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Her Highness, the Traitor

The Justiciar's Wife

A Short Story by
Susan Higginbotham

 

 


 

This was a short story I originally did for the Amazon Shorts program. Now that Amazon Shorts has been discontinued, I'm making it available here. Aline le Despenser, the heroine, is the mother of Hugh le Despenser
the elder in The Traitor's Wife.

 

 


 

The August day was already promising to be a sultry one. The royalist prisoners in the Tower of London were lounging in the morning sun as Aline le Despenser, her children and their nurses in tow, passed them on her way to the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula. In her mind, Aline did a quick headcount of the captives; all were present. The guards, of course, kept track of them too, but Aline, having been left in charge of the Tower when her husband joined Simon de Montfort on campaign, felt obliged to make sure all was in order. It would not do to have a prisoner escape, as the Lord Edward, King Henry III’s son, had done just a few months before when being held hostage by Montfort’s men.

 

Aline smiled at her small son as he greeted the prisoners. Four-year-old Hugh, named after his father, loved living at the Tower, and for his age had acquired a remarkable knowledge of its history. Though Hugh had been properly brought up to speak to an adult only when spoken to, the prisoners missed their families, and Hugh missed his father, so he and they had fallen into a habit of chatting to each other when they passed. He liked to tell the men when each of the buildings had been constructed, and on this day, he was bursting to impart a new bit of lore to them. "Did you know that Gruffudd ap Llywelyn was held in the White Tower? And that he escaped? Well, almost. He knotted together some sheets . . ."

 

"Don’t you dare try that," Aline told the men. They laughed; as she had heard them say when they thought she was out of earshot, they had no quarrel with Despenser’s pretty little wife, still only in her early twenties. Save for the formidable Queen Eleanor, whom even most of the king’s supporters could have done without, this was a business between men. Besides, Aline’s father, Philip Basset, had been a comrade of these prisoners.

 

Aline still did not quite understand the process that had brought the two men she loved best, her father and her husband, onto opposite sides. They certainly had not been opposed to each other that day shortly after her sixteenth birthday when her father called her into his chamber and informed her that he had made a good match for her, with a man who would rise quickly at court. "He’s a widower, a bit older than you, my dear," Philip Basset had told her. "But that shouldn’t bother you. Young men can be unstable, foolhardy. Sir Hugh is a sensible, devout man. He’ll treat you well. I wouldn’t have chosen him otherwise."

 

It was the reckless young men, of course, who had caught Aline’s eye thus far, not that with her nurse-turned-damsel and her formidable stepmother keeping guard over her she’d ever had a chance to do more than admire them from a distance. But it would not have occurred to her to disobey her father, so she nodded and resigned herself to marrying this man in his thirties, whom to Aline sounded very dull.

 

The wedding took place just a few weeks later. (Aline had told herself gloomily that with a man as old as Hugh, it wouldn’t be wise to wait too long.) The most notable of the guests was Simon de Montfort, the Earl of Leicester. Aline knew of him, of course—no one with connections at court could not know of him, and even most of the common people knew of him—but she had not known that her husband-to-be was among his intimate friends. She tried, while sitting in her place of honor at the feast that followed her marriage, to see the affinities between the two. They were not much in evidence. Hugh was a good fifteen years younger than Simon, and he clearly lacked the charisma that had brought Simon, a younger son with no fortune, the earldom of Leicester and the hand of the king’s sister. The best Aline could say for him was that he appeared to be, as her father had said, sensible. She wistfully eyed Montfort’s good-looking, boisterous sons, getting happily drunk nearby, and wondered if they would be fit to stand by the time the party adjourned to the bridal chamber for the bedding.

 

The bedding. Aline winced.

 

"Tell me about the Provisions," she commanded that night after the guests had ambled tipsily out of the bridal chamber, leaving her and Hugh tucked in bed side by side and naked underneath the bed sheets. She hoped that she sounded like her stepmother, the dowager Countess of Warwick.

 

"The Provisions?" Hugh glanced at Aline, who had momentarily let her sheet slip down on her left side. Catching his gaze, Aline yanked the sheet back into place and clutched it for dear life.

 

"They are important to you. Shouldn’t they be important to me?"

 

"Well, yes. But didn’t your father ever mention them to you?"

 

"I probably paid no attention at the time," Aline said loftily. She checked the sheet to make sure that it was in place. "I should have done, of course.

 

Hugh saw her movement. A slight smile came to his face as he said, "Very well. We’ll talk about the Provisions. They were needed sorely when we adopted them at Oxford. The country was sick to death of Henry and his idiot schemes—putting his parasitical relations into positions of power, beggaring the country to raise the funds to make his younger son the King of Sicily. Justice wasn’t being done. Reform was needed, and the king agreed. He had no choice, with so many pushing him in that direction. So the king’s men elected twelve men, and the barons elected twelve men—I among them—and we came up with the Provisions. To keep it brief, the king is to be guided by a council. Parliament is to meet three times a year." Hugh’s hand ventured closer to Aline.

 

She thought quickly. "But isn’t the council taking away royal authority?"

 

Hugh sighed. "Well, Henry would say that. But he brought it all upon himself through his folly. And as King John’s son, he ought to have known better, of all people. But is it such a mad idea to give men a say in how their country is governed? Or to ask that the entire kingdom be healthy, instead of only a small part of it? The Provisions seek to do that, to build a true community of the realm. Why, what makes you stare so?"

 

Aline could not tell him that seeing the animation and enthusiasm with which he had begun to speak had made her understand at last what he and Montfort had in common. She could certainly not tell him that she suddenly longed to have him kiss her. "Nothing," she said softly. "I beg your pardon."

 

Hugh reached over and took the sheet from her willing hands, then eased her down on the bed and gathered her into his arms. "That’s enough about the Provisions for tonight," he said firmly.

 

In the morning, Aline conceded that her father had known what was best for her, after all.

 

Philip Basset had also been a good judge of men. As predicted, Hugh had risen fast—so fast that in October 1260, the king’s council, which then included Philip, had chosen him to be justiciar, making him the highest judicial officer of England. Aline’s father too had been in the king’s household then. Those few months had been some of the best in Aline’s life: her father and her husband both at court, doing their best to see that England was governed wisely. Only the birth of a son could have increased her happiness, and when she became the mother
of little Hugh in March 1261, it had seemed to Aline that she lived a charmed existence indeed.

 

Even as she was rejoicing in her good fortune, however, Henry, chafing under the rule of his council, had been quietly improving his position. By May 1261, Hugh, who had been made keeper of the Tower the previous year, had been replaced by one of Henry’s men, and the next month, he was removed as justiciar. "Looks as if I’ll be staying on our estates for a while," he told Aline.

 

"But no one could do as well as you! No one!" She glared at a dog scratching itself by the hearth, the closest proxy at hand for the king. "What oaf has he chosen to take your place?"

 

Hugh half smiled. "You might want to revisit that statement, sweet. Never say Henry doesn’t have a certain
sense of humor. My replacement is your father."

 

Nothing had been the same since then. True, there was no personal enmity between Hugh and Philip; Hugh was careful to speak of his father-in-law with the respect that he had always shown, and Philip continued to send gifts to Aline, to his grandson, and to the granddaughter who soon followed. But as the months passed, England began to split into two camps, those on the side of the king and those on the side of Simon de Montfort and the Provisions. Hugh sided with Simon de Montfort, Philip with the king. Each time Hugh muttered about the king and his parasites, as he termed them, each time her father sent her one of his polite, guarded letters, Aline felt a pain that was almost physical. The fact that many others in England were in similar positions—Simon himself was married to the king’s sister and at one time had counted the king’s eldest son, the Lord Edward, among his adherents—was of little comfort to her.

 

By July 1263, however, Aline was once again a justiciar’s wife, no longer a justiciar’s daughter. That year, Henry, having lost some of his allies through death and alienated a new crop of nobles, had been forced to cede power to Simon de Montfort. Hugh regained his former position; Philip lost his. But the situation remained a volatile one, and any hopes that it would be resolved peacefully ended in early 1264 when the King of France, called upon to arbitrate between the two sides, rendered an award that favored Henry completely.

 

Chaos resulted. Montfort’s sons attacked the lands belonging to the king’s supporters in the Welsh march. The king’s warrior son, the Lord Edward, attacked Gloucester. And in London—a stronghold of support for Montfort—any ally of the king was fair game, their lands the target for wanton destruction. Hugh himself led an attack against the estates of Richard of Cornwall, the king’s brother. Other royalists’ lands, including Philip Basset’s, were ravaged by the Londoners. Aline, hearing this, was furious at Hugh, and did not even give him a civil farewell when he left London to join Montfort at St. Albans. He arrived just in time to learn the news that
the king’s forces had fought—and defeated—some of Montfort’s troops at Northampton.

 

"Simon took the news well," Hugh told Aline when he returned to the Tower a few days later. Simon de Montfort and his men, minus those taken captive by the king, had entered the city to a rapturous reception. "He said that his enemies’ joy would soon be swallowed up by fear and confusion."

 

"There is already enough fear and confusion," Aline said wearily. Though she had been relieved to see Hugh return unscathed, she had no intention of showing him that. She gave him only the most frigid of kisses, and that night in bed, when he reached for her, she turned away. "I am fatigued," she said coldly.

 

"Aline. I swear to you. I didn’t know they’d come after your father’s estates."

 

"You could have guessed."

 

"Yes. I suppose I could have. But I doubt there’s a thing I could have done about it in any case. If he had been in danger of his person I would have done all in my power to stop it, of course." He put a hand on her shoulder and she jerked away. Hugh sighed. "Aline, do you think I like being on opposite sides from your father? I like him, I respect him. If he weren’t so obstinately loyal to the king—"

 

Aline snorted. "He would say the same about you and Montfort. Don’t you see that?"

 

"I am loyal to Simon. We’ve been friends for years. But this isn’t about my liking for him, Aline. It’s about principles. It’s about the Provisions. I believe in them. I don’t want to see them destroyed."

 

"I believe in you and in my father. I don’t want to see either of you destroyed."

 

He clasped her to him. Reluctantly, Aline felt her anger thaw.

 

The next day, she was looking over the household accounts when she heard a commotion outside her window and recognized the mayor of London, Thomas fitz Thomas, an ally of Montfort and a friend of Hugh’s. By the time she made her way downstairs, Hugh had mounted a horse—not his own horse but the closest at hand—and had galloped through the Tower gates. Seeing Hugh’s men running to and fro, she grabbed one by the arm. "What in the world is going on?"

 

"The Londoners are attacking the Jews, my lady. Some rumor went around that they were in league with the king." The man shook his head. "More likely, the mob is after their goods and money."

 

Her chest felt tight. "And Hugh is joining them?"

 

The man looked shocked. "No, my lady. He is trying to stop it. He and the mayor."

 

Several hours later, Hugh returned. Aline, who had been watching for his arrival, ran to him as he rode through the Tower gate. So concerned for his safety had she been that she had not instantly noticed the throng of men, women, and children straggling behind him and his men. "Hugh?"

 

"Jews. They’re in mortal danger. The Londoners killed I don’t how many of them—dozens, maybe hundreds for
all I know. The mayor and I told them they could stay here until things calm down. We tried—"

 

"But where will they stay? How will I talk to them?"

 

"They speak our language, you’ll find, and you will figure out something about the lodgings. Now I need to get back. There are some people still left in there, and I’m not sure we’ve stopped all of the Londoners."

 

He rode off, and she stared at the Jews. She’d never seen one up close before, and the little she knew about them, that they were rumored to kill Christian children when the mood struck them, did not auger well. Might they revenge themselves on her children?

 

But as the Jews came closer she found herself pitying them. Some wore clothes stained with blood, and most had the dazed look of people who had only just recently suffered intense trauma. A few of the children appeared to have lost their parents, and toward the rear of the group a woman clutched an infant wrapped tightly in a blanket. It too was covered with blood. Aline reached out a hand. "The baby?"

 

The woman snatched the child away. Her companion said, in the French that was the daily language of the
upper classes, "There’s nothing you can do to help, my lady. The child is dead."

 

Aline was struck dumb with pity.

 

She had been well trained, however, to provide hospitality for large numbers of people at short notice, albeit usually in better circumstances than these, and her instincts soon took over. With her steward’s help, she had all of the refugees housed and fed by nightfall. That was all she could do. To comfort them after the horror they had undergone that day was beyond her; the rabbis she saw among them would have to manage that, if it were possible. Aline doubted it.

 

She had undressed and was lying in her and Hugh’s bedchamber in the Garden Tower, remembering the mother clinging to her dead infant, when Hugh stumbled in. Aline at first thought that he was ill before she realized, to her shock, that he had been drinking heavily. Normally, he was temperate; she’d never before seen him too far in wine, not even on Twelfth Night. He reached for the jug of wine that had been left for their overnight refreshment and sloshed it into one of the silver cups that they had received for their wedding. "Hugh, I don’t think you need—"

 

"I need every bit that’s here. More." He gulped the wine. "It was a living hell out there. They killed so many. Women—some were raped first. Virgins and grandmothers alike. They even killed children—some younger than our Hugh."

 

"I know."

 

He put his hands in front of his face. Aline saw he was weeping. "We tried to save more of them. We couldn’t."

 

She wrapped her arms around him. "At least you tried. And you did save some of them." She stroked his hair.
He was only forty-one, but it was graying in spots, she saw for the first time.

 

"Do you know who led the whoresons? Our own John fitz John. He strangled Isaac, the wealthiest Jew in London."

 

John fitz John was her younger sister’s husband. "Mother of God," Aline whispered. In the distance she heard a child crying, probably one of the Jewish babies in the Tower.

 

"Then he made off with his goods—for our cause, he said when I confronted him." He emptied another cup of wine, far too quickly, and stared into it. "We need it; these last few months have beggared us. Convenient to have it all there waiting in the Jewry, wasn’t it? And Simon will get his share too."

 

To have Hugh speaking ill of Simon was akin to blasphemy, and almost as troubling. "Come to bed, Hugh. You’re overtired and you don’t know what you’re saying." When he made no move to cooperate, she added, "Please, my love. You’re frightening me."

 

He complied immediately, allowing Aline to help him out of his clothes and into their bed. He had hardly lain down before he began snoring heavily.

 

In the morning Hugh was his usual self, albeit a self with a head, he said sheepishly, that felt as if his horse had kicked it yet not been kind enough to finish the job. He met with Montfort later that day and seemed to have reconciled whatever doubts he had had about his old friend. Aline herself was less certain as to how large a role, if any, the Earl of Leicester had played in encouraging the massacre, but it was true that Simon, returning to the Tower from the ruins of the Jewry where he had ridden with Hugh and the mayor, looked nearly as ashen-faced as Hugh had the day before.

 

That was in early April 1264. By May, Aline and the Jews, along with the usual royal clerks and the garrison, had the Tower to themselves. Hugh and the rest of Montfort’s men, along with a contingent of Londoners who were no more trained in war than Aline herself, had left the city to negotiate with Henry or, if that failed, to fight.

 

The long-awaited messenger—one of Hugh’s men, which could have meant either good news or bad—came at last on a fine afternoon in mid-May. Seeing his arrival from her chamber window, Aline, who had grown increasingly nervous as days passed and no word came from Hugh, ran downstairs to meet him, threading through the knots of children at play. "You come from Hugh?" she panted as she reached the messenger.

 

"I’ve good news, my lady. Our forces defeated Henry’s at a place called Lewes. Sir Hugh is well—except for a hit
on the shoulder he took—and sends you his love."

 

"My father?"

 

"He is a prisoner, my lady. Sir Hugh captured him, as a matter of fact. He was wounded, but he appeared to be recovering well when I left him. Sir Hugh bade me tell you that he would be getting all of the care he needed. Sir Philip himself sent you his love and said you were not to worry about him."

 

Aline crossed herself. "God be thanked."

 

The messenger, having delivered the news of most concern to Aline, relaxed. "We were outnumbered, my lady. Simon was magnificent, so were your husband and the rest of the knights. The London troops didn’t fare so well, green as they were. The Lord Edward cost his father’s cause dearly, I’ll tell you, by chasing them when he should have been engaged with our other forces. But what a fight it was! You should have been there, my lady."

 

"I am rather glad that I was not there, I must admit. But where is my father? Did he ask me to help nurse him?"

 

"Your father is being taken care of at Lewes priory until he is well enough to be moved. He has been allowed to send for your stepmother to nurse him. He said that your place was with your husband."

 

"I see," said Aline. Her stepmother, a relentlessly efficient woman, doubtless would be a much better nurse than Aline could have been; her father would not dare to be slow to recover with the countess at hand. But stepmother or no, her father had always doted on her. Nothing but this civil war would have stopped him from having her nurse him. She brushed a tear from her eye and squared her shoulders. "Come take some refreshment."

 

When Hugh returned to London at the end of May, she twined her arms around his neck and kissed him hard, heedless that the entire populace of the Tower—all the more crowded now for the prisoners the victorious forces had brought with them—was looking on. Hugh was much less demonstrative in public than she, but that night in their bedchamber, he gave her ample proof that he had missed her. "Your shoulder," she whispered as he lifted her onto their bed.

 

"Fie on it."

 

Much later, she asked about his wound. Hugh grinned in the darkness. "Your father did this to me, sweet."

 

"Papa!"

 

"I doubt he knew at the time which knight he was swinging at. He’d been wounded nigh near twenty times by then and could hardly stand—he’d lost his horse—but stand he was going to do until the last. I was trying to capture him before anyone could do him more damage. He swung his battle axe at me and got me on the shoulder, but it took the last of his strength. He fell over and I dragged him off as my prisoner at long last." He chuckled. "He’s a tough one, your father. He wasn’t so badly injured that he couldn’t curse Montfort and the rest of us to perdition as I hauled him off, but when he finally recognized me he was civil as he could be under the circumstances. I told him that I’d do my best to see him set free soon, and I will."

 

She snuggled up closer to Hugh. "Do you think this will end the trouble?"

 

"Watch the shoulder, sweet. There." Hugh rearranged Aline so that her head rested on his bare chest instead of his shoulder. "I’d like to think so, but who knows? The Marcher lords are a law unto themselves, and they’ve never stood with us. And Gloucester’s someone Simon will have to look out for." The red-haired Earl of Gloucester, Gilbert de Clare, furious over various slights by Henry, had joined Montfort’s camp only a couple of months before Lewes. "He’s young and touchy, and with all the land he has Simon can’t afford to slight him. He doesn’t
get on well with Simon’s sons; I saw that at Lewes well enough. And those sons are a wild lot, as I’ve sure
you’ve heard. Not much of their father’s sense, and all of his lesser qualities."

 

"Lesser qualities? Hugh, have you been drinking again?"

 

He chucked her on the chin. "I know Simon has his faults. He’s a bit too fond of money and he’s not much inclined to listen to others’ views. But he’s got good plans for the country and he’s the best man to carry them out."

 

"He is lucky to have your loyalty."

 

Hugh shrugged his good shoulder. "I’m lucky to have him for a friend. How long has it been? About ten years,
I guess." He was quiet for a while, then he said gravely, "Aline."

 

"What?"

 

"Why are we speaking of Simon when I’ve the loveliest wench in England in my bed? With the prettiest—"
He moved his hand in a southwardly direction.

 

"Hugh!" Her long brown hair spilled across his chest as he drew her on top of him.

 

For a few months, the future had indeed looked bright. Then in the spring of 1265, all Hugh had worried about came to pass, and more. The Earl of Gloucester, furious at Simon’s favoritism to his sons and at being deprived of ransom money that was rightfully his, deserted Montfort’s cause and formed a tenuous alliance with the Marcher lords. Aware of the danger posed by Gloucester’s disaffection, Simon, with Hugh and his other loyal followers, attempted to arbitrate their differences with the young earl, but to no avail. Instead, the Lord Edward, who had been a hostage of the Montfortians since Lewes, escaped from his lax confinement in May 1265 under the pretext of trying out a fast horse. With him, Gloucester, and the Marcher lords now as one, war was inevitable, Aline knew as she walked into the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula that sultry August day in 1265.

 

Aline’s father, at least, would not be fighting. Hugh had recently arranged for his release from custody, but his injuries had left him unable to wield a weapon to any effect. It was all he could do, Aline’s stepmother wrote to her almost reproachfully, to mount a horse.

 

As she took her place inside the chapel, Aline patted the purse that hung by her side. In it was the latest letter from Hugh, dated at Hereford in July. It was a mundane letter of instructions, with the usual line giving his love to her and the children, but it would stay in her purse as a talisman until the next one came. It was high time that one did.

 

Aline was kneeling in prayer when the door to the chapel swung open. She heard whispers behind her, then the sound of footsteps rushing to the door. The chaplain was about to remonstrate when Aline heard yet another sound: loud cheers from the outside. She stood and hastened outside, then came to a halt when she saw the prisoners crowded together around someone of whom she could see nothing but the royal standard he held aloft. All were talking excitedly.

 

"They say when Montfort saw the Lord Edward’s standard and Gloucester’s at a distance, he knew the game was up and urged Despenser to flee while was still time. And Despenser refused."

 

"The more fool him," snorted the Earl of Derby. Unlike the other prisoners, he had not been taken captive at Lewes, but was being held for trespasses against the realm. He laughed. "Choose between staying with Montfort and going home to that delicious little wife of his here? There’d had been no choice if I were concerned."

 

Aline stepped forward. "What is the meaning of this?"

 

The prisoners became silent and stepped away from the messenger, who asked, "Lady Despenser?"

 

"I am she."

 

"I bear ill news for you. Several days ago near Evesham, battle was joined between Simon de Montfort’s forces and the king’s. Montfort’s men were soundly defeated. He himself was killed." He waited for Aline to absorb this news. "There were few survivors on his side. The justiciar was not one of them, my lady."

 

"You are saying Hugh is—dead?"

 

The messenger nodded. "This is his surcoat." He handed a crumpled piece of cloth to Aline, who stared at it,
then swayed backward into a prisoner’s waiting arms. He led her to a bench. "Rest here, my lady. You have undergone a shock."

 

"Thank you," Aline said instinctively. When the man lingered, she said, "Leave me."

 

"But—"

 

"Leave me!"

 

The man obeyed. As Aline, twisting the surcoat that had been left in her hands, sat huddled on the bench, snatches of conversation began to penetrate the fog that seemed to have wrapped itself around her mind. There had been a fearsome thunderstorm that had begun just before the battle, which the Earl of Derby said should have warned Montfort then and there. Hugh had been killed by a dagger thrust, having fought, like the other men, until he was so badly wounded he could no longer fend off his attackers. One of the most powerful of the Marcher lords, a Roger Mortimer, had given him his death stab as he lay helpless on the ground.

 

I will hate the Mortimers for the rest of my life. And I shall teach my son to do the same.

 

The men were speaking in lower voices now, about Montfort’s body. Aline heard, not comprehending at first,
that his body had been hacked to pieces on the field, the head sent to Lady Mortimer.

 

"They chopped off his balls and stuffed them into his mouth and sent those to Lady Mortimer too.
Fine present, eh?"

 

"My lady prefers jewels herself."

 

Aline heard someone cry out, which turned out to be herself. The men fell silent again as the messenger hastened to her. "My lady, I wish to God that you had not heard that. But in war there are always—excesses. I can assure you that your husband’s body was not subjected to them, but was treated with all due respect. At the Lord Edward’s command, Sir Hugh was given honorable burial along with the Earl of Leicester’s son Henry and the Earl of Leicester’s remains. The three of them were laid by the high altar at Evesham abbey."

 

"Did they bury the Provisions there too? Perhaps in their own little casket?"

 

The messenger’s eyes widened as Aline laughed aloud at the image her own words had conjured up in her mind. It was far better than the other picture trying to intrude there: Hugh lying bloody and dead on a rain-soaked field at Evesham; his hero and friend carved up like a slab of meat beside him.

 

But the messenger probably thought that she was going mad. Were it not for her children, Aline would have been quite content to do so. She stood and said as composedly as she could, "I suppose you did not come here only to tell me of my husband’s death."

 

"No, my lady. The king wishes you to surrender the Tower and the royal prisoners in your custody. You may be assured that the king will protect you should you follow his desires."

 

A dubious protection, Aline thought, but then considered the question put to her. She and the garrison could hold the Tower against the king, perhaps, if she chose, for if there was one place in England where Montfort had had loyal followers, it was here in London.

 

But what was that support worth now without Montfort himself? And in any case, Aline realized, her part in this sad business had ended on the corpse-strewn ground near Evesham. Her allegiance had been to a single man, not to a cause, and that man was lost to her, in this life at least. Aline looked at the messenger. "I shall accede to the king’s wishes." She paused and stared at the Earl of Derby, who had scoffed at Hugh’s unshakable loyalty, and could not keep the malice out of her voice as she said, "But I shall not free the Earl of Derby. He is a felon."

 

The messenger said something in reply, doubtless approving her good sense and assuring her again of the king’s protection. Aline caught neither that nor the Earl of Derby’s protests, but stared past the messenger, wondering without much caring what she would do next. Stay in the Tower until she and her children were ordered to leave their chambers there? Leave for Hugh’s lands? As if reading her thoughts, the messenger said, "You’re safest at the Tower, my lady. Your late husband’s estates—any estates of anyone associated with Montfort—were sacked, and are still being so, I hear. Best stay here until the king—"

 

A group of horsemen were riding over the bridge to the Tower gate. Yanking up her trailing skirts, Aline pushed past the messenger and through the gate and ran toward the oldest of the riders.

 

Philip Basset had aged considerably since Aline had last seen him. His face was drawn with pain, whether from riding too long or from recent events Aline could not tell. "You’ve heard the news?" "Yes."

 

"I’m sorry, child. I hoped to reach you before the king’s man did." He dismounted, slowly and gingerly, with the help of his squire and took the cane offered to him. "I came to bring you and your children home with me.
You can grieve and heal there. Come, lass."

 

He reached out for her with his free arm and she leaned her head against his shoulder, finally letting her tears
for Hugh fall freely.

 

Copyright 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 by Susan Higginbotham

 

paisley

 


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