Roberta Gellis
And Less Than Kind

AND LESS THAN KIND

DOUBLED EDGE SERIES, BOOK 4
by Mercedes Lackey and Roberta Gellis
Baen April 2008
ISBN 978-1-4165-5533-9

Edward VI was dying and the duke of Northumberland was desperate to hold on to the power he had as protector of the boy-king. Neither of Edward’s heirs would tolerate his management: Mary was a passionate Catholic and hated him for supporting the reformist rite and Elizabeth was far too strong-minded to accept his guidance. Northumberland’s attempt to destroy Mary and cow Elizabeth failed. Mary became queen of England.

The Dark Court was fat and happy. England was torn by religious dissension and the bitter power of hate and fear poured down from the mortal realm to enrich the Unseleighe Sidhe. Vidal Dhu was not overmuch concerned about Elizabeth. The queen hated her and would surely have her executed on one pretext or another. What held Vidal’s attention was providing Queen Mary with an heir imbued with Evil; he had the perfect tool to put a monster into Mary’s womb, he only had to arrange it. The Bright Court grew thin, its magic pallid. And Oberon and Titania were GONE.



A MOST CATHOLIC QUEEN
For most of her life Mary had been persecuted for clinging to her mother’s faith. Now Mary was queen of England and her primary purpose was to reestablish the Catholic religion and the supremacy of the pope. She began with kindness, but when some of the people resisted her God-ordained goal, Mary set about burning out their heresy.
A PRINCESS ON THE EDGE OF DISASTER
Elizabeth was now heir to the throne and Queen Mary was in her forties and in poor health. But Elizabeth had to survive to inherit, and that was not so simple. For Elizabeth to refuse the Catholic rite might well be fatal ... only to accept it might lose her the support of the people who could bring her to the throne.
AN UNBALANCED UNDERHILL
In Caer Mordwyn the road to the prince’s palace was the rich color of new blood, firm and strong, except where the traps to catch the unwary were set. Vidal had power full and overflowing to make anything he wished to make. But in the Bright Court the Seleighe Sidhe suffered dearth. The spells that kept Avalon and Llachar Lle beautiful were fading. Even the ground, usually carpeted by the vivid, dark green moss starred with white flowers, now lay dull and yellowish, dying.
 



Excerpt from AND LESS THAN KIND



Elizabeth Tudor, still asleep, stretched languorously and Denoriel Siencyn Macreth Silverhair looked down at his treasure and his burden from his pillow-propped position in the wide bed. The FarSeers had been right, he thought, she would be a red-haired queen. Her hair had barely darkened a shade from its childhood’s golden-red glory.

He thought back to when his twin sister Aleneil, a FarSeer herself, had summoned him and he had first seen Elizabeth in the great lens that showed the future—a red-haired babe, scowling in her father’s arms. And then the other Visions, of young Edward and his dour reign, of Mary and the screaming as what she called heretics burned, and then of the red-haired queen, Elizabeth, in a reign of glory of music of art of great poetry.

Denoriel sighed softly, careful to make no sound that would disturb Elizabeth’s sleep. She would be queen if he could keep her alive long enough. So far he had managed to protect her for nearly twenty years, but the worst was yet to come. He shifted slightly and looked away.

They had been coupled only a little while ago, yet he felt his blood stir anew when he looked at her. Even asleep what she was seized and held him. Not a great beauty, although her body, spare and slightly boyish, was charming. Elsewise ... No, she was no beauty. Elizabeth was, as she had always been, very pale, her face a long oval, her nose straight and fine, her lips thin and only faintly rosy. Her brows and lashes, more gold than red, were hardly marked. Compared with the women of the Sidhe, Elizabeth was plain. But the life in her, the purpose in her, could inspire desire in a granite boulder among the Sidhe.

Silence and stillness had not been enough. His attention had disturbed her and her eyes opened slowly, showing dark irises. She did not smile at him or reach to touch him as she often did after making love, but looked away and sighed.

“Denno, should we be disporting ourselves like this when it is all too likely that my poor brother lies dying?”

He should not have been staring at her, Denoriel thought.

“Should I not be with Edward?” she continued, not waiting for an answer. “I love him. Surely I would be of some comfort to him?”

Denoriel shrugged. “You would indeed be a comfort to Edward, if you were allowed to reach him. But I am quite certain some reason would be found to turn you away.”

“Why?” Elizabeth lifted herself, and the pillows rearranged themselves to support her in comfort. “Northumberland has been very kind to me, always showed me favor. Remember he traded Hatfield for another property when I wanted Hatfield. And he is kind to Edward, too. Why should he want to keep me from him?”

“I am not certain,” Denoriel admitted. “Cecil has sent no news, and I do not know enough about the twists of policy and politics. I know—well, anyone not a nodcock knows—that Northumberland wants to keep the power he has held during Edward’s reign.”

Elizabeth stared at him, shaking her head. “But that is not possible. If ...”

Her voice trembled on the word and she swallowed. What she was about to say was treason in England—even whispered in a locked room. She could only say the words Underhill. In fact they had come Underhill because it was the only safe place to discuss what Elizabeth should do if her brother died. Then when she was weeping over Edward’s illness—she really did love him dearly—Denoriel had taken her into his arms to comfort her. Somehow the caresses changed from comforting to sensual and they found themselves abed.

Steadying her voice, Elizabeth continued, “If Edward dies, Mary will come to the throne, and Mary will not need a regent, as Northumberland knows quite well; she does not trust him, and he is the enemy to her religion. As likely hold back the tide as change Mary’s faith. Even my father could not fully accomplish that.”

Denoriel nodded agreement. “So Northumberland must seek a way to bypass Mary. Which is what made me beg you to come Underhill and speak to Harry. He knows from Rhoslyn what Mary thinks—as well as it is possible for any of her women know her mind. And I wanted to ask you ... since you, too, favor the reformed religion, what will you do, Elizabeth, if Northumberland approaches you and offers you the throne over Mary’s head?”

She was suddenly rigid against the pillows. Her mouth opened, closed. Her eyes, which had been dark, lightened until they almost glowed like gold. Desire, raw and naked, flashed across her face. Then it was all gone.

“Ridiculous,” Elizabeth said quietly. “My claim to the throne is through my father’s will and the Act of Succession of 1544. The will and the Act both state clearly, Edward, Mary if Edward dies without heirs, and only if Mary dies without heirs, Elizabeth. To set Mary aside would make the whole succession invalid—and likely would start a civil war. No, if he offers me the throne, I will tell him that I have no right at all while Edward and Mary live.”

Denoriel breathed out a long sigh. He had guarded two heirs to the throne. Harry FitzRoy, Henry VIII’s natural son, wanted no part of being king. Elizabeth desired ardently to rule. It was as if God had given each the perfect nature. Harry would have made a terrible king; he was clever enough and interested in the intricacies of political maneuvering but he was too honest, too good, too gentle to rule. Elizabeth ... Elizabeth was born to be a queen, brilliant and devious with a streak of cruelty that would keep her high lords inclined away from angering her. What a Sidhe she would have made!

Denoriel nodded satisfaction with Elizabeth’s answer, but suddenly her face changed again, flushing in distress. “Da!” she said. “Da is supposed to meet us.” And she hopped out of bed and turned on Denoriel. “Dress me, by God’s Grace. Do you think I want Da to find me abed with you while poor Edward ...”

She raised her hands to cover her face hardly noticing that rich blue velvet sleeves lined with silver brocaded satin covered her arms. With a gesture, Denoriel had clothed her, complete with shift and personals, in an underskirt of silver on silver brocade and an overgown of blue velvet. The undersleeve was tight from the elbow to the wrist and exposed by the wide uppersleeve, which was turned back on itself. It was a mark of how overset Elizabeth was, she who passionately loved clothes, that she did not examine and comment on the dress but uttered a single sob and stepped forward into Denoriel’s open arms.

“Oh, Merciful Mary, how horrible it is to be talking about what will happen when my little brother is dead. Should I not be praying for him to recover?”

“Have you not prayed for him to recover?”

Denoriel was not really asking the question but using it to remind Elizabeth that her desire for the throne, a desire she could not completely suppress, was not unnatural or unloving.

Tears made Elizabeth’s darkened eyes shine. “You know I have. I even made you bring Mwynwen to him. Why could she not heal him?”

“I have told you that many times. It is through no fault of yours. Mywnwen cannot heal mortal illnesses, nor can any other Sidhe healer. She can heal a cut or a bruise, even a broken bone, but mortal illnesses like consumption or plague she cannot heal.

“She healed my Da.”

“Only because Harry had been touched by elfshot, not mortal wasting sickness. She could draw out the poison of the elfshot and bring him back to health. Elizabeth, you know this. Why are you making me say the same words over and over?”

The tears ran over her lower lids and made shining streaks on her cheeks. “Because I want to be assured that Edward’s illness is not my fault. I do not forget I failed to protect him well enough when that Dark Sidhe struck at him with a poisoned thorn.”

“The Dark Sidhe struck at you,” Denoriel snapped. “In any case, Edward would have been dead long since if that poison had touched him.”

That last was not true, he thought. Likely the poison had touched Edward and weakened him so that the mortal illness more quickly and easily took hold. But it was the mortal illness that was killing the boy and no sense in Elizabeth feeling guilty.

“Then there is nothing left but a miracle from God.” Elizabeth shivered slightly and Denoriel tightened his grip on her. “And I do not believe in miracles,” she whispered. “But I have tried to believe, Denno, I have. I have prayed and promised that if God will only make Edward well I would strive to be a better person, to be meek and obedient to him always no matter what he bade me do, even marry. I have made offerings to all the churches in my domains for prayers for his health.”

Denoriel’s fine gold brows drew together and his arms stiffened around her. “Not I hope for relief of his sickness!” he said sharply. “You could be hanged for implying the king is sick.”

Elizabeth sighed and shook her head. “I am not that much a fool. No. Only for his good health. For his continued good health. That was safe, wasn’t it, Denno?”

She drew back a little so she could look up into his face. He was heartstoppingly beautiful, his eyes deep pools of emerald green, his hair a golden glory with soft curls at his temples and glowing waves to his shoulders. His skin was smooth and soft as the finest loomed silk, and he had a perfect nose and a full rosy mouth. Except for the touch of humor that curved his mobile lips, he looked like every other male Sidhe. Most often when he brought her Underhill and always when they made love, Denno wore an illusion of youth.

It was sweet of him to wish to be beautiful for her, so Elizabeth had not yet found the courage or the right moment to tell him not to bother, that what held her heart and roused a fever of desire in her body was his true appearance. That bespoke Denno’s love and sacrifice—behavior not natural to the Sidhe.

All the years he had spent in the mortal world, enduring mortal weather as he cared first for her Da and then for her, had tanned and roughened his skin. All the worry he had suffered over his charges had drawn lines between his brows and around his eyes and mouth. The battles he had fought for them, both physical and magical, the wounds he had suffered, had turned his hair from gold to white and marred the smooth perfection of the uncaring Sidhe. Without illusion Denno looked like a rather harried, elderly mortal who had seen much trouble and endured great pain. Elizabeth loved him best that way.

He was frowning over her question and then he sighed. “I hope so, but it would have been wiser not to—”

His voice checked as there was a stirring in the air near him and the gentle voice of one of his invisible servants said, “Lord Harry has entered Llachar Lle.”

Elizabeth squeaked in dismay and ran out of the room and down the stairs. She was seated, albeit a trifle breathless, in Denoriel’s elegant parlor when Harry came through the door into the entrance hall. Elizabeth took a steadying breath. She was not trying to conceal the fact that Denoriel was her lover, she told herself. It was only that in some way Da regarded her as a daughter and Denno as a father.

Henry FitzRoy, natural son of King Henry VIII, dead and buried in the mortal world to the great relief of the English government, looked uneasily to the left at the door to the parlor. He felt a fool scratching to announce himself in the house in which he lived, but he hated to intrude upon Bess and Denno unexpectedly. They were usually embraced to some degree when they were Underhill because in the mortal world they could only acknowledge each other distantly.

It wasn’t that he disapproved, Harry told himself, just that Bess ... Bess was only a baby. As the words came into his mind he laughed aloud. Bess was twenty years old, a normal, healthy young woman who, had she not been Henry VIII’s daughter, would by now have been married and had children.

The laugh was acknowledged by Denno’s voice, saying, “Harry” from the landing at the top of the stairs.

Harry looked up and smiled. “Denno. Where’s Bessie?”

“If you call her that, she’ll murder you,” Denno said, coming down the stairs. “She’s waiting for you in the parlor. She’s been crying over Edward, wanting to go to him to comfort him.”

“Perhaps she should,” Harry said slowly. “Mary went to visit him in February and knew.” He shook his head. “It might be easier for Bess to believe he is dying and stop hoping if she saw him.”

As he spoke, Harry took in Denoriel’s appearance. He had not noticed it particularly at first, mostly because that was how Denno had looked when he first came to Harry and that was how Harry thought of him. But it wasn’t how Denno looked now, Harry realized, and he blushed, knowing Denno had cast the illusion of youth over himself to please Elizabeth.

One part of Harry, the sensible, adult part, approved highly of the love affair between Denno and Elizabeth. It was just that another part cringed when he thought of the body of the child he loved entwined with that of the man who had protected him when he was a child. Nonsense, Harry told himself. For a young woman who could not afford another scandal without suffering serious political retribution, a Sidhe was the only safe lover.

Denoriel could come to Elizabeth in ways no mortal lover could, without anyone ever seeing him enter or leave the palace in which she lived. If by some ill chance they should be surprised by some unexpected intruder, Denno could disappear. And despite being Sidhe, Denno would not be unfaithful or abandon dearling Bess. Had he not proved his steadfastness over all of Harry’s life?

Harry stepped forward and slid his arm into Denno’s, pressing the arm affectionately to his side. “You don’t agree that Bess should visit Edward?”

“I don’t think she will be allowed to visit.”

“Why not?”

“That I don’t know. In truth, I cannot think of any reason. Northumberland knows she would not speak ill of him. But she wrote to Northumberland more than a week ago asking permission to come to London, soon after she heard that Mary had been to see Edward, and she has had no answer, not even a private word from Cecil.”

Frowning, Harry opened the door and stepped into the parlor. The soft greens and blues accented in dull silver were very soothing and peaceful, but Elizabeth was sitting rigidly erect, looking out of the huge window over a scene that seemed to be a wide meadow surrounding a handsome manor house backed by a dark, dense wood. Now there was a garden near the house with a bright stream running through it.

He went and knelt on one knee beside Elizabeth and took her hand in his. “Love, I am so sorry. I know you care for Edward deeply, but you must let yourself believe that he cannot survive.”

“How do you know?”

“From Mary though Rhoslyn.”

“Mary spoke of Edward’s ... death ... to Rhoslyn?” Elizabeth’s eyes opened wide.

“No, of course not, not even to Susan Clarencieux or Jane Dormer, but Mary prays and often offers her fears and hopes to God. She whispers low, but—” Harry smiled “—Rhoslyn, like most Sidhe, has long ears.”

That drew a small smile from Elizabeth because it was true literally as well as being a reference to their keen hearing. When he saw the sign of relaxation, Harry patted the hand he held, let go of it, and rose to sit on the sofa near Elizabeth’s chair. Silently, Denno sat opposite. Unobtrusively, he lifted a hand and looked pointedly at the faint disturbance that appeared in the air.

“Mary has been praying for the strength and wisdom to rule.” Harry was watching Elizabeth and noticed the faintest thinning of her lips.

“Not for Edward’s cure or salvation?”

“Likely Mary, having seen him and spoken to him, believes him beyond even miracles, but Rhoslyn is careful to tell me only what she hears, not what she thinks. Rhoslyn is very fond of Mary and is torn between her desire for Mary’s happiness and her knowledge of the misery Mary’s happiness will bring to the realm at large.”

Elizabeth sighed. “Mary intends to root out the reformed religion.” A shrug followed. “Well, I knew it would be so. It could not be otherwise. But that means Northumberland must go, and I fear he will not go willingly or easily. I do not know what he can do, however. Denno thought he might offer me the throne, bypassing Mary.”

Was there a quiver of hope in her voice? That was dangerous. Elizabeth must not yet betray her ambition. Harry suppressed a shudder. He had never wanted to rule himself, but, raised as the center of much political maneuvering, he had perforce learned a great deal. That knowledge and the need to protect himself from those who would use him as a pawn had sparked a deep interest in how England was governed, and being “dead and buried” had not abated that interest a bit. Harry FitzRoy had the means to keep himself well informed and did so.

“He will not succeed in that,” Harry said, a note of warning in his voice. “Mary is too much beloved, even by those whose faith she will attack. She may not succeed in becoming queen—but that will be only because she is dead or prisoner by Northumberland’s—”

“No!” Denoriel exclaimed with quiet violence. “Elizabeth could not take the throne after Mary’s murder. She would be reviled by all and unable to rule no matter that she had nothing to do with the crime or did not even know of it. There is no way she could prove herself innocent, except to be dead first.”

“I do not think I wish to go quite that far to prove myself innocent,” Elizabeth said dryly.

Denoriel smiled at her, just as a low table appeared before Elizabeth’s chair. On it was an exquisite tea service, the porcelain as delicate as an eggshell glowing with iridescent green and blue, bluebells in a forest glade. Two tall stemmed glasses stood before a bottle of wine, and two thick, crystal mugs sat next to a sweating pitcher of ale. There was also a large plate, one side holding slices of bread and slices of cheese and the other piled with a variety of sweet pastries; cups of honey and a variety of jams stood near the bread.

Absently Harry picked up a piece of bread and slapped a slice of cheese on it, while Denoriel poured out two mugs of ale. “Yet equal or greater danger may come from Mary alive.” Harry voice was slightly muffled as he chewed and swallowed. “I do not want to frighten you, Bess, but Mary ... does not love you. You must do nothing that can wake a suspicion in her that you desire to unseat her and take the throne.”

Elizabeth spread jam on a slice of bread and looked hard at her cup, in which tea promptly appeared. “I would not if I could,” she said; she paused and sipped. “As I said earlier to Denno, I will not contest Mary for the throne. My right is from my father’s will and the Act of Succession. Mary must rule before I can.”

Harry nodded approval. “Rhoslyn is doing all she can to prevent Mary from wishing to harm you. She is limited in how much influence she can exert, but she assures me that she constantly offers the image of you as a small child, running with cries of joy to greet your kind sister.”

“You must be wary and patient,” Denoriel urged, “but it will not be forever. Mary is many years older than you and sickly besides.”

“And her desire to restore the old religion may cause unrest and dissatisfaction,” Harry said, “particularly as she wishes to go further than bringing back the settlement devised by your father. She intends to reconcile with the pope. Rhoslyn heard her praying that the papal father would forgive her for her weakness in yielding to King Henry’s demand she reject papal authority.”

“She will not rule long if she tries to restore to the Church what my father seized.” Elizabeth’s voice was carefully neutral. “So many profited greatly from the closure of the abbeys. They will not relinquish what they gained—even those who themselves practice the old religion.”

The voice was neutral, but something in the carriage of the head, in the set of the shoulders, said there would be no prayers for Mary’s health and possibly even subtle encouragement of those who resisted her policies. Harry cast a rather anxious glance at Elizabeth, guessed that further warnings would only make her stubborn, and decided to change the subject. Mary was not yet on the throne; he would have time for sharper warnings.

“Atop all this, I have more bad news,” he said. “At least, I am not sure it is bad, but I suspect so. Gaenor tells me that she and Hafwen and Pasgen can no longer detect Vidal in the mist that acts on its own.”

“Vidal is loose?” Elizabeth asked.

Her voice was calm, curious rather than frightened. It was Denoriel who sat up straight and stared at Harry, setting down the mug of ale he had raised to his mouth.

“What do you mean the elder Sidhe ‘cannot detect’ Vidal?” Denoriel asked.

“I don’t know what I mean,” Harry replied with a touch of impatience. “The mist could have killed him ... In which case, whether you like it or not, Elizabeth, we need to go to Oberon and tell him about it. Or Vidal could have escaped the mist ... And I like that idea almost less than that the mist decided to kill. Vidal is dangerous to you, love.”

“He has tried some four or five times to seize me or kill me, and failed each time,” Elizabeth said complacently.

“He only needs to succeed once,” Denoriel snapped, “and you will be dead or prisoner of the Dark Court and suffering terrible torments.”

“I will be freed soon enough if you tell Titania that I was taken. And Oberon will help her. Not because he cares for me,” Elizabeth said realistically, “but because he ordered Vidal to leave me alone.”

“Do not be so silly, Bessie,” Harry said, frowning, his voice sharper than usual when he spoke to her. “Titania and Oberon are not always available to us. Who knows what would be done to you before we could arrange a rescue! And do you think Denno would be content to wait until we found Oberon–or I would? We would seek for you at once, and could be hurt or killed trying to reach you.”

Elizabeth had a sudden, vivid memory of one of Vidal’s attacks that almost succeeded, a vision of Denno being blasted by fire and lightning, his shields shredding. And Da had been beset by ogres. He had survived only because she had bespelled one ogre’s feet to stick to the ground so it could not reach him. What if she had not been able to cast the spell?

“I will be careful,” Elizabeth said repentantly. “I will not ride hunting unless Deno is with me or even walk in the garden without my guard.”.But then she shook her head. “Only ... only I must try to see Edward.” Tears rose in her eyes again. “Likely it is foolish. Possibly he will not even know I have come, but ... but I will know I tried, that I was not so lily-livered as to coddle my own safety and comfort without regard to him. Perhaps he is in pain or afraid. Perhaps I would be allowed to comfort him if I were there.&rdquo:

***

When Elizabeth’s cortege came slowly over the low hill on the road from Hatfield to London, Francis Howard-Mowbray drew a harsh breath. He had not expected so many to be with her. And then he realized that most of those in the train that followed the armed men who surrounded her were servants. He smiled and softly called his men to make ready. The train of servants was more a danger to Lady Elizabeth than to his men. They would panic and run away as soon as his troop rode out shouting and brandishing weapons.

His men were moderately well concealed in a patch of woods in the narrow valley between two hills. The stream that had worn the land into a valley had diminished, but it still flowed shallowly over the road, which made the bottom of the valley pebbly and muddy.

Francis signaled for the men to wait and himself moved forward, keeping to the far side and the shade of a large oak. Two men rode well ahead of the main group, one somewhat stout in well-worn armor, the other in a newer breastplate that fit well but had seen less service. Francis glanced at them and dismissed them; when the main group was attacked, they would probably flee down the road toward London. He gave no signal, waiting for the main group to reach the treacherous muddy portion of the road.

Another cautious glance told him his prey was there, following another two men-at-arms. He smiled to himself; she was making everything very easy for him. On one side she was accompanied by an elegant but ancient gentleman, his white hair showing under his bonnet. He was armed with a sword, but if he had drawn it in twenty years, Francis would be much surprised. On the other side was what must be an upper servant with a fine lady riding pillion behind him. The servant also carried a sword—much good it would do him with the woman behind him blocking every movement.

Down the hill they came, Lady Elizabeth and her companions talking animatedly. The two advance guards passed the muddy stretch of road. Francis raised his hand; he heard the horses behind him move. The old gentleman suddenly turned his head toward the wood in which Francis’ men were concealed. Francis opened his mouth to shout and then swallowed back the word “Go!”

Over the other hill, the one to the south, a horse appeared suddenly, pounding along at a gallop. As he came down the hill, it was clear the horseman was wearing the king’s livery. Francis shrank back to where the oak’s broad trunk and deep shadow would better conceal him. Elizabeth stopped her horse just before its forehooves touched the muddy area, watching the rider approach. Francis clearly heard her say “Shit!”

The old man said “Elizabeth!”

Francis felt mildly shocked by the gentleman’s familiarity in addressing the king’s daughter without any title, but that was only the surface of his mind. Underneath he was rapidly reviewing the advantages and disadvantages of going ahead with the attack. The greatest disadvantage was that his party would be seen by the king’s messenger, but second thought said that was a minor matter. His party wore no identifying colors or tokens and with any luck the messenger would be among the dead.

The greatest advantage was that their quarry was now a sitting target, totally concentrated on the arriving messenger. Francis again raised his arm as a signal and looked around to make sure his troop was still in place and ready. At that moment the messenger slowed to pass through the pebbly mud, came between the two men-at-arms immediately preceding Elizabeth, making her more vulnerable, and pulled his horse to a stop.

“From the king, my lady,” he said, fumbling in a saddlebag.

“Go!” Francis bellowed.

“Shield!” the old gentleman cried.

That seemed a very strange thing to yell when an attacker plunged out of the trees, but Francis had little time to consider it. The old gentleman had whipped out his sword and the horse he was riding was suddenly, incredibly, athwart Francis’ own mount, which shied violently sideways. Since Francis’ sword was in his hand, he was able to parry the old gentleman’s thrust, but his whole arm felt numb from the power of the blow.

Meanwhile the rest of his party was pouring out of the wood, shouting threats. Francis had just a moment to notice that his hope that Elizabeth would panic and lose control, allowing her horse to bolt, had not been fulfilled. Then the monster the old gentleman was riding bit his poor horse so fiercely that the animal screamed and bolted away with blood streaming from its neck.

Francis fought his frightened beast to a standstill and then turned it back to the fray, which in that short time had taken on an entirely different aspect from what he expected. Before he could force his reluctant horse back into the action, he saw that Elizabeth had backed her mount away from the messenger, as if she believed he were part of the attacking party.

Although the two guardsmen who had preceded her had wrenched their horses around to come between her and the attackers, both of them were engaged as were four other guardsmen who were fighting their way in her direction. For one moment she was alone. Henry Clinton broke through the fighting and reached out to grasp her, to pull her from her horse. Francis shouted encouragement, but Henry’s hand never touched her; it seemed to strike an invisible but very solid wall about two inches away from her shoulder and slide away.

Then Francis shouted again, for a knife had sprouted from the side of Henry’s throat. And the old gentleman and his monster horse were suddenly beside Elizabeth, his sword flashing with shocking speed to ward away another who had forced his way through the fighting. Again the monster the old man rode struck and the other horse screamed and bolted, driving away two more of Francis’ party. And then the two men-at-arms that Francis was sure would gallop away to safety were back, plunging into the melee and striking right and left from behind to throw his party into even greater disarray.

They did not need more disarray. The guardsmen who had been following behind Lady Elizabeth had drawn weapons and driven their horses forward, forming a wall that most of his own men could not breach. Francis stopped trying to force his horse back into the battle and took time for a look around.

Immediately he saw that another of his expectations had been dead wrong. Far from panicking, the male servants had hopped down from the carts in which they rode carrying long, stout cudgels and, following two men dressed as grooms but with drawn swords, were running toward the few men who were trying to flank Elizabeth’s men-at-arms.

One man’s cudgel struck the rear of an attacker’s horse a solid whack while another man’s cudgel struck the rider so that when the horse bolted away, the rider fumbled helplessly with the reins. Another of the servants dodged under a blow launched at him and thudded his cudgel against George Coleg’s thigh. The blow was so violent that Coleg screamed and dropped his reins to clutch at his leg. A second cudgel rapped the injured man’s horse alongside the tail and that animal too bolted. Meanwhile the armed grooms had wounded and driven back two more of Francis’ men.

Near Lady Elizabeth another man died. Francis watched with starting eyes as the upper servant he thought would be immobilized by the lady riding pillion pulled a knife from his boot top and sent it into the eye of a second man who was reaching for their quarry while the old gentleman was engaged.

Francis’ whirling thoughts brought up the image of Henry Clinton who had first tried to seize Elizabeth and died with a knife in his throat. And then William Pausey fell as the old gentleman’s sword drove William’s blade aside, slid under it, and whipped forward with terrifying accuracy to stab above the breastplate collar right into the throat.

No coward, but no fool either, Francis bellowed, “Withdraw! Retire! Enough! We are done here! Withdraw! Withdraw!”


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