Final Draft Synosis:

Margaret Moore

England, 1243

Handsome Sir Henry, a knight with no estate, is traveling north to visit his older brother and stops at an inn. Upon awakening the next morning, he discovers he's being watched by two ladies. One is astonishingly beautiful, the other is not. Being nude, Henry feels at a bit of a disadvantage, but being Henry, he acts as if he meets ladies while in bed and in the buff all the time. Assuming they're "tournament groupies" who've heard of his prowess in battle, he genially asks what they want.

The unattractive one pertly answers. (Imagine a resolute Leslie Caron.) She is Lady Mathilde and this is her sister, Lady Giselle. They require somebody capable of training and commanding their men-at-arms and are willing to pay accordingly. Her response is like a dash of cold water, but given the interesting presence of the lovely Giselle, Henry asks a few more questions. Mathilde reveals that her father gave up his French estates to his brother in return for his brother's English lands. He died recently and willed his estate to his daughters. Their cousin, the greedy, ambitious Sir Roald de Sayres, believes he, as sole male relative, should inherit and is disputing the will. The sisters intend to fight for their rights.

Henry hates Roald de Sayres for reasons of his own and wouldn't want to see any woman under his control. It's also a knight's duty to protect the weak. It doesn't hurt that the sisters are offering a considerable sum of money (he's nearly broke) and he's in no particular hurry to see his brother.

Mathilde is excited by Henry's agreement to help them, even if she's suspicious of handsome, charming young men, and with good reason. She's so pleased, she merrily banters with Henry on the journey to Ecclesford, while Giselle watches with silent concern. She's worried about hiring this "stranger." Surely they could have promoted one of the soldiers, like the competent Saxon, Cerdic.

Mathilde reminds her that while Roald may be a dishonorable lout, he's not an idiot, or without influence at court. They must have somebody with experience, and of sufficient rank and fame, to make Roald back off.

Upon their arrival at Ecclesford, Henry discovers that the vivacious Mathilde is like a combination chatelaine, steward and garrison commander. This goes against the ideal of medieval femininity, but Henry likes intelligent, determined women. In his experience, they're much more interesting and passionate. He's already started to wonder what sort of lover Mathilde would be, but at this point, his amorous attention is still on Giselle.

His obvious interest in Giselle doesn't endear him to Mathilde. Although she wasn't above using Giselle as bait to get Henry to Ecclesford, she definitely doesn't want Henry seducing her sister. Giselle assures her she's not about to fall for a man like Henry. He's probably another cad who simply enjoys the chase. She treads delicately here, because the experience she's referring to is not her own, but Mathilde's.

Henry soon realizes that Giselle's aloof attitude is no act to intrigue him. She really isn't interested, and he isn't the sort to see that as a challenge. If a woman's not interested in him, he leaves her alone. Also, he's finding the busy little body, Mathilde, (whose body is really rather shapely) more fascinating than he expected.

The soldiers Henry is supposed to train are skeptical and wary of the knight. However, he thinks the garrison has a lot of potential, and discovers that he enjoys teaching them the finer points of sword fighting, defense, etc. Cerdic and the other men realize that Henry is an excellent instructor and has some valuable experience from which they can learn. Their grudging acceptance turns into genuine respect.

The maidservants, meanwhile, are all in a flutter. Mathilde finds this irritating, but given Henry's attributes, not surprising. She'll keep them so busy, they won't have time to be distracted by their guest -- and neither will she.

Nevertheless, Mathilde must ensure that her money's not going to waste, so she goes to one of Henry's drills. She's pleased by what she sees, and tries to ignore the sight of a half-naked Henry. She's determined to keep their relationship "strictly business."

Despite the fact that autumn is a very busy time on the estate, Mathilde finds the time to wander by another practice session. She happens to be on the wall walk during another. And another time, she has to ask Henry a question about weapons.

Mathilde gives credit where credit is due, and Henry's delighted with her praise. It's becoming clear that her wariness has altered into respect, at least. And perhaps something more? Although Mathilde tries to keep the discussion to business and politics, Henry wants to find out how she feels about him. He's pleasantly surprised -- until Mathilde remembers the last time she let a man sweet-talk her. Defensive and angry with both herself and Henry, she tells him she knows the sort of man he is, and he's getting nowhere with her.

Henry is taken aback by her abrupt rejection and her accusations, but with his experience with women as a guide, suspects this isn't about what he's actually done, but what some other man has. This enables him to keep his temper under control, and he tells her that if he finds her attractive, it's because she is.

Mathilde refuses to believe that a man like Henry doesn't have an ulterior motive. He's obviously not wealthy, nor does he possess an estate, while her dowry will be considerable if they can keep Roald at bay. Perhaps he was hoping to seduce her into marriage. She's tempted to send Henry packing, but they still need him. She silently vows to be far more careful around him in the future...although surely Henry got the message and will stay away from her, and her sister.

Henry's upset by her mistrust, and while he's tempted to leave, he feels bound by his duty to protect the weak and to help his friends (which now includes the garrison). He also wants to prove to Mathilde that he is trustworthy.

Henry goes drinking with Cerdic to try to find out what happened to Mathilde that's given her such a sour view of men, as well as the nature of the relationship between the sisters. Being something of an expert in clandestine behavior, he's beginning to suspect Giselle is keeping something from her sister.

Cerdic tells Henry that if there was a man who broke Mathilde's heart, he doesn't know who it was. He assures Henry that Giselle loves her sister and she'd never betray Mathilde.

As the discussion continues, both men get rather the worse for wine and Henry reveals some things about his own past.

Cerdic tells Mathilde and Giselle that Henry was falsely accused of treachery by his closest friend.

Mathilde wants to believe that Henry's trustworthy, but given how sympathetic Giselle is toward Henry after hearing about the false accusation, she wonders if there is, indeed, something between Giselle and Henry.

One night, Mathilde discovers that Giselle's not in her bed. Remembering the excitement she felt when she believed herself in love and sure Henry could inspire similar passion in any woman, she sets out to find Giselle. Instead, she encounters Henry, who claims he couldn't sleep, saw Giselle, and tried to follow her.

Mathilde doesn't believe him and accuses him of having nefarious designs on both her and her sister. Henry makes it very clear that he's has no such plans. He's an honorable knight.

If he's so honorable, Mathilde counters, why did his friend accuse him of betrayal?

She's hit upon a very sensitive point with Henry. His dismay and anger quickly turn to self-defense. He reminds her of his reason for appearing to betray his friend (to find out information) and demands to know why she thinks he's untrustworthy? He's given her no cause to think so, has he? Or is it just because he's a man -- and a man she obviously wants, even if she won't admit it? Shocked, dismayed (because she is attracted to him), Mathilde strikes back. Clearly there must be some reason his friends were so quick to think he would betray them, and she wouldn't sleep with him if he begged her!

If she thinks he's such a base villain, why is he still there? Maybe he should leave. Then he won't have to endure her checking up on him all the time. Maybe she should just take over anyway! She's more of a man than some of his men!

This last point really hits Mathilde hard -- but he's obviously just another vain, lustful lout who expects women to fall in love with him. If they don't, he bolsters his wounded pride by claiming they're unnatural, not that they're clever enough to see through his empty words.

If she's so clever, he retorts, how come she hasn't figured out what's going on with Giselle? Who was she sneaking off to meet? It certainly wasn't him. In fact, if he was going to sneak off to rendezvous with anyone... He kisses Mathilde passionately, rendering her stunned and speechless and undeniably excited -- although she's angry, too. Who does he think he is? What's he trying to do? But beneath Mathilde's anger and indignation, she's afraid of Henry -- and her own weakness.

Kissing her, Henry realizes several things. First, she's not immediately pushing him away and that pleases him. Secondly, he should be sympathetic to her history, not casting it up to her, even if Mathilde has cast his up to him.

He remembers his agreement to help her, and his vow to protect the weak, and that Roald is a nasty piece of work. However Mathilde makes him feel -- the good and the bad -- that is what's important.

After the kiss, Mathilde "fires" Henry. Rather than tell her why he really thinks he should stay (that she needs his help), he instead demands his full payment, since it's her decision to break their contract.

Just as he expects, Mathilde refuses to pay the full amount, since he hasn't fulfilled the original terms of their verbal contract. As Henry continues to demand full payment, Mathilde realizes she could be putting her sister and her people in jeopardy by forcing Henry to leave. Surely she can control her wayward emotions. She tells him that if he wants full payment, he'll have to earn it by abiding by their contract.

Since this is what Henry wanted, he (apparently grudgingly) accepts. He'll stay, but far away from her.

And where is Giselle while this confrontation is taking place? She's with Cerdic, talking about Henry and Mathilde. Although Cerdic has come to respect and admire Henry as a fighter, he's wary of his motives. Giselle fears Mathilde's being swayed by his charm and good looks, in spite of what happened before. Then they kiss.

When Mathilde asks her sister about her absence, Giselle lies, giving her a plausible explanation. Although Mathilde tells herself she should have faith in her sister, the seeds of doubt have been planted.

Roald arrives. He's enraged when his cousins refuse him entry into Ecclesford, and when he learns who they have helping them. Do they not know that Henry's a liar and dishonorable rogue? Henry replies that Roald's the liar and dishonorable rogue, and reveals that he prevented Roald from raping a serving woman. Roald counters by claiming that Henry has no right to claim the higher moral ground. He was sneaking about for some nefarious activity of his own that night.

Mathilde doesn't care what Henry was doing, or with whom. What's more important, and what she believes, is that Roald was attempting to force a woman, and Henry stopped him.

When Roald realizes Mathilde and Giselle won't back down, he demands to know what inducements they've offered Henry for his help. He wouldn't put anything past Mathilde, after she threw herself at him. When he refused to marry her, she grew spiteful. She's obviously just a bitter women out for vengeance.

Mathilde cannot and does not deny that Roald promised her marriage, and then reneged.

Henry is gobsmacked. Roald? Why didn't she tell him?

Inwardly ashamed, Mathilde says her past history with Roald doesn't matter. Her father's will is legally valid and Roald should not get Ecclesford; that's the important thing.

Henry agrees that she's right, but now he's wondering what else Mathilde has kept from him. He's also wondering how intimate she was with Roald. Roald makes it sound as if they were very intimate -- but he's a liar. And does he -- Henry -- really want to know?

When Roald realizes Henry's still not giving up command, he tells them that if they continue to challenge his authority, he'll go to the king, who will surely take his side. The women will lose their right to Ecclesford and their "unnatural" independence, and he'll make sure Henry will never get an estate. Alas for Roald, these threats only make Henry, Mathilde, Giselle, Cerdic and the entire garrison of Ecclesford more determined to defeat him.

After Roald and his men leave, Henry asks Mathilde if there's anything else he ought to know.

Like what, all the sordid details? she demands. Yes, she made love with Roald -- once. He made her believe he loved her and wanted to marry her, and then he forced himself upon her. Afterward, he laughed in her face and told her she must be mad to think he'd ever marry a woman as homely as she.

Beneath her angry defiance, she's full of shame and feels almost as humiliated as she did when Roald date-raped her. Now she's sure Henry will think she's not just stupid, but immoral.

In fact, Henry's thinking Roald is the worst piece of dung on the planet, and this explains why Mathilde's been trying to ignore their mutual desire. Henry may have been on his way to meet a lover when he came upon Roald and the serving maid, but his relationships with women have been honest ones, and he's never taken a woman against her will.

Now, because he wants to prove that he's worthy of Mathilde's trust, he believes he must conquer his own yearning and treat her as simply a friend in need, no matter what he feels.

Roald goes to court, where he complains to Queen Eleanor. Eleanor tells him she's got more important matters to consider (like bringing about the marriage of her sister to the king's brother). The king, however, agrees that Giselle and Mathilde should be subject to their male relative's commands, as the nobles should be subject to him, Magna Carta notwithstanding. Although this isn't quite the enthusiastic response Roald hoped for, he does feel he has the king's permission to get Ecclesford back any way he can.

Henry's friend, Ranulf, arrives. He and Henry's other close friend (Merrick) have heard about Henry's latest "adventure" and are wondering what he's up to. Trying to act as if nothing's changed, Henry assures Ranulf that he knows what he's doing.

Ranulf doesn't fault Henry for wanting to help the two ladies, but has he thought this through? He might earn the king's enmity, and then he'll never get an estate. His brother and Merrick might also be affected. Also, Roald will likely stop at nothing to get Ecclesford, whether by legitimate means or foul, and the more obstacles in his way, the worse his vengeance will be should he succeed. Henry could actually be making things worse for the women, as well as possibly involving his brother and his friends. Is it because of the beautiful Giselle --?

Henry makes it clear that his decision isn't being guided by lust for Giselle. He admits he's being paid to help, but surely Ranulf must agree that the women need the help of a trustworthy, competent knight.

Ranulf can't disagree -- and also by now, he's figured out that Henry's attracted to the vivacious younger sister. That isn't so surprising; what is surprising is that Henry is trying to pretend otherwise. Why?

An angry Henry retorts that he is capable of making decisions based on something other than lust. Ranulf is taken aback by the vehemence of Henry's response and tries to get him to admit that there's more going on here than Henry's need to assist two ladies in distress.

What else is he supposed to do? Henry charges. Let Roald win and do what he wants with Mathilde and Giselle? His brother can always claim Henry acted without his approval (which is true). Nor will he involve Merrick or Ranulf. He's well aware of the oath of brotherhood and loyalty they swore to one another, but he won't call on them, if that will make Ranulf feel better.

Ranulf's temper rises. Of course they'll come to Henry's aid, should he need it -- but perhaps he should have thought a bit more about the ramifications of what he was about to do. Hasn't nearly getting killed because Merrick thought Henry had betrayed him taught him anything?

It taught him that his friends were quick to misjudge him, Henry retorts.

Ranulf leaves Ecclesford.

Mathilde tries to find out what happened, but Henry isn't talking. After what Ranulf told her about their friendship, she realizes that by helping her, Henry could lose his family, his friends and, depending on what Roald decides to do, possibly his life. Although she feels guilty for involving Henry in her trouble, she comforts herself by saying he could have refused their initial offer and he's free to go at any time. However, she also resolves to treat him with more respect and gratitude.

Henry is now more determined to prove his worth than he's ever been in his life. Gone is the charming, bantering seducer; in his place is a grim, resolute, stern commander.

Giselle and Cerdic are well aware that there's conflict between Mathilde and Henry, and that both have changed -- and not for the better. Giselle thinks Henry should leave. Cerdic reluctantly agrees and tries to convince him to go. This attempt goes nowhere, and instead causes Henry to wonder if Cerdic is as trustworthy as he seems. He still doesn't trust Giselle, either.

Meanwhile, back in London, Roald hires himself a henchman. Sir Charles de Mallemaison, a well-trained, battle-hardened knight, will do anything for money.

As part of the All Hallow's Eve festivities at Ecclesford, Henry arranges a tournament for the men of the garrison, as a means to demonstrate and reward what they've learned. This goes very well indeed. During the festivities, Mathilde (a little the looser for wine) tells Henry how impressed she is by the work he's done with the men. Henry reveals that he admires and respects the way she leads the household. Mathilde begins to hope that he doesn't think she's a complete fool because of her relationship with Roald. In fact, despite his resolution, the only thing Henry's thinking about is kissing Mathilde.

He's not doing a very good job of hiding his desire, and neither is Mathilde, who's finding it easier to forget about Roald when she's with Henry. She's already lost her virtue, and he's so very attractive... They wind up kissing and caressing and making love.

Afterward, Henry fears Mathilde will think he is like Roald. But what he feels for Mathilde is more than lust, or the need to protect someone who needs his help. He's found a woman he wants to marry, except that he has nothing to offer her but his sword.

Mathilde isn't sorry she gave in to her passion, even if Henry won't marry her. After all, she's homely and he could have his choice of a hundred rich, beautiful brides. Nor does she think he's like Roald. He's a far better, more honorable man. She only fears Henry may think she's a wanton after all, just as Roald said.

Charles de Mallemaison is among the crowd at the All Hallow's Eve tournament and he tells Roald that the garrison of Ecclesford is going to be a tougher force to fight than Roald led him to believe. He's wants more money. He wants Giselle, too -- or at least, a chance to take her before Roald does what he likes with her.

Charles's report frightens Roald, even as he tries to tell himself Charles's probably exaggerating to get more money. On the other hand, Henry's not going to be an easy man to defeat. Roald agrees to Charles's demands and marches on Ecclesford.

Henry sees Giselle and Cerdic together and realizes that their relationship is probably similar to the one he's now got with Mathilde. He's wonders if it's simply a matter of two young people in love, or something more sinister. After all, Giselle's rich and her husband would control Ecclesford.

But then, doesn't he fear people will say that he's only after Mathilde for money and power? After another intimate encounter, he tells Mathilde what he's seen, and his suspicions. She's surprised, but refuses to believe there's anything to fear from Giselle, or Cerdic, either.

Henry confronts Cerdic, but before he gets far, an alarm is sounded. Roald's returned with a huge army, led by Charles de Mallemaison. Henry's heard of Charles, and he feels the first real fear he's experienced since he arrived at Ecclesford, although it's not fear for himself. If Roald is desperate enough to hire a man like Charles, who knows what vengeance he'll exact from those who dared to defy him if they lose? And if Mathilde and Giselle are captured by Charles...

A worried Henry suggests that Mathilde and Giselle leave Ecclesford. Mathilde refuses; she won't abandon her home and the men who are fighting for her -- but she thinks Henry should go before he gets killed. This was never really his fight.

Yes, it is. He feels as responsible as Mathilde for this situation; perhaps if he wasn't there, Roald wouldn't have hired Charles. He also cannot ignore his knightly oath to protect the weak -- even if Mathilde is one of the strongest people he's ever met. In any case, he's not about to leave her in this hour of need.

Although she's very concerned for his safety, Mathilde can't help being relieved that he'll stay. Giselle, however, should definitely go. But she refuses to leave, too. She'll stand by her sister, and Cerdic, whom she loves and wants to marry. She hasn't said anything to Mathilde about their relationship because she feared Mathilde wouldn't approve. Mathilde says that if they all come out of this alive, Giselle should marry whoever she likes. She wants her sister to be happy, and Cerdic will be a fine and loving husband.

What if the king disagrees, and takes Ecclesford away from her? Henry asks. This is, unfortunately, a very real possibility if Giselle marries without the king's permission. Mathilde says it's better to be happy and poor than miserably married. Henry agrees. He wants to marry for love, and he hopes --

A cry sounds from the watchtower. Charles, in full battle dress, has ridden up to the gate to deliver an ultimatum: the sisters must surrender Ecclesford and submit to their cousin's authority, or lose everything and see their pitiful band of soldiers slaughtered.

If this is intended to scare either Mathilde, Giselle or the garrison into giving up, it doesn't work.

During the fierce fighting, Henry attacks Charles. Henry's left eye is destroyed, his face terribly scarred, his left arm all but useless, while Charles escapes unscathed. Mathilde is grief-stricken, and again blames herself. She should have found some way to end this peaceably. Other men besides Henry have been seriously wounded, and a few have died. She must end this conflict without further loss of life, or more serious injuries.

Mathilde goes alone to Roald's camp to sue for peace. He can have Ecclesford if he allows the garrison, Giselle and herself to leave without further harm.

Not good enough, Roald retorts, smugly satisfied by Mathilde's seeming surrender.

She has nothing more to offer, she replies.

She certainly does. He hasn't forgotten making love with her. Mathilde retorts that he found her homely; why would he want her now? Oh, it wouldn't be him, although he might decide to join the fun. He calls for Charles.

Desperate to save her family, Henry and her people, and with her expression grim, her head held high, Mathilde disrobes. Roald mocks her more, while Charles leers. As Mathilde endures this with silent dignity, Roald has a moment of remorse and pushes her, naked, out of the tent. His change of heart is shortlived, however. He calls her a whore and tells her that when they capture Ecclesford, both she and her sister will really regret their defiance.

Knowing that she's failed, ashamed and humiliated by Roald once again, yet also thankful she wasn't raped, Mathilde valiantly struggles to her feet. One of Roald's soldiers, a Scot, rushes to her with a blanket. He says nothing, but it's clear he's disgusted with his commander's action. (And for those who've read BRIDE OF LOCHBARR, there's Lachlann.)

Roald orders the Scot to back off, but the soldier gives him such a look, Roald retreats into the tent.

When Mathilde returns, naked except for the blanket, disheveled, face set and silent, everyone in Ecclesford assumes the worst. Giselle gently, delicately, tends to her sister, and Mathilde tells her what really happened. While aghast at her sister's action and dismayed by what befell her, Giselle is relieved Mathilde escaped without being raped.

Worried that rumors will spur her men to recklessness, Mathilde asks Giselle to spread the word that she wasn't raped. She also asks that no one tell Henry anything. He mustn't be upset. Nor does she want him to know what a fool she was.

Mathilde goes to see Henry. Henry is conscious and while ignorant of what's happened to Mathilde, knows the extent of his own wounds. He's disfigured, his arm is useless...he's useless. He's sure she can't want him now.

In spite of his pain and anguish, it quickly dawns on Henry that Mathilde is trying to hide something. He becomes so agitated, she tells him that she went to Roald to sue for peace, and failed.

Henry senses that there's a lot more to it than that. What did that greedy little squint do? Unable to hold back her tears, full of shame, believing she has no hope of a life with Henry, Mathilde tells him of her humiliation.

Henry is roused to an almost supernatural fury. Death is too good for that bastard, he cries, getting out of bed, his own wounds and pain forgotten.

Distraught, upset, Mathilde begs Henry not to fight. She doesn't want his death adding to her regrets. She's discovered the capable, trustworthy, admirable man behind the charming mask. She loves him.

If she truly loves him, he says, calming down a little in the face of her distress, then she must let him try to punish the men who hurt the vivacious, intelligent, resourceful, resolute woman he loves. He confesses that of course he's afraid he'll fail and be killed, but he would rather perish as a knight should, defending his lady, than live with losing her, and to such a fate. She must let him do what he can to save her.

Cerdic appears and, misunderstanding completely, is thrilled by Henry's "recovery." The men are determined to fight to the death after what happened to Mathilde and with Henry to lead them, they'll surely win! Henry gives Mathilde an "Okay, now you're going to have to kill me to stop me" look. Doing her best not to weep, she helps him prepare for battle, hiding his injuries as best she can. Even so, their parting kisses taste of tears.

The garrison is delighted when Henry appears, his visor lowered to hide his face, his left arm surreptitiously strapped into place and holding his shield.

During the battle, a fiercely energized Henry makes his way to Charles and, after a tough struggle, kills him. Then he seeks out Roald. Roald calls for his guard to protect him but, led by the Scot, they all turn their backs and walk away. Even wounded, Henry's ten times the warrior Roald is, and Roald dies.

After Roald's army takes flight, Henry learns that Mathilde's been wounded. She went to the battlements to help bring down the injured men and was struck by an arrow. Not knowing if she's alive or dead, Henry rushes back to the castle. She's hurt, but in no danger of dying -- a fact made clear when she throws herself at Henry.

Before they can enjoy their triumph, news comes that two other armies are approaching, one from the north led by a Scot, the other from the west. Mathilde reveals that she sent word of Henry's injuries to his brother, Nicholas, in Scotland, and to Lord Merrick of Cornwall, as well.

Henry has a happy, although subdued, reunion with his brother and his friends. Henry's not going to die, but he's lost his eye, and he may never be able to fight again. Mathilde assures them that there's nothing wrong with his mind, so he'll still be a valuable commander.

Nicholas, Ranulf and Merrick, as well as Giselle and Cerdic, appreciate that although the worst is over, Henry and Mathilde are obviously unhappy.

Ranulf manages to get Henry to admit that he doesn't think he can offer marriage to Mathilde. It's got absolutely nothing to do with Mathilde's experience with Roald -- except for his guilt that he wasn't able to defeat Charles the first time. It's because he's a ruin of a man.

Ranulf thinks Mathilde still loves him -- didn't she tend to his wounds without revulsion? And wasn't she the one telling everyone Henry still had value as a commander? Of course she doesn't think he's a "ruin." What Henry's more likely doing by staying away from her now is making her feel ashamed and guilty. He should talk to her, at least, and try to gauge her feelings instead of making assumptions.

Henry agrees, and discovers that Ranulf is right; Mathilde's been interpreting his actions with shame and guilt, believing that he doesn't want to have anything more to do with her because of what happened with Roald. Henry quickly assures her that he still loves her. How could he feel anything but admiration for her after she put herself at risk for the people she cares about? How could he not appreciate her spirit of self-sacrifice, and her dignity despite Roald's attempts to humiliate her? He's sorry he didn't fight with more skill the first time he encountered Charles, so that her act of bravery and selflessness wasn't necessary.

He blames himself? she asks with disbelief. After all he did to help them, including nearly getting killed?

Is that any worse than her feelings of guilt for the acts of depraved, vile men? He assures her he would be proud to have her for his wife, if she would give him that honor, but he's worse than poor now.

Starting to hope that she might, indeed, have a future with Henry, Mathilde tells him that she loves his clever mind, his wise leadership, and his amusing chatter. Those aren't changed. And she will have a dowry -- unless the king decides otherwise.

They'll also need the king's permission to wed. So will Giselle. Nicholas and Merrick remind the lovers that they're not without some influence at court. Once, Henry would have resented their help. Now, he's happy to have it, especially when an envoy (remember Lord Osgoode?) arrives from the king with his approval not only of the marriage, but of Cerdic as overlord of Ecclesford. Henry is to be have an estate in York, not far from the border of Scotland. (It seems Nicholas and Merrick have a lot of influence -- or perhaps the king is wary of angering two such noblemen.)

The story ends with Henry and Mathilde on their wedding night. Instead of delighted, they are quietly happy. Instead of burning desire, they share a deep devotion and tenderness toward one another. They make love slowly, enjoying every moment, and when they finish, both are filled with joy and contentment as Mathilde lovingly caresses her husband's scarred face.

The End

At this point, Tracy Farrell had one change she wanted. She didn't want Henry to lose an eye. Why, I don't know -- this came via Melissa Endlich, my immediate editor, and she wasn't given a reason. Can I live with it? Yes, because I can still give Henry one really horrendous scar. What's important is that he's lost his looks and his arm will still be wounded enough that he fears his military career, and therefore his usefulness, is over.

Melissa had two things she wanted clarified as I wrote the book: the relationship between the sisters and Henry's feelings about Mathilde's lack of virginity. Easy to do, not a worry. So then I just had to write the book...

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