Earl Norburnshire–Justin’s pov

Excerpt from The Luck of Two Magpies, copyright 2012. Reproduction prohibited without the author’s consent

They had known of one another since childhood, though they seldom met until they were regulars at court. At that time, Grifon was not yet Earl of Norburnshire. That was Dyrke, and as son, William was only Grifon to Justin, a son who had gone to Oxford as Justin had, but, as Justin was the younger by six years, their years of attendance differed. The only time he could recall seeing Grifon at length was when Grifon had squired for Lancaster. As tall a lad as Grifon was then, he seemed heroic to Justin. Who could have guessed they’d become enemies? Or grow to the same height, he thought with satisfaction as they grasped arms, brushed cheeks in greeting, and Grifon allowed him to process into the hall before him.

“The house looks quite splendid.” Justin allowed honest admiration to show while taking in as much as he could.

“Aye, the work is finally completed.” Grifon tried to keep suspicion from his voice, but its basso made him unsuccessful as they continued their small talk, two fair-complected men with coal black hair, though Grifon’s was like to a horse’s tail while his own was finer; his mother said ‘twas like silk. They shared blue eyes, too, though again, of different enough hues that at least he failed to see a similarity. His nose was more aquiline than Grifon’s. Grifon’s jaw was square. And surely Justin was the taller, though as Grifon came to within an inch, he must be six feet three.

Now he thought of it, he didn’t understand why others said they looked like brothers. There were too many differences. Grifon was thickly muscled from years of jousting and wielding a sword. When Justin was a lad watching Grifon in his father’s practice yard, he had often wondered how Grifon could be defeated in battle. He yet wondered that of the mature swordsman, only now he knew victory need not be restricted to the battlefield. And in Justin’s realm, the field granted him the advantage.

“Did you find the travel difficult, Father?”

Curse him for using his religious title. “Nay, lord. Winter is hardly upon us, hmm?”

Grifon nodded, his sleek head a sign he still wore that old-fashioned tail of his, and by the dry look of it, he’d only just bathed. Justin’s hair style was au current. Jaw length. His cousin King Richard would stand for no less in his court. When there, he suffered to have it curled, as well.

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“How dare you say me that! And you a priest!” Grifon’s accusation was loud and hot as he faced Justin across his table.

“I tell ye true,” Justin said blandly. “I did have no communication from Cletus of Acle other than the number of messages ye did receive from Lancaster and the king.”

“You lie! That serpent told me he did give you the content of all missives between Lancaster and Angevin and me.” Grifon pounded his desk.

“And so ye choose to take his word o’er mine…the word of a liar and a thief o’er the reputation of a priest and scion of kings?”

Grifon hunched like a Barbary ape as he leaned in straight-armed, fists upon his table. “Just so. Priest, taxman, agent for the king. But what I can not understand is why? You would not join with your father and endanger your career. Neither would you disgrace your father by exposing his reputation to discredit. So, why do you spy?—And on me! Who is as far from your family’s plotting and the king’s games as is the man in the moon?!”

Time to change tactics. One might catch an enemy off guard. “Some highwaymen did murder Father Cletus for his silver cross and meager purse. He ne’er made Durham. Ye did know of this?”

Grifon’s jaw dropped. The man was no actor. A shade of sympathy passed behind his eyes, but the shadow departed in the light of loathing and suspicion. “Nay, I did hear of no such a thing.” Grifon picked his words slowly. “Though it is possible that he was killed by whomever hired him, and that the foul deed was made to look like the exploits of a cutpurse gone grievously wrong… No loose ends, eh?” he said more strongly.

Not bad for a backwater lord, but Justin would show him how it was done. “They were not your men?” He kept his tone cool, adding casual condescension to his insult.

“I would not stoop to kill a cleric, Iscariot though he were.” Grifon filled his fists with a ledger. “And if you wore not that cloth, Beaufort, I would challenge you for that slander of my reputation!” He strangled the heavy book and threw it down. It boomed in the air like cannonade.

But he did not strike Justin. The man might be easily roused, but not baited to violence, damn him. And just as Justin was readying his next incitement, Grifon tramped out the chamber, his muttering most likely several unsavory curses, all aimed at Justin.

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