EXCERPT: No sooner had they taken their seats than the mummers appeared, bringing a great crash of applause from the courtiers and a low hum of murmuring. The King pounded the broad arm of his ornate, high-backed chair. Queen Phillipa sat smiling, still clutching the small silk bag Alyse had given her.
The guisers were indeed disguised in peculiar clothing. One wore the headdress of a Turk and green and yellow striped pants; his shoes were scarlet and turned up in a curving point with bells sewed onto the tips, so he jingled each time he took a step.
Alyse smiled and clapped until her hands ached, but finally settled herself on the bench. The mummers’ play had ever been her favorite part of the Christmas festivities at home at Beaulieu, the fanciful costumes the best part of the performance.
Several other characters now entered the Great Hall, one a knight in white with a huge wooden sword. That would be St. George. Four others, dressed in even more outlandish garb, would be the foolish knights and the Doctor followed them all, in oversized black robes, his long sleeves dragging the ground.
The court chattered excitedly as the mummers spread out all over the hall, talking and laughing with the courtiers.
With a sigh, Geoffrey smiled and grasped her chin, raising it so he could steal a kiss. His warm lips brushed hers, stirring her inner warmth as his touch always did.
“This entertainment will be tedious. I would much rather retire for a good night’s bedding right now,” he whispered, the puff of his breath tickling her ear and sending prickles of excitement down her neck.
She laced their fingers together. “’Twill be finished ‘ere long, my love. Then you can wield your weapon with a vigor yon knights cannot.”
He laughed and drank deeply. “Aye, sweet Alyse. My skill with both weapons outshines any other knight.”
“As you will not want me to be judge of that, I think, I will demur to your claim, although I will test your skills again with the one blade ‘ere the night is done.”
At Geoffrey’s bark of laughter—so loud it turned heads on the dais their way—Alyse settled back to watch the mummers, her cheeks burning, but a pleasant anticipation building within as well.
The mummer playing St. George took the center spot in the Great Hall and began a sing-song rhyme that soon had the court laughing at its nonsense. A stream of knights—played in turn by the other mummers—approached, made their rhyming challenge, and were quickly slain by St. George, whose wielding of his sword became swifter and swifter. He slayed the knights in such short order that by the time he faced the final knight, he did no more than look at the Turkish knight than the man fell down, his toes jingling softly as he landed on the soft rushes covering the floor.
A burst of laughter and applause followed that performance as the quack Doctor shuffled forward, his “magic potion” in a large bottle, gripped in his hand.
Thoroughly engrossed, Alyse laughed and clapped her hands. She held her breath and leaned forward as the Doctor poured the potion down the throats of the slain knights, spoke his own rhyme over them, and one by one, they began to twitch and dance, the rush-strewn floor seeming to come alive as they did. The room resounded with merriment as all seven knights revived.
Loud applause burst out from the courtiers, many of whom threw gold and silver coins onto the floor.
Geoffrey tossed a gold florin to the Turkish knight. “For my lady’s pleasure,” he called.
The man nimbly caught the coin and made a deep bow. “Thank you, my lord.”
With a lecherous grin, Geoffrey grasped Alyse’s arm and urged her to rise. “And now allow me to attend to my lady’s pleasure as well.”
BLURB: Alyse and Geoffrey, Lord and Lady Longford, have journeyed to the Christmas Court of King Edward III in the year 1349 to wait upon the king and take part in some Yuletide merriment. However, when Geoffrey is suddenly called into the king’s service again, Alyse must remain at the court, attending the queen and persuading her rebellious sister to accept an unwanted betrothal. When rumors of Geoffrey’s death arise, Alyse fends off an old suitor who wants to renew an old friendship. But how long will he take “No” for an answer?