Word of Honor(4)

By: Alexa Aston

Geoffrey moved away, out of sight. He wanted to see what happened next.

Then he heard voices. A group of men headed his way. He spied Oxford and the Black Prince among them.

At that moment, the woman slipped from the tent and hurried away.

“Stop!” he called out to her.

She ignored his command.

“Stop her,” he ordered. “She’s a spy!”

A soldier taking a piss tried to grab her cloak as she ran by, but he missed. Geoffrey raced after the woman. He caught up with her and locked his fingers around her arm. He dragged her back to the earl’s tent, where the Black Prince and his party had stopped. He shoved the woman down and she dropped to her knees. She gazed up at him, a frown on her face, then spit on his boots.

De Vere gave him a questioning look. Geoffrey looked to the prince, who nodded his encouragement.

“Your highness, I believe this woman took a map from the earl’s tent. Search her. You’ll find it.”

Edward gestured at one of his guards. The man forced the whore to her feet, but she resisted as he searched her body for the map. He found the evidence tucked in her cotehardie.

Barrett exited the tent, hoping to avoid attention as he tried to slip away.

Geoffrey wouldn’t let that happen. “He gave it to her.”

The crowd turned to where he pointed. Barrett stopped and then haughtily strode toward him.

“I have no idea of what you speak, de Montfort.”

Geoffrey scowled. “I heard you tell her to take the map. What is it? Our troop movements? Are you a traitor, providing information to our enemy?”

Barrett assessed the woman as if he had never seen her before. “You think I gave a map to some French whore?” He laughed. “Will you next accuse me of being a spy for King Jean?”

“I saw you bedding the whore. You told her to hide the map so no one would find it.”

The nobleman continued to deny his involvement. “You’re mad or drunk enough on French wine to make such a foolish accusation.”

“Nay, he is not.” Sir Thomas Felton addressed the prince. “I spent most of my evening with this knight, my lord. Nor is he a fool who would make false accusations.”

“Geoffrey of Kinwick serves in my household,” Sir Lovel added. “I have never met a man more honest and loyal. His word is to be trusted. If Geoffrey says Barrett of Winterbourne has committed treason, then I stand by him.”

The Black Prince held out his hand and the guard gave him the map. Edward studied it for a long moment. Then he eyed the men standing around him. Geoffrey knew the prince weighed his next words carefully.

Barrett shifted nervously on his feet when Edward looked at him and spoke.

“An innocent man would never disrespect royal blood in such a manner,” Edward said.

“Compurgation!” Barrett cried. “I demand compurgation.” His eyes wildly scanned the crowd. “As the accused, I can be cleared by the oaths of others. I have many present who will swear to my innocence and deny this outlandish charge.”

No one came forward.

“Then trial by battle!” Barrett demanded.

Oxford pulled the prince aside. Geoffrey stood near enough to overhear their conversation.

Oxford asked, “Would the map aid the French, sire?”

Edward nodded grimly. “It’s one you drew up, Oxford. It shows our next lines of attack and where reinforcements would come from. If the French had gained access to the map, it would have proven devastating to our troops.”

The Black Prince announced, “I will grant this request of trial by battle.” Edward eyed Geoffrey carefully. “As accuser, you, Geoffrey of Kinwick, will do battle against Barrett of Winterbourne.”

Though Geoffrey had heard of trial by battle, he had no idea what, exactly, it involved. He had never experienced one. His expression must have told the prince as much.

“I shall preside as judge. We commence at noon.” The prince signaled his guard and then pointed at Barrett. “Confine him until the trial begins.”

Geoffrey watched as the guard escorted Barrett across the clearing.

“Come, Geoffrey,” Oxford said. “We need to discuss your duties for tomorrow.”

Geoffrey followed. And wondered what he’d gotten himself into.

Chapter 2

Geoffrey stepped to where Thomas de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, indicated he stand. The sun blazed high in the sky. Soldiers ringed the field designated for the trial by battle. Four knights of the prince’s royal guard stood at each corner.

Geoffrey wore a thick, padded jerkin for the contest; it had no sleeves. He held an iron helmet in his left hand and a wooden stave with steel tips in the other. John de Vere told him if the tips broke off to keep attacking with the long pole. He also could fight with his fists and feet—even his teeth if that’s what it took to win.

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