Just then, two men on horseback galloped up to the house. Isabella recognized the lead figure as Sir Roger de Walsingham, who was closely followed by Fitzwalter, Sir Roger’s overseer. A powerful man, Sir Roger owned vast estates in neighbouring counties and was master of the formidable Alversham Castle. He was a seasoned warrior and had fought bravely at King Edward’s side during the wars in France, receiving a number of serious wounds. His left hand was missing two fingers and he had a long deep scar running down the right side of his face. As well as being notorious for the barbaric cruelty he showed to his enemies, it was also rumoured that he poisoned his first wife in order to inherit her considerable land holdings.
Almost immediately after Isabella’s husband died, Sir Roger had offered to marry her. But Isabella suspected his motives were far from romantic. She was certain that it was the Devereaux estate that he desired. Although Isabella politely turned down his proposal, Sir Roger would not give up, believing that once her grief had subsided Isabella would change her mind.
Sir Roger approached Isabella’s loaded wagon, dressed in his customary black chain mail under a black surcoat, which had a white stag embroidered on the chest, the de Walsingham family emblem. His dark hair, beard and black eyes complemented his grim apparel.
Fitzwalter kept his distance. As Isabella examined him from the corner of her eye, she could see why Sir Roger had chosen him as his henchman. Fitzwalter’s stocky frame was made of pure muscle, and his pale blond hair, icy blue eyes and squat nose made him a frightening presence.He was extremely loyal and had been in Sir Roger’s service for many years, dealing mercilessly with every one of his master’s enemies.
“So, my lady,” Sir Roger began, “have you reconsidered my proposal?”
As he spoke, his smile accentuated the gruesome scar on his face.
“My lord,” Isabella replied, “My answer remains the same. My mind is quite made up.”
“But what of your estates and your retainers?”
“My people will be well looked after,” Isabella replied, “and Sir Edmund has agreed to administer my estate.”
“So it remains your intention to leave?” asked Sir Roger.
“Yes, my lord,” Isabella replied. “I have decided to live out my remaining days at the abbey.”
A sly grin crept across Sir Roger’s face as he removed his chain mail gloves, exposing his deformed hand.
“Surely, it is not your plan to become a nun? A woman of your grace and beauty would be sorely wasted in the service of God.”
“As opposed to becoming your wife?” Isabella shot back. “Thereby giving you title to my estate the moment we exchange wedding vows?”
“My lady, consider your situation,” he said, calmly stroking his beard with the remaining fingers of his left hand. “Your husband is dead and you need to remarry. My offer is more than generous. Imagine what your life would be like as Lady Isabella de Walsingham?”
“A match with you, my lord, would be a match with the devil himself!” Isabella replied fiercely. “I would rather die!”
Sir Roger’s eyes narrowed. He grabbed the whip from his saddle and raised it high in the air.
“You are exceedingly bold,” he sneered, “but also most foolish. Mark my words; no one defies Sir Roger de Walsingham! I swear that you will pay dearly for this humiliation!”
Sir Roger turned his horse and galloped away, followed by Fitzwalter. Once she was sure they had gone, Isabella quickly made her way to the safety of her new home at Thornbury Abbey.
You can learn more about The Heretic's Tomb and the historical background to the novel on my website.