Chateauhaut-sur-Vilaine, eastern Brittany, 1189
The two white candles on the altar filled the night with a golden,
flickering light that shimmered over the painted walls and high vaulted
ceiling of the empty chapel. Letting go a quiet sigh of relief, Attica
d'AlÈrion dipped her fingertips in the carved stone font of holy water
near the door and went to the rail.
She was glad to find the chapel deserted. In the four months that had
passed since her betrothal brought her here to the household of the
viscomte and viscomtesse de Salers, the chapel had become a place of
refuge. The chapel and the battlements.
Sometimes, when storm clouds bunched low and threatening in the sky, when
lightning split the darkness and the wind blew fierce and wild, Attica would climb to the battlements of Chateauhaut's new stone keep and let the wind whip at her hair and batter
her face until she felt as if the savage night had stolen the very breath
from her body. She would be filled with such an exhilaration, such a
reckless excitement, such nameless, soul-deep yearnings that the sensation
both stirred and frightened her. She didn't allow herself to go there
And so she had come here tonight, to the chapel, where she found not wild
temptation but peace. Kneeling before the ornate altar with its carved and
gilded front, she made the sign of the cross and bowed her head to say a
She prayed for the easy passing of the Parisian courtier who lay dying in
the guest chamber beside the chapel. She sought God's protection for her
brother serving as a household knight with the beleaguered English king,
Henry II, as he prepared for the peace conference at La FertÈ-Bernard. She
asked a blessing for her father, old and spending most of his time now in
his favorite hunting lodges in Normandy. As an afterthought, she added her
mother's name, although she squirmed when she did it, the glazed tiles of
the floor feeling cold and hard through the fine wool of
Again she hesitated, her gaze lifting to the white plastered eastern wall
behind the altar. This was the only section of the chapel yet to be painted. Yvette--the viscomtesse de Salers--was still arguing with the monk from Pierreforte l'abbaye about the subject to be depicted. The good brother thought this section of the
chapel should portray the Last Judgment, except that Yvette had a pronounced aversion to the Last Judgment and wanted God Triumphant in Heaven. Privately, Attica
agreed with the brother, but she'd had enough sense to keep her mouth
shut. Not only could Yvette be vindictive, but she had a long memory. And
in one short month Attica would be marrying Yvette's son, a
thirteen-year-old boy nicknamed Fulk the Fat.
Attica felt a welling of complex, unwanted emotions at the thought of the
wedding day looming before her. Fulk was six years younger than she and
sadly inclined to sulk. He particularly resented the fact that the top of
his head didn't even come up to Attica's chin--something he believed was
more her fault than his, for she was far too tall and thin for a woman.
She hoped he would grow. Quickly.
The melted wax around the wick of one of the candles hissed, filling the
air with the scent of hot beeswax and sending up a spiral of dark smoke.
Ducking her head, she begged God's forgiveness for her wayward and
rebellious nature and asked a blessing for the house of Salers. She saw no
need to particularize.
Her duty fulfilled, Attica closed her eyes and let the peace of this place
wash over her. Her breathing slowed until it seemed as if the peace became
a pulsing thing, as if her heart were beating in harmony with the
universe, as if she could feel--
The harsh and decidedly artificial sound of someone clearing his throat
behind her shattered the moment of quiet rapture. Attica's head whipped
around. "Oh, Fulk." She schooled her features into a gentle smile. "You
He stood just inside the doorway in a halo of light thrown by one of the
cressets, a fleshy, pale-faced boy wearing crimson silk and purple brocade
and an accusatory pout. "You didn't come down to supper because you said
you needed to tend that Parisian courtier. So why are you here instead?"
He pulled a piece of linen from his sleeve and blew his nose. "It's cold
The walls of the chapel suddenly seemed to press in on her, smothering
her. She sucked in a quick breath scented with cold damp stone and the
memory of old incense, and pushed to her feet. "Your cousin offered to
relieve me while I came to pray," said Attica, who by that time had been
sitting with the ailing Parisian courtier for the better part of twelve
hours. "I should get back now."From the Paperback edition.
Excerpted from The Last Knight by Candice Proctor. Copyright © 2000 by Candice Proctor. Excerpted by permission of Ivy Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.