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Lord of the Hunt


Ellora’s Cave
June 2013
ISBN-13: 978-1419945984

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"A multitude of rulers is not a good thing."
The Iliad, Homer

England, 1217

A row of monks filed into Winchester Cathedral on their way to celebrate the midnight office. Night cloaked the city, clouds the moon. Only the bobbing candles of the brothers marked their passage.

Adam Quintin, garbed in unadorned black to help him blend with the shadows, fell into step behind them. Candles flickered in niches. Wall torches smoked. Still, the nave was as dark as a witch's heart.

He slipped down the south aisle and into the Lady Chapel, avoiding the notice of a few stray parishioners. A monk prayed before the serene Madonna. Glancing about, Adam knelt beside the man whose face was concealed by the deep hood of his robe.

They knelt in prayer for more than a quarter of an hour. The cold stone bit into Adam's knees. Finally, the man spoke. "Are you willing to accept a task for your king?"

Adam recognized the voice. This was no ordinary messenger. This was William Marshal's trusted squire, John d'Erley.

Adam stared at the steady flame of the candles at the Madonna's feet. He felt the thrill of anticipation. "I am always at the king's service as William Marshal knows--"

"Please. Speak softly. Walls have ears these days," John d'Erley whispered.

Duly chastised, Adam started over. "I am always at your master's service."

"My lord much admired the way you handled the trouble for him at Dover."

Adam shrugged. He'd learned long ago to ignore flattery. It usually masked some bitter brew. "'Twas luck," he said.

"We do not believe in luck. We believe in results. And rewards. Will you pledge yourself to a mission on behalf of our lord and our king?"

A small sigh escaped Adam, setting a flame dancing. He must appear reluctant. Rewards were meant to be negotiated.

The moment stretched. D'Erley hastened to fill the silence. "The reward will be worthy of the deed. You may name your price."

He had waited thirteen long years for this.

"Have you aught in mind?" d'Erley asked.

The air was icy on Adam's bare throat, but a flush of heat swept over him. "I will think of something," he finally managed.

What must he do to remove a banishment? Redeem a father?

William Marshal's squire covered Adam's hand with his. "It is our lord's desire you be well compensated. He wishes you to understand the reward must meet the measure of the duty performed. In truth, you may die if it is discovered what you are about." The man idly patted Adam's hand as if he were a child. "In addition, it is our wish no man, no woman, may know for whom you labor."

For the first time, Adam turned his head and stared directly into the man's eyes. "As you wish," he said.

"Will you swear to it? Forgive me, but mercenaries are not known for their discretion."

"I may have joined King John's Flemish mercenaries to catch our lord's eye, but he knighted me and would not have done so had he not believed in my honor."

D'Erley cleared his throat and glanced about. Shadows flickered across the bare chapel walls as he twisted and turned to see who might lurk nearby. Adam waited patiently.

The man's breath smelled of onions and wine as he murmured near Adam's ear. "You know that even before King John's death, the barons were deserting to Philip Augustus of France through his son, Louis. Thankfully, our lord was capable of defeating the rebellious ones this past May at Lincoln."

"I fought with our lord at Lincoln." Adam's interest was greatly piqued.

John dropped his voice to so low a whisper, Adam needed to strain to hear every word. "King Henry, may be a child, but he has offended no one, broken no promises yet."

"It is our lord the barons rally to."

"Granted, but still, he is acting in the king's name."

"You tell me nothing new."

"Our lord has discovered a viper in our royal nest."

Adam raised a brow.

"There is a bishop who held great hope the papal legate, Gualo, might wield more influence as the king's guardian than our lord."

"Gualo is but a pale light to Marshal."

"As the moon compares to the sun, aye, but this bishop held hopes of gaining power through Gualo. They are great friends. I suppose this bishop hoped he might ascend to the same power as the Bishop of Winchester, but alas, the opposite has been true."

"And who is more apt to favor an overthrow of power but the discontent?" Adam said.

"Our informer states that Prince Louis will try again to gather power for another assault on England's throne. This time, Louis will use not only the discontent of the barons, but also of this bishop who is in a position to take one of the most important castles in England."

Adam smiled. "A bishop take a castle? With what army? No one may gather more than a score of men in any one place without suspicion, and bishops have no armies."

"They do if they can persuade a powerful baron to lend his. Therein lies our difficulty; we know who the bishop is, but not the baron. It is our lord's wish you ferret out this traitor, reveal him for what he is. Unmask him that we might foil this plot before it gathers momentum. At the least we can force the baron to give hostages to his good behavior."

Adam remembered well being a political hostage in his youth. It was what precipitated his father's banishment.

He placed a hand on his sword hilt and traced the cold, smooth metal. The weapon was out of place in this hall of reverence and prayer, but a man went nowhere unarmed these days.

"It seems an unlikely mission for someone such as myself. I'm a warrior, not a thinker."

"We have confidence you will succeed."

"Or perish in the effort."

John D'Erley gave a slight shrug of his shoulders. Adam looked up at the Madonna with her outstretched hands. He sent her a silent prayer.

Make me worthy of my reward.

"So," Adam said, "a bishop will seduce a baron who will lend an army which will secure a castle for Prince Louis."

"As you say." D'Erley smiled.

"Have you any suggestions as to where I should start my hunt for this viper? I must assume our lord doesn't intend I blunder about England peering under beds."

"Oh, we can help you there, my son," D'Erley whispered, his face hidden again in the deep hood. "Our lord knows the castle to be taken."

"Surely, the army will be very visible?" Adam could not resist the jest. "As will be his siege machines?"

A small smile played at the corners of d'Erley's mouth. "This baron will take the castle from within. He'll have no need of an army or trebuchet. Remember, a siege is visible. It stirs up others to take sides."

And kills commoners, and destroys farmland, Adam thought.

"Nay, a siege is to be avoided at all costs," d'Erley continued.

"As I said, I'm a warrior not a thinker. You'd do better to send me to fight a more visible army somewhere else. Send my friend Hugh de Coleville in my stead. He's as loyal to our lord as I am. He can outmaneuver me at chess and pose a riddle to test the best of scholars."

"De Coleville's family is far too powerful. A reward he might ask would test the power balance."

Ruefully, Adam realized he was probably not William Marshal's first choice. "And I'll be more modest in my demands?"

William Marshal's squire blinked. "Of course."

Of course. I have no powerful family, no name to tip some invisible scale.

"You will gain access to this castle through the front gates in the guise of a suitor to one of England's most coveted women. Once inside, we expect you to discover who the traitor is and foil his efforts to take control of the castle."

"Without anyone knowing what I'm about."

"Aye. Place your hand here." John d'Erley touched the small foot of the Virgin where it peeked from beneath her marble robes. Adam placed his fingers there and d'Erley covered them with his. "Now, make an oath you will keep your mission a secret. Swear it now."

"I so swear," Adam said.

"Well done, my boy." D'Erley turned over Adam's hand and dropped two sapphires into his palm. "Just to start you out."

Adam closed his hand over the jewels. "So, which castle is our traitor after?"

With another quick glance about, the squire said, "Ravenswood. If it falls, so could Porchester Castle and Portsmouth Harbor with it."

Ravenswood. A heart-stopping pain like liquid metal ran through Adam's veins. For an instant, the flames at the Virgin's feet seemed to flare bright.

The need, the desire to shout the name and hear it echo about the stone walls almost overwhelmed him. He clamped his lips against the impulse.

"Is something wrong?" D'Erley shot him a wary look.

Adam took control of his face and voice. "Is Ravenswood not held for the heirs of Guy de Poitiers?"

The old man crossed himself. "Therein lies the difficulty. Only Mathilda de Poitiers survives. Her father and brother are both dead. Her guardian is our traitorous bishop, Bishop Gravant."

"Ah, I see. If our lord sends a force to hold Ravenswood, the church will object to the pope that one of their most illustrious bishops has been insulted, his loyalty impugned."

William Marshal's squire nodded. "Our lord must win the support of the church, not its enmity. We must hold Ravenswood and do so without injury to the church--without siege. What you need to know is written here." He dug into the folds of his robe and drew out a folded sheet of parchment sealed with a familiar mark. "Read it and burn it before you leave."

William Marshal's squire rose with a groan to his feet.

Adam stood as well. "How will we communicate?"

"A go-between, by name of Christopher, will seek you out when you arrive at the castle. He's been installed for weeks. It is through him we first gleaned some rumor that all was not as it should be at Ravenswood."

"How will I know him?"

"Christopher's a minstrel much favored by Lady Mathilda."

Adam followed John d'Erley to the chapel entrance and saw the holy office had ended.

The squire joined the long line of monks as they moved up the nave in a whisper of wool and scuff of feet on smooth stone. The heavy double doors thudded closed behind them, the sound echoing down the high arched cathedral.

Adam saw no other living soul. He was alone.

He turned back to the dozens of candles dripping at the Blessed Mother's feet and knelt. For a moment, he studied the wax seal of William Marshal on the sheet of paper. Once he broke the seal, he was committed.

Nay . . . he had committed himself upon his oath. He drew his dagger and slit the packet open. He unfolded the fine vellum and one word leapt off the page.


There were other words, many lines of closely written script on the paper, but he saw only one. Ravenswood.

He could see the castle walls now as they looked in darkest night, the towers touched with moonlight and wreathed in mist. He could see the rolling hills and the deep, silent woods. Smell the water. Taste it even.

For Ravenswood he would attempt anything.

Adam took a deep breath. It was an omen. A sign from God. He raised his gaze to the ivory visage of the Madonna and sent her another prayer, one of thanks.

It was the first time in his life a woman had proved of use to him.


Ravenswood Manor, 1217

Joan Swan followed a well-worn deer trail through the trees near Ravenswood Castle. Her pack of hounds kept pace like a phalanx of the king's men. They did not roam, nor step beyond the length of her stride.

The hound near her right hand whined. She paused and listened. The hounds fell still in a ripple of sleek gray and brown muscle.

At first, she heard nothing. Then she heard the distant neigh of a horse. If she remained still, the rider might pass her by unseen.

The horse drew closer. From her right there was the sudden tearing sound of an animal forcing its way through underbrush.

With practiced ease, she drew her bow from her shoulder, then stepped from a pool of golden sunlight into a pool of soft green shadow.

The thrashing sound grew louder. A horse snorted, whinnied, and she heard the thunder of its hooves as it broke into a gallop, crashing through underbrush. It was a wild sound, the sound of a horse out of control.

The hound at her side whimpered again.

Through the trees she saw why. A boar. Her arrows were useless against such a beast.

She shouldered the bow. Her heart thumped in her chest. They must get away before it scented them. She lifted her right hand at the wrist so it was parallel to the ground. The hounds crouched. With a sharp gesture, she dipped her fingertips and the hounds went down on their bellies, preparing to slide through the brush like snakes in the grass.

Then she saw the man. He lay on his back, half supported on one elbow. His skin was stark white in contrast to his black hair and beard.

The boar clashed its tusks, lowered its head. Thank God she and her hounds were downwind.

The man was not.

Fear caused her stomach to churn.

Were the dogs ready? Was she?

The man moved. The boar charged.

She swept her hand out in a quick, sharp gesture.

Her dogs leapt in a monstrous, snarling maelstrom of teeth and sound.

The man scrabbled back and rose. He drew his sword. He did not run as she expected. Instead, he faced the swirling mass of animals who held the great boar at bay. In a motion as planned as if he and the dogs were one, they parted and he thrust the blade deep into the boar's neck.

It swung its monstrous head, eyes rolling. The dogs brought it down.

Then all was silent.

She closed her eyes, bent her head, and offered thanksgiving for the man's life. She knew the terrible sounds of the kill would remain in her head. At least none were human, none that of a man being torn apart by razor-sharp tusks.

A hand touched her shoulder and she opened her eyes. Dazed from her deep concentration, she was startled to find the man so close.

"Are you hurt?" he asked.

His vivid blue eyes were grave. His skin, no longer white, was suffused with high color. The close-cropped beard did not conceal his well formed mouth. His high cheekbones betrayed his Norman ancestry.

Though uncommon in appearance, still, he was common enough. He wore a simple V-shaped, iron pin to hold his mantle at one shoulder. Red streaked the humble wool.


"Are you hurt?" he asked again.

He had a low voice with a touch of an accent she could not place. A man-at-arms to one of the visiting nobles at Ravenswood, she decided.

"Me?" she managed, not sure if she could stomach the sight that surely lay over his shoulder. The man looked down and she did, too. Blood splotched her gown. She shook off her squeamishness. She had witnessed the end of a hunt often enough, watched the butchering of the animal. Why did she feel so dizzy?

"It's not my blood," she said "Are you hurt?" She touched his mantle with her fingertips, briefly, lightly.

He shook his head. "I'm well thanks to your hounds. They are your hounds, are they not? Well trained they are, not to feast," he said.

They faced the wide clearing. Her dogs stood like sentinels over their carnage. In truth, the hounds awaited her next signal. They had killed and now wanted their reward. But not here. Not yet. There would be no traditional unmaking of the beast here, no blood of the beast for them this time.

What distraction should she offer this man so she might exercise her power over the animals unseen?

A crashing of branches and the sound of several horses coming at speed made the man swing about, his back to her. "God's throat. They would appear now when I'm unhorsed," he said under his breath. "I've never been unhorsed."

Joan lifted her left hand and cupped her fingers into her palm. The dogs bounded to her, passed her, and disappeared into the thick forest.

A knight on a mud-splattered destrier burst through the trees into the clearing. He drew to a halt by the boar. "By the Rood. What happened? Your horse passed us in a frenzy."

The knight's face was hidden by his helm, but when he wheeled his horse, she saw the device on his shield. A blue field with a wolf rampant. The house of de Harcourt. It was suddenly cold in the clearing--icy cold.

The knight slid his helm and mail coif off his head. 'Twas Brian, the youngest de Harcourt son.

Brian de Harcourt's gaze moved slowly over her. He gave her an almost imperceptible nod.

She swallowed hard and backed closer to the safety of the trees, but the man she'd rescued took her arm. His grip was gentle, but yet too firm for her to break away.

"You did not kill this beast on your own, did you, Adam?" Brian asked, swinging his attention to her again.

Adam. A simple name for a simple man. Then she realized the rest of Brian's men would be right behind him.

She must go. Now.

"In a manner of speaking. I took the beast with one lucky stroke, but it would have had my entrails for supper if not for this kind woman's hounds. They saved my skin."

Joan tried to tug away from him as three more men and horses pushed their way through the trees. She trusted a pack of hounds far more than a pack of men.

Adam still held her imprisoned, his gloved fingers almost encircling her upper arm. He sketched a quick bow. "Mistress? How may I reward you?"

More men surged into the clearing, their horses shying from the sweet stink of the boar's blood. Soon the clearing was crowded with men. She looked from one face to the other. Most were hidden by their helms as de Harcourt's had been.

The forest shrank around the men and scores of iron-shod hooves. The scent of greenery was overwhelmed by that of horses and men.

"Please, I must go," she said softly, urgently, loath to draw anyone's attention but he who held her.

"This is quite a trophy." Brian dismounted and approached the dead boar. He measured the tusks against his forearm.

Others did as he, touching the beast and prodding it with their feet. A woman was not safe with so many men--with these men in particular. Her heart beat more quickly. Her hands began to sweat.

Brian drew a short sword and hacked a tusk from the felled beast. "Here, Adam, have it carved into dice. They would surely be imbued with your good luck." He tossed the tusk to Adam in a spray of blood.

He let her go to catch the trophy. More blood dotted his mantle and hers. He frowned. "Brian, you've insulted this young woman."

"Joan's not easily insulted, are you?" Brian inclined his head to her. He had hair the color of roasted chestnuts.

Joan made a deep curtsy to him, but bit her lip on any retort. Brian's father held an adjoining manor, had hunted with Lord Guy just the day of the man's death, though Brian had not deigned to visit Ravenswood for nearly two years.

Heat ran over her cheeks. Brian could be at Ravenswood for only one purpose--the Harvest Hunt and Tournament at which the lady of Ravenswood was set to choose a husband. The suitors, ten in all, were all due to arrive before nightfall.

Joan carefully turned to Adam, a man more of her station--a man who, by the lack of ornamentation or trim on his black garb, was the only man she might comfortably speak to or acknowledge with any propriety. "You owe me nothing. Now, I must go."

"Surely you could use a few pennies?" Brian's words held her in place. "After all," he continued, "you saved Adam's life. He can spare the silver, I assure you."

How dare Brian imply she was needy? Her father was Master of the Hunt, not some lowly kennelman. She fought to keep her voice mild. "I ask no reward, my lord."

There were quick, sharp exchanges of quips about Adam's unhorsing from the newly arrived men, then a voice penetrated the banter. It was as hard and harsh as the winter wind that would come in a few weeks.

"Ah, Adam Quintin and a wench. A dog and a bitch will always end up in the grass together."

Joan pulled against Adam Quintin's hold. His fingers tightened on her arm, then relaxed and slid down to take her hand. The sensation was soothing, but nothing he could do would make her feel at ease, save that he would release her--and she could flee.

"I can only assume, my lord Roger," Adam said, "that you've spent so much time with your men, you've forgotten the proper conduct before a woman. Lady Mathilda will be tossing you in the moat where you'll stink as much as your manners if you don't improve them."

There was a beat of silence. Then the men laughed and the baron reddened. Joan was a bit shocked a lord would tolerate so tart a response from a mere swordsman.

The baron jerked his reins and retorted, "I've no time for such nonsense. Fetch someone to butcher this animal and see the best of the beast gets to the bishop's table." With a kick of his mount, he and half the party cantered off. The ground trembled at their departure.

"Forgive Lord Roger's churlish manners," Adam said to her.

Joan's heart slowed, her stomach eased. "It is nothing."

She squared her shoulders, prayed the man would release her hand. His glove was frayed, but of fine, well-tanned leather. It made her uneasy to stand with her fingers in his.

Just as the thought entered her head, he dropped her hand and made her a more proper bow. "A few hours in the saddle and Lord Roger's as prickly as that boar's snout."

Then Adam smiled and Lord Roger and Brian de Harcourt fled her thoughts. She could but stare at his eyes. They were blue as a field of harebells and framed with thick black lashes.

"Now," he said. "Your name is--"

"Plain Joan," interjected Brian.

She wanted to put an arrow right through his throat. She almost reached for the bow slung at her back.

Adam raised a black, straight brow. He cocked his head and considered her. "Plain Joan?"

She ducked her head. "Aye. So I am called."

His voice dropped even lower. It coiled about her like a silken thread. "Lord Brian is right. I must reward you in some manner, Plain Joan."

Now. I must go now. She turned. Her path was blocked by a small, wiry man on a dun-brown mare coming straight toward her. He led a gray horse as huge as any she'd ever seen. Its hooves were the size of meat platters, its black mane plaited in a fanciful manner with leather thongs. The horse danced and pawed as it neared the dead boar.

"Yer mount," the little man said to Adam. "Ye rightly named him when ye called him Sinner."

Adam grinned and looked sheepishly in Joan's direction. "He should be called Lady. He's as spoiled as any of those fine creatures." Then he took the reins and patted the destrier's heaving side. "And he dumped me like an inconvenient suitor the instant he saw that boar. Never take a nervous horse on a hunt." The horse bumped his shoulder.

Slung across the battle charger's saddle was his shield. Adam was no common man-at-arms, for the shield bore his personal device. It echoed the simple shape of his mantle pin. But painted on the leather cover of the shield, she saw it more clearly. It was a gold 'V' rendered as if by an illuminator of fine manuscripts. The Roman numeral of five--five for a man whose name meant fifth son.

Men with their own devices were not simple. That she'd mistaken him so, staggered her.

"I have to forgive him, though, as he's not a hunter," Adam said as he pulled himself slowly into a sleek saddle of Spanish leather. "Now, in battle, there's no finer horse in all--"

Joan darted into the trees.

He was a knight. Mayhap a lord. That meant he, too, was here for one purpose only--marriage to the most beautiful woman in Christendom. Lady Mathilda.

Joan heard Adam Quintin shout after her, but she ignored him. She'd save a beggar with her hounds if he had been one so cornered. And in truth, 'twas the dogs, not she, who'd done the work. She paused a moment, hand to her breast and took a deep breath. The boar had almost killed the man, but the dogs had performed for her as needed.

Her hand signals worked.

The dogs were waiting on the bank of the river that wound from Winchester to Portsmouth Harbor, passing Ravenswood Castle on its way. They had run through the shallows, romped on the banks, cleaning themselves.

She hugged them one by one, stroking velvety ears and rubbing smooth bellies. "I am sorry you cannot have your just reward, but I could not remain for the butchering. You made me proud, my loves. You rescued a man of worth for Lady Mathilda."

She remembered how he'd been addressed with familiar ease by the other men. It took little effort to imagine the carnage to the men's friendship as they vied for Lady Mathilda's hand.

Plain Joan, Brian had called her. His tongue was as quick as ever. Her cheeks heated that Adam Quintin should be introduced to her in such a manner. Now, Brian's opinion would be Adam's. It was an uneasy thought and she thrust it aside.

Her passage through the woods was no longer a joy, the dogs frolicking ahead of her no longer the pleasure of the day.

At a barely perceptible crossing of one deer path with another, she turned to the west. She would come up to Ravenswood Castle from that direction lest she meet any more men who might be rushing to fall at Lady Mathilda's feet.

But as she walked, she found her thoughts on fields of harebells. Harebells as blue as the new gown Lady Mathilda had worn this morning at chapel.

Adam Quintin was as fine in appearance as Brian de Harcourt, mayhap finer. Lady Mathilda would have great difficulty choosing between them. She discounted Lord Roger altogether. He looked like a starved crane. She hoped Brian fell in the foul water of the moat along with the rude Roger.

"Adam Quintin." She said the name aloud without thought. One dog lifted his head and whined. "Aye, Paul. You're right. I will not think of him." The young hound she'd named after her favorite saint woofed. She patted his head. "Nay. I mean it. He's forgotten already."

Author's Note

Dear Reader,

We both know Joan will not be able to forget Adam Quintin, and he, in turn, will not be able to forget the seductive woman who rescued him! The art of hunting was a passion and a lifestyle for all levels of society in medieval times. It isn't possible to convey all of the complicated facets of hunting within one novel and still have room for the love story, but I hope LORD OF THE HUNT will give you a small taste of the hunter's life!

LORD OF THE HUNT is the story of a man's search for his honor. It's the story of a man who starts out hunting for a traitor and ends up hunting for the key to his heart.

As with my other historical novels, the heroine is from the humbler side of life. If you'd like to read other tales of humble women and the men they love, try out my LORD OF THE KEEP (0-505-52351-5) and LORD OF THE MIST (0-505-53442-0). If you'd like to read excerpts of these books, click on BOOKS.

LORD OF THE HUNT is a sequel to LORD OF THE MIST, but you don't have to read LORD OF THE MIST to enjoy the tale. The book stands alone.

I'm absolutely thrilled that LORD OF THE MIST received Romantic Times Magazine's Reviewers' Choice Award for Best Medieval of 2001 as well as Affaire de Coeur's Readers' Choice Award for Best Medieval of 2001!!

If you are a member of a reading group, you can find a Reading Group Guide for LORD OF THE HUNT by clicking here. The guide is my first and I hope to have guides available for my other books in the very near future.

I love to hear from readers and you can write to me at

Happy Reading!



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