Lady Of The Knight
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
Rosie jumped at the sound of his voice. Never had she beheld anyone so garishly dressed as the man who had just paid a king’s fortune for the dubious privilege of taking something that she no longer had.
Her new master was clothed completely in scarlet and gold from the great wealth of nodding yellow plumes on his crimson hat to the toes of his bright red leather shoes. His thigh-length scarlet doublet was trimmed with yards of golden lace. His shirt of ivory silk peeked through the slashing of his full padded sleeves. Panes of gold decorated his red trunk hose and bright yellow stockings encased his muscular legs. The magnificence of his colors put everyone else into dark shade.
Rosie presumed that the gentleman must be a cousin of the king. She wondered why he had chosen her, when he obviously could have had his pick of finer quality ladies.
Then she looked into his face. His mouth, with fine full lips, drew apart in a smile that lit up his clean-shaven countenance. Laugh lines crinkled at the corners of his hazel eyes. His nut-brown hair, shot with streaks of silver, waved over the collar of his short red cape. Rosie’s heart skipped a beat. Even though he was past his prime, the gentleman was still very handsome by any woman’s reckoning.
Quince rapped her toes. “Quit gawking, girl, and attend to yer business with this lord. ‘E don’t want to wait until doomsday to swive ye.”
The nobleman ignored Quince. He continued to smile at Rosie. “Come, sweetheart, take my hand. I will not let you fall.”
His eyes surveyed her in a kindly manner and not with the raw lust Rosie had expected. Summoning all her courage, she placed her hand in his. His gloved fingers closed around hers and he gave her a little squeeze. When she looked into his eyes again, she saw only warmth and approval. A little trill of excitement fluttered in her heart. The doeskin of his gloves caressed her work-roughened palm with butter softness.
Quince shoved her. “Take a strap to the wench, if she don’t move fast enough to yer liking,” the bawdmaster advised.
Rosie nearly fell on top of the richly clad nobleman. Her new patron tightened his grip to steady her. “Do not be afraid, my dear.”
She took a deep breath. “Haint afeared of ye, sir. Methinks ye have paid too much money to do an injury to your goods.”
His thick brown eyebrows rose up his forehead. “Well-spoken, mistress. I shall keep your opinion under advisement.”
She wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but she heard the friendly tone in his voice. She cautioned herself not to take heart from it. All men were deceivers. Holding her skirt with her free hand, she jumped lightly to the hard-packed ground. Giddy from hunger, she wobbled. She hoped that the gentleman would spare her a goodly supper after he had finished his business with her.She touched the hidden vial of blood to assure herself of its safety, then folded her arms over her bare breasts.
The noble drew closer to her. He smelled of spice and wealth, like someone from God’s side of paradise.
“Pull up your shift, sweetheart. There is no need to display your charms to this unworthy assembly,” he murmured. His low voice rolled over her like warm honey.
Nodding her gratitude, she gathered the thin muslin around her shoulders. Then her patron looped her arm through his and led her out of the ring of torchlight. The sea of leering men parted before them.
One of the crowd guffawed. “You have bought yourself a pretty posy, Ford! Phew! She reeks like a polecat.”
Rosie’s temper flared in response. She gritted her teeth.
“Lout!” the fine lord muttered. He patted her hand.
“Save a bit for me!” shouted another.
A third stroked at her as she passed him. “I will look for you in the morning, wench, when you walk with bowed legs!”
She shivered at their lewd catcalls and thanked her lucky stars that she had been purchased by the lord at her side.
“Do not tremble so,” he whispered. “I promise I will not eat you.”
Rosie tossed her matted hair out of her eyes with a bold show of courage. “Told ye afore, haint afeared. Only—cold.” She didn’t dare to look at him lest he read the lie in her eyes.
“Ah!” His gaudy plumes danced as he nodded. “You are correct. Tis a sudden night wind. Allow me to remedy your discomfort.”
He halted, removed his short cape with a swirl, then settled it around her shoulders. Rosie drew the collar close to her face and stroked her cheek against the wondrous material.
“Tis soft like a downy chick!”
He chuckled. “Tis made of velvet. Does it please you, my dear? Are you warm enough now?”
“Oh, aye, my lord. Like toast on a fork.” She snuggled deeper into its folds. His intoxicating scent clung to the material. “Tis sinful. Methinks the devil himself must wear velvet.”
Someone sniggered behind her. “The wench has found you out already, Andrew. You are truly the very devil of us all!”
Rosie glanced over her shoulder to see who had spoken. Three extremely tall young men loomed in the shadows. One of them winked at her. The naked hunger in his eyes unnerved her. She detected the odor of strong wine on his breath. She pulled the cape closer around her neck.
“Hold tight to your purse strings, my lord,” she whispered to her hew master. “Three great rogues are afollowing us.”
Her escort chuckled again. “Ignore the rascals. They love to hear themselves talk.”
The three followers chortled at this remark.
Rosie tugged at the nobleman’s arm. “We should flee, my lord.”
He squeezed her hand. “I am humbly grateful for your concern, sweetheart, but tis of no consequence. I fear they are friends of mine.” He led her into a broad avenue. “This way.”
Rosie glanced around her with growing alarm. Tents, banners and campfires stretched down both sides of the thoroughfare and disappeared into the depths of the night. She had no idea that the English encampment was so large. She wondered how she would find Quince’s tent in the morning—not that she was in any hurry to return to him.
“Where are we going, my lord?” she asked as they passed a cluster of more sumptuous pavilions.
The nobleman gave her another one of his heart-melting smiles. His white teeth flashed in the firelight. “To my humble abode.”
The three behind them broke into a chorus of riotous laughter. “Wait until you see it, little one,” one of them teased her.
Rosie didn’t like the way he had said that. She tugged on the gentleman’s sleeve again. “Are…are we going to do it there?”
His eyes twinkled. “That remains to be seen,” he replied.
The three youths erupted into more boisterous braying.
Rosie’s misgivings increased tenfold. “Are they…” She glanced uneasily over her shoulder again. “I mean, are we all going to do it—together?” No wonder the gentleman had paid so much gold for her! She could trick one with her vial of blood, but not four at the same time. Her knees grew weak at the thought.
The most outspoken of the three drew closer. “In good sooth, fair damsel, you are not ours to savor. But—”he flashed her a wicked grin “—if old Andrew tires too quickly, I will teach you to dance a merry tune.”
Rosie’s protector growled in the back of his throat. “Mind your manners, Jackanapes. There is a lady present.”
Rosie clutched the cape tighter. “Where?” she asked, peering into the darkness. She had never before met a real lady.
The three rogues nearly fell over themselves with laughter.
The gentleman shook his head at them. “Pigs,” he remarked to Rosie.
Very soon, they stopped in front of a large double tent. By the light of a bonfire at the entrance, Rosie saw that the canvas walls were painted salmon pink and embellished with gilded ivy. Her patron lifted one of the flaps, revealing a cozy interior, lighted by a wealth of candles in glass lanterns. She gasped with awe at the extravagance, then uttered a little squeal of surprise when the gentleman swept her up into his arms.
He cradled her against his chest as if she were made of the most delicate glass. The warmth and strength of his arms soothed her, though she did not understand why. Her body tingled from the contact. Her fingers ached to stroke his smooth cheek, but she did not dare to take such a liberty. She was nothing but his chattel, she reminded herself.
The gentleman glanced at the trio. “If you plan to come in, boys, doff your muddy boots out here,” he instructed them.
Rosie stared at him. “My lord?” His request seemed very odd.
To her further amazement, the three did exactly what he had commanded them.
“Tis old Andrew’s conceit, lass,” the tallest one explained, as he dropped his boots in a heap by the entrance. “He bought those new rugs before we left London and he is determined to keep them clean.”
Her protector nodded. “Just so. Turkish, my dear. Imported on the humped-back camels all the way from the Ottoman Empire.”
Rosie had no idea what Ottomans or camels were, but she could tell just from looking at the rugs, that they were the finest things she had ever seen. “If ye want to keep them new, my lord, methinks ye should roll them up, for they will surely grow filthy when it rains here.”
The tallest laughed. “She has hit the bull’s-eye, Andrew.”
“Ah!” The nobleman nodded as if deep in thought. “A point well-taken, mistress. However, be easy in your mind. I have a layer of waxed canvas beneath them.” He smiled again at her. “But I am most grateful for your consideration, sweetheart.”
Her pulse skittered when he murmured the endearment to her. Rosie quelled the warm feeling. This man was too smooth to be trusted. He meant none of his sweet words. Ducking under the overhang, he carried her inside his pavilion.
Rosie drew in her breath then exhaled slowly. The interior was even more lavish than its rich ground coverings. Rose-pink silk draperies masked the plain canvas walls. The color made the pavilion glow with a soft, heavenly light. A small, but elegantly carved table stood near the center pole. Beside it was a matching armchair with a red cushion covering its seat. A thin wisp of smoke curled from a brass brazier, perfuming the air with an exotic scent.
A second tent of equal size and lavish appointments opened into the first. Rosie could see part of a large bed draped with billowing gauze. Its covers were turned back. Fat pillows nestled against the gilded headboard. Fear swept through Rosie. That bed would be the stage upon which she must act the part of a shy virgin.
The nobleman set her down on one of the wooden stools that dotted the rug. “Keep your feet up for one minute, my sweet,” he instructed.
Rosie obeyed, too stunned by her sudden turn of fortune to ask why. Her master opened one of the many chests that lined the walls of the tent and took out a piece of plain muslin. He spread it on the rug in front of her. “There now. Put your feet on that, but do not move an inch off of it. There’s a good lass.” He stepped back to the center of the tent and regarded her as if she were a horse for sale.
Just then, a boy in his early teens stuck his head through the tent opening. “Good evening, my lord. I did not expect you to return so soon.” Then he noticed Rosie. “By the book, what’s that?”
Jack replied, “Your master’s latest bauble, Jeremy.”
One of his companions chuckled. “Tell him the price.”
The boy gaped at his lord. “You paid good coin for that guttersnipe?”
Before the gentleman could reply, Jack said, “Not a coin, but an angel. In fact, thirty of them.”
“And three of my sovereigns,” the tallest one added.
The servant blanched. “For her? With all due respect, my lord, have you taken leave of your wits? Why?”
The youths laughed again. Then Jack caught his breath. “Are you so green that you cannot guess why a man buys a wench? Methinks we need to teach you the ways of the world, Jeremy.”
The boy made a rude noise.
Rosie huddled deeper inside the cape, despite the fact that the evening was very warm. She cast a quick glance at her patron to gauge his reaction. She wished they would stop talking about her as if she were a chamber pot. She shook her hair out of her eyes and returned their stares.
The noble lord appeared to take no note of the conversation around him. Instead, he continued to look at her, cocking his head to one side then to the other. He took one of the lanterns and held it up close to her face. Rosie shied away. He winked at her, then he turned to his companions.
“Well, gentlemen, there she is in all her muted glory. By my troth, she is too low for high praise, too brown for a fair praise and too little for a great praise. In short, she is perfect for our devices.”
Panic welled up in Rosie’s throat.
The gentleman continued, “She has a good figure—once we fatten her up a bit. Hair is a rat’s nest. Can’t even tell its true color.”
Jack made a face. “I counsel you not to touch it, Andrew. The rats may still reside therein.”
Rosie murmured an oath under her breath. That flapeared knave might look pretty but he was a double-dyed churl. Then she realized that Sir Andrew had heard her. She bit her lip.
“I agree with you, sweetheart. Our Jackanapes is a bit rough around the edges,” he whispered to her. He took one of her hands in his, studied her palms and fingers then he whistled through his teeth. “Zounds, mistress, what have you been doing with these?”
Rosie curled her fingers to hide them. “Plucking geese, scrubbing floors and washing foul linen, so please ye, my lord,” she retorted.
Sir Andrew rapped her knuckles. “And biting your nails, I see.”
Humiliated, Rosie sat on her hands to avoid further inspection by the other three who had drawn closer to look at her.
“Methinks she would have a pretty mouth—if she ever smiled,” remarked the middle one.
She glared at him. What reason did she have to smile? Any minute now, they were going to ravish her. She held her tongue and prayed that the nobleman would finish his strange examination. She wanted to get the bedding over with before she lost her nerve to hoodwink him.
The serving boy cleared his throat. “May I inquire what does my lord intend to do with this piece of baggage?”
Everyone turned toward Sir Andrew. Rosie’s heart pounded against her rib cage.
He unbuttoned his beautiful doublet. “Why, bathe her, of course,” he replied. “Tell the pot boys to heat up more water. Fetch the tub!”
Jeremy groaned. “I have just now cleaned it after your own bath.”
Sir Andrew removed his coat and hung it over the back of the arm chair. “Excellent! Then you will know exactly where to find it. Be quick, sluggard! The moon begins to wane and we have not yet supped.”
Rosie licked her lips. Food! She would bear anything Sir Andrew did to her, if he would only feed her afterward.
Jeremy disappeared with a good deal of grumbling. The three youths settled themselves on the various chests.
Jack chortled. “This will be good sport, Andrew. My thanks for providing us with such unusual amusement.”
Under the cover of the cape, Rosie trembled. None of Quince’s girls had said anything about entertaining men in a bath.
Sir Andrew rolled up the flowing sleeves of his shirt. The muscles of his forearms surprised Rosie. By his exaggerated mannerisms, she had taken him to be a languid fop. Yet, when he had held her in his arms…She pushed that delightful memory out of her mind. Obviously, her empty stomach played tricks with her fancies.
He cocked an eyebrow at the others. “I fear I must disappoint you, Jackanapes. This much maligned lass must be treated as a lady, therefore she will have privacy while at her bath.”
Jack ogled Rosie. “I have seen a good many ladies of the finest quality in their baths. Indeed, I have often joined them.”
Sir Andrew snorted. “Not tonight and not with this lady. Tis time to bide your adieus, my lads. Go pester someone else with your rude company and leave me to my pleasant one.”
The three moaned in protest. Holding her breath, Rosie prayed that Sir Andrew would prevail.
“Begone at once!” He raised his voice slightly.
The youths roused themselves and padded in their stocking feet to the entrance. They made a great show of struggling to pull on their boots.
“Tis a cruel thing that you do to us, Andrew!”
He planted his hands on his hips. “I have heard that complaint far too often to be moved by you, Brandon. Everything is cruel if it does not suit your fancy. Now, out!”
Jack bestowed a final wink on Rosie. “Remember, wench, if old Andrew goes to sleep on you—”
Sir Andrew tapped his foot. “I hear only a breeze whistling in my ears and not your words at all. Good night, my Lord Stafford.”
The tallest of the three was the last to leave. For the first time that night, he gave Rosie a genuine smile that held no lechery in it. “Mark me, lass. Andrew is a good man, despite his peculiar ways. He will treat you well.” Then he ducked low to avoid hitting his head on the cross pole.
Just as they departed, Jeremy pushed a round wooden tub into the tent. To Rosie, it looked no bigger than the wash tub she had slaved over in the scullery of Quince’s bawd house in Bankside. It was certainly too small for her, much less for the two of them. She glanced at Sir Andrew.
“Haint ever had a bath in my life before,” she murmured.
Sir Andrew opened one of his coffers. “That is quite obvious, my dear.” He took out several small bottles and lined them up on the table.
Jeremy poked his head and shoulders inside the tent. He carried a wooden bucket full of water. A curl of steam wafted from it. Without a word Sir Andrew took the bucket, poured its contents into the tub, then returned the bucket to his servant. Jeremy disappeared only to reappear a minute later with another bucketful. Rosie chewed her thumbnail.
Sir Andrew glanced at her. “You spoke, sweetheart?”
“Ye want to scald me like a goose for plucking.”
Andrew chuckled as he emptied the contents of one of the bottles into the hot water. “Tis an interesting simile, but I doubt you will cook in this broth. By the time my creeping squire and his minions have filled this tub, the temperature will be merely warm.”
Jeremy reappeared with two more brimming buckets. Rosie eyed the tub as if it might suddenly attack her. Sir Andrew removed his short gold brocade vest and stepped out of his trunks, leaving him clad only in his shirt, his bright stockings and the most unusual codpiece Rosie had ever seen. Red silk tassels hung from each of its three corners. Sir Andrew noticed her fascination. He cleared his throat.
“Is something amiss?” he asked with a wide smile.
Rosie dropped her gaze to her toes. “Nay, my lord,” she murmured. “I was just wondering why ye…that is…what manner of…A pox upon it, my lord! Why do ye truss yourself up like a mummer at a fair?”
Instead of striking her, Sir Andrew threw back his head and roared with laughter. “How refreshing you are in this old world, sweetheart! My attire is all the fashion in Italy and France, though, in truth, many Englishmen would rather die than wear such finery.”
Rosie eyed the intriguing apparel. “Then why do ye?”
Sir Andrew sprinkled some shredded herbs into the water before he answered. “Tis my own fancy and conceit, I warrant. And to amaze the ladies. Confess it– aren’t you amazed?”
She nodded. “Beyond belief, my lord.” She tried not to stare at the dancing tassels. They made her heart skip in the most wanton manner. “Are ye going to do it now, my lord?”
His eyes twinkled with pure mischief. “That depends on what it is.” He unwrapped a waxy green tablet from a piece of linen and sniffed it with appreciation. “Ah! The finest milled soap this side of Castile.”
Jeremy returned with yet more water. By now the tub looked almost too full. Sir Andrew nodded to the boy. “Good! Now away with you, my sprite. Find us something edible in the cooks’ tent. Spend an hour, and do not reenter until I call you.”
Jeremy bowed his head, then turned on his heel. He gave Rosie a nasty smirk. “Methinks you are in a fine pickle now, wench.”
Sir Andrew pointed to the entrance. “Peace, knave! Such carping is not commendable. Begone! And tie down the flap behind you.”
Black terror engulfed Rosie. She was now alone with the man who presumed her virginity. She touched the hidden vial of blood. “Are we going to do it now?” she repeated.
An easy smile played at the corners of his lips. “If it means taking a bath, you will do that now. If it means that I take my pleasure with you, the answer is—not yet.”
She released her pent-up breath.
He arched his brow. “Take off your clothes,” he murmured.
Fury almost choked Rosie. The handsome peacock had lied—just like all the knaves in her life. “But ye said—”
Sir Andrew snapped his fingers, though he continued to smile warmly at her. “Hurry, my sweet, before the water cools.”
Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves, Rosie stood up. She was careful not to move off her allotted piece of muslin. She untied her skirt and allowed the ragged garment to fall around her feet.
Sir Andrew cocked his head. “Everything.” He opened another chest and took out a comb, a brush and several more bottles.
Rosie wet her dry lips. “What are ye going to do with me, my lord?”
He grinned. “I am going to give you the most thorough scrubbing of your life.”
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî