C.V. Lee writes historical biographical fiction and is currently writing her Roses & Rebels series, a family saga set in the late 15th and early 16th centuries during the time of the Wars of the Roses, the Renaissance, and the Reformation. Her goal in writing is to bring to life forgotten heroes and heroines of the past.
Born in Texas, raised in Washington state, C.V. lived most of her adult life in California, with a brief stint in Colorado. She grew up east of Seattle and graduated from the University of Washington. After graduation, she moved to California, first to the beaches of the Los Angeles South Bay, then to wine country in the San Francisco Bay Area, and later to the farm country of the Sacramento Valley. Recently, she returned home to Washington state and taken up residence on an island.
Her favorite hobbies include reading, cooking, and traveling.
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What is the price of an act of treason?
As the Houses of Lancaster and York fight over the throne during the Wars of the Roses, the repercussions extend beyond the shores of England.
In 1461, the French capture Mont Orgueil on the Isle of Jersey. To protect the family legacy for his son, Sir Philippe de Carteret, the most powerful lord on the island, sees no choice but to pledge his loyalty, hoping the new overlords will prove benevolent until King Edward can turn his attention to ousting them. But instead the island suffers under their tyrannical rule.
When a pirate lands at St. Ouen’s Bay claiming the true Lord of the Isles, the Earl of Warwick, has sent him to stir up a rebellion, de Carteret is suspicious. Other lords rally to the cause, only to be arrested and tried for conspiracy. With French spies everywhere, determined to find a reason to arrest him too, de Carteret finds it increasingly difficult to know whom to trust and how to keep his family safe.
As the citizens of Jersey despair under the growing burden of oppression, de Carteret must risk everything to free his beloved homeland.
Based on real people and events, Token of Betrayal is a sweeping tale of loyalty, revenge, and a father's love and the difference one man can make to alter the course of history.
Token of Betrayal
What is the price of an act of treason?
Book Excerpt or Article
Isle of Jersey, Channel Islands
Peace. Fleeting moments to be cherished, for like an eel, they slithered far too quickly from his grasp. Sir Philippe de Carteret placed his elbows on the desk and massaged his temples, grateful the manor court had adjourned for another season. When he had taken up the mantle as Seigneur of St. Ouen’s Manor, he had conceived a calm pastoral life, collecting rents from his tenant farmers, negotiating contracts to sell wool and crops, and safeguarding his parish. He hadn’t anticipated spending so much time mediating pointless disputes among the peasantry and meting out fines for petty crimes.
A ride would clear his head, and he was eager to prove his newest purchase, a destrier named Magnar. Rising from the chair, he strapped on his sheath and sword and strode from his study into the great hall, out of the house, and across the green. Fortunately, no one approached him—he was not in the mood to deal with any more problems today.
When he opened the stable door, Magnar nickered and put his head over the stall gate. De Carteret dipped his hand into the grain barrel next to the door, then approached. Magnar nuzzled his neck, then took the treat. From the moment they met on the wharf in St. Helier, there had been an instant bond between them.
James, the groom, rushed forward to saddle Magnar. After opening the gate, he and De Carteret entered the stall. The pure black stallion stood a full two hands taller than the other steeds and had a regal presence, as though he believed himself a king among horses. James strapped on the saddle and slipped the bridle over his head.
De Carteret mounted and clicked his tongue, signaling Magnar to move forward. As they headed out of the stable and up the path, he noted the steady beat of the animal’s walk and the gentle sway of his flanks. When the road inclined, Magnar’s pace never wavered.
As they crested the hillock, St. Ouen’s Bay burst into view, a long, shallow inlet with miles of sandy shore. A half-dozen fishing vessels bobbed in the water beyond the mouth. Since the hills to the East shielded them from the road view, and the endless body of water expanded to the West, the strand was free from distractions—a place of escape.
Magnar descended the slope with nary a misstep. Upon reaching the strand, de Carteret transitioned the animal to a trot, absorbing the motion as furlongs of gray sand disappeared behind them. Pleased by Magnar’s balance and measured movements, he nudged the horse into a canter. The pounding of hooves as they hit the sand reminded him of his younger years, riding across the vales of France.
Back then, he’d had a heart for battle, fighting for King Henry VI and the glory of England. At sixteen, the prospect of war had been alluring, a way to prove his manhood. Every day had been an adventure, spying on the enemy or engaging in combat. Nights had been spent in fellowship with friends, exchanging japes and sleeping under the stars. At the age of one and twenty, his bravery and prowess had earned him the honor of knighthood and the rank of captain. That day, his heart had overflowed with pride.
He had soon discovered there was no glory in the conflict. After five years of suffering defeat after defeat by the French forces, his zeal for war had dampened. He had yearned for the serenity of his home on Jersey, and, at night in his tent, he had often dreamed of the lush green fields, the sheep grazing on the hillside, and riding along the narrow, winding lanes shaded by tall oak trees or along the craggy cliffs of the north coast.
He reveled at the destrier’s gait, smooth as sailing in calm waters, unlike the violent storms of war. Digging his knee into Magnar’s side, he urged him ever faster, as if by doing so, he could outrun the troubling thoughts he knew would follow. Magnar surged forward as visions of the Battle of Castillon rushed in. It was the only battle where his men-at-arms had faced cannons and culverins. While culverins inflicted death from a distance, at least there was a chance for those fighting with spears and swords. But he would never forget the horrible devastation when a cannonball had ripped through his men's line.
Drawing in the reins, he slowed Magnar to a halt. He sat tall in the saddle, just as he had that day as he had watched the sun set over the battlefield strewn with the bloodied bodies of his countrymen. The memories still filled him with disgust and sadness. He had changed that day, questioning the purpose of all the fighting. After more than a century at war, England had lost all her French territory except Calais. The constant battle had brought nothing but death, hardship, and sorrow to everyone it touched. After the Battle of Castillon, France and England signed a treaty. The ensuing peace should have given his fellow citizens time to reflect, heal, and replenish their coffers, something that would improve lives from the lowliest peasant to the king.
Alas, peace in England had been short-lived. Scarcely a year had passed before the nobles began warring amongst themselves, taking sides in the struggle for power between the Houses of Lancaster and York. Only a fortnight ago, the red rose of Lancaster had faded and fallen on the battlefield at Towton, and the white rose, in the person of the handsome eighteen-year-old Edward of York, had ascended the throne.
He wheeled Magnar around, and they galloped south along the shore. He steered the stallion toward a large log that had drifted in from the water. Magnar’s powerful flanks tensed as he readied to leap, clearing the obstacle effortlessly.
Slowing Magnar to a walk, he guided the magnificent animal into the bay. The stallion tossed his head as he pranced through the water, sending up sprays that sparkled like diamonds in the morning sunlight. His joy lightened de Carteret’s mood. The destrier had proved to be everything he’d been promised, sure-footed and responsive to the lightest touch.
De Carteret closed his eyes and lifted his face to the sun, basking in its welcome warmth after the chilly days of winter. The morning breeze ruffled his hair; it brushed against his cheek like a butterfly's wings. The morning was tranquil with the soft lap of waves against the rocks and the soft coo of the gulls overhead. If only life could be so simple.
Magnar balked, drawing de Carteret out of his revelry. His eyes flew open as the horse pricked his ears forward and shifted his body toward the shore. Alarmed, de Carteret scanned the shoreline and the green hills dotted with the yellow flowers of early spring. Nothing unusual.
A cloud passed over the sun, and a distant rumble, like the roll of thunder, grew louder as it moved closer. He recognized the familiar refrain of horses’ hooves just before several crested the hill. His stomach clenched, and he instinctively reached for his sword.
One rider broke away from the group and galloped toward him, shouting, “Seigneur!”
De Carteret recognized Renaud Lempriere, the Seigneur of Rozel Manor, who rode toward him, his azure cloak flapping in the breeze. His hair was still dark at forty-four, and he cut a dashing figure astride his chestnut steed. He reined in his horse at the water’s edge.
De Carteret waved and called out, “I see you were unable to wait to see the newest addition to my stable.”
“I wish that were true,” Lempriere yelled, loud enough to be heard above the surf. “The castle’s been breached.”
Not sure he had understood, de Carteret flicked the reins, urging Magnar forward through the water until they reached the sand and stood alongside Lempriere. “Westminster? Pray, tell me King Edward has not been ousted already.” He hoped his supposition was wrong, for the last thing they needed was Henry’s weak, disinterested leadership back on the throne.
Lempriere’s face looked pinched, and dark circles rimmed his eyes. “No, Mont Orgueil.”
De Carteret stiffened in the saddle. “The French?”
“Who else? They are always quick to take any advantage. What better time than to test the newly crowned king?”
“How could this happen?”
Lempriere shook his head. “I’m sure we will soon receive a summons to the Royal Court to hear the official account.”
“Only a fool would trust the verity of that report,” de Carteret said. “We need eyes and ears everywhere to stitch together the truth. I dread what this means for the future of our island.”
The harsh caw of the gulls and the breaking waves filled the silence as they rode together across the sand. At the main road, Lempriere traveled south with his men to notify the other seigneurs.
De Carteret pressed Magnar into a canter as they headed eastward along the Val de la Charière toward St. Ouen’s Manor, his mind troubled as he mulled over how best to break the news to his men and family.
Mont Orgueil, built high on the rocks and surrounded on three sides by water and on all sides by cliffs, had never in its 250-year history fallen to the enemy. It was a source of island pride that only a handful of men was needed to defend her. Yet somehow, overnight the French had achieved the impossible.
He searched the landscape for anything out of the ordinary. How strange that he had felt safe to ride alone only a short hour ago. He could not shake the nagging feeling that someone must have betrayed the castle and welcomed in the enemy.
If his suspicions were correct, the investigation would uncover the culprit. The timing could not be more perfect, for King Edward would be distracted with the business of establishing his throne against powerful lords who wished to restore Henry to the throne. The crown would not deem an extended engagement to restore English dominion over Jersey an urgent matter.
Of more pressing concern was how long the French would be able to retain control of Mont Orgueil. For countless years, the island’s seigneurs had paid tribute to the crown, expecting England to defend them against invasion. He would soon learn if the English kept their promise.
De Carteret crested the hill. Sheep bleated as shepherds herded them along the roadway to the grassy knolls to feed. Below, the peasants shouted out to one another as they struggled to get the workhorses into the yoke of their plow. The manor house rose in the distance, the glow of the morning sun behind it. The rectangular brown stone structure was two stories tall with narrow windows on either side of the double doors. Nothing fancy, but it had been home to his ancestors for generations.
He rode down the hill, breathing in the smell of freshly tilled soil. He passed the stable and the family chapel. Through the side door, he saw the priest preparing for the morning service. A stream to the left gurgled as it flowed. Everything so normal, everyone going about their day, unaware that soon French soldiers would descend on the Parish of St. Ouen and all their lives would be irrevocably changed.
He reined in Magnar in front of the manor house. James hastened forward to help him dismount. De Carteret leaped up the two steps and opened the door. Philippe, his nine-year-old son, hurtled toward him.
“Father!” Philippe grabbed his arm. “I need to tell you something.”
“Not now, Son. Why are you not upstairs doing your lessons?”
His wife, Penna, dressed in a drab gray gown, her hair covered with a white wimple, glided into the great hall, clutching her Bible to her breast. She headed toward the stairs.
De Carteret said, “Demoiselle Penna, please take Philippe upstairs.”
“Yes, Seigneur.” Penna inclined her head and beckoned for Philippe to follow her.
De Carteret crossed the great hall with its whitewashed stone walls, dark wood furnishings, and large hearth on the right. He watched at the base of the stairs as Penna and Philippe ascended to the family quarters. When they were out of sight, he pivoted and crossed to where the trestle tables were set up for dining. A few servants chattered as they cleared the remains of the morning meal while Philippe’s tutor still hovered near the sideboard, filling a trencher with the remains. It vexed de Carteret greatly that the man always seemed more concerned with filling his stomach than instructing his son in his lessons.
De Carteret strode to the table at the far end of the room where a score of his men-at-arms, dressed in the gray tunics that signified their allegiance to St. Ouen’s Manor, sat drinking ale and engaged in boisterous conversation. He stood at the head of the table, waiting for the tutor to take his leave before signaling for his men’s attention. They quieted quickly, their eyes on him. “The old castle was attacked overnight and has fallen into the hands of the enemy.”
The atmosphere became somber as his men lowered their tankards and leaned forward to attend to his words. Even the servants paused in their chores to listen. De Carteret’s right palm rested on the hilt of his sword. “We must prepare for French soldiers coming to assert their authority. It won’t be long.”
“Are you certain?” Colin, the captain of his men-at-arms, asked. He was a husky man with sandy hair, strong as an ox, with a head for combat and skilled with a sword. “We have always been told Mont Orgueil was impregnable.”
De Carteret nodded. “That is what we all believed. My information comes from a trusted source.”
Colin frowned. “How is it possible?”
“That is what I mean for us to discover. Those of you on my left, split into groups of three. Decide among yourselves who goes to St. Helier, who goes to the Parish of St. Martin, and who loiters near the castle. Report what you learn. The rest of you are charged to guard the perimeter of the manor. Advise my men not in attendance here of the situation. Any other questions?”
Over the next half hour, de Carteret detailed what was expected from each group of men, directing them to scatter widely, to serve as his eyes and ears, and to ask questions of local peasants and merchants. When all their questions were addressed, he said, “You are dismissed to your duties.”
The men scrambled up from the table, breaking off into groups before departing the hall, their mail jangling and swords clattering as they headed toward the door. The servants resumed their duties, but the volume of their discourse dropped to a whisper.
De Carteret strode from the room and climbed the stairs. He found Penna in the schoolroom, her rosary swinging from her girdle as she straightened the books on the table in the center of the room. Philippe was hunched over in his chair, staring at a blank parchment. His dark brown hair had fallen forward, hiding his face. De Carteret pulled out a chair beside him. “My apologies for earlier. I had urgent business. What did you wish to tell me?”
Philippe shook his head. “Nothing, Father.
De Carteret glanced about the room. “Where is your tutor?”
Still not looking up, Philippe shrugged.
“He resigned,” Penna replied. “Might we discuss this privily?”
De Carteret placed a hand on his son’s head. “I’ll be back forthwith.” He rose and followed Penna from the room and down the hall to the lord’s chamber, where a servant was making up the four-poster bed hung with green damask curtains.
Once the door closed, de Carteret moved to the window and drew the curtain to let in the light. He faced Penna, who stood clutching her Bible and rosary to her chest as if she needed them for protection. It irked him that she insisted on dressing and behaving like some virginal nun.
Nothing could be further from the truth. “Where is the tutor?” he asked.
Penna raised her chin and pressed her lips together. “Shortly after you returned home, he marched into the schoolroom and resigned. He packed his bags and left.”
“He gave no reason?” Despite the tutor’s many failings, de Carteret groaned inwardly at the prospect of finding a new English tutor for his son. The timing was most inopportune, given the invasion of the castle.
“He muttered something about hating the French and not wanting to risk his life in this godforsaken place,” Penna replied.
Obviously, when the tutor had left the hall, he had not gone straight to the classroom, but rather had eavesdropped from the top of the stairs as de Carteret spoke with his men. “So you’ve heard the news?”
“I know nothing beyond what he said. His departure is a pity, for it is difficult to get a good master to come to Jersey.”
“And it will be even more difficult now that the French are in possession of Mont Orgueil.”
Penna’s eyes widened. “How can that be?”
“At present, that is unclear. I have dispersed my men-at-arms around the island to garner some answers.” He watched Penna’s face to catch a glimpse of his Norman wife’s true feelings, to discern any hint of a smile or glimmer of hope that a favored soldier might be among the invaders. If it was there, it quickly vanished.
Penna mumbled something he couldn’t hear, then crossed herself. “My regrets. I know how fiercely loyal you are to England.”
“Unfortunately, given the ease of defending the castle, I fear the French stay may be of some duration.”
“Maybe it will prove a good thing.”
“History would not bear that out.”
“Even so, we cannot allow Philippe to get behind in his lessons. Might you consider a French tutor?”
“That is out of the question.”
A tear slipped down Penna’s cheek. “Will you tell Philippe? I do not know how to talk to him anymore.”
De Carteret grimaced and shook his head. “He is our son, our only child. You need to try harder.”
“Is it worth risking his life?”
De Carteret threw up his hands. “I don’t have time for this foolish debate again.” He stalked from the room, tempted to slam the door behind him, but he did not want to upset Philippe. Penna was the boy’s mother. He had swallowed his pride for his son’s sake by not sending her back to Normandy in shame. And this was how she repaid him.
When de Carteret reached the schoolroom, Philippe was sitting on the ledge, staring out the window. De Carteret went to stand beside him, watching the peasants at work plowing the fields. He cleared his throat.
Philippe glanced at him and then quickly turned away, but not before de Carteret saw the glisten of sadness in his son’s eyes. His heart ached to see how his son took every loss of a tutor so personally. He was too young to carry such burdens on his shoulders. Truthfully, he had allowed his son to enjoy his childhood longer than most, for he wasn’t ready to let him grow up. After everything he had seen in his lifetime, he wanted to protect his son’s innocence a while longer.
“I’m sorry, Father. I do not know what I did to make him leave.”
De Carteret put a hand on his son’s shoulder. “You are not to blame. It’s difficult for some people to adjust to life on a small island after living in a big city like London. I’ll find someone to take his place.”
Philippe grinned and hopped off the windowsill, his eyes sparkling. “Since I have no studies, can I spend the day with you?”
“Another day, I promise. I have many affairs to attend.” It grieved de Carteret to see the joy fade from his son’s face.
“But I would like to go with you. I shall be seigneur one day and have much to learn.”
He ruffled his son’s hair. “I love when you come along, but not today.” De Carteret left the room, pushing aside the guilt of not being able to spend more time with his son. He had already missed so many years of the boy’s life when he was away fighting in France. But now, his priority was to ensure his family and parish remained safe.
A fortnight passed before de Carteret entered the Royal Court in St. Helier. He took his place at the table on the dais beside Lempriere. All the island’s seigneurs had received a summons to appear today when the bells of the Parish Church of St. Helier tolled ten. The conversation was minimal, but the constant foot shuffling and chair scraping on the stone floor informed their unease. Though the lamplight flickering on the dark-paneled walls had once made the room feel warm and inviting, today it reflected an ominous gloom. The stench of sweat and fear permeated the room.
The double doors swung open, revealing a man wearing a red gambeson trimmed with gold cloth beneath a fur-lined blue cloak with a helmet tucked beneath his arm. De Carteret recognized Pierre de Brézé, a notable Frenchman from Normandy who had attended his wedding to Penna years earlier. His jaw tightened as he remembered that day. De Brézé had stood apart, aloof from the other guests, his visage suggesting he was privy to some secret he refused to divulge.
Since then, de Carteret had heard little of de Brézé other than when the man made a name for himself as a fearless soldier and trusted ally, first to King Charles VII of France and later to his successor, King Louis XI. His name had resurfaced four years ago after he participated in a failed attempt to invade England.
Four soldiers entered along with de Brézé. As the door to the chamber shut behind them, de Carteret caught a glimpse of armed soldiers milling about in the antechamber.
Everyone in the room rose from their chairs and stood at attention. The room was silent except for the clomp of boots as de Brézé and two of the soldiers marched to the front of the chamber. The remaining two soldiers took up stations on either side of the door. The room buzzed with whispered conversation as the three men stepped up onto the dais.
De Brézé placed his helmet on the table and, in a commanding tone, ordered them to be seated. He waited for the commotion to subside. “I am Pierre de Brézé, Comte de Maulévrier, recently appointed by His Grace, King Henry VI, as your Lord of the Isles.”
A strange declaration, given it was Edward, Duke of York, that wore the English crown. The exiled Henry had no authority to grant land and titles. But the time of the new king had been but a fortnight before the French invaded. Perchance Henry had bestowed the title before being deposed. Still, it was odd that a proclamation announcing the new lord had not previously reached the Royal Court.
Lempriere leaned over and whispered to Reverend Thomas Le Hardy, Seigneur of Meleches, who occupied the chair on his other side. “Has Henry gone completely mad?”
The question amused de Carteret. Of course. Word had reached as far as Jersey, telling how Henry had laughed and sung while his forces were routed at the Battle of Towton. But de Carteret never dreamed Henry would give English territory over to the French, a treasonous act.
De Brézé glared at each seigneur until a hush settled over the room.
“I would like to introduce my two associates.” He pointed to the soldiers that flanked him on both sides. “Captain Carbonnel, to my right, and Marshal du Vieuxchastel on the left. They shall be my proxies, administering the island’s affairs in my absence. They have my full confidence and support however they deem appropriate to govern.”
Carbonnel, tall with a mustache and a smug expression, inclined his head by way of greeting. Du Vieuxchastel maintained a stoic visage. His hooked nose, combined with a scar the length of his cheek, rendered him sinister.
Brushing back a strand of his dark hair, de Brézé continued, “Each of you will take the oath of allegiance to me as your new lord.”
A voice from the back of the room spoke de Carteret’s thoughts aloud. “The Channel Islands belong to England. Should we not be renewing our oath to His Grace, King Henry VI?” The question arose from Seigneur Le Cornu of le Fief au Vesque. “It cannot be that King Henry expects his loyal subjects to pledge fealty to a French soldier whose loyalty lies with the King of France. Such an act would be considered treason.”
De Brézé’s face hardened, his eyes narrowing. “Until the rightful monarch returns to the throne, I am charged with the safekeeping of these islands.” He swept aside his cloak and placed his right fist on his hip, exposing the pummel of his jeweled sword. “You would not oppose the wishes of King Henry when he needs your loyalty the most?”
Le Cornu stood, resplendent in his blue tunic, a gold girdle around his waist, and met de Brézé’s gaze. “A promise of loyalty to either party seems imprudent at this time.”
De Brézé gripped the hilt of his sword. “So, you refuse the oath?”
“I see no reason to rush into declaring support for either side when the holder of sovereign power remains unclear.” There was a slight quiver in Le Cornu’s voice.
De Brézé nodded to his soldiers who threw open the double doors, revealing French soldiers amassed in the antechamber. De Brézé pointed to Le Cornu. “Arrest him and confiscate his property.”
Four soldiers marched into the room, grabbed Le Cornu’s arms, and dragged him to the center of the room as he struggled to break free. Several seigneurs remained seated, mouths agape, while others jumped to their feet shouting their objections.
“Must you be so hasty?” de Carteret shouted above the din. “The seigneur deserves a full hearing on the matter.”
De Brézé did not respond. Perchance he had not heard de Carteret amid the scuffle in the middle of the Royal Court. Despite the seigneurs’ protests, two more soldiers came forward and wrestled Le Cornu to the ground, clamped fetters around his arms and legs, and led him away.
If de Carteret were a swearing man, he would have done so. Inwardly, he shuddered, for he’d seen nothing on this island that compared. It seemed incredible that a man of stature, with rights and privileges of his own, could be hauled off like a common criminal merely for questioning authority—on a whim, his life, liberty, and property had been stolen away. De Carteret knew he must take care of his own words and actions, or he might jeopardize his own family and livelihood. One wrong move could cost him everything.
De Brézé scanned the room. “Does anyone else wish to proclaim their opposition and join their fellow in the dungeon?”
Silence descended like a pall over the Royal Court as the seigneurs, eyes devoid of expression, hunched in their chairs as if they wished to be invisible. It was as though a blanket had been thrown over them, quenching their fire.
De Brézé pointed to de Carteret. “We’ll begin with the Seigneur of St. Ouen’s Manor.”
The seigneurs looked up, and de Carteret felt the enormous responsibility of being seigneur of the most powerful manor on the island. These men trusted his judgment and would take their signal from him. Outside the Royal Court, the French outnumbered them. They had already borne witness to the results of any form of resistance. Though his mind protested against pledging loyalty to de Brézé and France, he did not want himself or his peers to lose everything they had achieved.
De Carteret rose from his seat on the dais, unbuckled his scabbard, and laid it on the table. He opened his pouch and withdrew his dagger, setting it alongside his sword. The last time he had taken an oath, he had felt great pride as he pledged his obeisance before Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, who had been Captain of the Isles until he joined the House of York in their effort to oust King Henry VI. His legs felt weak as he rounded the table to stand before de Brézé. He knelt on one knee. The stone floor felt cold, hard, and unforgiving. After clasping his hands, he held them up toward the count. He had felt less helpless on a battlefield.
His stomach wrenched as he swore the oath through gritted teeth. “I, Sir Philippe de Carteret, Seigneur of St. Ouen’s Manor, swear to remain faithful to you—” De Carteret’s throat went dry, and his voice cracked. “To you, Pierre de Brézé, Comte de Maulévrier, against all other men, to never cause you harm and observe my homage to you against all persons in good faith and without deceit.”
For de Carteret, the oath given under duress lacked conviction. Not that he wouldn’t honor his promise in deed, but in his heart, he would always be loyal to England. De Brézé grasped his hands and inclined his head in acknowledgment. De Carteret wanted to snatch them away and scream in protest, but instead he breathed a sigh of relief, knowing he was able to return home today.
After rising, he stumbled back to his place on the dais, avoiding the gaze of his fellow seigneurs. The humiliation would not end here. He prayed his men-at-arms, who had served his family faithfully for years, would remain loyal. It would take all his powers of persuasion to make them understand his decision was best for them all. He alone would bear the pain of guilt. For the first time in centuries, a seigneur of St. Ouen’s Manor had been disloyal to England.
Once the proceedings concluded, de Carteret hastened from the Royal Court to his house on the town square, stopping only to purchase a flagon of wine at the Purple Orchid Inn. Usually, he would dine there before the long ride home. But today, he desired the privacy of his house in town.
Unlocking the front door, he stepped into the cold, dark parlor. It smelled musty and had an air of abandonment. He had long since dismissed the servants since he rarely used the place. The door creaked shut, and he set the flagon on the sideboard. He drew the curtain to let in light and searched the drawers for a flint. His hand trembled as he lit the half-burned candles in the sconces around the room.
For years, he had trained to steel his nerves and responded carefully to others based solely on logic and reason. In his younger years, he had made a grievous error when acting on impulse, allowing sentiment to rule his head—a mistake he could not take back. He must not let today’s events ruin his restraint.
The feelings of anger and humiliation, even fear, experienced today scared him. Maybe he only believed himself immune from these emotions because he had not faced a difficult test. His body ached to fight, brandish his sword, and send the French scurrying back to Normandy. But such a foolhardy action would achieve nothing good. He had to set aside every sensibility and carefully plan every word and action of resistance to leave no evidence behind.
Someone rapped on the door, and de Carteret approached and called out, “Who goes there?”
A deep voice replied, “It is I, Lempriere.”
De Carteret opened the door to admit Lempriere, quickly checking the surroundings before barring it behind him.
“Do you think somebody followed you?”
“No, I was careful.” Lempriere removed his cloak and scabbard, draping them over a chair. His shoulder-length hair, usually perfectly combed, looked as tangled as de Carteret’s thoughts.
De Carteret drew the curtain across the window facing the town square. “What happened back there?”
“Something designed to frighten us into submission. I dare not even help Seigneur Le Cornu’s family because it may draw unnecessary scrutiny.”
“To think we must worry an act of kindness could be misconstrued as treason,” de Carteret said. “Wine?”
Opening the sideboard door, de Carteret dug out two glass chalices, blew off the dust, and set them on a small table in front of the unlit hearth.
“How dare Count de Brézé walk in and demand our fealty? I hope I don’t live to regret this day.”
“He didn’t leave us a choice.” Lempriere tucked his tall frame into a chair and crossed his legs at the ankles. The hilt of a dagger peeked out from the cuff of his knee-high boots. “It was either take the oath or lose our manors. A man does not easily abandon his ancestry.”
De Carteret retrieved the flagon from the sideboard and filled the glasses almost to the rim. He handed Lempriere a chalice and settled into the other chair.
Taking a sip of wine, Lempriere held it in his mouth for a moment before swallowing. “Interesting. Smooth and sweet at the start but leaves a bitter taste on the tongue.”
De Carteret took a draught. “Disappointing. The French exact a high price, then send us the dregs.” He placed the glass on the table. “My sources tell me our citizens have found the French soldiers quite amiable. Perchance things will work out.”
“I wouldn’t count on it. A legitimate lord need not sneak in through the postern at night. He would ride through the portico bearing a writ from the king.” Lempriere rose from his chair and paced the room. “In the past, a new lord installed a few of his knights and left us to continue our lives. This time, hundreds of soldiers fill the castle.”
“There is much excitement around a rumor that Henry and his family might take refuge here. That could explain their presence.”
“I pray you are right. Nevertheless, I intend to remain on my guard.” Lempriere dropped back into his chair and closed his eyes. “If what we witnessed today is any sign of things to come, this feels like an occupation. You, my friend, are fortunate to live on the far side of the island. With Rozel so close to Mont Orgueil, my family will feel the heavy fist of their governance.”
“The question remains, how did the French gain access to the castle with no one sounding the alarm? A ship cannot drop anchor at night, transport an entire garrison ashore, and maneuver the steep rock face in utter silence.”
“Curious indeed, given they surprised the warden in his bed, and he didn’t even put up a fight.”
De Carteret stroked his chin as he mulled over the information. “So we are to believe, by some miracle, the fates aligned that night in favor of de Brézé?”
“Hardly,” replied Lempriere. “I hear reports that Guillaume de St. Martin was laughing with the guards earlier in the evening and plying them with drink.”
“The attorney general!” Despite the chill in the room, de Carteret grew uncomfortably warm.
Lempriere sneered. “I suppose that’s the only way he can get people to tolerate his company.”
De Carteret gripped the chalice stem with enough force to break it. “Why is it that the de St. Martin family is always involved whenever something traitorous is alleged?”
“Indeed. That same night, de St. Martin was spotted slinking away from the castle in the company of his two brothers and his cousin Thomas.”
“I guess I shouldn’t be surprised,” de Carteret replied through clenched teeth. “They have long been staunch allies of the House of Lancaster. It makes a person question the warden’s claims that the invasion was unexpected. I suspect Comte de Brézé is here at the behest of Margaret d’Anjou.”
“There may be some truth to that. After all, Comte de Brézé and Margaret d’Anjou are cousins.”
“And Henry is ineffectual, too cowardly to defy her wishes, even when they are treasonous.”
“I doubt it will be long before someone reveals our support for the House of York to the new residents at Mont Orgueil.”
“Or reports how I harbored Edward of York and Lord Warwick for a time when they were in exile.” De Carteret rubbed his temple, trying to ease the pounding in his head. “No doubt Queen Margaret will find a way to exact her revenge.”
Lempriere drained his glass and set it on the table. “We have never made a secret of our support for the House of York, which means I must be going. I don’t want the gossips spinning tales, accusing us of plotting the demise of the French garrison within hours of pledging our loyalty.”
“Neither of us desires to be hauled before a tribunal to answer for imaginary crimes.”
When the door closed behind Lempriere, de Carteret slammed his fist on the table. Was it too much to hope that he could raise Philippe in a place free from fear? Henry’s fickle leadership had wrought a climate of betrayal and treason. An ally one day might denounce you as a traitor the next. He would be navigating dangerous waters now the French were in charge.
He picked up the chalice and hurled it against the stone chimney. The glass shattered, and shards covered the hearth; the red wine, like spilled blood, oozed across the stone floor. He struggled to check his emotions. Anger wouldn’t change the past, but rash behavior might endanger all their futures.
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