By that night, however, his fury had been reduced to a dangerous calm. When Graverley had attempted to retie his wrists after Royce finished eating, Graverley had found himself jerked to the ground with the leather thong wrapped taut around his throat, Royce’s face, dark with rage, only inches from his own. "Attempt to bind me again," Royce had bit out between his teeth, "and I’ll slit your throat within five minutes after my interview with Henry."
Writhing in surprise and fear, Graverley had nevertheless managed to gasp, "Five minutes after your interview with the king… you’ll be on your way… to the gallows!"
Without thinking, Royce had tightened his hand, the subtle twist of his wrist effectively cutting off his adversary’s air. Not until his victim’s face had begun to change color did Royce realize what he was doing, and then he released him with a contemptuous shove. Graverley staggered unsteadily to his feet, his eyes blazing with hatred, but he gave no order to Henry’s men to seize Royce and bind him. At the time, Royce had attributed that to the likelihood that Graverley had realized he could be treading on dangerous ground by deliberately abusing the rights of Henry’s favorite noble.
Now, however, after waiting weeks for a summons from the king, Royce was beginning to wonder if Henry was actually in complete accord with the privy councillor. From his position at the window, Royce stared out at the dark night that was scented with the usual malodorous smells of London—sewage, garbage, and excrement—trying to find a reason for Henry’s obvious reluctance to see him and discuss the reason Royce was being incarcerated.
He had known Henry for twelve years; he had fought beside him at the Battle of Bosworth Field, had watched as Henry was proclaimed king and crowned on that same battlefield. In recognition of Royce’s deeds during that battle, Henry had knighted him that same day, despite the fact that Royce was only seventeen. It was, in fact, his first official act as king. In the years that followed, Henry’s trust and reliance on Royce had grown apace with his mistrust of his other nobles.
Royce fought his battles for him and each flamboyant victory made it easier for Henry to exact—without bloodshed—concessions from England’s enemies and Henry’s personal ones. As a result, Royce had been rewarded with fourteen estates and riches enough to make him one of the wealthiest men in England. Equally important, Henry trusted him—trusted him enough to permit Royce to fortify his castle at Claymore and to keep a private, liveried army of his own men. Although, in this instance, there was strategy behind Henry’s leniency: the Black Wolf was a threat to all Henry’s enemies; the sight of pennants with a snarling wolf pictured on them often crushed hostility before it had a chance to bloom into opposition.
In addition to trust and gratitude, Henry had also given Royce the privilege of speaking his mind freely and without the interference of Graverley and the other members of the powerful Star Chamber. And that was what was niggling at Royce now—this long period of refusal to give Royce an audience in order to defend himself was not indicative of the sort of relationship he’d enjoyed with Henry in the past. Nor did it bode well for the outcome of the audience itself.
The sound of a key being inserted in his door made Royce glance up, but hope shriveled when he saw it was only a guard bearing a tray with his meal. "Mutton, my lord," the guard provided helpfully in answer to Royce’s unspoken inquiry.
"God’s teeth!" he exploded, his impatience with everything coming to a rolling boil.
"Don’t like mutton much myself, my lord," the guard agreed, but he knew the food had nothing to do with the Black Wolf’s outburst. After putting the tray down, the man straightened respectfully. Confined or not, the Black Wolf was a dangerous man and, more importantly, a great hero to every male who fancied himself a true man. "Do you wish for anything else, my lord?"
"News!" Royce bit out, his expression so harsh, so threatening, that the guard backed away a step, before he nodded obediently. The Wolf always inquired about news—usually in a friendly man-to-man way—and tonight the guard was happy to be privy to some gossip. Still, ’twas not exactly gossip the Wolf would likely be happy to hear.
"There is some news, my lord. Gossip it be, but reliable-like, heert from those what are in a position to know."
Royce was instantly alert. "What ‘gossip’?"
" ‘Tis said yer brother was called afore the king last night."
"My brother is here in London?"
The guard nodded. "Came here yesterday, demandin’ to see yer and practically threatnin’ to lay siege to the place if’n he didn’t."
An awful feeling of foreboding crept over Royce. "Where is he now?"
The guard tipped his head to the left. "One floor above ye and a few rooms to the west, I heert. Under guard."
Royce expelled his breath in a rush of frustrated alarm. Stefan’s coming here was reckless in the extreme. When Henry was angered, the best tack was to stay out of his way until he got control of his royal temper. "Thank you," Royce said, trying to recall the guard’s name, "er… ?"
"Larraby, my—" They both broke off and glanced toward the door as it swung open. Graverley stood in the doorway, grinning evilly.
"Our sovereign has bade me bring you to him."
Relief mixed with concern for Stefan ran through Royce, as he stalked past Graverley, shouldering him aside. "Where is the king?" Royce demanded.
"In the throne room."
Royce, who’d been a guest here at the Tower several times in the past, knew it well. Leaving Graverley to follow and try to keep pace, he strode swiftly down the long hall to the steps which wound down two stories and then led through a maze of chambers.
As he passed through the gallery with his escort/ guard following behind, Royce noted that everyone was turning to stare. Judging from the derision on many of their faces, the fact that he’d been confined here and was out of favor with Henry was a fact known to all.
Lord and Lady Ellington, attired in full court dress, bowed to Royce as he passed, and again Royce witnessed their strange expressions. He was accustomed to some fear and mistrust when he was at court; but tonight he could have sworn they were hiding amused smiles, and he discovered that he vastly preferred being mistrusted to being laughed at.
Graverley gleefully provided the answer for the odd looks: "The story of Lady Jennifer’s escape from the notorious Black Wolf has been cause for much hilarity here."
Royce clamped his jaws together and increased his pace, but Graverley quickened his to match. In a confiding voice ringing with mockery, he added, "So has the story of our famous hero’s infatuation with a plain Scottish girl who ran away, wearing a fortune in pearls he’d given her, rather than wed him."