Thursday, 27 December 2018

#BlogaBookScene - Theme"Season's Greetings"Taken from "Sir Conrad and the Christmas Treasure"

At Prairie Rose Publications we have a monthly Blog s Book Scene on various themes. December's is "Season's Greetings" and for this I have a celebration of a winter hunt, in my Medieval Sweet Romance, "Sir Conrad and the Christmas Treasure."

Here's the scene:

He was taller than the hooded man, she was sure, and for that small mercy Maggie was glad. The rest of him, the way his light blue eyes constantly passed over her, the way he bowed to her after the other ladies, the way he nodded to her two protectors, made Maggie suspicious. After his greeting and embrace of Lady Ygraine, his gifting of the partridges to her, he means to make similar courtesies to me, and for what reason? I sense he is not only Conrad’s brother but his ancient rival.
Discomfited, she stepped back, plucking a prickly holly bough off the nearest trestle table to form a barrier between them.
“Going so soon?” He smiled down at her, a trickle of snow melting down his open, handsome face, all boyish good humour and charm. “Is my grim younger brother such a draw?”
“I am with him,” Maggie replied steadily, aware that one of the ladies had rushed to find him a towel, that the others were envious of his attention to her. You can have him, for me.
Richard’s grin did not dim in the slightest. He reached out a hand, as if she was a comfit or other sweet treat, and said in a cozening way, “Shall I hang the bough in a timber crook for you?”
Yes, it would give him great pleasure to seduce me from Conrad.
“My thanks, sir.” Maggie’s fingers tightened on the branch. “But I can climb up easily enough.” 
“She would, too,” said a new voice, and Maggie looked past Richard to smile at Conrad. He limped into the hall, a finger or so shorter than his brother but more sinewed and compelling, his face stark with cold and his dark hair falling like a storm about his shoulders.
“Did you wrestle the deer bare-handed, sir?” she asked, as the damsels pointed and tittered at his ripped trews and muddy, blood-stained tunic.
“Not a clean kill.” Lord William said stiffly as he marched into the hall with the rest of the men. “Steward here finished off the beast, stepped in and stopped it flailing and thrashing.”
“It needed doing,” Conrad replied, bluntly acknowledging the point. From the way he did not look at Richard, and Sir William’s pinched expression, Maggie guessed that his brother had made a mistake in the hunt.
Richard ran, to claim glory that was not his. Conrad stayed. “He loves the show not the substance,” he had said of his brother, and with the deer his warning was made manifest.
Without any conscious design Maggie dropped the holly and reached out to touch his splattered tunic, her fingers spread protectively over his heart. “Is any of this blood yours?” she asked gently. “Are you hurt?”
Not even a little.”
“My lord is a good hunter,” put in Sir David, boasting and loyal, unaware of the tensions of the room. She felt Conrad flinch and understood at once.
His brother will want to do something to bring attention back to him.
“Not when I am here,” Maggie muttered, and in that moment knew what she would do. Light-headed with her own recklessness, she kicked the end of the holly bough aside, launched herself upwards as if rising to the surface from a mill pond, stood on tip-toe and kissed her dishevelled companion.
“My turn to rescue you,” she whispered, as she sank back onto her heels.  He tasted of sweet salt and safety and it was hard to break their embrace.
“Thank you,” he whispered in turn.
“A song!” Richard bellowed, thrusting himself forward again. “Let me give you good folk a lay of our hunt.”
Lord William frowned. “Should that not be Sir Conrad as he brought home the deer?”
“Alas!” Richard gave a glittering smile. “My brother makes a bittern sound sweet! Allow me—”
No I will not. Maggie turned in Conrad’s embrace, faced the high table and breathed out an “O”.  Before Richard could call for a harp or drum, she sang the rest of The Hunt of the Perfect Hind,  pinching Conrad’s arm lightly and unseen so that he would join in the chorus.
Bring the holly, bring the snow,
To hunt the perfect hind, we go.
Their voices, hers clear and sweet, his a dark burr, blended together, lifting the simple tune. By the last verse, Conrad was singing with her and all joined in the refrain.
“You save me again,” he said softly, while the men in the hall applauded and stamped and Richard must join in or look petty.
“I cannot wield a blade but not all rescues are brawn, or protectors men,” she answered, not wanting Conrad to feel in any way obligated to her. I did it so Richard would not triumph, no more than that.
Or so she told herself.
“Indeed they are not! Still, I cannot thank you enough.” Conrad may have said more but a clear horn rang out from the woods and Maggie could make out the steady thunder of hooves.
Please, whoever is coming now, please let Michael be safe with them. Please let Michael be in this company, and happy and whole.
A foolish, forlorn hope, perhaps, but she prayed for it all the same.

Lindsay Townsend 


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