Day of Judgment: The Janna Chronicles 6
“We should return to the palace, my lady. It’s almost time for dinner.” The young groom’s tentative suggestion was born out by the sound of bells from the cathedral. With a regretful sigh, Janna turned her mount in the direction of the town and her new, if temporary home: Wolvesey Palace, residence of Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchestre and brother of King Stephen.
Riding was only one of the new skills Janna was trying to master. As her fear of horses had subsided, she’d come to enjoy the freedom of riding out with the bishop’s new groom and her two half-sisters and half-brother. Her father’s gift of a beautiful bay palfrey had helped her to gain confidence, as had the careful tuition of Thomas, the groom. But, more than anything, Janna cherished her time out on the downs as a chance to escape the close and hostile scrutiny of her new stepmother.
As they began the journey homeward, Janna watched Richildis, Rosy and Giles riding ahead of her. As usual, they were ignoring her presence, though they seemed to have little liking for the company of each other either. Giles, the second born, was always intent on proving his superior skills and speed. Of course, it helped that he’d been in the saddle since he was old enough to learn how to ride, whereas Janna still had the uncomfortable notion that if her horse went too fast she would slide right off its back. It also helped that Giles was fearless. His latest game was to use his skill to unnerve and unsettle her, his tactic being to speed on ahead, whirl abruptly, and then thunder back to the riding party, frightening everyone as he sped straight at them. The fact that he tried to unseat Janna by brushing too close as he swept past hadn’t escaped Janna’s notice, or the groom’s either. But neither said anything, for it was already well established that, in his mother’s eyes, Giles could do no wrong, and that any attempt to curb his behavior would result in trouble – although never for him. Even his sisters had learned not to say anything against him, perhaps in relief that he now left them alone and tormented Janna instead.
Janna’s gaze rested thoughtfully on Richildis, eldest of her father’s children with her stepmother, Blanche. Even though Richildis treated her with cold disdain, she found it in her heart to feel pity for the girl who was thirteen summers and growing out of childishness into maturity, growing up beautiful, much to her mother’s dismay. Janna wondered if part of Blanche’s hostility toward her daughter was because she resembled her father’s side of the family, just as Janna herself did. True, Richildis had the dark hair of the Normans, while Janna had inherited her mother’s fair tresses, but in fact Richildis was closer in looks to Janna than to her own younger sister, Rosy.
Blanche’s acid tongue wagged constantly about Janna’s lack of a suitable husband, comparing her dismal prospects with those awaiting her own daughters. “Eat your food like a lady, don’t gorge like a peasant, Richildis,” she’d sneer, with a meaningful look in Janna’s direction. “You don’t want to end up unloved and unwed like your half-sister.”
Janna kept her own thoughts on the matter to herself. She had no desire to take a husband of her father’s choosing, but she knew it would be folly even to mention the name of the man she loved. So she kept quiet in the face of Blanche’s taunts, letting them pass over her head while trying not to let them ruffle her heart. Meanwhile, she watched Richildis at mealtimes, and saw how the girl had begun to pick at her food, or push her plate away, all the while watching her mother in hope of praise for her dainty appetite. But Blanche’s attention was usually focused on the little whippet that was her constant companion, tempting him with morsels from her trencher or, alternatively, offering her son the choicest portions from the serving platter, “so that you might grow up big and strong, like your father.” If she noticed her unfortunate daughter at all, it was only to purse her mouth and tut her disapproval. And yet Richildis followed her everywhere, doing whatever she could to win her mother’s praise and trying to mimic her in every regard. Only when out riding was she free from her mother’s influence.
But the fresh air and exercise weren’t doing her much good, Janna reflected, as she noted how pale the girl was, and how listlessly she sat upon her mount. Partly as an effort to befriend Richildis, and partly because she was worried about her, Janna had tried to compliment her on her looks, and for her accomplishments, but Richildis had made it clear she set no value on Janna’s opinion, so after a while Janna had stopped trying.
Her frown of concern relaxed into a smile as her gaze rested on Rosy, who was riding slightly ahead of her sister on her fat little pony. Her real name was Rohesia. She was the only one of her father’s children to show any friendliness toward Janna, and then only if the other members of the family weren’t around to witness it. She was a chubby, merry child, full of enthusiasm and high spirits. Janna wondered how long it would be before Blanche managed to squash the life out of her youngest child as well. At the thought, Janna sat straighter in the saddle and made a silent vow. Blanche could do what she would, try whatever tricks she could, but Janna would not allow herself to be intimidated by her stepmother. She knew Blanche wouldn’t relent. Her hatred and fear of this cuckoo in her nest was manifest in her every word and deed, even if she kept it well hidden when Janna’s father was around.
Notwithstanding her spite, Janna felt some pity for the woman. The sham of her marriage to John had been exposed once Janna had introduced herself into the family. Not only did Blanche have to live with the knowledge that he’d married her out of duty rather than love, she also had to come to terms with the fact that her marriage to John was bigamous and their children illegitimate. Janna acknowledged, with a rueful smile, that Blanche had a lot for which to forgive her, even though she’d made it plain she had no intention of trying.
“Good posture, my lady. But may I suggest that you loosen the reins a little, and hold them just so.” The groom’s voice cut through Janna’s preoccupation and she turned to heed his instructions. As she tried to follow his advice, she heard the pounding of a horse’s hooves and saw Giles flying toward her, whip raised, seemingly intent on a collision. With a quick step, the groom positioned his horse sideways in front of Janna to protect her, thus presenting a much greater obstacle for the racing horse to circumvent. With a high whinny it skidded and reared, almost throwing Giles from the saddle.
He clung on, screaming curses at Thomas and pulling viciously on the reins as his horse danced perilously close to the groom. Once his mount came finally to rest, he began to whip it savagely, earning at last a rebuke from Thomas.
“You did well to control Thunder, Master Giles, but you should not have put him in that position in the first place. Nor should you be punishing Thunder for having the good sense to pull up in time, before anyone got hurt.”
“Don’t you dare tell me what to do, Thomas! Take care, lest I tell my father that you forget yourself in criticizing me.”
Thomas bowed his head and said no more, but Janna was seething on his behalf, and her own. Shock had set her pulse racing, but now that the danger had passed, disgust and fury had taken its place. “You say anything about Thomas to our father and I will tell him how badly you ride and how you put us all in danger with your antics,” she hissed.
Giles glared at her. As his father’s only son and would-be heir, Janna knew his hatred of her was equal to his mother’s, but she was beyond caring now. She glared right back at him, meaning every word she’d said. Little beast! Spoilt brat! What a monster her half-brother was. It was time someone took him in hand and her father was the one to do it. It was time he found out what his only son got up to in his absence.
It seemed that she’d called his bluff, for he said no more. Instead, he dug his heels into Thunder’s side and trotted off, ignoring them all. The two girls glanced at Janna and looked away again. But Thomas came closer and quietly thanked her for supporting him.
“It would be the end of me if I was dismissed from my lord’s employ, my lady,” he added, in a low mutter meant for her ears alone. “I have a new wife, and we’re expecting our first child soon. I’ve seen that the young master means you harm, but it’s more than my life is worth to say so.”
“I know, Thomas,” Janna reassured him. “Thank you for saying as much as you did.” She wondered if Giles would carry out his threat, and was fully determined that she would carry out her own, if so. Nevertheless, she kept close to the groom as they completed their journey back to Wolvesey Palace.
Janna was surprised when their father joined them for dinner in their private rooms. Usually he was to be found at the opposite end of Winchestre where his manor house was being rebuilt, the house that had been destroyed by the bishop’s fireballs during the siege the year before. It made for some discomfort, given that they were now the bishop’s guests, although everyone was careful to skirt around the topic. Nor did the bishop ever question where his guests’ loyalties lay in this fight for the crown: with his brother Stephen, or with John’s half-sister, the empress.
It was just as well, Janna thought, for she’d been extremely nervous when she’d first realized that she was expected to stay at Wolvesey with her family. She could only pray that no-one would divulge her role in unmasking the bishop’s spy and bringing the truth of the bishop’s treachery to Robert of Gloucestre, half-brother of both the empress and her own father. Her actions had caused great grief at the time, not least to Janna herself. And it had resulted in the siege of Winchestre, the siege that had led to the destruction of her father’s house. And because of that, her father had come to Winchestre to oversee the rebuilding of his estate, and thus had met his unknown daughter for the first time.
How strange it is that so many seemingly unconnected happenings have a common thread, Janna mused as she sat at the table, waiting for her father to say the blessing. She looked without much interest at the dishes presented for the family’s inspection. Fish, and some meat stew in sauce by the look of it. The bishop’s cook apparently didn’t believe in seasoning his dishes with herbs and spices; consequently, Janna found the food bland and tasteless. Small wonder that Richildis picked and poked when there was nothing delicious to tempt her appetite. Perhaps she could make a few suggestions.
Janna nodded to herself and spooned up a portion of trout. Her mind was busy planning what she might plunder from the bishop’s kitchen garden and the uses to which she could put the herbs when she became aware that her father was speaking.
“…would like you all to stay on in the solar after dinner,” he was saying. “There is something on my mind that I must discuss with you. Johanna, this affects you in particular.”
Conscious that all eyes were now on her, Janna gulped and nodded, and even managed a smile for her father’s benefit. Inside she was quaking, for her father’s approval was crucial to her plans for the future and the outcome of her quest. What now? Had Giles given their father some glossed-up account of the morning’s ride? Had Blanche found something else to complain about? Mentally, she did a swift review of her activities over the past few days, but could find no wrongdoing among them. She always did her best to fit in with the family, although her efforts to be friendly had met with either hostility or indifference. But she would continue to try, Janna resolved. It was in her interests to do so, at least until she could hold her father to the promise she’d made on her mother’s death: that she would avenge Eadgyth’s murder and bring the man responsible to justice.
After that, whether or not she stayed would depend on the love and comfort she found within this family and, more importantly, if they would support her own choice of husband. If not, she would leave, just run away; the thought cheered Janna slightly, making her realize how low her spirits had sunk since she’d moved into the bishop’s palace.
“We had an enjoyable ride today, sire,” she said, deciding to draw Giles into the open – if he dared. He scowled at her, but kept silent.
“Really?” Her father’s quizzical smile lifted Janna’s confidence. After a difficult beginning, she and her father had started to get along quite well. John was always interested to hear about Janna’s childhood with his beloved Emanuelle, as he called her, although Janna took care never to mention her mother’s name in Blanche’s presence. But she appreciated that her father was making an effort to know her, and also to introduce her into his own world and instruct her in its ways.
They’d spent time together over the past few months, talking not only about Janna’s childhood but also about his interests in England and where his estates were located. Occasionally he summoned his steward to tell her what produce came from which locale and where it was marketed, whether at home or abroad. Janna listened, and learned, and marveled that her father had proved so unexpectedly well connected, when her mother had given no hint of her birthright whatsoever.
Once, when they were sitting privately, she ventured a question as to where his loyalty lay, for she was greatly worried by recent reports of the empress’s entrapment at Oxeneford Castle. But her father had shaken his head and said, rather severely, “It does not do to talk of this, not while we are guests of the king’s own brother.”
Fortunately for Janna, the bishop was hardly at the palace, for he seemed far more interested in following his brother’s fortunes than attending to Episcopal affairs. It was widely said that it was through the bishop’s machinations that his brother had come to England to claim the throne before Matilda had any inkling that her crown was in danger. It was also said that the bishop was one of the few whose advice King Stephen respected. Janna suspected that the bishop might be in Oxeneford even now, although she wasn’t sure. All she knew was that she was glad he wasn’t often in Winchestre, watching and observing her family. That he was clever as well as devious she knew beyond doubt. She wouldn’t be able to keep her secret for long, should he get any hint of her role in his spy’s undoing. All the same, she wished passionately that, in this latest conflict, the king and his brother would not prevail, for she had long been a supporter of the empress and she hoped, with all her heart, that the lady might find some means of escaping her present predicament.
The lengthy meal came at last to an end, and with some trepidation, Janna waited for the servants to clear the dishes and stack the trestle table and benches before leaving the family to their discussion. She could tell from the glances coming her way that John’s family also had misgivings about the coming announcement.
Once they were left alone, John beamed at Janna before turning his attention to his wife. “My dear,” he said, and took her hand. “I know you have had some concerns regarding our marriage and your security since Johanna has come to live with us. I have given the matter a great deal of thought, and it seems fitting that I should share with you what provisions I intend to make for you and for Johanna in my will, so that there are no false expectations and we all know where we stand.” His gaze rested thoughtfully on Giles, who wriggled uncomfortably under his father’s cool assessment. “In particular,” John resumed, “by bringing this issue out into the open, you will understand, once and for all, the high esteem in which I hold my long-lost daughter.” Now it was Janna’s turn to shift uncomfortably under the family’s baleful glares.
“While Johanna had an unfortunate start in life, I have been watching her carefully and I am more than pleased with her progress,” John continued. Janna blinked, wanting to protest against her father’s assumption that she’d had an unfortunate start in life. Every day she felt more and more grateful that she’d been reared by Eadgyth rather than by the cold-hearted, self-centered Blanche. Yet she was too intrigued by the inherent promise in her father’s speech to correct him.
“I am conscious of the need to divide my wealth and property fairly, so that there will be no dispute after I am gone.” Again, John’s gaze fixed on his son. “To that end, I intend to travel to the king at Oxeneford so that he may formally witness my intentions to have my children legitimized. So you need have no fear, my dear.” He patted his wife’s hand, while his gaze remained on Giles. “Should I die, Giles will be my heir and you’ll all be well provided for. There’ll be more than enough to keep you in the luxury to which you are accustomed.”
Janna smothered a grin as she understood the barb beneath her father’s reassurance.
“While Giles is my heir, you and our children will all have a share in my property in Normandy, Blanche. That is, our home and our estates, all the manor farms that come under my aegis.”
Giles visibly exhaled. A smile crept over his face, but his mother remained tense and watchful.
“But I wish to make provision for you too, Johanna. To that end, I have decided to bequeath to you my manor house here in Winchestre, for you were born and raised in England, and I suspect this is where you would prefer to remain.” John’s smile slipped into a frown as he added, “Part of this decision is because I have watched your efforts to fit in with my family and to become a dutiful daughter. I have observed how difficult a task it is when my family has been so unwelcoming. No!” He raised a hand as Blanche uttered a strangled protest. “I know how things stand between you and Johanna.” John glowered at his son. “I have also been speaking to young Thomas. It seems he expressed his concerns over your behavior to the head groom, who was sufficiently concerned to bring the matter to my attention. Once we are back in Normandy, Giles, I intend to send you into the care of my half-sister’s husband, Geoffrey of Anjou, to learn the duties of a squire. You have been indulged for long enough. In fact, it’s long past time you left your mother’s fond clutches and learned how to behave like a gentleman.”
“But John – ”
Blanche’s protest was stilled as he again raised his hand. “I shall speak more of your behavior in private,” he told his son. “You will remain here after the family disperses.”
Giles shrank into his seat. Blanche hastily rearranged her face into a strained smile. “We have done our best to make Johanna feel welcome,” she said sweetly. “I hope she has not told you otherwise?”
John ignored her. “I have sent out a summons to the bailiffs of my various properties and I shall be introducing them to Johanna over the next few days. That will give her time to question them, and look at the accounts they bring. I have discovered that Johanna – unlike you, Giles – is well able to read, write and reckon. It’s something you should turn your own attention to, my son, if you wish to inherit the bulk of my property after I am gone, and manage it in a manner befitting your station in life.”
Janna wondered if only she understood the threat underlying John’s words.
“I’m good at my studies! My tutor says so himself,” the boy protested sulkily. Having sat with Giles and his sisters as they struggled unwillingly through the rudiments of reading and writing, Janna knew that Giles’s tutor, like the groom, was reluctant to cross the obnoxious brat to his face. Behind his back was obviously a different matter altogether.
John spoke over his son’s protest. “While my steward will continue to have the responsibility of managing my estates here in England, he will set aside some part of that income for Johanna’s use.”
“Pity she doesn’t already have a husband, no matter how lowborn.” Blanche cast a smug smile toward her own daughters. “She’s more than past the age to be wed. Besides, it’s not seemly for a single woman like Johanna to be left here on her own.”
“That, too, has been exercising my mind,” John said, with a smile in Janna’s direction. “I know of several possible suitors in Normandy, but Johanna may well prefer to take someone from this country if she is to live here.”
“Yes, indeed, sire!” Janna spoke up quickly, her heart leaping at the chance to tell him about Godric. “There’s a…” Her courage failed her as she realized the impossibility of explaining the man she truly loved to her father and his family.
“Don’t trouble yourself, my dear. I shall make enquiries while I am in Oxeneford,” her father promised. “The king may well know of some suitable prospects among his noblemen.”
Janna bit hard on her lip to stop her cry of dismay.
“You need to marry, Johanna, and produce heirs. And, as my wife says, you will need the protection of a husband if you are to stay here in England on your own.” John rose from the table. “I think that’s all we need to discuss for the moment.” He flapped his hand at them, shooing them away. “You. Stay,” he told Giles, much as he would order a dog to obey him.
“I’ll stay too,” said Blanche, determined to protect her precious son.
But John shook his head. “What I have to say to him, I shall say in private.”
Blanche gave an angry sniff and flounced out, followed by her daughters. Janna walked behind them, relieved that, at last, the boy was going to be pulled into line without the benefit of his mother’s interference.
Love, revenge, secrets – and murder – in a medieval kingdom at war.
Janna and her father are finally reconciled, but she realises that she poses a threat to her father’s family when there’s an attempt on her life. Unwilling to name the culprit, but with a secret plan, Janna accompanies her father to Oxeneford where the Empress Matilda is under siege from King Stephen. Janna finally tells her father the truth about her mother’s death, trusting that he will help her bring the murderer to justice. To her dismay, her father asks the king to negotiate a prestigious marriage for her. When the man she truly loves is accused of murder, Janna has one last crime to solve – until the siege of Wiltune turns her life upside down and changes everything.
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Felicity Pulman is the award-winning author of numerous novels for children and teenagers, including A Ring Through Time, the Shalott trilogy, and Ghost Boy, which is now in pre-production for a movie. I, Morgana was her first novel for adults, inspired by her early research into Arthurian legend and her journey to the UK and France to ‘walk in the footsteps of her characters’ before writing the Shalott trilogy – something she loves to do. Her interest in crime and …