Of One Heart - By Cynthia Wright

Amboise, France

September 10, 1532

"Bernard Tevoulere pitted against Arnaud Guerre in the tournament!" exclaimed Aimée de St. Briac to her husband. "Everyone knows of Bernard's affair with Elise Guerre. It's madness for him to joust against her husband!"

Thomas Mardouet, seigneur de St. Briac, drew off his helm and took a chair beside his wife in the gallery of the king's chateau at Amboise. Below them was spread the courtyard, where a day-long tournament was in progress. St. Briac had just finished his own joust, teamed with King Francois against two of their other childhood friends. This was all harmless fun and exercise as far as Thomas was concerned, but Aimée did have a point about Bernard Tevoulere and Arnaud Guerre.

As they waited for the two men to take their places on the field, St. Briac's penetrating turquoise eyes gazed southward over the dreamy Loire River that lay far below King Francois's magnificent chateau. As boys, he and the king had played at jousting here. Now they were men but their friendship endured and so did the games.

Other games—the inevitable feuds and intrigues that permeated so large a court—hadn't changed either. Thomas and Aimée spent most of their time at their chateau, happiest in that world fashioned around their children, home, and vineyards. However, these visits to court were necessary. King Francois missed his old friend, and it did Aimée good to socialize, but there were drawbacks. The most current example was the joust they would soon witness between the feckless Bernard Tevoulere and his enraged rival, Arnaud Guerre.

"I saw Bernard while preparing for my own match," St. Briac told Aimée softly, running a hand through his damp hair. "He's deteriorated sharply since our last visit to court. His new life as chevalier to the king has only weakened his character. He was drinking wine and boasting about the fact that he's to fight his mistress's husband..."

The king had come into the gallery, magnificent in his black and gold armor, and silence reigned until he had taken his place to oversee the remainder of the tournament. Aimée waited and worried.

Bernard Tevoulere was married to her dearest friend, Micheline. They'd met when Aimée had traveled south, babies in tow, to visit her parents near Angouleme. During the few short years of their friendship, Aimée had returned to Angouleme to see Micheline as much as to reunite her children with their grandparents. When Bernard had become bored with country life and began to spend more time at court, Micheline remained behind in Angouleme.

"Poor Micheline!" Aimée whispered to Thomas. "It infuriates me to think of her, living alone while he cavorts at court! What a fool he is! Married to the finest woman in France, and yet he leads a double life. I'd almost sympathize with Arnaud Guerre in this joust, if I didn't know how much Bernard means to Micheline—"

"Micheline's led a sheltered life," St. Briac replied quietly. "And Bernard has changed, miette."


Thomas reached out to caress his wife's glossy black curls. "Bernard must have been flawed from the beginning; these circumstances have merely exposed his weaknesses. If the man had any honor, he'd realize what's truly important in life and bind himself to the lady he's blessed to call his wife."

A series of trumpet blasts announced the next contest. Bernard Tevoulere and Arnaud Guerre rode onto the field, pausing before the gallery to salute the king. Bernard, who was neither as tall nor as powerfully built as his opponent, lifted his visor and grinned confidently. While Elise Guerre stood to extend her hand to her husband, Bernard chuckled audibly and received a sharp glance from the king.

Moments later the two men on horseback were in position at opposite ends of the lists. Another clarion call signaled the first charge, which proved to be routine as lances struck shields and the horses reared back in reaction to the blows.

Aimée told herself that there was nothing to worry about. This was only a game, after all, not a fight to the death. Still, she couldn't help remembering another joust on this very field when an enemy of Thomas's had tried to kill him... and there was something about Guerre's bearing that sent a cold chill down her spine. Silently Aimée closed her eyes and began to pray.

She heard the trumpet, the charge of the horses, a loud crash, and then surprised gasps and cries of alarm from the assembled throng.

"Sangdieu!" hissed St. Briac. "Guerre struck at Tevoulere's helm!"

Filled with dread, Aimée opened her eyes to discover