Tuesday, 8 July 2014

OUT TODAY - The Virgin, the Knight & the Unicorn

Sir Gawain, poor and eager for glory, is on a quest to catch a unicorn. His reluctant companion, the virgin dairy-maid Matilde, hates the nobility and loses no time in clashing with the thoughtless young knight. Gawain believes that, as the man, his word should be law—a law he is quick to enforce on his companion. However, the impetuous Matilde is not easily cowed and confounds him by her unexpected responses, especially to his discipline.

As they travel on their quest, the hot-tempered couple learn more about themselves and begin to compromise. Respect changes to fondness, perhaps even to love, but what future can there be between knight and bondswoman?

When Matilde is taken by outlaws, Gawain realizes, almost too late, what she means to him. Can he rescue her? Can he and Matilde join forces to combat a deeper conspiracy that is ranged against them?
And the unicorn? The unicorn, too, has a part to play…


Order the ebook now from Bookstrand Publishing  http://www.bookstrand.com/the-virgin-the-knight-and-the-unicorn  $2.99

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Forever his: slaves in my fiction

Roman woman and her slave
(Photo Giovanni dall'Orto, Peiraius
Museum (Wkimedia Commons).
Writing about the ancient and medieval worlds as I do I often encounter slavery as a fact of life. I explore this dynamic in some of my stories, in a careful way. Slavery was often utterly cruel and the harsh realities of life on the latifundia farms of Ancient Rome could be terrible.

For some slaves life could be a little easier, especially in personal, one to one relationships. So we have the tombstones of former slaves such as Regina (Queenie) at the ancient Roman fort near South Shields. Regina was a former slave, freed by her master who had married her. I explore that kind of hopeful dynamic in my novel Flavia's Secret and my shorter stories, Escape to Love and Silk and Steel.

I show the grimmer side of slavery in my epic adventure romances, Bronze Lightning and Blue Gold. In Bronze Lighting the heroine, Sarmatia, is captured and enslaved for a time by her enemy Carvin, the brutal king of the lands around Avebury. In Blue Gold, several characters are enslaved and must fight to regain their freedom.

Sometimes I explore aspects of submission and dominance in my stories. In my historical romances, I find this works well, fitting into the beliefs of the time. This is especially true in my medieval romances The Snow Bride, its sequel A Summer Bewitchment, and my forthcoming novella, The Virgin, the Knight and the Unicorn. Now with 10% off at Bookstrand until July 8th

I also have one light BDSM novel, Asking Too Much, set in a future where men or women can sell themselves into a consensual 'slavery' for a time.

The dynamics of acceptance and trust inspire me to explore such themes in my work. Bullying does not appeal at all to me but a situation where a man and woman come together in love, trust and respect where the heroine allows the hero to take care of her in masterful ways - that works for me.

You can see my slave and other fiction on my Amazon Author Page here and here

You can also see my slave and other fiction at SirenBookstrand at my Bookstrand Author Page here. This page also links to excerpts and reviews.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

'A Taste of Evil' - Historical mystery now available for pre-order at half-price.

Alyson Weaver, five times wife and a now a widow of Bath, is back in her birth city of Bath fighting for her life in a sultry July, 1386. If she and legal advocate Solomon cannot answer devious Prior Herbert’s witchcraft charges, she will be burned to death for heresy and murder. Townsfolk turn against her, including the powerful and venomous Mary Tucker and Alyson’s daughter Margery. Peter’s paramour Isabel and bastard son Lawrence are hoping to seize her property, as are Peter’s grasping kindred. Prior Herbert hates her and Bath coroner Thomas Newby is out for revenge for her championing of those he abuses. Alyson herself had reasons to want Peter dead and Solomon, a church-trained lawyer full of clerical prejudice against women, finds it difficult to like or believe her. Nor can the reader be sure of her innocence. Her friend Felise is seemingly made dangerously ill by one of Alyson’s potions. Margery will speak at the inquest about her father, Peter, testimony which will harm Alyson.

The inquisition begins at Prior Herbert’s sumptuous local manor, where Alyson is attended by her servants, advocate Solomon, and the slippery Pardoner Christopher from An Older Evil. She defends herself stoutly and Solomon is impressive but her steward Gervase is revealed to be a heretic. Gervase is threatened with torture and Alyson and her party have to fight their way off the manor. Then, in a chance discovery by her page, Oliver, Alyson realises that Prior Herbert was right: Peter, her amoral husband, had made enemies all his life and was murdered by poison.


Through the streets and taverns of Bath, Alyson and Solomon have to find out who poisoned little-mourned Peter to save her from the stake and before the murderer gets nervous of her probing and strikes again.

The sequel to An Older Evil.

Excerpt and more details at:

MuseItUp Publishing, June 2014 (Plus other sellers shown in the MuseItUp Link, including Apple, B&N, Omnlit, Smashwords and Kobo)

Also available at Bookstrand

Half-Price for a limited time.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Buildings: The Anglo-Saxon church at Bradford on Avon

The small church in Bradford on Avon is one of the few Anglo Saxon churches to have survived and is one of the most complete. That it has done so is something of a miracle or an accident, seeing that it has been used as a church, a school and a cottage.  The Victorian historian Canon Jones recognized the building as a church and it was restored in the 1870s. It is now used as a place of worship from time to time.

The church is dedicated to Saint Laurence, one of the very early Christian martyrs. Churches to this former deacon of Rome are often a sign of an earlier Christian community in the area. Whether or not that is the case, the medieval historian William of Malmesbury records that the church here existed in the 1120s. 

William thought that it dated back to the time of the 8th century and that it  was built by St Aldhelm.  Aldhelm, of the royal house of Wessex,  was the bishop of Sherborne and, after his death in 709, his body was known to have been brought to Bradford on Avon, maybe for burial in his church. That is possible, though the present building, from its architectural style, looks to be from the 10th century, which would fit a tradition that the church was intended to house to remains of King Edward the Martyr, the older brother of King Ethelred, who was murdered in 978, though Edward ended up buried in Shaftesbury Abbey.

The building is very tall for its size and decorated with arcades, similar in style to those seen  above on Bosham church as represented on the Bayeux Tapestry. It has few windows and these are small, while the doorways are tall and narrow.  In Anglo-Saxon times the interior would have been lit by candles. This sounds plain but there is evidence of decoration around the doorways and in the plinth running around the walls. It’s probable that the now whitewashed walls were painted, and in bright colors. This would have given the church an impression of a jewel,  a very suitable spot for the resting place of a martyr king.  Other decoration includes two stone angels, discovered in the east wall of the nave, and a stone bowl, which is now used as a font.

The church is important to show how the Anglo-Saxons viewed religious buildings as enclosed yet airy sacred spaces, a great contrast with the larger Anglo-Norman churches that came later. It reminds me of a sacred version of an Anglo-Saxon great hall, an intimate and companionable space for worship. 


You can read about Anglo-Saxon and early Norman society and the battles of 1066 in my novel, A Knight's Captive, available here at Amazon. Also Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble Apple Bookstrand Kobo  and many more. (List of Book-sellers down the side of the blog)



Tuesday, 27 May 2014

'A Summer Bewitchment' - new excerpt

A Summer Bewitchment, my sequel to The Snow Bride, begins as the witch Elfrida and disfigured knight Magnus are seeking desperately for kidnapped, missing girls. They wish to rescue all of them, whereas the nobility, represented by Lady Astrid and Tancred, are concerned with recovering only one.

EXCERPT:

That afternoon, while Lady Astrid dined in the great hall, Elfrida sought out the squire Baldwin. He had been with her and Magnus the previous winter, during their dangerous search for her sister Christina and the other missing brides. He knew she had magic.
A tall, slim young man who enjoyed his food, Baldwin listened closely to her request. Too courtly to pull a face, he nonetheless made his feelings clear.
“To ride with you now to Warren Bruer? Why, my lady?” He did not say them, but the words our lord will not like it also hovered on his lips.
“It is necessary. I sense my lord has need of me.” She did not want to say more or admit to the storm cloud that seemed to have coiled itself in the middle of her chest.
This is not my seething disappointment. It is Magnus’s, poor love.
“Our lord needs me, Pie,” she repeated, giving Baldwin the nickname she had made for him the previous winter.
“What of your guest?”
“Piers can attend her. Or if she wishes, Lady Astrid can ride on with Piers and join us. But we should leave now. The steward can give our excuses.”
Baldwin studied her a moment longer, drawing his brows together, then smiled, revealing the chipped tooth Elfrida found endearing.
“Do I try to protect you from my lord, or do you protect me from him, my lady?”
Relief flooded through Elfrida. “We ride and see.”
And pray we reach the place before whatever is troubling Magnus bursts like a pricked boil.

* * * *

Bundled in his cloak, with his saddle cloth as pallet and pillow, the girl slept, curled over like a fern frond. Magnus was glad to see her at peace but felt sick at heart. She had screamed herself hoarse when first spotting him, shrieked herself into utter helpless weariness before fleeing into sleep.
She was a redhead, too, which scraped his sense of shame even more rawly. He wanted to blame Tancred for cantering on ahead and hauling the girl to her feet to face him before any had troubled to tell her that he was maimed. He longed to rage at Mark, who had discovered her cowering in a thicket and done such a poor job of soothing her.
Most of all he wanted to be veiled like an eastern woman. Then he would not have inflicted his ruined, bestial looks on this terrified, confused lass.
Is she even one of the kidnapped girls? Tancred seems convinced of it, but we have no proof. We do not even have her name. How did she come here? Where did she escape from?
Questioning his second in command, he learned that Mark had come upon the girl without any warning, when the dogs had discovered her in the thicket and barked. The child would not or could not say how she had got there.
Magnus did what he could. He ordered Mark to set the hounds tracking again, using the girl’s scent. Tancred he sent off with another two of his men to the hamlets and villages, taking a lock of the girl’s red hair. He had made Tancred repeat to him what the girl looked like—small, slim, about fourteen, freckles, red hair, blue eyes—until he was certain the lad would remember.
Bad enough for the parents of these missing girls to have their hopes raised by a poor description. His men also knew what the lass looked like, and they would be tactful in speaking to the people.
Perhaps I should have kept Tancred with me, but he would keep jabbing the girl, wanting her to wake. The boy was anxious for his young kinswoman, well enough, but he seemed to think this harried, unconscious girl had no right to any finer feelings. “She is a peasant,” he answered, thrusting out his lower lip, when Magnus had warned him to go gently.
Was I ever such a thickheaded one as Tancred?
Giving orders, searching where the girl had first been found, those tasks he was glad to do. Returning to the stony roadway that skirted the little wood, Magnus spotted a new cartwheel groove in a seam of mud, but the cart or carriage had long vanished. Had she escaped from the cart? He could not tell.
Rising awkwardly from his crouch, Magnus turned on the road to check on his reluctant sleeper. The man guarding her nodded to him as she dozed still beneath the spreading branches of an oak tree. As he watched her, the flashing gilts of her hair pierced him. His heart ached and his missing foot hurt as he tried to recall what he should do next.
I am lost.
The worst of it was that he wanted Elfrida here. His caring, fighting warrior of magic was so much better than him at consoling the shy and suffering. He imagined her running along the road to meet him. Both would be united, striving, understanding each other, giving aid to one another.
He heard a drumming of hooves and guessed it was one of his men from the lack of shouts or challenges. Farther along the rutted road, into a faint shimmer of heat, pounded a gray horse with lanky Baldwin as rider.
“To me!” Magnus shouted, before he realized that his squire was galloping toward him anyway—and not just Baldwin.
Peeping from behind Baldwin’s back, her face clenched in concentration as she gripped the squire’s middle and clung on, was his Elfrida. Impossibly, she had known he needed her. She had known and come. She comes for me. Shame of his earlier fears concerning his wife, riding, and pregnancy scorched through him.
Magnus started, then began to run toward her. With every sprinting, skidding step, his heart expanded. She waved at him, her veil flapping like a sail, her long hair gleaming like flames, her mouth busy with an inevitable apology.
She smiles her love at me even as she calls sorry. She thinks I may be angry, the foolish, brave little wretch.
He caught her as Baldwin reined in and before she tumbled from the horse.
I am so very glad she is here but why has she come? What news is she bringing?


Lindsay Townsend

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.