The Queen's Pawn - By Christy English


My thanks to all who read and critiqued my work in various drafts from the eighth grade onward: LaDonna Lindgren, Laura Creasy, Tammy Monfette, Ellyn Bache, Hope Johnson, Audrey Forrester, Amy Pierce, Philip Drew, Kat Vernon, Alice Osborn, Alisa Roost, S. J. Stratford, and Beth Seltzer. Special thanks must be given to my fabulous agent, Margaret O‘Connor, who believed in this book from the first time she laid eyes on it. I thank my brilliant editor, Claire Zion, who took an early draft into her experienced hands and, with the clarity of her vision, helped me to discover the novel as it was meant to be written. I would like to thank all the wonderful people at New American Library, especially Jhanteigh Kupihea for her insight during the revision process, Michele Alpern for the excellent copyediting, the publicist Kaitlyn Kennedy for spreading the word, and Maureen O’Boyle and her team for the amazing cover art. I thank all who believed in me from the day I first picked up my pen: Karen English, Carl English, Barry English, Vena Miller, Susan Randall, Marianne Nubel, Chris Nubel, Ellen Seltz, Susan Hurst Alford, Jenny Morris, Nicole Garrett, Janie Lam, and my Internet consultant, Andrew Seltz. And I thank Eleanor of Aquitaine and Alais of France. Though it has been my honor to convey one possibility of who these women were, I have no doubt fallen short. Alais and Eleanor live on when we remember them, no matter how imperfectly.



Chapter 1



February 1169

My mother died the day I was born. I now know that this was in no way unusual, but for the first years of my life, I felt quite singled out by the hand of God. She was a great loss to me, my first loss, though I never knew her. My nurse often told me that I have her bright eyes.

On the day I was born, the King of France gained only me, another daughter who was useless except for the alliance my marriage might bring. The day that brought me also brought the death of his queen, so that after a decent period of mourning, my father had to go about the tedious business of finding a new one, and starting all over again.

My mother was Spanish, and a great lady, or so everyone said. Of course, they would have told me no different, even if she had been a shrew. My father, King Louis, the seventh of that name, never spoke of her.

So my nurse, Katherine, brought me up on stories of my mother’s beauty, of her graciousness, of her unyielding courtesy. According to my nurse, my mother was a sort of saint on earth, a woman who never got angry, who never spoke a harsh word, neither to man nor woman nor servant. A woman who bred quickly and died quietly, her only fault delivering my father two girls, who could inherit nothing but pain.

This paragon was held up before me always, so that I, too, learned silence and stillness. I learned that quiet in a woman is prized above gold, and that obedience was not only my duty but my honor. For in obedience, I best served my father and my king.

My father was tall and thin, with the face of a monk. In a better world, he would have been free to spend his life in holy contemplation, serving God.

That was my father’s true gift: to sit in silence and feel the presence of God. Sometimes, when the business of state was done, and no one else had claim on his attention, he would let me sit with him in his private rooms, and kneel with him at his private altar. This altar was beside the bed of state, where my sisters and I had been conceived.

My oldest sisters did not know me, for they had been married away from France long ago. They were also cursed, I was told, because they had been spawned by my father’s first wife, the wicked Queen Eleanor, the woman who had abandoned my father for a younger man years before. No one spoke of that queen except in whispers. My nurse would summon her memory when she sought to remind me to be a good girl, when she sought to turn me from wickedness. I spent my childhood in horror of that mysterious queen, a woman who was never obedient, a woman who had gone on Crusade against the infidel and ridden astride a horse like a