|Some of the early material|
From the very first moment I had language, I started telling myself stories. My first firm memory of doing this comes from a warm summer evening when I had just turned three years old. I had been put to bed but it was still light and I could hear household sounds from other rooms. Not ready to sleep but knowing I wasn't allowed to get up, I took a cotton handkerchief from under my pillow and spread it out on the bed cover. It was printed with a picture of fairies playing in clusters of flowers, and I can clearly remember making up a story around the images until I grew tired and it was time for sleep.
All through my childhood I made up stories to illustrations in books. I would sit and look at the pictures and invent new scenarios. It was a bit like the Mary Poppins film where Mary and the children jump into Bert’s chalk pictures and go and have adventures deep inside them. This is what I was doing. Sometimes I would watch TV programmes to and add physical actions, but as often as not I just talked to open picture books (frequently with horsey or fantastical themes). Although I didn't know it I was learning all about story structure, plot, characterisation and use of language. I would try out different scenarios to the same tale. I would change episodes, introduce new characters and play ‘what if’ on an almost daily basis.
This continued until my teens until one day, inspired by Keith Michelle's Six wives of Henry VIII, I began writing down a Tudor story in a school exercise book. I'd be about 14 the time. It was in the school holidays and I abandoned the story as term started again. However the following year, on came a programme called Desert Crusader, dubbed from the French and featured on children's TV by the BBC. I've mentioned this before in other blogs. The character of Thibaud, inspired me to write my own fan fiction but very quickly turned into one of my Mary Poppins chalk pictures stories. Desert Crusader was the catalyst, but the rest of the story was purely my own. This time I wrote a 500 page novel and realise that yes, this was my calling. This was what I was meant to do for a living. I wanted to write romantic historical adventure fiction for a career! It took me another 17 years to get there, but I finally achieved not so much the career of my dreams, but the career I felt I was meant to have.
These days you can write your first novel and bung it on Amazon Kindle for 99p, warts and all, and had I been a child of this new technology, I might well have done so - probably to the detriment of my career and definitely my later embarrassment! My first novels although I loved writing them, were rejected by publishers because quite frankly they were not good enough to be published. I hadn't had enough bum on seat hours to write an accomplished enough work, and my inbuilt crap detector wasn't as developed as it might have been. However, I persevered and practised, and 17 years later, The Wild Hunt was picked from the slush pile by leading literary agent Carole Blake, sold to Michael Joseph and Sphere Paperbacks, and went on to win a national award. The year I won it, the prize was presented by HRH Prince Charles at Whitehall, so at least it was some kick start to a career that had had a 17 year apprenticeship!
I'm currently getting ready to move house and I've been sorting out the drawers containing my files of reject novels. Here are pages from a few of them. I've shows some of you before on this blog, but it was a few years ago now, and there is an extra bit this time.
The novel I wrote immediately before The Wild Hunt, is actually its prequel and tells the story of Guyon’s parents, Christen and Miles. My agent took a look at it way back then and submitted it to my new publishers, but the decision was taken that while of a publishable standard, it wasn't quite as strong as The Wild Hunt. In other words I'd moved on just in the space of writing one novel. That's what I mean about bum on seat hours. They pay off eventually.
I've been taking a look at The Coming Of The Wolf, and I think that one day given a bit of luck and a following wind it may well end up as an e-book. It needs a massive overhaul and needs putting on my computer which in itself is a time-consuming business even using Dragon speech to text software. First up is to dictate it onto the PC, and then I’ve to edit it and knock it into shape. But it's there and certainly a project for the future.
In the meantime here's the first couple of chapters. It's an old work in progress, and definitely warts and all, as are the others above. Enjoy or not as the case may be! Click to enlarge.
|Novel number 2. Sequel to Tiger's Eye|
Book 3 in the Tiger's Eye trilogy
Midsummer's Gift - a standalone, part of which
appears in The Champion in cannibalised form!
PREQUEL TO THE WILD HUNT
THE COMING OF THE WOLF
THE COMING OF THE WOLF
Lying in bed, Christen listened to the birdsong. The rippling sequence of a thrush, two blackbirds in competitive harmony, the bold chirping of sparrows, and the raucous cawing from the rook colony in the ash trees beyond the stockade.
Grey daylight poked through the gaps in the shutters and stole across the skins on the bed to touch the bare shoulder of the sleeping man. She turned her head to look at him. The muted light was kind to his years, gentling the less deep wrinkles and smoothing the crepey skin on his throat and arms. Since the coming of
, Lyulph had aged far beyond the five and fifty summers he had once carried so lightly. Normans
It was difficult for him. He had been wounded at the great battle against the Norwegians in the north, and thus unable to fight with King Harold at
Hastings to defend against William of Normandy. He had spent the day of the battle burning with fever from an infected gash in his thigh. The wound, a stab from a Norwegian spear, had saved his home and family. Sometimes Christen thought that for Lyulph it would have been better had he died at Harold’s side rather than surviving to swear his alliance to King William and live each day as he did now, ravaged by guilt and bitterness. England
The birdsong was growing more insistent and the grey light turning to gold. Lyulph slept on, his breath stirring his silver moustache. Silently Christen slipped from his side and donned her gown over the chemise in which she had slept. She combed and braided her hair her heavy blond hair and covered it with a linen wimple. Sitting down on the bed to put on her shoes, she glanced again at Lyulph with a mingling of worry and sadness.
They had been married for five years. Twice she had conceived. One pregnancy had ended in miscarriage and the other had resulted in a stillborn daughter. She and Lyulph had not lain together as man and wife since then. He said he would not bring a child into a land inhabited by rapacious French-speaking barbarians, chief among them William FitzOsbern Earl of
. Instead, Lyulph had become her child. Christen was a year short of her twentieth summer, but often felt older than her sleeping husband. Hereford
She crept from their bedchamber and entered the adjoining hall. A yawning, maidservant was poking the fire to life in the central hearth while the hall’s other occupants roused from slumber and prepared to face the day. Christen went out into the yard. The smell of new bread wafted from the bakery and her stomach clenched with hunger. In the dairy, the women were churning butter and making curd cheese. She paused to supervise, saw that all was as it should be, and continued on her way.
It was pleasantly cool now, but bid fair to be a hot, end of summer day once the sun had gained height, -ideal for dyeing the skeins of spun wool waiting her attention in her chamber. The yarn would set and dry swiftly in the fresh air. As she entered the shed where the cauldrons and washing agents were stored, a hard arm clamped like around her waist, and she was lifted from the ground and spun into an enormous, hearty bear-hug. She shrieked and thrashed, striving to break free.
‘Christen, it’s all right, it’s me!’ rumbled a familiar voice, and a bewhiskered face loomed over hers to plant a kiss on her cheek.
‘Osric!’ she panted and stared at the brother she had not seen since the rebels had raided
last year. ‘What are you doing here?’ She felt the rings of his mail shirt imprinting the flesh of her cheek, and beneath her ribs the hard edge of a sword pommel. Pushing herself out of his arms, she scowled, knowing of old that his great, solid body was the only dependable thing about him. Hereford
‘Don’t look at me like that.’ He gave a tense laugh and dug one hand through his unevenly hacked hair.
‘How should I look at you?’ she snapped. ‘A year passes without news, and then you leap on me like a bear and expect me to be overjoyed. ‘Are you still with the rebels?’
He dropped his hand. ‘The free English,’ he said.
Christen was unimpressed and just glared at him.
Osric opened his mouth but stopped on the point of remonstration and changing tack, rubbed the back of his neck and said, ‘Christen, I need your help.’
She wanted to throttle him, but shook her head and made a brusque gesture. ‘You had better come to the hall and break your fast,’ she said. ‘The bread is fresh out of the oven. Lyulph is still abed. I ....Who are they?’ She stared at the six men standing near the stable enclosure, their faces wary and furtive.
Osric shrugged and looked uncomfortable. ‘My war band. ‘We’re on our way to rejoin Thegn Eadric west of here.’ ‘Well they can stay away from our horses,’ she said. ‘God knows, Lyulph has had trouble enough keeping them from Fitzosbern’s grasp without you seeking to “borrow” them from us.’ ‘Christen!’ He looked hurt. ‘I have grown up,’ she said wearily, ‘and Lyulph has grown untimely old. We are beyond riding on the back of glory in to death. Bring them into the hall. And I will go and rouse my Lord.’
Lips pursed, Christen served her menfolk bread, cheese and new ale.
‘So you go into
to rejoin Wild Edric?’ Lyulph eyed his brother in law out of faded blue eyes. Wales
Osric broke a crust of bread, pushed it into his mouth, and spoke around it. ‘If we can break through the
net, yes. It shouldn’t be to difficult; we have already shaken off one band who were on our tail.’ Norman
‘Then you are hunted?’
Osric glanced sidelong at Lyulph. ‘We lost them in the forest last night. I would not bring danger down on your heads.’ He swilled down the bread with a deep gulp of ale. ‘They wern’t a large troop. We would have turned and fought, but they had horses and we were on foot.’
Which meant they could not be far away, Christen thought, glancing apprehensively at her husband. He gestured her away. She went outside to supervise the laundry, not wanting to hear any more of the talk, but knowing how it would go. Osric would ask for spears and axes and decent mounts to take them into
and Lyulph would agree in order to have them away from Ashdyke. Exacting tribute she thought, and gooseflesh rose along her arms. Wales
She was stooping over a vat of stewing alder bark, her face steam-reddened, when Lyulph approached, his gait heavily favouring the wounded leg. He was not using his stick, a sop to his pride.
‘Set seven more places at our table tonight,’ he said gruffly. ‘Osric is going to rest up here today, then ride at moonrise.’
‘Ride my lord?’ She stepped aside to let a woman empty another pail of water into the bubbling cauldron. ‘Can we spare the horses?’
Lyulph’s mouth hardened ‘He is kin. We are obliged.’.
‘Precisely the reason he is here. He knows we are obliged.’
‘They cannot win,’ he said heavily. ‘There is no-one left of Harold’s mettle lest it be William of Normandy, and him we already have whether we like it or not. He rubbed his face. ‘Your brother will not listen, but then at his age, I would not have done so either.’
Impulsively she reached up to stroke his beard, an affectionate half-smile in her eyes.
‘And at his age, I’d have been of more use to a pretty young wife,’ he said ruefully. ‘A man of your own years would have filled your nights and your belly a deal more frequently than I.’
Swiftly she covered his lips with her palm and stopped his words. ‘I have been content my lord.’
He searched her face ‘Have you?’.
‘Yes,’ she said, her throat tightening.
He kissed her fingers, and gave her a long look as if taking his leave, then turned on his heel and limped towards the stables to give the order to release horses they could ill afford to lose. Christen watched his painful progress across the ward and felt a cold hand squeeze her heart. He had spoken in the past tense and there was finality in the manner of his step. Her eyes became dry with staring and began to smart and fill. Abruptly she returned her attention to the tub.
They were seated at table, Osric waving a chicken leg around on the edge of his knife and regaling them with an exaggerated tale of his deeds among the “free English” when the
hit them in the September dusk like a bolt of lightning. One moment Christen was directing a servant to pour more ale into Lyulph’s cup, the next there was a golden splash of it across the trestle and down her skirt as the men leaped up in answer to a terrified shriek of warning. Lyulph snatched his battleaxe off the wall behind his chair and stepped in front of Christen to defend her. Osric placed one hand on the trestle and leaped lightly over it. Sword drawn, he snatched up a stool to use as a shield, his men ranging behind and to the side of him. Normans
There seemed to be a hundred of them, although Christen later learned there were no more than twenty, but they were enough to overcome a small English community that had lost its best fighting men in the north and possessed a lord who was not whole. The younger man who might have led their defence was neither a martyr, nor for all his boasting, the stuff of which great leaders and heroes were made. As the
poured into the hall, Osric snatched up a burning brand from the hearth near his feet and torched the rushes carpeting the floor. As smoke and stench began to rise amid small soft teeth of flames, he scrambled out of an unshuttered window, his so-called war band following hard in his wake. Normans
Christen started to cough and drew her veil across her nose and mouth.
‘Go, get out of here!’ Lyulph commanded. ‘Take to the woods and hide until I come for you!’
‘I’ll not leave you!’ she said fiercely, then coughed so hard into the linen that she retched and could only and see through a stinging blur.
‘Do as I say!’ He shoved her vigorously away from him. Christen stumbled on her gown, righted herself, stared down the hall with smoke-torn eyes at the mail-clad figures emerging through Osric’s barrier of flames, then turned and fled.
In their bedchamber, she grabbed her cloak, kilted her gown into her girdle, and ran to the window, then recoiled with a scream as a Norman soldier straddled the sill. The man leaped down and advanced on her, his sword raised, light gleaming along the blade. Outside someone screamed in English and was answered by an exultant French bellow. Christen drew her small knife from her belt, her heart thumping so hard she thought it must burst from her body.
’s blade wove the air and Lyulph staggered into the room his axe blade dyed crimson, dark trickles running down the haft. With a howl of rage, he attacked the Norman . There was a solid thud. Christen felt wet heat spray her face before her attacker fell at her feet, half his face shorn away. Norman
‘Lyulph!’ She ran to him and he held her hard for the space of a heartbeat, before he spun her round and bundled her towards the window. ‘We were betrayed,’ he panted. ‘Gyrth the farrier went to the
Normans in and told them we were harbouring rebels, and opened the gates for them. Can you reach? Quickly now.’ Hereford
He lifted her, fingers digging painfully into her hips. No need to ask why Gyrth had gone to the invaders. They were the ones with the horseflesh and the custom these days, and they paid hard silver for information regarding outlaws. Gyrth had been sullen ever since Lyulph had dealt him a fine for drunken brawling within the palisade last month.
‘Meet me at the hundred oak,’ Lyulph said as she gained the sill. ‘If I do not come make for the nunnery at....’ The sentence remained unfinished. Christen screamed a warning and Lyulph whirled, the axe already swinging through its bright arc. The
howled as the blade sheared through his shield as though it were made of butter, and opened his leg to the bone. Lyulph gathered his balance to strike again, but a second soldier following hard on the first was faster. His sword took Lyulph’s unarmed body on its bright edge and bit deep. Norman
For an instant, Christen thought he had not been wounded, and this despite seeing the full width of the sword enter his chest. Still grasping his axe, Lyulph stared incredulously at the blood saturating his tunic. He half-turned to the window as if to speak, but no words came, only an eruption of blood from his mouth and the
struck him again as he fell. Norman
The first soldier threshed the floor, screaming that his leg was shattered. His companion turned to him. Christen swung her other leg over the sill and dropped to the ground, was winded and bruised as she landed, but otherwise unharmed. Sobbing with shock, she staggered to her feet her fingers gripped convulsively in the soft squirrel lining of her cloak. The hall was well ablaze and the
were doing nothing to stop it The red glow of the fire overlaid the early starlight and illuminated the sprawled bodies, cut down as they fled, and glinted on those still fleeing as they were caught and slaughtered. Christen ran towards the small rear entrance to the stockade near the midden pits. Everything was fire and blood and the harsh, triumphant sound of voices exulting in French. Normans
A troop of horsemen galloped across the compound and rode straight across her path. The lead stallion was upon her in an instant, and she was flung from its broad, dappled shoulder like a child’s straw doll to sprawl face-down in the dirt several yards away, dazed and barely conscious.
When she recovered enough to drag herself to a sitting position and look around, she saw that her means of escape was now denied by two guards, the firelight flowing over their mail and sharp spears. Her right side throbbing from her fall, Christen dragged herself to her feet and began to stagger towards the darker shadows on the far side of the burning hall, seeking concealment.
Outside the hall two
were arguing. One she recognised as the man who had killed Lyulph. He was gesticulating furiously, and his voice was a raw snarl. His opponent stood perfectly still and his own voice never rose above the same level pitch, although it was obvious that he was equally determined to have his own way. She understood a little French, for her father had traded with Norman and Angevin wine merchants and at one time had even considered wedding her to one, although it had never come to pass. ‘Yes, you got here first,’ said the quiet one, his lip curling with distaste. ‘There was no need for this.’ Normans
‘They were harbouring rebels. That old bastard set about sir Everard with a battleaxe and killed him, and you say there was no need?’
‘Knowing Everard de Nantes, I would say the English man was justified’
reached to his sword, and the quiet one made his first move, his hand streaking out to clamp on the hilt of the half-drawn blade. ‘That would be unwise,’ he said. ‘My men would not delay in the least to kill you, and I am more certain of them than you will ever be of yours.’ Norman
The man’s eyes flickered. With their leader dead, there would be a scramble to be top dog. He feared to lose face just as he feared this quietly spoken man, and between the two was caught in a cleft stick. ‘I’ll take this up with the Earl of Hereford’ he threatened, snatching his wrist from the other’s grip. ‘He gave the order to take this place. You’ve not heard the last of this Le Gallois.’
‘Take it up with the pope himself, only get out of here now while you still have the wherewithal to walk and beget sons.’
‘If Lord Everard were not dead...’ The mercenary fumbled at his mount’s stirrup.
‘I would kill him myself.’
Christen watched the Normans ride out, taking with them a couple of pack horses laden with the bodies of five of Osric’s companions, slung like dead deer across their backs. The remaining Norman leader studied their retreat with narrowed eyes.
‘What’s to be done with those two Lord Miles?’ A soldier indicated two bound captives – a sorry looking specimen with a straggly brown beard, and a heavy-set blond-haired man with arrogant, features.
‘Hang them,’ the knight replied. ‘It is all they deserve.’
Christen swallowed, feeling as if there was a bucket of ice in her stomach. ‘No I beg you!’ she cried, stepping forward. ‘In the name of our saviour, have mercy!’
He turned abruptly to consider her. She could not see his eyes or the expression in them because of the darkness. Flame light was reflected in the polished surface of his helm.
‘Why should I do that?’ he demanded.
‘Osric is my brother,’ she said, trying to keep her voice steady. ‘He is the only family I have left. You have killed my husband who was lord here, and burned my home. ‘I have lost too much tonight already.’
He shook his head. ‘Do you know what he and his “warband” did to one of my villages yesterday?’ he said with contempt.
‘They learn by Norman example,’ Christen said, gesturing round the devastated compound.
‘Mayhap, but sometimes I doubt they need prompting.’ He nodded acknowledgment to a soldier demanding his attention, and turned to leave her.
‘I beg you...’ She gripped his wrist.
He looked down at her hand and firmly, but not ungently disengaged. ‘I will think on it,’ he said. ‘But I make no promises.’ Nodding curtly, he left her side.
She watched him walk away, his step lithe like that of a Welsh tracker, then she turned and walked across the compound towards the huddled group of survivors. Osric sat on the ground, shackled to a tethering post with his surviving companion. A Norman guard stood vigilantly close.
Christen stared down at her brother’s smoke-grimed face and swollen black eye, and felt a mingling of pity and disgust. ‘Why did you raid his lands?’ she asked.
Osric stared at her in disbelief. ‘He’s a
! What other reason do I need?’ Norman
She looked over her shoulder at the burning hall, beginning to fall in upon itself and thought of the gleeful hatred of tonight’s plundering. They were two sides of the same coin. ‘ You had better think of a better one before tomorrow morning, or you will hang. You brought this down on us. Think on that.’ Without giving him a chance to reply, she went to assist in laying out the dead and helping the wounded.
In his dream, Miles checked his mount on the hilltop and watched a blood-red sunrise lift out of the morning mist and sweep colours across the slope below him. Bodies sprawled as far as the eye could see, caught in the swift indecency of violent death. The fighting elite of the English - the mighty axe-wielding huscarls, with a high toll of Norman and Flemings scattered among them. A slight breeze wafted the pennons upon abandoned lances and stirred the feathers of the ravens that hopped among the dead and perched on stiff shoulders and unmoving breasts to feast.
In the distance, a group of dark-garbed women searched among the slain – King Harold’s mistress and mother, seeking on Duke William’s orders for their lord’s war-butchered body.
Miles’s horse swung its head, bit chains jinking. Miles was so absorbed in the terrible sight below him, and so drunk with the weariness of aftermath, that he did not see the bloody shreds of something once human swinging an axe towards his spine until it was too late.
His eyes jerked open and he awoke sweat-drenched and ridged to the liquid note of a thrush and the distant nickering of a horse, the battle cry of the wounded huscarl a fading illusion. He lay gasping roughly, disorientated, afraid. A cloak-wrapped figure beside him grunted and turned over, shifting to a more comfortable position and started to snore. Miles drew a shuddering breath and exhaled slowly.
was three years over and still, occasionally, the dreams seized him. It was not the first battle he had fought, would not be the last, but never had he come so close to dying as in the seconds before he spurred Merlin out of path of the axe, and the English warrior had fallen dead on the turf. Hastings
He took another breath and grimaced to taste smoke. Such stupid, wanton waste. The punishment meted so gratuitously by FitzOsbern’s men was half the reason the English were so hard to tame. Rape and pillage were hardly the tools with which to come a wooing, but then the Earl of Hereford knew no other manner or courtship.
Miles stood up and stretched. The sky was paler in the east and would soon bear the rosy flush of dawn, and one of the men on watch was stirring a fire to life under a small cauldron. Miles nodded to him, yawned, and rubbing his shield arm to ease a lingering stiffness, strolled to the midden pit to relieve himself before climbing to the walkway on top of the palisade.
The strengthening light afforded him a view of the immediate settlement and lands. Below the natural escarpment on which the manor was built, the river Wye glinted like a new-scaled snake. Beyond its convolutions, the Roman road drove east towards
Hereford and west towards . Between road and river fertile fields, ruched by the plough filled his view. Cattle grazed the water meadows and sheep the higher, craggier ground between village and manor. Wales
Miles looked over his shoulder at the charred dwellings and the dark forests beyond the far palisade, and his eyes narrowed in concentrated thought. Several times in the next half hour as the dawn brightened, his gaze flicked between river, road and fields, before coming to rest again on the palisade and the burned ruins it defended. And slowly, he began to smile.
Christen was so stiff and bruised when she awoke, that she could scarcely move. Groaning, she struggled upright and took the cup of ale that Ediva, one of the maids was holding out. The light had not yet reached the bloom of full dawn, but she could see enough to tell that the girl was smiling and casting coy glances over her shoulder at the Norman campfire.
‘Something pleases you?’ Christen massaged her stiff neck with her free hand.
The girl curtseyed and lowered her eyes, but her bright expression remained. ‘These are good men my lady. They mean us no harm. I know they do not.’
‘I suppose one of them told you so,’ Christen said, taking a sip of ale.
‘Yes my Lady.’ The sarcasm sailed over the top of Ediva’s head. ‘He’s an Englishman called Leofwin, born and bred near Wigmore, and his Lord is Miles Le Gallois, Lord of Milnham-on-Wye. He’s native born too.’
‘He spoke like a
last night,’ Christen said, but looked at the girl with new interest. Norman
‘There’s no English in him my Lady. His father’s a Norman baron who settled here in old King Edward’s time, and his mother’s of Welsh high blood.’
Hence Le Gallois,’ Christen thought, which was
for “TheWelshman”. She glanced towards the soldiers and in the strengthening light saw a well-set-up young man with shoulder- length light brown hair grinning at Ediva. Norman
‘Thats him,’ said the maid. ‘That’s Leofwin.’
‘You wasted no time.’
Ediva looked hurt but compressed her lips and said nothing.
Le Gallois strolled over to the fire and crouched on his heels, accepting a cup from one of his men. Now that his helm was off, Christen could see that he had short-cropped black curls and a thin dark-complexioned face. His features were neat and set in a habitual expression of composure, for his look was no different now than it had been when confronting the enraged mercenary last night. He spoke to Leofwin briefly in English and received a reply that made him arch his brows and smile in the women’s direction. Finishing his drink, he rose to his feet and walked across to her.
‘Lady, if you please, will you walk with me?’ He extended his hand.
His voice was pleasant enough but it was a command spoken as a request. After a moment’s hesitation, she placed her hand in his and allowed him to draw her to her feet.
In silence he led her across the compound towards the palisade. His grip on her was light, but she received the impression that it could tighten in an instant to hold her fast.
‘I have a boon to ask of you,’ she said.
‘Another one?’ He sent her a sharp glance sidelong. ‘Is your brother’s life not enough?’
She felt her face burn. ‘Father Aelnoth the priest. Will you let him come from the village and say prayers for Lyulph? He died unshriven, and I would have the comfort of prayers said for his soul.’ She bit her lip to stop her chin from wobbling.
Seeing her brave struggle, Miles felt an unexpected wave of compassion. ‘It is already in hand,’ he said. ‘My men will go into Ashdyke to fetch him and the villagers as soon as it is full light.’
‘The villagers?’ She looked up quickly. The light of the rising sun was in his eyes, and instead of the dark Welsh-brown she had imagined, her gaze was met by a vivid, blue-flecked green. ‘Why the villagers?’
‘They need to know what happened last night, and what the consequences will be to themselves, and they will make admirable witnesses to the morning’s business.’
‘What business?’ She felt as if a stone had lodged in her stomach.
‘That depends on you,’ he said.
Christen moistened her lips. ‘Why?’
They had reached the stairway to the palisade, and without answering, he led her up onto the wall walk. Then he swung his arm wide to encompass the land spread forth to their view. ‘Look at it,’ he said. ‘Look around.’
Mystified, Christen did so, and saw only the usual vista. ‘Since
Stamford and some of the plough lands have reverted to waste for want of men.’ Her expression grew bleak. ‘Still, there are not the mouths to feed that there were.’ Hastings
He frowned at her, wondering if she truly did not see the wealth laid out under their gaze.
‘Lyulph did not care,’ she added softly. ‘His body was maimed at
Stamford Bridge, and his soul at . What was left was no more than a husk.’ Her throat closed. She looked down at her hands. Hastings
‘Even so, the neglect is superficial. These lands are rich.’ When she did not respond, he continued, ‘and you are a rich young widow and lady here, so I understand. I am not the only man with a soldier’s eye. This is a perfect place to build a castle to command the approaches to Hereford and the Welsh border, and as long as somewhere like this is controlled by a strong hand, the King, and the Earl of Hereford will not much care who it is.’
Understanding widened her eyes. She would be forced into marriage with Ashdyke’s claimant to legalise his possession, and it would not matter who he was, save that he serve the interest of his masters. ‘I would lief as kill myself!’ she said.
He shook his head. ‘There is no need for that. I have the custody for now, and no intention of giving it up. I have the King’s ear, and my family is well known to the Earl of Hereford. There might be some harsh words spoken and some hard bargaining involved, but I believe I have enough credit with both men to be given permanent command of this place if you will agree to wed me.’
She stared at him in shock. ‘Wed you?’
‘It will legalise my claim and give you security. If I am to build up this place and enrich it, I need a mediator whom the people will trust.’
She shook her head and took a step away from him.
‘I intend having Ashdyke,’ he said. ‘It would be easier for me with your cooperation, but in the end it comes down to the fastest sword, and the greatest cunning. If you accept, you may live as you lived with your former husband. The domestic arrangements will be yours to command, the military ones mine.’ He flicked his gaze to a laden cart creaking into the compound through the main gateway.
Christen stared queasily over the palisade. Marriage to a man she of whose existence she had been unaware a scant twelve hours since, a man of whom she knew nothing except what Ediva had told her, but in all probability, the alternatives were worse ‘When would the wedding be?’
‘The quicker the better. Say, tomorrow morning?’
‘ So soon?’ She bit her lip in dismay.
‘It is necessary, unless you would rather see the likes of Gervase FitzWilliam sieze tenancy.’
‘That mercenary I faced down last night. One of FitzOsbern’s hirelings.’ His lip curled with distaste.
She swallowed the urge to heave. ‘Very well,’ she said, barely parting her lips. ‘But of necessity.’
He gave a business-like nod. ‘The priest can draw up the contract this morning while he is here.’
‘And what of my brother? Will you let him go now? Does my consent buy his freedom?’
Miles rubbed the back of his neck and looked out across the fields. ‘It is not that simple,’ he said quietly. ‘If I let him and his companion go, they will return with all speed to the rebels over the border. From what I hear, it was your brother who started the fire in the hall?’
‘It was a diversion.’
Miles pondered for a while, and eventually lowered his hand and grimaced. ‘As a sign of goodwill to you, I will release him and his companion,’ he said, and then his mouth hardened. ‘But not unscathed. They must know that all actions have their consequences.’
‘My Lord I....’
‘Sire, the priest is here!’ Leofwin bellowed up at them, interrupting her protest. ‘He doesn’t speak French.’
Christen pressed her lips together. He was within his rights, but she was apprehensive about what he intended to do with Osric.