Cover image for Knight errant
Title:
Knight errant
Author:
Garcia y Robertson, Rodrigo, 1949-
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Forge, 2001.
Physical Description:
479 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
"A Tom Doherty Associates book."
Language:
English
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 6.5 31.0 75583.
ISBN:
9780312869960
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

R. Garcia y Robertson is the author of a numerous of books and stories, many of them published in the SF genre. In addition, he has written two highly praised novels outside that genre, American Woman , and The Spiral Dance ("A remarkably realistic historical fantasy." - Ellen Kushner, host of Song and Spirit, NPR). Now Garcia y Robertson returns with a powerful time-travel romance that reaches new imaginative heights.Robyn Stafford, a young American woman executive, has flown from Hollywood to England to surprise her lover on his birthday, only to find that he's married and his wife's giving the party. So she takes a few days off to recover from her outrage and dismay, traveling and hiking in England near the Welsh border. There she encounters a young man on horseback, wearing a sword, chain mail, and a surcoat, who identifies himself as Edward Plantagenet, Earl of March, and asks directions to a nearbyabbey. He thinks it is the year 1459, is amazed by her working cell phone, and invites her to ride along, although at first he thought her a young boy wearing pants! Then his pursuers show up, and Edward and Robyn ride madly across the hills until he drops her off and gallops back to face his enemies. After he fights them off, he returns and invites her to come with him and be his lady. Then he rides away, into the distant past, to the age of the War of the Roses.And so Robyn Stafford must find a way to leave the world of today for the fifteenth century, where she will fall in love with a young knight, a prince who will be king. This is the first of three books in a sweeping historical romance.


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Robyn, a young American woman visiting England, is hiking alone near the Welsh border one morning, when a handsome, gallant young knight rides unexpectedly into her life. Trouble is, he is from the 1400s, or so he says. Despite the obvious setbacks should what he claims be true, Robyn is attracted to the fair-haired charmer and extremely curious about his life. Is he for real or just nuts? When he rides away in search of a ne'er-do-well earl, leaving behind the gift of a single white rose, she vows to find him again. And with the help of a coven of local witches who transport her back to the time of her knight, she does. There she is drawn immediately into the history of the times, including witch-hunts, mad King Henry, and the Wars of the Roses. Fantasy becomes terrific historical fiction, complete with a deliciously romantic love story and some pretty good witchcraft. --Paula Luedtke


Publisher's Weekly Review

Without swooning over an ancient portrait or using any of the devices associated with time-travel romances, heroine Robyn Stafford goes back (and forth and back again) six centuries to medieval England to find and keep her man. Hers is, for the most part, an exciting romp: Robyn becomes a witch, is jailed by villains, charms mad King Henry VI and meets 15th-century counterparts of 21st-century people she had known. She fervently wishes to return, but once back, she willingly forgoes Hollywood, her job and the pleasures of her own time. All this she does in favor of the discomfort, dangers and lack of amenities of a ruder age and, especially, Edward Plantagenet, Earl of March, dashing, imperturbable and in love with her from the moment they meet. As for the time travel, it is engineered by a witch, whom Robyn encounters in each era she visits. Spunky and inventive, Robyn makes her own way, even using her credit card to unlock a door bolt. Robertson's (The Spiral Dance and American Woman) detailed knowledge of the era and the terrain usually complement his story, but at times it just gets in the way. It is unnecessary to know, for example, that Sir John Falstaff, rudely characterized by Shakespeare, was actually a hard-working knight, nor do readers need to be told the derivation of "Cheapside." The prose can be downright hokey ("Built like a college quarterback, the boy was a way better dresser"), but the unexpected and often delightful turns will keep romance fans happy. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

Robyn She saw the knight come riding up as she stopped to rest. Setting down her Nike squirt bottle, Robyn retied her hiking boots and then stood up to stare. She had not seen a soul since crossing the BritRail tracks near Pandy. By now A465 out of Abergavenny was far behind her. She had been hiking alone along the Welsh border, a rolling green-gold landscape of heather-covered tops furrowed by ancient earthworks--a place impossibly old and unrelentingly pretty--dotted with standing stones, burial tumps, wildflowers and faerie rings, which made this knight on horseback's sudden appearance all the more startling. He had no lance or helmet, but mail-clad sleeves and plate armor showed beneath a mud-spattered surcoat decorated with blue-gold bars. His long, heavy sword hung from the steel hip nearest her. Passing strange, as the locals would say; weird and a half, to be precise. Something sure to go in her journal. Where is he headed? she wondered. Halloween's weeks away....Maybe Brits celebrate it early. Even at first sight, and from distance, he looked engaging. His outfit alone would make anyone take notice. Long tawny hair fell onto steel-clad shoulders, framing brash, boyish good looks, a face alert and friendly, with a likeable smile. To top it off, he rode well, as if he and his big, black warhorse were old friends out for a morning jaunt--that landed them in the wrong millennium. Not your normal random guy. From a clump of hawthorn came the long breathless trill of a wren, ending in a strident tit-tit-tit of alarm. Then silence. Good advice. Go easy, girl; don't forget you're in a foreign country. Her short stay in Britain had been a full-blown disaster, which did not need to be topped off by running afoul of some escapee from a Renaissance fair. Not that she had much choice. Robyn already guessed this young horseman would not easily be turned aside. All morning she had hiked blissfully alone under leaden skies, happily sharing the trail with grass voles and fellow robins. Luxuriating in solitude, she did not stop until she reached the undulating ridgeline along the Anglo-Welsh border. Here she saw both halves of Britain, lowlands and highlands, tidy green farmsteads running right up against wild hill country. Eastward, neatly hedged Herefordshire cropland looked like the Jolly Green Giant's garden; westward, the dark, untamed mass of Wales rose to touch the sky, lonely, exhilarating, and beautiful beyond belief. In a wet October, well past the tourist season, she had the footpath to herself--until this knight appeared atop his great black warhorse, wandering nonchalantly out of the Welsh hills. By now she could use some company, even a touch of adventure. Splendid isolation became boring. But this broad-shouldered young horseman looked like more adventure than she needed. Deciding not to give a greeting, Robyn stood watching him ride up, looking very fresh and innocent to her, full of noble purpose. Good for him. She was mortally tired of men who had seen everything and knew it all. In place of a helmet, he wore a black velvet cap pinned with a white October rose. His warm, open smile said he was happy to see her. Too bad she had already had her fill of handsome, self-assured Englishmen. She had flown out from California to see one. Collin Grey, of the Dorset Greys, had swept her off her feet and into bed during an extended stay in L.A. Collin worked for Sotheby's in London, but his main business in America seemed to be showing her an amazing time. Cheerful, caring, and darkly handsome, Collin had a flair for adventure, a welcome willingness to take risks, even in love. He came from an old English family, complete with an old English manor in the Cotswolds. Back in the sixteenth century, a Grey had even been queen for a day--or more like a week. The Tudors were not amused. She ended up mounting the scaffold for an Elizabethan buzz-cut. "I pray you despatch me quickly," she told the headsman. Pert, learned, and polite--giving orders even at the block. Collin had inherited Queen Jane's sense of style and knack for pushing life to the edge. When Sotheby's called Collin home, the affair continued via fax and Internet. Collin could be as sexy and imaginative on-line as he was in a hot tub--always beware when a man can be reached only by e-mail and cell phone. He mentioned his upcoming birthday party at his country home, "What a shame you can't be there." Robyn took time off from the studio, flying the Atlantic to surprise him, the sort of impulsive gesture that makes or breaks a relationship. When she got to the Cotswolds she was as surprised as Collin, finding he had more than an estate, stables, and a hound pack. He also had a wife and three young sons. Leaving little room for her. Putting aside appalling thoughts of revenge, Robyn tried to make the best of the trip, visiting well-kept castles and hiking in the Welsh hills, aiming to walk out her anger and humiliation. And Just to be by herself. Now that, too, was denied her. As the knight topped the grassy ridge, sunlight parted the clouds for the first time that morning, shining splendidly on his steel hips and mail sleeves. Close up, she sensed an easy confidence, coupled with the alert eagerness of youth--a fetching combination. She guessed this particular youth had already seen a lot of adult life, and it did not daunt him He rattled up and reined in. Built like a college quarterback, the boy was a way better dresser. Fair hair, brown eyes, steel armor, blue-gold surcoat, black cap, white rose, knee-length riding boots, and tooled leather gloves all came together to breathtaking effect. She stared in absolute amazement. Here was the real thing--what football uniforms merely mimic. Swathed in personal colors and seated atop his warhorse, this young fellow required stable boys, seamstresses, saddlers, glove makers, armorers, bootblacks, a haberdasher, and a florist just to dress to go out. His horse fit the outfit, a big, black Friesian stallion with long silky fetlocks. From an ancient breed of cold bloods--ancestors to the English Shire horses--Friesians were strong, enduring, and loyal, the very mount Robyn would pick if she had something that heavy to carry. Whatever his fantasy, he took pains to do it right Grinning, he called down to her, "Ho, lad. Tell us the way to Llanthony priory." Ho, lad, yourself. Robyn wore a borrowed man's jacket over bulky sweats, and she'd had her hair cut short the day before at a Bristol body boutique, exorcising demons by doing something for herself. But that was no excuse. First Collin took her for a ride. Now this grinning idiot took her for a boy. Where did Englishmen get their arrogance? She started to set him straight. Then stopped. Sunlight glistened on the boy's honey-brown hair and broad armored shoulders. They were alone on the windswept ridge. Young Sir Handsome was not only weirdly dressed, but heavily armed. Besides his wicked long sword, he had an oversize dagger and a heavy flanged mace hanging from his saddle. Whoever forged his costume had worked overtime to make it real--and lethal. Maybe she should humor him. At least until they got closer to the motor road. "What's the matter?" he asked, pushing back his velvet cap with a gloved hand. "Are you Welsh? Or just deaf?" "I'm from Montana," she replied evenly, keeping her voice low, letting him jump to his own conclusions. "But I live in West Hollywood." He arched an eyebrow. "Which Holy Wood?" "In L.A. Next to Beverly Hills. Boys Town" His smile turned quizzical. "California, USA?" Young Don Quixote laughed, like he never heard of L.A., or California, but decided it hardly mattered. Was he putting her on? Buoyant good humor lurked behind lively brown eyes with long soft lashes. "Sounds like neither of us knows the way to Llanthony. Well met, anyway. You have a voice as sweet as a songbird's, making these Welsh hills much less lonely." Great. Young Sir Handsome was gay. Just her luck. Looking away she saw sunlight shining on grass tops, and clumps of blackthorn hung with blue sloe berries. Below the ridge lay Herefordshire, serene and distant. She looked back at him. "Did you say Llanthony?" "Yes, the ancient Augustinian priory in the Vale of Ewyas, built round the chapel founded by Sir William de Lacey." "Never heard of it," she admitted. He smiled at her ignorance. "It has been there since the reign of William Rufus." Right. Good old William Rufus, whoever he was. She studied her newfound knight in armor. Behind him rose the Black Mountains, the y Mynydd Du, wild welsh hill country famous of old for feuds, bloodshed, incest, and other "inhuman acts and savage crimes"--the Ozarks of south Wales. Nowadays largely empty, the dark tangle of bare ridgelines and wooded vales had a few hardy inhabitants, and a couple of lonely tarred roads running through it. Not an outstanding spot for wandering off the beaten footpath with a well-armed and possibly lunatic stranger. Happily all this smiling young horseman wanted was the way to Llanthony. Wherever that was. At least her knight was not the sort afraid to ask directions. She got out her map, determined to send Sir Handsome on his way. Sitting down, she spread the big, pink-covered Ordnance Survey Sheet over her knees. These Ordnance maps were a marvel, showing every farm, footpath, and patch of bracken for hundreds of square miles. Leaning closer, her knight seemed thoroughly amazed. "What a marvelous map you have. I have never before seen the like of it." She shrugged. He could get his own in Abergavenny. She found the path forking off to Llanthony farther along the ridge. Standing up she tried to show him where they were, and where Llanthony was. He leaned farther out of the saddle, one hand resting lightly on his steel hip, not the least afraid of falling, fairly exuding grace and agility. Robyn bet with his build he could do handsprings in that armor. Looking from the map to her, and back to the map, he could not contain his astonishment. "How utterly incredible. Your map is wonderfully detailed, and you read it like a clerk." "Thank you. Look, just past this old quarry you come to a small knoll--" "What are you called?" "Robyn. Robyn Stafford. The path is marked by a pile of rocks--" "A stout name," he declared, "Any relation to his grace Earl Humphrey Stafford, duke of Buckingham?" "None that I know." Since coming to Britain, she had found she had an old English name. There was even a county of Stafford not far to the north. Nothing was all that far away in a country the size of southern California. "Too bad, Duchess Anne of Buckingham is my mother's sister; they are both Nevilles by birth. We would be cousins," "An absolute shame," she agreed, pointing back to the map. "That pile of rocks is where the footpath forks off toward Llanthony--" "A Stafford, but no kin to Buckingham. Who, then, is your lord?" "I don't have one. Not at the moment, anyway. The path crosses the ridge and comes to a stone wall--" "No lord? That is to credit." Life is full of surprises. She tried to redirect his attention to the map tracing the route with her finger. "Follow the path along the wall, and you will have no trouble finding the priory" Looking up, she saw he was ignoring the map, staring straight at her instead. His grin widened. "Robin you are a likely looking lad, smart and comely, and you read wonderfully well." She stared back at him. They were no longer discussing the way to Llanthony. Conversation now centered on her present condition and future prospects. "Show me the way to the priory, and I promise to reward you handsomely, even take you into my household. Such as it is." He said this as earnestly and sincerely as if it made sense. Letting the map go limp, she looked about. Cloud shadows drifted slantwise across the ridge. They were absolutely alone on the bare top. She stared back at her knight on horseback, seeing a cheery overarmed teenager in plate armor fresh out of the Gutenberg edition of Gentleman's Quarterly --friendly, amiable, and attractive. Who thought she was a boy, but clearly had a crush on her. Who planned to reward her "handsomely"--ten guesses how--and then to take her home afterwards. Only in jolly old England. She sighed and asked, "Who are you?" "Edward Plantagenet, earl of March." So much for a sensible answer. He said it with rueful pride, as if he knew the picture he presented, lost and alone in mud-spattered armor. Reaching down, he patted his mount's strong black neck, "Caesar will vouch for me." Robyn had no ready reply. The earl of March? In October? Could you lord over a month? Like being Queen of the May? He looked awfully young to be earl of anything. Despite having absorbed two biographies of Princess Di, she knew next to nothing about British nobility. Just odd bits gleaned from Braveheart and a smattering of Shakespeare. Was the fortnight before Halloween the time for belted earls to ride about in full armor? Not terribly likely. Reaching into a belt pouch, he produced a green twig. Breaking it in two, he put half in his mouth, offering her the rest. "Here, have some. It stirs the blood and freshens the breath." She took it, sniffing suspiciously. A sprig of mint, a medieval Tic Tac. Did he mean to kiss her? She humored him, savoring the strong green taste. Blue tits burst from the heather, scattering skyward, giving harsh scolding cries of alarm. She looked to see what set them off. A small, spotted brown bird of prey came bobbing along the ridge. Edward pointed at it excitedly. "Look there, see that?" "That little hawk?" The tiny falcon hovered for a moment, leaning into the wind, and then shot off over Herefordshire. "Yes, a hunting kestrel. I love them. They are so quick, clean, and graceful." She gave the handsome young idiot a last chance to let himself off the hook. "Are you joking with me?" "Not at all. I would know one anywhere. My mother kept kestrels in the castle mews. My father's badge is the falcon and fetterlock," he added proudly. Of course, in the castle mews. Under ye olde falcon and fetterlock. Brits had such vivid imaginings. Collin's family were firm believers in witchcraft and faerie folk. His sister Jo called her daughter changeling when the girl would not mind, threatening to return her to the pixies. Just that morning a daft old woman in Abergavenny answered her plea for directions with a warning to beware of the little people, who lived under the hills and rode ponies the size of greyhounds. But the old woman had said nothing of knights on black chargers. "I mean this costume you are wearing." She nodded at the steel riding suit. "Where did you get the armor?" "Made for me in Milan," young Edward answered proudly, "by master Italian smiths." "But why? Are you part of some play or pageant?" He straightened in the saddle, showing off the blue-gold bars on his surcoat. "Sorry," he grinned. "I am who I am. Edward, earl of March. At the moment I may not look it--but I am on the run, seeking sanctuary in the Vale of Ewyas. The monks at Llanthony will know me." Her knight did not seem the least insulted--after all, he knew who he was. Looking wistfully after the hawk, Edward added, "If I can just get down into Devon, I have friends who will see me to Calais. Or Ireland. Have you ever been there?" "Been where? Ireland?" "Calais. A great port town ringed with castles, full of fine wines and beautiful fabrics. Calais is the gateway to Flanders, and near to France." "No, I've never been there." Calais was in France, but why quibble? He sounded like he had seen it. She sure had not. "You will love it. I was born not far from there, at Rouen in Normandy." She stared up at him, happily chewing his mint, totally at ease with the crazy masquerade. He had a fantastic act to go with his armor. Men had lied to her before. Far too often. Collin had made a blithering lovelorn fool of her. And in Hollywood lying was a way of life. Actors thought they could get away with saying anything, and studio execs spun her absurd tales everyday--but never with such brash innocence. Edward did not much care if she believed him. Why should he? He was a belted earl. He was not selling her a story. Or trying to get into her panties. Hell--he thought she was a boy . All he wanted out of her was directions to the priory. She asked softly, "What moment are we talking about?" "What moment?" "What year is this?" "Why the thirty-seventh year in the reign of poor Mad King Henry." Mad king who? It hardly mattered. The England she knew had a frumpy old queen. "Could you give me that in A.D.?" He stopped chewing, staring blankly at her. "Anno Domini?" she hinted. "You mean since the birth of Christ?" Edward acted as if it were a trick question. He took a moment, ticking off years on gloved fingers, and then replied proudly, "One thousand four hundred and fifty-nine years, or thereabouts." Right. 1459. Or thereabouts. Over five hundred years off, just about burying the needle on the bullshit meter. She shook her head, feeling suddenly sorry for this overgrown boy in armor. He thoroughly believed what he was saying, believed it so much he barely conceived she could doubt him. Edward was sincere, generous, easygoing, and totally off his rocker. Sighing, she refolded her map, saying. "I'll take you to the priory." Why not? She had been headed that way herself. So what if he was gay? Or crazy? he was polite and likeable, and plainly needed her help. He wanted her for his household--whatever that meant--but despite being heavily armed and on horseback, he made no attempt to force or abduct her. Always a welcome sign. All in all, it had the makings of a cheap and easy first date. Taking the lead, she set out for Llanthony and the Vale of Ewyas. According to her map, the priory was a ruin, but Llanthony had a church and a pair of hotels, though no bus service. Hopefully someone there would take Edward off her hands. He was an English problem, and they must have centuries of experience in dealing with genial madmen. Strolling past hawthorns bright with ripe red berries, she listened to Edward's troubles. He said he was fleeing a lost battle; though he made it sound like an armed debate. Edward's friends and family--numbering in the thousands--had gathered on his family lands, not wanting to fight, hoping Mad King Henry would hear their grievances. The cannon and plate armor were just to get daft King Henry's attention. "We stood on our rights," he told her proudly, "facing down knaves that would profit off a poor mad king." But it was all for naught. "Now we are hunted fugitives, betrayed by Andrew Trollope--an aptly named pimp. Scores of good men are dead. Sir Thomas and Sir John Neville are taken. And all who would not submit to tyranny are now charged with treason." What a story. He said it so simply and sincerely she could not help thinking it was true. She should haul out her journal and start punching in the story as he talked. Turn this into a treatment, and she could sell it to the studio, She asked where it all happened. "At Ludford on the Tern." That was the worst of it, he told her. Ludlow Castle, the family home, had been abandoned. Left to be sacked. His mother, little sister, and two small brothers were at the mercy of men "wetshod in wine and bent on misrule." And Ludlow town was thrown open to rape, which especially angered Edward. He had that old-fashioned chivalry, and clearly did not like thinking of his mother and sister in enemy hands. Despite using words like wetshod --and saying women faced being "vengefully defouled"--Edward's speech seemed strangely normal. Way too clear, in fact. It was the big flaw in his act. If he really came from 1459, he should have a treacle-thick accent--as bad as Shakespeare's. But his English was no worse than what she heard in the London tube. She still found it heartrending to hear how women and children bore the brunt of defeat. "How old are your sister and brothers?" she asked, ashamed for thinking she should exploit his madness. He thought a moment. "Margaret is already a woman, thirteen or so. George is eleven, and Richard, seven. Or maybe six." "And you?" she asked. "Seventeen, or thereabouts." He made it sound old, but to her he seemed awfully young to be so utterly bonkers. "I was born on the twenty-eighth of April..." He counted on his fingers. "In 1442." Edward was proud to get the year right, though it made him closer to six hundred than seventeen. Her pocket beeped loudly. She jammed her hand into her borrowed jacket, feeling for her cell phone. Robyn had forgotten it was on, and now someone was calling. Edward glanced about, "What sort of bird is that?" She managed to silence the cell phone, drawing it out of her jacket, "No bird, just this." She held it up. The silly thing was a gift from Collin, so he could call her anytime. "What is that?" Edward wanted to know. "Hi, Robyn. You there?" asked the phone in her hand. She recognized Heidi, her assistant at the studio, a California blonde addicted to tight leather, skimpy tops, and dead white lipstick. Heidi sounded excited, a not unusual state for her. It had to be after three A.M. in L.A. What the hell was happening? She had been gone four days; couldn't the studio manage that without her? "It's a phone," she explained, putting it to her ear. "Operates on a global hookup off the Internet--don't ask me how. I don't even get the bills." The phone seemed so romantic at first. Magic even. But it let Collin control the relationship, making her always available. Saving him from having to leave messages and risk her returning calls at the wrong time. "Hi, Heidi. What's happening?" Something big to have Heidi calling in the middle of the night. "We're having a luau." Heidi's voice sounded slurred. "What?" "A luau. You know. Tiki torches. Mai tais. Big, bronze surfer boys, like the one feeling me up." Heidi was drunk off her ass, at some godawful party, on a Wednesday night. Actually a Thursday morning. A first even for Heidi. Robyn thought maybe she had her time zones crossed Maybe it was not all that late out there. "What time is it in L.A.?" "In L.A.?" Heidi sounded too drunk to make sense of the question. "How should I know?" "See if your surfer has a watch." "Nope, just string briefs. And he's about to lose them. Besides, a watch would not do any good." "Why?" "Cause we're on Maui." Make that stoned and drunk. At least it explained the luau. Heidi had closed up shop and flown to Hawaii. Things were going famously without her. Working with Heidi was like being in touch with a wildly chaotic alter ego. Heidi had grown up in a tiny two-room in the Valley, raised by her mom, with no dad. Or rather with a succession of dads, some cruel and indifferent, others far too friendly. Heidi had needed smarts and guts just to survive puberty. Her dumb blonde act hid savvy judgment and a hard-drive memory--in a business that ran on good looks and joie de vivre rather than common sense, she pulled down enough to take snap trips to Maui, while buying Mom a bungalow in Santa Monica. "Why are you talking into your hand?" demanded Edward, peering down from his high ornate saddle. "How's Collin?" Heidi had a not-so-secret crush on Collin. The man had an absolute knack for collecting women. "Dead, I hope." "What?" It was Heidi's turn to be confused. "Where is that voice coming from?" Edward was utterly fascinated by the phone. "Look, I can't talk now. I'm entertaining an earl." "Wow! An earl. Is he handsome?" "Stunning." At least Edward the mad earl topped Heidi's sloshed surfer. "Out of sight! Oops! Got to run, he's getting into my pants. Give my love to Collin." "Fat chance." But Heidi had already hung up, leaving Robyn holding the phone. "May I?" Edward leaned down to take the phone. Not seeing much danger, Robyn handed it up. Edward looked it over and then held it to his ear. "It has stopped talking." "She found something better to do." Half a world away, Heidi was balling some surfer on a dark patch of beach--and Robyn had been worried how the studio would do without her. Edward handed the phone back. "Astoundingly aweful!" "So a lot of folks say." She had seen the downside to being always in touch, with a phone that followed her everywhere. Collin used it to keep her in his hip pocket. "It's got caller ID. Constant redial. Call waiting. Call rejection. E-mail. Takes messages, organizes my schedule, and reminds me of appointments. Pretty much runs my life." Right now she felt tempted to get rid of it. "Is it witchcraft?" He did not sound overly worried by the supernatural. "Not really. But like I said, don't ask how it works." Edward did not look ready for the electronic age. He hardly looked ready for the Renaissance. They went a ways in silence, broken only by slow hoof-beats and a low wind out of Wales rustling the grass tops. Dark skeins of rain fell on Herefordshire. Without warning, Edward asked, "What about you?" "Me?" "Yes, you. Robin Stafford of Holy Wood. What do you do when you are not giving aid and comfort to fugitive earls?" He sounded lighthearted given his family's plight, but even on short acquaintance she could tell Edward believed in making the best of bad fortune, assuming he would somehow set things right. Such youthful sureness made her smile. "I work for a movie studio," she explained. "Production work mainly. Phone calls, fielding pitches, reviewing scripts, keeping overpriced creeps happy--that sort of thing." Edward looked thoroughly puzzled. "A moving studio?" "You know, Hollywood. Show biz. We make pictures." He plainly did not know. "You work for an artist? A painter? An illuminator?" "They are more like plays. I wanted to be an actress, but..." She realized she had slipped. But it no longer seemed so important to conceal her sex. For an armed madman, Edward acted pretty harmless. Very concerned and gentlemanly, actually. The whole pretense of being a boy began to irk her. Why shouldn't she be honest? Edward was. He stared down at her from the saddle, still hopelessly puzzled. "You mean like a mummer? Or in a miracle play? One of those boys who puts a pillow in a gown and pretends to be the pregnant Virgin?" "Sort of." She nodded glumly. This was getting nowhere. "It did not turn out to be all that easy." "I can well imagine." Hardly. Crazy as he was, Edward could not hallucinate even half of it. Acting lessons, casting calls, producer's parties, diseased pricks she sucked up to but ducked going to bed with. All while waiting for her break. If she had smarted-off less and put out more, who knows what she would be now? Not just a glorified gofer with an oversexed assistant, that's for sure. But why burden Edward with her stalled acting career? He had troubles that went way beyond not getting a break in Hollywood. Or being dumped by a cad from Sotheby's. How could that compare to losing your mother, sister, and brothers? And the family castle? Not to mention your sanity. Still, it was nice he cared. Climbing a small summit, with Edward clopping along behind her, she could make out Skirrid Fawr from the top. Green ascending ridgelines blocked her view of Abergavenny and Pandy. Nor could she see Hereford, Chepstow, or the big highway bridge over the Severn. Just farmsteads, sheepfolds, and bracken-covered tops seamed with ancient earthworks, as if the twenty-first century were slipping away, while she slid into Edward's world. Shaking off the feeling, she fished into her jacket for an energy bar-something reassuringly artificial." Tearing the plastic seal, she split the bar with Edward, telling him it had "Chocolate, honey, granola, figs, soy lecithin, and high fructose corn syrup. Terribly healthy." Figs and honey, he knew about--but chocolate, granola, and soy lecithin were something new. Nor could he make sense out of "high fructose corn syrup." But he declared the taste combination "Absolutely aweful," asking if she had some more. "Sorry." she shook her head. "I meant to fact. The bar was just for emergencies. Maybe in Llanthony." "Yes, indeed." He licked his fingers. "So, on to Llanthony. Monks can work miracles." Monks had nothing to do with it. Not wanting to shake his faith in religion, she set out in silence. Fall heather felt springy underfoot, bouncing back beneath her heavy boots. Descending past an abandoned quarry, they came on a small col between two tops. Here a path forked off toward Llanthony priory, crossing the ridge and slanting down into the wild remote Vale of Ewyas. Robyn stopped. This was where they should part. She had no need to be there when Edward found his sanctuary to be a ruin-cum-tourist-trap. He rose happily in the saddle, peered down the path, and then turned gratefully to her. "Well, you need not be ashamed," he told her. "Not in the least." "Really?" She already felt bad for the fun she had at Edward's expense. And for the letdown he faced. "Yes. You would make a fine female, with your fair skin and quick wit. You have the face and voice for it. Pad your figure, put on a wig, and Holy Wood could not want for a better woman. Forsooth, I would fall madly for you myself." How chivalrous. She grinned up at him, seeing how badly she misjudged his intentions. What she had taken for a gay come-on was warmhearted good humor. Edward Plantagenet, earl on the lam, lost in Wales, hunted by the mad king's men, his noble family fleeing or in custody--yet took time out to cheer up a common roadside waif. A sexually confused lad, stricken with fits of talking to his hand. Whose biggest ambition was to prance about dressed like a woman. True noblesse oblige. "Anything's possible," he insisted, "if you put your whole being behind it." She could see he really meant it. An earl at seventeen, rich and handsome to the hilt, but he truly meant to help her. "Come wear my livery," Edward begged. "I do not normally invite beautiful young strangers to commit treason--but you are an exception join the fight for justice. When we set England aright, you may get your wish as well. We will have you playing the Blessed Virgin at Coventry on Corpus Christi Day." She could not help laughing. The mad earl of March with his sidekick, Robyn the boy wonder. Kingdoms set aright and damsels done in drag. It had a ring to it. A sort of Robin Hood meets Tootsie . Could really pack them in. Move over, Man of La Mancha. "See even the thought of it cheers you." Too true. Edward was not just another happy armored maniac with a rose on his cap. He was a tonic, who had brightened her otherwise lonely walk. Instead of an annoying male presence, he become a companion of sorts. Weird but friendly, a welcome diversion, putting her own troubles in perspective. Too bad he was bonkers. She felt touched--and sad. There always seemed to be some weird conservation of male energy at work, whereby guys who had it all together--sharp, caring, well-heeled, and handsome, without being completely full of themselves--were otherwise unavailable. Either married or gay, or like young Earl Edward, hopelessly deranged. He broke off another sprig of mint, chewing happily and offering her some. She took it, looking wistfully at his magnificent horse. Every detail of his absurd fantasy was really artfully arranged, and she still hoped it was all an incredible put-on. If this turned out to be some elaborate system to get women's sympathy and attention, it was cleverly successful. Reaching up, she stroked the Friesian's black, velvety neck; carrying a man-size boy in armor was not even making the stallion sweat. His breath had that clean cut-grass smell. "What did you call him?" "Caesar. Because he is the greatest of all time." "He's beautiful, too" "Really?" "Exceptionally so." She ran her hands through his sable mane. Thoroughly horse-crazy as teen, Miss Rodeo Montana, She still rode whenever she could--but she had never had a horse as big and fine as this. How did a young madman afford him? "He is sweet and gentle as well," Edward assured her, "and you may ride him. If you come with us as far as the priory." Hitting on the perfect bribe, Edward praised Caesar's easy gait and the wonders of the hidden Vale of Ewyas. "The Holy Fathers keep Ewyas free and wild, tucked away from the temptations of the world. So beautiful that they say Sir William de Lacey gave up war as soon as he saw it"--a supreme compliment from such an earnest young man-at-arms. "Deer and birds come and eat from your hand, and the air is so wonderfully healthy that disease is unknown. Were it not for love of God and hope of Heaven, monks there might live forever. They will gladly feed us, maybe more granola, chocolate, and soy lecithin, if we are so lucky." She laughed at how easily he was corrupted by "natural" additives. Clearly they were at that carefree stage of "getting to know you" where everything was funny--even his wild tales about Ewyas, which her map said was just a slow spot on the back road between Abergavenny and Hay-on-Wye. "Come to this magic vale for a ride and a rest," he insisted. "Mayhap there I will convince you to enter my service. Even though it be treason." How could she resist such a witless winning smile? Not to mention his marvelous mount. "All right. I will go as far as Llanthony." Treason or not, she would see this to the end. You did not have to be Heidi to like a little excitement, to show your soul is not totally dead to adventure. And for some weird reason, she trusted Edward. Normally she liked her dates lucid and unarmed, but she felt strangely safe with this earnest young earl. She glanced at her watch, seeing plenty of time for a short adventure. Splendid. Today was a day to do as she pleased, and if it pleased her to play along with Edward, so be it. Whatever his problems, the boy was not boring. After Collin, he could be just what she needed. "What is that on your wrist?" Edward asked. "More witchcraft?" "Just a watch." Instead of trying to explain, she slipped it off her wrist, handing it up to him. He puzzled over the digital readout. "This is really remarkable, the numbers change on their own." "They also tell time." "Fantastic. So you do not need to see the sun on a cloudy day." "And at night they glow in the dark." Smiling he handed back the watch. "I would dearly like to see that." Sorry. No chance. She had a strict rule against spending the night with deranged teenagers, no matter how friendly and handsome. Especially when they expected her to be a boy. She slid the watch back around her wrist. "Just tell me you are not for real." He raised an eyebrow. "Not for real?" "Say this is just an act. Some mummery on your part. Won't you just admit to being a late entry in ye Auld Hereford Days Rodeo?" It would make things infinitely easier. They could have a good long laugh, finish up their walk, and ride his huge horse around the old romantic ruin. Then relax over supper and a Welsh sunset. After that, who knows? If he would stop acting crazy, he might get pleasantly surprised. Llanthony had two hotels that offered bed and breakfast. Edward smiled ruefully. "I am sorry, but I am what I am." He would not change his story--not even to please her. Admirable honesty, really. She was godawful sick of men telling her whatever they though she wanted to hear. Taking the turn toward Wales, she found herself no longer leading, but walking at his side. Gilded spurs shone in the sunlight. One of her feathered namesakes hopped along ahead of them. Looking up, she saw her knight errant was in wonderful spirits, smiling proudly, with tiny flecks of chocolate stuck to his cheek. The breeze in their faces smelled of heather and sheep dung. At that moment she wished the mad adventure did not have to end--at least not right away. Edward was excellent company in his oddball way. Maybe not her knight in shining armor, but close enough for now. His daft courtliness felt refreshing, bold and inventive, but not pushy. You always had to deal with off-the-wall male obsessions; imagining himself to be a earl on horseback was by no means the worst. Not by Hollywood standards. What if they did discover some Welsh Shangri-la in the Vale of Ewyas? With five-hundred-year-old monks serving up ale and mutton. Or chocolate and granola? Would that be so bad? Or so impossible? The path under her feet had to be at least a thousand years old, running along Offa's Dyke, built by Saxons to keep out Welsh neighbors ages before Edward claimed to be born. Time and place were pretty relative. Right "now" Heidi was making naked love in the hot tropic night while waves broke on the dark sand, or so Robyn imagined. Finding themselves in the fifteenth century would certainly make Edward happy. She could feel herself willfully letting go of reality to please a newly met male, never a healthy sign. Slanting down into the vale, the path ran along a stone wall made from stacks of dark split-stones crusted with golden moss and white lichens. Edward assured her sanctuary lay just ahead, hoping the monks might have word of fellow fugitives, "I lost Salisbury and Warwick during the night, and desperately need to rejoin them." "Salisbury? Warwick?" Those were places not people. "The Neville earls." He said it like she should know them. "Our last allies against the king. Now they, too are gone. I awoke this morning without them; just myself and Caesar awaking alone. When I mounted up and tried to find them, the land seemed much changed, and I was sorely alone until I met you." So was I, she thought, genuinely sorry she could not drag this out a little longer. But geography was against them; Llanthony loomed ahead, just out of sight down the path. Reality was about to bring this happy interlude to a screeching halt. By now she felt thoroughly guilty for lying to Edward. Here he was, about to have all his hopes smashed; she at least could be truthful. Why have him find out all at once that there was no priory, he was not an earl, this was not the 1450s, and she was not a boy? Better let him down easy. She could not do much about the priory and his earldom, but as for the boy part... Robyn stopped and turned to him. "There is something I must tell you." She hated to tell him she had lied, even by omission. But Edward had been honest with her--maddeningly so at times. "What's that, fair Robin?" Edward grinned happily, but the joke was going to be on him. she sighed and shook her head, sticking her hands deep in her pockets, really sorry to dish out his first disillusionment. "Look, I am not--" Before she could finish, a dark streak whistled down the slope. Leaping back in shock, she saw a black arrow land quivering in the grass between her and Edward. Startled speechless, she stared in openmouthed astonishment at the feathered shaft sticking at an angle in the sod alongside her footprints. the word justice was written on the black shaft in neat white letters. A foot or so to the right and the message would have been buried in her side. Copyright (c) 2001 by R. Garcia y Robertson Excerpted from Knight Errant by R. Garcia Y. Robertson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.