Bishop Obert summoned the second of the knights on the
list he’d prepared those months before to benefit
from the king’s generosity to meet with him. He carried
the papers with him that would turn the knight into baron
and make a penniless bastard into a rich lord—if he
could take the lands granted him from the Saxon rebels who
still held them.
Obert paced along the length of the table waiting for Brice
Fitzwilliam, bastard knight from Brittany, to arrive. If
he was to make it back to London before the king’s
coronation, he must leave on the morrow and this was his
last duty here in Taerford. Regardless of the winter closing
in around them, regardless of the yet-unsettled lands and
regardless of his own wants or needs, he was Duke William’s
loyal servant. After God, of course, he mused as he turned
towards the group of men now approaching.
As seemed to be their custom, the new lord of Taerford,
Giles Fitzhenry, walked side-by-side with the man for whom
Obert waited. Thinking back to his weeks here, he rarely
saw one without the other, whether in the hall or yards,
in any task needed to be done here in Taerford. They strode
in, followed by others of Giles’ men, fresh from practicing
their fighting skills in the yard. They became quieter with
every step closer and bowed as one to him.
“My lord,” he said to Giles first, and then,
wishing to proceed with his task, he turned to the other.
“My lord,” he said as he nodded to Fitzwilliam.
The implications were not lost on anyone listening and
the hall grew silent as they waited on his words. The surprise
filled the warrior’s face until he laughed aloud with
joy. If it was inappropriate, Obert could understand it—as
one bastard pleased by the success of another who share
his status. The ripples of cheering and shouting ebbed quickly
as the entire hall watched and waited on the declaration.
Obert motioned the knight forward to kneel in front of
him. Although this should be more ceremonial and formal,
and before the duke himself, the dangers of the times and
place gave way to expediency. Lord Giles stood, once more,
at his friend’s side, placing his hand on Brice’s
shoulder and smiling as Obert continued.
“In the Duke’s name, I declare you Brice Fitzwilliam,
now Baron and Lord of Thaxted, and vassal to the Duke himself,”
Obert intoned. The pledging of loyalty directly to the duke,
who was soon to be king, ensured a network of warriors who
owed their lands and titles and wealth to only him, with
no other liege lords between them. Obert could not fight
the smile that threatened, for it had been his idea to do
so. “As such, you have the right to lay claim to all
the lands, the livestock, the villeins and other properties
owned or held by the traitor Eoforwic of Thaxted before
Although the Normans and Bretons present cheered, the peasants
who’d lived on this land and claimed Saxon heritage
did not. He understood that the victors in any engagement
deserved everything they fought so hard to gain, but the
compassionate part of him also understood the shame of being
the defeated. However, this day belonged to the victorious
Breton knight before him.
“The Duke declares that you should marry the daughter
of Eoforwic, if possible, or seek another appropriate bride
from the surrounding lands and loyal vassals if not.”
Obert handed the new lord the package of folded parchments
which carried the grant of lands and titles. Holding out
his hands, he waited for Brice to offer his pledge. In a
deep voice that shook from the power of this promise, Brice
repeated the words as Obert’s clerk whispered them.
“By the Lord before whom I, Brice Fitzwilliam, now
of Thaxted, swear this oath and in the name of all that
is holy, I will pledge to William of Normandy, Duke and
now King of all England, to be true and faithful, and to
love all which he loves and to shun all which he shuns,
according to the laws of God and the order of the world.
I swear that I will not ever, with will or action, through
word or deed or omission, do anything which is unpleasing
to him, on condition that he will hold to me as I shall
deserve it, and that he will perform everything as it was
in our agreement when I first submitted myself to him and
his mercy and chose his will over mine. I offer this
unconditionally, with no expectations other than his faith
and favor as my liege lord.”
Obert raised his voice so that all could hear.
“I, Obert of Caen, speaking in the name and with
the authority of William, Duke of Normandy and King of England,
do accept this oath of fealty as sworn here before these
witnesses and before God and do promise as that William,
as lord and king, will protect and defend the person and
properties of Brice Fitzwilliam of Thaxted who here pledges
on his honor that he will be ruled by the king’s will
and his word. In the king’s name, I agree to the promises
contained herein this oath unconditionally, with no expectations
other than his faith and service as loyal vassal to the
Obert allowed the words to echo through the hall and then
released the new lord of Thaxted to stand before him. “To
Lord Thaxted,” he called out. “Thaxted!”
The men joined in his cheer then, stamping their feet and
clapping their hands and he permitted it to go on for several
minutes. Lord Giles pounded his friend on the back and then
pulled him into a hug that spoke of years of toil and triumph
together. Only when Obert spied Lady Fayth entering the
hall did he realize he must speak to Brice about the woman
involved. As he watched the expression on the lady’s
face change several times as she approached and heard the
news of Brice’s grant, he knew that the weaker sex
had a way of making things difficult for the men chosen
or designated to oversee them as lords or husbands.
Obert noticed the hesitation in the lady’s greeting
and in her congratulatory words even if no one else did.
Ah, the soft feelings of women did ever make things more
difficult for men. As Lord Giles took her hand and stood
by her side, Obert comprehended the biggest difference between
the two knights now made lords by their king.
Lord Giles had not had to hunt for his wife once he’d
fought his way to his lands.
He could not say the same for Lord Brice.
The ground beneath her feet began to shake and Gillian
searched for a cause. ‘Twas a fair day considering
that winter still claimed the land, but no clouds marred
the sky’s bright blue expanse. Looking up, she could
see no sign of a coming storm that would cause the thunderous
noise that covered the area.
Pushing her hood back, Gillian stepped into the road and
glanced both ahead and behind. With only a moment to spare,
she realized the cause for such a clamor and jumped back
into the tangle of brush and bush at the road’s edge.
With a prayer of thanks offered that she’d stolen
a dark brown cloak on her escape, she tugged it around her
and lay still as the large group of mounted knights and
warriors thundered past her hiding place. When they pulled
up a short distance from where she lay motionless and silent,
she dared not even breathe for the fear of being detected
and captured by these unknown marauders.
Too far away to hear and too low to understand, their words
were a jumble of Norman French and some English as well.
Keeping her face down, Gillian waited for them to move on
their way. When she heard the sounds of men dismounting
and walking along the road, her body began to tremble. Being
caught out alone, during these dangerous times, was an invitation
to death or worse and something Gillian had taken pains
Her decision to leave her home and flee to the convent
was not made in haste or without considering the consequences,
but her alternatives were limited and not attractive—the
marriage her brother Oremund had arranged to a poxed old
man or one the invading duke had made to a vicious Norman
warrior on his way to destroy all she held dear. All she
could do was stay out of sight and pray this troop of soldiers
would move on and her quest to reach the convent would continue.
Gillian waited as the men discussed something and held
her breath once more trying not to gain their attention
as their voices grew nearer to the place where she hid.
She recognized the name of her home and her brother’s
as well. If only they would speak in her tongue or at the
least speak slower so that she could try to understand more
of their words!
After a few seemingly-endless minutes, the men began to
walk away from her, calling out to the others that they
saw nothing. She raised her head with care and as slowly
as she could and watched their retreat. But, one knight
remained in the road not more than several yards from where
she lay. Instead of following the others, he reached up
and tugged at his helm, pulling it free and tucking it under
his arm as he turned.
The gasp escaped before she could stop it.
He was tall and muscular and the most attractive man she’d
ever beheld, even considering her cousin who was accounted
to be every woman’s dream. He did not wear his blond
hair in the short, shorn Norman-style; instead it hung loosely
around his face. She could not tell the color of his eyes
at this distance but his face was all masculine angles and
intriguing in spite of his being a Norman.
A Norman! And a Norman in full battle armor.
Holy Mother of God, protect her!
And he was staring into the trees in her direction....
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