Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Io, Saturnalia! - plus new excerpt from historical Roman Romance, 'Flavia's Secret,' 99c, 99p

It may not have been Christmas exactly, but the ancient Roman Saturnalia (17th-23rd. December) was certainly an opportunity for feasting and gift-giving. Over the years, this time of merry-making, sacrifices and gift-giving expanded to a week and the poet Catullus - who knew a thing or two about parties - called it 'the best of days'.

In many ways this ancient festival was rather like Christmas:

Schools were on holiday.

Gambling was allowed.

Shopping at special markets was encouraged.

Holiday clothes were worn - the informal, colourful 'dining clothes' instead of the plain, bulky toga.

Presents were given - parrots, wax candles, dice, combs, perfumes, little pottery dolls.

Feasting was indulged, with Saturn himself in charge as Lord of Misrule.

People wished each other a merry Saturnalia with the evocation, 'io Saturnalia!' ('Yo Saturnalia!')

My ancient Roman historical romance Flavia's Secret has its climax and ending during the Saturnalia.

The Pompeiian partygoers in the picture come from the BBC's Ancient Rome pages.

Here is an excerpt from Flavia's Secret. Flavia is in ancient Roman Bath, Aqaue Sulis, shopping for last-minute items needed for the Saturnalia.


Flavia was as quick as she could be but there were queues everywhere in the food shops and spice and trinket stalls as slaves and even citizens shopped for last minute items for the Saturnalia. It was the first time she had been in the city this close to the festival. In other years, Lady Valeria had given her people small gifts of pickled fish and nuts but had otherwise ignored the Saturnalia, insisting that her servants remain indoors and serve her, rather than follow the tradition that at the Saturnalia the household slaves for one day at least were waited on by their masters.

‘The Saturnalia is a rowdy, vulgar, drunken festival, little more than an orgy,’ Lady Valeria had complained. ‘I will have no part of it in my house.’

Her words may have been true, but as the morning progressed, Flavia saw little to alarm her. The people in these snowy streets were intent on their money or goods. A few roughly-dressed men were crouched over gaming tables and she passed a group of giggling young slave girls, all waving napkins given to them as presents, but there was no sign of drunkenness or of wild orgies. Many workshops were shuttered and closed and houses the same. There was a distant grumble of noise coming from the theatre, close to the great bathing complex, but no raised voices.

Unsure whether to be glad or disappointed, Flavia swapped her basket from one arm to the other and sped on through the slushy snow. She longed to stay and find some gifts for Gaius and the others - especially for Marcus, her heart whispered - but she still had not enough money of her own. With a sigh, her final purchase haggled for and bought, she turned to make her way home, avoiding the wine shops and taverns and drawing her shawl over her blonde hair each time she crossed a busy street.

She was close to the blank front entrance of the deserted villa where she had taken Marcus to see the secret garden and pool when she heard the sounds of flutes and drums approaching from a narrow, snow-filled alleyway.

‘Ow!’ She put a hand to her ear, which had just begun to sting. A small apple lay at her feet in the snow and as she stared at it, she realized  that it must have been thrown down at her from the upper living quarters over one of the shuttered shops.

‘To Saturnalia!’ roared a good-natured male voice overhead. More small apples and nuts and then a cluster of sweetmeats rained down on Flavia and others in the street. People scrambled on hands and knees to pick up the fruit and other foods, while the racket of the flutes and drums drew nearer.

A prickle of alarm, cold as an icicle, shot down the length of Flavia’s back. Trusting her instincts, honed by years of slavery, she flattened herself into the nearest shadowy doorway, glad of her inconspicuous brown gown as she veiled her face with one end of the shawl. Scarcely breathing, she waited for this parade to go by.

They were all men. At least a score of brightly-dressed young men, several puffing cheerfully on long flutes or banging on drums and all with the rich, sleek look of Roman aristocrats and the free-born. These were revelers: quite a few clutched jugs of beer or wine which they carelessly drank from. Flavia prayed they would not notice her.

The last stragglers swayed past her hiding place. One, stumbling in the snow with heavy deliberateness, dropped to his knees close to where she was. He did not see her, but his two friends, slithering over the slush and ice to haul him up, spotted the small, wary figure in the shadows and shouted.

 ‘Hey, girl, join us!’

‘Let me give you something,’ the second leered, making a crude gesture with his hand.

Flavia darted away before the two men trapped her in the doorway.

‘Hey, come back!’

‘Party time!’

‘We have the wine and you are the orgy!’

Backing along the street, Flavia heard an ominous silence descend among the flute players and drummers. Walking as rapidly as she could in a clumsy, sideways fashion, she did not speak, or run. She did not want to provoke them.

Under her fear, her mind was still working. If she could only reach the crossroads, she would take the short-cut down the street of the fullers and make for the shrine of the goddess Sulis at the Roman baths. She was Christian but these men were pagans. Surely they would respect their own sacred place? Surely the goddess would protect her?

None of the other bystanders or shoppers raised a word against the rich, spoilt Romans. Flavia knew she was alone and would have to deal with them herself. She thought of Marcus, going into battle, facing down his enemies. He had not turned and run, and she would not.

One step after another, she edged along the twisting, foul-smelling street of the fullers, who today at least were not laboring over their vats of washing.

‘Hey, she is leaving us!’

‘Going away, the stuck-up -’

Flavia closed her ears and tightened her grip on her basket. She could see the flute players and drummers returning to join their more drunk companions, see them pointing at her, muttering among themselves.
But I am going to make it, she thought desperately, just as the hue and cry began:

‘Get her!’

‘Run her down!’

‘We need no toga girls if we grab her!’

‘Why pay for pleasure when we can have it for free?’

‘Get her!’

Flavia was already running, pelting along the street as if there was no snow underfoot, losing things out of her basket and not caring what they were. Panting, her vision beginning to double as she sprinted at the very limit of her speed, she fixed on the temple of the goddess Sulis and fled her leaden-footed, cursing pursers.

‘Come here, you -’

Behind her, a coarse hand grabbed at her shawl. She tore it away, escaping again, and passed bare-headed into the temple preci nct of the shrine and bathing complex where she collapsed, sobbing but safe, against one of the many smoking altars.

Flavia's Secret - an ebook, print and audio book. Free to read with Kindle Unlimited


Happy Saturnalia!

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Berengaria Brown: 'The Vicar's Virgin'

The Reverend Mr. Ridley needs a wife so he focuses his attentions on Georgina Arnott, a sensible, intelligent, yet attractive woman.

On their wedding night he’s relieved to discover she enjoys the pleasures of the bed, and, after a slow start, their evenings are full of passion and joy for both of them.

Unfortunately, when she takes an interest in his parish, it seems to involve filling his house with noisy people tramping muddy boots through the hallways, and filling his kitchen with dirty children. He loves his wife. But can this marriage work?

Buy from Evernight Publishing


Barnabas was happy. In fact, more than happy now that he was married. His life was as close to perfect as was possible here on Earth.
He was just finishing off a letter to a friend in a distant parish, when he became conscious of far more noise in the house than he was used to. At a loss to understand why there was so much laughter and the tramp of heavy boots inside, he sanded his letter, folded it, sealed it with wax, and laid it aside for one of the grooms to deliver later. Then he left his study to find out what was happening. He followed the sounds and came upon what seemed like most of the parish gathered in the servants’ hall with newspapers everywhere, several large tubs of strangely colored liquid, and things spread out to dry on the table and in front of the fire.
In the center of the chaos was his wife, her hair falling out of its neat coil, smudges of something gold on her face, her hands suspiciously reddened, and she was kneeling on the floor surrounded by children. Some of them definitely not from the parish, but poorly dressed and dirty.
Carefully he wended his way through the crowd until he could speak to Georgina. “What is happening here?” he asked much more mildly than he wanted to. Where was his neat, quiet wife? His orderly, hushed household? Where had they gone?
“Oh, Mr. Ridley, we’re having such fun. The children and some of their families are dying old newspapers red and gold. When they’re dry, we’ll use them to make paper chains to decorate the hallways and this room and paper flowers to decorate the tree. Come and see the first few we’ve made.”
She jumped to her feet and led him over to a table in the corner, which he hadn’t noticed at first. Here Theodora and his mama were wielding scissors, expertly cutting the colored newspapers into long strips. On the floor beside them were some older children making these strips into paper chains.
He could scarcely believe his own eyes. His mama was sitting here surrounded by all these people making some frippery paper toy? And smiling happily at him despite all the noise and mess? Surely this was not how a vicar’s house should be run. His mama seemed to approve of the activity. He shook his head in disbelief. Yet what could he say? He could scarcely order all these people out of the house when the project was well advanced.
He swiveled around slowly, only now looking at the people in his home. Old Douglas sat on a straight-backed chair by the fire, his motherless grandchildren at his feet, hard at work turning the drying sheets of newspaper over, presumably to help the color dry evenly.
Widow Carmichael, her hair tied back in a bandana and a huge apron covering her dress, supervised her two teenage sons stirring the liquid in several large tubs.
A gaggle of giggling girls folded squares of the colored paper into patterns, presumably paper flowers.
Several older boys flattened and straightened the sheets of newspaper, readying them to be dyed.
Three or four babies underneath the big table, playing with a couple of pots and spoons, supervised by a rather dirty little girl he didn’t recognize.
And Cook surrounded by children grinding and mixing ingredients mayhap for the dyes.
Even through all the noise he heard the tramp of booted feet as several more people entered the room. It was too much. Far too much. Too many people, too much noise, and far and away too much mess. This kind of event was not to happen again. His vicarage should be a silent haven, a place of quiet peace and rest, not a—a—factory!
Barnabas had to force himself to smile and say nothing at the dinner table. There were fewer courses than normal, no jellies at all and only one pudding and two tarts. He knew it was because of all the people who’d been in his house all day long, taking Cook away from her proper duties.
He could understand why Theodora was happily reporting all the things that had happened. She was, after all, scarcely more than a child herself. But even Mama seemed to be brighter and more alive than usual, laughing over the antics of the children.
Well it would not do. It was not the proper use of a vicarage. His wife must be told such noise and crowds were totally inappropriate for people of their station and position in life.

There would be no marital relations tonight. No kisses even. He would simply explain to her how she should behave. She would apologize, mayhap cry a little. He would be generous in forgiving her. After all, she was a very new bride. He would leave her room and life would resume its normal, placid, peaceful routine.

Berengaria Brown
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Berengaria is a multi-published author of erotic romance: contemporary, paranormal (magic, ghosts, vampires, fairies, dragons, and werewolves), futuristic, medieval, and Regency-set historical. She loves to read all different kinds of romance so that is what she writes: one man/one woman; two women; two men; two men/one woman; three men, two women/one man, three men/one woman…. Whatever the characters need for their very hot happily-ever-after, Berengaria makes sure they get it.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Heirs of the Body

The 21st book in my Daisy Dalrymple series comes out in a few days (UK 6th December, US 10th December) just in time for the holidays.

Set in 1927: Daisy's cousin, the present Lord Dalrymple, was not brought up to the job, and he's just realised, approaching his fiftieth birthday, he has no idea who is his heir. Advertising in newspapers worldwide brings a slew of candidates from all over the Empire and all walks of life. His lawyer, with Daisy's assistance, winnows the possible heirs down to four.

But none can provide adequate proof of legitimate descent in the male line. In fact, one of them is missing--whether temporarily or permanently, his wife (or widow) isn't sure.

While awaiting clarification, Lord Dalrymple invites them to Fairacres to celebrate his birthday. Also present are his known family in England, including Daisy and her husband, DCI Fletcher of Scotland Yard, and their children.

When a string of mysterious accidents is followed by the death of one of the would-be heirs, it begins to look as if someone is out to nobble the competition...


   The bronze Daimler arrived at last... the chauffeur, and the one remaining bobby vied to help Raymond into the car. Daisy tipped him, as Raymond showed no sign of doing so, and he handed her in next.
.... Raymond remained slumped in the corner, eyes closed. Before they were halfway back to Fairacres, he started to breathe sterterously, an unpleasant cross between a snort and a gasp. Alarmed, Daisy spoke to him. He didn't respond.
   She listened for a few minutes, then reached for the speaking tube. "Smethwick?"
   "Yes, madam?"
   "Mr. Raymond seems to be very ill. I think we'd better take him straight to the doctor, in Upton upon Severn. Just stay on this road."
   "Yes, madam."
   "I don't know his address."
   "We'll just have to ask, madam. You're all right, are you?"
   "So far, thank you." After all, having hysterics or fainting would hardly alter the situation for the better....
   Daisy sat back. The horrible sound had stopped and Raymond's chest no longer heaved at each breath. Perhaps he'd be all right just going to bed? Should she take his pulse?
   Reluctantly she slid across the leather seat. His breathing was so quiet she couldn't hear it at all. She couldn't see his chest rising and falling. When she lifted his wrist, his hand flopped downward. His skin felt clammy.
   No pulse. The blank stare wasn't a stare, because those fixed eyes were seeing nothing.
Chapter Twenty-one

   Daisy's heart stood still. For a moment she couldn't speak, then she cried out, "Stop!" so loud that Smethwick heard her although she didn't use the tube.
   He glanced back, his expression startled. A hundred yards farther on, he pulled into a farm gateway. "Madam?"
   She opened the door and jumped out, her one thought was to escape from the immediate vicinity of Raymond's body. "I can't find a pulse," she blurted out as Smethwick, alarmed, also sprang out of the Daimler. "I think he's dead."
   "Let me check," he said in a businesslike way. "I drove an ambulance in the war. Flat feet."
   He climbed into the back of the car, leaving Daisy thinking sad thoughts of her fiancé, Michael, who had likewise been an ambulance driver during the war but had not returned.
   "You're right, he's gone." The chauffeur emerged from the interior. "Had an accident in Worcester, did he?"
   "Yes, but the police seem to think he just fell, and he himself said he hadn't hit his head."
   "Heart attack. Or stroke. He's the age and figure for it."
   "He seemed so vigorous!"
   "Oh well, you never can tell. I s'pose I better lay him out on the seat. Otherwise he's going to slide off when we start moving. If you don't mind sitting in front with me, madam."
   "Yes, please!" said Daisy.
   Once the Raymond's body was in a decently recumbent position, Smethwick fetched a car-rug from the boot to spread over him. The cheerful red and yellow tartan was altogether inappropriate, but as the chauffeur said, "Beggars and corpses can't be choosers." He returned to his seat behind the steering wheel. "I haven't driven around with a stiff behind me—if you'll pardon the expression—since the Armistice. Where to now, madam?"
   "Oh dear, I expect we ought to take him to Dr. Hopcroft, even though it's too late. He'll know what to do."
   "Right you are. I've got to find a post office and send a wire to my company, too. The boss isn't going to be happy."
   "If he didn't pay in advance, I daresay Lord Dalrymple will cover the expense." She only half listened to Smethwick's response. She was wondering whether Raymond's death fitted into the pattern of accidents—assuming there was in fact a pattern—and if so how.
   From what the copper had said, it sounded as if someone had pushed him aside at the last minute, possibly saving his life. It was slightly odd that the Good Samaritan hadn't stayed to make sure he was all right and to enjoy the kudos. Perhaps he'd been in a tearing hurry, or perhaps just shy.
   He might yet be found. Daisy had learnt from experience the sequence of events that Raymond's death would lead to. As he had not, to her knowledge, been under the care of a doctor, and no medical practitioner had been present, an inquest would be necessary. In the circumstances, after Alec's hobnob with the CC, the coroner would surely require an autopsy. If there was anything fishy about Raymond's death, a police investigation would follow.
   The police—
   "Hell!" Smethwick jammed his feet on the brake and clutch. The car slithered to a halt in a few inches of brown water. Ahead, the lane was under water as far as they could see, ripples spreading round the next curve...

Upton upon Severn, subject to flooding after heavy rainfall upstream 

Heirs of the Body can be ordered from 

Or better still, support independent mystery booksellers  (I'll be signing December 14th at noon) (San Diego signing January 9th at 7 pm) (Huntington Beach, signing Jan. 11 noon) (S. Pasadena, signing Jan. 11 at 3 pm)

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Guest blog: Emily Murdoch - 'Conquests: Hearts Rule Kingdoms'

England, 1069. 

The nation is still recovering from the Norman invasion three years earlier - and adjusting to life under its sometimes brutal new rulers. A young girl trembles in the shadows of what was once her home. Avis is homeless and penniless, and with no family left alive she is forced to become a ward of Richard, the Norman lord who has taken her home. But when King William decrees that Norman lords must marry Anglo-Saxon women Avis must make a terrible choice. Either marry the repulsive Richard or else take a chance on another Norman, Melville, a man she has never met. Soon she realises that survival in a time of turmoil and war depends of putting aside the prejudices of the past. And if she can do so, kingdoms and hearts can still be among her 'Conquests'. 

'Conquests' is a brilliantly researched and involving historical drama that is perfect for fans of Alison Weir and Philippa Gregory. 

'It gripped me from the first page.' - Robert Foster, best-selling author of 'The Lunar Code'. 

'This novella, set right after the Norman Conquest, is very accessible to modern readers, and has a tempestuous yet sweet love story between an Anglo-Saxon and a Norman that made my heart flutter with excitement.' Andrea Zuvich, author of 'His Last Mistress'. 


“Melville?” Avis muttered quietly. His face had grown dark, and she was sure that he had recognised the loyalty of the man that approached them.
Melville answered briefly before the man was in earshot.
“The King.”
As Melville went to greet the rider, he did not notice how Avis turned pale. She had not seen King William since that day, that day when her entire life had changed. Although it was obvious that this rider was not the King, she could not help but feel that her privacy was once again being attacked by that unwanted warrior. Would she ever be free of him?
The rider dismounted, and walked straight to Melville, who recognised him at once. His horse shook itself after a long and difficult ride, and began to lazily eat the luscious grass that surrounded them.
The rider nodded, and then stumbled. Melville caught him, and immediately helped him to sit on the pile of rugs beside Avis, who shrunk back in fear. The man was clearly exhausted. Melville’s thoughts immediately exploded, imagining all manner of different scenarios, each with terrifying consequences. The King captured, the King in hiding, the King back in Normandy…
But then he noticed Avis. She was clearly uncomfortable with this man here, and it was unlikely that the rider would speak in her presence. General disdain for the intelligence of women led most men to conduct their business away from the gossiping ears of women. And besides, despite his posturing, he knew that Avis was still considered by most to be an Anglo-Saxon. Someone not to be trusted. He knew that for both Avis and Jean, it would be easier if she were not here.
“Avis.” He spoke gently, and she turned to him, trying to ignore as best she could the panting man whose presence had put her so on edge. “Would you do me the courtesy of going to speak to the villagers below? I would know that they are being fairly treated, and want for nothing.”
Avis smiled at him. She knew that the request was merely a pretence to remove her from this difficult situation, but she was relieved. The presence of this unknown Norman had taken from her all of her calmness, causing tension to run throughout her body, and there was no other polite way for her to simply leave them. Avis was only just beginning to trust Melville – a new stranger, a Norman stranger, was too much.
Rising and smoothing down her skirts, she smiled shakily.
“It shall be my pleasure, my lord. I shall not be long.”
Avis did not want the rider to see her relief at leaving, but it was all she could do not to run down the hill towards the welcoming familiarity of the Anglo-Saxon village. Children scurried out to greet her, and chattered away in her own language. She agreed to join their game, and within moments was lost in the innocence of their cares and quarrels.
Melville watched her descend down the hill, making sure that she was out of earshot before he turned to Jean.
“My man!” He exhaled. “It has been many moons since I have seen you. What has happened to cause this rushed journey?”
Jean had caught his breath, and slowly raised himself into a sitting position, twisting to be opposite Melville. He spoke in a deep voice with a harsh Norman accent.
“Melville. I am so relieved that I have found you.”
Fear tugged at Melville’s heart.
“By God, man,” he said quietly. “Tell me what has happened.”
Jean and he had come across from Normandy together, two young men with nothing but everything to gain. He had saved Jean’s life on more than one occasion, and this had created a bond between them which was more similar to brotherhood than anything that Melville had ever known. To see Jean in such controlled panic was painful for Melville to see. He knew that Jean would not have ridden so fast and so hard unless a terrible event had taken place – and would not have come to him unless there was something, however unpleasant, that had to be done.
“It is the King.” Jean said dully. Melville drew in breath, but did not interrupt Jean now he had managed to begin.
“He has grown angry and tired of the actions of the ætheling Edgar.”
Melville heard the unusual Anglo-Saxon word, and tried to remember its meaning. He recalled that it described a prince that could inherit the crown. There had been many æthelings after the invasion, but not many now. With the name Edgar, he began to understand.
“You remember Edgar?” Jean asked.
Melville nodded. “He resided with our King at his court after the invasion. He is part of the royal line of this country. Young stupid fool, as I recall.”
Jean barked out a laugh.
“Young fool indeed. He has been rallying a group around him. An army. Anglo-Saxon noblemen and those traitorous to our people.”
Melville blew out of his teeth.
“More fools.”
“Fools gather.” Jean said darkly. “They are marching down to the South. Towards William, determined to depose him and take the country from us Normans.”
Melville was stunned. He knew that there were those that disliked the Norman presence. Avis’ reactions to him, and the stories that she had told him about the invasion were enough to tell him that there was a line of bitterness deep within these people, and it would take much time for that to be removed. If it ever was to be removed. He knew that William was a difficult master, demanding much and praising little. But he never imagined that they would be so stupid as to try and force William’s hand. From his understanding, it would take a whole nation to rise up to destroy William’s army.
Melville did not want to enter war again, but he knew his duty. He knew that he had no choice before his King.
“When do we ride to battle?” He asked Jean sadly.
Jean shook his head.
“It is much worse than that.”
Melville sighed. He glanced to check that Avis was still playing with the children. This terrible news could do nothing but force them apart by reminding them of their differences. And just when there was beginning to be an understanding between them. He raised a hand to scratch at his dark hair, and sighed again.
“Tell me the worst.”
“He’s marching on the North.”
Jean’s statement did not make sense to Melville.
“William’s marching towards the North?”
Jean smiled wryly, but with sadness in his eyes.
“No. He’s marching on the North. At the North. He plans to destroy the North. To burn every town, ransack every home, murder every man, salt every field, slaughter all cattle. He intends not to destroy the North, but to make sure that it can never be inhabited again.”
Melville sat. There was nothing to say. He could not comprehend such destruction. William’s anger was famous throughout his lands, but never before had such vengeance been seen. It would make the invasion look tame.
Jean watched Melville as he tried to understand what he had been told. He owed a great debt of friendship to this dark and serious Norman, and nothing that his friend could say would alter that. He would have given much not to relay such terrible news.
Avis threw the ball over to the tallest child, clapped as she caught it wildly, and quickly scanned the top of the hill. She could still see Melville and the rider sitting, facing each other. But as she watched, Melville dropped his head, and the rider reached over an arm to console him.
Avis bit her lip. Whatever news the strange rider has brought, it was clearly not good. Despite her desire to run up the hill and comfort her husband, she knew that until he beckoned her to return, her presence would not only be unwanted, but unhelpful.
At the peak of the hill, Melville collected himself, and placed his hand over his friend’s that rested on his shoulder.
“What does my King want from me?”
Jean withdrew his hand, and avoided Melville’s eye.
“What are you not telling me, Jean?”
Jean shifted himself, uncomfortable and unwilling to speak.
“My friend, you must tell me.” Melville spoke calmly, but it was a front to cover the panic that was rising in his throat. “There has never been lies between us. Please. Tell me the truth, however bad it may be.”
“It is bad.” Jean spoke hoarsely, his emotion overcoming him. He played with the ends of his left sleeve, unwilling to look up, but he could not avoid Melville forever.
Melville waited, more patient than he had ever had to be in his life.
“The King wants nothing from you.” Jean muttered.
Melville’s forehead crinkled in confusion. “Then…”
And then the truth poured into his mind. He realised what Jean was trying to say – why he was finding it so difficult to say, and had ridden so fast with no rest to reach him.
Melville spoke in a dry voice.
“The King does not want my aid. He plans to destroy me and mine as part of the North.”
Jean nodded. “You are in great danger,” he said gruffly. “I have had to leave his court at night to reach you, but I am not sure whether my presence has been missed. But I could not let you be unable to prepare for this great onslaught.”
Melville smiled at Jean. “My friend, you have risked much to warn me. I thank you.” His smile faded. “But I am unsure as to what path to take. There is no clear way to safety.”
Jean nodded. “It may be…” his voice faltered, but he continued resolutely. “It may be that there is no clear way to safety.”
Melville tried desperately to picture this country’s geography in his mind. There seemed to be no way to remove his household out of the way of William’s murderous path – and as William seemed determined not to call him to his side, it seemed that he did not care whether Anglo-Saxon or Norman died in his vengeful path. He certainly did not consider Melville important or valuable enough to save.
Jean’s voice broke into his reverie.
“Melville. You may have to accept…you may need to send away your wife to her people.”
“She has no people,” Melville replied. “You know that as well as I.”
“In that case,” Jean sighed. “You have no choice whatsoever.”
“I shall send her to Ulleskelf.”
“The village by my manor. It is underneath my protection and lordship, but not directly on the road from the South.” Melville pictured the route that William would take. “She should be safe there.”
But Jean sighed sadly.
“You do not understand. You may not be able to prevent William from taking Ulleskelf.”
Melville stared at him in horror, but Jean did not look away. Eventually, it was Melville’s gaze that faltered.
“I hate the thought that I cannot protect them.” Melville murmured. “But I must return. I must prepare.”
Jean nodded. “I must return to the King, before I am missed.”
The two men rose, and embraced. Melville did not know if he would ever see his friend again, and he could not bear it.
Walking over to his horse, Jean mounted and looked down at his friend.
“Be strong.”
“Be careful.” Replied Melville. He watched as Jean encouraged his horse to gallop faster and faster, hurtling down the hill and past waiting Avis. Waiting to hear the news.


Emily Murdoch is a medieval historian who has examined a codex and transcribed medieval sermons at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, and designed part of an exhibition for the Yorkshire Museum. She has a degree in History and English, and a Masters in Medieval Studies, both from the University of York. Emily is currently working on the sequel to "Conquests: Hearts Rule Kingdoms", as well as working as a conservation assistant, and has worked as a script advisor, researcher, and copy writer. 

You can learn more at, follow her on twitter @emilyekmurdoch, find her on facebook at, or read her blog at