Her Norman Conquest
At the mercy of William the Conqueror, Lady Ann faces an uncertain future as Norman knights fight for her hand.
Left alone after the death of all the male members of her household at the Battle of Hastings, Lady Ann finds herself at the mercy of William the Conqueror. The King intends to marry his knights to Saxon gentry. Ann becomes a useful if not uncooperative ally by using her ability to speak French to liaise with the terrified Saxon women and their potential husbands. She falls in love with a devastatingly handsome Norman blacksmith only to discover King William has plans for her to marry one of his knights.
“All unwed landed ladies, widows or maidens of childbearing age are hereby summoned to Hertfordshire without delay.”
Lady Ann of Parr balled her fists and glared up at the Norman knight, so mighty, reading his declaration from the back of a horse. Mayhap he believed she would plunge a dagger in his heart. “But, my lord, I have tenants to oversee, an estate to manage. Your king has slaughtered the men of my family and all of my father’s loyal men.” She lifted her chin. “I am the only one left to guide my people.”
The knight stared down at her without compassion. “Gather your belongings. My patience grows thin.”
She pressed her lips together. Bad enough the new king’s army had brutally slain the proud Saxon men and had left them to rot on the battlefield, but since the invasion, their mourning wives and daughters had lived in constant terror of these foreign-speaking brutes. Indeed, few women had knowledge of the French language as she did. She had heard tales about Norman knights ransacking estates in search of documents or details regarding their wealth or lands. She closed her eyes and drew a deep breath. Dear God! Her turn had come to join the stream of highborn womenfolk the beasts had bundled into carts bound for London to meet their death, or worse, forced to marry a murdering Norman knight.
Conceding defeat, she met his gaze. “Very well, when do we leave?”
“Sir Paul de Groote will be accompanying you. He will arrive at daybreak.” His lip curled with contempt. “Make sure you are ready to depart. Two of my men will remain here to ensure you comply with the king’s orders.” The stern knight swung his horse around and returned to his troops.
* * * *
The sun had hardly peeked over the horizon to herald the arrival of Sir Paul de Groote and his troops at her country estate. He had impressed her with his courtesy, so unlike the brutish ways she had encountered from the Norman knights so far. The man was impressively tall and spoke in a gentle tone. He had appeared genuinely remorseful in his delivery of the missive from the newly crowned king. Mayhap not all the Normans had such bad manners.
“You may take your maid and one trunk. We have little room to spare.” Sir Paul led her towards the cart. “You will be taken to Berkhamsted Castle and King William will decide your future.” He gave her a tight smile. “I’m sure you will be impressed at what changes our king has made to England. He plans to build great castles. Have no fear, all the estates will be properly managed under Norman rule.”
She bit back a retort—no need to make an enemy of a man who had at least offered her a modicum of civility. She climbed into the cart with Meg at her side and watched her beloved home vanish into the morning mist. Aye, she had heard tell of Berkhamsted Castle created by Robert of Mortain to protect the king and built with no less than two moats to ensure against any further Saxon uprising. It would seem the Normans had need for such things. Hours passed with no respite and the heavens had opened up, drenching her by the time the wooden structure came into view. Cold, hungry and with a failing spirit, she followed the guards through the courtyard.
Inside the great hall, she gaped in wonder at the impressive opulence around her. The walls rose high on each side, one covered in magnificent tapestries. The other displayed a large variety of weaponry, and centred hung the battered shield depicting King Harold’s coat of arms. A shiver raced down her spine at the memory of the tales spoken in hushed voices about the gruesome death of King Harold. The great king had suffered an arrow to the eye and the Norman butchers had hacked him to pieces. He would turn in his grave if he could hear French spoken as the tongue of his beloved England.
She smothered a sob. Her sharp intake of breath brought Meg to her side. She brushed aside the bunched cotton cloth offered by her maidservant, lifted her chin and stepped into the Great Hall. “Put it away, Meg, for I fear I have no more tears to shed.”
She pushed down the fear, determined not to cower before the Normans. All about her, guards stood oppressively close. Musky male scent rose from their warm bodies, enhanced by the dampness from the incessant, freezing rain. She glanced at her ashen-faced maidservant and straightened her soaked head rail. Anger shivered down her spine. How dare they treat her in such a manner?