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Westminster, 1184-- in the court of King Henry, playful competition is about to turn into something far more serious. Young courtier Fulke FitzWarin would not be an obvious companion for Prince John, but the boy from the Welsh Marches is there as a reward for his family's loyalty to the crown. The FitzWarins are as proud as they are true, and when Fulke is accused by John of cheating during a game of chess, he cannot help but respond. Thus begins a bitter rivalry that will resonate throughout their lives.
The FitzWarins dream of reclaiming their family estate and title, Lords of the White Castle. After this quarrel with Fulke, however, John's vindictiveness leads to Fulke renouncing his allegiance and becoming a rebel outlaw.
In romance, too, Fulke is no closer to fulfilling his heart's desire. A youthful dalliance means nothing compared to his love for the spirited Maude le Vavasour, but marriage in medieval England is more about alliance than about love, and Fulke can only watch helplessly as Maude's father arranges a more suitable match. After all, what can Fulke offer Maude apart from a lifetime on the run....
With all the intrigue and pageantry that bring the twelfth century vividly to life, this award-winning novelist spins us an irresistible tale of a deadly rivalry and an impossible love.
Veteran medievalist and romance novelist Chadwick (The Conquest; The March King's Daughter) provides another vivid portrait of her native Britain in feudal times, complete with circus-like tourneys and deadly woodland skirmishes. The tourneys feature knights in full regalia honing their fighting skills and competing for prize money, while in the skirmishes grim antagonists defending family fiefs suffer grievous wounds or die with their mounts. Quintessential hero Fulke of the FitzWarin clan is being tutored at court and serves petulant young Prince John as squire. In strong, stalwart Fulke at 15 the eldest of six sons rests the family hope of regaining Whittington castle, the seat of dispossessed forebears. But a confrontation over a chess game renders Fulke and John sworn enemies. When John eventually takes the throne, he punishes his recalcitrant former squire by denying his claim to the property and awarding it to the rogue occupant, whereupon Fulke becomes an outlaw with a price upon his head. Meanwhile, 12-year-old tomboy Maude le Vavasour is offered in marriage by her father to any noble prepared to pay a fee; Lord Walter, a bachelor in his 40s, pities the child and marries her. Subsequently widowed, she becomes Fulke's bride, a tempestuous, passionate woman with skill as an archer that saves her husband's life. The novel is based on fact, with Chadwick's period scholarship and vivid imagination thoroughly fleshing out the meager historical record. The end result is a lively, well-plotted drama, superior to the norm.