Sunday, 30 June 2013

Guest blog: Karen Michelle Nutt - 'Creighton Manor'

Creighton Manor 
by Karen Michelle Nutt

Blurb: The last thing Gillian Metcalf remembers before she passes out is being aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, where she witnesses a dog disappearing as if it were a phantom. So how did she end up in 1870 and in a man's room aboard the Ida Belle, traveling down the Mississippi?

Zachary Creighton, a gambler with one goal: to win back Creighton Manor. Marriage is not part of the plan, but since he is found with Gillian in his room, reputations are at stake, his included. To keep peace with his reluctant bride, he makes a bargain with her. He needs a tutor for his nephew Tyler, and she needs a roof over her head until they can annul their sham of a marriage. However, Zachary finds himself falling for Gillian's oddly charming ways despite the fact the woman claims to be from the future.

The gamble is trust, but will the stakes prove too high for Zachery to risk it all and win Gillian's heart?

In Print:


Zachary’s mouth dropped open and he stared at the woman before him. If it hadn’t been for the boot slamming against his skull, he might have thought he dreamt up this alluringly beautiful image before him. Her hair was long and deep auburn, almost the color of autumn leaves with all its gold, brown, and orange blending to perfection. She had it pulled high above her head with some kind of bow that constricted it from falling down. His gaze lingered over her face, mesmerized by her clear sun-kissed skin with just a hint of freckles sprinkled across her nose. Features of an angel, but her attire would tempt a saint to do wicked things. His eyes rested on her dark garment, which hugged her in all the right places. He felt his body respond to every luscious curve revealed to him.

Where did this intriguing woman come from and how did she happen to be in his room? He’d locked the door before he went to bed last night, and he must still have the key in his possession, or else the woman would have fled by now. “Who are you?”

“Who am I?” she sputtered. “Who are you?”

She was a defiant little chit. Under other circumstances he would have admired her spunk. He crossed his arms against his chest. “Since this is my room and I hold the key to your freedom, I suggest—”

The woman let out a deafening scream and charged toward him. “Hell and damnation.” Before he could react, she grabbed his arm and flipped him, slamming him to the floor in one fluid move. His six feet, one hundred and eighty pound frame lay there like a rag doll. He stared up at the ceiling with what he knew could only be a stunned expression plastered to his face. How in the world did this little slip of a woman flip him over her shoulder?

“It really worked! The self-defense class really paid off.”

The woman spoke, her voice laced with amazement over her accomplishment. He turned his head and leveled his gaze on her. “Who are you?”

About the Author:

Karen Michelle Nutt resides in California with her husband, three fascinating children, and houseful of demanding pets. Jack, her Chorkie, is her writing buddy and sits long hours with her at the computer.
When she’s not time traveling, fighting outlaws, or otherworldly creatures, she creates pre-made book covers to order at Gillian’s Book Covers, “Judge Your Book By Its Cover”. You can also check out her published cover art designs at Western Trail Blazer and Rebecca J. Vickery Publishing.
Whether your reading fancy is paranormal, historical or time travel, all her stories capture the rich array of emotions that accompany the most fabulous human phenomena—falling in love.

Visit the author at:

Stop by her blog for Monday interviews, chats and contests at:

Gillian’s Book Covers "Judge Your Book By Its Cover"

Amazon Author Page:

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Cornish Mysteries

All three of my Cornish Mysteries came out in UK editions this week, so I'm going to do a brief excerpt from each.

They're set in Cornwall, in a fictional fishing village called Port Mabyn, which is a cross between Port Isaac (think Doc Martin) and Boscastle, and situated
 on the North Coast between those two towns. Eleanor Trewynn, after working all her life for an international charity all over the world, retires as a widow to a Cornish village. She buys a cottage and sets up a charity shop on the ground floor.

 The first is MANNA FROM HADES.

Looking forward to a peaceful retirement, Eleanor's horrified to find in the stockroom behind the shop, the body of a scruffy, unknown youth. Is he somehow connected to a mysterious donation of a briefcase full of jewelry?

Chapter 9
The sun had cleared the hills surrounding Port Mabyn and shone through spotless windows into the vicarage kitchen. Eleanor and the Stearns were just finishing breakfast when the door-bell rang, at eight o'clock on the dot.
"I'll get it," said Eleanor, putting down her coffee mug, blue and white striped Cornish pottery like the rest of the breakfast service. So like dear Joce to have a matching set, though she'd had to collect it piece by piece from the LonStar shop. "It'll be whoever Inspector Scumble sent—I do hope it's Megan."
Megan it was. She followed Eleanor into the kitchen.
The Vicar unfolded. "Good morning, my dear young lady. You want to talk to Jocelyn and Eleanor, I know, so I'll make myself scarce."
"No, please stay a moment, sir. I've got a photo of the victim I'm showing everyone. We still don't know who he was."
"Is it very unpleasant?"
"No, no, they cleaned him up. Here."
He took it between thumb and forefinger and peered at it. "No," he said, with obvious relief. "Never seen him in my life. Here, Jocelyn, what about you?" He handed the photo to his wife and sidled out of the room.
Eleanor looked over Jocelyn's shoulder. The thin face was young, but not too young to be badly in need of a shave. The dark, fuzzy stubble softened but didn't conceal a bruise on the right side of his jawbone, an inch or two up from the point of his chin. The long hair had been combed but still gave an impression of uncleanness.
"No, I've never seen him before," said Jocelyn, handing the photo to Eleanor. "Do sit down, Megan. Coffee?"
However hard Eleanor tried to be charitable, tried to make allowances for the changes wrought by death, she thought the youth looked shifty, even unsavoury. Was it just because he had been found in unsavoury circumstances in the room below her flat? If his eyes were open, his expression full of life, would she feel different about him?
"Do you recognise him, Aunt Nell?"
"No, dear, I'm afraid not. I can't help wondering about his parents. Not knowing what's become of him, I mean."
"Sometimes ignorance is bliss," said Jocelyn. "I expect you'll identify him soon or later, won't you, Megan? That's when his family will need sympathy."
"We're pretty well bound to find out sooner or later, one way or another. Then we'll start tracking down his associates." Megan put the photo in an envelope and stuck it in her pocket. "It's still a mystery what he was doing in the LonStar premises in the first place. Aunt Nell, the DI said there's something you were going to tell him last night?"
Jocelyn stood up. "Well, I'll just leave you two to it—"
Eleanor caught her arm. "Don't desert me, Joce."
"I never saw them, after all. And it's Megan you're facing, not that man."
"Them?" asked Megan. "What's going on?"
"It's nothing but hearsay as far as I'm concerned," said Jocelyn firmly. "Leave the washing-up. I'll do it later." She hurried out.
"Aunt Nell?"
"I tried to tell him last night."
"But I should have told him sooner. He'll never believe I just kept forgetting."
"He'll believe it," Megan said with absolute conviction. "Come on, let's do the washing-up while you tell me. You wash and I'll dry, in case I have to write anything down."
"You will," said Eleanor gloomily. "I don't know what it all means, but I can't believe it has nothing to do with the murder." She started running hot water into the sink, adding a good squirt of Sqezy, the Washing-up Wizard. "That would be just too much coincidence to swallow."
"For pity's sake, Aunt Nell, spit it out!"
"What a very ungenteel expression! All right, all right, I'll 'spit it out.' It wasn't until I got back to the shop that I found it." She handed over a cup to be dried. "When I started unloading the Incorruptible, there it was, and I simply had no idea who had given it to me."
"It? You were talking about 'them'."
"The container and the thing contained," said Eleanor, with vague memories of English lessons and Nick's earlier remark. "Things, rather. The briefcase I mean, dear, or perhaps attaché-case is the correct term. It's one of those thingummies businessmen carry, but not the flat, soft-sided kind, more like a small suitcase, if you see what I mean. But thin, a couple of inches I'd say." She gestured to show the overall dimensions—perhaps two feet by eighteen inches—and soapsuds flew. "Quite heavy for its size."
"I get the picture."
"I took it back to the stockroom and opened it. Megan, it was full of jewelry!"
"Jewelry!" Megan nearly dropped the saucer she was drying. "You're not serious!"
"Absolutely, dear. It must be paste, of course, or whatever artificial gems are made of these days, but still quite valuable, and so very generous of someone. But such a trouble! We aren't allowed to accept that sort of thing without proof of ownership and all sorts of paperwork. Joce always deals with it so I'm not sure exactly what's needed. And it had appeared out of thin air without even a name to go with it."
"So you tucked it away in a corner of the stockroom and forgot about it?" Detective Sergeant Pencarrow asked in incredulous horror.
"Of course not. Do give me credit for a modicum of common sense!" Eleanor said quite crossly. "I took it upstairs and locked it in the safe."
"In your flat? There's a safe in your flat?"
"I had it built in when I bought the place and remodelled it. These old cottages have pretty thick walls, you know. Joce thought it would be a good idea, safer than in the shop. We've both been very careful never to tell a soul about it. I expect that's why I forgot to mention it to the inspector, besides being sure he'd find it, used to searching places as he must be. Only it seems he didn't, or he'd have asked me to open it, wouldn't he?"
"And I'm afraid he'll be rather annoyed, with me for not telling him, and with himself for not finding it... So, you see, I'm very glad it's you who came this morning and I've been able to tell you, instead of him." She handed over the last plate and started to scrub the frying pan.
Automatically drying the plate, Megan said, "You're going to have to tell him, too. This is going to change everything. It's the first hint we've had of a significant motive for the break-in! He won't be satisfied with hearing it from me, you know. Besides, he's going to have a lot of questions. There's no point me asking them. You'd only have to repeat the answers. I'd better go and ring him right away."
"If you must, dear," said Eleanor with a sigh.


The second in the series is A COLOURFUL DEATH.
  On returning from a train trip to London, Eleanor's artist friend and neighbor, Nick Gresham, discovers that someone has slashed several of his paintings in his Port Mabyn shop. Rather than go to the police, a furious Nick sets out to confront rival artist Geoffrey Monmouth, who Nick is sure is the culprit. 
Accompanied by an anxious Eleanor, Nick finds Geoff stabbed to death in his Padstow bungalow. When the authorities detain Nick, Eleanor determines to track down the real killer.

Once ashore,    they walked along the North Quay and crossed into the network of narrow streets behind the harbour.
"There it is." Nick pointed to a narrow shop front opposite the Gold Bezant Inn.
It took Eleanor a moment to decipher the sign above the shop window, as it was written in Old English script.  King Arthur's Gallery, it said.
"King Arthur? Shouldn't that be in Tintagel?"
"He couldn't find a suitable place in Tintagel, but he's obsessed with King Arthur. Come and look."
In the window was a display of three paintings. At first glance, they seemed to Eleanor to be quite pretty but rather depressing. She could understand why holiday-makers didn't choose to buy pictures of slender mediaeval maidens with flowing hair and tragic mouths drooping over dead or dying knights, however meticulously portrayed. She wouldn't want one on her wall, breathing gloom every time she looked at it. They were flamboyantly signed: Geoffroie Monmouth.
But she didn't have time to study them. Nick had pressed the electric bell button. No one came. Heedless of the CLOSED sign, he pushed the door. Opening, it set off a jangle, just like his own shop door. The fact that it was not locked suggested to Eleanor that the artist was still within, probably in the throes of producing another grim mememto mori.  She tied Teazle's string to an ancient, worn boot-scraper to one side of the door and hurried after Nick.
The blind at the rear of the display window was pulled down, so the interior of the shop was dim. ...
The jangle failed to bring any response. Nick looked around. "Damn," he swore under his breath. "If he's not in the back room, I'll have to trek up to his bungalow."
"Not a bungalow, surely! He ought to live in an ancient cottage overgrown with rambling roses, if he can't manage a crumbling castle."
"A 1950s bungalow," Nick said firmly, striding round behind King Arthur. "And any interest he has in flowers he devotes to his painting, not his garden."
Reluctantly Eleanor followed. He flung open a door in the back wall and stepped through into a room lit by a window facing north, high in the far wall.
"Ye gods! Eleanor, don't come in!"
But Eleanor was already on the threshold. She saw a figure sprawled face down on the bare boards. His beige smock was drenched with crimson, and a crimson pool had spread across the floor around him.
Someone pushed past her and cried in an anguished voice, "My God, Nick, what have you done? You've stabbed him!"

The third Cornish Mystery is THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW

 Eleanor, her artist neighbour Nick, and her niece DS Megan Pencarrow are strolling along a pretty, peaceful valley when they spot a body floating in the inlet. While Eleanor goes for help, Megan and Nick pull out a young Indian man, barely alive. How did he come to be drowning in this isolated spot? Is his family really stranded in a smugglers' cave somewhere on the rocky coast?


 They walked on until the path petered out into terraces and steps of slate. The abrupt edge was two or three feet above the smooth tops of the swells that surged onward to meet the stream in swirls of foam. Clumps of thrift, the flowerheads brown now, clung in crevices here and there. A grey and white herring gull launched itself into the air and joined its fellows circling overhead, their raucous screams cutting through the constant yet ever-changing sounds of moving water. High above floated a buzzard.
"Gorgeous," said Megan.
"Good enough." Nick fiddled with his camera's settings, peered through, and fiddled some more.
Megan jumped down a slate step. Eleanor sat on it, the sun warm on her back.
"What's that?" Nick lowered the camera and pointed.
Eleanor peered, wishing she had brought binoculars. Something dark bobbed in the water. "A seal?"
"No." Megan's voice rang harsh. "It's a man. And if he's not already dead, he soon will be."



Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Crazy Horse and the Sioux - Were they bullied?

I, Ginger Simpson, love the history channel, and of course when a recent presentation dealt with the history of Crazy Horse of the Sioux, I was glued to the screen.  I'm sharing portions of that program with you to demonstrate that bullying has been around for ages, and no matter what we do, it's highly unlikely we'll every be able to stop it.

Back in the 1840s, the waving grasses, flowing streams, and distant hills of the Dakota plains were considered sacred.  Only those children of the red man's Great Spirit wandered them without fear.  They lived simply until conflict with the white man began, but until then, the peaceful and harmonious ways of the Sioux tribe were the custom during the time Crazy Horse was born to become a great leader of his people..

Near Rapid Creek, South Dakota, the Sioux dominated the plains, consisting of several bands, with Crazy Horse being from the Ogalala Lakota.. Their size and strength gave them control of the largest territory, protecting their lands from the neighboring Crow, Irikara, Araphoe and Shoshone.  Over the years, by driving back these intruders as a reminder to whom the land belonged,  the Sioux eventually became the most powerful and numerous band along the northern plains.

It's reported that during his vision quest, Crazy Horse received instruction that led to the way in which he lived his life.  For four days he fasted in solitude to open his mind and body to the Great Spirit's word. The young warrior was shown a future in which he would avoid adornment, seek simplicity and go into battle without fear. The arms of his people would protect him.  Although he rode closest to the soldiers, he was never wounded.  His people assumed he possessed special characteristics and spiritual medicine that protected him.

Despite his mysterious aura and self-imposed separation from people, he soon became the second most powerful leader; the first being Sitting Bull.  Although there is very little documenting the life of Crazy Horse, oral history from his ancestors tell how he stood out at a very early age. More fair-skinned than his brotherhood, and having curly brown hair, his black eyes hardly maintained eye contact. He seemed shy and withdrawn, but never remiss in defending his homeland.  His story has been long a legend among the people but other information about him was written by the whites and showed prejudice rather than recognition as a truly talented and admired warrior. Despite the abundance of photographs taken of other chiefs and tribal members, either through an aversion to photography or his shyness, no pictures of this legendary warrior exist..

White American Society began moving onto the Sioux land in the 1850s, and shortly after, life changed.. With interest drawn by the abundant herds of animals moving along the impinging trails, the occasional pilfering of a cow or horse resulted in complaints being lodged with the armies who occupied the many forts built along the traveled paths to protect the white settlers. The Sioux assumed the infantry would disregard the infrequent theft reports and engaged in trade with some of the whites. These types of offenses were handled by Indian Agents with great success.  Although the practice of interacting with the whites introduced the Sioux to many new things, it also brought to them diseases previously unknown to them, making them wary of these intruders to their land.  The Sioux were also wrong in their assumptions about the army and their treaties..

The first dispute along the Great Platte Road resulted because of one lone cow  It was 1854, and the sick and lame animal wandered from a Mormon wagon train into Conquering Bear's camp at a time when Crazy Horse was there.  Approximately 4,000 Brule and Ogalala Sioux camped peacefully, according to their treaty of 1851, when Lt. Hugh Fleming and a small garrison consulted with the chief about the return of the animal.  The owner demanded $25.00 instead of a replacement cow or horse taken from the Chief's own personal herd.  Lt. Fleming demanded the brave who killed the cow be delivered to the fort, but the Chief refused.  The slayer of the animal was a visiting Miniconjou, and the Chief did not want to appear inhospitable..

Upon the reports of the refusal of cooperation, Second Lt. John Grattan led a detachment into the Indian camp.  As a recent graduate of West Point and inexperienced with dealing with the Sioux's ability, Grattan's determination to carry out his job led to Chief Conquering Bear being shot in the back, whereupon the Sioux dispensed with the twenty-nine men who started the fracas.  At the time, the Indian Agent was in the process of returning to the area with the required re-compensation.

It was this ridiculous argument that resulted in General William S. Harney, leading a garrison of 600 men to teach the Lakota a lesson.  He found the Indians peacefully camped and unaware of the pending attack, slaughtering over eighty men, women and children.  During this time, Crazy Horse was away from camp, training a pony, and upon his return once again witnessed the brutality of the paleface he now considered enemy.

So, could things have played out differently?  I think so, but we'll never know because there are always going to be those who need to flex their muscles and prove something to the world.. General William Harney was known to have a mean streak, and his actions later earned him the title of "The Butcher."  His saying "By God, I'm for battle, no peace," proved his intentions.  I'm ashamed to say he was from Tennessee.  We can be like the Sioux an continue to fight for what we believe is right, but will we be anymore successful?

Here's an excerpt from one of my western historical novels, White Heart, Lakota Spirit:

In the darkness, Fawn huddled with Green Eyes in a stand of aspen saplings and listened to the chaos in the camp. Hidden by only wispy clouds, the moon silhouetted veiled figures through swirling dust. Gunfire erupted, and women screamed. Panic-filled voices sounded in all directions as the tribal members scattered for safety.
“These are our own people. They’re killing our friends, and we can do nothing.” Fawn’s voice cracked with emotion, and she reached up to wipe tears from her eyes.
Green Eyes hugged her. “Shhh! We must be quiet.”
Fawn stiffened. Her panic came in a whisper. “They’re getting closer. What do we do?”
“Sit still, and don’t draw attention to our location.”
“Hey, Zeke, if you find yerself a good lookin’ squaw, give me a chance at her.” Fawn held her breath as a voice, too close, called out.
“I just squashed one of their little nits. That’ll be one less Injun givin’ us trouble.”
Green Eyes gasped.  Fear shone in her wide eyes.  “It cannot be my son,” she muttered. “His grandmother will see to his safety.  I trust her.”
Fawn covered her mouth to stifle a sob. Her friend showed such courage, especially when there had been no time to check on Little Cloud. Fawn’s mind reeled.  People of her color killed a child. How could they be so vicious and cruel?
The voices trailed off. Green Eyes grabbed Fawn’s wrist. “We must try to get back to my lodge,” she whispered. “They’re searching in the grass and trees. Hopefully they have already been through my home, and we will be safer there.”
She rose, craned her neck, and checked the area. “Quickly but quietly, run! Stay low and hurry back to where we crawled out.”
Fawn followed behind, crouching low and holding her stomach as she ran. Breathless, she ducked under the lodge covering and let it drop back into place.
For a moment, there were no screams or yells. Only their heavy breathing sliced through the eerie silence. “What are we going to do?” Breathless, Fawn found her voice.
Green Eyes scooped up all the bedding and heaped it in a pile. “You hide here and pray they leave soon. I will use the darkness to my advantage and make my way to Singing Sparrow’s lodge. Little Cloud is with his grandmother, and I have to make sure they are all right.”
         Fawn’s whole body ached from holding herself so tense. She hunkered behind the robes and listened to the commotion outside. Flaming torches lit the skies and cast shadows of the marauders on the lodge walls. Booming voices of the soldiers filled the air. They were everywhere--some near, some far. Occasionally, a scream of fear or a cry for mercy penetrated the night. When she heard someone coming closer, Fawn held her breath. Oh God!
A thin ribbon of light outlined the break between the lodge covering and the door flap. Outside, the glow grew lighter as whoever carried the flame neared. Fawn peeked around the blankets at the figure silhouetted on the door. Suddenly, the interior blazed with light as an arm stuck a torch inside. Fawn held her breath and squeezed her eyes closed.
 “Over here, Cap’n. I found one of ‘em.” The voice rang out right above her.

Her heart froze.

You can find this and my other books available at:

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Lindsay Townsend - 'Dark Maiden', first chapter.

Dark Maiden: Part One.

Chapter One 
England, the North, summer 1350.

She could smell the spirits of the restless dead. It was not the sickly sweet rot of the fleshy body, nor the whiff of lavender and violets of the saints. Demons, being fallen angels, did not stink of sulfur,  but the angry dead were ripe with it.
Yolande crouched behind the  bathtub  with her bow, hunting by waiting. She  heard the murmur of distant prayers in the summer twilight as the nuns and novices performed another sacred office. With her right shoulder snug against the tub, she flexed her legs and toes within her man’s leggings and boots, grateful she was not yet numb. She did not think her task would take too long.
The novice Mary-Joanna should have been bathing tonight, to ease her aching joints. She was a comely young woman,  but powerfully afflicted by pain. Yolande, a head taller and blessed with vigorous health, pitied the girl. She did not know if Mary-Joanna had a true vocation, but she agreed with the abbess that the novice should not be beleaguered by an evil imp when she was semi naked  within this tiny bathhouse.
Evil imp was how the abbess described the apparition. After listening to the older woman’s account of its habits, Yolande had her own suspicions. She had agreed willingly to pretend to bathe in Mary-Joanna’s place.
The bow and its arrows had been blessed by the abbess and dipped in holy water, to cover all possibilities.
She breathed in slowly, sensing her own balance, feeling the sacred herbs she always wore about her throat brush dryly against her skin. She saw no movement but her ears , thank the saints, were good and she heard a slight shuffling outside.
Yolande braced herself, chanting the great prayer of Saint Patrick, known as Saint Patrick’s breastplate, within her mind. As if in answer to her prayer, the door to the narrow lean-to yawned open.
A figure loomed across the threshold, faceless, soundless and black, even as the abbess had said. It slithered inside and closed the door again.
The spirit torments our novices, manifesting to them within the bathhouse, seeking to steal their immortal souls, the abbess had said.
“Sneak a peek, more likely.” Yolande’s heart was as steady as a slow drum inside her chest. “No spirit stops to shut a door.” She set and released an arrow  all in one, smooth, practiced movement.
The arrow flew, hissing across the bathhouse tiles. The “spirit” howled as its cloak was pinned to the door, and tugged desperately at the caught cloth  with a spindly human hand.
Dropping her bow, Yolande sprinted and lunged, knocking the man hard against the solid wood, jamming her elbow across his scrawny throat.
“You… bitch…black…bitch,” the fellow wheezed as she pulled off his hood.
“But no restless dead,” Yolande countered. She stripped him of his eating dagger then yanked him round while he was still shocked and tied his hands behind his back with his own hood.
“Could not see you…” The man was still grumbling. “You are so black.”
“Not as black as my father, nor as white as my mother,” Yolande replied. “You should be considering how you can plead with the sisters, instead of wondering about me.”
She put her hand firmly on his shoulder to “guide” him to the abbess. From his faint stench of fear— urine, sweat and manure, she knew he was utterly human. Her skills as an exorcist had not been needed, not against this gawping lecher, who liked to watch the pretty novices as they bathed.
Would that all my trials were so easy. At least there is no more here than this, Mother be thanked. It is not my final contest, not yet.

The convent was small and poor but the abbess invited Yolande to stay for the night. She accepted gratefully, asking only if she might pray in church before the shrine of the Virgin Mary.
“All penitents are welcome, daughter,” said the abbess, her wrinkled face pinched with curiosity. She took in Yolande’s outlandish attire with rapid, considering glances. “Let me guide you.”
Resigned, Yolande nodded thanks, matched her long, loose stride to her companion’s trip-trotting gait and waited for the first question.
Sure enough, as they entered the dimmed church of the convent the abbess asked, “You are not a religious? You belong to no order?”
“No, Mother.”
Beside her, the shorter woman pursed her lips. “You are still of the world?”
“I am.”
The abbess crossed herself. “So how are you an exorcist, if you have no vocation?”
Yolande had been asked this often and each time she gave the same answer. “I have a duty, Mother, as my father did before me.”
“But how?”
“In these times, when so many religious are falling to the pestilence, God calls others.” Wishing to say no more, especially concerning her parents, she asked simply, “May I pray, Mother?”
The abbess did not refuse her request. Instead, as if Yolande herself had developed the pestilence, she waddled hastily away, her habit flying.
Yolande chuckled softly and turned to the painted statue of the Virgin, ready to begin her vigil.

* * * * *

Geraint the Welshman unwrapped the wooden crucifix and set it on the trestle between him and the lanky-haired pardoner. Around them, men continued to haggle over deals and drinking games, their faces shrouded by the sooty torches and smoky fire. A pardoner in an alehouse at any hour, especially this early in the morning, should have been worthy of remark, but these days no one said or saw anything. With plague stalking every town and village street in England, men stayed home with their families or made themselves drunk, falling-down-blind drunk, in the alehouses.
Few wanted to watch or pay for his juggling these days, so when this pardoner had sidled across, clutching a rough cloth bag and wheedling for a moment of his time, Geraint had let the fellow buy him a cup of wine.
“You trust me to deliver this?” He tapped the crucifix. “I could take it for firewood.”
“Not if you know what is wise for you, my son.”
Geraint stiffened slightly  but told himself that the pardoner could not know his past. Yes, he had been a novice in a monastery and yes, at age ten he had punched the novice-master and been expelled, but had he the time again he would do the same. Old crook-nose, as he was now, would be less eager to fondle the boys under his charge.
“Your threat does not impress, brother,” he replied.
“Forgive me. I am the messenger only. But if this is not delivered to Yolande, she will have your skin.”
Geraint drained his cup, chewing on the lees, and made to leave.
“Listen.” The pardoner was so earnest that his face had gone as red as his script. “She is at the convent of the Holy Sisters of Fealty beyond the old Roman fort, ridding them of an evil imp, or so I have been told. You could walk there in less than two hours and win her gratitude.”
Geraint picked up the crucifix. It was plain and heavy and he had a sense that it was very old. “Why not go yourself? Or is there sickness at the convent?”
“Not at all, not at all.” The older man had the grace to look embarrassed. “Let me say only that Yolande is less tolerant of men such as myself.”
“You tried to trick her once,” Geraint translated. “Has she a husband, father or brother that you are so terrified?”
“None, none, but she needs none. She expels devils. She carries the bow of Saint Sebastian.”
Geraint was intrigued. He was wandering nowhere in particular so he could visit the convent. The nuns would feed him too. “Is there a message?”
The pardoner inclined his head  toward the cross. “That is the message, I was told. Not for the likes of me to question, I was told.”
“And how shall I know her?”
“Very tall for a woman, slim, pretty if you admire dark girls, and with her bow usually slung across her back. She wears me n’s clothes.”
“Aping men? The church has not moved against her for that? Or the sheriff?”
“Not in these times, with so many dying of the pestilence and the whole world preparing for the last days. Let any judgment of her be the final one, before God, I say.” “The pardoner shrugged, avoiding his eyes. “Will you take it?”
Geraint glanced at his long fingers wrapped around the feet of the wooden Christ and ignored the warning prickle at the back of his neck. “Seems I already have.”

* * * * *

The following morning, passing the bread and cheese that the sisters had generously given her to a beggar outside the convent walls, Yolande sensed someone watching.  She turned, forced to take a rapid backward step as a stranger trod on her shadow. She had not heard his approach.
“Mistress Yolande?”
“You have the advantage, mister. You know my name.” She smiled to take any sting from her words. “May I know yours?”
Greetings and courtesy were important to her. Each gave clues as to character and wishes. She had once known a demon, beautifully polite, who would have ripped the flesh from her bones had she not bound him by his own rules of manners.
The stranger bowed, a good sign. He muttered something in a language she did not know, which was not good. She moved a little closer, ready to boot him in the balls if he did anything unsavory.
“Geraint Welshman, at your service.” He crouched then looked straight at her. “I am just taking something from my pack, if it please you.”
She grinned at him to prove she was unafraid, her body heavy and languid as she itched to go onto the balls of her feet, ready to scrap. A quick stab to those astonishing black-blue eyes, a swipe at his knee and Geraint the Welshman would be groveling in the hard-packed mud.
Which would be a shame for such a glorious face. He bent his head, showing his trust of her, to rummage in his pack. He was a good-looking brute, not too muscled but as lean and wiry as herself. There was a soft jangle of bells within his patched shoulder-pack, revealing him as a wandering entertainer, a less deadly mirror of herself. They were even about the same height.
I entertain the restless dead before I send them on. What must it be like to work for living laughter?
Hard, she guessed, noting his less-than-clean black hair, the scars on his knuckles, his drab motley, missing bits of ribbons and coins. He was darker that she was, tanned by many suns, and with excellent teeth.
Strong, rangy and in no hurry to stick to one place, but a honeyman all the same. She felt a flicker of interest, a few youthful, girlish hopes. She was ten-and-eight these days, young for an exorcist but ripe for marriage. Her father, a remarkable man, had managed both.  She missed him, but her time would surely come—maybe with this Welshman.
“The pardoner said you would understand the message with this.” Geraint interrupted her reverie as he laid a crucifix down on the rutted road, on top of his pack to keep it from the dirt.
Yolande stared at it, all hopes forgotten in an instant. She sensed the earth shifting beneath her feet as the blood pounded within her temples, making her convinced the top of her skull might shatter. “Oh, great Maria, already?” she said, unaware she had spoken aloud, crossing herself, making the sign of the cross above the crouching Geraint. The great bow across her shoulders creaked as if in warning.
So soon! I must prepare with care. If this sign is right, there can be no mistakes. Pray that I am ready. It is so soon, so soon…

He saw her face change, becoming as still as a mask. Then she blinked. “I do understand it.  My thanks to you, master Geraint. How may I aid you in return? Are you thirsty or hungry?”
“Ale is always welcome,” he answered quickly, “but for now the pleasure of your company on the road will be more than payment.”
She raised her pretty eyebrows at that. The rest of her was  pretty too , if such a plain word could be used for such exotic looks. By “dark” he had expected black hair, which Yolande had—long, shimmering waves of the stuff, very clean but caught in a simple clasp at the back of her slender neck as if she had no time for any fuss. Her eyes were either brown or black—he could not be sure—but they were clear and steady as if she looked straight to the heart of things.
To the heart of me, for sure. Geraint liked women, loved their smell and feel and their cockeyed way of looking at the world. For all her man’s clothing, Yolande was very much a woman, and a love worthy of Solomon. Her skin was a beautiful shade of bronze, smooth as polished wood, and her eyelashes were double-lashed. She had a narrow face and elegant bones but there was a strength in her, character and soul together. He could imagine her besting devils.
For the rest…the performer in him knew at once that she should be in bright colors, reds and yellows and blues, not the drab serge of a thatcher. If she was in his company for long—and he intended she would be—he would tempt her into a brighter manner of dress.
For she has the glory of the evening in her. She wins me already and does not know it.
“I do not chatter,” she said, unaware of his inner tumult. “I have a way to go.”
Better still. He admired how she did not admit where she was headed. “For today then?” He lifted his hands, palms up. “To the nearest house of honest folk, who will let you sleep by their hearth and me in their hayloft?”
“You wish to squire me to safety?”
“For the pleasure of—”
“For the pleasure of  my company. Yes, Geraint the Welshman, you said that already.” But she was smiling as she spoke and he knew she would agree.
“Shall I carry this?” He motioned to the cross. “You have your bow and bag already, and it will be no trouble.”
After a moment she strode out like a youth, leaving him to catch up. Geraint admired her graceful gait and did not hurry. He wanted their day to last.
By then I may have won another day in her company.

* * * * *

At the end of their day together, Yolande slept with him in the hayloft of a new, nervous reeve in a village called Lower Something-Or-Other. Geraint had missed the name and was not interested in the shabby, defeated place anyway. He had offered to juggle and been told “no,” offered to chop wood and been shown a blunt axe.
Yolande, graceful and self-contained as a cat, apparently oblivious to the villagers’ stares and whispers, had paid for her lodging with gold coin. She had rebuilt the hearth fire too, with permission from the goodwife, and made flat cakes on the hearth—cakes that melted in Geraint’s mouth and exploded with spices on his tongue.
“I had the spices from a cook on London Bridge as a thank you,” she told him when he asked how she had made them. She did not say what she had done for the cook and he knew better than to ask, at least in the hearing of others.
She had surprised him by sleeping in the loft with him, but the reeve had been growing bolder through the evening, taking every chance he could to touch her. Geraint would have punched the fellow or cracked his greasy fingers, but Yolande was content to put herself above such petty gropings. He marveled at her patience.
She slept, her breathing light and soft, and he was glad to hear her slumbering in the stale, sparse hay, only the stretch of a hand away from him. He had not slept and had eased the ladder up into the loft with them. He did not quite trust the reeve, although the fellow was snoring loudly enough to put a sleeping bear to shame.
It was July and in the summer night he could see Yolande, her great bow—which he meant to ask her about, oh yes—laid beside her within easy reach. She lay curled on her side, her hair  wound about her long throat, her limbs twitching as she dreamed.
What do you dream of, my lady?
“So many dead, so many restless dead.”
The hair on his scalp rose as if trying to escape. Yolande was sitting up beside him, rigid as a pole. She was sleeping still, though her eyes were open.
Her voice was full of pain. “How can I help them all? This sickness is a plague and we are in the last days.”
Geraint cracked his knuckles together. He did not believe that, not for a moment. While in the monastery, he had heard of a time when men learned that a thousand years had passed since Christ had died . People had thought the world would end then, but it had not.
“Rest, it is nighttime,” he said quietly. He did not want her sleepwalking like a little child, for she would be a danger to herself. “Rest, Yolande.”
She sighed and lay down again. “This place is soaked in the evil of men.  Geraint senses it too. I can tell from his scent. And he does not like to touch the crucifix. He could be an exorcist, with training.”
This was news to him but he kept silent. He was startled that she had noticed his reluctance to handle the ancient cross, but could not understand how that was a point in his favor.
“We must leave early. Get away before the others wake. I must gather herbs, sacred herbs. Saint John’s wort and rosemary, lavender and hyssop. “
He agreed with that, grinning as he savored the “we”. He cleared his throat, cutting off her sleepy list. “Sleep now, Yolande. I will help you with the green stuff.”
“What has possessed them?”
He did not know who the “they” were and did not care. “We shall find out. Sleep, Yolande.”
“I would rest in honeyman’s arms, but it would not work. Men want more, want all and I cannot. I cannot give all.” She sank into the hay, leaving him more wakeful than ever.
What a nickname! Even the little you give me, lady, stirs me. “Honey-Man,” he said aloud, and smiled.

She woke him before dawn, just as the birds were stirring. “If you are still with me, we have a long way to travel, and should go,” she whispered. “I will leave more gold by the hearth.”
Swiftly he gathered their things. Whatever she had said in her sleep last night about his senses, his wits were nagging him to leave and leave fast.
She lowered the ladder and, before he could stop her and go first, she vanished into the swirling half-light, her bow rattling softly on her shoulders. He followed by swinging down from the loft, the pack on his shoulders bouncing painfully, the crucifix stabbing into the small of his back.
She was at the door, wrestling with the rope hasp. Figures round the banked fire were sitting up, shouting. There was the glint of a drawn knife.
Geraint scooped up her gold coin from the hearth, ran to the door, cut the rope with his dagger and dragged her outside with him. They pelted through the reeve’s garden in a shower of thrown pebbles and curses, crushing beans and peas, sprinting to outrun the lumbering pursuit.
Yolande  ran ahead of him into a field of tall wheat.  She hooked him off his feet and dragged him into cover below the bobbing heads of wheat and corncockle.
“Here.” He offered her the coin, but she put a finger to her lips. Silent, they lay in the field, waiting for the searchers and hearing only a skylark high overhead.
“Those people gave up quickly,” she said after a moment.
“No energy for a chase.”
Her eyes narrowed into slits. “I can fight for myself. I am no helpless child.”
Except at night, when you rise and talk in your sleep. “Right. Next time you can open the door.”
She chuckled, her brief anger vanishing like summer fog. “They have gone, have they not?”
“They have never come here,” he replied at once. She was testing him again, seeing what his senses told him. To cover his amusement he jumped up, cut a caper and drew her to her feet. She was light, her fingers warm against his. He wanted to squeeze them a little before he let her go, but wanted to win her trust, so released her at once.
She led the way and, with Geraint content to protect her back and watch her womanly dip and sway as she walked, they set out again.

'Dark Maiden' "Engrossing Historical Romance" Muddy Rose Reviews. 
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Lindsay Townsend

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Peter Alan Orchard: 'The Morning Gift'

There's another in my Anglo-Saxon short story sequence out today.  In The Morning Gift, the ironsmith Ulf of Leystoke has been working at Hunlaf's forge for two winters and longs to return to his home village. Haunted by the memory of his dead wife Hroswitha, killed in a Viking raid, he still needs a wife. Is Hunlaf's daughter Goldrun the answer?

Previous Ulf stories are Starlight and The Cross of St. Mary's. All are available from Smashwords, Amazon and the usual retailers.

Buy The Morning Gift from:

Amazon UK


The small town of Hemingburh had once been smaller still, a market held on a crossroads. From the windblown top of its only hill, where the Meeting Tree stood, an aging elm with its own green around it, a man could see the snow-covered road through Hedbarrow down to the coast opposite Wales or far inland almost, they said, to the far edge of Wessex.

Even in a world hardened to Welsh raids and to serfs being sold into slavery to the Irish, the Danes were feared here in the west even more than drought, storms and famine. Alfred of Wessex had ordered Hemingburh enlarged and walled, and the aldermen had brought landowners together and seen it done. For all the new houses, the mill by the stream, the square new church near the top of the only paved street, the people went back to meeting at the sentinel on the hill, the tree whose leaves had more than once been boiled and eaten when the crops failed.

So far this was a hard winter and the weather had closed many of the roads, so there was peace. Rooks hung on the leafless woodland trees like dead fruit, or rose and settled again like flies on a dungheap. Fields outside the wall lay under hard frost, waiting for the first cut of the plough. Smoke rose sullen from thatched roofs into the chill air.

In Hunlaf’s forge beside the paved street the hearth had been dampened down for the night. In the small house adjoining it the ironsmith, his wife Estrid and daughter Goldrun sat over a brighter fire and watched Ulf of Leystoke, a reliable apprentice if older than most, face his hardest task.

Hunched over a small table, his hair and beard dishevelled and a rhythmic muttering coming from his lips, he was clearly struggling.

‘It’s a good candle,’ Goldrun said gently. ‘We mustn’t waste it, Ulf.’

Ulf lifted his finger from the book, stretched brawny arms up towards the rafters of Hunlaf the ironsmith’s house and yawned. It was hard work, this reading, a task he had been happy to ignore when he lived in Leystoke village. ‘My eyes are tingling from the smoke.’

Goldrun put her hand on his shoulder, feeling the coarse fabric of his shirt. ‘When a man who works iron says that, it really is time to stop. You’re doing well.’

Ulf glared at the page. An army of curlicued ink letters marched relentlessly across the finger-marked parchment in intimidating rows. There was a picture of a bearded saint in the corner. The saint had his hand up in admonition.

Hunlaf looked up from stirring the fire. ‘Why do it? I don’t need it. Something to tally numbers, that’s all I need, and the priest can write for me.’

‘Because he’s curious,’ Estrid said, and poked her husband with a spoon. ‘Unlike some. And we have a clever daughter who can teach him. Am I right?’

‘Quite right,’ Goldrun said. ‘Pinch out that candle, will you, Ulf?’