Lord Tristram’s Love Match by R.R. Vane
Tristram sighed deeply, casting a frowning glance upon the woman who’d already fallen asleep by his side, on her belly, with her deliciously striped bottom on full display. His cock stirred, and both anger and lust mingled inside him. So he finally had the truth of it. Those years ago he’d held his lust at bay, because he’d thought Judith was unprepared for his touch. He’d honourably kept his distance, not wanting to bed an unwilling woman, although she’d pledged herself to him. But it turned out his wife hadn’t been unwilling. The heat with which she’d loved him tonight had told him plainly he now had the truth of it. In the past he’d thought to give her time to get adjusted to him, but it now seemed plain, by the unrestrained way in which she’d loved him, that she lusted for him just as much as he lusted for her. Why then had she sought an annulment? He had been unable to understand her actions and also unable to grant the annulment. Neither Henry nor the prelates of Henry’s choosing had given him a choice. And now… He raked a hand through his hair, not knowing why all those years ago she’d spurned him as she had, and recalling that once he’d sought to earn her love.
Four years ago, 1170, London
It wasupon a morning that Tristram heard a voice which he would never in his life forget. It came from the garden of the royal palace, and it was the warmest, most enticing voice Tristram had ever heard. Whenever he’d conjured up mermaids in his mind, he’d thought their voices would sound just like this. The song was sung in Occitan, not Norman, yet Tristram could understand it. His ancestors were Norman and did not come from the South of France like those of Eleanor, and of those courtiers loyal to her, but he soon caught the feel and the rhythm of the song, and he found its words strangely beautiful. The song was of the love between Tristan and his Yseult, and of the honeysuckle which was a symbol of their love which was called a chevrefoil. Tristram had heard the song of the chevrefoil often sung by the trouveres and troubadours of the court, but he’d never heard it sung quite like this. The tune and words were different and strange – warmer and more melodious than any song he’d heard in either Norman or Occitan.
Unable to stop, Tristram made his way towards the place where the voice was coming from, compelled to learn who was singing. Unfortunately the singing stopped well before he was able to reach the spot from which the sounds had reverberated, and when he finally arrived, there was no one there, and all he could stare at was a bush of briar roses. Upon a whim, he plucked one briar rose which he kept in his hand when he went to meet his best friend for sword practice.
“You’re already daydreaming, I see,” his friend, Bertran FitzRolf, told him with a smile when they at last set eyes upon each other.
Tristram smiled in return.
“I was dreaming of beauty. Of a voice I heard coming from the garden. A woman’s voice, uncanny!”
“And now you’re thinking this unknown woman should be as beautiful as her voice.”
“Yes,” Tristram said, then laughed in turn. “No… I don’t know. Does it matter? Who will care even if her face is plain when her voice is so uncannily beautiful?”
“Of course, you would say so. Beside your sword, you care for naught but songs and stories,” his friend told him with a shake of his head.
“They are the best thing in this world,” Tristram replied, still musing upon his mysterious woman.
Her voice had sounded mesmerizing, yet young, and he distinctly recalled all the timbres of the voices of the women he’d met at Court. He’d always had a keen ear he prided himself in. This woman was someone he didn’t know. A noblewoman of Occitan ancestry, who was newly come to Court. And in the next days he eagerly waited to come upon her, but he didn’t chance to perceive her. It was only when he was beginning to think the whole thing had been a strange dream of his, that he had occasion to meet her one day.
It was the month of May, one filled with court entertainments, and this leisure day was one of joyous games which were well loved by the ladies and lords of the court. Tristram had always been an avid game player, and he’d grown up with three sisters. Unlike those knights who spurned the tamer, gentler games ladies enjoyed, he found great entertainment in such pastimes. Besides, he loved good-natured flirting, and thought most knights were foolish not to want to share diverting jests and joyous games with women. So he agreed to play a game of blindman’s bluff with good cheer when one of the ladies asked him.
“I’m the best at this,” he warned the lady laughingly, as she was tying the blindfold across his eyes. “And I’ll guess each and every one of you.”
“We’ll see,” the lady answered with a laugh of her own. “You said each and every one of us, remember?”
“I did,” Tristram answered, because he knew all the ladies in this game and he had no trouble recognizing a familiar voice, even when its possessor whispered or tried to distort it.
There was some laughter and low mutters from the ladies, and some feet shuffling around him, and Tristram waited patiently for the first lady to call his name.
“Come on,” he urged teasingly. “I’ll prove myself to you once again, although you know that, in this game, I’ve never been beaten.”
Nevertheless he simply stirred at the voice who next called his name. It was, certainly, a voice he already knew, but he didn’t know the name or face of the lady who’d spoken. It was his mysterious mermaid.
“Tristram,” the voice called out, and he simply loved the way his name reverberated in the garden.
“You’ve cheated, my ladies,” he said, as his heart skipped a beat. “I’ve never met the lady who’s called my name, and you already know it. It is unfair to bring a lady who wasn’t even in the game.”
He felt loath to remove his blindfold, even when several of the ladies conceded with exaggerated sighs they’d only tried to jest with him. Something inside him had been deeply moved and he did not wish to feel disappointed when he at last met the woman who had the most enticing voice in this world. When one of the ladies at last untied the blindfold, he glanced around him, seeking to see the woman who’d spoken. His eyes soon found her, the only unfamiliar face among the ladies now in the game. Her face was not, indeed, even half as beautiful as her voice, but he found his gaze roaming appreciatively on the ample curves of her body. And when he looked the second time upon her face, he found he already liked it, although it didn’t meet the canons of courtly beauty he’d been taught to set store on.
“I’m Tristram, as you already know, my lady,” he said boldly. “But I’ve not had the pleasure of learning your name.”
“It’s… Judith,” she replied, and her voice was a mere whisper when she spoke.
She seemed ill at ease among the ladies, and it appeared she’d been brought in the game rather reluctantly. Tristram soon found she was shy, and unused to courtly games and teasing, so he didn’t press upon her. Still, her voice just lingered in his mind during the next days, and he discovered he couldn’t get it out of his mind. And he not only thought of her voice, but of her, as she’d seemed so different and so apart from the ladies of his acquaintance. She had large, watchful eyes, and had just listened to the others’ talk, rather than hurrying to join in it. But, Tristram recalled, she’d been well spoken and polite whenever someone had chanced to address her. Judith. She lingered in his mind, and he even found himself asking his mother about her upon a day when they shared a meal at their London home.
“Judith of Redmore,” his mother said and nodded.
“An English name, Northern by the sound of it,” Tristram mused. “I thought she was Occitan.”
“Her mother’s family is. Fenice de Fael was her name before she wed an English lord from the North. But you already know Judith’s aunt – Edith, who’s lady-in-waiting whenever the Queen comes back to our English court.”
Tristram frowned in displeasure. The lady Edith was the worst gossip at Court. Perchance her niece had inherited the same penchant for gossip. He strove to shrug away the thought of Judith, because, after all, she was just a young woman he’d chanced upon.
“Why are you asking?” her mother asked with a shrewd glance.
“Never you mind,” he replied, and gave a careless wave of his hand.
Yet the thought of Judith lingered with him in a strange way, and he found himself seeking her company whenever he glimpsed her at Court. He didn’t chance often upon her though. And she was always shy, but Tristram began to see that, whenever she talked, the things she said were level-headed, and at times uncommonly astute. Her manner was withdrawn, but there was something utterly compelling in the way she held herself and talked, something which, in his eyes, made her apart from all the other women he’d met so far. And she seemed restrained and gracious, and nothing at all like her gossipy Aunt Edith, who told him with an arched eyebrow in the Great Hall one day when they happened to meet, “My lord, I can see you’ve met my niece, Judith, the one who’s promised to Raymond.”
“Raymond?” Tristram asked striving to recall a lord knight called Raymond and failing.
“My stepson, Raymond,” Lady Edith said, and Tristram now remembered who the lady was talking about.
“How old is the lad? Twelve?”
“Nearly thirteen,” Lady Edith said tersely.
“And Lady Judith is how old?” Tristram couldn’t help asking.
“Eighteen already since this winter,” the lady replied. “Our own king was but a mere boy when he married our queen, who’s more than ten years older, as you know,” she added pointedly.
“Still, this boy is far too green for marriage,” Tristram ventured, which earned him a dark look.
In the next days, he strove yet again to put the lady Judith away from his mind, because it was unseemly to think so ardently upon a woman who would one day pledge herself to another. He failed though.
It was with raised eyebrows that he listened, a week later, to what his mother had to say.
“Lord Edward of Redmore, Lady Judith’s father,” his mother told him upon their meal, “I have spoken to him.”
“Why?” Tristram asked in sheer surprise.
“You’re nearly four and twenty,” his mother told him, as if the answer cleared everything for everyone.
“So?” Tristram shrugged, trying to look unruffled.
“Most of your friends have wed,” his mother said pointedly. “I see no reason why you shouldn’t think upon it.”
“Sir Edward wishes to meet you. Our rank is higher than his at present, but he is of old blood, and some of his ancestors were Northumbrian princes. His lands are vast and he is wealthy.”
“I have no wish to wed,” Tristram countered hastily.
“Edward of Redmore’s daughter has obviously taken your fancy. Is there any harm I already looked into this match for you? You could do even better, certainly, because you’ve both the rank and looks any woman would want. Yet, I know you. You’re so like your late father!”
His mother trailed off with a wistful smile on her face.
“How so?” Tristram muttered already fearing the answer.
“Unlike most lords, your father thought marriage should be for love, and not for rank or wealth,” his mother answered, and Tristram could still see the pain over his father’s passing, fresh in her eyes, even after all these years.
“I do not lo–” he started, but his mother shushed him.
“Don’t say it! Because perchance you will one day. Or even sooner than you think. And wouldn’t that be a beautiful thing?”
He shook his head with a half-smile, understanding that, just like his father, his mother did believe in married love, so he resembled both his parents.
“Lady Edith has told me Judith of Redmore is already promised to another, so I hardly think it’s proper of me to talk to her father,” he started, but his mother shushed him again.
“That’s not what Sir Edward told me,” she countered.
It waswith disappointment mixed with a sort of relief that Judith received the summons to come to speak to her father in the lodgings they’d taken in London while Sir Edward had business at Court. This year was the first time Judith had come to Court, and it had been both bliss and torture to be here. She’d always wished to come here because she was fond of verse and song, and of the troubadours. However, Judith worried for her mother, who was so frail of health. Although she’d found true entertainment in this place, she couldn’t help but think of her poor ailing mother, who, even after all these years, still pined for her sunny home in the South of France, and hadn’t ever brought herself to like her English husband’s Northern castle.
“Come, daughter,” her father told her in his stern, gruff voice, beckoning her to come closer to where he stood.
Judith nodded, keeping her eyes downcast. Although he was her father, Judith knew him but little. She’d spent few moments in his company, as he’d been always busy. When she was little, she’d been afraid of even the sound of his voice, because her mother had always told her he was a harsh man. Yet she never recalled her father having ever laid a harsh hand upon her or ever having said something unkind. Still, she knew he was quite cruel and unfeeling to her mother. So she’d never been able to warm towards him.
Her father glanced at her awkwardly, as if not knowing what to say to her. He didn’t speak a word of Occitan, and her mother had always refused to learn what she called the rough, coarse language of the serfs. Since her mother wouldn’t speak English, her parents spoke Norman to each other, a language they both understood and spoke well, but which neither of them preferred. Perchance this was why they always spoke to each other so little.
“A match!” her father suddenly said in English and his voice sounded too loud to Judith’s ears. “I’ve made a good match for you, daughter. You should be pleased!”
Judith raised her eyebrows, not understanding. She already knew of the match her mother wished to make for her. Her mother wanted her to wed Raymond, her sister Edith’s stepson, and had assured her Raymond would one day grow up to be a fine husband for her. Judith had always been fond of her step-cousin just as she was of Lady Edith’s true daughter, Emma. So she supposed that in six years from hence, she’d learn to love him as a wife should. Besides, it was sensible to wed someone one knew from childhood and not a stranger, so she tried to feel persuaded all would be well.
“Raymond, aye, Mother told me,” she replied with a timid nod of her head.
Her father frowned darkly.
“Not Edith’s pup! A man. A grown man of good birth and good breeding. A fine match indeed!”
Judith tried to still her thumping heart.
“A stranger?” she muttered, because, until this year, she’d never even visited London and had led her sheltered life at home, by her mother’s side.
Judith enjoyed her sheltered life. It suited her quiet nature. She had her own songs and stories to keep her company and her beloved home, Redmore Castle, besides her mother whom she cherished. And the thought of wedding a stranger seemed simply terrifying to her.
“A fine man, you’ll come to see,” her father said, and his voice sounded gentler. “He wants to wed you.”
Judith didn’t like the stress her father placed upon the last of his words. It seemed he looked down upon what she was. And Judith knew herself not to be beautiful at all, or particularly clever. Her mother had not tried to hide these flaws from her, but had always told Judith she loved her dearly. Looks or great wit were not all that mattered in this world, her mother was fond to add.
Instead of seeing her look of sheer anguish, her father beamed at her. She’d seldom seen him happy. He usually looked sad and grim whenever he came to talk to her and her mother.
“You’ll see, you’ll be so pleased with this match, daughter,” he said, glancing down upon her from his great height.
“A stranger…” Judith repeated, staring at him.
Her mother had warned her of this. She’d told Judith her father might wish to wed her to a stranger against her will, since he’d always been harsh and rather uncaring.
“But you’re already acquainted,” her father bellowed. “From Court. He’s Tristram, Lord de Brunne!”
He looked mightily pleased when he uttered the name, and Judith bit hard into her lip. Now her father was making a cruel jest at her expense. Everyone knew Lord de Brunne was one of the most coveted men at Court. In Judith’s eyes, he was simply beautiful, decidedly the most beautiful creature she’d ever had occasion to gaze upon. But looks weren’t everything in this world, her mother had always wisely told her. So Judith had strived not to think too much upon Lord de Brunne. However, now it seemed her father had already perceived she fancied this lord, and he was making fun of her.
“You are to wed Tristram de Brunne in a fortnight hence,” her father proclaimed, and by the way he uttered the words, Judith came to see in surprise that he was earnest.
She stared at him, simply stunned, and she found her voice only with difficulty.
“Wh-what if I do not wish to wed him?”
Her father frowned.
“Why wouldn’t you wish to wed him?”
“Isn’t he handsome and young?” her father asked.
“Yes. He is, but…”
“Isn’t he well-born and wealthy?”
“Well-born, yes. Wealthy… I have not cared to ask…”
“I have,” her father cut her off. “He’s all of these things. He’s also a sensible, honourable man, and the finest swordsman in the realm, and he wishes to marry you.”
Again, Judith didn’t like the way her father spoke the word.
“Perchance,” she ventured. “But I do not wish to marry him.”
“Why ever not?”
“Because… I do not care for him…”
Her father cast her a piercing look. It seemed he wanted to say something more, but then changed his mind and shook his head. At last he spoke, “In time you’ll come to care for him. He is indeed a worthy man. And he has vowed to treat you right.”
“He…” Judith searched her brain for things to say against Lord de Brunne and failed. This lord was not only handsome. He had a warm comely smile which always reached his fine dark eyes, and she’d never seen him treat a lady with disdain or unkindness. He was always courteous and most chivalrous to all. Tristram de Brunne was not only reputed to be the best swordsman in the realm. He was the best dancer she’d ever chanced upon and she supposed she’d never hear enough of his singing voice – the most melodious voice her ears had ever caught. In truth, when she’d first heard him speak, she’d thought her mind was playing tricks upon her. And Tristram de Brunne knew how to laugh and jest, and always said the cleverest and most diverting of things. Judith shook her head in sheer misery. She supposed she looked upon Tristram de Brunne with childish fancy, but she simply couldn’t help herself. She’d never met a man who seemed so accomplished in every way. And she grimly told herself he was, certainly, a man too good to be true. He must have a hidden flaw or vice. Otherwise, how could such an accomplished man wish to marry somebody such as herself? Or was it just her father’s wealth he craved?
“He…” Judith repeated stubbornly, searching for things to tell her father which would make him change his mind.
Her father seemed unconcerned. However, he attempted to place a hand upon her shoulder rather awkwardly. Judith found herself flinching from him, unused to her father ever touching her, and he withdrew his hand with a frown.
“All will be well, daughter. Have faith in me,” he told her at last, and his voice sounded firm.
“But I do not wish to wed him,” she countered in a weary voice which already sounded defeated to her own ears.
Why was she not trying harder to persuade her father she did not wish for this match?
“Yet you shall wed him as soon as can be, because he is the right match for you. And your scheming mother and that asp of a sister of hers can do nothing to stop this!” her father said in a decisive, self-satisfied voice.
A mere fortnight later Judith found herself staring upon the ring with carved initials which Lord de Brunne had slid upon her finger with a warm smile. Her half-hearted protests to her father had been to no avail, and Judith felt guilty for not bringing herself to stand up to him, knowing her mother would chide her for her cowardice. She simply hadn’t had the strength to protest. She supposed she was a vain, shallow creature, enticed by the sheer beauty and charm of the man who sought to wed her. Otherwise, she’d have found the fortitude to resist the match. Judith now reasoned she was truly weak.