Thursday, 14 August 2014

Extract from The Captain and The Countess




Rosemary Morris’s most recent novel The Captain and the Countess has received 5* reviews and is available as an e-book for 77p from and for $0.99 from until midnight on the 17th August.


Exract fromThe Captain and The Countess


London 1706


Edward, the Right Honourable Captain Howard, dressed in blue and white, which some of the officers in Queen Anne’s navy favoured, strode into Mrs Radcliffe’s spacious house near St James Park. 

Perkins, his godmother’s butler, took his hat and cloak. “Madam wants you to join her immediately.”

Instead of going upstairs to the rooms his godmother had provided for him during his spell on half pay—the result of a dispute with a senior officer—Edward entered the salon. He sighed. When would his sixty-one year old godmother accept that at the age of twenty-two he was not yet ready to wed?

He made his way across the elegant, many windowed room through a crowd of expensively garbed callers.

When Frances Radcliffe noticed him, she turned to the pretty young lady seated beside her. “Mistress Martyn, allow me to introduce you to my godson, Captain Howard.”  

Blushes stained Mistress Martyn’s cheeks as she stood to make her curtsey.

 Edward bowed, indifferent to yet another of his grandmother’s protégées. Conversation ceased. All eyes focussed on the threshold. 

“Lady Sinclair,” someone murmured.

Edward turned. He gazed without blinking at the acclaimed beauty, whose sobriquet was ‘The Fatal Widow’. 

The countess remained in the doorway, her cool blue eyes speculative.

Edward whistled low. Could her shocking reputation be no more than tittle-tattle? His artist’s eyes observed her. Rumour did not lie about her Saxon beauty.

 Her ladyship was not a slave to fashion. She did not wear a wig, and her hair was not curled and stiffened with sugar water. Instead, her flaxen plaits were wound around the crown of her head to form a coronet. The style suited her. So did the latest Paris fashion, an outrageous wisp of a lace cap, which replaced the tall, fan-shaped fontage most ladies continued to wear perched on their heads. 

Did the countess have the devil-may-care attitude gossips attributed to her?  If she did, it explained why some respectable members of society shunned her. Indeed, if Lady Sinclair were not the granddaughter of his godmother’s deceased friend, she might not be received in this house.

The lady’s fair charms did not entirely explain what drew many gallants to her side. After all, there were several younger beauties present that the gentlemen did not flock around so avidly.

He advanced toward the countess, conscious of the sound of his footsteps on the wooden floor, the muted noise of coaches and drays through the closed windows and, from the fireplace, the crackle of burning logs which relieved the chill of early spring.

The buzz of conversation resumed. Her ladyship scrutinised him. Did she approve of his appearance? A smile curved her heart-shaped mouth. He repressed his amusement. Edward suspected the widow’s rosy lips owed more to artifice than nature.

“How do you do, sir,” she said when he stood before her. “I think we have not met previously. Her eyes assessed him dispassionately. My name is Sinclair, Katherine Sinclair. I dislike formality. You may call me Kate.”

“Captain Howard at your service, Countess.” Shocked but amused by boldness more suited to a tavern wench than a great lady, Edward paid homage with a low bow before he spoke again. “Despite your permission, I am not presumptuous enough to call you Kate, yet I shall say that had we already met, I would remember you.”

“You are gallant, sir, but you are young to have achieved so high a rank in Her Majesty’s navy.”

“An unexpected promotion earned in battle which the navy did not subsequently commute.”

“You are to be congratulated on what, I can only assume, were acts of bravery.”

“Thank you, Countess.”

The depths of her ladyship’s sapphire cross and earrings blazed, matching his sudden fierce desire.

Kate, some four inches shorter than Edward, looked up at him.

He leaned forward. The customary greeting of a kiss on her lips lingered longer than etiquette dictated. Her eyes widened before she permitted him to lead her across the room to the sopha on which his godmother sat with Mistress Martyn.

With a hint of amusement in her eyes, Kate regarded Mrs Radcliffe. “My apologies, madam, I suspect my visit is untimely.”

Her melodious voice sent shivers up and down his spine, nevertheless, Edward laughed. Had the countess guessed his godmother, who enjoyed match-making, wanted him to marry Mistress Martyn? No, he was being too fanciful. How could she have guessed?

“You are most welcome, Lady Sinclair.  Please take a seat and partake of a glass of cherry ratafia.” Frances said.

 “Perhaps, milady prefers red viana,” Edward suggested

“Captain, you read my mind, sweet wine is not to my taste.”

In response to the lady’s provocative smile, heat seared his cheeks.

Kate smoothed the gleaming folds of her turquoise blue silk gown. The lady knew how to dress to make the utmost of her natural beauty. Her gown and petticoat, not to mention sleeves and under-sleeves, as well as her bodice and stays, relied for effect on simple design and fine fabrics. He approved of her ensemble, the elegance of which did not depend on either a riot of colours or a multitude of bows and other trimmings. Later, he would sketch her from memory.

Kate inclined her head to his godmother. “Will you not warn your godson I am unsound, wild, and a bad influence on the young?”

Edward gazed into Kate’s eyes.  Before his demise, had her husband banished her to a manor deep in the country? If it was true, why did he do so?

Kate’s eyebrows slanted down at the inner corners. She stared back at him.  He laughed, raised her hands to his lips and kissed each in turn. “I look forward to furthering my acquaintance with you.”

“High-handed.” Kate gurgled with laughter. “Captain, please release me.”

     What did he care if she were some ten years his elder? He wanted to get to know her better. Edward bowed. “Your slightest wish is my command.”

…. A frozen glimpse of despair deep in her eyes unsettled Edward. Did he imagine it? He could not speak. Why should a lady like the countess despair? 



Wednesday, 13 August 2014

'The Virgin, the Knight & the Unicorn': a medieval romance by Lindsay Townsend. First Chapter Excerpt

Sir Gawain, poor and eager for glory, is on a quest to catch a unicorn. His reluctant companion, the virgin dairy-maid Matilde, hates the nobility and loses no time in clashing with the thoughtless young knight. Gawain believes that, as the man, his word should be law—a law he is quick to enforce on his companion. However, the impetuous Matilde is not easily cowed and confounds him by her unexpected responses, especially to his discipline.

As they travel on their quest, the hot-tempered couple learn more about themselves and begin to compromise. Respect changes to fondness, perhaps even to love, but what future can there be between knight and bondswoman?

When Matilde is taken by outlaws, Gawain realizes, almost too late, what she means to him. Can he rescue her? Can he and Matilde join forces to combat a deeper conspiracy that is ranged against them?
And the unicorn? The unicorn, too, has a part to play…

(My blog, by the way, is now at ( gets you there, too. The old .net address no longer works.)

Order the ebook now from Bookstrand Publishing  $2.99

and on Amazon: The Virgin, the Knight, and the Unicorn Reply w/ for sample

and on Amazon UK …


Chapter 1

Summer, England 1196

In the late summer semidarkness, snug and warm within their castle, the lord and lady whispered together. They spoke softly so as not to disturb their younger children, who lay curled asleep in the same great bed with them.
“She will go with him?” Lord John asked, squinting through the shutters at the rising moon.
Lady Petronilla huffed and pounded her pillow. “The girl should be glad to go.”
“But will she?” her husband persisted. “I know she is a bondswoman, but this is Matilde of whom we speak—Robert’s younger sister, with exactly his same cleverness, like his older sister Ivette.”
“Am I a reader of minds?” snapped his wife. “Very likely your turbulent knight will force Matilde to leave with him, and there is an end of the matter.”
The lord shuffled onto his back. “Yes, Sir Gawain is certainly most eager.”
“Greedy for treasure,” his wife sniffed.
“Treasure, yes. But he is a younger son and must make his own way in the world.”
“Did he steal his armor and that warhorse from a battlefield?”
“I did not ask. He did save my life in Normandy.”
“And you knighted him in thanks.” Lady Petronilla sniffed a second time. “Why is he not satisfied?”
“Gawain is ambitious. And the renown of capturing or slaying a unicorn, that also appeals to my knight.”
“Do such creatures exist?”
Lord John yawned. “Does that matter? Gawain is a troublesome fellow. A week or more slogging through the wild woods will curb his temper.”
“Our other people in the woods?” inquired his lady softly.
“That arrangement does not start until winter. Gawain and Matilde will be quite safe. Meantime their quest should bring Gawain down off his high horse.”
Lady Petronilla murmured agreement. “My ladies think him handsome, if lacking in courtesy. If he spoke more to them, Gawain would do well in courtly romance.”
Her lord grunted, then laughed. “Still, the wenches of the stew make no complaint against him. They appear to relish his visits in spite of how he uses them.”
“Hush!” warned his wife, glancing at their slumbering youngsters. Seeing them sound asleep, she added, “I hope he treats Matilde the same. That girl is too proud.”
“Unless he tries and Matilde kills him. Or he and Matilde kill each other.”
Lady Petronilla pursed her lips. “I would be sorry to lose such an excellent dairy maid.”
“The time of three milkings has passed for this year,” Lord John observed.
“But can you not see, my lord?” his wife continued. “We must ensure that Matilde is a long way from the castle when the king’s justice comes here after harvest. Ivette may protest at our plans, but she is by nature contemplative—I can foresee her becoming religious, or a nun. Her sister Matilde is very much of this world. In her way, she is as ambitious as your knight and angry at her low status in life. If she is still here, Matilde will argue furiously and dispute well. She may even know something important, some morsel of fact or law that we have overlooked, and so she will win.”
“I know. The girl could spoil everything, which is why I devised this quest for Gawain. I told him she was a virgin and so a fit lure for a unicorn. That is all he wanted to know. He never properly listens to anyone and he will not listen to her.”
Reflecting, Lord John closed his eyes. Like his wife, he was mildly disconcerted at the thought of losing their clever and frankly beautiful dairy maid, but Matilde was dangerous. She argued like a lawyer and she knew things. If anyone can track a unicorn, it will be Matilde. But she will never find it because Gawain will not listen to her.
Considering those two opposing points, he fell asleep.

* * * *

“The girl you want is weeding in the great field this morning,” Lord John told Gawain. “You will know her by her beauty. Her name is—”
Gawain ignored the rest of his lord’s speech. The girl was a peasant, so why should he bother with her name? Did serfs have names? He gave a stiff bow of farewell to Lord John, nodded curtly to Lady Petronilla, and mounted his palfrey.
Riding to the great field, Gawain spotted the girl at once. She was the youngest, cleanest, and the prettiest of those peasants toiling along the rows of peas and beans. A small, slender blonde, she was nimbly weeding along the flowering rows of his lord’s field strip. Pleasantly surprised to find her so comely, he stood up on his stirrups and hailed her. “You!”
You plunged her hoe into the soil and looked up at him. Her eyes, gray as steel, flicked over him, a long, cool stare. Without speaking or bobbing a courtesy, she spun about on her bare feet and stalked away.
“Hey!” Gawain called, astonished that she dared to turn her back on him. Half of him wanted to ride her down, but that would mean trampling his lord’s crop, so he had to content himself with nudging his horse along the ridge between the field strips to follow her. Gaining on the disrespectful wench with his bay’s every stride, he watched her kiss a wizened field-worker on the cheek and pick up a neat cloth bundle clearly left at the end of the strip. Now I have you.
“Follow me, girl,” he ordered, smirking at the dust his horse raised as he cantered past her. When he looked round after a few paces, he saw her lagging way behind, making no effort to run. “Make haste!”
“I am,” came her instant reply. “Though I am a dairy maid, I do not yet have four legs. If I might ride with you, we would go faster…Sir.” Staring at him full in the face, she added his title deliberately late.
Scarcely believing her insolence, Gawain glanced at the other, crook-backed serfs. Had any been fit, he would have clubbed this wench to the ground and taken another but, looking properly at her fellow peasants for the first time, Gawain realized they were all old. There were no more maids in this field to take in her place.
Reining in, astonished afresh, he saw by the wench’s half smile that she knew this, that she had probably even planned it that way. Temper scorched through his body. Catching his darkening mood, his horse snorted and laid back its ears. He tugged the reins again. “Easy.”
“Do you speak to me, your horse, or to yourself, Sir Gawain?”
She spoke with a rough accent, her mouth soiling his name. Incensed that she should know it, he swung down from his horse and stepped closer.
The girl stood her ground. She was a foot smaller than him, dressed in patched but clean green skirts and an earth-colored tunic. Her blonde hair was partly hidden by a short veil, but her face was not hidden at all. She studied him as if they were equals, as if she had a perfect right to look at him.
For an instant her beauty cooled his anger, as a sparkling frost may coat and still a pool. Cloud-gray now, her eyes were fringed with long, golden lashes and shone with intelligence and life. Her skin was flawless, rich cream and roses. Gawain found his hand rising, seemingly by its own will, to touch her perfect cheek. Forget the unicorn. This wench beguiles me, but where is the treasure or renown in that? Quickly, he jerked his arm down and gripped his belt instead.
“Do we begin the quest, Sir Gawain?”
Gawain twitched, irritated afresh that she should speak to him. I should speak first.
“May I make a suggestion?”
“No,” growled Gawain. “I need nothing from you but your obedience.” Tired of talk, he snatched her off her bare feet, cast her over his shoulder, strode back to his mount, and slung the writhing, gasping girl across his horse’s neck. As she opened her mouth yet again to protest, he leapt into the saddle, spurred hard, and rode off at a canter, laughing when her head bounced against the bay’s muscled flank and she shut her eyes tight. Keeping her secure with a heavy fist in the middle of her back, he galloped for the woods.
The forest where I shall find and slay the unicorn, where this wench will be my lure, but first she will learn, indeed she will learn.
As he reached the end of the fields, where the trees began, Gawain was smiling.

* * * *

Pain drove its blunt knives into her head and sat like a stone in her stomach. The hard pommel of the saddle dug constantly into her flank, keeping pace with the horrible pounding of the horse’s hooves. Only her pack, which she had luckily kept clutched to her, saved her ribs from being bruised by the horse’s neck.
Sitting above this mental terror, this swirl and anguish of aching muscles, the knight laughed. Matilde, squeezing her eyes shut against the ground skimming and lurching a hand-span from her face, supposed he was handsome—if “handsome” was the word for a petulant, curly-headed, even-featured boy. He was the tallest person she had yet encountered, rangy and muscled, his blue eyes shining with vigor in his tanned, lean face. She felt his easy strength with the horse and for an instant knew terror. He does not think of me as human, merely a tool. He does not even want to know my name.
Other maids watched out for knights and squires, sighed over them, imagined themselves in love with them. Matilde had always been wary, as she was of any brute beast or force stronger than herself. And this brown-haired brute will never have known a hunger-headache in his life.
The old rage against the unfair ways of this world boiled in her, steeling Matilde afresh. Gnawing her lip against the pain, she vowed to herself that this handsome, careless man-boy would heed her, would learn from her. He must, or my family will starve by next spring.
Through a haze of nausea, she felt the horse slowing and risked opening her eyes. The knight spotted her looking.
“I shall deal with you presently,” he said, and reined in.
Moments later, Matilde tried to slide from the bay but was not given time. A muscular arm hooked about her narrow waist, hoisting her aloft. She kicked and her knight from hell dropped her straight down into bracken, a soft if undignified landing. Jerking from her back to her knees, she forced herself upright. Her companion approached, his lean face determined, his hands spread and crook-fingered. However he wants to deal with me, it will not be to my good.
Matilde crouched and scrabbled in the leaf litter, found a broken branch and jabbed it at the looming figure. “No farther, knight.”
He tried to snatch the branch but she whipped it away.
“I am Matilde!” She waved the stick like a sword. He laughed sharply and stopped, folding his arms across his chest, his eyes glittering with cold amusement.
“Do you expect to best me, girl?”
“God gave us speech to share, Sir Gawain,” she countered. “Call me by my name.”
“Share! What would I want to share with you? All women chatter too much.”
“Your mother never talked to you? Or did you not listen to her, either?”
For an instant, the years fell from his mocking face and he looked puzzled. “She sang. When I was small. I remember her singing.”
Pity swelled in Matilde. “Where is she now?”
“In heaven. A long time in our years.” The words seem to slip from him, for now he scowled. “Chatter is for cowards and fools. I will have no more of it.”
He grabbed again for her stick but she snapped it down, missing his knuckles by a whisker as he skidded sideways to avoid her clumsy blow. Before he could lunge at her a third time, she backed up, glancing round. Instantly she recognized the clearing, the steep, scree-studded banks surrounding it and the deep, muddy pool a spear’s length farther down. All were notorious in the village.
“Not here!” she panted, scything with the stick to keep him off, to make him listen. “Not here, understand?”
He swore in Norman French, caught the stick, and wrested it away. Anticipating a blow with it, she flinched but still repeated, “Not here! Listen to me—”
He hurled the branch into the undergrowth and charged. Matilde stepped back. “If you will not listen, then look!” She kicked the banking desperately with her heel.
At first, she thought the roar was the knight, but then she saw his astonishment as a large section of the bank fell away and shuttered down in clouds of stones, soil, and grass, splashing into the pool.
“Bad place,” she gasped, before sucking in a large, steadying breath. “We call it the dragon’s tear in the village. One year, I almost lost a cow to the slippage of these banks.”
“I am the dairy maid, Matilde,” Matilde said, through gritted teeth. “Do you ever listen?”
The knight was still staring at the litter of fallen stones. “My horse could have broken a leg in that.”
Finally, he talks to me and admits I know something! “If you want to stop, there is another clearing past those limes.”
“And beyond?”
“I do not know.” Matilde had never had the free time to explore father than that.
He turned his back on her and stalked to his horse. About to mount, he looked round. “Why do you linger?”
Though she knew she really should not do it, Matilde could not resist. In a deliberate echo of his earlier haughty, amused pose, she folded her arms across her chest. “I will not go another step with you unless you say my name, sir knight. And should you not thank me for preserving your horse?”
Suddenly, shockingly, he was beside her, bundling her off her feet and onto the horse—not over its neck this time, but onto the saddle with him. Sitting behind her and snaring her wrists in one large hand, he trapped her completely simply by crossing one long, lean thigh over both her legs and then sharply snapped the reins with his free hand. The horse sprang forward on the track and they were off again.
What have I done? Why can I not control my temper? Why must I always fight for the last word? What did he say, that chatter is for cowards and fools? Someone has taught him that kindness, gentleness, even speech are worthless. And he did not learn otherwise from his mother, for she is long dead. Now I come and challenge him, a challenge he understands only as a battle, as something to be won. What have I done? And what will he do to me?

* * * *

“Women always want things,” Gawain’s father had told him. “Your mother did her duty and was biddable but she was rare, a jewel. Most women talk too much and want more. Show them who is master from the start or you shall have no peace.”
It had worked for him with the wenches in the stews and he intended to lay down his terms now to this squirming blonde piece of lusciousness. Lush, yes, she is that and more, but that is the danger. She was so glorious in her gold-and-rose beauty that he was tempted to be soft with her, to tickle her and to make her laugh. I cannot do that. Yet she slotted so nicely into his arms, with her round rump pressing deliciously against him. Each time she wriggled her arms, trying to break free—and she never stopped trying—he experienced a tingling buffeting against his groin so that he rode in a building daze of pleasure.
“Keep still!” he warned, when she almost pitched off the horse into a hazel. He swiftly snatched her back to safety. Without considering why he should feel the way he did, Gawain realized that he did not want her pretty face to be scratched.
“Let me go!” She said more and he almost ignored her, but then recalled how she had saved his horse from injury. Irksome as her chatter was, perhaps he should pay attention.
“What, Matilde?”
Instead of being grateful that he used her name, the naughty creature glared at him.
“Off to the southwest there is a woodman’s hut close to the next clearing, a day’s walk from here,” she said in her gruff little voice. “There is a pool close by where many creatures come to drink.”
“Including a unicorn, perhaps?” This was worth knowing.
“Yes, perhaps. The hut is old now and abandoned, but sturdy enough still for us to stop there for the night and plan. Now, are you going to let me go? I am as engaged in this quest as you. I shall not try to escape.”
He snorted at the idea of a peasant on a quest, more amused still when her eyes took on a steely glint.
“Let me go!” she snapped.
“No.” He was less amused when, raising her hands that he clasped tight in his left, she avoided her own fingers and bit into his palm.
And that is quite enough.
He released her hands, gripped her jaw, and squeezed, reining in at the same time. She yelped and he brought his face close to hers. For an instant, seeing the prints of his fingers glowing red against her chin, he was ashamed of his roughness to her, then sense asserted itself. She was a peasant and, moreover, she deserved it. “Were you a man, you would spit teeth for that trick, girl.”
The woodcutter’s hut and clearing, the still pool, must all wait. Sure of himself again, Gawain leapt down from his slowing horse, yanked Matilde after him, and dropped into a clump of wild garlic, tossing the girl over his lap. A spanking is what I had planned for Matilde anyway, but now it must be for longer and harder. This wench needs management.

* * * *

Trapped across Sir Gawain’s knees, Matilde struggled in vain, cursing the world, the knight, and herself. Why had she bitten him? Because I let my temper reign me, as I always do. She had known that he was already displeased with her because of her love for the last word. Now she had fueled his anger by indulging her own.
And what was he doing, tying her hands before her with a linen strip? She tried to rear up, crawl away, fight back, and found herself snared again by those hellish long legs of his. He simply hooked her kicking feet under his sinewy calves and she was stuck. “Beat me and be done!” she snarled, still unable to curb her fury.
“Quiet.” He bundled a cloak under her head and wound an arm about her middle, pulling her so her head was down, pressed into the cloak, and her bottom raised. Lifting herself on her elbows, she struck out with her tied hands, her tiny, flailing movements knocking feebly against his firm male flank.
“Be still. Be quiet,” came the growled orders above her.
Was he determined, annoyed, or amused? With the blood singing in her ears, Matilde tried to appeal to his knightly self-interest. “You need my help!” She wanted to break free and punch him first. Disconcertingly, it seemed he understood this.
“Aye, and you would like to scald me in a cauldron, but I am the man and knight, not you.”
“Do knights often boil their prisoners?” she shot back, bucking again and failing to budge him a finger-width. The arm coiled about her waist was thicker than rope and as immoveable. Her own blood felt to be boiling as she heard him chuckle.
“Are you the youngest?” he asked, surprising her.
“What?” She strained her hands against her bounds, but could not break them. “Yes, but what of it? Why…?”
To her horror and renewed fury, she found the rest of her question stifled. Swiftly, with a casual efficiency, her tormentor proceeded to gag her with another strip of linen. These are bandage strips. He is using bandage strips to gag me.
“I am the youngest, too,” observed her captor. “We young ones always have to fight for everything.” He patted her rump. “But you will learn not to fight me. Indeed, ’tis time you learned the rules.”
“What rules?” she gasped behind her gag but he took no notice of her protest.
“Yes,” he continued, as if she had not spoken, “My rules. Now you must listen to me, Matilde, and feel my hand as well.”
Two times he has called me by my name. But this was no comfort, with her tied and gagged and hung over his lap.
“Finally you are quiet, little peasant, as you should be.” He continued to gloat, the pig.
“Only by the custom of the nobles,” Matilde tried to say, but all that escaped was a high-pitched, mewing sound.
“Easy now.” He stroked a hand down her back. “Take your chastisement like a good maid.”
“Why?” she started to argue from behind her gag, her breath and speech failing altogether as she felt him draw up her skirts, exposing her legs. She rolled and writhed but only succeeded in rucking up her skirts even more. A warm, callused palm tucked her gown about her middle and she was naked from the waist down. Pinned, bound, and helpless, she thought of revenge, of shaving Gawain half-bald, or smothering him in mud, and was mortified when a tear of frustration trickled down her cheek.
“You will not bite me, or anyone, again.” A large, heavy hand smacked her left bottom cheek. “You will not speak unless I invite you to.” The hand struck her right cheek. “No more argument.” Another stinging slap. “No more questions.” Again, her hips felt to burst into flame. “Never run away.” Slap! “Respect me.” Slap! Slap!
Determined not to give him the satisfaction of her tears, Matilde bit down hard into her gag. He must stop soon. I will not stay. I will run off.
Surely he will stop soon?

* * * *

Under his fierce attentions, her bottom was already a rosy pink, and promised to become bright red. Gawain smacked on with a will, his anger decreasing and arousal increasing with every swift, stirring slap. Were she a lass from the stews, I would couple with her after this and a fine, lusty joining we would make. But then of course this was not a bawdy, eager wench from the stews but a maiden, and he was not giving her a few love pats but a firm hand spanking, and warnings.
“You will always address me as ‘sir’ or ‘my lord,’ and you will not scowl. Whatever you may believe, I am no bully or monster, Matilde.” Why did I say that? I give to the poor at the castle gate and I know the lasses of the stews like me right well and will take me for free when I have no coin, but I do not have to justify myself. Flustered, Gawain laid on a battery of fast, stinging swipes to the raised, glowing target presented to him.
The girl shuddered, but she no longer kicked or tried to evade his punishment. For an instant, he even thought she raised her haunches up to him, but then he heard her whimper and he fixed instead on her scarlet face, her narrowed, tear-filled eyes. He rested his hand on her overwarm seat and thought he heard her whisper through her gag, “Stop. Please stop.”
Have I been too harsh? The thought was new to him, and disconcerting. Where he had expected to continue spanking until she broke down and wept, he untied the strip of linen he had unceremoniously thrust into her mouth and drew it away from her reddened lips. “There now. Over.”
Panting, Matilde lay sprawled over his knees, her veil lost somewhere in the undergrowth, her mass of golden hair escaping from its plait. Her face was becoming less red and strained and she swallowed.
“You will have a drink soon,” Gawain found himself saying, “but first—”
He reached under her head and brought out a small flask from his cloak. He had bartered this ointment from a peddler who had assured him of its magic and certainly. He found the stuff good on his hurts. He poured some onto his hand and palmed it smoothly over Matilde’s scarlet rump.
She sighed and he felt her relax. “Better?” he almost said, which was absurd. The girl had deserved her spanking and if she was uncomfortable, so was he. His own arousal was as hard as a sword, and he was sorely tempted to scoop her off his lap onto her back and have his way with her. Not yet, though. I need her to be a lure for the unicorn. Yet perhaps I should ensure that she is indeed a virgin. Just because a peasant girl says she is a maid does not mean she is.
But they had fought enough for one day and he wanted to believe Matilde, so he stroked and smoothed more of the ointment onto her bottom instead. Just to save her soreness, for we must ride again today.

* * * *

Matilde knew she ought to protest. No one had ever spanked her and no one had touched her as Gawain did now. But his caressing, sweeping fingers felt so alarmingly excellent, cooling and comforting. Her whole backside felt to have been pounded to a huge, throbbing blister that she had even feared might burst. She had not realized Gawain could strike so hard or fast, that his palm could hurt so much. At the same time, as her spanking had progressed, she had become aware of a different kind of heat pooling through her loins, making her womanly parts swell and become wet. And now that it was over she felt strangely safe, all the strain of the past weeks taken from her. Even his scolding had not been so terrible. The mint-scented unguent he gently worked into her scalded skin took away the bee-sting pain and left only a glowing warmth.
Again, as she had during her spanking, she lifted her hips to his attentions, higher and higher. The cool, tingling ointment glided over one cheek, then the other, Gawain’s hand cupping and molding, tender, not punishing. His fingers dipped lower, slipping lightly between her thighs, brushing her intimate folds in a single, long, lovely caress that tipped her from contentment into delight.
“Sir!” Unsure if she protested or if she was thanking him, Matilde closed her eyes and let the pleasure come.

* * * *

Was this little golden firebrand responding to him? Gawain had been unable to discipline himself and keep his roving hand in check. In truth, it had only been the faintest of touches between her thighs, one he had been prepared to deny or claim as a mistake, but now her eyes were wide and sparkling and her face flushed. Even as he raised his hand and so caught a savor of her sweet intimate scent on his fingers, she sighed. Pivoting onto her side against his ribs, she looked up at him and smiled.
“I am thirsty,” she breathed.
I spank her and she smiles at me. What next?
At a loss, Gawain smoothed down her skirts and righted her so she was sitting on his lap. His painfully aroused lap, though clearly Matilde did not know that, for she watched him quite innocently, trying at the same time to reorder her hair. He handed her his flask of ale. “Here.”
“Thank you.” She drank and offered him the flask again. “Do we move, Gawain—sir?”
She calls me by my name! The old, pre-Matilde Gawain would have hauled her back across his knees and spanked her afresh for that slip to remind her of his knightly status. Now he traced her soft lower lip with a finger. “I am glad you remembered my title in the end, Matilde.”
She colored up very prettily and lowered her head. “Yes, sir.”
He drank himself. “In a moment.” When I can move without feeling aroused.
She leaned back into the crook of his arm and they sat together in quiet.
I want to kiss her. Worse, I want Matilde to kiss me. What next?
He could hardly wait to find out.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Guest blog: Jane Bow - 'Cally's Way'

'Cally’s Way' interweaves the story of 25-year old Cally with that of her grandmother Callisto, who was a runner in the Cretan Resistance during World War II. This excerpt comes from the World War II story.


            Frogs are gossiping in a stone cistern beside a vegetable patch outside the village of Myrthios. Crouched under some olive trees off the path that cuts across the mountainside, Callisto holds her breath. Around her, sharp-shaped olive leaves are whispering in the darkness. Her eyes dart between the trees and the low stone walls that terrace this Cretan mountainside, and the great spiny aloe ghosts, searching for an outline, a movement, the grey glint of a rifle. Her ears are tuned to pick up even the scratch of a beetle. Her run up behind the village of Sellia, nestled on the next mountain, then down into the valley and up again through this olive grove has taken too long, but there is no wind tonight, at least. Down at the far end of the bay, the rocky outcropping known as the Dragon’s Head lies sleeping under a tipped crescent moon.
            One of the trees, its ancient trunk crooked into a right angle, has the silhouette shape of a beard below the moon smile. Above it, she picks out stars for the nose, eyes: Zeus.
            Please, please, great god, I know I’m not supposed to talk to you. The priest says that appealing to you will take me straight to Hell but the way I see it you have been here the longest so please, great Zeus, will you help the people of Agalini tonight?
            Two mountains farther down the coast, parents and grandparents will be moving quickly now on the news she has passed to the next runner. She thinks of them shaking their children awake, packing yesterday’s bread, some sheep’s cheese, and whatever clothing they can carry, the women binding their babies to their breasts, the men hoisting toddlers onto their shoulders for the trek up into the safety of the wild mountain heights.
            Please make them hurry.
            A new sound, faint, rhythmic, tattoos the air behind the frogs. Callisto slides down behind the Zeus tree. The frog-talk stops.
            Boots, more than one set, crunching. Six German soldiers come down the path toward her. They must have come through the Kourtaliotis Gorge, the opening in the mountains behind this part of the south coast, where she is headed now.
            They are so close now she tastes the dust they are raising, smells the acrid metal of their guns. The Nazis think the village of Myrthios is friendly, but Uncle’s resistance network has friends there, and Callisto knows that up its cluster of alleys people will be lying rigid in their beds, praying that the stomping does not stop. She presses her cheek against the Zeus tree’s rough bark, closes her eyes, and prays not to move.
            The boots beat the path, impressing upon even the ground that they own it, that they have a God-given right to drop out of the sky, take this island, and murder all those who would stand against them. If only she had a weapon or a bottle filled with kerosene, like the little boys in Agalini. They must have heard about the boys north of the gorge who had filled three bottles with gasoline siphoned out of a German Jeep. The next time a Nazi drove into their village the boys had lit a rag tucked into one of the bottles, then rolled all three of them under his vehicle. Waiting around the corner, giggling into their hands, they had had no idea that the bottles, exploding, would turn the jeep into a bomb, tearing the bodies of both the officer and his driver into fragments and tossing them into the air. Those boys are still in hiding, on the run, heroes. This must be why some of Agalini’s little boys have followed their lead, tossing their bottle of kerosene through the front door of the house the Nazis had commandeered, aiming for the hearth while the soldiers relaxed over dinner. No one has turned in the little Agalini boys either. And that was why tonight news had reached Uncle Vasilios that tomorrow the Nazis will deliver retribution to Agalini.
            Callisto had come home from the sheep pasture to hear voices rising in the storeroom off the courtyard. Someone must be sent, tonight, to warn the villagers.
            She opened the storeroom door.
            “Go inside, girl.”
            “I could run to Agalini, Uncle.”
            “You!” A jet of anger, frightening. Only a month had passed since Georgios had made the mistake of scrambling up the cliff, not wanting to drop down below the path, out of sight, because there were Allied soldiers down there, hidden in a cave by the river.
            Callisto stood her ground.
            “I can run, Uncle. Out in the pastures I have been practicing both speed and distance and I am faster than any boy you will find. Just ask the local sheep thieves.”
            “A girl running alone? Absolutely not.”
            The other men’s faces stayed blank in the candlelight, not to intrude.
            “In the middle of the night in the mountains, who will see me? I can do this, Uncle. Please, let me make my parents proud.”
            And there was no one else.
            The last of the soldiers disappears around the side of the mountain. Bile burns in the back of Callisto’s throat. She looks up at the Zeus tree.
            Please, if you let the people of Agalini make it into the safety of the mountains in time, I promise I will honour you forever, whatever Father Nikolaos says.
            The frogs start up again and after awhile, seeing, hearing, sensing nothing more, Callisto climbs back onto the path. Can she run safely now, across this mountainside and the next, through sleeping Mariou[1]  and Asomatos, to the gorge? Geratti lies hidden up behind the mountain  on its other side. Her eyes scan the moonlit path ahead, the mountainside, ears straining beyond the frogs and the saw of the grasses against her legs.
            Less than a minute later she stops again. The mountainside is nearly vertical below her here. She slithers down, a prickly bush grazing her shins, rocks sharp under her palms. She finds purchase for her feet. Her heartbeat must surely be shaking the ground. Something has moved, ahead about fifty metres to her left, just above where the path curves around a hip of the mountain.
            Could the Nazi patrol have posted a sentry here? She lies still.
.           No boots come.
            She cannot spend the rest of her life plastered to the side of this mountain. Less than four hours remain before daylight. Cross the path, climb into the rocky outcroppings above it, centimetre by centimetre, higher and higher, that’s what she must do.
            There is no further movement ahead but she now can make out a lump of solid space in the scrub above the road.
            Sentries smoke, move, chat if there are more than one.
            She pushes herself higher up the mountainside, scraping arms and legs, stopping after every move, her heartbeat drowning out every other sound until the thin ribbon of path gleams empty below her in the moonlight. Standing, she sprints, rock to bush to rock, until she is directly above what turns out to be two men hiding in a nest of bushes.
            “Trust no one!” How many times has Uncle Vasilios warned her? Geratti is small and closely knit, but even the closest neighbour down the road can become a collaborator. Still, she can see even from here, from the awkward way they move, that though the two men below her are foreigners, they are not Nazis.
            A few weeks after the German invasion, British ships evacuated thousands of Allied troops from Crete. Stories spread from tavérnas to kitchens across the island about the starving, injured soldiers who marched up over seven-thousand-foot mountains to the remote south-coast village of Chora Sfakion, and about the Cretans’ shallow boats that plied back and forth in silence through the night, carrying fifty men at a time to the ships lying offshore. But only those who made it to the beach in time, and whose names were registered, were allowed to debark. Constant flight, hiding in the mountains that form the spine of the island, and begging for food and shelter have become the life of the men left behind, and those who escaped from the Nazi prison compound on the north shore.
            One of the men below her is lying down, his leg splinted with sticks. The other’s head keeps turning, like an owl. She picks up a pebble, launches it. Cannot help grinning as it strikes its mark. The owl-man jerks around, moonlight whitening his anxiety as his pistol scans the steepness above him. The man lying down does not move. She searches the landscape for danger.
            “Friend.” She puts a hand up to feel her mother’s red silk scarf around her neck and lets the moon smile on her. “I am your friend.”
            How she loves English, the sound of her mother’s voice reading or speaking it to her, using words like “psychology” and “archeology” that connect to the world she knows, and others like “darling,” and “whippersnapper,” and “lickety-split” that open whole new landscapes. Picking her way down the mountainside, she squats beside the men.
            Both are dressed in torn wool pants and Cretan shirts. She smells sweat and fear and the broken man’s fever.
            “I will take you home to my uncle.” She nods toward the gorge. “Over there.”
            “Near Preveli?” She hears hope. The monastery at Preveli is tucked away high on the seaward side of a mountain overlooking the coast, at the far end of the valley below the Kourtaliotis Gorge. A month ago, believing British soldiers were hiding in the valley, the Germans surrounded it and launched the attack from Myrthios. Finding no one, they set up a guard post, but still, three nights ago many dozens of soldiers were taken off Limni Beach, a hidden cove below Preveli.
            “I’m sorry, you have missed the rescue.”      
            “Oh.” Bleak disappointment. The soldier looks down at his broken friend.
            “My aunt and uncle will help you though.” Callisto nods toward the fallen man. “Make him better, maybe find you a boat. You wait.” She can run to Geratti in two hours. “I will bring my uncle before dawn.”
            “Efcharistó. Thank you.” The soldier takes her hand, shakes it. “I am Robert MacIntyre, from Scotland. This is Jack. He’s in rough shape, I’m afraid.” His voice has a soft rolling quality. His hand feels warm, dry. “Why is your English so good?”
            Callisto smiles.
            “My mother comes from there.” She tries to see his face in the darkness but there is only the moon glitter in his eyes and the fine line of his jaw. And now a new, melting kind of fear blooms somewhere in the middle of her. Her hair is a mass of tangles, her knees are scraped. The front of her dress is covered in dirt.
            What must she look like to him?


Jane Bow grew up in Canada, the United States, Spain, England and Czechoslovakia. Her novels looks at historical incidents through the perspective of love. Cally’s Way, Jane’s third novel, was published this spring. Set in Crete, it interweaves the story of 25-year old Cally with the World War II story of her grandmother Callisto, exploring the relationships between sex and love, and the effect history’s horrors have on our identity, whether we know about them or not. Jane’s first novel, Dead And Living, was shortlisted for an Arthur Ellis Award, and selected for a university course in 2002. In The Oak Island Affair, Jane’s main character has to learn to see beyond the barriers of reason in order to arrive at a solution to the real, international, 218-year old, multi-million-dollar treasure hunt on Canada’s Oak Island. The Oak Island Affair was a 2008 Next Generation Indie Book Award finalist. Through The Rapids, a short history of Peterborough, Ontario written by Jane was published in 2001. She has also had short stories, a play and non-fiction published in Canadian magazines and newspapers.