happened. William’s seneschal opened the gates to us when he saw the justiciar’s writ - he had no choice. I almost feel sorry for the poor man. Conan and Brien FitzRenard were the first into the keep and they found Ralf dead and Joscelin collapsed on the stairs to Agnes’ rooms.’

Linnet bit her lip, trying to remember. Her mind was like an autumn scene with areas of drifting fog changing the landscape from moment to moment. ‘But how did you know to come?’

‘I was on my way here and decided to stop at Rushcliffe for the night. That young red-haired Scotsman of yours, Malcolm, told me that William was dreadfully ill with a deep sword wound and that you and Joscelin had taken him to Arnsby. Then the messenger came with your cry for help, so we set off straight away. Apparently William’s scribe used to be yours and took his life in his hands to send out the messages.’

Linnet gave a tremulous smile. ‘I thought I had failed with him. I asked him to help me, but he would not meet my eyes when he said he would see what he could do. I will have to go to him and be humble now.’

‘He is rather basking in his glory,’ Maude admitted. She patted Linnet’s hand and then looked round and rose to her feet as Joscelin approached the bedside. His eyes were all for Linnet and Maude tactfully made her excuses and left. The kiss she bestowed on her nephew’s stubbled cheek before she departed was affectionate and understanding, her embrace for Linnet tender.

When she had gone, Linnet and Joscelin looked at each other then, in a sudden simultaneous move, were in each other’s arms, kissing, holding tight. ‘Holy Virgin,’ Linnet sobbed, ‘I truly thought you were going to die!’

‘So did I,’ he muttered into the hair on her good side. ‘If it had not been for Ivo, I would have done.’

‘Ivo!’

He drew back and showed her the blistered weals on his hands. ‘Ivo threw a rope down into the oubliette so that I could climb out. He says that it was the only rope on which he wanted to see me swing.’

‘I thought he hated you.’

‘Not as much as he loves the mortal state of his soul. Fraternal rivalry is one matter. Cold-blooded murder is another.’

Linnet shivered and pressed her cheek against his tunic, savouring a closeness she thought she had lost. ‘And now Ivo is lord of Arnsby?’

‘Not for long.’

She raised her head and looked quickly into his tired, unshaven face. ‘You do not mean to dispute with him?’

‘No. He says that he intends taking the cross and that, providing he can have Papa’s hunting lodge and manor house near Melton, he’ll pass over his right in Martin’s favour.’ He stroked her hair. ‘It’s not as strange as it sounds. Ivo’s always trotted around in someone else’s shadow. He does not know how to stand in the light.’ He sighed heavily. ‘I want to go home to Rushcliffe, I want to see Robert and sleep with you at my side for a week.’ He paused, his hand clasped over hers, and added quietly, ‘I want to forget. Why do we always want the impossible?’

Without speaking, for her throat was tight, she took his calloused hand and placed it against her womb, upon the hidden promise of new life.

EPILOGUE

Spring 1175

The white chapel held two effigies, side by side, one a woman wearing a crown of saffron crocuses upon her pale stone brow. Her companion wore mail and a surcoat, his sword carved at rest beside him and his hands clasped, not in an attitude of prayer, but holding a shield bearing the comet blazon of his family line.

‘It looks like Papa,’ Martin said judiciously and ran his forefinger over the stone ripples and folds. ‘He’ll be happy here, I know he will.’

Robert copied him by setting his own smaller hand upon the effigy’s spurs.

Joscelin lightly touched Martin’s shoulder and considered Ironheart’s tomb. He had had to search hard among Nottingham’s fraternity of alabaster craftsmen to find one who could carve the effigy as he wanted. No pious positioning of the hands or rigid garments confining the essence. He wanted Ironheart the restless, brusque warrior, not Ironheart the saint. By and large the man had succeeded, although his father’s hair had never succumbed to a comb the way it had succumbed in stone to the craftsman’s chisel. Ralf had a tomb, too, in the chapel at Arnsby, and that was rigidly conventional and blessedly resembled his brother not in the slightest. The same went for Agnes’ memorial, although that was not yet finished for she had only died the week before Candlemas of yet another seizure.

He would not dwell on the past. Linnet would rebuke him if she thought he was brooding, although she allowed him his moments of solitude and introspection. He heard her footfall now and turned to watch her walk up the nave towards him. She was wearing her thick winter cloak for, despite the sunshine, there was still a sharpness in the air and she had her burden to protect, but she walked gracefully, and he felt his heart and gut swoop together, producing a feeling of elation.

The others would be coming soon to fill the church and attend this Mass that was to be said for the souls of William de Rocher and Morwenna de Gael, but Joscelin had allowed a space of time for the solitude of his own immediate family, for the peace and breathing space to stand before the tombs of his mother and father and present to them their three-month-old granddaughter, dark of hair, green of eye - Morwenna.

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