Excerpt from In the Shadow of the Storm, in which Adam tastes the bitter dregs of betrayal
They rode into Shrewsbury Castle and were met by silence – and an impressive display of royal might, men-at-arms wearing the royal arms standing in silent lines along the walls. All of them armed, Adam noted, hastily brushing his hand over his upper lip to rid it of the sheen of sweat he could feel on it. The day was cold, but he was hot – and near-incapable of remaining on his feet when he slid off his horse.
Stable boys appeared out of nowhere to claim their mounts and lead them away. Lord Roger set out for the hall, crossing the bailey with his men at his back, and all the time this silence, oppressive as a mountain of rocks. Adam shivered. He had once seen a man executed by weights, one rock at the time placed on the wide plank that covered his chest, and as he walked slowly, step by step, up the stairs that led to the hall, he felt as if his own lungs were being pressed together, every gust of precious air being driven from his body.
The hall, at last. Once again, silent men-at-arms lining their way, standing along the walls, around the dais. The large room was filled with gaudily dressed lords and nobles, but they were just as silent as the soldiers, keeping their eyes fixed on the dais and the imposing figure that stood waiting for them, hands resting on an unsheathed sword. King Edward, second of that name, regarded them with ice-cold eyes, his face implacable. In burgundy velvet, with ermine trimming his cloak and sleeves, Edward looked every inch the king he wasn’t, that fair and brave exterior hiding a weak and pliable man. Adam felt an urge to spit at his sovereign’s feet. This was his fault. A good king, ruled by his own counsel and that of the peers of his realm, would never have allowed things to escalate to this point.
Adam scanned the faces closest to the king. Prince Edward was standing with the Earls of Richmond and Arundel, Surrey and Norfolk, all of them as silent as their royal master, while on the other side of the king, quite alone, was the Earl of Pembroke. Something wasn’t right. Aymer de Valence had the look of a whipped cur, and to his left, Adam heard Lord Roger’s hissed intake of breath. Too late, too late! They should not have come! He staggered, crashing into Thomas de Monmouth who steadied him, giving him a supporting pat to the back as he released him to walk those last few yards on his own two feet.
They were going to die. He could see it in the eyes of the assembled nobles, in the stern visages of the earls, but most of all in Pembroke’s crumpled face. Adam’s legs dipped, his head was fit to burst, and he was sweating all over, having difficulty drawing breath. His flank was on fire, every step driving shards of pain through his lacerated muscles. What did it matter, he thought sarcastically? By tomorrow he would be dead anyway.
“My liege.” Lord Roger knelt, his eyes never leaving the king. In his feverish state, Adam was tempted to laugh out loud. This was not a grovelling submission, this was a man bowing to a greater power with his dignity intact.
“My lord king,” Lord Chirk said, kneeling down beside his nephew. Yet again that refusal to bend his neck, the old man almost contemptuous in the way he regarded his liege. King Edward’s mouth twitched, his long fingers clenching round the hilt of the sword.
One by one, Lord Roger’s men knelt behind him, until it was only Adam left standing. He tried to lower himself to the ground, but his head was spinning, the room was tilting from side to side. With a grunt he collapsed, set his hands on the floor and retched.
“The man is ailing!” Lord Pembroke’s voice came from somewhere above Adam’s head. Adam cackled quietly. Ailing? He was doomed to die, and all because of Pembroke’s worthless promises.
“My liege,” Adam said through cracked lips, and managed to get to his knees. Not for him a defiant staring contest with his monarch. Adam concentrated on the floor in front of him, trying to stop himself from fainting.
“I submit myself to your mercy,” Lord Roger said quietly. “I would remind you, my liege, that ever have I served you faithfully, that—”
“Faithfully?” King Edward’s voice was sharp with anger. “Does a faithful subject take up arms against his king? Does he impose his will on his king, forcing us to be parted from our most beloved subjects?”
“Parliament ruled that—”
“And you set them up to it!” Not much of a king now, with spittle flying and those eyes burning with hate.
“You were in breach of your coronation oaths,” Lord Chirk said.
The king just looked at him. “Take them away. Strike our lords Mortimer in chains and transport them to London, where they are to languish in the Tower until their execution.”
A collective gasp ran through the room, making the king throw his assembled nobles a furious look. Men approached Lord Roger and his uncle, hoisted them to their feet and began dragging them from the room. Neither Lord Roger nor Lord Chirk said a word. They just kept their eyes fixed on Pembroke, who was sweating like a whore in a bathhouse. With them went Richard de Monmouth, manhandled roughly towards the door.
“My dearest lord,” Adam groaned, extending his hand in the direction of Lord Roger. “May the Lord keep you,” he whispered, “and may He give you the strength to live through this, your final ordeal.”
“You promised!” Thomas de Monmouth was on his feet, pointing at Pembroke. “You, my lord, you swore on your honour that we would keep our lives.”
“Silence!” thundered the king, striding across the dais to strike Thomas over the face. “Lord Pembroke exceeded his authority. It is I, not he, who decides who lives and dies.”
“Begging your pardon, sire,” Sir Thomas said, “it is the court, not the king who decides such. Or is this yet another English law you no longer intend to honour?”
Adam closed his eyes. From the look the king gave Sir Thomas, his death was imminent – and would be most unpleasant.
“Take him away,” the king barked. “Take them all away.” His men leapt to it with alacrity.
Adam didn’t fight, but he was no longer capable of getting to his feet, his vision blurring into a collection of bright colours. A hand, a concerned face. Pembroke. With the last of his energy, Adam spat in the earl’s face.
“Perjured,” he hissed, and had the satisfaction of seeing Aymer de Valence go the colour of day-old porridge. That was the last he registered, apart from the agonising pain as his wounded side was scraped along the floor.
“Are you awake, then?” a voice slurred beside him. Adam opened an eye, then closed it just as quickly to contain his shock. He peeked. Sir Thomas looked as if he’d been kicked in the face by a horse, repeatedly.
“Where are we?” Adam asked, sitting up carefully.
“We are still in the castle,” Sir Thomas told him. “Our liege has accorded us food and accommodation.” He grimaced, gesturing at their squalid surroundings. A dungeon, dark and damp, with straw on the floor as their bedding and a bucket in the corner for their bodily needs.
Sir Thomas shook his head. “They had us watch as they struck him in chains, and then they set him and his uncle astride a horse and set off for London.”
“With them. Also manacled, as are we all – except for you, but that will change once they realise you’ve regained consciousness.” Sir Thomas fretted at his chains. “I didn’t think it would end like this.”
“I did. I never trusted Pembroke.”
“Pembroke committed the mistake of trusting the king,” Sir Thomas corrected.
“Then more fool him.” Adam swallowed, feeling just how dry his mouth was. Sir Thomas handed him a ladle with water, and helped him sit up sufficiently to drink it.
“What will happen to us?” Adam asked.
“Happen? The guards tell me they’ve been busy at the gallows. Any day now and we will dangle by our necks.” Sir Thomas gave a shaky laugh. “At least we are spared being hung, drawn and quartered.”
“Somehow I do not find that much of a comfort.” Adam groped for his leather thong, but found it gone. Kit. He would never see her again, never tell her that he loved her.
“I do,” Sir Thomas said. “The king wanted me to die a traitor’s death, but his earls prevailed upon him.”
“Oh.” Adam felt himself slipping away again, fever burning through his veins.
“Adam?” he heard faintly, but he couldn’t summon the energy required to reply. Instead he fell, into that deep, dark hole within himself where fire raged and from which there was no escape. None at all.
So, will Adam die in his hole or will Kit somehow find a way to save him? Read In the Shadow of the Storm to find out! http://myBook.to/ITSOTS