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Christiana, only child and heir of the earl of Gladsbury, is a strong-willed young woman who binds her breasts and dresses as a boy because she wants to be a knight.
Her wise father assigns his two most eligible knights to instruct her in castle defense, hoping also to awaken her sensuality so she will accept what she is. He is unaware that both knights harbor secrets that could threaten her happiness. Will Christiana choose womanhood? If she does, will she choose the right man as her lover and mate?
EXCERPT Setting: Jousting in the passage of arms
The herald trumpets split the soft air one last time with their call to arms.
Sunlight danced off armor polished to a silver sheen as the third and last knight rode up the ramp. He paused for a moment when he stood at the top of the mound so that everyone could see bask in his grandeur before guiding his mount down to the lists. He let his gray warhorse—a mean and dangerous animal—whinny and prance just a little before he received his lance there from his squire.
Christiana bit back a retort at the self important gesture. The act was so like him. It was Sir Guy, she’d been told, who had pressed his fellow knights into requesting reddish-purple and gold pennons for the pavilions, but the earl had forbidden it.
“Kings, princes and dukes may choose those colors. An earl may not, and so neither shall these knights.”
Guy’s helmet crest was a two-pronged affair of white feathers that stuck up in the air and quivered slightly in the afternoon breeze. As a little girl Christiana thought the crest resembled a dead chicken lying on its back with its wings sticking stiffly upward. She’d told her father this, and he’d repressed a smile.
He’d covered his lips with one finger to silence her. “The crests are important to those who use them. Never tell anyone what you really think of one.” He’d winked, and leaned closer, his voice dropping to a whisper. “Personally, I think it looks like a dead chicken too.” His beard had tickled her cheek, and the tangy scent of the soap with which he’d bathed filled her nostrils.
Since she adored her father, she’d obeyed him in the matter. It would never be heard from her lips that even at this age she still thought it resembled a chicken.
Tim whispered in awe, “That Dark Knight’s gonna challenge Sir Guy.”
Christiana watched with disbelief as the Dark Knight rode up to the champion and struck his shield with his lance, the official signal of challenge. Apparently no one had been available to accept his challenge at Guy’s pavilion, so he delivered the official challenge now.
To her delight, the action rather trumped de Bere’s flashy entrance and drew attention away from him to the challenger in black. But now a pang of sympathy for the stranger swept over her. Maybe she didn’t much like Guy, but next to the earl he was the finest jouster around. Having fought in the latest Crusade, he would no doubt make short work of this stranger.
Lifting the mouth plate of his helm so his voice could be heard, champion de Bere said, “It would be unfair of me to challenge one riding a horse that has already been through two bouts. I give you leave to change to a fresh horse.” His voice rang out, silken yet surly.
“Even on a weary horse I will best you, sire.” This was stated as a matter-of-fact, not boast.
Tittering spread through the audience. No one ever talked back to the dazzling knight astride the nasty gray destrier.
“Nonetheless, I would not have it said I triumphed because your horse was not fit. I will wait until you have a fresh mount.”
“Ah, but Cheval has rested while we’ve had this little talk. To arms, sire, to arms.” He spurred Cheval into a trot and turn that placed him before the earl.
Guy had no choice but to join him…