CHAPTER ONE

November 1587

Henri cursed the luck that had brought him this far. He cursed his stupidity that had forced him to leave a victorious battlefield to convalesce. He had the Catholics on the run, scattered and without a leader, and now he was forced to flee too . Each mile of the pockmarked road north of Coutras was agony on his aching side.

Water,” he could barely groan out the word. Cold winds whipped at the makeshift wagon, cutting into his skin despite the coverings his men had placed around him. Those winds told him that winter would arrive any day now, forcing his army to take shelter until Spring. The elements would have forced his men to leave the battlefield eventually, but his absence left his cousin’s Protestant forces without a strong leader. Not that Henry of Navarre was terribly worried about a missed opportunity to wage war against the Catholics. Leaving the battlefield meant that his cousin could spend more time with his mistress. “Go spend the time with your woman, cousin, and I will spend it with mine.” A month after his victory, the Prince of Conde was forced into his bed, barking his displeasure at his men, but he could not ignore the order from Navarre. An order from his king and kinsman could not be ignored.

Thus he was shuttled into a surplus wagon on the unkept road north towards La Rochelle, and north to Protestant territory. North towards his wife. His wife—he struggled to recall the face of the woman who shared his name, this latest Princess de Conde. A quiet girl barely not even out of her teens, who would welcome him home after the laborious two days that it took to make it home to his chateau at Saint-Jean-d’Angély.

My Lord, you should be lying down,” Charles Videau, the surgeon who insisted upon coming with him on this trip clucked his displeasure at Henri’s attempt to sit up.

Dammit, man—I am thirsty. My side is being torn apart, at least you can allow me a bit of water!” Henri’s mood, black and sullen had only gotten worse with each mile. He had long since stopped caring if it bothered anyone else.

Ho! Halt the wagon!” Videau’s booming voice called the procession to a halt. The wagon’s jerking to a stop pitched Henri forward before he could brace himself. He grimaced at the pain.

Forgive me, highness.” . But then, he did not have to deal with a hole carved into the side of his torso. “I know it’s painful, but the stitches are managing to hold. In a couple of days, you’ll be safe in a warm bed.”

Any news from the front? From my cousin Navarre?” At the guilty faces around him, Henri’s mood darkened further. “Ah, I see—I am to be denied any information while I convalesce. Then what good am I?”

Videau expelled a long breath. Having finished his quick examination of Henri’s wound, he could find no other way to avoid addressing his patient. “The king feels that you have more than earned a rest, and we have no more right to ask more of you. We drove the Catholics back. We cannot fight during the Winter. It will be some time before the French King can raise the money for a force to replace Joyeuse.”