Saturday, 22 March 2014

The Lord and Eleanor - Chapter One (Excerpt)

The Lord and Eleanor

Chapter One

England, Oxfordshire, 1322

Her hands rubbed raw from clutching the rope, Eleanor steeled herself for the final effort of dragging the dead wolf to the great ash tree under which the lord of Wykeford held his manorial court. Panting and dizzy with effort as she often was these days, she heard the comments of the assembled villagers through a fog-like haze.
“Look, there goes Fletcher’s daughter, away from her brood for once.”
“Is that a wolf?”
“Bigger than she is.”
“A sad business…”
Eleanor would not listen to the rest. Hauling on her rope, she staggered the last few steps into the shade of the mighty ash, fixing her eyes not on the tree but on the rough trestle table set up within the tree roots. It was the man seated at this table, the lord, whom she must convince of the justice of her cause.
She waited, allowing the slain wolf to be her herald. When the circle of villagers grew quiet, she bowed her head, careful to show humility even when frustrated pride gnawed at her like hunger pangs.
For the sake of the little ones, I must do this. The money will be so useful.
“My lord, I have come to ask you and this court for a reward.” Her voice sounded too young to her but she could not start again. “I have slain this wolf.”
“And how did you, a bondswoman, achieve this?” scoffed the pallid clerk sitting beside his lord, his bark of laughter echoed by the assembled villagers.
Eleanor heard the hated phrase, bondswoman, whispered ‘round the circle like a curse. She released the rope and dug her fingers hard into her grazed palms, fighting not to lose her temper. “A freewoman now, sir,” she reminded the court. “My father won our freedom.”
“Some freedom, when you scrape and scratch a living on a pocket of land.”
“Land gained freely from the forest,” Eleanor countered, “where we hinder no one’s rights.” Her head was beginning to ache and not from the late-spring sunshine. For how long would the term “bond” be a collar around her and her family’s throats?
From the corner of her eye, she saw the lord raise his hand. He wore a full-sleeved tunic dyed a rich dark blue, deeper than bluebells or cornflowers and edged in gold.
Costly robes for a rich, powerful man. Her thought was confirmed as the clerk and the crowd at once fell silent.
The lord spoke. “You dug a pit close to where your people or beasts were threatened. You lined it with stakes and covered it with rushes or other strewings and baited the center. How long did it take for the wolf to take the bait and fall in?”
“Five days, my lord.”
“So it fell onto the stakes and perished.”
Eleanor saw the danger of admitting this. “I dug the pit, my lord.”
“And the beast is certainly dead.”
The lord, whom she knew as a decent, generous sort but had seen only as a distant figure on horseback before today, sounded amused.
It would be easy for him, Eleanor thought fiercely, glowering at the tree roots. It was true he was a widower with children of his own to care for but he would never know true hunger, nor the threat of it.
She braced herself for more questions—about rights and menfolk and her place within her faltering household—but did not expect what happened next.
“Look at me,” the lord commanded.
She was so startled that she did.

Richard of Wykeford, sitting through a morning’s business of stolen dues, stolen crops, stolen rights, had been glad of the distraction of the Fletcher girl. He had known the family since Martin Fletcher, her father, argued to secure his freedom, and the Fletchers were a quarrelsome kindred.
For all that, he admired their zeal and ambition and was sorry Martin had died this spring, struck in his fields by lightning. He had sent his reeve to the stricken family to pass on his condolences along with fuel, strewings, bedding, salted meat and fish but a week later Martin’s widow Agnes had also died. Eleanor, their eldest, was caring for a brood of three alone.
As she raised her head and looked at him, Richard decided he must be sure of one more point. He would help the lass but how he did it would depend on whether she had a sweetheart or not.
She must surely have a man, he thought. Even as she is, in an old, patched gown, her hair covered by an ugly hood, barefoot and half-starved, she is beautiful.
He had not seen her this close before and he marveled how he had missed her. She was small and slender but her limbs were shapely and when she was not dragging a dead wolf, she would move with poise and grace. A tingle of desire, absent since his Joanna had died, began to sparkle through his long, rangy frame, making him feel more alive than he had for months.
“Yes, my lord?”
Her question reminded him that he had stared for too long.
“You are the head of your household?” he demanded.
Her bright gray eyes clouded with disappointment and he felt strangely ashamed, the more so when she nodded without speaking.
“You have no man?” he persisted. “No brother…”
“No brother older than seven years and no lover either, my lord.”

Richard stared down at her unflinching eyes and knew she suspected part of his purpose. The clerk beside him began to scold again but he put a hand on the man’s scrawny wrist and shook his head.
“So I pay you the ransom for the wolf,” he went on, a small, ignoble part of him rejoicing as a steady flush of color swept up her face and she nodded a second time. A passionate little wench too.
He found himself wondering what color her hair was—her eyebrows and lashes were far lighter than her eyes—but then his daydream was shattered by another voice.
“Lord Richard, you cannot deal with her. She is a witch!”
“Aye and look how her father died as well. Is that not a sign of displeasure from God?”
The clerk hurriedly crossed himself and began to mutter the creed. Richard crossed his fingers beneath the trestle and thumped the table until the grumbles and shouts of the villagers bled out into whispers, echoed by the leaves of the ash tree.
“I am a wisewoman,” the former bondswoman said with a kind of weary patience. “I help women and cure cows.”
“My cow gives less milk than before.”
“She lives,” Eleanor flashed back, quick as a sparring champion. “She had sickened through eating poisoned hay but she lives.”
In that instant it came to Richard that this girl really needed him—and he needed her. They might save each other, he realized, but first he had to be sure of her knowledge.
“What is the antidote to snakebite?” he asked.
“Garlic or onion, either rubbed on the bite or eaten, and lovage,” she answered promptly.
“And henbane? I have heard it is good for the relief of pain.”
She frowned. “That is a powerful plant, my lord. Great care must be taken with it. If a person takes too much, he or she will sleep forever.”
He debated asking his next question but was intrigued as to what her answer would be. “How should I avoid poison?”
Her gray eyes widened but she answered as readily as before. “By prayer, my lord, and keeping an honest, clean household, by generous habits to others, by growing rue and other good herbs.”
“And by employing a food taster?”
“If that is your pleasure.”
“Will you be my food taster?” He did not mean this of course, rather he wanted her to be his food teacher but he would explain all later. He paused but his blood throbbing powerfully in his ears made further scruples unnecessary. She should know all his desire and it would certainly be an honor to a peasant girl like her. “My food taster by day and my woman by night?”
Around him the village women began to grumble. Eleanor and Lord Richard? Why her? Why such a favor?
Her face went blank and she swayed a little. With a Norman curse, Richard leapt from his chair, kicked the trestle aside and caught her before she fell. This was not the response he expected.
“Peace, Eleanor, I have you now,” he murmured, pity and desire melding together as he felt how light and thin she was.
A stinging slap singed the side of his head, making his ears ring.
“I am no man’s mistress!” she hissed, very far now from a faint.
“No, you are mine,” he answered. To prove it he scooped her into his arms and carried her away from the court and the astonished villagers. “Mine now.”
He liked the sound of that and was close to humming a tune as he walked.

Eleanor chose not to struggle. He was as tall as a market cross and his arms were as strong as a blacksmith’s tongs so it was a waste of energy. She wet her lips with her tongue and opened her mouth.
“Before you rush into battle with your tongue, will you hear me out?”
His voice was deep, curiously soothing, very gentle. His face, too, was open, not hidden in its expressions. He had strong, clean-shaven features and a long, almost hooked nose. A pair of piercing yet warm brown eyes watched her with a curious mix of desire—yes, she recognized the glint—but also with pity and sympathy.
But I do not want pity…
He was tanned from being out-of-doors, which she liked, and he was smiling at her, a gentle, not mocking grin. All this made her remember her childhood—days when her father tossed her up in his arms, caught her safely, tickled her and made her laugh. This man—yes, he was a lord but she was having difficulty in thinking of him as anything but a man. The way they were behaving now inspired in her a feeling of safety and care.
She gave him a wary nod.
“You think me discourteous, asking you to sin with me and asking so publicly.”
Eleanor thought desperately of snow and ice but it was no use—the flush of heat flamed in her face and she knew she would be blushing.
“But now, all the villagers, including those who call you a witch, know you have my favor and support.”
Did this mean he was not asking her to be his mistress? Unsure if she was aggrieved or affronted, Eleanor prompted, “Go on.”
“Will you bring your youngsters and live with me?”
“As your food taster.”
“Something like, yes. As my mistress I hope, for you are most comely. You say you have no mate. Your children, now, are they—”
“My younger brother and sisters,” Eleanor said hastily, wondering as she spoke why she should need to tell him this and why she should be pleased he found her pretty. Plenty of men thought her pretty. But then she rallied. “You do not mind a reluctant bedmate?”
He smiled at her, the tall, broad brute not in the least shamed or disconcerted. “I have had no complaints in the courts of love. Do you fear I will be ungentle?”
What did she fear? “I will not be seduced and then discarded.”
“And I do not have a new mistress each night. Indeed, you would be my first. I hope we shall be lovers and friends for a good, long time.” His voice deepened with a touch of pride. “I do not treat my people badly.”
“You are very sure.”
“Of myself, yes, for I govern myself. And shall I set your maiden’s heart at ease, my sweetly blushing Eleanor? We shall sleep together but yours will be the final choice, whether we join in love or not. Nothing to say?” he added wickedly as she was stunned into silence.
Meanwhile her lord—man?—was striding down the rutted track, stalking with her past onlookers with a friendly greeting here and there, making for a very fine, grazing horse, a black-and-white piebald with a black mane and tail.
She squirmed, gasping, “I can walk.”
“We shall go faster this way,” came back his maddening reply, “and Shadow will carry you and yours back with me.”
“I cannot leave my land.”
“Why not? The crops need scant tending now at this season and your beasts can come with us and be tended by my men. And my reeve will keep your home safe for you.”
“The little ones—”
“Your youngsters can play and live with mine.”
“But not as servants,” she countered, blinking at this astonishing offer and lightheaded again with sheer relief. No more hunger for the children, no more want.
“They may all play at kings and queens for me.” He greeted another villager, asking after the smith’s new baby, murmuring something Eleanor missed, then stalked a few more easy strides in silence.
“Thank you for the meat,” Eleanor said a little gruffly, not wishing to appear ungrateful.
He smiled, a light wind parting his collar-length hair—thick, curling brown hair, a mane of brown in need of combing. She wondered if she had a comb about her then scolded herself.
You are not his mistress yet. And do you wish to be?
They reached his horse and he lifted her lightly onto the saddle, where she clung to the pommel, thoroughly disconcerted. She did not know how to ride and on the big, black horse the ground seemed very far away.
“Shadow does not bite, you know, and I shall lead him.” He smoothed her rough skirt over one of her visible bare feet and looked up, straight into her face. “You need help, Eleanor,” he said, all former jesting stripped from his voice. “You need help and I would like to help you.”
“Why?” she asked bluntly while a treacherous, womanly part of her considered how very bright yet warm his brown eyes were and how handsome his features, whether he smiled or not.
They were now so close. She need only lean down to kiss his full lips, trace the deep scar on his right cheek that did not detract from his good looks but rather enhanced them, making him more vividly masculine.
A warrior, she thought, enchanted, then realized he was speaking.
“Courage and kindness, care of others, should always be rewarded.”
“Are you a priest?” she asked pertly. She had expected him to say something about her sharing his bed, favors exchanged, not to speak of deeper things. How did he know how much kindness mattered to her? “And since God made Adam and Eve equals, not lord and bondswoman, why should I obey you?”
“Free, not bond, remember?” He patted her toes through the cloth, grinning at her verbal slip, then grew solemn again and as handsome as one of the stone angels in church. “As we are man and woman then, let me say this. You need my help—and before God and his saints, I need yours, I think.”
By his stillness, by the way his gaze never faltered, by all of him, she knew he was deadly serious. Richard, lord of the manor, needed her aid.
“Tell me,” she urged.






Wednesday, 5 March 2014

'The Snow Bride' - Medieval Historical Romance - New Excerpt

Here's a new excerpt from my medieval historical romance, The Snow Bride. The hero and heroine are in a tower belonging to their enemy, the necromancer.

Excerpt:

Making torches, lighting them, took some little time. Magnus could sense Elfrida’s tension and almost see her fears tearing at her like the harpies preyed on their hapless victims in the old tales that he had heard around campfires in Outremer. She stayed within the tower, calling encouragement to Christina and praying aloud, “To cleanse this space,” she told him. She did not attempt to move farther than the few steps they had come from the threshold, for which he was grateful.
Your sister must be sleeping deeply, he said when she fell silent and despondent after no replies. It is the time of winter dark and solid slumber.
Or she is drugged, Elfrida answered.
 Once he spotted her gazing at him, a cool, farsighted, assessing stare. Where he considered pits and traps, she concerned herself with magical dangers. He knew she felt responsible for his safety, a strange and queer reversal of nature to him, but one he accepted that he could not shake her from.
All will be better with more light, he told himself, fending off a vague feeling of being watched.
Baldwin finally brought two spitting torches. Magnus told the youth to keep up and took a torch from him. Do you stay here? he asked Elfrida.
She shook her head—he had not expected otherwise—and he put her between himself and Baldwin. Leading the way, Magnus began to pick a careful path across the nails and snares and wooden stakes, walking steadily and lifting his feet high. All the while, puffing like a small, furious dragon at his back, he could hear Elfrida and sense her taut, barely reined-in impatience. She fairly bristled with it. Not far and all will be well, he wanted to say to comfort her, but he said nothing, for they had reached the stairs, and it might not be true.
Gray, narrow, worn, and unlit, the stairs were also slimy on certain treads. Spilled oil or melted candle wax? he speculated, calling out softly in the old tongue and his own dialect, so Baldwin would know, “Grease, here, step over.” He did not lower his torch. Some things were best left as a mystery.
“Christina, you are safe, beloved. Walter is waiting for you, and all is prepared for your return.”
Elfrida was becoming more urgent and desperate in her wishes. He longed to shield her from this trial but knew it was impossible.
She is a warrior of magic, besides, and a warrior always faces things. She would never forgive me if I kept her out of this.
Yet it was so ponderous, step after step, climbing in the dark, with the stair walls and roof feeling to close in around them, pressing down and choking...
Unless that is just me. Since early youth he had loathed shut-in places, which was why in any siege he had always volunteered for any digging or mining. Now the disgusting, spineless fears of his boyhood shook down the backs of his legs.
If Christina is dead, will Elfrida blame me? No, she will not..
He trod on an object that cracked and slithered beneath his peg foot. He checked the cry bubbling in his throat and kicked the unknown thing away, down the stairs. He heard it flopping into the darkness and vowed to burn the whole tower with fire once they were done.
If Christina is dead or alive, will Elfrida return to her village? Will she want to stay there? Ask her, man, and find out!
He was wary of asking and at the same time eager to ask. As much as Elfrida wanted to see her sister, he wanted to know her mind.
It is my future. Have the stakes ever been so high?
He ran up three more steps and reached the first floor. The staircase continued higher, but now there was a tiny, cramped passageway, again unlit, and at its end, a door.
A blue door, he realized, hearing Elfrida’s gasp of recognition. He spun about and gripped her shoulder tightly, in a gesture of warning and support, then let her go.
He reached out and touched the door with his stump. Elfrida said nothing, did not try to stop him, but he glanced at her for confirmation.
She nodded, her own hands clenched in tight fists, her face unreadable.
Baldwin.” He handed the lad his torch and set his shoulder to the door, drawing out his knife—better a knife than a sword in such close quarters.
Surprise was impossible, for if there was a guard, he must have heard their plodding trail, so Magnus called a final warning.
“Release your prisoners unharmed and you shall not be injured or killed. Yield now.”
He pushed on the stout wood, astonished to find the door unlocked, and entered.


* * * *

The Snow Bride

http://www.bookstrand.com/the-snow-bride

From Amazon here
Amazon UK here

Also a sequel, 'A Summer Bewitchment'

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Romances for 99 Cents - Last Day!

I have several sweet romances and sensual romances, several with money off until Feb 28th.

Prince Orlando has found Sleeping Beauty – but can his love break the enchantment of her sleep? 

A Christmas Sleeping Beauty - Historical Fantasy Romance - now on reduced Winter Special offer at:
Sweet Romance.
Only 99 cents/0.77p Amazon  and Amazon UK 

What readers are saying:
"Lindsay Townsend used her own magic wand to create a vivid and colorful backdrop for this timeless love story!"

"You'll love this twist on the classic!"

"Townsend makes a nice twist on the familiar fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty."


My historical romance novel, 'Flavia's Secret,' just 99 cents 

(0.77p) from Bookstrand.

This novel is set in Roman Bath and has its climax during the Saturnalia, the ancient Roman version of Christmas. More details, including an excerpt here.

My historical romance novella, 'Mistress Angel,' just 99 cents (0.77p) from Amazon and Amazon Co UK


This novella is set in medieval London and is a kind of medieval Cinderella. More details, including the first chapter, here.






My collection of short stories, 'A Rose of Midsummer,' just 99 cents (0.77p) from many sellers, including Smashwords.

Friday, 3 January 2014

'Bride for a Champion': NOW OUT!

I Command you to marry the bearer of this letter.

Lady Alice Martinswood has no choice but to obey her dead father’s final instruction. His choice is his champion, the mercenary Simon Paton. To Alice, the handsome, arrogant Simon is a dangerous, seductive stranger.

Bewitched in turn by Alice, Simon is appalled when he discovers that Alice’s father disowned Henrietta, her younger sister, when Henrietta fell in love and eloped. Simon promises Alice that he will help her find her sister.

Still having nightmares after witnessing the sack of Constantinople, Simon misunderstands Alice’s tears of joy on their wedding night. Swearing not to hurt her again, he decides he must not touch her—a promise he finds impossible to keep, especially when Alice vows to beguile him…

Meanwhile Simon and Alice trace Henrietta to medieval London, wandering together through the perilous, exciting streets. Will they find Henrietta? Will they find true love with each other?

Available on January 14, 2014 at $2.99

Read Chapter One here.

Order now  from Bookstrand Publishing
And from Amazon and Amazon UK

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Christmas Stories and Book Gifts for just 99Cents/77p!

Below are details of my Christmas Stories and Book Gifts for just 99 Cents/77p.

The first is my historical romance novel, 'Flavia's Secret,' just 99 Cents (77p) from Bookstrand. This novel is set in Roman Bath and has its climax during the Saturnalia, the ancient Roman version of Christmas. More details, including an excerpt here.

The second is my historical romance novella, 'Mistress Angel,' just 99 Cents (77p) from Amazon and Amazon Co UK. This novella is set in medieval London and is a kind of medieval Cinderella. More details, including the first chapter, here:

The third is my collection of short stories, 'A Rose of Midsummer,' just 99 Cents (77p) from many sellers, including Smashwords.


And there's a Christmas extra:

Just for the Christmas period, I am also offering my modern thrillers, 'Voices in the Dark,' 'Night of the Storm,' and 'The English Daughter' for just 99 Cents/ (77p) at Smashwords, from December 22nd to December 31st.

Voices in the Dark will be just 99Cents/(77p) from now until December 31st with this coupon at Smashwords  DT59A

Night of the Storm will be just 99Cents/(77p) from now until December 31st with this coupon at Smashwords      MT48Y

The English Daughter will be just 99Cents/(77p) from now until December 31st with this coupon at Smashwords   NM43Q


Happy Holidays! Happy Reading!

Lindsay

Lindsay Townsend, historical romance.   http://www.lindsaytownsend.net 
or follow me at Twitter: @lindsayromantic

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Medieval Christmas Gifts, then and now

During the Middle Ages, Christmas was seen as a sacred time, the time for the three Christ-Masses. Charitable giving to the poor was encouraged on Saint Stephen's day, December 26, which we know as Boxing Day.  On Boxing Day in the middle ages, the poor received money in hollow clay pots with a slit in the top, nicknamed 'piggies'. Unlike modern piggy banks, these clay pots had to be broken to extract the cash.

A page from the Bedford Hours.
What about gift-giving among other classes?

Sacred gifts - of prayer books and so on - were seen as being appropriate for the holy Christmas period. Anne of Burgundy presented the Bedford Hours to Henry VI, her eight-year-old nephew, in 1430. The book is now at the British Library.

Gifts were sometimes given at the New Year. New Year's day, known at the time as the ├ętrenne, a word derived from the Latin strena,  (used to mean both the gifts and the ritual exchange) was the traditional time to do so. Gifts might be food -Christmas was a time of feasting and, for example, it was considered bad luck to refuse a Christmas mince pie given by a host. A Christmas kiss of peace might be given under the green kissing bough of holly and other green-stuff and mistletoe, the plant of peace. Sometimes the 'gift' might be a joke, such as the 'book' given by the illuminators of Les Tres Riches Heures to the Duke de Berry, which turned out to be a block of wood. 

At times the gifts were part of very formal processions and ceremonies. At the courts of Henry Tudor and Richard II the king rose on the day of the New Year and seated himself in his chamber ready to give and receive presents, given and received in strict order or rank. Sometimes the heralds and messengers bringing such gifts could also find themselves rewarded, as happened in the court of Richard II when the carver of the King was given a gold cup by the French King Charles. Kings and Queens could exchange gifts, often of rich jewels, as a public show of respect and affection. Rulers were expected to be generous but at the same time the size and value of gifts were ranged in order of class - kings and queens, their families, nobles, servants, right down to laundresses and cleaning-women. In some years, certain symbols might be used in gifts. In 1422 at the court of Charles VI, small jewels shaped like peacocks were given out to courtiers -  the peacock being one of Charles's badges. 


In medieval England, such gift-giving also went on. People gave New Year’s gifts to those above and below them in the social hierarchy. For example, peasants who worked on landed estates brought gifts of farm produce to the local lord during the Twelve Days of Christmas. Custom dictated that the lord respond by inviting them to a Christmas feast. Personal gifts between people of equal status might have taken place but there are few records of such. In the records and for many kings and nobles, gift-giving meant ostentation and display.

Christmas and gift-giving features in several of my books:

'The Snow Bride' is a Winter Solstice and Christmas story, less than £2 or $3 on Amazon. You can read the first three chapters here.

A lighter-hearted read, still concerned with Christmas and gift-giving, is my medieval fantasy, 'A Christmas Sleeping Beauty.' This is half-price at Muse it Up.

'Twelve Kisses' touches on a young newly-married couple in early Tudor times and their first Christmas together. This is also half-price at Muse it Up.

All this didn't start in the Middle Ages, naturally. The Roman mid-winter festival, Saturnalia, had its own range of festivities which feature in my Flavia's Secret.