His Fair Lady
On his way to fight in the Crusades, fifteen-year-old squire Royce de Warrene finds a young girl hiding after the brutal murder of everyone on a French estate. Calling herself Ana and saying nothing more, Royce assumes she’s the peasant daughter of the miller slain nearby. He therefore gives her over to the care of a childless couple in another village. Before leaving, Royce gives the girl, who is distraught at his departure, a silver cross.
Ten years later Royce is a famous knight and hero, home from the Crusades. He’s returned to England to settle down on land awarded to him by the late Richard the Lionhearted. Royce gets a hero’s welcome at King John’s court, until elderly Lord Gilbert storms in and tells everyone at court that Royce is responsible for the loss of his granddaughter. For it seems little Ana was not a French peasant, but Lady Juliana Mandeville, who was visiting relatives with her mother.
Charged with finding Lady Juliana, Royce travels to France. With a little luck he finds her moments before she takes marriage vows. Royce sweeps her away from the only life she has ever known to a foreign land and uncertain future. Juliana immediately despises Royce, not knowing he is her squire all grown up and for whom she waited many years to return.
Royce for his part was a decent hero. He was patient with Juliana, but not blinded by his feelings for her, hence able to keep one step ahead of her escape attempts. He does let his guilt over leaving her in France color his treatment of her. He is also dictatorial towards Juliana, though the time period makes allowances for that. He also does some very tender things for her to make amends, such as secretly replacing a ruined dress, and bringing a surprise from France to make her feel more comfortable in England.
While I warmed to Royce quickly, I was torn when it came to Juliana. I could understand her loyalty to her foster parents and her fiancé, as well as her discomfort at being forced into a new land and social class. Yet, when her attempts to escape became dangerous and Royce got hurt, Juliana didn’t stop to think about the consequences of her actions. She also seemed to get a lot of mileage out of the martyr routine, whining to anyone willing to listen about how cruel Royce had been in stealing her away on her wedding day.
Although the main focus of the story was the romance, Kirkwood does dabble in the politics of the era. It is possibly the only time I’ve seen King John shown in any form of a positive light.
His Fair Lady has its flaws, but it’s a diverting story about two people trying to find their place in the world and with each other. If you enjoy medieval romance and alpha heroes with a tender side, I recommend picking this one up.