Monday, 8 August 2016
99Cents/99p! Sir Baldwin and the Christmas Ghosts. Medieval Romance Novella
My Sweet Medieval Christmas Romance Novella, Sir Baldwin and the Christmas Ghosts, is now out as a separate story for just 99 Cents!
Here's the blurb and an excerpt
SIR BALDWIN AND THE CHRISTMAS GHOSTS
Ambitious and arrogant, the young knight Sir Baldwin returns to his family’s lands and estate at Brigthorpe to face disaster. The pestilence has struck, destroying his parents and all his family save for a young half-brother, Martin, whom Baldwin does not wish to acknowledge because Martin is the bastard child of a serf. Baldwin needs to learn kindness and how to be a lord–and quickly.
Into this hopeless situation comes Sofia, a young woman who can see glimpses of spirits, of the restless dead. These revenants are very restless around Sir Baldwin.
Somehow, Baldwin and Sofia must work together, to make a true Christmas for the survivors of Brigthorpe and the Christmas ghosts. Can they do so in time—or will the gulf of class and custom make any love between them impossible?
The girl stepped out of the late afternoon lengthening shadows and glided closer to the fire, drawing off the hood of her drab cloak and allowing Baldwin to see her properly for the first time.
Mother of Almighty God—He felt his tightened jaw slacken and knew he would be staring. As if I, a knight, should gape at a village wench. But even a king would stare, he wagered.
She was small and bright, the lines of her face as flawless as her deep blue eyes. Her skin was the color of a bronze, softly burnished and exotic, and her long, waist-length hair was a deep hazel-nut brown, rippling over her shoulders in shining ropes.
“Pretty dark lady!” called a piping voice behind him and then Martin launched himself from the dais, scampering across the bare floor toward him, always toward him.
“Your son, sir?” the young woman asked, grinning as Martin wound himself like a bindweed around Baldwin’s long legs. She had a small space between her front teeth that made her smile less perfect than it would otherwise have been, but curiously endearing. And I am going soft.
“Your son?” she prompted again, brutally direct when he did not speak. After the soft-spoken murmurs of the surviving serfs and villagers, it was refreshing, though her question raised another issue.
“My…” Baldwin flicked the boy’s red-blond head of curls—so like Giles’s, so like Elaine’s—his heart pinched and breath tight within his chest as he took in the brat’s wide-eyed, trusting adoration. What should he say? That this grubby, thin-limbed cotter infant was his only surviving family? He had found the skulking creature hiding beneath the dais table when he returned to his father’s estate two days ago and had recognized the boy at once as one of his father’s by-blows. The likeness between them was too close to be otherwise. “Martin is my kin,” he said slowly.
“Good afternoon, Martin. I am Sofia.” Sofia crouched so that she and Martin were eye-to-eye. Martin reached out a tiny, pale hand to her, quickly snatching at his brother’s leggings when Baldwin shifted slightly, away from the foul-smelling fire.
I cannot have the brat falling into the flames and shrieking anew. His head ached like an old war wound.
“The pestilence has cut cruelly through your lands, sir.”
It took a moment for Baldwin to realize that Sofia was speaking in French, so his bastard half-brother would not be more disturbed. “How long?” she continued, as direct as before.
This time he gathered sufficient wits to answer. “I was at a midwinter tournament at Windsor when word came to me that my father and my father’s lands had been attacked by the plague.”
He was a younger son, used to making his own way in the world, but he would never forget that wild ride north, desperate for news and praying his family were safe. They were not, of course. His father, step-mother, brother Giles, sisters Joanne and Elaine—they were all dead of the pestilence, struck down like the lowest of thieves and vagabonds. “When I reached here only Martin, Agnes, and eleven others still lived.”
And why those? Why did they survive when worthier souls were lost? Why did my bastard half-brother live when my true brother did not?
Sofia’s calm question returned Baldwin to himself. “Father Stigand took sick and died after ministering to my father. I buried them.”
“And the village church?” Sofia went on, in a cool, relentless, still way that almost made him feel ashamed.
“It is closed and locked.”
If possible, the young woman became even more still. “You deny your people their ship of souls?”
“I could do nothing else. There are chalice and plate that would be stolen otherwise, and we have no one to celebrate the mass.” Even now, Baldwin could hardly believe it. He was lord of the manor of Brigthorpe and all was ashes in his mouth. Tonight I must check the fish and game traps I set or I will not eat tomorrow, either.
Beside him, as if echoing his hopeless mood, the feeble smoky flames spluttered and died. Martin howled at once and set up an unearthly wail, making Baldwin want to smack him. He contented his frustration by shaking the boy but the howling continued.
“Give over! Are you a wolf?” he snapped, but a firm grip on his wrist stayed his hand.
“He needs comfort, not censure.” Speaking, Sofia thrust between them, her eyes burning like two dark fires of melting sapphire. She clasped Martin tightly to her body and lifted him into her arms.
“You should be ashamed,” she continued in English, deliberately in English so his snivelling half-brother would understand. “This is why you have restless dead in your house. You deny your own close-kin, and at Christmas-time!”
The fire in the heath blazed up again, tossing shadows into Sofia’s face, turning her features into a beautiful mask. Why has she such noble control?
“I do not.” Baldwin planted his feet. He refused to be drawn into more speech.
“Martin is your family, your living brother, and it is close to Christmas. A time for family. Charity, too, though since you have locked the church and believe your folk would steal their own holy relics it appears you have much to learn on that, as well.”
How dare she speak to me in that manner? And how had she known about Martin? That gossiping head-man must have told her. Baldwin pointed to the double doors leading out of the great hall, only his knightly honor stopping him from tossing the woman out into the snow. “Go to Agnes’s cottage. She will take you in tonight. Tomorrow, you can be on your way.”
“I am master in my own hall,” huffed Baldwin, his earlier weariness and abiding sorrow scorched away by anger. Who did this female think he was?
“Are you hungry, Martin?” Sofia took as little notice of his rising indignation as a hardened battle warrior and that made him pause, if only slightly. Still, it incensed him when she continued to rock and soothe his puling brother, producing a hard oat-cake from somewhere in her cloak and a flask, both of which she numbly offered to the infant even as she cradled Martin on her right hip, exactly like a peasant woman.
“Who are you?” he burst out, which won him a hard blue stare from Sofia. Martin, guzzling the oat-cake, was too famished to care, although usually, his shouting set the boy to weeping. But I should have realized he was hungry. He is so small and thin. “Well?” he demanded, covering his confusion and guilt with a cough.
“I am the one who can help you with your restless dead.” Sofia tilted her sharp chin a little higher. “My mother Yolande—”
“The dark maiden? The exorcist?” Baldwin interrupted, as wonder sparkled through his lungs, allowing him to take a deeper breath than in days. “I have heard of her.”
“Everyone has,” said Sofia, with a sigh. “Though with two grown children, she is maid no more.”
Noting her tightened lips Baldwin realized something else. “You wish to gain renown for yourself. Not be fêted because you are her daughter.” It was a small connection between them, for he had also, once, wished to outdo his father.
His eyes met hers in an instant of perfect understanding before Sofia shifted Martin onto her left hip and glowered “My skill in treating and dealing with revenants is not as great as Yolande’s but here, in this hall...” She swept her gaze up to the rafters and minstrels’ gallery and back “...even I can sense the clamor.”
Baldwin felt as if a sword of ice had rammed through his chest. He heard the ghosts every night in his dreams, weeping and moaning in low words, too soft to make out what they were saying. “You hear them, too?”
Sofia shook her head. “My mother Yolande—” there was a small hesitation as she spoke the famous name—“she can smell the restless dead. I neither hear nor see them, not clearly, merely glimpses, like bright shadows on the edge of sight.” Her full mouth quirked. “You look to have a halo round you, and a brighter one glows around this wee man.” She stroked Martin’s wan cheek and the child leaned into the touch.
“Will they hurt him?” The question surprised Baldwin, even as he spoke it. Since when had he been so concerned for Martin? The boy, swaddled in his cloak, smiled at him from Sofia’s arms and the knight smiled back, disarmed.
“I do not think so,” Sofia admitted slowly. “I have seen such haloes before. These spirits are those of your family, your widest family I would guess, beyond blood-kin.”
Baldwin did not understand that last, but after his dreams of the past nights, he knew something must be attempted. “What should I do to appease them?”
Sofia gazed at him, a calm assessing look. She stared around the bare, bleak hall, its cobwebs and soot and silence and a gleam of understanding filled her face.
“You must make them all a Christmas,” she said. “A glowing show, a pageant,” and she clapped her hands, as though she were sealing a promise.
“How? I have no servants or serfs left who are hale enough or young enough. The pestilence has claimed the rest, or they have fled.”
“You have yourself,” replied Sofia firmly, “and I will help you.”