The Knight of Her Bondage

By Sir Chard

Chapter One

The year of our Lord 1193 was not a good year to be a French ambassador's daughter in England. The court of Prince John was full of intrigue and dangers. It was also the year the Count finally laid down the law to his errant headstrong, unmarried eighteen-year-old daughter. Lady Mara de Founarnan was finally headed to her betrothal and marriage.

The Count had tried to find a good, rich prominent husband for his daughter. She, however, managed to find something wrong with each and every one of her suitors. She, also, had become past mistress of the art of "losing suitors." The servant's halls rang with the stories of one antic after the other. There had been the incident on the dance floor with the English Baron's son where she had managed to get him into a shouting match with a neighboring Baron. There had been the time with the older German Count when she had managed to trip him into the London sewers while he was trying to rescue one of her favorite kittens. The stories went on and on.

Mara was an heiress of reasonable wealth and beauty. Her gold brown hair cascaded down her back and framed a face of passing fine features. Her best assets were her eyes: changeable brown hazel eyes that moved back and forth from green tints to gray depending on her moods. Right now they were almost chocolate brown and her anger simmered just below the surface of her finely drawn features.

The Captain of the Guard of her little expedition was insisting they put a few more miles on the mired road behind them. She had started out the journey in her father's coach but soon changed to a palfrey and a sidesaddle when the vehicle sunk to its axles in mud. Leaving men to free the vehicle and guard its contents had reduced the Captain's contingent. Now he looked at the dark road ahead through the forest with a sense of foreboding.

Stopped for the third time in as many minutes, Mara's temper was edging upwards. Normally a person who got on well with her servants and companions, she did not suffer fools gladly. The Captain had insisted they continue on when the coach mired, and now he was rethinking his decision hours too late. The last inn was a good two hours ride behind them. The Captain's mission was to deliver the Lady Mara as soon as possible to her soon to be betrothed. (The Count, her father, did not wish to let her perspective bridegroom have any chance of backing out.) Mara had not even been told his name. Her father was too afraid she would set some wild scheme in motion to derail the marriage.

Thankfully, the rains that had mired the couch had stopped long before and left only the cloudy dark skies in its wake. Mara's emerald green tunic, edged in black and gold, was a warm wool. Mara adjusted her skirts of the back-laced fitted gown and it's under gown of black that could be seen also through the mauch sleeves. A linen chemise was worn under the two layers. All of this was belted about the hip twice with a soft leather belt from which hung her purse and gloves.

The cloak wrapped about her shoulders was also of a fine wool, woven tightly to repel rain. Her long hair was hidden under a fine silk veil anchored by thin linked gold band stamped with mythical beasts.

Her guard were equally well dressed and armed for their station. The guards were English, of course, since the ambassador's loyal French resources were otherwise engaged.

She thought hard and long about the conversation she had overheard between her father and Prince John. The King, Richard I, was being held prisoner at the request of both Phillip II of France and Prince John. He was languishing in the prisons of Emperor Henry VI, in a secret location. Only the conspirators and Prince John, and now the ambassador's daughter knew the location.

She had been fairly sure her father had not suspected that she had overheard anything when she popped out from behind the open courtyard window into the study. Prince John had given her a very measured look, however. He had seemed to relax when her father the Count had announced her eminent departure for her betrothal and marriage to an English Marcher Lord.

Lady Mara shivered when she remembered Prince John's avaricious and piggish gaze on her. She had felt unclean for hours afterwards.

The Captain halted the party again and Mara's hands clutched on the reins. A good rider, she was upset with the leading rein the Captain insisted on being attached to her palfrey. Her guard was not real happy about it either. The palfrey and his horse apparently didn't like each other.

Lady Mara sensed something was wrong. "Captain, I think we should go back to the coach." And then a crossbow bolt hit the captain in the back and he toppled from his horse. From the woods on both sides erupted several masked bandits, swinging swords and staffs. Her guards drew their own swords only to go down under a hail of blows, but they sold thier lives dearly.

"Ride away, Lady," shouted one of them. "If you can reach the coach you stand a chance."

Lady Mara managed to pull around both her palfrey and the horse it was tied to and urged her palfrey into a gallop.

I'm going to escape, just a few more seconds...

A lasso whipped around her shoulders and tightened and she was yanked back off her palfrey and fell to the ground. She let out a cry of agony. The thick leaf-litter of the forest floor partly cushioned her fall but the pain still shot through her body.

"Help me! I'm being kidnapped!"

"Bind and gag her," snapped out one of her attackers. "Use her clothing and cover up the bondage. And remember our orders are not to hurt her."

Three of the bandits threw her to the ground. One let go when her foot found his private parts but the other two sat on her and dragged her hands behind her back. She felt her leather belt yanked roughly from her waist and it was wrapped around her wrists holding them tightly, then reattached to her body. There was a curious gentleness too, in that it was tight enough to keep her hands behind her back, yet loose enough so she did not feel the onset of numbness.

They must kidnap nobles like me for a living, Lady Mara thought. She said politely "If you want a ransom, I'm sure it can be arran-ummmph!" One of the bandits had stuffed a big wad of cloth into her mouth. Another wad of cloth was used to tie it in and then her beautiful veil was taken from her head and arranged so that it covered her mouth and hid the gag perfectly. She found she could hardly make a sound. Some more soft leather was used to further pin her arms to her body and then her cloak was used to cover the ropes. Other bandits hid the dead bodies of her guards under piles of leaves or dragged them out of sight.

Her heart sunk when some of her attackers came back leading her palfrey. They mounted her on it and managed to bind her with hidden ropes to the saddle so she could not throw herself off. Then they led her into the woods where her heart soared again. In a clearing were twenty men at arms in chainmail armour with crossbows in their hands and swords at their sides. And with them, on his black warhorse, was a knight!

He was dressed from head to foot in shining black plate armour and on his tunic that covered his armour and on his shield was the symbol of a golden star on an azure blue background. It identified him as Sir Thomas De Maldon of Whitstable, whose grandfather had come over with Duke William and received Whitstable as his fief after the battle of Hastings. She and Sir Thomas had been friends in the past and he had no reason to dislike her.

She gave her captors a look that clearly said "You're in trouble now."

Sir Thomas raised his visor, stared at the scene, and spurred his horse over to Lady Mara. Her attackers bowed to the knight, who produced a bag of gold. "As I promised you, five gold pieces a man."

Lady Mara mmmmpphhed in a rage through her gag. This was no rescue! Just a transfer from one set of captors to another.

Sir Thomas rode over and planted a kiss upon Lady Mara's forehead and she mmmphed as loud as she could and tried without success to free herself from her bonds. She was unable to wipe her forehead against anything-the kiss would have to stay.

"Lady Mara...I have been deeply in love with you for a long time. I regret that I have to tie you up like this, but I have no alternative. If any witnesses saw your abduction and survived to tell the tale, they will assume that you are being held captive in the dungeon by bandits. Whilst your true destination is my castle."

They set off, passing through villages on the way and encountering a detachment of royal soldiers. "Where are you going?," the captain asked.

"I and my wife, the Lady Andrea are on the way back to my castle from the town of Cantabury," Sir Thomas replied. "Lady Andrea has a bad throat, the poor thing, and cannot speak."

Lady Mara rolled her eyes and tried to scream for help but hardly a sound escaped her gag. Sir Thomas said gently "Don't try to talk, your voice must rest, time will cure your throat." Under her cloak she strained against her bonds but they kept her still and nobody looking at her, would have known that she was bound. Then her back began to itch.


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