Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Scottish history

In 1544 Henry Tudor wanted the infant Scots Queen in England, married to his six-year-old son, Edward. Since the Scots won't part with her willingly, he sends out word that there will be a reward for any man who brings her south. Young Englishmen Matho Spirston and his good friend Harry Wharton accept the challenge but Matho falls foul of the king's niece, bold beauty Meg Douglas. She has her own problems and Matho needs his wits and courage to survive in this brutal world of political intrigue. Watching them all and constantly balancing one man against another is Marie de Guise, the widowed Dowager Queen who fears for the safety of her only surviving child, Mary, Queen of Scots.

A fast-paced dramatic story set in Stirling, Scotland in the year 1543.

Meg Douglas braced her palms on the cold stone windowsill high in the north-west tower and stared out to sea. A mile away, Bass Rock heaved its white, guano-smeared sides out of the indigo water and the usual coronet of seabirds circled its cliffs. Her gaze moved to hills of Fife on the far side of the Forth estuary, where waves hitting the shore threw up a faint haze and hid the beaches from sight.

With a hiss of exasperation, Meg banged the shutter closed and turned back into the small chamber. Father’s summons to this ancient Douglas stronghold had been unwelcome and badly timed. He must know Henry of England had married for the sixth time in July, and a budding court jostled round his new queen. By the time Meg rode south again, the plum positions would have gone and she would face the simpering smiles of the favoured ladies-in-waiting. She would have only King Henry’s erratic generosity to rely upon for the coming year.

Father would not care. Thanks to King Henry’s gold, Father was happily ensconced twenty-five miles from Edinburgh, and as busy as a bee in clover encouraging the populace of Scotland to accept the marriage of their infant Queen to England’s young Prince Edward. He could do it and welcome. She would be polite, even charming, do his bidding and get back to London as soon as possible. Scotland held nothing for her.

‘Margaret? Are ye ready? Daughter?’ Father’s bellow echoed up the spiral stairs from three floors below.

On the long, uncomfortable ride north she had received the unwelcome news that her father had re-married. At fifty-three, for God’s sake, he had wed a girl of eighteen. No doubt the new Countess of Angus would be waiting beyond the curve of the stair.

UK Kindle link:
Jen Black’s Blog -

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Summer Magic for Halloween - New Excerpt for 'A Summer Bewitchment' by Lindsay Townsend

For Halloween, here is a new excerpt from my medieval historical romance, "A Summer Bewitchment". The heroine, Elfrida, is a witch. She is about to try a magic ritual to discover the whereabouts of 7 kidnapped maidens and the mysterious stranger who took them. Her husband, Sir Magnus, is also in the woods to protect her...


                                                                                  Chapter 3

Outside in the warm, still evening they walked arm in arm, both carrying panniers, and Elfrida shared what she knew of the stranger with Magnus. He in turn told her what he had learned of Rowena from the priest. It was, she thought, strangely companionable, but she wished they were speaking of less dark, mysterious matters.
“Valerian is a magic plant,” she explained, skirting carefully around a flowering elder bush. “It has many uses. One is as a lure. To seduce.”
“And the hare’s foot?” Magnus nodded to the elder bush as he stalked by, a grudging acknowledgement. “The rosemary I know from you is a guardian against evil spirits, so is that good?”
“Because he protects himself from demons and the like does not mean he is not evil himself.”
“Well spoken! The stranger’s mention of a Holy Mother?”
“The hare protects him from all danger. It is a creature of magic. The mother he reveres may be the Virgin, but he worships her in older ways.”
Magnus raised his black brows in silent inquiry.
“The wreath he leaves in thanks and sacrifice, of valerian and elder blossom, marigold, wild thyme and daisy, is made of flowers pleasing to the older gods. I have seen such posies left at ancient standing stones and statues, at rock carvings of the horned god.”
Her striding companion crossed himself. “Rowena is very pretty, so Father Jerome tells me.”
Elfrida nodded, unsurprised. “And docile, too?”
“Indeed. The priest claims they had no notion she might be in any way unhappy at being mewed up in a nunnery.” He scowled, his fingers tightening on his pannier.
“I have heard she is a kind, easy child, but I do not like it, either,” Elfrida admitted. “Would you be more sanguine if she was ill-favored?”
“Not a bit!” He glowered at her. “Do not think to test me, elfling, not this evening, at least. Even without your plan to go star-clad, I like these matters less and less. Do you know what family the Lady Astrid and Rowena are part of? The Gifford clan! Mighty and proud and wealthy.”
“So why do they ask us for help? Why wait five days to ask?”
“Indeed! The ride from Warren Bruer is less than a day, but with haste they could have raced here in hours.”
“So why not come sooner and then we can begin a search? Laggardly, then,” Elfrida observed. “Contradictory.”
“Snail slow, and I agree, contrary. And for the rest”—Magnus puffed out his cheeks—“to them I am a middling landowner and you, I am sorry to say, are utterly beneath notice, in their eyes. They should have far stronger allies than us to draw on.”
“Unless they fear those allies.”
“Do they seem frightened to you?”
Elfrida pointed to a vigorous thicket of hazel coppice and considered as they closed on the straight and slender hazel poles. “The lady is irked, certainly, but I sense no dread from her, only displeasure.”
“At the interruption onto her well-ordered life.”
Trailing a hand across the bright green leaves of the nearest hazel, Elfrida felt a raw sadness, a sense of unrequited loss. “Rowena seems an agreeable child, yet for all that unmissed. Were any of these girls missed?”
“Perhaps the Giffords do not want her found. Perhaps none of the families—” Magnus stopped and cursed, spitting to the right against ill-luck. “That is foul!”
Placing a palm over his heart, Elfrida found it beating hard with rage, the indignation that was absent from both Lady Astrid and Father Jerome. “The moon is rising. I must make ready.”
He swept her against him in a rib-crushing embrace. “Prepare well. I shall keep watch.”
“I know.” Wishing to offer words of hope and resolution, Elfrida found herself saying, “We should talk to the maids of your latest guests, the maids and their servants and grooms.”
Magnus’s grin blazed in his tanned face. “Maybe they have brought a laundress with them after all.” He released her and stepped back with a bow, turning to face the way they had come.
Keeping watch, as he promised.
Satisfied, keeping a steady grip on her pannier, she wove through the close-growing hazels into the very heart of the stand.

* * * *

His wife’s magic was often secret. Magnus respected it, since only a fool would set out to deliberately anger a witch. Remembering their early, fierce quarrels, he strove to let her be, to work at whatever she must be doing behind that curtain of crisscrossed leaves and branches.
But it was so hard! To let his woman step between the worlds as she did—it was brutal. What spirits and demons might she have to face? All he could do was guard her body and he would do that well, indeed, but to wait, only wait…
I feel useless.
She is the warrior of magic.
So? Forbid her. Now Lady Astrid was whispering in his aching head. Get her with child.

* * * *

Using two leafy hazel twigs as divining rods, Elfrida knelt in the small, bluebell-filled knoll in the middle of the hazels. She was naked, her hair loosened, her feet bare. A slither of a breeze touched her belly like a hot tongue. Distracted, thinking of Magnus waiting just beyond the leafy curtain, imagining his tongue against her skin, she wished the breeze away.
“Help me.” Praying to the Virgin, to the mother, she held the rods over Rowena’s headdress. Her eyes blurred as she stared at the simple hand-stitched daisies on the yellow cloth, willing herself to search.
“Let these rods divine the treasure I seek,” she said aloud, rising to her feet and circling the pinned cloth, moving sun-wise and then widdershins. The twigs dipped and trembled in her numbing fingers but did not cross.
“Show me!” she whispered, thinking of a dainty, pretty dark-haired girl. “I offer blood as payment.”
She had a knife made of flint, an ancient blade, given to her by her mother. Tucking the twigs into her mass of hair, she slashed the sharp stone across her palm, clenching her fist to make the cut bleed fast.
“I offer sweet as payment.” Magnus had brought a flask of mead for them to share and she had begged him for it. Dripping the liquor close to the yellow cloth, she felt a prickling between her shoulders.
No mortal comes, but the wood elves are close.
“I offer a wheat girl as payment.” She tucked the corn dolly, one she had made from her own lands while she was yet a maiden, between the lush grass stems. The tiny golden figure looked to be sleeping in a green bed.
Green and gold, the colors of spring and summer, blended before her eyes, swirling and dancing in a wild spiral. She danced, too, following the spiral, beating the dry grasses with her heels, tossing her hair, lifting her arms.

"A Summer Bewitchment" is available in print and ebook from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Bookstrand and many other sellers. It is the second novel in the "Knight and His Witch" series, the first novel being "The Snow Bride".

Friday, 9 October 2015

Guest blog: Mary Reed and Eric Mayer - 'Murder in Megara'

John, former Lord Chamberlain to Emperor Justinian, has been exiled from Constantinople to a rustic estate John has long-owned in Greece, not far from where he grew up. But exile proves no escape from mystery and mayhem. The residents of nearby Megara make it plain John and his family are unwelcome intruders. His overseer proves corrupt. What of the other staff—and his neighbors?

Before long, John finds himself accused of blasphemy and murder. Now a powerless outsider, he’s on his own, investigating and annoyingly hampered by the ruthless and antagonistic City Defender who serves Megara as both law enforcer and judge. Plus there’s that corrupt estate overseer, a shady pig farmer, a servant’s unwelcome suitor, a wealthy merchant who spends part of his time as a cave-dwelling hermit, and the criminals and cutthroats populating such a seedy port as Megara.

Complicating matters further are two childhood friends whose lives have taken very different paths, plus the stepfather John hated. John realizes that in Megara, the solution to murder does not lie in the dark alleys where previous investigations have taken him, but in a far more dangerous place—his own past. Can he find his way out of the labyrinth of lies and danger into which he has been thrust before disaster strikes and exile turns into execution?


“It was because of the demons, sir! Released swarms of demons, they did, what with all their digging round that pagan temple! Should have been destroyed a long time ago, if you ask me.”
          The City Defender glared at the captured arsonist, a man named James. “Demons, is it? Explain yourself."
          “Sir, I am a law-abiding seller of fish. Well-known for the excellence of my wares, landed fresh each day. Don’t sell anything over a day old. Work hard, pay my taxes, attend church faithfully, and—”
          “Yes, yes, a pillar of the community. But what has this to do with your criminal behavior last night?”
          John, newly returned from Lechaion, was present as injured party as the City Defender conducted an arraignment interview. The arsonist was a rough-looking man, his upper arm and shoulder wrapped in bandages. The door of the whitewashed room stood open to allowing the mixed odors of the city to enter on the rectangle of strong sunlight lying across a mosaic floor depicting a pastoral scene.
          But not enough sunlight to dispel the darkness of Megaran justice unfolding before him, John thought.
          “And then there was those unspeakable rites they was doing in that ruin,” the seller of fish continued. “Orgies, sir. Blood. Torture. Bound to free demons. And as we all know, they can take over a man, hook their sharpened claws into our souls, cause us to do terrible things we would not dream of, could not dream
of, as sober and responsible citizens.”
          The man appeared ready to burst into tears at the thought of what acts he might be capable of doing while in his possessed state.
          “And so those others with you, companions you say you cannot identify, were all possessed by demons, leading to the crimes committed last night?”
          The accused man nodded violently. “And my wife is worried about what I might do next. What if I get up at night and murder everyone in their beds? What if I start selling fish I know to be unfit to eat? What if I suddenly attack Halmus, who has done so much for Megara?”
          The City Defender raised his hand for silence. “So your defense boils down to the fact you and your fellow conspirators were possessed by demons forcing you to set fire to this man’s property and assault his servant?”
          The fish seller nodded.
          “I see,” the City Defender went on. “I have heard this defense before and there is much in what you say. Given your sterling character, I find it to be acceptable. I am accepting it on condition you consult your church on appropriate ways to free yourself of the demon possessing you. In addition I order you to make a large donation to the church. No compensation is due to the owner of the property under the circumstances. If he can collect
it from demons he is free to do so. You may go.”
          The seller of fish bowed, mumbled his gratitude, and scuttled away.
          John hid his consternation.
          “Now,” said the City Defender, “about the charges levied against you."

Monday, 5 October 2015

Guest blog: Suzie Kolber - Choosing a Template for your Family Tree

If you are tracing family history, you need an easy way to record your information. While you may keep a vast file online or on paper for the in-depth details, a quick visual is ideal when you want to know the basics. A family tree template can be kept in plain sight and reviewed quickly to see which person you are currently researching.

Regardless of the reason you are doing research into your family, you can benefit from a family tree template. However, the one you select will vary based on the actual project, the reason behind it and how much information you are gathering. Here are some tips to help you choose the right template.
Why Are You Researching?

The first question you want to answer is why you are doing this research into your family history. If it is for a gift for someone or as a class project, you will want to choose a template that is stylish and displays the information in a decorative format. You may even want to choose a family tree template that provides enough room for photos.

For a project that is based on your desire to learn about your family history, you can select a simpler template. Choose one that allows you to record a few basic details such as dates of birth, marriage and death or locations. This eliminates the need to go through your research for every little statistic.
How Many Generations Are You Studying?

The template you choose will depend on how many generations you are including. If you are using the family tree as a gift for someone, you may only need a three- or four-generational template. On the other hand, you may want a ten- or twelve-generational template if you are studying it to learn more about your ancestors.

For those who make genealogy a hobby and want to trace their histories back to the Mayflower or beyond, you will want to break down your information into multiple charts. Instead of having one gigantic chart, you can use multiple six- or eight-generational family trees. This gives you more room to include important data and breaks down the vast amount of information into segments. It is also helpful if you have others helping you on the project.

These templatea are especially helpful if you are tracing your ancestry further back in time. As information becomes more difficult to find, you may have to abandon one part of the lineage and pick up with another ancestor. Keeping these family tree templates is a handy way to remember what information you have and which family members are missing.

A template for your family tree makes research more accessible and the process more enjoyable. It provides an important visual if you are working with kids, and is a great way to record all of the data you discover. Select the right template based on your needs and the goals you have for studying your ancestry.

Suzie Kolber created  to be the complete online resource for “do it yourself” genealogy projects.  The site offers the largest offering of family tree charts online. The site is a not for profit website dedicated to offering free resources for those that are trying to trace their family history.