Sunday, 15 July 2012

Peter Alan Orchard: 'The Cross of St. Mary's'

Lame after a Viking raid, Ulf leaves Leystoke to learn a new trade. Working for the ironsmith Hunlaf in Hemingburh, he is busy doing work for his lord's new church. When Feirgil the Irishman is hired to make the great cross for the altar, life at the forge becomes tense - and what of the master ironsmith's young daughter, the quietly self-possessed Goldrun? 

(This is the second story featuring Ulf of Leystoke. The first is Starlight.)

Smashwords 2012  $0.99 
(c.5,600 words)

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Ulf nearly spat into the fire, but changed his mind and worked the bellows instead. ‘Fond of himself, this Feirgil.’
Hunlaf, on the other side of the hearth, waved his free hand. ‘He may be right.’ He held a door-hinge for St. Mary’s, now a dulling red, up to the light. ‘Done, I reckon. Can’t get a more even turn on it than that.’
He glanced across the red-hot fire for appreciation, found Ulf already hunched over the Irishman’s handiwork and joined him. Against the wall leaned a wooden cross the height of a man. It was simple enough carpentry, with its shaft and cross-piece sheathed in polished sheet bronze that seemed to dance in the flicker of Hunlaf’s charcoal fire, but the real wonders lay on a bench next to it. Christ, squat and slant-eyed, but from his pose recognisably Christ, filled one subtly incised and embossed bronze plaque, the Virgin another, her lozenge eyes startled at the marvel of God’s baby. On yet more strips of metal flowed the sketched beginnings of sinuous lions and dragons, or foliage which snaked and fluttered in the imaginary breeze.
Behind them the door opened, bringing the scent of damp leaves from the street. With a shadow of a smile on her sun-pink face Goldrun said quietly, ‘Feirgil is back,’ and glided out again into the daylight.
‘Well, now,’ Feirgil said, rubbing his hands together. ‘It’s good to have an appreciative audience. What do you think, gentlemen?’
Hunlaf and Ulf looked Feirgil’s wiry body up and down, from his tousled red-brown hair to his soft-leather boots, then looked at each other.
‘Young man,’ Ulf said, ‘you surely earn your keep. This is fine work, eh, Hunlaf?’
Hunlaf nodded. ‘Never seen better, and Godwulf will worship it even before the priest gives him leave.’ His eyes strayed for a moment towards the door, left ajar by Goldrun. ‘You’ve been here a month now. When will you finish, do you think?’
Feirgil gazed at the ceiling. ‘Another month at least. Longer if I need to make changes, though I doubt that I will.’ He laid a hand on each man’s shoulder and beamed happily.
Ulf and Hunlaf took the hint and left him to his work.
After an hour or two Feirgil stood, stretched and went out, leaving his work on the bench. After a few minutes Goldrun came back in and pored over the new decoration blossoming in the metal. ‘It’s wonderful,’ she said softly. ‘Don’t you think so, father?’
‘Iron is my business, not this,’ Hunlaf said. ‘He is a craftsman, though, no doubt.’
Goldrun tilted her head and looked up at Ulf. ‘What do you think, Ulf? Do you have an eye for beauty?’
Ulf thought for a moment. ‘I think it will be an ornament to the new church,’ he said quietly. ‘An ornament. Yes, that’s it.’
‘Men!’ Goldrun laughed. ‘Here’s the loveliest thing that’s ever been in this forge and neither of you can think of two words to say.’ She gave the bench a couple of taps with her forefinger and swept out, leaving Ulf thinking, not quite the loveliest.
Then he thought of Hroswitha, and felt guilty. After that, he thought fiercely of Feirgil and realised he was jealous.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Grace Elliot: 'Hope's Betrayal'

One wild, winter's night two worlds collide.

Known for his ruthless efficiency, Captain George Huntley is sent to stamp out smuggling on the south coast of England. On a night raid, the Captain captures a smuggler, but finds his troubles are just beginning when the lad turns out to be a lass, Hope Tyler.

With Hope as bait, the Captain sets a trap to catch the rest of the gang. But in a battle of wills, with his reputation at stake, George Huntley starts to respect feisty, independent Hope. Challenged by her sea-green eyes and stubborn loyalty Huntley now faces a new threat - his growing attraction to a sworn enemy. But a love where either Hope betrays her own kind, or Captain Huntley is court-marshaled, is not an easy destiny to follow.

            "I don’t want your pity."
            "And I have no pity to give."
            Slowly he turned. "Then why are you here?"
            "Once you helped me. You protected me when others condemned me…and didn’t judge."
            “But I don’t want anyone, least of all you, to feel sorry for me.”
            “And why would I do that?”
            “Because I am not the man I was. Because I am useless. A wreck.”
            “Well the man I know is bigger than that. The man I see before me, stood up to his fellow officers for what he believed was right. Your body will heal and you will recover, but your injury has taught you humility…and that’s a very appealing quality.”
            Huntley stared at her, astounded. “It is?”
            “Oh yes, I didn't liked the arrogant, bully of a man you were before, but this Huntley, the one who cries into his horse's mane, is altogether more attractive.”
            “Well I’ll be damned if I ever understand women.” His heart thudded, as they faced each other, so close that he could smell the scent of bedsheets on her skin. Merciful heavens, a man could lose himself in the depths of those tilted green eyes, standing there with her luscious lips softly parted.
            He cleared his throat, acutely aware of the pulse at the base of her throat. “Miss Tyler, unless you want to be ravaged, I would suggest you leave now.”
            She didn’t move. A primal beat throbbed through his blood. He licked his lips and took a step forward to trap her against the stable wall.
            “Why didn’t you go?”
            Without fear she gazed into his eyes. "Because I chose to stay."
            He claimed her mouth, so warm and moist, such precious heat as she returned his kisses, gently at first then with urgency. He leant closer, pressing the delicious length of her against his body. It excited him to know that beneath the redingcote was no armoury of stays and petticoats, just one thin nightrail. A sense of mastery swept through his body, as he lowered her hands to caress the undulating line of her waist. Breathing heavily, he leant down to taste her skin of neck. She arched and groaned in response, throwing back her head to expose the milky curve of her throat…

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