Friday, 17 November 2017

"One Yuletide Knight" Black Friday Deal 99cents today. "The Protector" by Patti Sherry-Crews

The Christmas anthology, "One Yuletide Knight" is a Black Friday deal and just 99 cents today!

In this wonderful collection of Medieval Romance Christmas and Yule novellas by several authors, we have as a sample an excerpt by the writer Patti Sherry-Crews from her intriguing story, "The Protector," the blurb of which is here:

Blurb

What can Juliana Basset, the daughter of an English merchant, have done to put her in the sights of the most powerful men in the country? It’s not what’s she’s done but what she knows. She harbors a secret that could topple the monarchy. A knight, Sir William, is sent to take her into protection until things settle down.
Stowing her away in a convent until things settle down seems like a good idea. Except Juliana stumbles upon yet another secret while there. Things are not adding up at the convent—literally. When she can't help but dig around, the place of sanctuary could be the death of her. Trying to keep the lovely lady out of harm's way turns out to be more of a challenge than Sir William anticipated.



Excerpt

“...twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen.” Juliana, her finger hovering over the fresh loaves of bread, counted under her breath. She put her finger up and tapped her bottom lip. Why fifteen? Always that number when there are only fourteen mouths to feed?
“Juliana?...I mean, Sister Clementine!” Sister Agnes scolded herself. “You have a visitor.”
Surely, there would only be one person to visit her and the way the silly girl swung her hips and flamed as red as a poppy, Juliana knew exactly who waited for her.
“Where is he?”
“In the visitor’s room, of course.”
Juliana hitched up her ugly woolen grab and went as fast as she could out of the kitchen. Soon they would be called for prayer again and she didn’t want to lose time with Will. Not that she was especially excited to see him, she told herself. But she was so tired of the company of nuns, she longed for word from the outside.
She left the warmth of the kitchen and ran down the cloister to the visitor’s room. A thick layer of snow covered the inner courtyard and blew feathery drifts over the stone tiles on the covered way, making it slippery. Juliana entered the room she remembered being shown three days before, shortly after her arrival. Only three days, yet it felt like a lifetime.
There he stood. His tall, broad back to her, examining a painted panel on the wall. Her heart lurched at the sight of his lovely hair. It looked clean and groomed since she saw him last. Would he be glad to see her? She’d look for signs of it in his face. A sparkle in his eyes. A softening of his features….
Sensing her approach, he spun around slowly. Their eyes met, and his face contorted in an unexpected way. Out came a roar of laughter as he bent over to slap both thighs with his hands. He laughed so loud, she feared someone would ask him to leave.
She placed both hands on her hips and glared at him. “Is that how you greet me?”
“Ho, ho! I’m sorry, but they’ve made a real nun out of you!”
“Well, I don’t think it so amusing. Why are you here?”
He wiped the tears from his eyes. “I was passing and thought I’d spy in on you. By Jove, I’m glad I did. What a sight!”
“Now you see I’m fine, you may be on your way.”
“Don’t be tetchy, little rabbit. I come bearing gifts.”
She perched on the tips of her toes, watching him search his tunic. “What is it?”
He pulled out something wrapped in cloth. When he took the cloth off, her body flooded with relief.
“I knew it troubled you when you thought you’d lost this.” He handed her back her book of poetry.
“How did you...You went back to the inn for this? For me?”
“Tis one thing I could do. It wasn’t such a hardship.” He shrugged.
Juliana remembered the flirty serving wench and her stomach twisted. “No? Did you just ride in and find my book, or did you have to root around. Mayhaps you even had to spend the night?”
“Why do you have pique in your voice? I thought twould please you. That’s all. I had no other motive in going back there.”
“Of course not. I’m very grateful.”
They stood still and uncertain a moment, their sights trained on the floor. Juliana fought the impulse to throw her arms around him.
“So, how goes it?” he asked at last.
“It takes some getting used to.”
“I imagine. Well, I can’t imagine being in a nunnery, really. But, tell me did you find Sister Ursula?”
“Oh, yes! Not at first, and I wondered if you were mistaken about her being here.”
“I am not mistaken.”
“I know now. I found her in the scriptorium working on manuscripts. Tis so beautiful! They let me work there for part of the day.”
“Nay, don’t tell me they let an untrained girl touch a page! It takes much skill and practice to reach the level of--”
“I know! I could never...but, Sister Ursula, she lets me grind stones and mix paint for her. She talks to me while she works. Tis very interesting.”
“She talks to you. Huh.” He had a bemused expression on his face she thought odd. “Anyway, what else do they have you doing here?”
“I work in the kitchen and other chores as they come up like working in the laundry.” She leaned in and switched to a low voice. “There’s something mysterious going on here.”
He leaned in and raised an eyebrow. “Tis a holy order. I expect there to be mysteries.”
“Nay, not like that. I’ve been noticing something. Things are always odd in number.”
“Oh dear, very mysterious.” He ran his finger down her cheek which disconcerted her to the extent she forgot all else for a minute.
She drew back. “Don’t tease! Listen, there are fourteen of us living here, but I always count fifteen trenchers, fifteen candles, fifteen sheets and garments.”
“What of it? Maybe there’s a fifteenth nun in the infirmary.”
“There are two nuns in the infirmary and I counted them in the fourteen. Meals are taken to them, which is openly done, but then a fifteenth meal disappears.”
He stared at her a long moment. His expression blank. “Are you very bored?”
“Why do you ask me that?”
“I just wonder if you’re fabricating--”
“I’m not! I’m kept too busy here to make up stories. I’ve never been so busy in my life. They wake us up in the middle of the night for prayer, then we get to go back to bed, only to be woken up at daybreak to hear scripture, only to be called to prayer two hours later. After that we’re sent to work--and it’s still only morning! At noon there are more prayers after which we get to eat, and then back to work.  Then before supper we pray again, only to be called to Complin for the final prayer before going to bed. My head is full of bells, the way they ring them all the time.”
His lips twitched in suppressed amusement. “Mayhaps your mind is becoming overwrought.”
“Tis not! I’m going to find out what they’re hiding here.”
He frowned and put a heavy hand on her arm. “Leave it be. You have enough trouble of your own without calling attention to yourself. Tis possible someone is seeking shelter here and by poking your nose around, you might be putting them in danger as well as yourself. Promise me you’ll do nothing outside of being a good little nun.” He squeezed her arm when she hesitated. “Promise.”
“I promise,” she said, with no intention of keeping it.
“I can see I’ll have to visit often...to make sure you’re not getting yourself in trouble.”
She clutched her beloved book to her chest. “You might have to do that.”







Patti's Author page and newsletter: http://pattisherrycrews16.wix.com/author-blog




Thursday, 16 November 2017

"Apollo's Raven" Guest Post by author Linnea Tanner

“Apollo’s Raven,” Historical Fantasy set in Ancient Rome and Britannia

Linnea Tanner




“Apollo’s Raven” is a Celtic tale of forbidden love, magical adventure, and political intrigue.


Blurb:

24 AD Britannia is in turmoil. Celtic kings hand-picked by Rome to rule are fighting each other for power. The Celtic Warrior Princess Catrin is swept into a political web of deception when the Roman Emperor Tiberius demands allegiance from her father, King Amren.

After King Amren takes Marcellus, the great-grandson of Mark Antony, as a hostage, he demands that Catrin spy on him. Romantically drawn to Marcellus, she learns a curse cast by the former queen threatens the fates of the king and herself. Torn between her forbidden love for the enemy and loyalty to her family, Catrin calls upon the mystical powers of the Ancient Druids to alter the dark prophecy that looms over her.



Excerpt (taken from the first chapter when Catrin enters her raven’s mind to scout the warships landing offshore near the white cliffs):

Catrin again hesitated. Once before, when she had melded and disconnected from her raven guide, she lost consciousness. It took awhile for her head to clear after that episode. If that happened again, it could spell disaster so close to the precipice.
She stepped away from the cliff’s edge and stared into the Raven’s eyes, which glowed like amber gems. The bird’s talons emitted a bolt of electric heat into her arm. A light flashed in her mind, and the Raven’s essence permeated her core being. She knew that she had entered the Raven’s prescient mind.
The landscape appeared blurry until she adjusted to the Raven’s eyesight. Brightly colored wildflowers dazzled her with purple hues that she was unable to detect with her human eyes. A thrill rushed through her veins as she sensed the bird’s breast muscles contracting to flap its wings. When the Raven began its thrust into flight, she felt the misty air lift its outstretched wings.
When the Raven soared toward the channel, she could see her human form standing as motionless as a statue on the emerald hilltop clasped to the jagged precipice. The sheer chalk cliffs formed an impenetrable wall against the crashing waves. Beyond the cliffs, there was a sparsely vegetated shoreline toward which several ships were sailing and where other vessels were moored. Armored infantrymen were disembarking, wading to the shore, and marching across the beach. On higher ground, soldiers set up tents in a square encampment. One of the guards had a lion’s head covering his helmet. In his hands was a pole with a silver eagle on top. She assumed it meant powerful animal spirits were guiding them.
A palatial tent in the center of the encampment caught her eye. Its outside walls were made of twined linen sheets, violet and red, brocaded with eagles. Surrounding the central structure were crimson banners, each emblazoned with the sun god in a horse-driven chariot. At the tent’s flapped entrance were two foreign noblemen attired in purple-trim white togas. Another man, towering over the foreigners, wore a rustic toga and plaid breeches—garments that nobles from her kingdom typically dressed in. From the back, he looked familiar, his thick coppery hair draped over his shoulders like a lustrous wolf pelt.
To confirm her suspicions that she knew this tall, brawny man, Catrin directed the Raven to circle around, so she could get a closer look. When the man’s ghostly, disfigured face came into view, her heart wrenched. She recognized her half-brother, Marrock.
Grotesque images of ravens pecking tissue out of his face flashed in her mind. For seven years, she had believed herself safe from him, but there he was—a specter arisen from the cold ashes of her nightmares.
Why has he returned with an army?
A sense of doom crawled all over her when Marrock’s head tilted back, as though he knew her essence was flying overhead. His blue-green eyes began glowing and changed to the same amber-gem color as her raven whenever she harnessed its magical power. The Raven’s muscles suddenly paralyzed, freezing its wings. A strong force pulled her through a crevasse in the Raven’s mind and hurtled her into a tunnel of brilliant gold light.
She plummeted, tumbling out of control, toward a black portal in the center of a rainbow-colored arch.

Biography

Linnea Tanner weaves Celtic tales of love, magic, adventure, betrayal and intrigue into historical fiction set in Ancient Rome and Britannia. Since childhood, she has passionately read about ancient civilizations and mythology which held women in higher esteem. Of particular interest are the enigmatic Celts who were reputed as fierce warriors and mystical Druids.

Depending on the time of day and season of the year, you will find her exploring and researching ancient and medieval history, mythology and archaeology to support her writing. As the author of the “Apollo’s Raven” series, she has extensively researched and traveled to sites described within each book.

A native of Colorado, Linnea attended the University of Colorado and earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry. She lives in Windsor with her husband and has two children and six grandchildren.




Below are the buy links for "Apollo's Raven"
 
  

Monday, 6 November 2017

New release

A vivid romance set in a time of war and upheaval - Scotland in 1034.



EXCERPT:
Finlay listened with half an ear as Ross and Gille talked about the day’s hunting, but his thoughts centred on Thorfinn. The energetic and impulsive fourteen-year-old he had known was now a man reputed for sea warfare and unlikely to make casual suggestions about anything to do with land, power or the proposed marriage of a half-sister.
With his elbows on the board behind him, he stretched his damp deer hide boots towards the fire. The mouth-watering aroma of meat stew drifted to his nostrils from the large, sooty cauldron that spun gently on the chain above the fire pit.
Gille fell silent, his blue stare unwavering on someone or something behind Finlay. Ross stared in the same direction. Finlay turned his head so fast his neck bones cracked and gained a fleeting impression of a tall, willowy young woman with dark hair. From her gown, posture and self-confidence, she could only be Ratagan, Thorfinn’s half-sister.
He sat up straight.
“I thought you said she was toothy?” Ross muttered.
There was no time to reply. Greeting her half-brother, she then walked over to greet them. Dark hair knotted high on the back of her head accentuated large eyes and a pointed chin, and her perfect profile took Finlay’s breath away. He scrambled to his feet as she greeted them one by one. “Have we met before, Gille?”
“I would have remembered,” he said.
Her smile widened. “How odd. I remember Ross and Finlay from visits to Inverness. All those long speeches about honour. That was you, wasn’t it?” She arched her eyebrows at Finlay, who said nothing because she had glided forward and laid her smooth cheek against his jaw. The coldness of gold pressed against his fire-warmed skin. Perfume lingered in the air when she stepped back. “I remember Hareth, and Kilda, too,” she said. “How is Kilda?”
Either she was unaware of the situation, or she baited him. He suspected the latter. Ross answered swiftly. “Gille married her not a month since.”
Her speculative gaze turned from Finlay to Gille. Whatever she thought, she said only “You must be sad to separate so soon.”




Friday, 13 October 2017

Kitty McKenzie - Victorian historical

Kitty McKenzie is available in all ebook formats and paperback.



Blurb:
1864 - Suddenly left as the head of the family, Kitty McKenzie must find her inner strength to keep her family together against the odds. Evicted from their resplendent home in the fashionable part of York after her parents’ deaths, Kitty must fight the legacy of bankruptcy and homelessness to secure a home for her and her siblings. Through sheer willpower and determination she grabs opportunities with both hands from working on a clothes and rag stall in the market to creating a teashop for the wealthy. Her road to happiness is fraught with obstacles of hardship and despair, but she refuses to let her dream of a better life for her family die. She soon learns that love and loyalty brings its own reward. 


Except:
York, England, November 1864

  From an upstairs window, Katherine McKenzie looked out over York’s rooftops into the distance. The pale grey clouds parted, allowing weak sunshine to filter through the bare trees and banish the gloom. Below, two weighty men filled the back of a wagon with the furniture from the house. Her gaze shifted to linger on the sorry cluster of her brothers and sisters. Ranging in age from sixteen to two years old, they stood as one on the lush lawn with their small carryalls placed neatly in front of them. Their pale faces peeking out from beneath hats showed little emotion while stern-looking men came and went from their once warm and happy home. Of course, there was no evidence of that now.
   Kitty leaned her forehead against the cool glass and fought the tears that gathered as she stared sightlessly down at her remaining family. All morning, the children had watched and listened as strangers invaded each room, taking notes and sizing up all the possessions once important to the family. They understood little of what was happening, but she had told them to wait outside while she and Rory sorted everything out. So, her brothers and sisters, shocked and confused, did as she instructed, not daring to talk about what they saw. Talking would come later.
  Inhaling deeply to calm herself, Kitty turned away from the window. Downstairs a variety of men roamed about, murmuring in hushed voices, making notes on what was left to take and how much money each item would bring.
Vultures, that’s what Rory called them, but Kitty knew it was all about the cycle of life. She had learned a lot about life in the last few weeks. None of it very encouraging, but nevertheless, it had to be endured.
  She sighed, rubbing the back of her neck, stiff with strain. The enormity of what faced her left her cold. Responsibilities had never been hers. There had always been others to care for her comfort. Could she do it? Could she steer the children through this difficult time? As her parents coffins were lowered into the ground, she promised them she’d keep the family together at all costs. She’d do whatever it took to keep her remaining family safe. As the eldest it was her duty to look after them, but secretly she wondered who would look after her.
  Hearing shouts coming from below, she left her parents’ empty bedroom and hurried across the landing and down the main red- carpeted staircase.
 

Available in paperback and digital ebook from Kindle, Googleplay, Apple iBooks and Kobo, etc.
Kitty McKenzie Book 1
She must keep her family safe.
iBook https://goo.gl/RSyj6j

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

"A Knight's Vow," Medieval Historical Romance Novel. 99p 99 cents

Here's the blurb and a new excerpt from my re-issued full length medieval historical romance novel, "A Knight's Vow." Just 99p or 99 cents.

Blurb.

A crusader, haunted by grief and guilt. A bride-to-be, struggling with old yearnings and desires. Can Sir Guillelm de la Rochelle and Lady Alyson of Olverton rediscover the innocent love they once had for each other? When Guillelm makes a fearful vow on their wedding night, is all lost forever between him and Alyson? And will the secret enemy who hates their marriage destroy them both?

“A Knight’s Vow” is a tale of romance and chivalry. In a time of knights and ladies, of tournaments and battles, of crusades, castles and magic.

(First published by Kensington Publishing, New York, in 2008.)


Amazon Co UK

Amazon Com

Amazon Canada

Amazon Australia



Excerpt. (Taken from a skirmish where the hero Guillelm is fighting and the heroine Alyson is desperate to save him.)


Alyson began to run again, to Guillelm, aware she only had seconds, instants before the enemy raised his helm and wound up his deadly crossbow.
He would shoot at Guillelm—
‘Down! Get down! Get away!’ Yelling warnings, she ran straight at Guillelm, her one thought to save him, her only wild plan that if she could not make him hear her warnings, she might spoil the aim of the enemy archer.      
Ignoring the growing pain of her heat-seared lungs and her fading, tiring limbs, she screamed again, ’Get down!’ and now Guillelm heard and saw her, shock and horror warring in his face, his mouth forming the question, ’How?’
‘Down!’ Alyson cried, but she was too late. She felt a punch slam into her shoulder, spinning her round so that she fell backwards, the breath knocked out of her. She tried to move, to reach Guillelm, shield him, but as she raised her head a jolt of agony drove through her body and she blacked out.

Guillelm reacted without conscious thought. He lowered the shocked, sobbing Prioress gently onto the ground and seized the quivering arrow shaft buried so sickeningly in Alyson’s shoulder, determined to draw it out before she came round from her faint.
Even as he worked, images flashed constantly before his eyes. Alyson running towards him, arms outstretched, making herself a target. Over and over, he saw the bolt thud into her slender body, saw her feet actually leave the ground as she was flung around by the force of the impact. She had been shot in the back and he had done nothing to save her; worse he had not even known she had joined the war-band. He had been so keen to lay sword against sword with √Čtienne the Bold, who, cur that he was, had turned tail the instant he saw him, riding through the smoke and soot of the burning convent.
‘Ah!’  Although he tried to be steady and careful and the crossbow bolt came out cleanly, the sharp decisive tug hurt her—Alyson came out of her swoon with a shriek of agony.
‘Sssh, sweetheart, it is done.’ Guillelm wanted to cradle her but dare not: he could not bear to hurt her again. Kneeling by her, he packed his cloak around her body, terrified at how cold she was. Her shoulder was bleeding freely and that must be good, for the ill-humours would be washed out.
What if the crossbow bolt was poisoned?
What if she died?
‘Live, Alyson,’ he whispered, too afraid to be angry at her. He should have known she would attempt something like this: she was never one to sit still when those she loved were under threat. Where was that sister of hers? The Flemings had herded the nuns into the courtyard while they torched the buildings. None had been harmed so where was she?
Blinking away tears, he raised his head and met the pasty faces of the squires. The lads had dismounted and gathered round, forming a shield with their horses. Too late, Guillelm thought bleakly.
‘My lord, we did not know…’
‘Truly we never suspected…’
‘She moved so swiftly, ran right amongst the horses…’
‘We could not stop her!’
Their excuses died away and they hung their heads.     
‘What can we do?’ asked one.
Guillelm raked them with furious eyes. His knights were still searching for survivors in the wrecked convent—friends or foe—but these useless, lumpen youths should be good for something. 
‘Get me that archer,’ he spat.
‘I will do so, my lord.’ Fulk stepped into the circle, glanced at Alyson’s still body, and then turned, shouting for his horse.
‘Sir —’
At first Guillelm thought it one of the squires, or the half-blind old militia-man he had led away to safety from the burning church.
‘Do not scold them, sir. I rode in disguise.’ The small, breathy voice was Alyson’s. She was looking at him, her eyes dark with pain and fear.
‘Peace!’ Guillelm took her icy hand in his, trying to will his own heat into her. ‘We shall have you home safe, soon enough.’
‘I am sorry to be so much trouble.’ Alyson tried to raise herself on her elbow, gasped and fell back.
‘Alyson!’ For a dreadful moment, he thought she had died, but then saw the quick rise of her chest and realized she had passed out again. He should lift her from this burnt, wrecked ground as soon as possible, but what way would be best? In his arms, on horseback? On a litter?
‘Give me your cloaks!’ he snapped at the hapless squires. ‘Cover her with them. You! Bring me the infirmarer! You! Make a fire here! You! Find Sir Thomas.’ He almost said Sir Fulk, his natural second-in-command, but Fulk was off on another necessary task and one he longed to accomplish himself, though revenge on the archer would not save Alyson.
Live, please live, he thought. It was a prayer and wish in one.
‘Where is that infirmarer?’ he bellowed, above the steady weeping of the Prioress. He was growing incensed with the lack of speed of everyone about him and exasperated with the cowering, wailing nuns who had trailed after him like ducklings following their mother as he carried the helpless, vacant-eyed head of their order away from her devastated convent. If  Alyson’s sister was in that drab company, why had she not come forward to be with her? Was she so withdrawn from the world that even the sight of her own flesh, broken and bleeding on the ground, stirred no passionate care? ’Is there no one?’
‘I am here, Guido.’ Calm as a rock in a sea of troubles, Sir Tom leaned down from his horse. ’What say I find something to use as a stretcher?’
‘Do it,’ Guillelm answered curtly, ’And tell your men to search the infirmary for potions and such.’ A late thought struck him, but he could not feel ashamed at it, not with Alyson injured beside him. ’See if any of our own men are hurt, and tend them.’
 ‘They will not be hurt. Men never are.’ A small, slim nun emerged from the smoke, her arms full of books and manuscripts.
‘I am Sister Ursula, who was once Matilda of Olverton Minor,’ she said, calm as glass. ‘I have been in our scriptorium, where our true treasures are stored. The mercenaries did not recognize them as such.’ Slow, careful, she laid the books on the ground and only then looked at Alyson.
‘Your infirmarer?’ Guillelm asked, as Sister Ursula’s lips moved in prayer. His hands itched to shake her out of her complacency: was this woman human? ’Your sister is still bleeding.’
‘The infirmarer is dead.’ Sister Ursula opened her eyes, fixing Guillelm with a stare of utter dislike, mingled with distaste. ’Our sister in Christ passed away eight days ago.’
‘Mother of God, have you no one who can help my wife?’
‘Do not blaspheme against the name of our blessed Lady of Heaven.’
Sister Ursula stared at a kneeling squire striking sparks off his knife to light a small, swiftly-gathered bundle of kindling until the youth shuffled out of her path. She knelt beside Alyson, facing Guillelm across her sister’s body. ‘I will pray.’
‘Please —’ Guillelm felt to be out of his depth dealing with this smooth, polished creature, he felt to be drowning in her piety. If it had been a man he would have appealed to honour, or come to blows. How did women deal with each other? He thought of his sister Juliana, but their relationship had been oddly formal, she being so much the elder and out of reach of sibling contests.
Rivalry. The answer came to him as he recalled the scrapes and scraps that he had seen and sometimes intervened in between brothers. It was a risk to employ it against women, but what other tactic could he use? Luck and recklessness were all he had left.
‘If she could speak, Alyson could tell us how to treat her,’ he remarked, adopting Sister Ursula’s calm tones while around him his squires and gathering knights held their breaths against the approaching storm. Gently: he had to do this right. ‘She is an excellent healer.’
Sister Ursula said nothing.
‘She told me you had no diligence in such matters,’ Guillelm went on, lying shamelessly and worse, feeling no guilt as he did so. ’That you love books more than people.’
‘She is wrong,’ said Sister Ursula.
 ‘You put your skill above hers, then? I have seen no other to match her, even in Outremer.’
With a small shake of her head remarkably like Alyson’s, Sister Ursula unclasped her palms.
 ‘I thought her judgment a little harsh, but I see that she was right. She said you lacked the healing touch.’
‘What nonsense.’ Sister Ursula rose to her feet. ’Build up that fire,’ she commanded. ’I must have more light.’ 

Lindsay Townsend

Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Matfen Affair, or the bridesmaid and the ghost

"an interesting mix of characters, from Leigh’s older, headstrong sister to the too-young-and-spoilt bride, from the rather delicious Robert to the stiff-collared Bernard."


Clutching my candle, I headed into the darkness beyond the sharp turn that led to the older part of the house. In daytime, with others nearby, it had seemed romantic, but alone and in near darkness, climbing that narrow spiral stair was like stepping back two centuries. In several places my elbow grazed rough stone. My poor little candle flame flickered wildly in the upper corridor and its light glinted and rebounded from metal shields, axes and pieces of old armour that decorated the walls.
The hairs on my arms rose as I approached the door to my bedchamber. I glanced back the way I had come and thought it was a pity that wood panelling had not been used to cover the bare stone as it would have made the corridor so much warmer. Close at hand, someone sighed.
I whirled round with such speed I almost extinguished my candle.
The corridor was empty. I held the candle high, but saw only the dull gleam of ancient armour. The silence was such that it was hard to believe any other person lived in the house, let alone walked the corridor with me. I took a firm grip of my candle, turned to the bedchamber door, grasped the sneck and entered.
A fire burned in the hearth, and the bright, cheerful glow was a welcome surprise. Relief rushed through me as I closed the door. The maids had lit candles, turned down the bed and laid two white nightgowns on the side nearest the fire. Heaping blessings on their heads, I hurried across the room and crouched before the fire. Heat soaked into me and gradually I forgot the sigh of sound in the corridor.
Lacking the nerve to ask Amelia to leave the company downstairs in order to help me undress, I struggled to undo the ties of my evening gown, but managed without too many contortions. Amelia loved parties and gatherings and it would have been unkind to insist that she should leave because I was tired. The bed was wide, so there was a good chance that I would not slide into my sister while asleep. If I did, I would surely earn an elbow in the ribs.
As I snuggled down beneath the covers Elspeth and Maud’s advice about standing up to Amelia wandered into my mind. How odd that Robert should have spoken of the same subject but two days ago. I really ought to have taken a stand against her before now. If I did not do something soon, the pattern would be set for the rest of our lives. Comforting myself with the knowledge that I was cleverer than my sister was no longer enough. I had made a beginning today and must keep it up even though she was the more articulate and seemed able to think and speak at the same time, which often flummoxed me. My answers were good, but had a habit of coming a day later than I actually needed them.
My nose grew cold, so I drew the covers higher and hugged myself beneath them. The fire blazed well, and threw a bobbing, grotesque shadow of the chandelier onto the ceiling. If I had the courage to claim the side of the bed next to the fire, I might grow warmer. The idea appealed to me but for the fact that Amelia would almost certainly demand that side when she arrived. Until I was more practised in opposing her, I did not wish to provoke an argument over which side of the bed I should have.
My nose was icy cold, yet a few minutes earlier I had stood before the cheerful blaze and felt comfortably warm while I fastened the pearl buttons at the throat of my nightgown. I could not get warm in spite of the heaped blankets. A small sound captured my attention and I froze into stillness, for the sound had been very like the sigh I had heard outside the bedroom door.
Rolling my head on the pillow, I checked around me. My senses quickened. Flickering firelight did not penetrate the darker corners of the pretty room, but there was enough light to see what little furniture there was: a small dressing table with a washbowl and linen towel between the two windows and a vast wardrobe stood in the far corner, a chest of drawers next to it. Breathing shallowly, clutching the sheet to my nose, my gaze roved the room in an endless sequence, seeking anything different or strange in my surroundings.




Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Medieval and Tudor Sweets. The Sweet Makers - A Tudor (and Medieval) Treat

There's a BBC TV program today about Tudor sweets - The Sweet Makers: A Tudor Treathttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0Vv_T-b1cA

http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2017/29/the-sweet-makers

The mention of waffles, wafers and elaborate sugar creations holds true for the late Medieval period as well. Sugar then was so rare it was considered a spice.

The heroine of my historical romance novella Amice and the Mercenary is a Mistress of Sugar, versed in the art of complex sugar craft. Here's the opening of my novella, where Amice speaks of her craft:


Summer, Kent, 1357
                
 “I need your help,” Duke Henry said. “I need your help to guard the king of France.”
Amice said nothing. She and the duke sat together at her best friend’s wedding, drinking French wine and watching the other guests dance. Throughout the simple country marriage feast, Duke Henry had spoken of the great golden beauty of the bride Isabella, of the good fortune of Stephen, the bridegroom, and of the mild summer weather—all safe, conventional subjects. His leaning toward her now and speaking of the guardianship of kings was unexpected. She raised her dark eyebrows.
Duke Henry lowered his voice still further. “I need someone with a knowledge of plants, medicines and spices, like yourself, a woman with a knowledge of sugar. The reward for such an undertaking will be generous, very generous.”
Listening, Amice was in no haste to commit herself. To a less powerful man than the duke she might have said, “What is the captured French king to me? Why should I care to watch over him against an assassin?” Instead, she asked, “You fear an attack against this mighty hostage? You fear he might sicken or even die and you will be blamed because he is in your charge?”
“I do,” the duke answered, frowning over his wine. “This is an angry time, a time of war and trouble.”
And knights and nobles live for such times. Again, Amice remained silent.
After a sigh, the duke continued. “There are many who might wish to strike against my royal captive. Perhaps an angry Englishman, who believes all Frenchmen are the spawn of the devil.”
“Or Charles of Navarre,” Amice remarked. “He does not lack ambition.”
“True, ‘tis true,” the duke grunted. “It may even be one of the French King’s subjects, one who does not wish to pay his ransom.”
“And you believe I can help. Why? I am no warrior.”
“But you know poisons,” the duke countered.
“As do your food tasters,” Amice answered. “Or you could have the king drink from a cup made from the horn of a unicorn to neutralize the poison.”
“I will do both,” Duke Henry agreed. “But I need still more.”
“I do not blend in,” Amice said, interested to see how Duke Henry responded to that truth. Her parents had been Londoners like herself, but her grandparents were African. She was as dark as Saint Maurice. Even at home, people stared at her in the street.
“That is all to the good,” the duke said quickly. “Tall and handsome, striking as you are, you will attract notice.” He smiled, a look of surprising sweetness. “They will see your beauty and naught else. You will be stationed close to the serving tables, if it please you.”
“To watch for a poisoner? That will be a large undertaking.”
Duke Henry sighed. “I know it will be difficult, Amice, but if you are willing to pretend to work there, you would be another pair of eyes. You have expertise my servants do not have. King Jean—King John in the English way—has a particular liking for almond dragees and anise in confit at the end of every meal.”
Sweets, spiced and difficult to create. Their taste would mask much, including poison. “I can make those.” And watch perhaps as other sweets are made.
“Stephen told me that was likely. That you are a superb cook of sweets. Is it true that your mother trained in Italy and learned all the secrets of sugar?”
“She lived there for a time, yes.” Amice replied. Isabella has been bragging on my behalf to Stephen. And what else has Isabella’s new husband told the duke? “Does the French king not have his own people watching him? His own food-tasters?”
“Of course. King John has many tasters. But still it would be embarrassing if they detected poison, especially in a dish or a confit made solely for the king.”
“I see.” How strange. This king is his captive yet the duke still wishes to be regarded as a perfect host.
Duke Henry glanced away to the dancers again. “I trust my own tasters, of course, but not all of them have your skill and knowledge, especially with spices and sugar.”
Very prettily put, but Amice realized then that the duke did not entirely trust all those within his household. She decided to be blunt. “I will not work in the main kitchen.”
Duke Henry flushed to the roots of his fair hair and looked horrified at the idea. “A young woman such as yourself amidst those raging fires and sweating, half-naked scullions? Indeed, I would not ask that of you. No women work in my kitchens. Women do not work in kitchens. You will be in the still room, with my wife Isabel and her ladies.”
Amice wondered why he felt it needful to stress this. In great houses, castles and palaces, the cooks were all men. If I venture anywhere where food is prepared I shall stand out. But then I do already. “Your wife agrees to this?”
Now Duke Henry looked surprised. “Of course.”
“Shall I wear your livery?”
Duke Henry shook his head. “You are elegant enough already.”
Amice inclined her head at the compliment, glad to hide her eyes as she thought furiously. If I agree to this and I am mostly in the still room , does it mean he suspects a woman? Has there already been trouble? “And for other kinds of assassins?” she prompted.

“King John has Sir Gilles in his household, a most capable warrior, and Harry Swynford, Gilles’s captain.” Duke Henry sniffed. “Swynford is your true mercenary. He is English, but he fights for any side that pays him. Sir Gilles rates him highly.”

Here's another excerpt, where Amice is preparing more sweet treats.
Amice checked on her boiling water, honey comb and the residues of the hive. She was making mead, boiling all in a crock and preparing to add rosemary, cloves and ginger to flavor the drink. She did so, covered the crock and set it aside, ready for the yeasts to grow and change the water and honey into mead.
The duchess and her ladies had gone out into the gardens, leaving her alone in the chamber. When they return the duchess will want me to make wafers, so I should prepare the things I need. These were easy tasks for her, her bed was comfortable and her meals very fine, so why was she discontented?
My friend Isabella says I am impatient and Issa is right. But it is so hard to know that Sir Gilles is here or close and I cannot reach him, be revenged on him. Perhaps I should pray to my grandfather’s sacred spirits and sweeten my request with some of this honey. Instead she moved to the store cupboard, glancing at the brazier to ensure it still burned steadily. She could use the small oven, but that tended to smoke and she could make more of a show with the brazier.  She set another crock of water over the brazier, so as not to waste the flame or fuel, and lifted a wafer iron from the cupboard.
A loud crash then a stricken cry, followed by “Please, no!” and the unmistakable sounds of a solid fist pounding flesh, propelled Amice out of the chamber. Stepping across a broken wine pitcher by the threshold, she found a cowering maid and a squire. The lad, plump and well-dressed, had clearly been beating the girl for dropping the wine jug but he was deathly still now, one fist frozen against the door, the other hovering free in mid-air, and no wonder. A small, slender woman held a knife to his throat.
Amice recognized the squire as one of the duke’s by his livery and the woman by her bright golden hair. “Isabella.”

If you want to read more about Amice and her friend Isabella, please look into my boxed set, To Love A Knight, which contains both my "Amice and the Mercenary" and "Mistress Angel" novellas. This title is also available in print.

You can read more about medieval sweets here.