Princess Joanna Plantagenet and her dearest friend Jory de Warenne stood atop the round tower of Windsor Castle watching the nobles and their retinues arrive for the royal wedding.
"There!" Joanna flung up her arm and pointed. "I recognize the de Clare chevrons." She stared hard, trying to pick her future husband from the score of men who rode beneath the banners that displayed the de Clare device. Her eyes focused on their leader. She'd seen Gilbert before while growing up, but paid little heed. "The highest noble in the realm is attired like a common soldier."
Jory looked where she pointed. The rider removed his helmet, but he was too far away to see if he looked like an old man.
"Ha! Gilbert the red is now Gilbert the gray! I wonder if the fiery temper that goes with red hair has faded?" Joanna glanced triumphantly at her friend. "I shall dazzle and beguile him and have him eating from my hand like a besotted lapdog in no time."
Jory did not hear one word of Joanna's vow. Her full attention was riveted on a commanding figure clad in sable breastplate and plumed helm astride a black stallion. A tall black wolfhound stalked beside him, and though his retinue was fewer than a dozen, the other riders in the Lower Ward moved aside to make way for the striking nobleman. His pride of carriage and the power he exuded were obvious, even from this distance. Jory's legs suddenly felt weak and she grasped the stone battlement to steady herself.
Who is he? Jory's eyes lifted to his banner, which displayed a golden bear against a field of black, but her thoughts were in such disarray she could not identify the device. Irresistibly her gaze was drawn back to the man as if she thirsted for the sight of him. Her heart began to hammer as she watched him wheel his horse in the direction of Gilbert of Gloucester. The earl's attendants fell back as he approached, and Jory wondered if it was respect or fear that compelled them. The thought made her quiver and she licked her lips as her mouth suddenly went dry. The two men spoke, then laughed together, and it was obvious to her that the pair was well acquainted.
"Since de Clare's been traveling for at least three days, the next hours will be taken up with bathing and changing. I won't meet my lapdog until the banquet tonight, so I'm blessedly free of him for now," Joanna said blithely.
Jory's imagination took flight, trying to picture the black knight as he stepped into a bath of steaming water. Her mind's eye painted a portrait that was vexingly vague and she felt an overwhelming desire to see him in clear, explicit detail.
Joanna sought escape. "I think I'll go for a gallop in Windsor Forest...perhaps take a hawk. Will you join me?"
"Your other ladies would jump at the chance. When you favor my company, they feel neglected." Jory searched for a plausible excuse and found one. "I'll stay and watch for my brother Lynx's arrival."
"Family duty be damned. Keep your eyes open for a tempting young lord who will lure you to dalliance."
As Joanna left, the corners of Jory's mouth lifted in a secret smile. She had learned much from the royal princess, not the least of which was how to dissemble, flatter, and manipulate so that she could do exactly as she pleased. She gripped the crenellated wall and gazed downward. She was in time to see the sable-clad noble swing a long, powerful leg across his stallion's rump and dismount in one lithe movement that kept his back ramrod straight and his head erect. A frisson of desire rippled through her belly as he disappeared from her view. "I believe I shall go hunting after all, and I have spotted my quarry!"