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

1 comment:

Lindsay Townsend said...

Welcome to the blog, Emily! I've tweeted it for you. Best Lindsay