Roberta Gellis


by Roberta Gellis
Ellora's Cave
ISBN 9781419931703

Joanna was sixteen years old, actually a little overripe for marriage, when war broke out between King John and Prince Llewelyn. Because Ian had feudal obligations to both parties and could not himself serve one without “betraying” the other, it seemed reasonable that Joanna be married and her husband lead the vassals Ian owed to serve King John. Joanna said she did not care whom her parents chose to be her husband. She trusted them to chose wisely for her. They chose Geoffrey FitzWilliam, a young man she had known from childhood, but never thought of in the sense of husband. Joanna was pleased. She had seen how dreadfully her mother suffered because she loved her husbands and was resolved not to fall into that trap. But when Geoffrey changed from playfellow to lover, Joanna could not deny her desire.

Joanna did not fear the great responsibility of managing the huge Roselynde estate nor of supplying for war the army Geoffrey was leading. She only feared looking into her mirror and seeing the terror-haunted eyes that her mother displayed when her husband was away fighting. Joanna swore she would not tumble into love.
Geoffrey had been cruelly mistreated by a very beautiful woman when he was a child. He did not trust beautiful women, and his betrothed bride was not only beautiful but very rich. Her body responded to his when he caressed her and yet he knew she was holding back, hiding something. Why did she never say, “I love you”?
Although both had their doubts, the betrothal held and Joanna and Geoffrey were married. All seemed well, but Joanna was fighting panic by lying to herself and Geoffrey was not happy because he knew something was missing from his marriage. Then came the battle of Bouvines in which Geoffrey went missing and Joanna could lie to herself no longer.

Excerpt from JOANNA

Lady Alinor bit her lip and stared upward at her daughter, who was standing before her. Any mother would have been proud of such a daughter. Lady Joanna, at fifteen, was exceptionally beautiful; her flaming hair was, of course, braided and hidden quite properly under a wimple, but its color could be assumed from the fine, bright red brows that arched over her large gray eyes and from the dark red lashes, which were thick and long. Alinor was distracted momentarily from her main purpose by thinking how fortunate Joanna was. Usually red-haired people had pale, scanty eyelashes, which made their eyes seem inflamed rather than lending beauty to them.

The rest of the face was perfectly in harmony; oval, with a fine nose and a pretty mouth, a short, well-shaped upper lip and a full sensuous lower. In more than her beauty, Joanna was an ideal daughter. She was intelligent and capable, well-able to operate Roselynde Keep, control the servants and men-at-arms, do the accounts, even sit and give justice when necessary. To top all those virtues, she was good-humored, gentle, and biddable. Indeed, any mother would have been proud of such a daughter--any mother except Lady Alinor, who was tempestuous, passionate, and authoritarian.

"Joanna," Alinor said, trying earnestly to keep her voice gentle,"I ask again who you wish to marry. There are men and men and men. Between the times you have been at court, the times you have traveled with us, and the times there have been visitors to this keep, you have met nearly all of those suitable to your rank and dowry. Do you mean to say there is not one among them all that you like?"

"I like them all--nearly all. Mother. I say again also that I will marry any man you choose for me."

Alinor impatiently closed her eyes and swallowed. Shrieking at Joanna never did the slightest good. The large gray eyes would open wide. Color would stain the delicate white skin. And that was all. The pretty mouth would remain closed. The eyes would show neither fear nor anger. Joanna could be angry; Alinor had heard her flay a servant with her tongue and had seen her lay on with a whip also, but Joanna never quarreled with her mother.

"But surely," Alinor suggested quietly, having regained control of her own temper,"you like some better than others."

"Yes--" The word was drawn out doubtfully."But usually that is because I know them better. I like people I know well. I am more comfortable with them."

"Joanna," Alinor began for the third time."Sit down. Did you understand what Ian told you last night?"

"Of course I understood it, Mother. It is quite mad, though. How can the king or Lord Llewelyn be angry at Ian because he cannot split himself in half?" The misty gray of Joanna's eyes brightened and her soft mouth curved upward. She had a very ticklish sense of humor."After all, whether he split himself lengthwise--sending one arm and one leg to each--or split himself crosswise--arms to one and legs to the other--he would not be much use that way."

"Joanna!" Alinor exclaimed, and then broke into laughter herself.

That was how her quarrels with Joanna usually ended. Joanna would make her laugh, and the matter would be put aside to resolve itself with time. Simon, Alinor thought, with a sudden sharp pang at heart. Simon was Joanna's father; he had been Alinor's first husband, many years older than she, and he had managed her in much the same way. Usually the thought of Simon would soften Alinor completely. Usually whenever Joanna recalled Simon to her mother's mind, Joanna's cause was won. This time, however, it did not work. Alinor had loved Simon with a hot and consuming passion. She had wheedled and connived so that she could follow him all the way to the Holy Land, accompanying King Richard's wife and sister on the Crusade. Joanna had been named after Richard's sister, who had been godmother to Alinor's first child. And Simon had been as passionately in love with his wife as she was with him.

Two strong and determined natures, two violently passionate people, could not produce a milksop, Alinor thought. In fact, she knew Joanna was not a milksop. Outwardly she was more placid than her mother, but she could love fiercely--as she did that damned dog. Alinor glanced briefly across to the hearth where something that looked like a shaggy gray pony lay curled before the fire. Instantly, a bedraggled and unkempt tail, thick as Alinor's wrist, began to thump the ground. Alinor laughed again and looked away. To look at Brian too long generally induced him to rush over and try to sit in your lap. Sturdy as she was, Alinor did not relish nearly fifteen stones' weight of dog climbing on her.

It was very hard not to love Brian, but Alinor had contended that anything that size must be banished to the kennel. Joanna did not argue; she merely went to the kennel with the dog. Alinor reasoned, then pleaded, then whipped her daughter soundly. Joanna returned to the kennel, was whipped again, returned to the kennel--and Brian came to live in the chambers of the keep with his mistress. Suddenly Alinor's eyes returned to the dog. Perhaps there was a clue in Brian to Joanna's preference that Joanna herself did not suspect or would not admit.

"Yes," Alinor said,"you can make me laugh, but it is not really funny at all. I do not know whether you remember, my love, but when Ian married me he gained the enmity of the king. John still does not love him, but a truce has been patched between them by Salisbury. It would be very dangerous for Ian to break that truce by going to serve Lord Llewelyn in Wales. Yet, Ian cannot serve with the king. He is clan brother to Lord Llewelyn--and he loves him."

"I see that. I see what you have decided is best, but … Oh Mother, are you sure there will be war between Llewelyn and the king? Llewelyn has not really done anything to offend John, and he is married to John's daughter."

"Since when is it necessary to do something in order to offend King John?" Alinor asked tartly."It is enough that Llewelyn has gained what John considers too much power." Then she bit her lip."That is not fair. I like Llewelyn and dislike the king, and that was my heart speaking. In truth, even Ian agrees that John is not all wrong this time. Llewelyn has eaten nearly all Wales. There can be little doubt that he will next begin nibbling on the borders of England unless he has a sharp lesson. It is all the more dangerous because he is a good lord. Men are none so unwilling to swear to him instead of to the king."

"Would it be so ill if Llewelyn ruled England?"

"Not ill, just not possible. He has not the right. There are still men of honor in this land who would oppose him--Pembroke, Salisbury, Arundel, Ian, too, no matter how much he loves his clan brother. John has the right to rule England; Llewelyn has not. To a good man right and honor--as I have often told you--have nothing to do with best and easiest. Sometimes, by accident, they coincide; that is all."

"Yet you have persuaded Ian to do what is best and easiest--have you not?"

Alinor's hazel eyes lit with anger."Do you impugn Ian's honor or courage?"

Joanna did not seem to notice the danger signal of green and gold sparks in her mother's eyes. She shook her head."No. I was not thinking of that at all, only how love can make a person--make a person different from what is his nature."

There was a moment's silence while Alinor absorbed what her daughter had said."I suppose that is true," she admitted slowly,"but a true love does not permit bending that love's partner all awry."

"Instead one tears out one's own heart."

Again there was a silence. Alinor studied Joanna's face with a new, shocked understanding. In general, love and marriage had very little to do with each other. Men and women were mated to make political alliances, to increase or join estates, to provide security for a woman, and if a woman was an heiress, to provide a livelihood for her husband. Alinor's grandparents, married against both their wills for political purposes, had fallen deeply and sincerely in love. Alinor had been raised in that atmosphere, for her parents had been drowned when she was two. She had seen the joy with which love can invest everyday life. She had seen the pain also; the quarrels and the tears, the terror her grandmother endured when her grandfather rode out to war. Adventurous by nature, Alinor had thought the pain a small price to pay in exchange for the joy.

It had never occurred to her that Joanna could feel differently. But Joanna was different. She did not lack courage--not in the least. Like her father, she had the strong, deep courage of ultimate endurance. She also had Simon's caution. Whereas Alinor rushed headlong to meet danger, impatient for the conflict and the decision--Joanna waited for trouble to come to her. She never retreated from it, but she did not seek it out either.

She does not wish to permit herself to love, Alinor thought. It was perfectly logical. Joanna had also been raised in a household where love reigned, but perhaps she had seen--or remembered--more of the pain than the joy. She was eight when her father sickened; for more than a year she had watched him die inch by inch and had watched her mother's heart die with him. Then she had lived through the first tempestuous years of Alinor's second marriage. Alinor loved Ian as deeply and perhaps even more passionately than she had loved Simon, but what Joanna had seen was their difficult adjustment to each other and then her mother's constant fear for her stepfather's safety.

Yet it was impossible for Joanna to avoid love, Alinor thought. There was a passion in her as hot as her fiery hair. Alinor's eyes flicked across the room to the dog. Look how easily she had fallen into love for that silly animal and how strong she held to it. And Joanna was no fool. She knew Brian would not live long. Dogs did not, and a dog that size more especially had a short life. The knowledge of grief to come cannot defend the heart. Then there was no reason to wait. Joanna had a strong sense of right and duty. If the man were well chosen, if he treated her well, entreated her softly, and, above all, loved her, she would tumble into love with him as she had into love for Brian.

Perhaps the love was already there. Perhaps Brian was a safe substitute for the young man who had given the dog to Joanna. Alinor stared at Joanna's slightly downcast face. There was both good and ill in that chance. On the one hand, the seeds of love already planted might more easily grow into a blooming tree; on the other, half aware of their presence and fearing their growth, Joanna might more fiercely resist. Between the two chances there was no way to judge. Such things were truly in the hands of God.


William of Salisbury's hoarse roar brought a page, who had been half-dozing in a window seat, to his side in an instant. The earl had been dealing with estate matters and had come at last to a letter from Lord Ian that had arrived the previous day. The messenger from Roselynde had come upon Salisbury with one foot in the stirrup, preparing to ride out. Salisbury had paused just long enough to ask if there was anything urgent in the letter, and the messenger had replied doubtfully that he did not think so. He had not been urged to make haste, and the lord had been pleased and smiling when he handed the letter over. More he did not know.

After another moment's consideration, Salisbury had waved the messenger away toward the inner keep. Probably Ian was again doubting the wisdom of his departure for Ireland. Salisbury loved Ian dearly, but he often wished his friend's heart was harder and his aggressive courage a little less. In any case, Salisbury did not intend to give up a pleasant day's sport to pander to Ian's pride. Tomorrow would be soon enough, he thought, to rack his brains for more reasons why Ian should do what the smallest amount of common sense would have led him to propose himself.

"Good God!" Salisbury now exclaimed, when surprise receded enough for him to form words."Summon Lord Geoffrey to me at once."

The page took off at a dead run, careened down the twisting stairs in imminent danger of breaking his neck, and as soon as his eyes found their mark, bawled across the inner bailey,"Lord Geoffrey, your father orders your presence. Now! At once!"

The taller of two full-armed figures, who had been striking and thrusting at each other with swords, leapt back."Why? What is wrong?" Geoffrey asked.

"I do not know." The page had come up to them, panting as he spoke."But the lord was very angry."

Geoffrey shoved his shield off his arm and pushed back his helmet as he started toward the keep. His pace increased as he moved. Usually his father was of a very equable disposition. It would take something very serious to throw him into a rage. Geoffrey thought over his recent peccadilloes, but he could not pick on anything that would overset his father. He had not challenged anyone or killed anyone recently--not very recently. Nonetheless, he was running himself by the time he reached Salisbury.

"What is wrong, Papa?" he asked, slipping into the form he had used in childhood in his anxiety.

Salisbury raised his eyes from the letter he was rereading and beamed upon his son."Wrong? Nothing!" he exclaimed."I have an offer here I had almost given up hoping for.''

Geoffrey heaved an enormous sigh and sheathed the sword he was carrying naked in his hand."The page said you were in a rage. I could not imagine what had overset you."

"Oh, that. I was angry at myself because I thought it was only Ian worrying again because for once he is not trying to butt his way through a stone wall with his bare head. So I did not stop to read his letter when we went hunting yesterday, but it does not matter. A day's delay in answering--"

"You have an offer from Ian?" Geoffrey asked, plainly puzzled. Then his eyes lit."For me? Does he want me to go with him?"

The eager expression made Salisbury laugh."Fire-cater," he said proudly and fondly."There will be fighting enough here, and you will carry a heavier burden than you thought to bear, but leave that for later. Ian offers his daughter--I mean Lady Alinor's daughter--to you in marriage."

"Marriage! Joanna? In marriage?" That made Salisbury laugh again."Why are you surprised? I have had a score of offers for you. I had begun to doubt my wisdom in turning them away because Ian never seemed to want to come to the point about Joanna. But I have been hoping for this since he married Alinor. I wanted to contract you then--"

"I had no thought of marriage," Geoffrey remarked stiffly.

‘‘No thought of marriage? Do not be a fool! If you do not marry, who is to inherit your lands?"

"I intended to leave them to William," Geoffrey said simply,"or perhaps to Isabella or Henry, if you thought that would be better."

Salisbury got up and gripped his son's shoulders."Do not let me hear you speak like that again, Geoffrey. You should have been my eldest son by law as well as by birth. And you would have been, had not my father been eaten by greed and pride and ambition. Your mother was a good woman, and I loved her. What you have is your due. You are taking nothing from your brothers or your sister. God knows there is enough and more than enough for them."

"Perhaps, but for me there is too much. Ela says nothing, but she cannot like--"

"If there is something Ela does not like, she is the last one to say nothing." Salisbury laughed. Then he sobered and shook his head."You are wrong, Geoffrey. Ela loves you very dearly. She grudges you nothing. Do you think I made the disposition of my property without consulting her?"

"She grudges  you nothing," Geoffrey said."No, I do not mean she is not fond of me. I know she is, but she desires above all that you should be happy."

There were other reasons too, Geoffrey guessed, for his stepmother to make no protest over the property assigned to him. She had not always been fond of him and had not been willing to take him into her home when he was a child. Now she was sorry and felt guilty about that refusal. Geoffrey could not mention that, partly because he did not want his father to think he held that long-past sorrow against Ela and partly because he never mentioned those bitter years.

"Whatever the reasons," Salisbury said dismissively,"the matter is settled. The lands are yours, or will be, and you must breed up sons to inherit them." He had dropped his hands from his son's shoulders, but now he took hold of his arms."I want very much to see your children, Geoffrey. William is so young. I may never live to see his little ones." Then he dropped his hands and smiled."In truth, had I not been waiting for this offer, you would have been married two or three years ago."

Geoffrey's expression had softened when his father spoke of grandchildren, but tensed again at his last sentence."Why did you say nothing to me?"

"About what? That I intended you to marry? What was there to say? You showed no signs, ever, of wishing to become a monk. If you mean why I said nothing about Joanna, that was because Alinor would not agree to make a contract, and you know Ian would never press her. Joanna is not his daughter, when all is said, no matter how much he loves the girl."

"Lady Alinor does not desire me for a son?" The voice was flat, Geoffrey's face totally blank, yet his father sensed his enormous shock.

"Do not be a fool! Alinor has been trying to urge Joanna in your direction for years, but she had some crazy idea that the girl must choose for herself. Thank God Ian's political problems have brought her to a more reasonable way of thinking."

"Are you saying that Joanna does not wish to marry me?"

"I am saying no such thing!" Salisbury exclaimed."I am only saying that a modest, well-brought up girl like Joanna--and do not forget that I know Joanna well because she spent considerable time in Ela's care when you and Alinor and Ian were in Ireland--would never demean herself by expressing an opinion on such a subject. I am sure she agreed to the marriage as soon as your name was suggested to her. I am sure because I know Ian and Alinor. If Joanna had any objections, they would never force her. I do not believe in that either. To force an unwilling maid to take a man she dislikes is only to lay a groundwork for future grief."

"And if the man is unwilling?"

Salisbury's mouth dropped open in surprise, then concern filled his face."Good God, Geoffrey, have you set your heart elsewhere? Why did you not speak to me? After what happened between your mother and me, did you think I would fail to sanction any marriage you desired? Say something, boy. Who is it?"

"No one. That--"

"You mean you cannot marry the woman? Oh well, then, that is no impediment. For a man--" Salisbury shrugged."So long as you are kind to Joanna and discreet, you may do as you choose. What your wife does not know cannot hurt her."

"There is no other woman," Geoffrey said impatiently."That is not what I meant."

"You mean you do not wish to marry Joanna?" Salisbury's voice rose in an incredulous howl."Joanna? She is the most desirable thing I have seen in--in I cannot think how many years. She is beautiful enough to make me almost forget my age, her temper is sweet, her nature pliable, and she is rich ...  She will have Roselynde and the bulk of Alinor's property even if another daughter is born. She will have it all if there are no more children. What can anyone possibly say about Joanna that is not good? What fault can you find in Joanna?"

"None. There is no fault to be found in her," Geoffrey agreed uncomfortably, although he well knew that the girl was neither so sweet nor so pliable as his father believed.

Salisbury sat down again heavily and stared wordlessly at his son. He discovered that Geoffrey's features were peculiarly unreadable. The young man had come so recently from his duties as squire that the training still sat heavily upon him. Thus, he had not yet developed the freedom to fidget. He stood very quietly, very erect under the weight of his armor, arms at his sides, hands relaxed and open.

"Geoffrey," Salisbury said,"I cannot understand you at all. You must tell me plainly what troubles you. If you cannot fault Joanna and you do not love another woman, what objection can you have to the marriage?"

"I do not know myself," Geoffrey muttered."I am not very sure I do object. Only--only I have this feeling that--that it is too much. Joanna is too rich, too beautiful--"

"Hmmm," Salisbury mused,"you have more sense than I suspected--perhaps too much for a man your age, although that is likely to be just as well. It is true that a very beautiful and very rich wife can lead to trouble."

He fell silent again, studying Geoffrey, trying to look at him as a young woman might. His son was a little above middle height and still very slender. Not that the boy was not well made. His shoulders were broad enough and his hips narrow as a man's should be. The face was not out of the ordinary, rather long now that the roundness of childhood was gone, with a firm jaw, dented and ridged a little on the right where some chance blow had nicked the bone. There was another small scar high on the cheekbone under Geoffrey's left eye; it did not look like a battle scar, perhaps a branch had caught him while hunting. His nose was straight, undamaged as yet by war; his mouth long and very mobile, the lips thin but well shaped.

It was the eyes that were Geoffrey's most notable feature. Salisbury's heart checked for an instant as the dim memory of a woman long dead came suddenly, vividly alive. The same eyes had ensnared Salisbury into a forbidden love. They were of a peculiarly changeable hue, from a glittering golden yellow to a dull, mud brown, shaded by long lashes darker than the young man's hair. That was a good feature too, Salisbury thought, pulling his mind away from memories that held too much heat and not enough happiness. The style of the day, which allowed the hair to grow to just below the ears and to form a band across the forehead, was well suited to Geoffrey's very straight, fine, light brown hair.

All in all, there was nothing to displease a young woman in Geoffrey's appearance. Salisbury suffered another qualm of doubt. There was also nothing in particular to attract a girl who was accustomed to looking at Ian de Vipont. But that was ridiculous. There was not another man in the country with a face to match Ian's. Joanna must be well aware of that. Perhaps she would be glad of a more ordinary-looking husband. She could not have failed to notice how the ladies of the court clustered around her stepfather like ants around a honey pot.

For the first time, Salisbury himself wondered what Joanna felt about the proposed marriage. He had said he knew her well, and in one sense that was true; however, Joanna was a singularly reserved girl. She was not given to idle chatter and almost never spoke of her own feelings about any subject, even those in which she was obviously interested. Salisbury suppressed still another qualm. He was sure that Alinor and Ian would not force Joanna into anything. She must then at least be willing.

"There is sense in what you say," Salisbury repeated,"but I assure you a poor, ugly wife is no greater guarantee of happiness. Joanna is a good and dutiful girl. I do not believe she will play you false." He paused."Geoffrey, what are we talking about? You know I desire this, yet I will not press you to do what you hate. Only let me say one thing more. You know the situation in which Ian finds himself?" Salisbury hardly waited for Geoffrey's nod before he continued."The reason for offering Joanna to you at this time is partly so that she will be protected if the Welsh war should spread unrest in this country and partly so that a responsible man with a blood bond to the family can lead Ian's and Alinor's and Adam's vassals."

"Lead--" Geoffrey's face paled a little."Ian wants me to lead his men--all his men? Oh, Papa, I am not sure--"

"I will help you, my son, in every way I can, yet the burden will be a heavy one. Still, what can he do? He must have someone he can trust, and you are dearest to him."

Geoffrey swallowed. The pain in his father's voice dragged at him. King John was almost never mentioned between father and son. It was the one forbidden subject, the one thing they could never discuss. William of Salisbury loved his brother; Geoffrey hated his uncle. Each had what he felt were good and sufficient reasons. Geoffrey realized that his father had come as close to saying that John could not be trusted with Ian's vassals or with Ian's stepdaughter as it was possible for him. For Geoffrey to take Ian's men would save face all around. The king would have his due and, since one of the king's own kinsmen would be the man chosen to lead the men, Ian's distrust would not be obvious to anyone who did not already know how matters stood between King John and his vassal.

"Then there is no further question," Geoffrey replied."I will marry Joanna and will do my uttermost to fulfill Ian's will."

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