Thursday, 28 May 2020

A Visit from author Mary Ann Bernal




I am excited to welcome Mary Ann to my blog to tell us all about her new release. 
Publisher: Whispering Legends Press



Crusader's Path 
By Mary Ann Bernal


From the sweeping hills of Argences to the port city of Cologne overlooking the River Rhine, Etienne and Avielle find themselves drawn by the need for redemption against the backdrop of the First Crusade.

Heeding the call of His Holiness, Urban II, to free the Holy Land from the infidel, Etienne follows Duke Robert of Normandy across the treacherous miles, braving sweltering heat and snow-covered mountain passes while en route to the Byzantine Empire.

Moved by Peter of Amiens’ charismatic rhetoric in the streets of the Holy Roman Empire, Avielle joins the humble army of pilgrims. Upon arrival in Mentz, the peasant Crusaders do the unthinkable, destroying the Jewish Community. Consumed with guilt, Avielle is determined to die fighting for Christ, assuring her place in Heaven.

Etienne and Avielle cross paths in Constantinople, where they commiserate over past misdeeds. A spark becomes a flame, but when Avielle contracts leprosy, Etienne makes a promise to God, offering to take the priest cowl in exchange for ridding Avielle of her affliction.

Will Etienne be true to his word if Avielle is cleansed of the contagion, or will he risk eternal damnation to be with the woman he loves?




Excerpt

Chapter Twelve

In the stillness, Avielle reflected on Peter’s decision to join a seasoned Army, which rekindled her desire to free the Holy Land from Muslim rule. She could ride with the camp followers, tending to the women and children if not the embattled soldiers.

Surely, they would not turn me away. With so many men, there are never enough healers, she thought.

Avielle wanted to take Brother Joseph into her confidence, seeking his wisdom and blessing should she decide to take up the Cross once again. Before leaving, she would teach the novitiates, and holy sisters and whoever else wished to learn the healer’s craft. Avielle did not want to leave Brother Joseph just as she had not wanted to leave Brother Dacien. An inner voice directed her steps, the Lord’s voice, perhaps.

Since the Army of Christ needed permission from His Holiness before setting out, she also had to obtain the Bishop’s approval by obeying the laws of God. And Urban spoke for God. Whichever Army she chose needed His Holiness’s blessing to take part in this Holy War, and she believed Peter never received Urban’s approval. Avielle thought Peter preyed on the vulnerability of people without hope, his dynamic speeches a distraction. The truth was hidden behind their expectations as he reminded them the Holy Ghost was the guardian of the soul and body.

Peter was not a military leader. He battled the evil one, a spiritual undertaking, and of no use when facing starvation, disease, and death. The holy monk probably meant no harm to those participating in such a daunting task, yet he should not have left without proper funding. Peasants did not have many possessions, and they lacked warfare instruction and self-restraint. Peter’s impatience left him grieving for what might have been; his Army marching behind him as they entered Jerusalem triumphantly, ahead of the wealthy and powerful, the poor and lowly, accomplishing what Kings could not.

You are being unduly harsh, Avielle.

Staring at the dying man, Avielle felt an uncomfortable tingling and prickling sensation. Opening and closing her fingers relieved the feeling, but her wrist hurt. Pulling up her sleeves, she carefully examined her arms, looking for redness, bumps, and spots, which were difficult to see in the darkness.

You are clean, do not think otherwise.

Avielle tried to remember when the contagion changed her father’s outward appearance. How long had it taken them to return to her uncle’s home? How long before Brother Dacien gave them succor? How long before they buried him?

Should she take the veil while still unblemished? The Abbess could not cast her out after final vows, but she might lock her away, alone in a cell for the rest of her days. Solitude destroyed minds, no matter the lineage. Avielle had observed such horrors wandering the countryside with her father when condemned prisoners pleaded for death, freeing them from their suffering.

You can care for the lepers and beg alms for a hospital. Find a patron. With men of great wealth visiting the city, maybe, someone seeking redemption?

Best to think of something now, before it is too late, and you are condemned to walk the earth, ringing a bell to warn people of your coming.






Mary Ann Bernal


Mary Ann Bernal attended Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry, NY, where she received a degree in Business Administration. Her literary aspirations were ultimately realized when the first book of The Briton and the Dane novels was published in 2009. In addition to writing historical fiction, Mary Ann has also authored a collection of contemporary short stories in the Scribbler Tales series and a science fiction/fantasy novel entitled Planetary Wars Rise of an Empire. Her latest endeavor is Crusader’s Path, a story of redemption set against the backdrop of the First Crusade.

Connect with Mary Ann: Website • Blog • Whispering Legends Press •  Twitter • Facebook.






Whispering Legends Press: https://www.whisperinglegendspress.com/



Sunday, 24 May 2020

Time to reveal who has won a FREE signed copy of The Kiss of the Concubine!


Thank you to everyone who entered to win a copy of The Kiss of the Concubine to mark the anniversary of Anne's death. There were a few teething problems with people accessing or commenting on the blog and I appologise for that. Since so many of you struggled to enter I have added everyone who commented on the Facebook posts too. Unfortunately, for obvious reasons I couldn't include those of you who commented under 'annoymous' or 'unknown'.

Usually, I ask my four year old grandson to pull out a name but since that is tricky during lockdown (still in place in Wales) I have had to improvise and get my husband to do it. He is cute but in a different way to my grandson. Please rest assured the result is totally annonymous.

First, I listed the names on a piece of paper.

Then I cut them into strips.


Folded them up so they all look the same.


Then I placed them in my truncated henin (a french hood would be more appropriate but wouldn't work as well).

Husband then closed his eyes, plunged in his hand and pulled out ...


a name!



 CONGRATULATIONS to LISA CROUSE!!!

Thank you so much to all who entered! Please follow my blog for a chance in other draws and competitions.

The Kiss of the Concubine: A story of Anne Boleyn is available on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, Paperback and Audible.  mybook.to/tkoc2
author.to/juditharnoppbooks






Wednesday, 20 May 2020

A Q&A with authors, Olivia Longueville and J.C. Plummer.



Robin Hood’s Widow (Book Two in the Robin Hood Trilogy)
Author Q&A with Olivia Longueville and J.C. Plummer

Robin Hood has been featured in many books, movies, and television shows.  How is your trilogy different?

In our first book, Robin Hood’s Dawn, we re-imagined the origins of the Robin Hood legend, which included exploring his family dynamics: an aloof, selfish father and a kind-hearted mother devoted to ministering to the poor.  One theme is how the consequences of immoral actions and secret sins can reverberate across generations.  This is part of Robin’s legacy from his father.
We cast Robin as a hero fighting against the tyranny of a lawless government official. When Robin is falsely accused of a shocking crime by the new Sheriff of Nottingham, he could have retreated to a safe place beyond the reach of the sheriff.  However, he feels a responsibility to the people because he believes in the intrinsic value of every human being.  Instead of running away, he stays to protect the people from the sheriff.  And this points to another theme: one person can make a difference by taking a stand for what is right.
The second book, Robin Hood’s Widow, picks up where the first book ends. Robin is alive and still with King Richard in the Holy Land, but Marian, the sheriff, and Guy of Gisborne have returned to England thinking that Robin Hood is dead.
Robin Hood’s Widow explores themes of grief and redemption, while featuring Marian’s adventures as leader of the outlaws. Her story is interwoven with Robin’s quest to return home while fulfilling his obligations to King Richard.
In this book, we wanted to explore both the stages of grief and their non-linear nature. Experiencing loss and grief is not like climbing stairs; you don’t complete one stage, progress to the next, and eventually arrive at acceptance. The emotional turmoil of an earlier stage can reappear and reassert itself during the process.
That being said, this story is not sad or depressing; Robin Hood’s Widow is an optimistic tale of triumphing over adversity. 


You’ve emphasized how your Robin Hood story has been re-imagined.  Will fans of the traditional ballads still recognize this as a Robin Hood story?

There is a lot of variety in the many books and screen adaptations of the Robin Hood legend.  We wanted to create a story that was respectful towards fans of the original ballads and legends without adhering to the same story lines that have been previously written.  We hope that all Robin Hood fans will enjoy this fresh retelling of the story.
However, we felt that Marian is a character who deserves more attention.  All too often she is a background character with little to do.  With this in mind, we have focused on creating a Lady Marian who will figure more prominently in the story, especially in Robin Hood’s Widow, where she takes center stage as the leader of the outlaws. She must learn how to lead while finding clever ways to thwart the sheriff and rob those supporters of Prince John who dare enter Sherwood Forest.  We also wanted Marian to be feminine and believable as a woman of the 12th century.    

Do the first two books of the trilogy end in cliff-hangers? Are the books stand alone?  

We have structured the trilogy so that the books do not end in cliff-hangers, and we have endeavored to create a sense of completion in each of the books. 
Although we want readers to start with Robin Hood’s Dawn, we know that some might be more interested in Robin Hood’s Widow. Therefore, we have endeavored to provide enough information in the second book so that a new reader will not be lost.
Both Robin and Marian are guarding secrets that will be revealed in Robin Hood’s Widow!

How did you become interested in writing this story and working together as co-authors?
Olivia:
The story of Robin Hood’s Widow is very special to me, and I wrote the original version after I experienced a devastating personal loss. Readers might be surprised to learn that Robin Hood’s Widow was written before Robin Hood’s Dawn!
I love to tell stories with multi-dimensional characters.  I am multi-lingual, and I enjoy writing stories in different languages.  My first novel is an English-language alternate history featuring Anne Boleyn.
I met Coleen (J.C.) on the Internet, and we decided to co-author a Robin Hood Trilogy with Robin Hood’s Widow as its centerpiece.  

So, you’ve never met, you come from different countries, different cultures, and speak different languages.  How can you co-author a book?  Is it because you have similar writing styles?
Coleen:
Fortunately, Olivia is fluent in English, because that’s the only language I know!
Olivia:
We have found that we have a lot in common—especially our love of writing and of history.  We have to work hard to merge our writing styles, but we have successfully done this. 
Coleen:
That’s true.  Olivia and I have very different “voices” and writing styles.  You might even say they are nearly opposite styles.  
I write in a straightforward, expository style, with a minimum of descriptive elements and metaphorical flourishes.  I am good at explaining things, organizing ideas, and creating natural sounding dialogue.
Olivia:
My writing is characterized by lush romanticism and passionate lyricism.  I love to create metaphors and descriptions which excite the imagination of the reader in a vivid and dramatic way.
Coleen:
In some respects, Olivia’s words are the emotional heart of the story, and my words represent the rational intellect.  Of course, it’s not quite that cut-and-dried, but it is one way to describe how two people with such different styles have come together to create Robin Hood’s Dawn and Robin Hood’s Widow. 


Both books available in paperback and Kindle. Click here to purchase Robin Hood's Dawn:
USA:
UK:


Clck here to purchase Robin Hood's Widow

About the Authors

Olivia Longueville 
Olivia has always loved literature and fiction, and she is passionate about historical research, genealogy, and the arts.  She has several degrees in finance & general management from London Business School (LBS) and other universities.  At present, she helps her father run the family business.  
During her first trip to France at the age of ten, Olivia had a life-changing epiphany when she visited the magnificent Château de Fontainebleau and toured its library.  This truly transformed her life as she realized her passion for books and writing, foreshadowing her future career as a writer.  In childhood, she began writing stories and poems in different languages.  Loving writing more than anything else in her life, Olivia has resolved to devote her life to creating historical fiction novels.  She has a special interest in the history of France and England.  
Having met on the Internet, Olivia and J. C. Plummer, a writer and historian, decided to co-author The Robin Hood Trilogy.  Olivia and J. C. are retelling the Robin Hood story with an unusual and imaginative plot that is solidly grounded in 12th century history. The trilogy incorporates twists and turns which will captivate and entertain readers.

Olivia’s social media profiles:
Personal website: www.olivialongueville.com/
Project website: www.angevinworld.com/
Twitter: @O_Longueville

________________________________________

J. C. Plummer 
J.C. Plummer (Jennie Coleen) graduated Summa Cum Laude from Washburn University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History and Anthropology.  She later earned a Master of Science degree in Computer Information Science from Dartmouth College.
Co-authoring The Robin Hood Trilogy has merged J.C.’s passions for history, culture, and technology into one unique, exciting project.
As an author and historian, J.C.’s goal is to provide thoughtful and entertaining storytelling that honors the past, is mindful of the present, and is optimistic for the future.

J.C.’s social media profiles:
Project website: www.angevinworld.com/
Twitter: @JC_Plummer



Monday, 18 May 2020

A FREE paperback about Anne Boleyn to mark the anniversary of her death.



The Kiss
of
The Concubine

Judith Arnopp

28th January 1547 – Whitehall Palace

It is almost midnight and January has Whitehall Palace clenched in its wintery fist. The gardens are rimed with frost, the casements glazed with ice. Like a shadow, I wait alone by the window in the silver-blue moonlight, my eye fixed on the bed.
The room is crowded, yet nobody speaks.
I tread softly among them. The flickering torchlight illuminates a sheen of anticipation on their faces, the rank odour of their uncertainty rising in a suffocating fug. Few can remember the time that went before, and both friend and foe balance upon the cusp of change, and tremble at the terror of the unknown.
I move through the heavily perfumed air, brush aside jewelled velvet sleeves. At the high-canopied bed I sink to my knees and observe his face for a long moment. He is changed. This is not the man I used to know.
They have propped him on pillows, the vast belly mountainous beneath the counterpane, and the yellow skin of mortality’s mask is drawn tightly across his cheeks. There is not much time and before death can wipe his memory clean, I speak suddenly into his ear, a whisper meant only for him. “Henry!”
The king’s eyes fly open and his eyeballs swivel from side to side, his disintegrating ego peering as if through the slits in a mummer’s mask.
He knows me, and understands why I have come.
He whimpers like a frightened child and Anthony Denny steps forward and leans over the bed. “Your Majesty, Archbishop Cranmer has been summoned; he cannot be long now.”
Henry’s fat fingers tremble as he grips the coverlet, his pale lips coated with thick spittle as he tries to speak. I move closer, my face almost touching his, and the last rancid dregs of his breath engulf me. “They think you fear death, Henry. But you fear me more, don’t you, my Lord?”
“Anne?”
The sound is unintelligible, both a denial and a greeting, but it tells me what I need to know. He recognises and fears my presence. Those assembled begin to mutter that the king is raving, talking with shadows.
I sink into the mattress beside him and curl my body around his bulk. “How many times did we share this bed, Henry?” His breathing is laboured now and sweat drips from his brow, the stench of his fear exceeded only by that of his festering thigh. I tighten my grip upon him. “Did you ever love me, Henry? Oh, I know that you lusted but that isn’t the same. Do you remember how you burned for me, right to the end?”
I reach out to run my fingertip along his cheek and he leaps in fright, like a great fish floundering on a line, caught in a net of his own devising. One brave attendant steps forward to mop the king’s brow as I continue to tease.
“Poor Henry. Are you afraid even now of your own sins? To win me you broke from Rome, although in your heart you never wanted to. Even the destruction of a thousand years of worship was a small price to pay to have me in your bed, wasn’t it?”
Henry sucks in air and forgets to breathe again. A physician hurries forward, pushes the attendant aside and with great daring, lifts the king’s right eyelid. Henry jerks his head away and the doctor snatches back his hand as if it has been scalded.
Even now they are fearful of him. Although the king can no longer so much as raise his head from his pillow, they still cower. How long will it take for them to forget their fear?
Mumbling apologies, the physician bows and backs away to take his place with the others. As they watch and wait a little longer, the sound of mumbled prayer increases. “Not long now, Henry,” I whisper like a lover. “It is almost over.”
A door opens. Cold air rushes into the stifling chamber and Archbishop Cranmer enters, stamping his feet to dislodge the snow from his boots. He hands his outer clothes to a servant before pushing through the crowd to approach the bed, his Bible tucked beneath his arm.
I playfully poke the end of Henry’s nose. “Time to confess your sins, my husband.” Cranmer takes the king’s hand, his long slim fingers contrasting with the short swollen digits of his monarch. As he begins to mutter the last rites, I put my mouth close to Henry’s ear to taunt him.  “Tell the truth, Hal. Own up to all the lies you told; how you murdered and how you cheated. Go on ….”
But King Henry has lost the power of speech, and cannot make a full confession. Gasping for one more breath he clings tightly to Cranmer’s hand, and I know there is not long to wait before he is mine again. A single tear trickles from the corner of his eye to be lost upon his pillow.
“It’s time, Henry,” I whisper. “And I am here, waiting. For a few short years I showed you Paradise and now, perhaps, I can do so again. Unless, of course, I choose to show you Hell.”


15221 - Hever, Kent 

England seems small after the glories of the French court, and my father’s house cramped and inconvenient. I am horribly bored kicking my heels in the country, and long for company. Mother is distracted, Father wears a face like a thundercloud, and neither of them pays my arrival home as much heed as I would like. There is no one save George, who is home for a few days.
My brother is always glad to listen to me and pretends to delight in the stories of my adventures overseas. “You do look fine, Anne,” he says, admiring my fine French-styled clothes. I have grown used to admiration and whereas once I would have blushed and dismissed his words, I am far too elegant to let my discomposure show now I am older. George takes my arm and leads me inside, the interior of the hall suddenly dark after the brilliance of the day. “Have you heard about Mary?” he whispers.
My sister, Mary, has ever had the knack of stealing the attention from me, and is the centre of things once more. She almost brought disgrace on us by sharing the bed of the French king, but Father has recently managed to marry her off respectably to William Carey. We all imagined that now she was safely wed to a good man, she would settle down to provide Will with a string of infants. But although my parents have not spoken to me of it, I have lately learned that Mary is now enjoying a passionate ‘flirtation’ with King Henry. My sister, it seems, accumulates kings as one might collect butterflies, or compliments.
After supper, George and I closet ourselves in a small chamber where I poke the slumbering fire back to life. “You can’t blame the king for fancying her, she is so pretty. Not cursed with my long nose and bony chin.”
George laughs and stretches his feet toward the flames. “If I didn’t know you better, Anne, I’d think you were fishing for compliments when you know very well that what you lack in looks, you make up for with wit.”
 He is right; my face does lack Mary’s softness. Her expression is meek, just as men prefer. To make it worse, she boasts a nature twice as soft as mine. Although I tell myself I’d rather have brains than looks, I don’t want to hear confirmation of my lack of beauty, even if it is only from the lips of my brother. I throw a cushion at his head, but he catches it deftly and laughs at me.
 “Poor Anne,” he teases, “is it a sweetheart you are lacking? Don’t worry, sister, soon there will be courtiers aplenty fighting for your favour.”
I try to stop the hot blood from burning my cheeks. “I don’t need a sweetheart. Father is arranging my marriage as we speak, as well you know.”
I am intended for James Butler, the heir of the Ormond estates, but his father and mine spend overmuch time quibbling over details, protracting the arrangement and leaving me in limbo. Although I have never set eyes on James, I am content with the match. He is young and rich enough to make a good husband, and I have heard no ill stories of him. I trust my father to choose well for me.
George leans forward and offers me a handful of nuts. I pop two into my cheek, continuing to speak with my mouth full. “Can you imagine Mary in the arms of the king? I am surprised she can think of a thing to say.”
“He won’t care what she says as long as it’s yes.” George laughs, his eyes glinting in the firelight. He watches me, aware that he has planted unmaidenly pictures in my mind. I have heard that my brother has a way with women, and I can believe the tales. He is good looking, dark like myself but with Mary’s features; a goodly combination for a man.
Both Mary and George, it seems, are irresistible to the opposite sex, while I myself have not yet been tempted by any, despite the licentiousness of the French court. Perhaps my reluctance shows; perhaps there is something about me that promises rejection. Whatever the reason, I have never been tempted or even yet kissed; perhaps if I had been, I would have a little more understanding of my sister.
If I were indelicate enough to imagine Mary in a dalliance with any man, I could not visualise her ever refusing. She isn’t the sort to say no. And by that I do not mean that she is in any way cheap, only that her gentleness makes her wary of hurting a fellow’s feelings.
“Anyway,” George continues, “as I said, you can’t blame a man for trying, not when the prize is so full of sweet promise.” Trying to ignore George’s crude inferences, I force my thoughts toward Mary’s husband.
“My sympathies are with poor William. How hard it must be for him to be made so publically a cuckold. What must he be feeling? They’ve only been married a few months.”
 “Well, be fair, Anne. He isn’t the first man to be so used and besides, we don’t even know if the king has so honoured Mary. She might well fend him off and cling to her reputation yet. Although, on the other hand, a romp with the king might be good for all of us. The Carey purse isn’t a long one, and Henry usually looks after his concubines and pays well for a maid’s honour.”
George cannot have forgotten that Mary’s honour was lost some time ago at the French court, but I don’t remind him. Instead, my mind drifts back to the king.
I glimpsed him once or twice when I was a young girl, and have never forgotten his overwhelming presence. I cannot imagine ever having the wherewithal to resist such a man. The king does not look like a man who has ever been denied anything. Poor Mary, I’d not be in her shoes, not for all the jewels in the world.
George cracks another walnut in his palms and begins to separate the flesh from the shell. “We will be better able to assess the situation in a week or two when I accompany you to court. You will find it very different to life in France.”
“So I’ve been told. I really need new gowns, but Father says his purse will not stretch to it and I am to make do with what I have.” I pout and look up at George through my lashes, but if I was expecting sympathy, I am sore disappointed. Instead, he gives a shout of laughter that wakes the dog from his slumber. The old hound lifts his head and thumps his tail on the floor.
“Anne! You have more sleeves and headdresses than all of the queen’s ladies put together. Believe me, you will not look ill-turned out beside even Queen Catherine herself.”
He is right and I find myself cheered. I sit up straighter and stretch out my toes, admiring the jewels upon my slippers. “And there will be none with gowns cut in the French mode. I might not be the prettiest of the queen’s ladies, but I can probably manage to be the most stylish.”
“That’s it, Anne, my girl. Astonish both king and court with your style and wit, and perhaps the gossips will leave Mary alone for a space.”


22nd March 1522 - York Place

The Cardinal’s house is crowded. I am drowning in a babble of voices, a thousand candles burning, a crush of bodies, the leaping shadows of the torches on the walls. As Mary helps me into a white satin gown and fastens on my headdress, I am in a fever of excitement. 
To my relief, her liaison with the king hasn’t altered her; She is still my gentle elder sister, overseeing my arrival at court, ensuring I am happily settled.
Tonight there is to be a pageant to honour the Emperor Charles of Spain, who is visiting court to discuss his future marriage to Princess Mary who is, as yet, but a child. There have been jousts and feasts and today, to mark the beginning of Lent, we are putting on a production of Chateau Vert. Mary and I, together with the other court ladies, are to play the eight feminine virtues. The king’s sister, Princess Mary, is to represent Beauty, while my sister is Kindness, and Jane Parker, my brother’s betrothed, is Constancy. I am to play Perseverance.
From behind the slits of my mask, I can see the other girls. They are all dressed identically and are as brim-full of excitement as I. They peek from behind the heavy fall of brocade that screens us from the assembly.
“Chateau Vert is enormous!” shrieks Jane over her shoulder, “it looks like a real castle.” The other girls jostle her aside to get a closer look, and I follow them, elbowing past the Countess of Devonshire who is playing Honour.
At one end of the hall stands a glittering castle, all painted green, adorned with red roses, the battlements shining with green foil, the whole thing brightly lit by flaming torches.
The musicians are concealed behind the wooden walls, and the other girls and I, playing the feminine virtues, will soon be taking our places in the towers. Defending us along the battlements will be the contrary feminine vices; Danger, Disdain, Jealousy, Unkindness, Scorn, Sharp tongue, and Aloofness. Eight little boys, choristers from Wolsey’s household, will play these vices.
To gain our hearts, the eight male Virtues, led they say by the king himself, must break a way through the Vices to win Fair Maiden’s heart. The men will represent Amorousness, Nobleness, Youth, Attendance, Loyalty, Pleasure, Gentleness and Liberty.
“I wonder which the king will play?” Mary breathes in my ear, her face close to mine as we peek through the arras. I turn to look at her, my eyes level with her chin, and see a pulse beating at the base of her throat. She licks her lips, a blush upon her cheek.
“Sir Loyal Heart?” I quip, but then, feeling remorse for my teasing, I add, “I’m sure we will know soon enough, there is no disguising the king, after all.”
Henry is more than six feet tall and towers over all his court. His fiery red hair, broad chest and well-turned leg cannot be disguised, although that doesn’t deter him from such games of pretence. I have been instructed that we must all be surprised when he reveals himself at the unmasking.
The Countess claps her hands and we all scramble to finish dressing. “Tie on your mask,” I cry to Mary who, realising she has mislaid it, upsets a pile of silk wraps in a fever of searching. With fumbling fingers I help her tie it over her eyes then, giggling and gossiping, we take a secret back passage into the hall and conceal ourselves within the wooden castle tower.
Silence falls within the hall. I can hear Mary’s rapid breathing as the pageant spokesman steps forward to address the gathered company. It is William Cornish who, as Master of Choristers in the Chapel Royal, thinks up all these splendid pageants for the amusement of his king. Clad all in crimson satin, embroidered with burning flames of gold, Master Cornish opens his arms and looks toward the battlements where we are waiting.
“Ladies,” he cries. “I am Ardent Desire and I beg you to surrender yourselves and come down to me.”
We titter and hide behind our hands as two of the chorister boys, playing Scorn and Disdain, sneer a derisive and rather rude refusal.
“Then,” Ardent Desire’s voice rattles the rafters, “we must take your chateau by storm and force you down.”
A great burst of cannon fire sounds from outside, and the women scream in pretended terror. Mary jumps into my arms, laughing and shaking with excitement, her head thrown back, her long white neck exposed. The court is in uproar and even the severe features of the Emperor are screwed up with laughter; beside him even the queen is smiling, for once.
The men come charging into the hall. The king’s gentlemen, splendid in blue velvet and cloth of gold, hurl oranges and dates at our defences. As the hail of missiles falls, amid roars of laughter, I grab a handful of sweetmeats and launch them at the encroaching foe.
I recognise George despite his mask. He has one leg hooked over the battlements, his cap is lost, and Unkindness is bashing him with a cushion. The other men are in a similar predicament as Feminine Virtue puts up a sturdy fight. Dodging a hail of oranges, I lean over the battlements and scream encouragement.
Then, a giant of a man, who can only be the king, chases Jealousy and Scorn from their position and breaches the inner wall. At this a triumphant cheer erupts from the spectators, and I see Charles Brandon making off with Princess Mary over his shoulder. She clings to his doublet, her mouth wide with delighted terror. By rights Sir Loyal Heart, played by the king, should rescue Beauty first, but instead he heads for my sister. King Henry, whom we must not recognise, scrambles up the wooden wall, roaring like a bear, and lunges for her as she scurries away. Not noticing his mistake, his hand fastens like a vice about my wrist and he gives a grunt of satisfaction. I try to pull back but he is too strong for me, his determination not to be refused.
I find myself flung over his shoulder, the jewels on his doublet cutting through the thin stuff of my gown. As he runs away with me, the breath is forced from my lungs. My headdress slips and I grab for it as he bears me from the castle, his great hot hand gripping my upper thigh.
I am dragged from his shoulder, my hair cascading about my face as I slide down the king’s body. He is very close, his breath in my face, his heart beating frantically against my own. I tilt my head to look up at him and for a long moment he returns my stare before deftly removing my mask. His eyes widen; eyes that are as brilliant as the summer sky.
“You are not ….”
“Mary? No, Your Grace, I am not. I am Anne; Anne Boleyn.”
With my hand still held fast between his fingers, he hesitates before bowing slightly. I sink to my knees before him.
After a long pause he raises me to my feet, opens his mouth to speak. “I am pleased to meet you, Mistress Anne.” Transfixed by his face, it is some seconds before I can tear my eyes from him and turn them to where Mary still waits within her tower. The fight is diminishing around her, all are vanquished. She has removed her mask, her hurt and disappointment plain for all to see. She is no longer smiling.
I shake myself; free myself from the snare of Henry’s eyes. “You must return to the battle, Sir Loyal Heart. A fair maiden still awaits you.”
After a moment, in which his blue eyes bore into mine, he bows sharply and, with a brave battle cry, turns once more into the fray.
As the battle continues, I watch him for a moment before giving myself a mental shake and turning away toward the hall where the spectators are gathered. But before I am halfway across the room, my step is halted. “Mistress Anne?”
Harry Percy makes a leg before me and asks if I will join him in the dance. I curtsey, and with my fingers balanced on his palm, allow him to lead me to the floor.
The minstrels strike up a tune and the king, partnered now by Princess Mary, joins the dance. As we begin to move to the music, I cast a sideways glance at my partner.
Harry, his face flushed scarlet, returns my smile before darting his eyes away again. I have, of course, spoken with him before. He is part of the Cardinal’s household and often accompanies him to court. More often than not, while the Cardinal is closeted with the king, Percy comes to the queen’s apartments to pass the time with her ladies.
He does not speak much or push himself forward at all, but hovers in the background, listening and smiling and flushing every time our eyes meet, as they do … often.
I do not underestimate how much courage it has taken for him to invite me to dance.
“So, how did you like our pageant, My Lord?”
“I liked it very well, Mistress,” he stammers, as we promenade before the dance forces us apart.
Now and then, the serpentine steps lead us toward other partners; I touch other hands, exchange pleasantries with other men. But all the while, I am aware of Percy watching me. The knowledge makes me lift my chin a little higher, my feet become lighter, and I toss my head with more spirit. When at last we are drawn together again, and he engulfs my hand in his palm, my pulse races and my smile becomes a little too welcoming.
When the music slides to an end, he makes his bow. I notice tiny spirals of curls at the nape of his neck. My tummy gives a little leap when he rises and fixes me with a look that is a little less nervous now.
“Can I get you a cup of wine, Mistress?”
My answering smile is as wanton as Mary’s.


Later, when the court revellers are settling to sleep, George and I share a nightcap. Something about the ill-lit chamber urges us to keep our heads close together as we speak in whispers before the hearth. At first we merely gossip, revisiting the uproarious pageant, exchanging notes on who was flirting with whom. After a while, George sobers. “You would do well, Sister, to remember that your hand is pledged elsewhere.”
His words force my head up. For a moment, our eyes lock together while I decide whether to be frank or to feign innocence.
“You mean Percy, I suppose. He is just a young man playing the game of love ... as our betters do.”
“The game is dangerous, Anne. You don’t want your name bandied about … like Mary’s. It won’t do to have you both linked to easy virtue. Think what Father will say if you jeopardise the match with Ormond.”
“Oh, George.” I tuck my feet beneath me on the settle. “I did but dance with him and share a cup of wine.”
It is not easy to lie so blatantly. I concentrate on the way the firelight is playing upon his hair and try not to think of Percy.
“You like him, I can tell. Never before have I seen your cheeks blush beneath a fellow’s gaze. He is betrothed, you know. Has been since childhood.”
“Everyone knows that. I don’t know why you are making such a fuss. It was nothing.”
I lower my face to my cup, close my eyes to remember again the softness of Harry Percy’s hand brushing mine, the fine cut of his leg, the way the Adam’s apple bobs in his throat when he laughs. I have no idea why I am deceiving George, who is party to all my secrets. Perhaps the silent pledge that passed between Harry Percy and me is not for sharing. I want to hug the knowledge to myself and run it over and over in my mind. The king is forgotten and I can barely wait for the next day, when Harry Percy is bound to call at the queen’s apartments. But I have not fooled George and slyly he probes my motives further.
“Of course,” he continues, “should his betrothal with Mary Talbot be broken, he would be as fine a match as you could ask for … but I fear such an arrangement will never be revoked.”
Percy is the son of the Earl of Northumberland, and will one day come into a vast inheritance. A prize indeed were he to ask for my hand, but I know – we both know – that such a thing is impossible for such bonds cannot be broken. And our cause is doubly hopeless since we are both promised elsewhere.
Nevertheless, George’s words grate on my senses; I do not wish to hear that our suit is hopeless. For the first time I am made aware of how little control I have over my own destiny. I don’t want to hear it. I untangle my legs and place my cup on a small table. “I am going to my bed. Where is Mary? Have you seen her?”
“She entertains the king, no doubt.” He gets up and leaves a kiss on my forehead, places a finger beneath my chin and forces me to look into his eyes. “Tread carefully, Sister.”
Impatiently, I shrug off his hand and march across the room. I throw open the door, almost colliding with Jane Parker on the threshold. “Oh,” she says, “there you are, Anne. I thought you were never coming to bed.”
She peers past me to where George is quaffing the last of his wine. He makes a knee to his betrothed and she flushes and bobs a knee in reply. While her head is lowered George blows me a mocking kiss, making me long for something to throw at him.
I turn on my heel. Grabbing Jane’s wrist, I whirl her along the corridor to the chamber we share with Madge Shelton and Margery Horsman. The girls are in various stages of making ready for bed and when I suddenly throw open the door they look up, their faces opening like flowers in surprise. I cross the room swiftly and turn suddenly, the draught from my skirts making the candles dip and dance.
“Anne?” Jane is inquisitive. She follows me to my bed, perches on the mattress and watches as I try to quell the internal storm. In the end, her unspoken questions breach my defences and I burst out, “I could wish that George did not know me so well. Am I a book to be read, or a cypher to be broken? Sometimes, as much as I love him, I wish he would pay more mind to his own affairs.”
She says nothing but she doesn’t have to. It is fast becoming obvious that George is less than satisfied with his own betrothal, and does all in his power to avoid Jane’s company. But she is resolute. She slides from the bed and begins to remove my cap. “Don’t worry, Anne. George will have enough to occupy him once we are wed. I will fill his house with children, and he will lack both the time and the energy to pry into your affairs.” 
She pauses and picks up a brush, begins to smooth the tangles from my hair. “I saw Tom Wyatt watching you dance with Percy. You will have those two fighting like a pair of mastiffs if you are not careful.”
“Cocks on the midden, more like,” I quip, shrugging off her inference.
We laugh, but at the root of it, she comes close to the mark. Since I arrived at court, and for the first time in my life, I find myself with more suitors than I can handle.
Tom Wyatt is a gentleman and a poet, whom I have known since childhood. Despite his handsome face, he moves me little. Not like Harry.

 When I am with Harry Percy, the blood runs faster in my veins and my very soul seems to tremble with delight. It is not something I have felt before … unless I count those fleeting moments I spent today in the presence of the king.


If you would like to READ MORE I am giving away one FREE signed paperback copy of The Kiss of the Concubine. Just comment on the blog below and share or tweet the link you followed to get here and your name will go into a draw. The winner will be announced on Sunday 24th May.

The Kiss of the Concubine is available on Kindle, Paperback and on Audible

Monday, 11 May 2020

Blog Tour - The Road to Liberation




As part of The Coffee Pot Book Club Blog Tour I am delighted to present:
The Road to Liberation: Trials and Triumphs of WWII
A Collection
By Marion Kummerow, Marina Osipova, Rachel Wesson, JJ Toner, Ellie Midwood, and Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger.

Riveting stories dedicated to celebrating the end of WWII.

From USA Today, international bestselling and award-winning authors comes a collection filled with courage, betrayal, hardships and, ultimately, victory over some of the most oppressive rulers the world has ever encountered.
By 1944, the Axis powers are fiercely holding on to their quickly shrinking territories.
The stakes are high—on both sides:
Liberators and oppressors face off in the final battles between good and evil. Only personal bravery and self-sacrifice will tip the scales when the world needs it most.
Read about a small child finding unexpected friends amidst the cruelty of the concentration camps, an Auschwitz survivor working to capture a senior member of the SS, the revolt of a domestic servant hunted by the enemy, a young Jewish girl in a desperate plan to escape the Gestapo, the chaos that confused underground resistance fighters in the Soviet Union, and the difficult lives of a British family made up of displaced children…
2020 marks 75 years since the world celebrated the end of WWII. These books will transport you across countries and continents during the final days, revealing the high price of freedom—and why it is still so necessary to “never forget”.

Stolen Childhood by Marion Kummerow
The Aftermath by Ellie Midwood
When's Mummy coming? by Rachel Wesson
Too Many Wolves in the Local Woods by Marina Osipova
Liberation Berlin by JJ Toner
Magda’s Mark by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger




An Excerpt from JJ Toner, “Liberation Berlin”

Anton Tannhäuser was in a hurry. His troop leader, Ludwig, had sent him back to the hall to fetch the troop flag. Dressed in the black shorts and tan shirt of his Deutsches Jungvolk uniform, he charged down Spandauer Chaussee, weaving his way around and between the women and children on the footpath.

Without warning, an old man appeared from the crowd swinging a stiff leg right in Anton’s path. There was nothing he could do to avoid the collision, which seemed to happen in slow motion. His shins hit the old man’s leg and he shot forward, striking his knees and shoulder on the concrete slabs.

Even as he fell, Anton was aware that the old man’s leg was not made of flesh and bone. It was false, and hard as rock. His only thought as he fell was for the safety of the troop flag, which he released from his grasp.

Anton looked back in time to see the old man with the false leg spinning like a top onto the road into the path of a black police car. The car swerved and braked and screeched to a halt, inches from the man’s head. He had been carrying a bag of vegetables and these were now scattered and flying across the road.

Anton struggled to his feet, waving off the efforts of a couple of women trying to give him a helping hand. The pains in his knees and shoulder were excruciating, but he refused to cry. Both knees were red and bleeding.

The car doors flew open. Two policemen in green Schupo uniforms jumped out. One of them bent down to haul the man to his feet. The other man glowered down at him, shouting, “What are you doing? Do you want to get yourself killed? You could have caused an accident.”

The old man was clearly dazed. Weighed down by his false leg, his first attempt to get to his feet failed. The first policeman hauled him up, while the man braced his false leg against a tram rail to provide leverage. The second policeman made no move to help, standing back with one hand on the butt of the pistol on his hip.

Once the old man was upright again, he swung his leg onto the pavement. The policemen got back into their car, the doors slammed, and they continued on their way.

The women and children collected the scattered vegetables and put them into the old man’s bag.

Anton glared at him. “Dummkopf! Why don’t you watch where you’re going, old man?”

“I’m sorry, Herr Tannhäuser.” The man pointed to his leg. “I can’t move as fast as I used to.”

He knows my name!

“That leg is a danger to the public. You need to be more careful where you put it.” Anton snarled at him. “And how do you know my name?”

“You live in Kaiser Wilhelm 2,” said the old man. “I live in the same block.”

Anton took a moment to absorb that information. He had no recollection of a man with a wooden leg living in the block. Surely, he would have noticed. “Where in the block?”

“I live on the ground floor,” said the man. “I’m sorry about what happened. Will you be all right?”

Someone handed Anton his flagpole.

“People like you are a menace,” he said. “Don’t you know that every citizen of the Fatherland must make a positive contribution? What value are you to the Reich?”

Several of the women blanched at these words, as they should. He may have been only twelve years old, but, as a member of the Hitler Youth, he held power and influence well above his years.

The old man’s face flushed red. “I served my country for three years in the Low Countries, in France, and at the Eastern front.” He pointed to his leg. “I sacrificed more than most for my country.”

“Many sacrificed more,” Anton shouted back.

“What are you saying?”

“You survived. Many good Germans lost their lives.”

“Better not let the Gestapo hear you say that.” The old man turned his back and continued on his way, swinging his leg in that strange rhythm of his.

That riposte worried Anton. Had he said something the Gestapo would disapprove of? No one could deny that many Germans had been killed, but was it treasonous to say so in public? He wasn’t sure.

Anton shouted after him, “Yes, limp away, old man. And keep that leg out of public places where it can’t cause any more damage.”


***

While Frau Tannhäuser tended to Anton’s injured knee, he told her what had happened. “He stuck his wooden leg out in front of me, tripped me up. I could have been seriously injured…”

His mother made sympathetic clucking sounds.

“… I can’t understand why the Wehrmacht would consider it a good idea to prop up an old soldier like that, give him a false leg and send him home. What good is he to anyone with only one leg?”

Anton’s father sucked on his empty pipe. “That’s Hans Klein. He has an iron leg. He keeps a plot in the Schrebergärten, I believe. Grows vegetables.”

“Are there no able-bodied people to do that?” said Anton, snorting. “Some woman, perhaps?”

The two adults exchanged a despairing glance, but said nothing.

“I’m going to have to report the incident to Ludwig. Look at my uniform. He has ruined it. I will be required to explain that.”

“It’s nothing but a little dirt from the ground. Take off your shirt and I’ll wash it for you,” said his mother. “I wouldn’t say anything. You fell—”

“I didn’t fall, Mutter. I told you, the old man tripped me with his iron leg.” He took off his shirt and handed it to her.

“I’m sure he didn’t mean to,” she said.

“It was a deliberate act. I believe he may be an enemy of the Reich, a member of the subversive resistance.”

“I don’t think so,” said his father. “An old decommissioned soldier with only one leg working for the Resistance? How likely is that? You must have been running.”

“I was on an important errand.”

“Well there you are, then. You were rushing to complete your important work and you fell. No need to mention what you fell over.”

“It’s my duty to put in a full report. He could be a communist.”

His father shrugged, sucking hard on his dry pipe. “So you’ll say you fell over an old communist’s peg-leg? How do you think Ludwig and the troop will react to that?”

Anton shrugged.

“They will laugh at you.” His father shook spittle from his pipe into the fireplace.

His mother made more clucking sounds. “Do you have to do that?”

Anton thought about what his father had said for a few moments. “What about the damage to my knee? I will have to explain that.”

“You were running. You fell. You hurt your knee—”

“And my elbow.”

“And your elbow. No need to say anything about the old man or his leg.”

***

Later that night, Anton’s parents lay in bed in the dark.

“He used to be such a nice child,” she whispered. “Remember how he loved animals? How many sick birds did he rescue? And that squirrel…”

“He’s still the same boy.”

“You really think so? His whole world is filled with Führer worship, now. I wish he’d never joined the Jungvolk. They have turned his mind. I’m afraid we’ve lost him.”

Herr Tannhäuser was silent for a long time. Then he said, “He will come back to us after…”

“After the war, you mean? Do you really think so?”

“Yes. Once the Nazis have been defeated, he will see how wrong they were. We will get our son back. I’m certain of it.”

She lay silent for a while. Then she whispered, “He frightens me.”

“There’s nothing to be frightened about.”

“You hear terrible stories. Other parents have been betrayed by their sons.”

“He would never betray us. Not Anton.”

“You don’t know that. His mind is full of crazy Nazi ideas.”

“Yes, but what have we ever said against the Reich or the Führer?”

She turned onto her side, facing away from her husband. “Nothing. Nothing at all.”


Buy Links:

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Road-Liberation-Trials-Triumphs-WWII-ebook/dp/B083SH7VJQ

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Road-Liberation-Trials-Triumphs-WWII-ebook/dp/B083SH7VJQ

Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/Road-Liberation-Trials-Triumphs-WWII-ebook/dp/B083SH7VJQ


Author Bio:

Marion Kummerow:

Marion Kummerow was born and raised in Germany, before she set out to "discover the world" and lived in various countries. In 1999 she returned to Germany and settled down in Munich where she's now living with her family.

After dipping her toes with non-fiction books, she finally tackled the project dear to her heart. UNRELENTING is the story about her grandparents, who belonged to the German resistance and fought against the Nazi regime. It's a book about resilience, love and the courage to stand up and do the right thing.

Marina Osipova:

Marina Osipova was born in East Germany into a military family and grew up in Russia where she graduated from the Moscow State Institute of History and Archives. She also has a diploma as a German language translator from the Moscow State Institute of Foreign Languages. In Russia, she worked first in a scientific-technical institute as a translator then in a Government Ministry in the office of international relations, later for some Austrian firms. For seventeen years, she lived in the United States where she worked in a law firm. Eventually, she found her home in Austria. She is an award-winning author and a member of the Historical Novel Society.

Rachel Wesson:

Rachel Wesson is Irish born and bred. Drawn to reading from an early age, she started writing for publication a few years back. When she is not writing, Rachel likes to spend her time reading and playing with her three kids. Living in Dublin there are plenty of things to do, although the cowboys and Indians of her books rarely make an appearance. To chat with Rachel connect with her on Facebook - authorrachelwesson. To check out her newest releases sign up to her mailing list.

JJ Toner:

My background is in Mathematics and computing, but I have been writing full time since 2005. I write short stories and novels. My novels include the bestselling WW2 spy story 'The Black Orchestra', and its three sequels, 'The Wings of the Eagle', 'A Postcard from Hamburg', and 'The Gingerbread Spy'.
Many of my short stories have been published in mainstream magazines. Check out 'EGGS and Other Stories' - a collection of satirical SF stories. I was born in a cabbage patch in Ireland, and I still live here with my first wife, although a significant part of our extended family lives in Australia.

Ellie Midwood:

Ellie Midwood is a USA Today bestselling and award-winning historical fiction author. She owes her interest in the history of the Second World War to her grandfather, Junior Sergeant in the 2nd Guards Tank Army of the First Belorussian Front, who began telling her about his experiences on the frontline when she was a young girl. Growing up, her interest in history only deepened and transformed from reading about the war to writing about it. After obtaining her BA in Linguistics, Ellie decided to make writing her full-time career and began working on her first full-length historical novel, "The Girl from Berlin." Ellie is continuously enriching her library with new research material and feeds her passion for WWII and Holocaust history by collecting rare memorabilia and documents.

In her free time, Ellie is a health-obsessed yoga enthusiast, neat freak, adventurer, Nazi Germany history expert, polyglot, philosopher, a proud Jew, and a doggie mama. Ellie lives in New York with her fiancé and their Chihuahua named Shark Bait.

Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger:

Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger was born in Minnesota in 1969 and grew up in the culture-rich neighborhood of "Nordeast" Minneapolis. She started her writing career with short stories, travel narratives, worked as a journalist and then as a managing editor for a magazine publisher before jumping the editor's desk and pursuing her dreams of writing and traveling. In 2000, she moved to western Austria and established her own communications training company. In 2005, she self-published a historical narrative based on her relatives' personal histories and experiences in Ukraine during WWII. She has won several awards for her short stories and now primarily writes historical fiction. During a trip into northern Italy over the Reschen Pass, she stood on the edge of Reschen Lake and desperately wanted to understand how a 15th-century church tower ends up sticking out of the water. What stories were lying beneath? Some eight years later, she launched the "Reschen Valley" series with five books and a novella releasing between 2018 and 2021.

For more on Chrystyna, dive in at inktreks(dot)com.