Read chapter Two from The Conquering Prince


Digitally transcribed for the Gardner Francis Fox Adventure Library

the conquering prince gardner f fox ebook pulp paperback novel kurt brugel kindle gardner francis fox men's adventure library sword and sorcery erotica sleaze

Click here for an Amazon Kindle eBook

For two months, Edward and Joan lived in a paradise.

Pepin left them much alone, so that they rode often through Woodstock Forest, sometimes spreading a lawn cloth on a grassy clearing and picnicking on roast squab and red wine. From old manuscripts, they read of Tristram and Iseult or Launcelot and Guinevere, a peewit chirping from a nearby branch and the smell of honeysuckle in the air.

Edward would drowse during the lazy afternoons with Joan’s head pillowed on his chest and their horses cropping the grass nearby, and they would whisper to each other that no one had ever known this bitter-sweetness. Even Iseult of Ireland could never have quivered more frankly than did Joan as Edward kissed her soft white throat. Nor could Tristram of Lyonesse sing more sweetly than Edward did while his fingers plucked the harp strings as she had taught him.

Sometimes Edward would run his palm over her body in its tight samite gown, caressing her gently as he talked, as if he would learn the contours with his fingers so that he might remember them during the hours of their separation. And Joan would cup his face and kiss him gently on the corners of his mouth many times until the fire built to a glowing heat within them and her lips would take his fully, ardently.

All Woodstock knew of their love and delighted in it. Scullery maids worshiped young Edward, and envied pretty Joan in their hearts. The men at arms and esquires studied Joan surreptitiously, and would have given much to be with her as often as the young prince was. From kitchen hearth to armory and the archery butts, gossip that was kindly and understanding followed them throughout the manor house.

It was Pepin who told the king about them. He rode up to London in late autumn, when the frosty chill of the winds whipped between the Waltham beech trees. With his father at his elbow, in a short red velvet tunic with surplice sleeves—a gift of the new Prince of Wales—he attended court.

“Your son does nobly, sire,” he told a glooming Edward III. “He and Joan are planning their wedding, even now.”

“Wedding?” roared the king. “What wedding?”

Pepin paled, and moistened his lips with a nervous tongue. “The wedding between Edward and Joan of Kent, sire. I—I thought you knew.”

“By the Rood! A wedding, is it? I’ll put an end to such talk Lancaster Warwick!”

The Plantagenet fury, which could rage like wildfire, drove Edward at the gallop from London Tower to Oxfordshire. He came off his foaming horse with a roar for the grooms and a curse for the cold November air.

“Edward! Where’s the prince? You there, fellow!” The man knuckled his brow, bobbing his head. “In the solar with Milady Joan, sire! They listen to the harp together.”

Edward went striding furiously up the steps adjacent to the great hall and along a torch-lit gallery. He could hear the harp strings clearly now, and thought, As long as one of them keeps fingers on the strings, not too much can happen! His hand went out and lifted the heavy brocade drapes and he stood spraddle-legged, scowling darkly.

They sat together on a cushioned divan, with Joan cradled between Edward’s thighs, the harp in her hands. His cheek was against hers, so that it needed only a slight turn of their heads to merge their lips. They make a handsome pair, Edward thought. Yet—by the holy Nails—this marriage was not to be thought of. The heir to the English throne was no husband for a penniless maiden from the Kent marshes. He would have his pick of royalty, from Beatrice and Constance of Spain to a Hapsburg princess.

“Well, sir!” roared the king.

They started up, surprise written across their faces. There was no fear in either of them, however, and Edward III felt grudging respect.

“Your Majesty!” whispered Joan, and curtsied.

“Father!” said the prince. “I didn’t expect you.”

“I can see that for myself. And what I see, I don’t like. Is this your habit, girl, to play the scullery maid with your betters?”

Young Edward took a step forward, “She’s the woman I mean to make my wife.”

“Ah? Do you, indeed? On what authority?”

There was Plantagenet blood in young Edward, too. His head went back as he straightened abruptly. “On my own, sire. With your consent, within the year. Without it, I’ll await my majority.”

Father and son eyed each other with their anger plain to see. Edward III controlled himself with difficulty. Long used to having his every whim obeyed, he had no practice in curbing either tongue or temper. Yet this brawny young son—a stranger to him, he realized suddenly—was no yeoman to be overawed by rank or royalty.

“Then you’ll have your two years to wait, by God! You’ll get no agreement from me to such a union. As for you, Joan, our royal order is that you leave Woodstock manor before the week’s end to become a tire-woman to Her Majesty, my wife. Under penalty of banishment, you’ll not see the prince except under the eyes of his mother or myself.

Joan curtsied low, aware that beside her Edward was shaking in anger. “Your Majesty is gracious. I’ll do my best to serve the queen,” she whispered.

Edward III eyed them for another moment. His hand closed on his jeweled dagger, lifting it from its scabbard to click it back into place. “You’ll stay here, Edward. Burley tells me you’re only an indifferent scholar. Without the distraction of Lady Joan, you’ll no doubt do better in your studies.”

Young Edward made a wry face. The marriage age for girls was twelve, for boys, fifteen. At such time they could, with or without consent of their parents or guardians, wed in any church in the land. Woodstock without Joan would be a dull and dreary place. Two years was a long time, but it was not forever. He would wait, as would Joan. They had all their lives before them.

Mathilda Plympton hurried Joan off to her chambers, and young Edward went with his father below-stairs to the great hall, where a relay of servants brought him cold turkey and wine.

“Mind me, Edward! You’ll never get my consent to this marriage. What will it do for you? Does Joan bring lands and gold into the bed, as would Beatrice of Spain? Can we ally ourselves with the Kentish cliffs as we might with Flanders if you wedded a daughter of the count?”

“Land and gold! Land and gold! Isn’t there anything else in life but that? We have enough land here in England. And enough wealth, too.”

Edward III stared at him. “God’s blood, boy! This isn’t any way for a future king to think Take the girl, if you want. Make her your—mistress. Nobody’ll object to that. I’ll marry her off well, and—”

The glint in his son’s eyes put a curb to his tongue. As he bit into the turkey leg he held, he grunted, “You’re young, that’s your whole trouble! You’ve been cooped up in Woodstock too long. I’ll take you to London with me next year. Burley can teach you to read and write well enough in the Tower.”

Edward III did not say it, but there would be women in London Town. Fine ladies with soft skin as white as that of Joan of Kent, and fuller in the bosom. These were court ladies, experienced in the love arts—he himself, though more moral than most rulers of his day, had enjoyed the embraces of more than one—and they would be happy to relieve the prince of any sorrow he might feel at the loss of his ladylove.

“Next spring,” he said, reaching for a tankard of ale. “Occupy your mind with studies now. Burley will send me monthly reports on your work. Mind, I want good reports from him.”

Young Edward glowered blackly. There was an emptiness in his middle that presaged loneliness for him here in Woodstock. Already, even while Joan was still beneath the manor roof, he missed her. He watched his father eat, seeing him as an enemy to his young hungers. There was vigor and determination in Edward III, revealed by his taut, straight lips. With his dark eyes set wide apart and his long hair falling rich brown waves to his shoulders, he had a look of wisdom that jarred the prince.

He said hotly, “When I’m old enough, I’ll marry her. Just remember that!”

The king smiled grimly. “Study now. Prepare yourself for the world. You’re almost a man. This fancy for the Fair Maid will pass, if you give it time. If it does not pass, then marry her.”

It was not what young Edward wanted, but it would have to do. A thirteen-year-old prince cannot have his way in everything. Glooming at the fire in the middle of the hall, Edward told himself that he would open his father’s dark eyes by his diligence.

Aye! Study at the scrolls and illumined books, exercise constantly in the tilt-yard, make himself master of quill pen and sword! Then, with the help of the Trinity, Joan of Kent would become his bride, with none to thank but himself. . . .

Next day he parted with Joan under the steady gaze of the king himself. They had no chance for whispered words, no time to do more than press hands and smile at one another. Then Joan was mounting up onto her sidesaddle beside the king, the men-at-arms were clattering across the cobbled yard and out the great gate, and Joan was only a red cloak moving away from him toward the forest and the distant Thames.

Walter Burley came to Woodstock two days later, with a pack horse and panniers laden down with psalters and illumined manuscripts. Edward was there to meet him and help carry the precious books through the great hall and into the little room in the wood cellar that was allotted to the scholar when he resided at the manor.

To his amazement, young Edward was anxious to begin work. “The sooner I learn all you can teach me, the sooner will I please my father.” It took Burley three weeks to discover that good reports from him meant a summons to the prince to join the court at Windsor Castle. Joan of Kent would be at Windsor, as a court lady to his mother.

Young Edward had a keen mind. All he needed was an incentive.

Inasmuch as Edward showed a fondness for the Arthurian legends, Burley gave him the Matiere de Bretagne to read, and added the poems of Chretien de Troyes. At first he stumbled and made a great many mistakes, but the doggedness that brought him to the illumined scrolls made him master them. Soon his French was almost as polished as that of his tutor. He could write in a courtly hand, and read smoothly enough to please the Oxford scholar.

There were selections from Suetonius and Josephus to be mastered. The writings of Roger Bacon, though officially suppressed because his brilliant deductions in the natural sciences and medicine were deemed tainted by the Black Arts, found their way into his hands. Walter Burley was something of a freethinker, and encouraged this trait in his pupil.

“Believe what you can see and test for yourself, boy,” he would say. “And always remember that a man may be a dunderhead despite the fine clothes he wears.”

It was no easy pace that Walter Burley set for the young prince, but while his incentive might be deplored, his determination was not. Edward studied hard.

One night when Edward was lonely, he came knocking at the oak door that opened onto his teacher’s chamber. Walter Burley was crouched before a flat board marked off with checkered squares on which were set five-inch tall figures of horsemen and knights, bishops and kings.

“It is called chess, Edward. It’s supposed to be the oldest game in the world. This is an old Norman set, carved in whale ivory.”

Edward sat on a stool close by the board. He lifted a carving of a mailed knight on a short, stubby horse, shield on arm and sword at side. He smiled faintly, turning it over and over in his fingers. “A soldier. What kind of game is it, Walter?”

“A war game, supposedly invented by the people of India many centuries ago. They called it chaturanga. Instead of this piece, called the castle, they had a piece known as the war elephant. They conceived the game as symbolical of a struggle between two armies, to see which can capture the king of the other.”

Anything that had to do with war roused Edward’s interest. Sitting closer to the board on a stubby, three-legged stool, he studied it. At last he said, “Teach me.”

Walter Burley tried to repress his keen delight. An avid student of the game, he missed the companionship of his Oxford fellows, who were also devoted to its study. Eagerly he showed the moves of the individual pieces, explaining their names and purposes. If he could teach this brawny, lonely boy the game, perhaps their night hours would not be such miserable affairs for both of them.

“If you want, I possess a copy of Masudi, and can lend it to you to read. I’ve translated it for my own enjoyment. It will be a good exercise in the language, too.”

Edward lost five games that first night, but the last two he lost only by narrow margins. Walter Burley was beside himself with delight. Not until later years was he to realize that on these long summer evenings, when he played so carefully against the young Edward, he was facing one of the finest military minds of his age. The gambits he had studied so long to learn came almost by instinct to the prince. Edward himself, on the fields of Crecy and Poitiers, was to remember the feel of the whale-ivory chessmen in his fingers as he moved them, and the guttering of the candles that threw black shadows across the squares.

And so, with illumined scrolls and psalters, and the inevitable board and carved pieces, the summer passed for Edward in a gentle backwash of inactivity. The sense of waiting that lay like a mist across all England in these days found itself reflected in its heir. King Philip of France was renewing his demands that Edward III come over the channel and do homage to him as the Duke of Aquitaine, an honor which the English king found extremely embarrassing to contemplate. As liege lord of Aquitaine, which was in the kingdom of France, he owed fealty as a subject noble, even though he himself might be ruler of a kingdom far greater and stronger than the one to which he was obliged by ancient feudal law to do obeisance.

There were archery tournaments up and down the land, in castle courtyards and on village greens, and no man deluded himself that his skill was being polished only to win a purse of pennies for himself. Sometimes the steward put an old coat of link mail up instead of the butts. If English shafts could pierce strong link mail, they would also penetrate French armor. At Windsor the smiths and armorers worked into the nights by their red fires, shaping basinets and swords, pikes and vambraces.

Also at this time, a boy named Geoffrey Chaucer was playing on the cobbles of Thames Street before his father’s London house. John Wycliffe studied at Balliol College, and was considered something of an orator. In Avignon, to which Pope Clement V had moved the Papacy upon his election as Pope, Clement VI ruled the Christian world. Petrarch was in Naples at the court of Queen Joan, conferring daily with a man named Giovanni Boccaccio. And in a distant land named China, a man lay dying of a disease that caused lumpy swellings of the armpit and the groin. The Chinese named it the Black Death.

On a rainy day in February, Pepin of Chambroix threw himself from a lathered horse into the arms of his friend, Prince Edward. They wrestled a moment on the slippery cobbles before Pepin held up an ivory cylinder.

“Word from His Majesty, Edward! Good word! You’re to come back to Windsor Castle with me!”

Windsor. The name rang in young Edward’s mind, for Joan of Kent was there, and the days of his banishment were ended.

“Pepin! Speak of Joan Is she well? Does she remember me?”

He hardly dared breathe until Pepin reassured him, “Remember you? Morte de Dieu! How could she forget—or let any of us forget? It’s all she talks of! I don’t think Burley’s reports made His Majesty send for you as much as it was Joan’s eternal babblings into the queen’s ear, rousing her mother love so that she nagged Edward as much as Joan nagged her!”

Edward banded Pepin with his thick arms and swung him off his pointed shoes.

“God’s blood! Go easy, Edward! You’ve grown like a bull this past six-month! Stand away and let me look at you!”

Edward had grown taller and heavier. His high cheekbones and straight nose, the seal of the Plantagenets, stamped him with a rugged handsomeness. The wide shoulders that had promised so much strength in the past were banded now with thick muscle. His legs long and powerful, below a lean waist and deep chest.

“By the holy Nails!” Pepin swore honestly. “You’ll break more than one maid’s heart at court, if you’ve a mind to do it.”

“There’s only one maid for me, Pepin. Tell me of her!” As he drew off his riding gloves, embroidered with the Charnbroix leopards, Pepin related the news of the court: how Joan had stolen a place in the heart of Queen Philippa, and how the two spent hours in the privy chambers discussing the great marriage feast that would follow her wedding to the Prince of Wales. At the moment she was working on an arras which, in the manner of the Baveaux tapestry, she was embroidering a record of their youthful courtship. It was to be a wedding present to the prince, to be hung from their canopied bed.

“And me? What does she say of me?” Pepin grinned. “A chambermaid attached to the court tells me, between kisses, that Joan talks even in her sleep about you. She rolls this way and that, and always she calls out ‘Edward!’ Or sometimes “Tristrant!’ ”

The clap on the back that Edward gave Pepin almost knocked him down. “A gift, Pepin! I’ll make you a gift this day. Only name it!”

Pepin laughed. “You know me too well for my own comfort. A gift, eh? Well, give me time to think.”

In the prince’s rooms, Edward spread out his valuables on a huge oaken chest: a dagger whose pommel was set with an amethyst, a golden triptych on which were carved the figures of the Trinity, a silver goblet rimmed with sapphires, a pair of iron spurs set with silver, an ivory reliquary that had been given to him by John Stratford, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the small figure of a knight on horseback done in silver and cloisonné enamel.

“Make a selection, good Pepin. Whatever you want, take!”

Pepin pondered only a moment. “The dagger is my choice. You’ll note the color of the jewel set into it. A fine weapon.”

Edward shrugged. “The jewel is a fine one, but the blade is of only indifferent steel. I’ve a much better one that Lancaster gave me, but its hilt is plain.”

Pepin tossed the poniard in the air and caught it. Neither was aware that each had revealed a facet of his character.

Windsor Castle rang with the sound of awl and hammer. The building program to which Edward III had devoted himself in the past few years was bearing fruit. In the days of Edmund Ironside, the Saxon stronghold that stood here bore the name of Wyndleshore. Edward the Confessor came here often from his cares of state. Here too, the Normans built a hunting lodge that took the eye of William Rufus, the Conqueror’s son, when he hunted in the nearby woods. Henry I made the hunting lodge into a palace, building a great stone keep, round and tall. Henry II planted beautiful vines to grace its stark strength, and his son added a great hall, walls and battlements. Three towers stood at the west end of the lower ward.

Now Edward III was carrying out his own building program under the direction of William of Wykeham. St. George’s Chapel was almost complete, and the lions of England already flew from Winchester Tower.

As young Edward and his friend Pepin approached from the north, there was an unusual amount of activity about the castle. Travelers were coming along the Reading road and up from Salisbury. Huge wagons with wooden wheels, each one fitted out with the device in arms of its owner, trundled past long pack trains. Occasionally a group of mailed riders took the grassy sides of the dusty road for better speed: peers and knights with their squires, colored pennons flapping from their lances. There were women riding sidesaddle too, pacing slowly on gentle palfreys.

“Is all England coming to Windsor?” asked Edward wonderingly.

“A good bit of it,” nodded Pepin. “The king has declared that he will hold a great tournament here, and it is rumored that he will begin again the Order of the Round Table.”

“Pepin! Are you joking?”

“Not I! Find out for yourself. Jousts and sword combats! Here—draw rein and listen! You’ll catch the ring of hammers where the tilt—boards are being raised beyond the east wall.”

The Order of the Round Table Edward thrilled to the old names, which he repeated over and over as he urged his horse to greater speed. As Tristram was a part of that knightly band, so he would be himself. Was he not Duke of Cornwall, and was not Lyonesse a part of that rugged cliff country? Too long he’d been buried away at Woodstock. It was time he emerged from his boyhood exile, to take his place with the other men of England.

And Joan of Kent! The Fair Maid would be at Windsor, waiting with open arms and ready lips for his embrace. He would beg a favor to wrap about his jousting helmet!

Chivalry was a living thing to the people of his day. These nobles and knights set themselves a high standard. Their dreams were perfect, but their flesh was human. They failed their dreams all too often, but they lived up to them far more than they failed.

Young Edward fancied himself as chivalrous a lover and warrior as ever lived. The splendid deeds of the Arthurian knights would live again when he took the field. No Launcelot dreaming over a Guinevere, or Tristram sharing a love philtre with Iseult of Ireland, would know a finer, truer love than he would know with Joan. With her favor to encourage him, he would take the field against all England!

The king dashed his high hopes in the private chamber where he was greeting his mother, Queen Philippa, and searching in vain with his eyes for Lady Joan. Edward III would hear no argument.

“Let you be worsted in the jousts before all England? Am I witless, boy? Let the others tilt. You’ll sit in the royal box, if you will. Or sulk in your rooms. I care not. But there’ll be no tilting!”

The prince argued. He did not quite dare to threaten, but he stamped from the chamber with black fury in his heart, to storm across the courtyard cobbles. To add to his injured pride, a number of young knights, some of them not much beyond his own age, were mounting to ride to the temporary tilt-yard in the south meadow.

Joan found him in the shadow of Winchester Tower. She came running, one hand holding up the skirt of her tight kirtle, slim ankles flashing. Her cry made him wheel and stare.

“Joan! Joan!”

He went to meet her, catching her in both arms, bringing her in against him, soft and warm. She had no time to evade his lips, and for a moment she gave to his hunger with her moist mouth and tender tongue: but this was too public a place for a lady-in-waiting and the heir to the throne! Desperately her hands tugged at his arms.

“Please, Edward! Let me go! Anyone can see—”

“Let them!” He was in no mood to show mercy after the session with his father. “I’ve dreamed of this and planned for it. Now the moment is here, and none can stop me!”

“I won’t stop you—but a more private place! In the name of the Cross! Please, please!”

His body felt the softness of her thighs and hips, and their touch roused a wildfire in him. Even as she giggled and made muffled protests, he dragged her with him stopping every few feet to kiss her moist mouth to breathlessness—into the sheltering silence of a tower chamber.

The room was bare, save for three large chests and a rack that held half a dozen helmets and a sword or two to be repaired by the castle armorer.

“I’ve missed you, I’ve missed you!” he told her, kissing lips and cheeks, chin and nose.

“My heart was broken when your father made me ride off with him.”

“So many times I’ve dreamed of this! Yes, and other things about you, too.”

“What things, dearest heart?”

“The touch of my hands on your slim thighs, on your sweet hips. Ah, Joan! My fairest Iseult!”

He lost himself in his love, waking Joan to frenzied murmurs, to throaty laughter. Her blonde hair came loose under the taut golden caul she wore about it, to tease his lips with a perfumed lock as they went searching for her tiny ear. She helped disarrange her kirtle so that his kisses could wander from her throat to the smooth skin of her bared shoulder.

“Was there ever such a love as ours, Edward?”

“Never! None like this!”

As other lovers spoke, so they spoke. This was the wonder of existence, this panting fervor that consumed them. The perfume that had been touched between her straining breasts was sweeter than the roses of Kent in late spring. The touch of her hands to his cheeks was softer than the mistral wind that roams the Rhone near Avignon.

Her lips were fires hotter than the flames of Gehenna.

“And neither will it end, dearest Edward! Tell me it will—never end!”

“Can faith and purity ever die?”

“Sometimes I am so afraid!”

His lips eased the fear from her white brow. He murmured, “I dreamed of wearing your favor to the joust. To hold your name high as the fairest maid in all England. To be your champion and make your fame ring from the Cinque Ports to Scotland!”

“I want only you, Edward. I don’t care about such things as fame.”

His voice was bitter. “My father refused me! He gave orders I’m to sit like a dunce in the royal box, and watch while others fight for their ladies!

She drew away slightly. There was laughing mischief in her eyes. “And would you joust despite him—if you knew a way?”

“How? Tell me how?”

“Do you remember Sir Tristram as the knight of the Black Shield?”

How could he forget? On how many spring and summer afternoons had he acted out the part? His triumphant laughter rang out.

“He fought in disguised armor so none would know him! There was no crest or device of arms on his shield or surcoat!” Then he sobered, and his face grew glum. “But who is likely to give the Prince of Wales a suit of armor or a shield, when he knows it’s against the royal command.”

Joan came into his arms, feeling the blood stir in her veins for this big, handsome boy with the straight nose and high cheekbones and the yellow hair flowing down almost to his shoulders. As her loins touched his, she felt the molten fire of her hunger and clung to him.

“I will, my love! I will give you the finest armor in all of England! And it is black! Black as the shield Tristram carried before the Castle of the Maidens!”

Her eyes were closed as she sought blindly for his mouth. Her ribs gave to the embrace in which he held her pressed so tight against him that she could not breathe. This was all she could ever want: to feel herself loved and worshiped, to be kissed and caressed and hear the tender words he whispered into her ears. And, since the Fair Maid of Kent was human, there was the fierce thrust of pride within her. This man—her knight, her prince—would joust for her tomorrow, and on all the other days of the tournament.

At last even young lovers must talk and breathe, and it was then, holding her still close enough so that his chest could feel the twin pressures of her breasts, that Edward released her mouth long enough to ask, “And where will you find such a suit of armor?”

Joan giggled and hid her face against his scarlet gipon. “In the queen’s chamber!”

Edward looked blank, and she laughed. “Silly! Close your mouth! It’s a present to you from the king. To maintain secrecy and insure against your seeing it before your next birthday, they hid it in the sumpter chest beyond Her Majesty’s bed.”

“Armor for me?”

He became excited at the thought, so that Joan pulled him back into her soft white arms and pouted. “Would you forget me so soon for a lot of steel and iron? Is this how much you love me?”

Kisses took the pout from her lips until they relaxed in a dreaming smile. “We’ll have fine children when we are wed, Edward. One of them will be a king of England. Imagine it!”

But Edward was busy with his thoughts of the suit of armor that was waiting for him, and so Joan smiled and laughed and caught him by the hand and drew him from the tower chamber out across the inner yard, toward the stables.

“We’ll find Pepin and take him into our conspiracy. We’ll need help. You must have an esquire to help you on with your armor and helmet. There’s a horse to be selected, and a black surcoat to be sewed!”

Pepin was enthusiastic. There was profit for him in Edward’s gratitude. “Leave everything to me,” he told them, “except for the surcoat. Joan, you’ll have to deliver that!”

They made their plans in the silence of the tower solar that had been allotted to Pepin. It was like old times, with their three heads together plotting mischief and laughing in sheer high spirits.

The cone tents stretched from the north terrace ramparts of the castle across the great green lawns almost to the river. They were of red and green and blue and white silk, with pennons and bannerols floating from tent poles overhead. Before them sat the esquires and the pages, putting a last minute polish to gleaming armor. Others were arranging colorful housings on the horses, fitting the silk and brocadework under chanfron and peytral.

A long viewing stand had been set up lengthwise of the jousting course and covered by great silken awnings set on poles. Here would sit the court and the visiting nobles who were not entered in the lists, with their ladies. There would be a great gathering here. King Edward had summoned his nobles from Cornwall and Kent, Northumberland and Wales. A rumor was passing from ear to ear that there would be a surprise for the nobles at the end of the tournament.

Edward was alone in his small tent of dull black samite. He lay naked, save for the cloth at his middle. His skin was oiled and massaged, and he drowsed against the early morning warmth. His esquire was bringing his black armor from the castle—Joan and Pepin had slipped it from the big chest in the royal solar last night, while he amused the king and queen, with an account of his latest chess game with Walter Burley—and Pepin was leading a great black stallion from the Mohun stables. There would be time enough to don the armor and the plate-mail hauberk. Now he would rest, and dream. His right hand tightened on a length of blue silk: the scarf that belonged to Joan of Kent, which he would wear as her favor this day.

There were no nerves in the young prince. They had been replaced by an aura of destiny. Somewhere, at some time and some place other than this, it was ordained that he would wear black armor into the lists at Windsor in defiance of his father. His die was cast.

He smiled faintly in half-sleep, half-thought. Win today, Edward of Woodstock, and then see what an angry parent could do! Win today, and make Joan of Kent a famous woman at the court, so all might know her for the woman who held the heart of the heir apparent in her soft palms!

A trumpet blew as the tent-flap lifted.

“Edward, Edward!” Pepin scolded. “You’re not half ready! The others are mounting up, even now!”

The esquire came running with quilted gambeson and the mail hauberk that would be worn over it. On his legs the prince wore mail trousers called chausses, belted tightly about his waist. These were covered with the thigh plates, the cuisses, jambes for the calves and fluted genouillères for the knees. Sollerets were worn on the feet.

His chest they covered with the black breastplate that was a masterpiece of the armorer’s art: it was quartered in raised metal with the English lions and the French fleursde-lys that was the device of the royal arms. Over this he wore a black cyclas, a short surcoat that came only to his thighs. There was no crest or device upon it, for if it were known that the Prince of Wales jousted this day, there would be short shrift for him.

With black pauldrons and brassarts on his arms, with the mail camail over his head and shoulders, the black helmet with its eye slits formed as the arms of a silver bas-relief cross fitted over his head, Edward announced that he was ready. The esquire helped him mount, using the crane, and Edward settled himself firmly in the wooden saddle. A plain black shield and a black lance were handed up to him.

He took his place with the other knights, aware of the curious eyes that studied his deliberate anonymity. Their visors were up, but he dared take no such chance. He knew a few of them: young Chandos all in scarlet, and Sir John Mohun, with the arms of Sir Neil Loring and the cross of Sir Walter Paveley a few paces beyond. The flower of English chivalry walked to the barrier today. Young Edward wondered a little at such a collection of military strength. Then he remembered that these feudal lords and their retainers could put a magnificent army in the field.

A trumpet blared.

The steward announced each knight at his appearance, as lance after lance lowered in homage to the king. Edward sat with Philippa at his elbow, with the young princes John and William shivering in ecstasy on either side of them.

There was a little pause when Edward lowered his lance. His esquire whispered to the steward, who straightened, smiling.

“A young knight, sire, with a vow of silence and namelessness upon him. His esquire requests permission for his master to engage the others, assuring me that his rank entitles him to the opportunity.”

Edward felt his father’s eyes on him. It seemed that they saw through the black cyclas to the royal arms graven on the breastplate. Those eyes were heavier than the armor itself, and he squirmed uneasily. He knows me! he thought and went frantic with embarrassment. Now the king was looking beyond him to the white cross of Neville and the blue and gold exchequer of Warenne, at the gold fusils of Percy and the scarlet pile of Chandos. Edward III knew each one of those arms as he knew his own face. Mentally, he was reviewing the absent ones, wondering which of his nobles might risk his displeasure by such an appearance.

The king hesitated. Then, at last, he waved his hand.

“Permission granted,” intoned the steward tonelessly. The prince moved on, sweating inside his helmet.

Whether it was by design or not young Edward was never to know, but he found himself pitted at the outset against Sir Hugh Courtney, a proven warrior. They want me unhorsed and exposed, he thought, as he took his place at one end of the barrier. His jaw tightened, and his eyes narrowed. He had not entered this tournament to disgrace the blue silk scarf he wore twisted about his helm.

The trumpet blared. His lance lowered and his spurs jabbed in.

The black horse was well trained. Its muscles bunched into exploding action. Young Edward was moving fast along the right side of the barrier, his lance couched, his shield up. Panic flooded him for a moment: he was no proven tilter to be here before almost every noble eye in England! Disgrace and laughter would mock his efforts.

Why, the king might even send him back to Woodstock, away from all this pagentry. Away from Joan!

The other lance was almost on his shield, now. William of Ghent seemed to be at his elbow, speaking in his dry voice. “Aim to the inner rim of the shield to drive it back against the breastplate! Catch it right and it acts as a scoop, to lift your man out of his saddle and—”

Shock rammed his shield hard against him.

Then the pressure was gone and he was riding on, and the long grandstand made a roaring sound that filled his ears. Sir Hugh Courtney was on the ground, flat on his back, unhorsed! Exultation fired his blood. His maiden run was a win!

Three more times that morning he ran against noble lances, and each time he drove his opponent backward over his mount’s rump to land with a clatter of armor on the grass.

His esquire was shaking in delight as he lifted off his helmet in the black tent. “De Audeley himself, on your last course! Only Sir John Chandos might have done it! My prince, if you do as well after the noon meal, they will have to give you the accolade! Even His Majesty could not deny it to you!”

Edward was hot and tired, and his mouth was so dry it had begun to ache.

“Water, Thomas! Cool water, for the love you bear the Trinity!”

He gripped the leathern jack with both mailed hands, drinking deep. Standing with spraddled legs, he shook his head. Was this what battle was like: an eternity of shock and tensing muscles, with the world spinning between sky and earth, and a saddle galling a man where he sat? How can a man know which is his enemy and which his friend in such a mixture? And yet, as the water cooled his body, and as his teeth bit into the cold beef and warm bread that young Thomas had brought to him so that he might eat alone and unrecognized in his black tent, a kind of glory sat on Edward.

He might have been Tristram himself, riding in the lists of Camelot. Was this the way he felt after he fought Morault? Did he ever know this ache of tiredness in back and thighs? He let Thomas de Cottesford stretch him out on the long trestle table with a padding under his head so he could rest. Almost before he knew it, he was asleep; when the trumpet blared for the afternoon tilting, the esquire had to shake him awake.

The field had been narrowed down. Now only the strongest lances in England remained to challenge for the silver dagger that was to be the prize of the day.

Sir John Chandos remained, and Sir Neil Loring, and others like them: seasoned jousters, many of them veterans of the Scottish fighting at Dupplin Moor and Halidon Hill. A few had fought in the naval battle of Sluys and almost all had raided in Gascony recently with the Earl of Lancaster. I have no right to be here, Edward told himself, but his young blood was stubborn and his body was heavy with Plantagenet muscle.

Four times he rode that afternoon, and four times his black armor remained upright in the saddle. His black shield bore heavy gashes where lance tips had marked it. His cyclas was ripped. A dull ache was pounding from his back up through his neck and into his head.

There were six knights left.

Tension ran in the stands, where men and women craned forward to see which opponent was next marked for the knight in the black armor. A page ran out with the fess sable of Sir Henry Eam, but returned almost at once.

Even the king forgot his dignity to call down to the steward.

“By the Rood!” Edward said as he sat back on his high-backed chair. “Whoever the man is, I’ll reward him! We’ll be needing his kind in France soon, unless my royal cousin Philip sees reason!”

The black shield was up, solitary on its pole, waiting.

The pages stirred. A shield lifted, flashed in the sun, and was put down. Then a boy in gold and scarlet came running and all could see the scarlet pile on the gold field that was the Chandos arms.

“Sir John! Sir John!” cried the crowd.

“The black knight! The black knight!” they roared, echoing themselves.

Sir John Chandos was the foremost knight in England. He had fought at Cambrai and again at Sluys, and later in Gascony and Flanders. He was young, not quite thirty, and was a favorite with the king. In gold and scarlet, he sat his great white charger. His black hair disappeared under the huge helmet with its towering crest, and he sat rigid while the straps were buckled tight.

“I’ve ridden against every knight in England, and against a good many in France,” he told Sir Neil Loring, who stood at his stirrup, handing up his lance. “I know all their mannerisms and gestures. That one in black is completely unknown to me.”

“I’ve been studying him myself! He makes no mistakes. His lance is always at the right spot. Only ten men in England can joust like that. I know them all, and he is none of them.”

Sir John sighed. “Wish me well, Neil. I’ve a feeling he won’t make his first mistake against me!”

Edward watched Sir John ride to the far end of the barrier. His blood was pumping wildly in his veins. Rumors of the Chandos fame had found their way even into Woodstock. That shield with its scarlet pile and that red lance were almost always victorious.

The murmurs in the stands grew to a shout that died suddenly.

Both horses began their run. The black lance and the scarlet lance lowered as one. Only the pounding hoofs and the flapping of the cloth caparisons on the horses could be heard.

Edward saw the scarlet and gold shield grow before his eyes. His own point lowered carefully.

Then all creation hit him. His shield rammed back into him, lifting against his helmet. A strap gave, snapping in half. His helmet rose up into the air. He swayed helplessly in the saddle, his lance a tremendous weight in his shocked hand. Then cooling air was blowing against his face and the black horse was carrying him toward the other end of the barrier and the stands were exploding with sound.

A page ran to meet him, reaching for the black bridle cloth. Edward managed to turn in the saddle and look behind him. Sir John Chandos was still upright in the saddle, but there was a gash across his shield, and only part of a lance remained in his hand. The slim point of the lance and a good bit of its shaft lay on the grassy lawn on the far side of the barrier.

“Your Grace, Your Grace,” the page was babbling.

Only now did Edward realize that the tumultuous shouting had died away, and that all eyes were watching the king, who was standing grim and silent in the royal box. He could not know that his yellow hair was glowing in the sunlight as if with inner fire, the more startling because of the blackness of his armor. His eyes glanced down at the page.

“His Majesty has summoned you,” the frightened page told him.

“Yes,” said Edward slowly, and braced himself.

Sir John Chandos was coming back to meet him, his visor raised, his black eyes glinting with amusement. He ranged his horse beside Edward and grinned.

“I thought for a minute you’d broken me in half,” he said wryly. “May I ride with you?”

“I’ll need help,” admitted Edward.

Side by side they paced to a halt before the king. On all sides, men and women were shouting their acclaim, and at the cone tents men were staring and talking excitedly among themselves. Their sense of chivalry was touched. The drama of the moment added to their delight.

Edward III found that anger and pride and delight formed an emotional maelstrom inside him. As a king and father, he was furious at this open disobedience of his command; yet he would have been an unnatural parent not to feel the stab of sheer pride that choked his throat so that he could not speak.

“You make a career of disobedience, Edward!” he said at last.

There was nothing he could reply, and so the prince was silent. The sense of high adventure that was in him when he had conceived his plan was like ashes in his mouth. He’d be sent back to Oxfordshire, he supposed, to twiddle his thumbs until he reached his majority. At the thought of not seeing Joan for another year or more, his Plantagenet pride caught him fast.

“Well, Edward?” demanded the king.

“You said I would be worsted before all England,” young Edward said slowly. “I’ve proved my right to tilt against any knight in the realm.”

“At the expense of my anger!”

Sir John Chandos spoke then, and his words rang out across the stands. “Sire, by your leave—grant me permission to say that I’ve never faced a better lance! As you love deeds of high daring, as you value courage, also value understanding!”

A tumult of shouting rang out. Edward III hesitated. He knew the sound popularity made when he heard it. He was angry, but royal anger can also become royal favor without loss of dignity. His teeth worried his lip a moment. “Know then, that because of your disobedience, you are forbidden further competition in this tourney. But because of your fine showing, and because Sir John seems to have become your champion, we take you back into our good graces. Tonight you will sit beside us at the feasting.”

The Chandos hand clapped Edward on the shoulder, and stirrup to stirrup they paced through the rising roar of acclaim toward the black tent.

“Edward le noir! Edward the Black!”

“Well, my black prince,” laughed Sir John, “you’ve made yourself no small measure of fame this day!”

His words were prophetic. By evening, the castle rang from kitchen to the great hall with his name. Edward, the Black Prince Old retainers saw something of his grandfather, the great Edward I, in his powerful body and his weapon-craft. Minstrels were tuning their harps, ready to compare him with Richard I, he of the Lion Heart. As Richard had waded ashore at Acre with only his two-handed sword between himself and the Saracens, so the young Edward had stood against the finest lances in all England.

For a brief while he was closeted with his family in the royal solar. Philippa of Hainault would have overwhelmed him with her protestations of worry and alarm, but her husband waved her away.

“Is he a child any longer? Must you muddle over him like the Lady Ermingarde over young William and Lionel? Before God, madam! He’s a man. Look at the shoulders On him!”

Nobody dared remind Edward that he was taking an exactly opposite course from what he’d said only yesterday afternoon in this same chamber. He would be content with nothing now but that the prince should sit with him and describe over and over the shock of lance meeting shield, and the impact of having his shield rammed into his helmet, tearing it loose.

“You’re popular, boy. Popular!” That’s a good thing for a prince to be. The whole world lies open before you. We venture to predict that when you plant your banner in the field, men like Chandos and Loring will fight to serve you.”

“Then there will be a war? You don’t think it’s all over?” Edward asked.

The king laughed. “Over? It hasn’t begun. What we did at Sluys five years ago, we’ll do in France itself! You’d like that, would you? To head your own troops, perhaps as a wing to my van? We will give thought to it.”

Edward trembled in delight. His long practice with sword and tilting lance had flowered today against the best knights England could pit against him. Perhaps his chess-playing and his study of the old scrolls which told of famous battles like Marathon and Salamis would pay off in victory, too.

“And Joan?” he asked. “What of Joan? Will I be free to wed her then?”

Edward III scowled darkly. “You still have her on your mind, do you? With any number of royally born ladies to choose as your wife? An alliance with Spain, now, when we’re planning war with France!”

“Joan,” said the prince firmly. “Joan or none!”

The king hit the armrest of the high-backed chair where he sat before the freestone hearth. “By the Rood You’re as stubborn as a Flanders mule! If your heart it set so much on the Kentish maid, then wait for her. Wait until after my campaign in France!”

“I’ll wait,” Edward Smiled.

The king growled and waved him away. “Be off. And remember, you sit beside me this night at the feasting

When Edward had gone through the arras tapestry that draped the solar doorway, Queen Philippa crossed to the chair where her husband sat. A peculiar smile touched the corners of her mouth.

“Have you forgotten the gardens of Hainault, Edward? And a lonesome boy exiled from England in the custody of his mother? I seem to recall some words he spoke to a very young girl, the daughter of the Count of Hainault.”

“It isn’t the same thing at all the king said gruffly. “You weren’t a king then. You were only a prince, just as Edward is a prince. You fell in love with me. Yet you might have done even better by marrying someone of royal blood.”

“There’s royal blood in you. Aren’t you a Valois?”

Philippa smiled gently, and stroked the brown hair of this vigorous, unruly husband of hers. “Joan is the daughter of Edmund, who was the younger brother of your own father. There is Plantagenet blood in her veins. It might be better to consolidate your kingdom behind you, Edward, than to make alliance with distant rulers.”

Edward Smiled a little, and caught the smooth hand of his queen. “All right. I’ll make Joan countess of Kent, and then we’ll see. Mind you, I’m still not convinced, but if Edward persists in his demands something may yet be gained from such a marriage.”

Her hand pressed his, as she bent to kiss his forehead.

The feasting that night was endless to young Edward. He sat beside his father on the royal dais, taking a little of the spitted pheasant, with some olives and figs, and waving aside the lamb, the beef, and the grouse. In a closely fitted gipon of bright scarlet, on which the arms of England were embroidered with gold thread, he made a picture that attracted the eyes of more than one court lady. His face was darkened by the Woodstock sun, and his long yellow hair was a halo through which more than one set of slim white fingers felt the urge to travel. And yet, as if unaware of his charm and good looks, he sat bemused.

Occasionally he touched the belt that circled his hips. Tucked into that belt was a slip of parchment. Less than an hour before Pepin had pushed it into his fingers, whispering, “From Joan. An invitation to leave the feasting early and meet her in a bedchamber of the Devil’s Tower.” Only two words were scratched on the parchment, but they were in her handwriting. Come soon!

The Devil’s Tower was where the maids of honor slept and stitched their endless hangings and sets of tapestries for beds and windows, walls and royal chambers. Here also lived the young princes, Edmund and John, with their governess. It was a part of the castle with which Edward was not too familiar, but Pepin had given him explicit directions.

“A winding stair to the second floor, and along the corridor there to the chamber with the blue door. Go in boldly. Joan will be inside, waiting!”

The rich Cru de Canole wines with which so many toasts were offered flushed his cheeks and brightened his eyes. There was strong English ale that was drunk like water, and heady metheglin, compounded of honey and fermented alcohol. He was not used to such drinking; after a while he turned his goblet upside down, as a signal to the serving men that he wanted neither wine nor ale.

Impatience was a fire inside him. Joan was awaiting him in a castle bedchamber. His Joan! Would she be clad in a thin shift or would she be dressed in the usual kirtle and Cotehardie? Or anything at all? Never before had he known such intimacy with a woman. Alone in a bedchamber! His throat felt thick. It was hard to swallow, and even harder to breathe.

In this mood, he found the courage to lean sideways along the trestle table and beg permission from his father to retire.

“The wine and the jousting have tired me, sire. I’d appreciate the comforts of a bed.”

Edward III waved a hand, being taken with the arguments of Henry of Lancaster as to why Caen would make the ideal landing spot for an English army entering France. The prince arose, finding his legs somewhat wobbly from the Cru de Canole, and made his way from the dais.

The spring air was cool in the courtyard. His lungs filled with it, again and again as he walked through the shadows. The castle seemed asleep under the blue night sky. Only from behind him, where candles and wall torches illumined the great hall, was there any sign of life.

His hand fumbled a moment at the oaken door to the Devil’s Tower; then it was closing behind him and he was going up a narrow stair. A wall torch showed him three doors, one of which was painted blue. The latch lifted under his hand and he stepped inside.

It was an ordinary bedchamber, with a huge tester bed hung with heavy draperies set back against the stone wall. Two large chests and a high-backed chair beside the fireplace completed its furnishings. Moonlight came in a silver flood through a narrow bifore window.

A woman lay sleeping in the bed.

“Joan!” he whispered, and moved forward.

Too late, he saw the long black hair spreading out across the pillow, and the startled face that lifted into the moonlight as the woman woke. This was not Joan: this was the Lady Ermingarde, the governess to his younger brothers!

She stared at him blankly a moment, still filled with sleep.

“This is a mistake, my lady,” he said hoarsely, backing toward the door. “I—I mistook the way . . .”

The Lady Ermingarde lay propped up on her elbows, seemingly forgetting that the thin sheet which was all her covering had slipped from her shoulders to reveal her full breasts. She was a languid woman, with a heavy red mouth and slumberous eyes, and smooth skin that was the color of new milk. A widow for some years, she was devoted to her young charges, Edmund and John. And yet, of late, her healthy body had felt the needs of a more intimate association with men which the young princes could not give. Lazily, she smiled. “You’ve been drinking, Edward.”

“A little,” he admitted. The sight of those pale breasts, each marked by what seemed to be a dark, staring eye, bewildered and fascinated him. He wanted her to pull up the sheet, and at the same time he wanted her to lower it even further. He recalled now the many times he had seen this woman at Woodstock, and the manner in which her taut gowns had hugged her hips. More than once, Lady Ermingarde had slapped Pepin’s face for a misplaced hand.

“Come here,” she said softly. “Let me smell that breath, and judge for myself how much you’ve swilled.”

Her white arm stretched out toward him. She was sitting up now, and the movement made her breasts shake gently. There was laughter in her eyes, and her mouth appeared to quiver very faintly.

On trembling feet he went to her, and bent forward. As he opened his mouth to let her sniff his lips, her smooth arm hooked his neck and brought him to her upturned mouth. He crumpled to his knees under the impact of that kiss. Untaught, his arms went around her yielding body. His palms stretched wide on smooth, naked flesh.

The thought came to Edward—very faintly and unreal that he should turn away from the Lady Ermingarde. Joan was waiting for him, somewhere. And yet this was the first time that he’d ever seen an unclothed woman, ever felt her soft sides and the smooth sloping of her hips. The wine and the metheglin were like raging fires in him, destroying all thought.

When her mouth moved to his ear, he gave a short cry.

“This is what you came to find, isn’t it?” she whispered, guiding his hands. “Did you see me watching you this afternoon at the jousts? When you met me in the hall outside the royal chambers after the jousting, were you planning to visit me like this?”

Her voice was a honeyed whisper in the night, soothing and stirring. She laughed throatily as his lips roved down her throat. “Did you latch the door behind you, Edward? Did you?”

He could not speak, but only stare as she drew away from him a little, casting back the sheet. Naked, she moved from the bed to the door, and pushed home the bolt. Then she turned slowly, aware of his feverish eyes, and lifting her long black hair in her hands, shook it out behind her.

Held first by adolescent curiosity, Edward was chained now by a wave of sheer, wild hunger. The blood of the Plantagenets beat a wild tumult in his veins.

“You were always such a distant boy,” she whispered. She walked toward him slowly, smiling languidly.

Pepin paused with Joan of Kent outside the blue door. “If you don’t believe me,” he whispered, “listen for yourself.”

“Not Edward! Anyone but Edward!”

“Edward!” snarled Pepin fiercely. “Is he so different from the rest of us? I told him you were waiting, but he put me off with mutterings of a prior engagement. What makes him so special? Why must he have royal blood and wealth, and a noble love?”

If her wits had been clearer, Joan of Kent would have sensed the jealousy that raged in Pepin of Chambroix. Earlier, she’d slipped a bit of parchment into Pepin’s fingers, directing that he give it to Edward with word that she would wait in the solar room beyond the royal chambers. For two hours she had been waiting. Then when Pepin came soft-footing it through the tower corridors, with news that Edward sought the Lady Ermingarde instead of herself, she had demanded proof. Well, the proof was here, beyond this blue door. Only listen, Pepin bade her. Her hands crept to her ears. Her eyes were dark pools in a colorless face. “I can’t! I can’t! If it should be true—“

Pepin licked his lips. “It is true!”

Slowly her hands came down, and she leaned her bloodless face against the Oaken paneling of the chamber door. For several moments she stood there, frozen. The hoarse sobbings and the occasional cry that reached her ears convinced her, at last.

Joan of Kent shuddered, and drew away. Her love for Edward was a bitterness in her middle. Though she was aware that love was a casual thing in her day, she had fancied that the desire that united them had something apart from the body in it. It was spiritual, as well. Now to find her love like this—satisfying himself with another woman—was unbelievable.

“I’ll speak to the king before he goes to his chamber,” she whispered. “I’ll ask permission to go back to Kent. And—and if he wants me to marry, I will”

Pepin held his breath, aware that what had been begun in malice and jealousy was bolting like a runaway horse.

And yet, riding above his pall of fear was a sharp stab of triumph. Edward, the Black Prince, who had everything his heart desired, would lose the one thing he wanted most, because of him. His triumph was as heady as the wines of Champagne and he savored it again and again outside the blue door.

Joan sobbed harshly and turned to step out of Edward’s life.

At first, Edward did not believe the news that Pepin brought him in the morning. He was in the courtyard, watching the knights mounting to ride to the tilting barrier for the second day of the tournament when Pepin blurted out his news.

“Joan has gone from Windsor?” he asked. “But why? Why?”

“It seems she discovered you were with the Lady Ermingarde,” said Pepin. He was very bland as he went on, “There are two blue doors in the Devil’s Tower, apparently. You chose the wrong one. In shame and anger she went to the king, who promised to make her the countess of Kent, and offered her marriage to a nobleman if she’d give you up and—”

Pepin was not prepared for the hands that caught his blue gipon. He felt himself lifted off his feet and swung. Blue eyes blazed madly into his.

“You lie. Say you lie, Pepin!”

“Before God—no! She’s gone back to Kent. Ask for yourself!”

Edward felt the rage ooze from his pores with the sweat that beaded his forehead. It could be, this monstrous thing that Pepin suggested! He knew his father well enough for that. And yet this was so sudden, after yesterday, when the king had as good as promised he’d be married to the fair maid upon his return from France! The suspicion remained in him that something was amiss.

“So Joan knows about the Lady Ermingarde?” he asked slyly.

Pepin shrugged. “What difference if she knows? Though who could have told her, I know not!”

“How did you know, Pepin?”

There was madness in the Black Prince. His hand went out and closed on the folds of the Pepin’s clothing. “How, Pepin? How? Unless you yourself sent me to her as a jest, eh? A joke on your old friend?”

“Edward! I—“

He could read the truth in the frightened black eyes that stared back at him. His left hand came up, to slap back and forth across the Chambroix cheeks.

“You foul slug! So it was your doing, was it? I was to meet Joan elsewhere! Your lying tongue sent me to the blue door Ah—of course! Then you ran to Joan and told her all about it, and she believed the things you said!”

It was close enough to the truth. Pepin writhed, but he was no match in strength for young Edward. The prince lifted him and threw him away as he would a piece of garbage.

“Before God,” shouted a raging Edward, “I ought to kill you as you lie there! Instead, I’ll ride to Kent and face Joan and beg her understanding!”

A mounted man cried out and waved as he spurred his black mare across the cobbles. Edward scowled blackly at him, waving sullenly in return. He had met the man some time yesterday, during the jousting or the feasting. His name was Sir Thomas Holland. With his eyes he followed the mare until she disappeared out the gate. What took young Holland away from the tournament in such a mad hurry? A wry smile twisted his lips as he ran for the tower door. Well, he himself would be riding within the hour, bound for Kent, and Joan.

The king was in a tester bed, propped up with silken pillows.

“You’ll not ride today, Edward,” he told the prince. “As you see, I’m sick of a mild fever. You’ll take my place at the tourney in the royal box!”

“But, Joan—“

The king waved a hand. “Joan can wait. God’s blood. Am I king or serving-man? You’ll be with your mother and your brothers today, while I rest. Is it understood?”

There was a sick emptiness in the Black Prince, a hollow anticipation of disaster. Cold reason told him that the delay of twenty hours would make little difference. His spirit writhed against the bonds that held him, but he could only kneel and mutter his sullen acquiescence.

At the door, he paused. “One favor at least, sire!”

“Eh? A favor?”

“Pepin de Chambroix. Send him back to France. Get rid of him. I never want to set eyes on him again.”

The king nibbled at his lower lip, frowning. “His father is our ally in the coming invasion of France. It would not do to make an enemy of him at this time. Forget your grievances, Edward. Make friends with him. Remember, you have a duty as a prince of the realm; you must subdue your dislikes if by humoring them you interfere with the welfare of the country.”

“At least, send him away from Windsor.”

“That can be arranged. I’ll give him a post of honor and let him help arrange our sailing from the Cinque Ports.”

Even in that, Pepin would make a profit, Edward thought wryly.

The jousting was endless during the morning; and the swordplay between dismounted knights in the afternoon, that he would delight in ordinarily, added to the bitterness in Edward. He was courteous to his mother the queen and to her court ladies, and to the winners that came forward to be given the royal accolade for victory, but it was a surface politeness. Inwardly he seethed in frustrated fury and anxiety.

Careful questioning brought out the fact that Joan of Kent had held an audience with the king a little before midnight, and secured permission to ride with an escort at one to Dover Castle. She had been white-faced and curiously lifeless. Her eyes had been red with recent tears. The gaiety that usually laughed from her red lips was gone, replaced by a bitter smile.

“If I’m any judge of a woman,” smiled the Countess of Salisbury, “she’s been disappointed in love!” And her lovely eyes assured the prince that if ever he were in such a strait, she’d be only too happy to solace him.

Edward brooded at her, seeing the fleshy shoulders she displayed in the modishly low bodice of her particolored gown. All he wanted was Joan, and she was in Kent while he sat here under a silk awning watching a tournament he was forbidden to enter. . . .

When the lengthening shadows crept across the field so that the tent pennons made rippling shadows on the grass, Edward extended his arm to his mother and escorted her from the stands and across the lawn. Impatience was a writhing fury inside him that he had to fight with every ounce of will. Kent was far away, and if the king were sick this evening, he would have to take his place on the dais. By the Trinity! If only he could be an ordinary noble,

instead of an heir to the throne with all its attendant duties. Just once to be able to go where he willed, and wed whom he chose!

With relief, he found his father dressed and in a good mood.

“Leave Windsor now? With night coming on? Why not wait until morning?” he asked, lifting an enameled goblet filled with white Flemish wine. Over the beveled rim his eyes were fathomless. “Does Joan mean so much to you, then?”

“She means my life,” Edward said simply. The king brooded at the wine, lips pursed. “Kent lies many miles away. If you ride now, and gallop all the night, you may be at Dover Castle by noontime. Perhaps this is as it should be. Let fate decide the winner!”

The Black Prince wondered, for it was not like his father to talk in riddles. But the frenzy of frustration was so strong in him it blinded him to every consideration but one. Mount and ride! Gallop hard and gallop fast! Kent and its dense woodlands lay an entire night distant.

He ate hurriedly in the kitchen of roast squab, and drank from a leathern jack of milk. Then, clad in leather chausses and velvet gipon, with a wooden mantle over his shoulders and a bag-cap on his head, he ran into the courtyard, swung up onto the bay stallion, and kicked him into a run for the gate.

Edward could hear the music first, a blend of flute and flagiolet, lute and harp. Church music, coming from the stone, chapel adjacent to the royal chambers. The horse stumbled from weariness, but his guiding hands reined it up. Dover Castle loomed ahead, its freestone towers bold against the sky.

The music should have warned him, but his mind was too full of Joan and the memory of her lips under his, and the softness of her flesh where his palms had stroked it.

He rode unheeding across the drawbridge and into the open bailey.

He swung down onto the cobbles as a page ran to clutch the reins.

“You’re late, Your Highness,” the boy babbled.

Edward was discovering that the long night ride had dulled his wits. “Late? For what?”

“The wedding. Lady Joan is being married to Sir Thomas Holland even now. If you hurry, you can see them coming back down the aisle! The ceremony itself is over. All that remains is the sawdust throwing and the revels!”

the conquering prince gardner f fox ebook pulp paperback novel kurt brugel kindle gardner francis fox men's adventure library sword and sorcery erotica sleaze