To Touch The Knight - Lindsay Townsend

Here's an excerpt from my latest medieval historical romance, 'To Touch The Knight', where the hero tries his hand at cross-dressing...

When Ranulf was escorted into the tent of the Lady of Lilies by a heavily pregnant maid, the princess laughed. He could hear her chuckling clearly through her veil and saw her eyes sparkling, half-closing in sheer amusement.

"My lord!" Seeing him and his costume - devised by Ranulf in a moment of madness on his way from the castle bath-house through the camp - Sir Tancred was clearly scandalized. His pale eyes bulged with indignation as he spilled most of his cup of wine down his gray beard and scarlet tunic.

"This will not do!" her gaudy steward protested, huffing and squawking like a hen thrust off its nest. The pregnant maid was giggling through her fingers.

Ranulf struck a pose. "I am Venus, a fair woman, and all is seemly between women." How did girls walk in long skirts? He felt to be hauling a mile of sacking around with him. "I come to give my sister-princess a kiss of peace."

As the princess continued to laugh, clutching her side, he puckered his lips, provoking another stream of laughter from his intended target.

"My lord, please!" the steward tried again, but the princess held up a hand.

"What is your hair made of, sir? Is it wool?"

"Bought from a spinster in camp," Ranulf replied, dragging the messy cloud of uncombed wool from his head and stepping with relief out of his rough bundle of sacking "skirts". "Where did my disguise fail, princess?"

He ignored the steward's snort and the maid's tittering.

"A lady with stubble? Venus in sacking? I think not. Ask Sir Tancred; he is behind you."

"Ah, your chaperone!" Ranulf turned and nodded to the older knight. "She saw through my play, it seems."

"You are outrageous!" Sir Tancred was another old hen, planting hands on hips and scarlet with indignation. "It is an insult to the princess!"

"Not so, good sir," put in the lady swiftly, slipping between them with a soft swish of her silks. "Sir Ranulf has learned that I too can take a jest against myself, and bear no ill-will for his foolery."

Ranulf thought: that is so, and she is right: she can take a joke against herself. But all I had planned with this was to jest a little, and to steal a kiss.

As if she guessed his mind, the princess went on. "Still, for my patience and forgiveness I would request a favor in return. The small silken star in silver, pinned to your breast: it is a favorite of mine."

"Come take it, then," he said at once, recognizing the justice and straightening as she closed in, drawing in his belly and praying his body would not betray him. It was a near thing, though, with this slender, shimmering moon of a princess, delicate as any courtesan of his dreams. She was still in her gold and cream, with many sparkling jewels and now she glided to him on cloth of some amazing stuff that was as fine and supple as spiders' threads, actually walking on it. The whole tent was carpeted in it, he now realized, and he felt shamed by his own great boots.

She drew near, her perfume slapping him lightly to arousal as a maze of images whirled in his head: a pair of bright eyes, a running scrap of a maid in brown, dainty feet.

Her fingers brushed over his chest, over his best tunic, and his heart hammered his ribs in answer. "Do not take too long, or I may change my mind," he muttered. Only the thought of the pregnant maid being shocked into labor stopped him from snatching her to him and seizing the kiss and all that he desired.

She had been unpinning the favor. Now she glanced up, her startled eyes showing how young she was, in truth, and, with the smile in her voice, how knowing.

"I will soon be done, my lord. There." She held up the silly scrap of cloth and he kissed it, and her gloved fingers. They were cool under his lips, quivering softly. He thought of them de-gloved, tracing down his ribs, scooping lower to his belly, and was lost afresh.

She knew, of course, and stepped back. "Do you go to the revels this evening, my lord?"

"Not without you, my lady," he retorted, glad of the distraction as the steward and Sir Tancred hissed through their beards, no longer hens but geese.

"You know I do not indulge in such revels," she answered easily. "I spend my nights in contemplation."

"Surely not of angels or god? I thought you did not believe in anything you could not touch or see."

The glow faded a little from her eyes. "In my experience that is the best guide."

"And all knights are dreamers to you, yes I know. But have you not considered that you may be wrong, princess?" he replied, feeling somewhat in the ascendancy again, "That there may indeed be more than the narrow realm of the senses?"

Expecting a sharp rejoinder, he was disconcerted when he saw her narrow shoulders sag. In truth he had not meant to hurt her, he realized, only to shake her a little. "But have you seen your other favors?" Keen to change the subject he held out his arms, where the favors won were threaded and tied like tiny banners amidst the long dagged-cut sleeves of his green and gold tunic.

"So many," she said, and a stricken look rose in her eyes, swiftly hidden as she turned away.

Best wishes, Lindsay Townsend

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