Lady of Valor features a disillusioned Crusader and a young wife left in charge of her husband's estate for three years. The interaction between the two results in a satisfying, fast paced story.
Garrett of Fallonmour, on Crusade in the Holy Land, dies trying to rape a ten-year-old girl taken prisoner. Cabal, also known as Blackheart, is the person who takes the news to King Richard. Cabal, though baseborn, is a trusted, loyal soldier for the King. Richard decides that Cabal will be sent to protect Fallonmour's prosperous estate and Garrett's widow, Lady Emmalyn, until the King returns to England. He will then appoint a new vassal for the estate and find a new husband for the widow. This will keep the estate out of the hands of Garrett's brother, Hugh de Wardeaux, who is loyal to Prince John.
Lady Emmalyn has not missed her husband. He was a cruel man who had not wanted to marry her. In the three years since he left for the Crusades, Emmalyn has increased the bounty of the land and become a beloved leader for the people of Fallonmour. When her guards see a lone knight riding toward the castle, she fears her husband has returned. Instead, the rider is Cabal with the news that her husband is dead and that he is now in charge.
Emmalyn is furious that she will loose Fallonmour. She does not like turning over her authority to this blunt knight. She initially thinks that Cabal is just like her husband. But then, he begins to show signs of promise. He quickly dismisses the shady seneschal. He is gentle with the horses, helping deliver a set of twin foals. He also listens to her ideas
and does not dismiss her as just a woman. The attraction between the two of them heats up quickly.
Together, they face a number of challenges. Thieves attack the community and Hugh makes a stand and challenges Emmalyn and Cabal. But the biggest challenge is how will they overcome the secrets from Cabal's Crusading days that he has hidden from Emmalyn.
Oftentimes, stories set in this time period are hard to read because of the restrictions on women. St. John certainly includes the restrictions, but she gives Emmalyn enough strength and determination early in the story so the situation never feels hopeless. She also paces the story fast enough so that it doesn't get bogged down. Cabal's disillusion with the Crusades is woven throughout the story and helps illustrate the humanity and honor of the man.
The descriptions of the everyday life, including a holiday in the village and a visit to a market, paint a vivid picture of the time. An added plus is the appearance of the Dowager Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine as Emmalyn's advisor and champion. Lady of Valor is a trip to the 1100's well worth the time.
--B. Kathy Leitle