Of One Heart - By Cynthia Wright Page 0,1

Bernard lying on the field, his head bent at an unnatural angle, while Arnaud Guerre remained on his horse, staring dispassionately at the body of his vanquished rival.

Part I

Well, fools must strike on the rebound.

While ladies volley in the air;

Collecting dues Love roams around;

All Faith is violated there.

Be hugs and kisses ne'er so rare.

Join hounds, arms, hawks and lovers' gains.

For all, at last, make mortals swear:

"For one short joy a thousand pains!"

—Francois Villon 1431-?

Chapter 1

Angouleme, France

September 10, 1532

Soft late-afternoon sunlight filtered through the abundant green woods east of Angouleme as Micheline Tevoulere cantered home astride her huge white stallion, Gustave. She was the picture of beauty in a pale yellow gown that set off her luminous eyes, which were the color of the spring's first French irises. Lifting her face, she tasted the wind, curling brandy-hued tresses flying free in her wake.

Approaching the modest stone manor house where she had lived since her marriage four years earlier, Micheline felt a familiar shadow steal over her heart. She loved this place, but it hardly seemed a home with Bernard away so much at court. Dismounting outside the stables, she handed Gustave's reins over to the groom and then noticed the other horses in stalls that were usually empty.

"The seigneur and madame de St. Briac arrived this past hour, madame," the boy explained.

A radiant smile lit Micheline's countenance. "What a wonderful surprise!" Gathering the books she'd brought back from her father's house, she raced toward the manor's rear entrance.

Aimée was there to greet her. They embraced warmly, then continued into the spacious flower-filled kitchen, where Micheline set her books on a long oak table and turned to beam at her friend.

"I cannot believe my eyes! It's as if you dropped from heaven, cherie! I'm so sorry I wasn't here when you arrived. I went to take a pie to Papa, then stayed to search his library for something I hadn't read more than twice before. With Bernard away so much, I'd be lost without books." She paused, shaking her head in renewed disbelief. "It's absolutely marvelous to see you! You're just what I've needed, Aimée."

The older woman heard the hint of melancholy in her friend's voice, and her heart ached in response. "I've missed you, too, Micheline. Thomas has taken our daughters to see my parents, so we have plenty of time for a long talk. Have you any wine?"

"What a question!"

Aimée took a chair and watched as Micheline poured Burgundy into pewter goblets. She was so lovely and unspoiled, so filled with intelligence and heart-melting warmth. Aimée thought not for the first time that all these gifts were wasted in the seclusion of the Angouleme woods. When Bernard and Micheline first married, it seemed a promising union. Micheline's mother was dead, her father bluff and distant, her brother moved to Normandy; only Bernard appeared to nourish the lonely young girl's heart. As an adolescent he had been her best friend, teaching her to ride, to swim, and, eventually, to kiss. By the time they wed, at seventeen, Micheline felt as certain of Bernard as she was of the sunrise. Who could have foreseen that he would turn faithless as he grew into true manhood?

Micheline set the goblets on the table and took the hand that Aimée stretched out to her.

"Do you remember when we first met?" Aimée asked softly.

"Yes—of course! It was just before Bernard pledged himself as a knight to King Francois and went off with the army to Italy. You'd come south with Juliette soon after her birth, and stayed for a month. I don't know how I should have endured Bernard's departure without you. You are my most cherished friend, Aimée! You came into my life just as I was learning that I couldn't rely on Bernard alone to fill my days."

"And you know how dearly I love you in return," Aimée replied softly, tears stinging her eyes. "It's important to have friends outside of one's marriage—and to nurture other interests, as you have done."

"Alors," Micheline murmured, dropping her eyes. "I have always had solitary passions, like these books. I thought when I married Bernard that he would share these things with me. Something... happened to him, though.... When he first went away, I told myself that he was helping France. I told myself that his wanderlust would fade. But when he came home, and we conceived a child, he rushed back to court!"

"I remember, cherie," Aimée whispered. "I was here when you lost the baby."

"How many times