causing more trouble with the Crewel serfs. In truth, her heart had not been in the warning, for it gave her satisfaction to know the new lord of Kempston was being plagued with domestic problems.

She had thought to soften the situation with her people by offering entertainments at Pershwick on the next feastday. But her anxiety over the Black Wolf and what he might do next made her decide against any gathering at her keep. No, she was better off keeping a weather eye on her neighbor’s activities and offering no chance for her people to gather where there was bound to be drink. They might, she knew, decide to plan something that could easily rebound on her. No,
if her villagers were going to plot against the Black Wolf, she would be better off if they did so far from her.

She knew what she had to do. She would have to speak to her people again, and firmly. But when she thought of dear Alain, banished from his home, and poor Sir Edmond who had died so that King Henry could favor one of his mercenaries with a fine estate, then she found it hard to want peace for the Black Wolf, hard indeed.

L
EONIE handed her soap to the maid and leaned forward so Wilda could wash her back. She waved away the bucket for rinsing and instead settled down in the large tub to take advantage of the soothing herb-scented water while it was still good and hot.

A fire burned in the hearth, taking the chill from the room. Outside, it was a mild spring evening, but the bare stone walls of Pershwick Keep created coldness that seemed never to lessen. And the ceiling of her room, open to join the great hall, allowed every draft to enter.

Pershwick was an old keep, designed neither for comfort nor to accommodate guests. The hall was large, but hadn’t been altered since it was built a hundred years ago. Leonie’s chamber was partitioned off the dais end of the hall with wooden boards. She shared the room with her Aunt Beatrix, more boards dividing the room in half to give each lady a little privacy. There were no women’s quarters, and no other chambers off the hall or above it, as there were in some of the new keeps. The servants slept in the hall, and the men-at-arms in the tower, where Sir Guibert also slept.

Rough though it was, Pershwick was home to Leonie, and had been for the last six years. Since coming here she had not returned once to Montwyn, her birthplace. Nor had she seen her father. Yet Mon
twyn Castle was only five miles away. In that castle lived her father, Sir William, and his new wife, Lady Judith, who had married him the year after Leonie’s mother died.

If Leonie could no longer summon a kind thought for her father, no one blamed her. From having a happy childhood and two loving parents to losing both parents in one stroke was a cruel fate, and wholly undeserved.

She had once loved her father with all her heart. Now she felt very little for him. At times she cursed him. Those times occurred when he sent his servants to raid her stores for his lavish entertainments—and not only was Pershwick involved, but Rethel and Marhill keeps as well. They, too, were hers. He never sent a word to his daughter, but he reaped the benefits of her hard work, taking her profits and rents.

However, he’d had far less success in the last few years as Leonie learned how to outfox the Montwyn steward. When he came calling with his list, her storerooms were nearly empty, her hoards hidden throughout the keep in unlikely places. So also she hid her spices and cloth bought from the merchants of Rethel, for Lady Judith sometimes arrived with the steward, and Lady Judith felt she could make free with anything she found at Pershwick.

Leonie’s cunning sometimes went awry when she couldn’t remember all of her hiding places. But rather than give up the plan or confide her deceit to the Pershwick priest and ask his help, she convinced Father Bennet to teach her to read and write. That way, she was able to keep records of her maze of hiding places. Now her serfs no longer faced starvation, and her own table was full. No thanks were due her father for any of that.

Leonie stood for the rinsing and let Wilda wrap her
in a warm bedrobe because she would not be leaving her room again that night. Aunt Beatrix sat by the fire with her embroidery, lost in her own world, as usual. The oldest of Elisabeth’s sisters, Beatrix had long been a widow. She had lost her dower lands to her husband’s relatives when he died, and hadn’t married again. She insisted she liked it that way. She had lived with her brother, the earl of Shefford, until Elisabeth’s death. Soon after, Leonie was cast on her vassal, Guibert Fitzalan, and Aunt Beatrix felt it her duty to stay and take care of her niece.

More likely it was Leonie who did the care-taking, for Beatrix was a timid woman. Even the isolation of Pershwick keep hadn’t made her bolder. Being one of the first children born to the late earl of Shefford, she had known the earl at his stormiest, whereas Elisabeth, the youngest, knew the earl as a mellow man and a doting father.

Leonie did not know the present earl, whose holding was in the north, far from the midlands. When she’d reached a marriageable age and begun to hope for a husband, she had wanted to contact her uncle. Aunt Beatrix had explained, kindly, that with eight brothers and sisters and dozens of nieces and nephews besides his own six children and
their
children, the earl would surely not concern himself with the daughter of a sister who had not married well and was now dead.

Leonie, fifteen then and closed away from the world, began to think she would never marry. But pride soon asserted itself, pride that didn’t permit her to ask for help from relatives who neither knew her nor ever inquired after her.

After a time she began to think she might be better off without a husband. There wasn’t the usual threat of being sent to a nunnery, and she was lady of her
own keep, independent, answerable only to a father who never approached her and seemed unlikely to show any further interest in her.

It was a unique and enviable position, she told herself after those first longings for romance had been stifled. Most brides did not even know their husbands before they were wed, and were likely to find themselves the property of an old man, a cruel man, or an indifferent man. Only serfs married for love.

So Leonie came to believe she was fortunate. The only thing she wanted to change was her isolation, and that was what caused her to venture alone to Crewel to see the tourney.

Having never seen a tourney before, she was impelled to go. King Henry’s policy was to forbid all tourneys except a few held in special circumstances and with his permission. In the past, too many tourneys had ended in bloody battles. In France a tourney might be found at any time in almost any place, and many knights became rich by traveling from one to another. It was not that way in England.

The tourney at Crewel was exciting at the start. The Black Wolf rode onto the field in full armor, six knights flanking him, all wearing his colors, black and silver, all large and impressive men. The seven opponents were also full-armored. Leonie recognized a few by their banners as vassals of Sir Edmond Montigny. The Black Wolf was, by then, their new overlord.

She had not asked herself why the present lord of Kempston would challenge his new vassals. There were many possible explanations, none of which interested her. What held her attention was the Black Wolf, and the lady who rushed onto the field to give him a token. A bold kiss followed as he swept the lady up into his arms. Was she his wife?

The crowd cheered the kiss, and then all at once the melee began, a mock battle in which all the contestants took part most ferociously. There were strict rules for a melee, rules which distinguished it from real battle, but the rules were ignored that morning. It was immediately obvious that all seven opposing knights meant to unseat the Black Wolf. They succeeded quickly, and it was only the swift work of his own knights that prevented him from being defeated. He even had to call them back from giving chase as his opponents fled the field.

It was over all too soon, and Leonie went home in disappointment, her only satisfaction being the knowledge that some of the Black Wolf’s new vassals had apparently rejected him as their overlord. Why? She could not guess what he had done. It was enough to know that his taking possession of Kempston had not gone easily.

 

Leonie dismissed Wilda and joined her aunt by the fire, staring pensively into the flames, remembering the fire in the forest and wondering what new troubles the future would bring.

“You are worried about our new neighbor?”

Leonie glanced sideways at Beatrix, surprised. She didn’t want her aunt burdened with this.

“What is there to worry about?” Leonie hedged.

“Bless you, child, you need not hide your troubles from me. Do you think I am not aware of what happens around me?”

Leonie believed just that. “It is of no great importance, Aunt Beatrix.”

“Then we will have no more rude young knights coming to threaten us with angry words?”

Leonie shrugged. “They are only angry words. Men like to bluster and snarl.”

“Oho, do I not know it.”

They both laughed, for of course Beatrix knew more about men than Leonie did, confined as she had been since the age of thirteen.

Leonie confessed, “I thought we would have visitors today, but no one came. Perhaps they do not blame us for this day’s trouble.”

Beatrix frowned thoughtfully, and her niece asked, “Do you think the Black Wolf might have other plans this time?”

“That is possible. It is a wonder he has not already burned our village.”

“He would not dare!” Leonie cried. “He has no proof my serfs have caused his troubles. He has only the accusations of
his
own serfs.”

“Yes, but that is enough for most men. Suspicion is enough.” Beatrix sighed.

Leonie’s anger drained away. “I know. Tomorrow I will go to the village and make certain that henceforth no one leaves Pershwick land for any reason. There will be no more trouble. We must see to that.”

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