“M’lady.” A knight from her husband’s entourage assisted Elena in dismounting from her horse. She ignored the leer he was giving her.
They’d ridden at a leisurely pace that morning, and had only just arrived. The tournament was in full swing, but she knew none of the actual jousts would have started yet. Not without her and her despicable husband present.
“Thank you,” she said, extricating her hand from eager knight’s grasp.
Her ladies quickly stood around her, six in all. They proved to be a perfect barrier for her, as her husband apparently detested women. She suppressed the urge to roll her eyes and snort as he walked over to them.
“I shall see you at our place for the joust, soon.” He stressed his last word, letting her know he wouldn’t tolerate her tardiness. God forbid she should embarrass him in front of his people by not obeying his orders. She nodded stoically to him, not letting him start her knees shaking which she was sure he would enjoy. He turned from her without another word. How long would she be able to endure such a horrific match? She hadn’t had much choice in the marriage, actually none at all. Frowning she turned to her ladies.
“Let us have a look at the goods.” She smiled at their eager nods. She’d been known in the past to purchase them each a little token.
“Beautiful ladies, won’t you come over? Let me show you these elegant fabrics,” a merchant called to them.
She nodded and headed in his direction. The crowd separated like the Red Sea as Elena and her entourage passed. After being married to Lord Gloucester for three years, she still wasn’t used to the amount of respect and worship she received from the people. Perhaps they were in awe of her survival of such a man.
Oh, how she wished she could return to Ireland, her family, her friends. One in particular…
“M’lady, may I be so bold as to say your gold brocade gown brings a sparkle to your green eyes?” the merchant said.
“Thank you, kind merchant. Might you have a fabric of similar coloring, mayhap with some flowers embroidered within it?”
“I believe we do, m’lady. While I fetch it, would you care to peruse the scarves? Perhaps find one for a handsome knight?” He wiggled his eyebrows at her, and Elena and her ladies all feigned shock, gasping and covering their mouths.
“Sir, you are too bold, now go and fetch my fabric.” She softened her rebuke by smiling at him genuinely. His soft laughter could be heard behind his trailing figure.
If only she did have a handsome knight she could give a token to. All of her husband’s men were either overly eager for her affections, making it quite clear which affections they wanted, or they were just as horrid as her husband. Hurling vulgar offenses at Elena and her ladies was one of their favorite after dinner delights. She always insisted on leaving at that time, not wanting to see how far they would try to take their churlish behavior.
Elena’s nerves prickled. Someone was watching her, she was sure of it. Turning to look through the crowd, she spotted a knight’s gaze fixed on her. But she wasn’t repulsed as she normally was with gaping knights; there was something familiar about his black wavy hair. It was his eyes that gave him away. She only knew one man with eyes as powerful as his. Bright blue by the irises, then slowly fading into a brilliant green. Flecks of gold sprinkled throughout.
“Michael…” she whispered, smiling in his direction. Before he could come her way, he was blocked by the crowd. She searched the sea of faces for a moment, but he was lost to her.
“Ladies, I am indeed in need of a scarf for a noble knight.”
Elena’s blood raced through her veins. She felt giddy, overjoyed. How had he made it here? How had he known? Would he be participating in the joust? The sword fight? Oh, how she wished he was. She wanted him to win. Michael was an excellent warrior from what she remembered. But there were many skilled knights in attendance. A number of them her husband’s own knights, fighting for the charge of Captain of the Guard at Gloucester castle.
If Michael were to win –
She didn’t let her mind get away with her. It would be better not to get herself worked up. If he weren’t to succeed she would surely plummet into despair. If she thought of him winning, her husband would pick up on it and have him banished from the tournament. That couldn’t happen, Michael could be her savior from a lifetime of unhappiness.
Grabbing a sheer gold scarf from the pile, she wrapped it around her neck. Elena let each of her ladies pick a scarf, their girlish antics took her mind from Michael for the moment.
The merchant returned with a bolt of the most beautiful brocade fabric. The background was a lovely shade of gold, and maroon roses, with green vines were embroidered throughout.
“It’s lovely, sir, I will take it.”
After she paid for her purchases, Elena turned to one of her ladies maids. “Charlotte, please make sure this fabric gets to the tent.”
Elena needed to walk around; she needed to see if she could catch another glimpse of her childhood love.
A strolling minstrel stopped them in their path and began a lively tune. Elena stood smiling, tapping her foot to the rhythm as her ladies danced a little to the music. Furtive glances around the crowd rewarded her with no sight of Michael. Although, several other oglers surreptitiously conveyed they would be more than willing to take his place.
Disgusted by the vast amount of unwanted amorous attention she was getting. Elena clapped her hands, turning from the minstrel, she walked towards the list fields. She would just have to sit and wait until the joust began. Besides, tournaments were only entertaining to an extent. Elena couldn’t stand when knights got hurt. She also couldn’t fathom why having animals fight each other seemed to be a sport. She always felt sorry for the poor things. The food, music, laughter and merchants good’s were exciting.
Settling herself into her chair, she waited, her ladies fanning the heat of the sun from her. Her husband sat to her left, but virtually ignored her, which she was more than thankful for. She wondered how fabulous it would be when Michael approached her. Would she be able to hide her excitement? Keep his familiarity to herself?
Elena didn’t have to wait long to get the answers to her questions. The subject of her thoughts was coming towards her at that moment. He sat straight and tall on his destrier as he approached. He held his helm in one arm the other deftly holding the reins. His oddly colored seductive eyes were locked with hers. She licked her lips nervously willing herself to calm down, lest she give away her excitement.
Fear gripped her spine as she realized she’d been openly gaping at Michael. She glanced to her husband to make sure he wasn’t paying attention. Thankfully, he was also staring at the fascinating knight that approached.
“My lord,” Michael said, bowing to Gloucester.
His Irish accent caressed her very soul. She could listen to him speak all day. Usually surrounded by English, even growing up, his burr was a tease to the heart. Then he was looking at her, his hand held out for hers. Without thinking, she placed her hand on his. Even with his chain link mufflers covering, she could feel the warmth emanating through.
Elena’s face grew hot, as she remembered several timid, innocent touches like this they’d shared in the past. How she longed to let him embrace her, kiss her.
“My lady.” Those two simple words stroked along her insides, curling up and settling in the pit of her stomach. He leaned down and placed his soft lips against her hand. His breath was heated, sensual, and then the feather light kiss was over. The skin of her hand tingled where his lips had been.
“Sir Devereux,” she said as serenely as she could, even though she really wanted to climb the railing, jump into his arms, and let him carry her away on his massive black horse. His blue-green eyes twinkled, and his lips curved slightly in the corners. Could he read her thoughts?
“I’d be honored if your ladyship would be so kind as to bestow a token on this noble knight?”
Elena bit the inside of her cheek to keep from shouting, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Instead she smiled at Michael. Standing, she pulled the gold scarf from her neck, the one she’d purchased just for him.
She tied it the tip of his lance, and with her eyes, hoped she conveyed her hopes and well wishes for him. He bowed to her, before making his way to the lists. She sat down, her gaze glued to his retreating form.
Jousts today, swords tomorrow. The next two days would determine her future.
Elena perched on the end of her chair, muscles clenched, knuckles white and teeth grinding throughout the jousting tournament. Michael continued to be undefeated. But he had to tire soon didn’t he?
She frowned. He didn’t look tired. He looked—exhilarated. How was that possible? He’d been jousting with knights for the better part of two hours.
At long last he defeated all fourteen knights. Elena sighed heavily. After hours of sitting stiffly, she would need a hot bath.
Gloucester nodded to her as Michael approached. She bristled inside, how she hated needing his permission to do anything. She well understood the duties of a lady to her noble husband, and had it been any other man she wouldn’t have minded. But this cruel husband of hers was more than she could take.
“My lord, my lady,” Michael said, bowing low. When he was again sitting straight he smiled broadly.
Elena couldn’t help returning his infectious smile. He was the most handsome man she’d ever seen. Even better was his personal nature. She knew him to be strong and fierce, but he was also chivalrous, especially with her. How she wished she didn’t have to be so formal in giving him a prize for such an awesome feat, but if she were to stray from what her husband had told her to say, not only would she be punished but so would Michael.
“Sir Devereux, we are most proud that you’ve competed fairly and shown your superior skill this afternoon. We bestow on you today this diamond. We wish you luck tomorrow in the sword fighting. The prize for winning tomorrow’s feat will gain you a position within Gloucester as Captain of the Guard.” And much, much more.
***All photos accompanying posts are either owned by the author of said post or are in the public domain -- NOT the property of History Undressed. If you'd like to obtain permission to use a picture from a post, please contact the author of the post.***