Excerpt from The Luck of Two Magpies, copyright 2012, all rights reserved.
No distribution or reproduction without the author’s express permission
A loud knock on his door intruded on his thoughts. “Come,” he called though the door already swung on its hinges. Who would dare enter his apartments without the proper command? “Why, my dear Lady Beaumont.” His features settled into a well-practiced smile of delight. “How good of ye to visit me so soon.”
“Father,” she said in a voice whose blandness nearly matched his, “will ye join me in a glass of Bordeaux wine?” Helaine d’Aelfstun followed, silent as ever. Beaumont relied on her for everything. Personal attendant, keeper of the servants, she could be a sly spy simply by standing in the corners unmoving, as was her habit. Aye, damned good at it she was.
“Mind my goblets!” the Countess snapped. He hadn’t heard a single clink.
D’Aelfstun laid the tray down and went to stand by the door.
“My lord.” Oh, she was good at it. First reminding him of his station, and then of his royal rank, he thought as Beaumont gripped her cane and levered herself into a chair by his fire.
She smiled. “How is it ye come to visit us so near to Christmas?”
The bottle stopper had a pleasing heft as he laid it on a snowy napkin. He made sure his grip was secure around the long neck of the carafe, finer than any he owned. But everyone knew that Dyrke Grifon had kidnapped Muranoese artisans and kept them enslaved here in a guarded village.
He poured the wine, its vermilion color quieting the prismatic sparkle of firelight through the glass. So long as he focused on the wine, he knew his smile was reasonably warm. “ ‘Tis precisely that. I do travel to keep the holy days with my father and mother, and thought to rest a day or two with ye here. I have not seen the house in years. It does look exceeding fine.” A blood red splash landed on the tray. An omen? Would the House of Grifon fall?
Beaumont’s laughter sounded amiable, too, but then, Dyrke had taught her to be a convincing liar. “I am certain ye are aware—my thanks.” She bent grotesquely twisted knuckles around the wine glass he proffered. “That your father and mother will be here in less than a sennight to attend the wedding of my son and his betrothed.” She sat back with a comfortable grunt and raised the glass to her lips, watching as he seated himself. She had the look of a hungry she-wolf about her.
“Truly? They come to Grifon’s wedding?” He sipped at his wine and meted out two syllables for a laugh. “I had quite forgotten.”
“Surely. Ye did send your letter of declination… as did your cousin.”
He jumped in his chair. “You do mean our liege King Richard?” Her slow smile told him she’d baited him and won. He cursed himself and sat back. “I think I did forget. So many petitions cross my desk, hmm? Surely, ‘tis a sign of age.”
Beaumont laughed gaily. “Aye. And what would I give to be your age once more, laddie,” she said easily as she eyed him playfully over her glass.
He always had the tendency to underestimate her. She was an extraordinary woman was Lady Beaumont. He hid his smile with a sip of wine, then lifted the glass high, appraising its contents.
“Excellent. Too bad ‘twill sour by spring,” he said, seeking to prick her as she had him, but she only shrugged. Oh, she was good. “It seems I have presented ye with a difficulty, my lady. I did think to travel to my father and mother when lo they will be here.”
The Countess smiled. “Tsk-tsk, my lord.” Her mouth curled into a meek smile. “Ne’er could I be content in such a holy season did I think I was to blame for the separation of a family. Nay. As many years as my lord husband did know and respect Lancaster, and yet I do have concord with him and your sweet mother, ‘twould be a joy to see ye united with them here. Why, ye must be our guest at such an august family occasion.”
“I… would be most pleased.” He grinned, his gaze fastened to the wine he lifted to his lips. He’d trapped her.