Thursday 14 June 2018

A Knight's Prize - new excerpt

Here is a new excerpt from my latest historical romance, "A Knight's Prize, now only 99cents/99p 


     Edith had not been allowed to return to her camp. She had retired with Lady Blanche and her ladies, to bed down in the solar of the castle, although she did not sleep a jot. At dawn she heard a creaking of wagons and the steady march of men and peeped through a shutter to see the captain of Sir Tancred's guard already on his way, riding steadily by castle Fitneyclare on the road to London. She recognized his banner, and then spotted the wagon Teodwin had brought from the miller's house at Warren Hemlet.
     She put her fist in her mouth and bit down hard on her knuckles, so as not to cry out. Her people were going. It was good sense that they left, safer for them, but, selfishly perhaps, she had hoped they would stay. Now she was alone, without friends, and she would never be able to relax and be herself, never put aside her veil.
     Perhaps this is how a true princess feels?
     Gregory's barbed irony made her want to snort with laughter, except she could not - that would be unlady-like. Instead she watched the slow column creep past until the rising dust of their travel obscured them, wishing she could slip like a sparrow through the narrow casement to join them. When she was sure they were gone, she knelt in a corner in a pose of prayer, so as not to be disturbed, and tried very hard not to cry. She had thinking to do.

      Later, she waited until Lady Blanche and her women were in the midst of dressing and maids and heralds were darting in and out of the solar, carrying gloves or messages, and then mentioned she was for the gardrobe. She left the room and when she was certain she was unnoticed, Edith set off for the bath-house instead. There, for her own veil and cloak, she bartered a drab tunic from a weary mid-wife who had been up all night at a birth and, with a thought and good-wish for Maria, also close to her time, she dragged on the tunic. Flinching at the coarse cloth and fleas, she set off for the postern gate of the bailey, planning to be far away before she was missed.
     Ranulf fell into step beside her and dangled a long scarlet sleeve before her face - one of his own? She could not tell, since his own huge cloak covered his large frame.
     "I will not look," was all he said. Indeed, he stared resolutely ahead at the grooms walking the palfreys in the bailey yard, while Edith tied the sleeve about her head and face, "veiling" herself afresh.
     "I had meant to give you a sleeve later," he went on, before she could protest. "I suppose now is as good a time as any."
     Edith ran forward so she could stop smack in front of him. "You followed me! You must have done so!"
     "I watched out for you, princess, as a knight should for his lady, and recognized you by your height and shape and way of walking." Now he made great play of staring, head tilted on one side, like a man buying at a fair. "I like your silks better."
       "You are not to judge." Said more harshly than she intended.
       "No." He smiled and offered his arm. "May I escort you to your tent?"
       She remained unmoved. "I will not be any man's prize." She had not broken the shackles of her serfdom for that.
       "Not even your lover's?"

      Ranulf expected her to protest, or deny his question. Instead she confounded him afresh by replying "Perhaps," an exasperating answer that made him wish he had looked at her properly while she was unveiled.
     "Who is he?" Even as he knew he was being stupid, driven by jealousy, Ranulf touched the rough knot where she had tied the sleeve, as if he would strip her face then and there. "Who sees you, princess?"
If it was Giles, he would maul him, best him, beat him.
     Without waiting for her answer, he dragged her into his arms.
     "I am in mourning!" She closed her eyes, refusing to look at him. She was fragile in his grip but unyielding, like a killing knife. "And I am not your wife!"
     A scald of rage broke through him like a bursting blister, followed by horror. He shook with the force of both emotions where he wanted to compel her.
     "Master yourself." Her scorn ripped down his back like a flail.
     "You ask much, madam," he said, and her eyes opened, giving him a fleeting glimpse of regret, but not fear.     
     "If you were my maid, I would take you back into the bath-house and dunk you in a tub."
     "Good, for it would rid me of these wretched fleas!"
     In her answer, he saw maid and princess and he laughed, lifted out of his temper in the knowledge he had at last her full attention and he was facing all of her. "You are such a little liar. One day, I may put you over my lap and smack your bottom very soundly for all those lies."
     Taking advantage of her rare silence, he lifted her off her feet, warning, "We go this way, princess, back to your tent, and you can travel in comfort, in my arms, or over my shoulder." Part of him, the base part, wished she would struggle, so he could carry out his threat.
     "Being in mourning does not mean I have forgotten how to walk."
     "The ground is dusty and your feet are bare - had you forgotten that?"
     She smiled. He did not know how he knew that, with the red sleeve wound about the lower half of her face, but he felt her rest her head more comfortably into the crook of his arm.
     Ignoring the leering guard, he walked very slowly with her through the postern gate.


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