Saturday, 8 December 2018

Gold, Gold, Gold - plus excerpts from "Sir Conrad and the Christmas Treasure"

I am fascinated by gold. People in the past were also inspired by it and made many beautiful objects with the metal. One of these ancient treasures is a torc and in my latest historical romance, "Sir Conrad and the Christmas Treasure" I have a torc as a precious relic at a northern church.

I had in mind the magnificent Snettisham gold torc as my relic. Here it is.

From the British Museum


Here's an excerpt from my sweet Christmas romance, "Sir Conrad and the Christmas Treasure" where we see Sir Conrad and Maggie together.



Chapter 2

                                             
A gathering of horses, war-chargers, palfreys and spare mounts, a hasty bringing together of men, weapons and supplies, and they were off. They pounded out of the bailey, through the village and onto the track to the old Roman road. Sunrise to sunset they rode and then on through the night, sunset to sunrise. Riding in front of Conrad, his thick arms braced on her either side, Maggie felt her world shrink down to her heartbeat, the scalding ache of her thighs, the glare of snow and the relentless drum of the galloping horses.
Had she ever imagined the recovery of Michael would be an adventure? Wishing she could clasp her aching head but not daring to relinquish her grip on the horse’s mane, Maggie longed to stop.
   “You awake there?” Conrad growled, his lips close to her ear. She shook her head as if he was a bothersome fly and forced her wind-chapped lips to reply.
  “Doing well,” she said, determined her teeth would not chatter. In truth she was not so frozen. Sir Conrad had supplied her with a thick cloak and a woollen cap, cloths to wrap round her boots and rags to bind her hair. If I could only have some eastern cushions for my hips, perched on this bony nagWho knew horses had such a spine? Glancing sidelong she caught a knowing gleam in her companion’s deep eyes, as if he expected her to complain. But I shall not.
“Yourself?” She tried a smile, the cold light of the coming dawn piercing her cheeks.
 “We make camp soon, rest the horses.”
“Naturally. The horses. And the pack mules,” she added, wondering why she was teasing him as she might have done Michael. The truth was, she had ridden with this man for hours, her back snug against his chest, her legs pressed against his long shanks. It was hard not to feel a kind of closeness to him.
Now, she felt rather than heard Conrad’s rumble of a chuckle and knew a fleeting lightness in her soul as his arms tightened briefly about her.
“You will not be outdone, will you?” He guided their mount onto an unpaved section of road that did not jolt her bones, which was overall a blessed relief.         
“Is this a contest?” she replied, catching her wind-sore mouth in a yawn before she could stop it.
He smiled against her woollen cap and Maggie closed her eyes. The great horse moved beneath her, smooth now as a sailing ship on a calm river, the beat of its hooves strangely soothing, like a lullaby. I wonder how Michael is faring, she thought as she slid slowly, inexorably into sleep.
                                                                   ****                                        
Conrad gently lowered the sleeping girl onto the rough pallet of bracken and hay that he had set before the new fire. She had done well, he decided, nodding to Davie, a silent reminder that the man guard her, before he checked on the horses and men. A palfrey had picked up a gorse or bramble tear on her flank. Conrad was conferring with a groomsman how to treat the wound when the weary peace of the camp shattered.
Lurching out of the darkness, Maggie staggered back to the fire, plucked out a burning branch and brandished it at the figure coming after her.
“Back!” she cried, stabbing the flaming brand at her would-be attacker, “You will get none of what you want from me!”
Conrad thrust the salve at the nearest groom and began striding back, to hear the farrier, Brian, say, without shame or apology,
“Come on, goldie, I can give you a sweet time—”
“What is happening here?” Conrad pushed between the pair, scenting the mead on the farrier’s breath.
“A bit of sport.” Brian swayed on his feet, squinting past the taller man as he gave the girl a wave.  Has this fool been drinking all night? Supping while on horseback?
“I do not expect to be set upon when I slip into the hazels to pass water!”
“You take on so, goldie, not fair—”
She took a deep breath that would have fit a dragon, clearly ready to light into the fellow afresh, when Sir David with his uncanny ill-luck, stepped out of the trees where he had been setting guards and said drily, “Women following soldiers are usually bed-mates.”
“I am not following anyone!” snapped Maggie, as red-faced as a dragon’s fiery breath, “I am seeking my brother and your lord is meant to be aiding me! Or do such courtesies only count for knights and ladies?”
Conrad sensed the camp about them stiffen and knew his men were leaning in to listen.
“Ladies do not bawl like market criers,” he drawled.
The bright stare cut towards him. “How else am I supposed to be heard?”
“Enough!” He made a cutting motion with his arm, tired of the whole squabble, and addressed his men. “The girl is with me, mine, and you all know it. Brian, get yourself a pail of water and dunk your head. We move on in two hours, when the sun tops that pine tree. Get on!”
He caught the girl’s arm and led her, none too gently, back to the pallet by the fire. “You stay,” he ordered, ignoring her look of utter betrayal.
He turned to leave, go back to the horses, when a narrow wiry hand grabbed his cloak. Looking back, he almost flinched at the flinty glare which stabbed him.
“You need the farrier, yes? But mark this, my lord, you also need me.”
His temper bridled at her insolence. He leaned down into her face, part of him amazed at how very blue her eyes were, in her anger. “I just saved you from a mauling or worse. Why did you not wait for me to escort you? Are you so naive?”
If she could, she would have shot poison like a snake, he guessed, though her words were pin sharp. “I did not know such courtesy was required in your own camp.”
Not even a gesture of thanks, the ungrateful little wench. Did she think they were equals? “You do not tell me how to govern,” he began afresh, but she interrupted,
“Then rule yourself first. I thought you, sir, were different.”
With the I was wrong hanging between them, she stepped aside and flounced down on the pallet with such force that a puff of hay-dust rose in the air between them. Sensing he had made a mistake, loathing that feeling, Conrad stamped back to the horse lines.
Later, too brief a time to be truly rested, they rode on, into the forest of Galtres. The girl sat before him, silent as a stone. I thought you were different. “What happened to you?” he growled, too low for her to hear. He disliked her being so stiff, that was all.
I do need my farrier. She had no right to complain. As for Brian approaching her, it is the way of the world. In a war-band, everyone expects it.

So why did these reasonable justifications seem hollow?

Here's another excerpt, where we see the golden treasure of Ormingham church.

Inside the church Conrad noted that his brother and the earl were most keen to see the treasures within its crypt. In contrast, Maggie—or Margaret—was intent on the stout door of the underground chamber, the narrow stone steps leading down to it and the huge key the priest produced from his surplice to unlock the sanctuary.
“No one has ventured here for a while, thank our holy mother,” she observed, as the priest shouldered open the thick door and Richard and Earl John jammed together in the small opening in their haste to be first into the crypt.
Would be funny, I vow, were my girl’s plight not so serious.              
“Why do you say that?” Conrad asked aloud, interested in her and her reasons rather than the costly trinkets stashed within.
Maggie smiled, her eyes less strained than he had seen them for two days, and pointed down. “Dust and cobwebs on the steps, before the holy father walked down,” she answered, “which means no thieves, either, so we can set a trap for them here.”
“Snares have no places in the house of God!” protested the priest, while Conrad could only think she said we. She is glad we work together. In that instant his joy burned as fierce as the newly-lit torches.
“By all the saints, look at this!” Richard’s loud excitement over-rode the cleric’s disgust and the earl rocked back and forth on the heels of his two-tone coloured shoes, murmuring, “My, my, such handsome works.”
Curious where he had not been greatly intrigued before, merely staying with Maggie to ensure she was safe, Conrad waited for the smoke of the priest’s spitting, damp torch to settle, and then looked for himself.
So much bright gold, was his first thought, while Richard, naturally stretched out sticky fingers to paw at the pieces and Earl John intoned, “Roman, or earlier, and fit for a king.”
“This is the holy moon torc of Saint Oswald!” snapped the priest, keen to put the church’s ownership beyond doubt, “Discovered in a pond near here by my great-grandfather!”
“I have heard tell of such sacred wonders before,” said Conrad, hoping to prevent the priest and earl from saying more in anger or gold-greed that they could not take back.
“It was a woman’s,” said Maggie softly beside him, glancing once at him to share her thought.
“Why do you say that?” asked Conrad.
She pointed. “Because of the safety chain.”

Here's a picture of the gold torc with safety chain that inspired me.
From YouTube

My sweet medieval historical romance, SIR CONRAD AND THE CHRISTMAS TREASURE, is now out. You can read it for free with Kindle Unlimited.

On Amazon. Com here
And Amazon UK here  

Monday, 26 November 2018

Sweet Medieval Historical Romance: "Sir Conrad and the Christmas Treasure" by Lindsay Townsend





My sweet medieval historical romance, SIR CONRAD AND THE CHRISTMAS TREASURE, is up for pre-order. You can read it for free with Kindle Unlimited.

On Amazon. Com here
And Amazon UK here


SIR CONRAD AND THE CHRISTMAS TREASURE TO READ WITH KINDLE UNLIMITED



What is the true treasure of Christmas?

Maggie’s younger brother, Michael, is kidnapped by outlaws, and it’s up to her to rescue him. Appealing to Sir Conrad, the grim steward of the northern English high lands, is the very last thing she wants to do. With the very real possibility that the outlaws know of Michael’s talent—the ability to open any lock, to reveal any treasure—Maggie races against time to find him before his usefulness to the outlaws is ended.

Sir Conrad desires Maggie from the minute he sees her—she makes him feel alive again—and that has not happened since the death of his wife. Though he hasn’t known Maggie before, a strange feeling of familiarity nags, and he agrees to aid the beautiful peasant girl in this quest of finding her brother.

Joining forces, Maggie and Sir Conrad form a tenuous bond. When an assassin attacks Maggie, the pieces of the puzzle begin to fit, and Conrad realizes that even Maggie doesn’t know the power she holds. But Conrad not only must keep Maggie safe, he must thwart the dangerous devices of his spiteful older brother, Richard, who has lately returned from crusade.

As love blossoms, Maggie and Conrad must protect one another. Evil is all around them, and doubt is a cruel enemy. Will their faith in each other keep them united? In the world of dangerous courtly intrigue, who is saving whom? Love is all that matters…but can that be enough?

This story is available via pre-order and will come out on December 7th, 2018

Saturday, 28 July 2018

"The Folded Notes" Historical Fiction set in India on the Indian Railways, by Mandz Singh



Blurb of The Folded Notes by Mandz Singh


Inspired by true events

Bath, 1898: Catherine embarks on a trip with her mother to Lahore in India to meet her father, who is posted at the Punjab University.

There, her path crosses with Kharak, a recently qualified engineer from Lahore who works for the Indian Railways, and a mutual friendship blossoms.

In disapproval, her father, with the help of Ivan, a colonial engineer, conceives a plan to keep Catherine from falling in love with Kharak by getting him sent away to work in another British colony.

He manages to leave two notes for Catherine before departing.

Realising that her feelings for him are overwhelming, she leaves Lahore, following him to Mombasa without her parents’ knowledge.

Little does she know that not only will Ivan be there as Kharak’s supervisor, but as her pursuer.

With everything to lose, hope is all Catherine has to enable her to triumph in expressing her enduring love for Kharak.


“The book’s cross-cultural relationship is refreshing, and its peek into sites around Lahore is delightful.”

- Kirkus reviews




Buy link: https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/historical/the-folded-notes/ 






Excerpt from The Folded Notes by Mandz Singh



The chirps of the native rock buntings were a poetic harmony to wake to. The golden rays of the morning sun trickled through the glass window and hit the bed. Catherine’s eyes slowly adjusted to the bright morning sun as she gradually woke up. Her body felt weightless, relaxed, and her mind addled.
A knock on the door finally awakened her senses, and she realised where she was.
“Come in,” she answered, befuddled.
The door creaked open and Sana, the lady’s maid, wearing a peach sari and holding a tray with a teapot and teacup on it, walked in.
“Good morning, memsahib,” she said softly. “Your bed tea is here. I shall leave it by the bedside.”
“That will be lovely, thank you,” Catherine replied as she leaned up and backwards, resting on satiny cotton pillows in front of the cushioned headboard.
The aroma of the Darjeeling tea brewing in the teapot beside the bed was invigorating.
“Is there anything else you need, memsahib?”
“No, thank you.”
The woman bowed and effortlessly walked backwards in her sari, closing the door behind her.
Without hesitating, Catherine made a cup of tea and took her first sip; it was different to the tea she was accustomed to. It had a refined taste that she immediately liked. She placed her cup on the tray, got up and walked towards the curved armchair next to her bed and collected her bath gown to wear over her nightdress.
Picking up her cup of tea, she walked towards the window and twisted the brass handle to open it. Lavender-flowered jacaranda trees intertwined with red-flowered sumbul trees greeted her eyes. The lawn was lush green and finely manicured. The air was filled with a fragrant scent that was appealing and fresh.
Seeing the garden reminded her of the dream she’d had the night before. She scanned the garden, looking for those yellow flowers she had plucked, but there were none. After all, it was a dream.
It then came to her where she had seen the yellow flowers, and she remembered Kharak’s face.
She smiled to herself as she sipped her tea.

Kharak woke with a jolt. His heart was pounding as beads of sweat rolled down his forehead. He was breathless and hollow. It took him a few seconds to realise where he was and it was the biggest relief he had ever had.
It was just a nightmare. Mighty soul-destroying and numbing it was.
He should have held her hand; never let it go; perhaps he should have stopped her before she ran across the wooden bridge. It was disturbing to hear the cracking of the wooden planks and to see Catherine drop through the gap. He had held her hand, but it slipped through his. She screamed as she fell into the raging, brackish water of the river and disappeared. He yelled for her.
That’s when he woke up. It was just a bad dream, he reassured himself, wiping the sweat from his forehead as he allowed his pulse to come back to its normal rhythm.
He sat up on the edge of his bed with his feet on the floor and his forehead resting between the palms of his hands, and gradually the images of his dream drifted into the background as his reality overcame his sleepy thoughts.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Guest post - "The Lamorna Reach" by Joy V Sheridan. A dark historical romance

The Lamorna Reach presents a Zola-esque tableau of raw, elemental life in Cornwall at the time of the Napoleonic wars. Issy Penhalligan, the heroine, is incredibly beautiful and talented, but these qualities do not secure her a happy, comfortable life. She enters the world as a foundling, under the most brutal circumstances; she is fostered. Issy undergoes rape and abuse, and is pressurised into a prestigious but oppressive marriage. There is a saga of mutual obsession between her and the fascinating but totally dark and menacing Tobias Carmichael, who seduces but does not finally control her. There are brief glimpses of euphoria and romance. Issy is a fiercely independent spirit; true to form, she disguises herself as a man and goes on a maritime expedition. Eventually, jealousy and prejudice conspire against her. She leaves the world, but her spirit lives on.
This novel has the added bonus of multiple perspective, alternating between first and third person narration.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lamorna-Reach-Cornish-Saga-ebook/dp/B079T4QYGB


From The Lamorna Reach
(I can only compare the two of us to be some kind of immortal duellists, twinned in love and in hatred, with a thread running betwixt us that neither man, God, time nor space could alter.)
Tobias came towards me, his face light and shadowed; only his eyes were fixed, hard as serpents, or like stars in some mysterious galaxy – to my face. His hands were very steady as they reached out towards me. I noticed how pale he looked. Those hands – they seemed like birds winging their way all up and down me, fluttering. He made them seem to pass over me, moving from my shoulders to the tip of my head, then swooping them down to my ankles. I thought ’twas all most odd, but I was fascinated by his every movement: indeed, I got a rare measure of delight from this eccentric behaviour. Then, seeming satisfied, he moved away and sat in a chair. He looked down once, then up and straight into my face; he spoke clearly and slowly.
“Undress for me Issy, undress.”
I suppose he guessed my nervousness, or thought I needed more brandy. I know there was a sheen of sweat about my brow. I began to tremble very mildly. He handed me a glass of brandy, nodded at me solemnly as though he were some lawyer or judge. I drank a hefty amount, rather too quickly. I coughed as the flames of that molten potion burned my throat. He continued staring at me, sitting in the chair bolt upright, with his fingers stretched out along the arms. He moved one hand so that it supported his chin, his head being thrown slightly to one side. He moved his head again, his lips forming the unspoken command “U N D R E S S”.
I began to obey his wishes; the brandy had given life to my fingertips, which had suddenly numbed on me, from fear or chill. I began to ease the buttons undone from the side fastening of my blouse; then I shook my head – watching his reactions – trying, I dare say, to adopt his almost insolent attitude. I began to ease the garment over my head The underclothing I had was delicate but worn thin in places. My stitching, never first class, would – I was sure – give him the clue to my impoverished state. I had to pretend to be strong, so almost involuntarily I tightened the muscles in my chest, so that my breasts poked out, springy and firm.
He moved from the chair and began, very quickly, to undo his own garments – throwing off the jacket in a trice, then the waistcoat. With speeding fingers he had the breeches unbuttoned, till he was left wearing only his flannel undershirt. I could see his passion throbbing like a small ghost under the edge of the garment. But (and in imitation of him) I pushed the flattened palm of my upraised right hand at him. I was not ready yet and – if this was the game he contrived to play, then I could play it (I thought) as well as he.
Slowly I began to undo the fastening to my skirt, holding the blouse before my breasts. I let the garment flutter to the ground, then applied both hands to the skirt. I made sure to adopt some mightily provocative poses, for I had to occupy my time somehow at Whitehays and I was really quite a performer in this area. I shook my breasts towards him – the nipples hard and pointed. Sensuality was most assuredly in the air, so that the invisible musk of what was inevitable, seemed to be spicing the atmosphere. My hair was down and tumbling about my shoulders; it tickled a little and I suppressed the urge to laugh. It was a game in deadly earnest after all!
There was hunger in Tobias Carmichael’s face now. Again, I stopped him from moving in on me. I ran my fingers over my Mount of Venus, moving to a sideways position and pressing the fabric taut upon myself, so that he could see the better what was his principle design for conquest. Then – off with the skirt; the petticoat wriggled down to my hips, bending from the knees to pull at the waist, which was snagging over my heel, till at length I stood bolt upright before him, stark naked.
I recall saying to him that this was, on my part, planned adultery and on his seduction and ravishment – if not out-and-out stealing. He all but threw himself at me, but I was determined to play the game well and squirmed from his grasp – meanwhile giggling and attempting to hoist the shirt off of him. He got my drift and it was removed in a flash. The air was pressingly over-charged with our mutual longings – and in a pant, with an almighty gasp, he was in me – his tool actually seeming to hurt as though I were that same virgin girl he had taken three years before.
I began to relax, enjoying the sensations as they swept over me; I had all but forgotten what it was like to feel a man’s hardest and most intimate part moving within me. He was groaning and sighing, his lips devouring mine. I could feel the crescendo building up in his phallus, which was now so hard and big, that I wondered how I could take it. I stopped moving, for I wanted to prolong the ecstasy. He grasped my unspoken meaning and we lay still for a few minutes – both our loins throbbing, veins of pleasure sweeping about us, so that it seemed we were mutually bound by some exquisite electricity. I began to rise to a crescendo; our juices were flowing now and I could detect that rooting smell as it pervaded the air about us. He began to sense my moment – faster, faster – our antics were surely singeing the sheets. Then the ultimate: our outburst of joy was mutually matched. We lay quiet, sated to our first point – for that moment exhausted.
So the night continued, and ’twas as though the ardour increased with the coming dawn. Not that we hadn’t taken time to sup and drink, and to see that my poor little puppy had his eats. We left the inn, but I cannot truthfully say if what had passed between us had proved to quieten our mutual selves. Tobias rode with me to the outskirts of the estate. We barely communicated for the greater part, though I urged Carmichael to pick up Happy and let him ride on the steed in some fashion, for the poor little creature was all but beat. Carmichael pulled me down from my mount as we were nearing the entrance to the estate. His lips were all tenderness, his hands weaving delicate patterns about my cheeks and hair.
“Issy,” he murmured, “to the Gods: I believe it was not a ghost we’ve laid at all, but we have to raise a multitude of unearthly beings.” There was despair in his voice. I was mute: what could I say? Feelings of guilt and remorse were washing over me now that I was back on home terrain. He pushed me gently from him, surveying me; then he was down on one knee, looking up at me beseechingly. I gestured him up with an impatient wave; I felt foolish to be so approached.
Then I was all ruthlessness and was back upon Soda, flying up the drive towards Whitehays. I did not cast a glance to where Tobias stood. Panic – and a wild, exultant abandon were mixing in me like some illicit concoction, mixing perhaps like grape and grain.
I determined to leave Whitehays. I would find Morgan. Or Tom. Or anyone. Or no-one. For I could not let Carmichael have the possession over my being – as he had done three years earlier – and indeed had all but succeeded in doing once more, in the past ten or fifteen hours.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Medieval Jugglers and Others

In the Middle Ages, professional musicians and minstrels were highly thought of and ranked in royal and noble households as the equals to huntsmen and falconers. Dancers, too, were well regarded - in 1306, the only woman paid as a musician in the royal household was an acrobatic dancer (saltatrix, 'tumbler') with the 'stage name’ of Matilda Makejoy. She possibly danced by bending backwards and touching her head with her feet, or on her hands, or on knives - in medieval stained glass Salome was shown dancing on knives.

Such dancers could be athletic and graceful or tumble in a jesting manner, playing for laughter. They could also be well paid and respected - Richard II paid John Katerine, a dancer from Venice, over £6 for playing and dancing before him, a sum not far short of £3,000 today.

Amongst the minstrels themselves there was a kind of ranking, with professional musicians at the top and jugglers and puppeteers at the bottom. Jugglers especially were considered at the time to be coarse, especially those who made a living wandering from fair to fair or village to village. Jugglers were felt to have few morals and to be able to do their tricks through magic - always a dangerous idea in the Middle Ages.

However jugglers were also held in affection, even by the church, and many illuminated manuscripts show jugglers. From the time of William the Conqueror, a 'King of the Jugglers' appeared at the court and would continue to appear through the Middle Ages. Whoever held this title had many rights to go with it. There is also a medieval legend of a juggler who, having nothing else to give, made an 'offering' of his juggling skills before a statue of the Virgin and Child in church. According to some variations of this story, the Madonna or Jesus caught one of the balls.

Juggling using different objects is more difficult than using the same objects. Bouncing objects off a floor is easier than tossing them in the air, and throwing all the objects in the air - called multiplexing in modern juggling - is easier than one after another.

Balls were commonly used for juggling but other things could also be used. In the Irish story of Cuchulainn, the hero juggles nine apples. The later Viking sagas also mention juggling and sometimes with weapons - Snorri Sturluson writes in one saga, "In the doorway of the hall, Gylfi saw a man juggling with knives, keeping seven in the air at a time.", a trick also mastered by Sunniva in "A Knight's Captive"  (99cents or 99p on Amazon, free to read with Kindle Unlimited)


Excerpt
She glided out into the hall, blue and gold, her hair uncovered, unbound and falling halfway down her back, as soft and wild as a mermaid's tresses. Marc put down his plate and cup to stare, lust hardening his loins in an instant.
She was Sunniva, yet not. Instead of her usual loose, long-sleeved gown she now wore a robe with sleeves that came only to her elbows, revealing her slim shapely arms. Such skin she had, smooth and flawless, pale and glimmering in the fire-light. He thought of bracelets to place on her narrow wrists, rings to adorn her graceful fingers, and yet in truth she needed none: she was a jewel in herself.
"Her feet are bare!" Alde hissed, kicking off her own shoes, while Marc could only nod, his eyes busy. The light blue robe Sunniva had changed into skimmed her lithe figure, fitting snugly about her breasts and narrow waist, then gently flaring at her hips, its skirt made in two colours, blue and red, that flickered and tumbled together as she walked.
  With a tense, painful pleasure he revelled in her approach, in the lush, spectacular beauty that was enhanced by movement. He thought of moving with her, the ancient dance of woman and man, and only the presence of the three girls stopped him from taking her now! On the table. Over the table. By the table. His body and head ablaze, he joined in Alde's furious applause.
Cool and gold as a mermaid, her sea-green eyes flicked over him and then she smiled, bowed from the waist like some saucy page and came up grinning.
It was impossible not to smile back, not to gasp, like Alde and Isabella, as she rippled her empty fingers through the waves of her red-gold hair, clapped her hands twice and held them up, showing the five glinting daggers that had not been there before.
Thrice, she whirled them about her head and around her body, so close that Marc found himself clenching his teeth lest she cut herself. Up her arms flew and the daggers flew higher, spinning, flashing in the fire-light, coming down, point-first -
She caught them point-first, flipped them again, high and this time they soared in a curving arch, dropping like tired birds, bouncing handle-first on her wrists, then her elbows, then her wrists, then swooping off and aloft again.
"How does she do it?" howled Judith, her square jaw working in frustration as her eyes widened and narrowed.
Laughing, Sunniva threw what seemed to be a tiny bolt of lightning, and now Judith was giggling as she found her head-square pinned to the beam at her back and before she could free it, another bolt issued from Sunniva's nimble fingers and the small dagger was knocked from the beam by a second, heavier blade and Judith's head-rail was free again and she had a small dagger lying, flat and harmless, in her lap.
"I want —” Isabella began, and then she and Alde were both bemused, touching shiny blades that had just appeared and fallen safely onto their knees, a dagger for each girl.
From the very edge of his sight, Marc glimpsed a falling gleam of light, like a shooting star, and jerked backwards. The small dagger bounced flatly off his knee to land under the table, and by the time he had retrieved it, Sunniva was moving again.
Smiling still, Sunniva raced forward, running, juggling three more blades, turning a cartwheel that flashed her skirts suddenly from blue to red and back again. Bouncing lightly on her bare feet, her ankles kicked up slight puffs of dust and ash from the fire as she made a handstand — on top of two stout knives.
"King Christ!" Marc was hollering and on his feet but the slippery mermaid was already down again and demure, showing no sign of pink toes or shapely calves as her skirt swished into quietness down her thighs. Smiling, she hefted the two daggers again, high over the central cross-beam, caught them and then showed her bloodless palms.
Before he could draw breath to praise or reprove her she sank into another low bow, tucked her knives somewhere into her gown and said breathlessly,
"Now, who will fetch me a drink, pray?"
As one, all three girls rose from their bench and scampered off.

A moment later she was sitting across from Marc, pouring herself another ale, while Isabella nagged to see the daggers again. Prudently, Sunniva had retrieved all of them while the girls were distracted finding her a cup.
"They are gone, child, that is part of the magic," Sunniva replied, as Marc scowled at his youngest. "Is that not so, Marc?"
Feeling himself relax at her careless use of his name, he answered at once, "For sure it is and I for one am dazzled by it. Well done!" He applauded her again, clapping harder as her flush of pretty colour deepened.
"Will you show me how to do it?" Alde asked, tugging nervously on the sleeves of her own gown.
"For sure when you are older."
"And you will show me, too?" demanded Judith.
"None of you will grow to be older unless you get to bed," Marc broke in, pointing to the three pallets ranged at the other side of the fire. He was eager to have Sunniva to himself.



Geraint, my Welsh hero, is a tumbler and juggler. To read more about him and the medieval exorcist Yolande, please take a look at "Dark Maiden"


Excerpt

The abbot and Yolande both had long legs and Geraint was glad he was supple as they stalked away, serious and tall together. Then, before he felt reduced to no more than a sideshow, Yolande glanced round at him, haunted and anxious, and he swore again to protect her.
Good, said a new voice in his mind, a woman’ s. I like that in a man.
Geraint knew there was only one person it could be.   “I carried your cross here,” he whispered in Welsh. The abbot and Yolande gave no signs of hearing his latest companion. 
I know. No tests for me, juggler? Should I say the Creed to prove who I am?
“No, Magdalene.” The presence of her, the risk of it, exhilarated him. There was a challenge in her that reminded him of Yolande. She was still a little ahead of him, tilting her head up like a flower seeking the sun as they emerged into the twilight.
A prickle at the base of his neck recalled him to the other presence inside his skull. Even saints hate being kept waiting for an answer. “No, I know you Marys have a soft spot for jugglers.”
Very good, Geraint. Indeed, I am Mary the Magdalene and this is in part my church. Now fall back a little as those two holy warriors rush on to the tower. Michael can speak to them, if he chooses.”
He sighed. “Tempting as your offer is, I cannot accept it. Speak to all of us, or none.”
The presence within his mind withdrew. One instant it was there, the next he was alone and lonely inside his skull.
Yolande turned. “I can smell violets.”
Geraint groaned—he could smell them too. The saint had truly been with him and he had spurned her.

Outside, strolling to the tower by way of the abbey orchard, Yolande felt less oppressed. Abbot Simon was also less haughty. He even approved when Geraint recounted an amazing story concerning the female saint of the monastery. The Magdalene had spoken directly to him.
“‘Tis true, jugglers have held a special place in the favors of the Virgin and the Magdalene,” Abbot Simon said, looking the wiry Welshman up and down as if seeing him afresh. “Let us pray she will return to guide us.”
“Or Saint Michael,” remarked Yolande. She did not want to meet Geraint’s knowing eye. I am not jealous, not really, and if I were, I would never admit it. He already thinks a good deal of himself.
“Why those two saints?” Geraint seized the mood as he so often did as a performer.
The abbot cupped a green apple on one of the trees. “No one knows. Our founder left no record, only the instruction that both should be honored.”
“I have one thought,” Yolande began softly, unwilling to tell the holy father his business.
Abbot Simon nodded encouragement and Geraint said, “So have I.”
“You first,” said Yolande instantly, curious and exasperated together.
“One a warrior for fighting, one a redeemer, for sinners. Both apt, I would say, in a place that needs more guarding than most against the rise of evil.” He cocked a black eyebrow at her as if to say, I have shared, now it is your turn.
“They are both beloved,” Yolande said at once,  stung into explaining and no longer reticent. “Saint Michael is beloved of God. Mary Magdalene is beloved of Christ.” She knew she was blushing and hoped it did not show too much.
Geraint smacked his thighs with a noisy, eye-catching slap. “I think you have something there, my girl, to be sure. Two favorites, working together, to protect.”

And perhaps that is a sign for me, too, that Geraint and I should work together, Yolande thought.


[Illustrations from Wikimedia Commons.]

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Uvi Poznansky: Bargain&Free

Uvi Poznansky: Bargain&Free: ��   Please double-check prices before downloading  ��   Apollo’s Raven By ...

Monday, 26 March 2018

VIKING SUMMER BY JEN BLACK




A Scottish-Irish flavour for a tale set in 1036 AD ~ a great read!

"The next day Domnal, Leod and half a dozen men left Bundalloch without telling me of their plans. A day and a half after that, a huge Viking longship arrived, frightening the women. A tall, attractive man stalked ashore as if he owned Bundalloch, and when I saw the gold circlet of kingship at his brow I realised that he did indeed own it. I also knew that my brother was in grave trouble.
The King of Alba’s self-confidence and the size of his entourage initially unnerved me, but pride came to my rescue. My gown might be plain, my apron spattered with milk and my hair tied back and unadorned, but until Domnall married, I was the lady of Bundalloch and knew my duties. Hurrying forward, I stuttered a welcome. He smiled, dispersed his men around Bundalloch, and walked into the hearth-hall without waiting for an invitation.
Late in the afternoon of the fourth day I waited with anxiety churning my stomach as my brother tore off his cap and strode toward me. His brown curls flattened, his homely face reddened by rough weather, he noted Bundalloch men loitering around the hall when they should have been at work in the fields and barns. His frowning gaze came to me, and it was only then that he noticed the stranger beside me.
His stride slowed and his frown deepened.
My hands gripped together beneath my breastbone as I saw the storm clouds gather on my brother’s face. Then he took a quick breath, bent his head and forced out a sentence of stilted politeness. “I trust my sister has offered food and drink, Your Grace?”
My nails dug into my palms. Of course I had. Did he think I was stupid?
“We heard you’ve been away on business,” the king said in his surprisingly deep voice. “To do with cattle, I believe?”
My stomach turned over. Oh, Domnall! He had been raiding after all, and now he would suffer for it.
Stiff as a pine, his fists clenched hard against his thighs, my brother’s teeth showed briefly before he spoke. “The beasts wander too far and must be brought back.”
The king raised mocking brows, but before he could speak, the double doors burst open to admit a flood of sunlight and a vibrant young man with dressed in dark leather. “You've been raiding, Domnall.” He strode across the rough earthen floor in long strides. “We've seen the beasts and watched you at work.” His men trailed through the open doors behind him.
“We've been working with the beasts for the last couple of days,” Domnall said stiffly. “It's hard work, mac Enna.”
I knew the name. According to Leod, Hareth mac Enna was the newly appointed Mormaer of Moray as well as the king's oldest friend. Domnall, thirsty after a hard ride, beckoned a servant who held a tray bearing several wooden beakers.
Mac Enna calmly intercepted the servant. With his hand heavy on the man’s shoulder, he steered him toward his followers, then turned mockingly to my brother. “They're not your beasts. We've checked the markings, and they come from the western edge of Moray.”
Thirsty and furious in his own hearth-hall, Domnall flushed with temper and embarrassment. I caught the eye of another servant, who grasped an ale jug and a beaker from the table and hurried forward. Domnall snatched both from him before they too vanished into other hands.
Domnall gulped ale, and wiped his moustache with the back of one hand and shoved the jug back into the servant’s hands. “They're our beasts, mac Enna.”
“We've had men watching the hill passes for days,” Hareth countered. “We can tell to a head how many beasts you've stolen.”
“Count them all you like,” Domnall growled, “but they're mine! Every man here will agree with me!”
A ripple of movement went through the Bundalloch men. Well-muscled hill farmers who did not take insults lightly, the air around them shimmered with dark glances and brewing violence. Someone snarled an insult deep in his throat, at which Hareth's men closed the main door, and stood in front of it with spears at the ready. Women caught hold of their children and backed away into the dim recesses of the hall.
Domnall was trapped, unless he remembered the servants’ door. I checked over my shoulder. No guard stood before the small, unobtrusive exit used by servants and children. I caught my brother's gaze and indicated his escape route with a jerk of my head. His bright, angry gaze roamed past me, and lingered on the forgotten exit. He emptied the contents of the mug down his throat.
Hareth mac Enna pulled a scrap of fine leather from his belt-purse, and dangled it at arm's length so Domnall could see the dark squiggles and circles burned into the surface.
“We have a copy of the marks the Moray farmers use. All we have to do is check this against the exhausted beasts you left in the Glennan valley and we'll know for certain that you have stolen Moray cattle. More than that, you left one of their men dead.”
It was worse than I feared. As the echo of the words died away, Domnall spun on his heel, raced passed me to the rear of the hall and vanished through the overlooked door. The men of Bundalloch met the king's men chest to chest with a growling roar of aggression.
I dithered, unable to decide if I should run after my brother or stay where I was, then started as a strong hand grasped my elbow. The king yanked me to his side, his attention on the mêlée in front of him.
My teeth dug into my lip as Hareth’s troop overpowered the hill-farmers. The encounter was short and sharp, and several Bundalloch men sat and nursed sore heads. At least no one had chased Domnall, for which I was thankful.
The king surveyed each dirty, unkempt Bundalloch face in turn. “Your lord will be fined, and the animals returned to their rightful owners. Some of you will help, and in doing so will avoid fines yourselves. I tell you now,” he went on in the voice that was peculiarly his, “thievery will not be tolerated under my rule. There are fish in the sea and deer on the hills and birds in the air. Grain will be delivered to you from my stores, if and when you need it. No man need starve, for the sake of a little effort.”
Sullen, battered faces glared back at him. “If an offence of this kind happens again, whatever the provocation, the penalty will be death.”
My knees trembled beneath my long skirts. Still, I comforted myself with the thought that he had not, so far, threatened my brother. At that moment the king turned his head in my direction.
“Domnall of Bundalloch should come to us at Inverness and pay his fine within the month of June. The Lady Eilidh will be our hostage against his good behaviour and swift appearance.”
I gasped. Slowly at first, warmth swarmed into my face.
“That's hardly fair on the lady.” Leod’s voice came from the crowd.
“Life is rarely fair,” Finlay of Alba said. “When the Lord Domnall pays his dues, the lady will be free to return home.”