First Draft Synosis:

Margaret Moore

This is the version of the story that went to my editor to sell the book.
England, 1244

Sir Henry, a knight with no estate and a handsome charmer of women, is traveling north to visit his older brother when he stops for some rest and relaxation at an inn.

When he awakens the next morning, naked and hung over, 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 have heard of his prowess in battle and between the sheets, he genially asks who they are and 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 chilly 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 while she and her sister grew up in France, her mother was English, and her father thought Magna Carta a great idea, as it put limits on the monarch's power. He gave up his French estates to his brother in return for his brother's English lands long before the king of France (recently) made the choice mandatory. Her accent and her education may be French, but her heart is English.

Unfortunately, their beloved father died recently and willed his estate to his eldest daughter, Giselle. Their garrison commander refused to take orders from a woman and abandoned them, leaving the women vulnerable to their cousin, Sir Roald de Sayres, who is disputing their father's will. They fear that not only will Roald take over their estate, he'll arrange marriages for them that are to his advantage, with no concern for their welfare. The sisters intend to fight for their rights.

What they don't tell Henry is that Roald is on his way to personally take command of Ecclesburgh and they don't have a lot of time to prepare a defense. What he doesn't tell them is that he's already had a run-in with Roald when the lecherous little man tried to rape one of the serving women at the castle where they were both guests. He'll be quite happy to disrupt the schemes of that greedy little squint.

Henry's also in no particular hurry to get to Scotland to see the brother whose achievements make him feel inadequate, Besides, they're offering a considerable sum of money, and Giselle is one of the most beautiful women he's ever seen. While Mathilde is obviously a bossy shrew, he plans to simply avoid her and spend as much time as possible with Giselle.

However, this isn't nearly as easy as he thinks. Mathilde is the very much in charge of every aspect of life in the castle. Insecure about her looks, she's compensated by taking over an many of the responsibilities of the castle as she can.

Sparks fly when Mathilde and Henry have differing opinions about training the soldiers, until Henry points out that she's paying him for his expertise. If she can do better, he'll go. Mathilde can be stubborn and defensive, but she's not a fool, so she backs down. Later, Henry recalls her flashing eyes and sharp tongue, and realizes she's nothing if not invigorating, whereas her sister, who's very much the standard medieval lady, is actually quite boring.

When Mathilde hired Henry, she expected an arrogant warrior who would not be willing to listen to her, so she was determined to assert herself. To her surprise, Henry wasn't adverse to listening to her, until she went a bit too far. She regrets that, but tells herself it's just as well. He's too attractive by far.

She wonders about Giselle's reaction to him, but Giselle assures her Henry's not to her taste. She's not stupid enough to fall for his flattery and charm. In fact, Giselle is far more than just a pretty face. She feels trapped by her beauty that's made her such a "valuable asset." She's given up much of her responsibilities in the castle to Mathilde not because she's lazy, but because she saw how important it was to Mathilde.

As relieved as Mathilde is by Giselle's response, she's feeling a bit "stupid" and resolves to ignore Henry except as strictly necessary, but that's not nearly as easy as it sounds.

Henry sends a message to his brother explaining the reason for the delay in his arrival. His brother isn't pleased; what the devil is Henry doing helping any relative of Queen Eleanor?

King Henry's French queen has been busily rewarding her relatives with lands and titles, much to the disgust of the English nobility. Mathilde admits this is true, but Roald is much closer to Eleanor than they are.

The message from Nicholas also reveals something of the brothers' relationship to Mathilde. Henry's got a chip on his shoulder and a case of sibling envy, something Mathilde can relate to.

Henry isn't about to leave Ecclesburgh just because his brother tells him to. In fact, this makes him more inclined to stay. He's also discovering a capacity for leadership he never knew he had. The other factor in his decision to stay is the competent, intelligent and lively Mathilde. She's certainly never boring and obviously has a capacity for passion.

Mathilde, meanwhile, is discovering her "feminine side" and finding out how it feels to be treated like an attractive, desirable woman. Although she fears Henry's merely flattering her and may simply be trying to seduce her, she can't resist the chance to be alone with him, even when some of these encounters move beyond a mere kiss.

One of Henry's best friends, 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, given his feelings regarding the queen and her gifts to her relatives. Henry assures Ranulf he knows what he's doing. Ranulf assumes Giselle is involved, but Henry quickly makes it clear that's not the case. Ranulf then realizes Henry's attracted to the vivacious younger sister. Before Ranulf leaves, he warns Henry that this situation could have more dire consequences than he foresees. Henry tries to laugh off the warning, but between his brother's admonitions and Ranulf's sober caution, Henry's realizing he should have considered the larger ramifications before he agreed to help Mathilde and Giselle.

Henry's also concerned about his growing affection for Mathilde. However, he's broke and has no land, and he sure people will think he's marrying for money if he asks for Mathilde's hand -- Mathilde included, especially since she doesn't have a great regard for young noblemen in general.

Mathilde, too, believes their relationship has no future. Henry would never seriously consider marrying her; with his looks and skills, he can surely win a richer, more accomplished and more beautiful bride. She tells herself she simply got wrapped up in the excitement of being desired by such a handsome man.

They both independently decide that Henry really, really has to go, yet their next conversation ends in another intimate encounter, falling just short of making love.

Then Roald arrives. He's shocked to find that his cousins won't let him into the castle and even worse, that the vain blackguard who so humiliated him is helping them.

Mathilde had no notion that Henry has a history with Roald, and she's upset that he didn't tell her. Did he agree to help them for his own ends, as well as the money and the hope of seducing either Giselle or herself? Henry admits getting back at Roald was part of his original motivation for helping them. As for the money, why not accept it? He's not rich. And why did she bring Giselle along when she made her proposition, except to add a different enticement? She's hardly in a position to act morally superior. Deeply hurt -- and upset because he's right about her reasons for bringing Giselle -- she lashes out, trying to hurt him, too.

She succeeds, causing Henry to accuse her of leading him on to encourage him to stay. Giselle would have been more effective.

In the middle of this argument, Roald seeks a parlay, to which they agree. Roald tells them he's taking this matter to the king's court. The queen will surely take his side. The women will lose all right to Ecclesburgh and their "unnatural" independence, and he'll make sure Henry never gets an estate. Then he'll return with an army, take the castle and bring his cousins to heel. As his parting shot, he informs Mathilde about Henry's reputation with women. If she or her sister think he'll ever be faithful to a lover or a wife, they're mistaken.

Threatening them is the last thing Roald should have done. Mathilde is now more determined than ever not to surrender. Giselle fully supports her.

Mathilde expects Henry to leave, but he informs her that he'll stay until she orders him to go. He's not about to run because of Roald's threats. As for his experiences with women, he can't exactly deny that he's had a varied and active love life, but he's hardly the lascivious lout Roald claims. Mathilde believes she'd like nothing better than to never see Henry again, but they need his skill and leadership more than ever.

Roald does go to the king and although the matter of the possession of Ecclesburgh is before the court, the king cedes it to Roald as the nearest male heir until the case is decided. The king agrees that Giselle and Mathilde should be subject to their cousin's commands, as the nobles should be subject to him, Magna Carta notwithstanding.

Roald returns with an army and lays siege to Ecclesburgh. Henry knows they're going to have to fight or be starved out, and makes plans to attack. On the eve of battle, Mathilde cannot stay away from him. He may die the next day, and it's her fault he'd embroiled in this situation. She would rather marry Roald's choice and even give up Ecclesburgh than see Henry dead.

Henry realizes this is a declaration of love, and reciprocates. He would rather die than see Mathilde married to another, and if his death ensures her freedom, he's willing to make that sacrifice. Then, being Henry, he tries to lighten the mood and reassures her that he has no intention of dying, especially now that he knows how Mathilde feels about him. They make love. Henry leaves before dawn to organize the men, and Mathilde goes to seek comfort from her sister.

After a pitched battle, Roald and his army are defeated. During the fight, Henry learns something more -- the responsibility of command. It's through this "trial by combat" that Henry becomes fully mature as he leads his men to victory.

Alas for Roald, he's underestimated the capability of the garrison of Ecclesburgh under Henry's command. Yet after he's captured, he still stubbornly refuses to relinquish his right to Ecclesburgh and to determine Mathilde and Giselle's future.

Henry's brother and his friends appear, with a considerable army of their own. Roald's also underestimated the power and influence of Henry's brother, who is very important in the court of Scotland, and Henry's friend, the lord of Tregellas, as well as his own importance to Queen Eleanor. After word of the outcome of the battle reaches the king, he claims to have been completely misinformed and misled by Roald. Roald's stripped of his English estates and sent home to France in disgrace.

Henry's upset the man's not punished more, but Nicholas and his friends convince him to let it go. Isn't there something more important for him to consider now? Like, oh, say, marriage?

Henry hesitates. Mathilde could do better than a landless knight. Mathilde demands to know if he thinks she's a brazen, wanton woman who gives her favors to just anyone? Of course they must marry and a pox on him if he tries to change his mind after he's saved her life and her sister's and made her fall so much in love with him, she'd rather become a nun and live in a cell for the rest of her life than marry anybody else, even if he were the richest man in Europe. Henry sweeps her into his arms and kisses her passionately, and that's the end of his prevarication's.

On the day of Henry's wedding, Nicholas, Merrick and Ranulf express their relief that Henry has managed to find the perfect woman for him. Henry proudly admits that she found him and he's very glad she did.

The End

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