Heart of Honor

By: Alexa Aston

(Knights of Honor Book 5)


Prologue





Windsor Castle—August 1369

“I simply do not understand why you are not betrothed, Alys. You are already ten and two. Why, I have been betrothed to Christopher since I was seven years of age.”

Alys de Montfort took a deep breath and continued grinding the herbs in front of her. This new girl who’d only been present at the royal court for three weeks might drive her to madness.

Especially if Alys had to listen to her speak about this Christopher person. Again.

“A girl who is not betrothed by the time she arrives at court must find herself a future husband soon after her arrival or be subject to gossip,” Richessa continued. “’Tis her parents’ responsibility as members of the nobility to ensure the most advantageous match.” She sighed. “And I could not be more pleased to wed Christopher Emory when the time comes. He is so handsome and well spoken. Father says it’s a match that will benefit both the Giffard and Emory families.”

Aggravated, Alys pushed harder with her pestle, crushing the rosemary leaves lying in the wooden mortar until they were finely ground.

Yet she knew her mother would urge her to be gracious in such a trying situation, so she said, “You are fortunate, Richessa, to find yourself betrothed to such an outstanding choice.”

The younger girl set her pestle down and gazed at Alys earnestly. “You should demand that your father take care of the matter for you. He is being remiss in his duties.”

She stifled the laughter that threatened to bubble up at the thought of Geoffrey de Montfort being negligent. Honor and respect were woven tightly into his character, as was the deep love he had for his wife and children. Her father was the best man she knew—and Alys had met hundreds of them during her time spent at the various royal palaces throughout England.

“I can take care of myself,” she assured her new acquaintance. “Besides, my parents are close with the king and queen. They have entrusted Queen Philippa to find my betrothed for me.”

Richessa’s eyes widened in surprise. “I am sorry. I did not know.”

“Talk less—and listen more. You will learn much if you do.”

Hurt filled the girl’s face as tears welled in her eyes.

A pang of guilt struck Alys. She tried to repair the damage she had caused by softening her tone. “I apologize, Richessa. I did not mean to tread upon your feelings. I merely offer advice to you since I have been at court longer.”

“How many years have you been in service to the queen?”

“Five years now,” Alys replied. “The king and queen came to my family’s home on summer progress a few times. The queen asked my parents if I could foster with her, so my father brought me to London at her request.” She thought a moment. “’Twas probably best to separate me from my twin brother. Ancel fosters with the Earl of Winterbourne, an hour’s ride from my home of Kinwick. Being apart will allow us to forge our own identities.”

Richessa’s brows knit together. “What does that even mean?”

She saw true puzzlement on the young girl’s face. Oh, Richessa Giffard would be a good wife to this all-knowing Christopher Emory. She would do everything her husband asked and let him do her thinking for her—which was the exact opposite of who Alys had come to be. Her mother, Merryn, had raised Alys to be a strong woman. When she did wed, her husband would soon find out his new wife had opinions and a purpose in life—if he did not already know beforehand.

Alys grew wistful. She missed her mother so much. While she realized fostering with the queen was a unique opportunity that few shared, she wished that she could be back home at Kinwick. Each time she returned for Christmas or a summer visit, Merryn de Montfort taught her more about herbs and remedies. As Alys’ knowledge grew under her mother’s tutelage, so had her reputation at the royal court. Even the king and queen requested she prepare powders for them when they suffered from a headache or loose bowels. Courtiers came to her seeking remedies for everything from sprained joints and queasy bellies to toothaches and bruises. She had even delivered a few babes when a midwife couldn’t be located quickly enough.