Friday, October 18, 2013

"The Disinherited" -- Excerpt 3

On October 1, I released "The Disinherited," a novella set in the Languedoc during the Albigensian crusades. It is one of my ten Tales of Chivalry, and part of the sub-series "Tales from the Languedoc." It is, however, a stand-alone novel that can be read without reference to the other books in the series, although some characters overlap.

Here is a third excerpt:

Lady Celiste directed her attention to Gerard with a flush of eagerness, but her expectations for a dashing knight-errant were instantly disappointed. Gerard was too old, too weathered, and too poor to fulfill her fantasies. As quickly as her interest had flared, it fizzled out. She politely held out her hand for Gerard to kiss and declared with pointed distance, “We are very grateful for the service you rendered our beloved aunt. You can be assured of our gratitude.”
          Gerard’s eyebrows twitched at the contrast between her youth and her tone. Had he been younger, he might have thought her beauty entitled her to so much hauteur, or he might not have noticed it at all in his infatuation. As it was, he found her lofty arrogance a tarnish to her beauty.
          Already Lady Celiste had transferred her attention to Father Florio, who was watching her with benignly critical eyes. “You must be Father Florio. In the last three years Aunt Guilemette has not written a single letter in which she has not praised you, Father. What a pleasure it is to welcome you at last under my humble roof.”
          The word “humble” brought another raised eyebrow from Gerard, who at once glanced around the room, taking in the luxurious furnishings, the hooded fireplace and ribbed vaulting―all plastered and painted exquisitely. As he lowered his gaze his eyes met those of the waiting woman, and he had the uncomfortable feeling she could read his thoughts.
          Lady Celiste had taken Father Florio’s hand between her own, and then with an elegant gesture of her left hand she indicated they should sit themselves in the window seat. “Julienne!” she remem­bered to call over her shoulder to the waiting woman. “See to Sir―” She could not remember his name. “The knight. He can get something to eat in the kitchens and sleep in the squire’s chamber. My husband isn’t due back for another fortnight. Tomorrow I can see about finding him something suitable for his troubles.”
          “My lady.” Julienne dipped a courtesy to her mistress, and then with a forced smile indicated the doorway to Gerard.
          Gerard did not respond at first. He had, despite his notably ignominious career, rarely been treated so contemptuously. He noticed that Father Florio stiffened and even Guilemette seemed on the brink of protesting, but Lady Celiste was helping her up into the window seat and chattering about something. Father Florio looked back at Gerard, and his expression was both apologetic and promising. “I will speak to the Lady Celiste―” he started.
          “Don’t bother!” Gerard snapped, and he was gone.
He clattered down the stairs without waiting for the waiting woman. He descended past the audience chamber down to the ground floor. He strode across the armory, on whose naked walls crossbows, lances, and halberds hung. He ignored the rows of saddles, the shelves with helms, and the quarrels stacked in bundles, and strode purposefully into the cellar under the hall. Here he found himself in a barrel-vaulted chamber with unglazed tiles, and directly beside him was the large, square cistern. Beyond the cistern was a smaller, narrower brick basin built over a cavern in which a fire could be built, and then a drain led from this basin into a pool. It was dry and empty at the moment, but the waiting woman had managed to catch up with him at last, and Gerard announced to her, pointing to the pool: “I want a hot bath. Can you see to that or shall I lay the fire myself?”
          “We will get one of the scullery boys to heat the water for you,” she responded to his apparent anger with stiff dignity.
          “Good.” He continued straight through the wine cellar, past the smoke and salt rooms, into the pantry, and then into the kitchens. In pantry and kitchen, astonished assistant cooks and scullery boys looked up and gaped at this strange knight who had burst in among them. The main meal of the day was over. One boy was busy separating the leftovers into basins (one for reuse, one for the poor, and one for the dogs), while two others were busy washing the plates and cutlery from the high table in a deep stone basin. A cook was gutting and decapitating pike, apparently in preparation for some future meal, and an assistant was tossing bones and other ingredients into a steaming pot over the fire, evidently a soup of some sort.
          Gerard’s eyes professionally scanned the shelves and tables, locating a haunch of pork. Pointing, he said to Julienne, “I’ll have some of that pork, fresh bread, and some of your Abbey de Valmagne rosé―I saw some casks of it as I passed through.”
          Then he returned to the pantry as Julienne quietly gave the orders to make up a platter of pork, bread―and the Valmagne―for the visitor. She also gave instruc­tions to prepare a hot bath. When she caught up with the knight, she was appalled to find he had paused at the foot of the stairway leading up to the hall overhead and taken a goblet from the tray of washed objects waiting to be returned to their shelf. It was a rare gold goblet inlaid with jewels, and he was turning it around in his hand, studying it with an intensity that suggested he was apprais­ing its worth.
          The suppressed amusement with which she had followed him up to now dissipated instantly. In a sharp, piercing voice she called, “Put that back where you found it, sir! You have been promised payment and need not sink to stealing.”
          Gerard swung around on her, all the pent-up anger of the last hour smoldering in his face. “I don’t stoop to petty thievery. If I want something, I smash the place down and take the lot!” With a flick of his wrist he sent the goblet hurling through the air towards her. She gasped in surprise and flung out her hands to prevent it from smashing to the flagstone floor.
          “My God!” she exclaimed as she caught the precious goblet. “Where did a barbarian like you learn the langue d’oc so well?”
          “Don’t kid yourself that we’re any better than they are! If the Pope had offered us all the lands we could grab north of the Loire, we’d have been just as eager and just as thorough.”
          He left her gasping for an answer and started pounding up the spiral stairs. She had no choice but to follow him, carefully replacing the goblet on the tray as she passed.

 


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