Tuesday, 24 November 2020

A FREEBIE, an EXCERPT, and a GREAT OFFER!

 

The Historical Fictioneers are excited by the success of our anthology of short stories, Betrayal. It is a FREE download on all platforms from twelve accomplished writers who explore historical yet timeless challenges.

AD455 - Roman leader Ambrosius caught in a whirlpool of shifting allegiances.

AD940 - Alyeva and cleric Dunstan navigate the dangers of the Anglo Saxon court.

1185 - Knight, Stephan fights for comradeship, duty and honour. But what about love?

1330 - The powerful Edmund of Kent enters a tangled web of intrigue.

1403 - Thomas Percy must decide whether to betray his sovereign or his family.

1457 - Estelle is invite to the King of Cyprus's court, but deceptin awaits.

1483 - Has Elysabeth made the right decision to bring Prince Edward to London?

1484 - Margaret Beaufort contemplates the path to treason.

1577 - Francis Drake contends with disloyalty at sea.

1650 - Can James Hart, Royalist highwayman, stop a nemesis destroying his friend?

1718 - Pirate, Anne Bonny, her lover, Calico Jack, and a pirate hunter. Who will win?

1849 -/present - Carina must discover her ancestor's betrayer in Italy or face ruin.

***

My story, House Arrest, is set during the reign of Richard III while Margaret Beaufort was imprisoned at Lathom as punishment for treason. The three books that make up The Beaufort Chronicle follows Margaret's life as she negotiates the perils of the war of the roses. Book One, The Beaufort Bride covers her childhood and her first marriage to Edmund Tudor, up until the birth of her son, Henry Tudor. As part of our Betrayal celebration I am pleased to offer the kindle download of The Beaufort Bride at 99p for a short time.


The Beaufort Bride

Judith Arnopp

 

As King Henry VI slips into insanity and the realm of England teeters on the brink of civil war, a child is married to the mad king’s brother. Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, takes his child bride into Wales where she discovers a land of strife and strangers.

At Caldicot Castle and Lamphey Palace Margaret must put aside childhood, acquire the dignity of a Countess and, despite her tender years, produce Richmond with a son and heir.

While Edmund battles to restore the king’s peace, Margaret quietly supports his quest; but it is a quest fraught with danger.

As the friction between York and Lancaster intensifies the 14-year-old Margaret is widowed and turns for protection to her brother-in-law, Jasper Tudor.  At his stronghold in Pembroke Margaret gives birth to a son whom she names Henry, after her cousin the king.

Margaret is small of stature but her tiny frame conceals a fierce and loyal heart and a determination that will not falter until her son’s destiny as the king of England is secured.


 

In the following excerpt from The Beaufort Bride, Margaret is six months pregnant and has just had word that her husband has been imprisoned in Carmarthen castle and likely to die of pestilence. She persuades Jasper to take her to him.

 

 ***

Another long road.  Another jolting, disheartening journey in the litter. Try as I might to persuade him, Jasper is unbending.

“You will ride in the litter or not at all,” he says, attempting to soften his harsh words with a quick smile. Pouting like an unruly child, I gather my cloak about me and clamber into the detested conveyance. I sit bolt upright, simmering with anger for as long as I can bear to. Myfanwy, moonstruck by Jasper’s return, smiles an apology for my behaviour and tries to soothe me.

“The journey will not be so long this time,” she says, “and Jasper is only thinking of your safety, and that of the babe.” She nods toward the dome of my belly and instinctively I put a hand on it, the contact imperceptibly softening my mood.

“I know.” Full of resentment, I look out beyond the looped-back curtain. Mercifully the weather is dry; a chilly bright day, with the sun reflecting on the puddles left by the last few weeks of rain. The blue skies are a teasing reminder of the summer so recently departed. Tomorrow, it will rain again.

Jasper rides at the head of the column. I watch his upright figure, notice how his head continually moves from left to right as he scans the horizon for signs of trouble. He is uneasy, not convinced of York’s promise of safe passage, and his discomfort unnerves me too.

Where the terrain allows, we follow the serpentine trail of the River Tywi, but every so often, to avoid marshy terrain, we are forced to higher ground. As we pass close to Grey Friars, the waterlogged fields about the river are scattered with sheep. At our approach, they throw up their heads in alarm and abandon their grazing to hurry from our path. Myfanwy laughs.

“Look at them. They look like beggars with their grubby woollen fleeces hanging from their backs.”

I smile, but I do not care about sheep. In the distance, I have spied the town gate and beyond it the towers of Carmarthen Castle standing proudly above a loop at the river crossing.

I sit up straighter and try to see ahead, as if expecting Edmund to be waving a greeting from the battlement. But he does not know I am coming; I will be the last person he expects to see.

I watch Jasper ride toward the town gate. He leans from his saddle and exchanges words with the gatekeeper. He takes off his helmet and turns toward me, the wind tussling his hair which, I notice with a sudden pang, is the exact same shade as Edmund’s. His brow is creased and, noting his dour expression, I sense more trouble. My heart sinks as, after a further exchange of words, he turns his horse and rides back to the litter.

He slides from his horse.

“Margaret …” He hesitates, pulls a face and lets out a long breath. “There is pestilence here. I cannot let you travel farther. It isn’t safe.”

 A surge of anger such as I have never known consumes me; I can feel it rushing uncontrollably through my body, gathering in my head until I feel it will burst.

“I will not be kept from him!” I hear myself shout. Tears of rage drench my cheeks; my fists are clenched tight, my ears ringing with the sudden stress. My mother would be furious if she witnessed such behaviour, but I am too afraid and too angry to care. Without ceasing my tirade, I swing my legs toward the door.

“I have travelled too far and waited too long to be kept away now. If there is pestilence here, he may need nursing. I will not allow you to keep me from my duty.”

I struggle from the litter and, shrugging Myfanwy’s hand from my shoulder, begin to hurry along the dirt track, determined to travel the rest of the way on foot. I do not get far before my ankle turns on a rut in the road.  Concealing the sudden sharp pain, I limp on.

“Margaret!” Jasper, defying all etiquette, strides after me, grabs my arm and forces me to stop. “You are acting like a child. Get back in the litter. I will take you as far as Grey Friars, but there you must wait until I discover the situation at the castle. If it is safe, you can see Edmund tomorrow. For Christ’s sake, think of your son.”

I am always being told to think of my child. I think of little else. I am thinking of him now, in my desperation to liberate Edmund. What will my son be without his father?

Myfanwy adds her argument to Jasper’s, her voice soft and silky with persuasion.

“We can freshen up and rest at the priory. You will feel better tomorrow, my lady, after a night’s sleep. Edmund will prefer to see you calm and … clean.” She casts a glance at my mired skirts.

I pass a hand over my face, knowing I am beaten, knowing they are right. With a sob of both rage and misery, I allow myself to be turned around and bundled back into the hateful litter.

As the horses lurch forward and the swaying of the litter starts up again, I refuse to look at Myfanwy. I resent her alliance with Jasper. Despite my situation, I do not miss the warm looks that pass between them, or the excuses she finds to be with him. She is glad this mischance has befallen my husband because it puts her in the company of her sweetheart.

Another religious house, this time run by the Grey Friars. They greet me cordially, offer what comfort they can and give me lodging in the abbot’s house. The room is comfortable, well furnished, and a welcome fire roars in the grate. Fuelled with resentment toward her, I cruelly send Myfanwy from my presence. It is midnight before I regret it. I pass a lonely, miserable night but I am too stubborn to summon her back, and so I lie awake, staring into the dark. 

The child is quiet, his head pressing on my bladder, so I have to get up repeatedly to use the close-stool. Each time I return to the bed, the sheets become rucked into a worse mess and by dawn the blankets look as though a wrestling match has taken place.

“Goodness,” Myfanwy exclaims in the morning when she brings me a tray of victuals to break my fast. “What have you been doing?”

She bears no malice for my hostility the night before and her cheeks are rosy, her eyes bright as if she has passed a restful night. While I stare grumpily at my morning meal, she begins to smooth the sheet and plump my pillows.

“Jasper will be leaving soon, I expect.” She moves to the window and opens the shutters, letting a stream of dirty daylight into the room.

I want to correct her, command her to use his proper title but I am tired, sick and tired of everything and cannot find the strength. I frown at the hump of my raised knees beneath the blanket. There must be something I can do, some action I can take.

I push away the tray and throw off the covers. “Help me get dressed, Myfanwy. I cannot face food this morning.”

Cup in hand, she hovers for a few moments before hurrying to do my bidding. I am mute during my toilette, but all the while she sponges my face her questions fall as swiftly as arrows.

“Why are you in such a hurry? What are you going to do? You don’t mean to defy Jasper, do you, Margaret? Please don’t do anything …”

“Give me that.” I snatch the comb rudely from her hand and begin to drag it through my hair. It catches at the knots, large clumps coming free. “There,” I say. “Now quickly braid it and tuck it under my cap.”

She has no option but to obey me, and I offer no explanation. Ten minutes later, less neat than usual, I am waiting for Jasper to appear in the hall. I hear his approach long before he arrives.

“Margaret.” He stops short, instantly wary as he notices my outdoor clothes and my mulish expression. He tucks his helmet defensively beneath his arm. “What are you doing here?”

I can tell by his voice that he knows my intention, but I raise my chin defiantly before I make an answer.

“I am coming with you. I will not be sent to my chambers like a child. My husband’s life may be in peril and I refuse to sit idly by when it is clearly my duty to be with him.”

“It is too dangerous.” He comes closer, his brow creased with concern. “I have no idea what danger we may be riding into. Do you not care about your child or your own well-being?”

“Of course I do.” I look him firmly in the eye. “I have spent most of the night in prayer asking for God’s guidance as to what I should do. He convinces me my place is at Edmund’s side. Surely, Jasper, you are not so high and mighty as to argue with God?”

Exasperated, he looks at the ceiling, and then back at me.

“By Heaven, Margaret, you could use a spanking.”

I stiffen, outraged at his discourtesy, but as I open my mouth to make a sharp retort, I think I detect a tiny spark of admiration in his eye. I close my mouth again and make no reply as I pull on my gauntlets.

“And I am not spending another moment in that litter. Have a horse made ready for me.” I speak over his shoulder to his steward, but Jasper puts up a hand.

“No, if I have any say in the matter, you will ride with me, my lady, so I can at least try to keep you from harm.”

As he ushers me from the room Ned steps forward, seemingly from nowhere. “My lady, I am coming too.”

A sigh shudders from deep within me. I do not even turn to look him in the eye.

“Don’t be tiresome, Ned. Go and walk Jay in the gardens, make yourself useful.”

I turn again but he tags after me.

“Begging your pardon, my lady, but I owe you my life, and if you are going into danger then I am coming with you.” He puts his hand on the dog’s head. “And so is Jay.”

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake, you impossible child. Very well, do as you wish. I revoke all responsibility for you.”

There is no time to argue. I march swiftly away, Jasper at my side telling me I am too soft with the boy. I raise my eyebrows but forebear to comment that he might likewise be too soft with me.

The Beaufort Chronicle is available on Kindle, Paperback and also on Audible




We at the Historical Fictioneers are very excited by the success of our anthology of short stories, Betrayal. It is a FREE download on all platforms brought to you by twelve accomplished writers who explore these historical yet timeless challenges.

AD455—Roman leader Ambrosius is caught in a whirlpool of shifting allegiances

AD940—Alyeva and cleric Dunstan navigate the dangers of the Anglo Saxon court

1185—Knight Stephan fights for comradeship, duty, and honour. But what about love?

1330—The powerful Edmund of Kent enters a tangled web of intrigue

1403—Thomas Percy must decide whether to betray his sovereign or his family

1457—Estelle is invited to the King of Cyprus’s court, but deception awaits

1483—Has Elysabeth made the right decision to bring Prince Edward to London?

1484—Margaret Beaufort contemplates the path to treason

1577—Francis Drake contends with disloyalty at sea

1650—Can James Hart, Royalist highwayman, stop a nemesis destroying his friend?

1718—Pirate Annie Bonny, her lover Calico Jack, and a pirate hunter. Who will win?

1849/present—Carina must discover her ancestor’s betrayer in Italy or face ruin.


My story, House Arrest is set in the reign of Richard III while Margaret Beaufort is imprisoned in her home for treason. Margaret's life is the original roller coaster as she negotiates the perils of the war of the roses. The Beaufort Bride covers her early years at her mother's house, Bletsoe, her time in Wales as the child bride of Edmund Tudor and the birth of her son, Henry Tudor. As part of the BETRAYAL celebrations I am offering the kindle download of The Beaufort Bride for 99p!


The Beaufort Bride - Book one of The Beaufort Chronicle

As King Henry VI slips into insanity and the realm of England teeters on the brink of civil war, a child is married to the mad king's brother. Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, takes his child bride into Wales where she discovers a land of strife and strangers.

At Caldicot Castle and Lamphey Palace Margaret must put aside childhood, acquire the dignity of a Countess and, despite her tender years, produce Richmond with a son and heir.

While Edmund battles to restore the king's peace, Margaret quietly supports his quest; but it is a quest fraught with danger.

As the friction between York and Lancaster intensifies 14-year-old Margaret, now widowed, turns for protection to her brother-in-law, Jasper Tudor. At his stronghold in Pembroke, two months after her husband's death, Margaret gives birth to a son whom she names Henry, after her cousin the king.

Margaret is small of stature but her tiny frame conceals a fierce and loyal heart and a determination that will not falter until her son's destiny as the king of England is secured.

In the following excerpt from The Beaufort Bride, Margaret is six months pregnant and has just had word that her husband has been imprisoned in Carmarthen castle and likely to die of pestilence. She persuades Jasper to take her to him.


Another long road.  Another jolting, disheartening journey in the litter. Try as I might to persuade him, Jasper is unbending. 

“You will ride in the litter or not at all,” he says, attempting to soften his harsh words with a quick smile. Pouting like an unruly child, I gather my cloak about me and clamber into the detested conveyance. I sit bolt upright, simmering with anger for as long as I can bear to. Myfanwy, moonstruck by Jasper’s return, smiles an apology for my behaviour and tries to soothe me.

“The journey will not be so long this time,” she says, “and Jasper is only thinking of your safety, and that of the babe.” She nods toward the dome of my belly and instinctively I put a hand on it, the contact imperceptibly softening my mood.

“I know.” Full of resentment, I look out beyond the looped-back curtain. Mercifully the weather is dry; a chilly bright day, with the sun reflecting on the puddles left by the last few weeks of rain. The blue skies are a teasing reminder of the summer so recently departed. Tomorrow, it will rain again.

Jasper rides at the head of the column. I watch his upright figure, notice how his head continually moves from left to right as he scans the horizon for signs of trouble. He is uneasy, not convinced of York’s promise of safe passage, and his discomfort unnerves me too.

Where the terrain allows, we follow the serpentine trail of the River Tywi, but every so often, to avoid marshy terrain, we are forced to higher ground. As we pass close to Grey Friars, the waterlogged fields about the river are scattered with sheep. At our approach, they throw up their heads in alarm and abandon their grazing to hurry from our path. Myfanwy laughs.

“Look at them. They look like beggars with their grubby woollen fleeces hanging from their backs.”

I smile, but I do not care about sheep. In the distance, I have spied the town gate and beyond it the towers of Carmarthen Castle standing proudly above a loop at the river crossing.

I sit up straighter and try to see ahead, as if expecting Edmund to be waving a greeting from the battlement. But he does not know I am coming; I will be the last person he expects to see.

I watch Jasper ride toward the town gate. He leans from his saddle and exchanges words with the gatekeeper. He takes off his helmet and turns toward me, the wind tussling his hair which, I notice with a sudden pang, is the exact same shade as Edmund’s. His brow is creased and, noting his dour expression, I sense more trouble. My heart sinks as, after a further exchange of words, he turns his horse and rides back to the litter. 

He slides from his horse.

“Margaret …” He hesitates, pulls a face and lets out a long breath. “There is pestilence here. I cannot let you travel farther. It isn’t safe.”

 A surge of anger such as I have never known consumes me; I can feel it rushing uncontrollably through my body, gathering in my head until I feel it will burst.

“I will not be kept from him!” I hear myself shout. Tears of rage drench my cheeks; my fists are clenched tight, my ears ringing with the sudden stress. My mother would be furious if she witnessed such behaviour, but I am too afraid and too angry to care. Without ceasing my tirade, I swing my legs toward the door. 

“I have travelled too far and waited too long to be kept away now. If there is pestilence here, he may need nursing. I will not allow you to keep me from my duty.” 

I struggle from the litter and, shrugging Myfanwy’s hand from my shoulder, begin to hurry along the dirt track, determined to travel the rest of the way on foot. I do not get far before my ankle turns on a rut in the road.  Concealing the sudden sharp pain, I limp on. 

“Margaret!” Jasper, defying all etiquette, strides after me, grabs my arm and forces me to stop. “You are acting like a child. Get back in the litter. I will take you as far as Grey Friars, but there you must wait until I discover the situation at the castle. If it is safe, you can see Edmund tomorrow. For Christ’s sake, think of your son.”

I am always being told to think of my child. I think of little else. I am thinking of him now, in my desperation to liberate Edmund. What will my son be without his father?

Myfanwy adds her argument to Jasper’s, her voice soft and silky with persuasion.

“We can freshen up and rest at the priory. You will feel better tomorrow, my lady, after a night’s sleep. Edmund will prefer to see you calm and … clean.” She casts a glance at my mired skirts.

I pass a hand over my face, knowing I am beaten, knowing they are right. With a sob of both rage and misery, I allow myself to be turned around and bundled back into the hateful litter. 

As the horses lurch forward and the swaying of the litter starts up again, I refuse to look at Myfanwy. I resent her alliance with Jasper. Despite my situation, I do not miss the warm looks that pass between them, or the excuses she finds to be with him. She is glad this mischance has befallen my husband because it puts her in the company of her sweetheart.

Another religious house, this time run by the Grey Friars. They greet me cordially, offer what comfort they can and give me lodging in the abbot’s house. The room is comfortable, well furnished, and a welcome fire roars in the grate. Fuelled with resentment toward her, I cruelly send Myfanwy from my presence. It is midnight before I regret it. I pass a lonely, miserable night but I am too stubborn to summon her back, and so I lie awake, staring into the dark.  

The child is quiet, his head pressing on my bladder, so I have to get up repeatedly to use the close-stool. Each time I return to the bed, the sheets become rucked into a worse mess and by dawn the blankets look as though a wrestling match has taken place.

“Goodness,” Myfanwy exclaims in the morning when she brings me a tray of victuals to break my fast. “What have you been doing?” 

She bears no malice for my hostility the night before and her cheeks are rosy, her eyes bright as if she has passed a restful night. While I stare grumpily at my morning meal, she begins to smooth the sheet and plump my pillows.

“Jasper will be leaving soon, I expect.” She moves to the window and opens the shutters, letting a stream of dirty daylight into the room.

I want to correct her, command her to use his proper title but I am tired, sick and tired of everything and cannot find the strength. I frown at the hump of my raised knees beneath the blanket. There must be something I can do, some action I can take.

I push away the tray and throw off the covers. “Help me get dressed, Myfanwy. I cannot face food this morning.”

Cup in hand, she hovers for a few moments before hurrying to do my bidding. I am mute during my toilette, but all the while she sponges my face her questions fall as swiftly as arrows.

“Why are you in such a hurry? What are you going to do? You don’t mean to defy Jasper, do you, Margaret? Please don’t do anything …”

“Give me that.” I snatch the comb rudely from her hand and begin to drag it through my hair. It catches at the knots, large clumps coming free. “There,” I say. “Now quickly braid it and tuck it under my cap.”

She has no option but to obey me, and I offer no explanation. Ten minutes later, less neat than usual, I am waiting for Jasper to appear in the hall. I hear his approach long before he arrives.

“Margaret.” He stops short, instantly wary as he notices my outdoor clothes and my mulish expression. He tucks his helmet defensively beneath his arm. “What are you doing here?”

I can tell by his voice that he knows my intention, but I raise my chin defiantly before I make an answer.

“I am coming with you. I will not be sent to my chambers like a child. My husband’s life may be in peril and I refuse to sit idly by when it is clearly my duty to be with him.”

“It is too dangerous.” He comes closer, his brow creased with concern. “I have no idea what danger we may be riding into. Do you not care about your child or your own well-being?”

“Of course I do.” I look him firmly in the eye. “I have spent most of the night in prayer asking for God’s guidance as to what I should do. He convinces me my place is at Edmund’s side. Surely, Jasper, you are not so high and mighty as to argue with God?”

Exasperated, he looks at the ceiling, and then back at me.

“By Heaven, Margaret, you could use a spanking.”

I stiffen, outraged at his discourtesy, but as I open my mouth to make a sharp retort, I think I detect a tiny spark of admiration in his eye. I close my mouth again and make no reply as I pull on my gauntlets.

“And I am not spending another moment in that litter. Have a horse made ready for me.” I speak over his shoulder to his steward, but Jasper puts up a hand.

“No, if I have any say in the matter, you will ride with me, my lady, so I can at least try to keep you from harm.”

As he ushers me from the room Ned steps forward, seemingly from nowhere. “My lady, I am coming too.”

A sigh shudders from deep within me. I do not even turn to look him in the eye.

“Don’t be tiresome, Ned. Go and walk Jay in the gardens, make yourself useful.”

I turn again but he tags after me.

“Begging your pardon, my lady, but I owe you my life, and if you are going into danger then I am coming with you.” He puts his hand on the dog’s head. “And so is Jay.”

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake, you impossible child. Very well, do as you wish. I revoke all responsibility for you.”

There is no time to argue. I march swiftly away, Jasper at my side telling me I am too soft with the boy. I raise my eyebrows but forebear to comment that he might likewise be too soft with me.


                     

          The Beaufort Chronicle is available on Kindle, in Paperback and also on Audible.

Monday, 16 November 2020

Announcing Betrayal - a FREE anthology of Short stories from your favourite Historical Fiction authors



Betrayal, treachery, treason, deceit, perfidy—all names for the calculated violation of trust. And it’s been rife since humans trod the earth.

A promise broken

A mission betrayed

A lover’s desertion

A parent’s deception

An unwitting act of treason

Betrayal by comrades

Betrayal by friends

https://books2read.com/BetrayalAnthology

Could you resist the forces of misplaced loyalty, power hunger, emotional blackmail, or plain greed? Is there ever redemption, or will the destruction visit future generations and even alter history? These questions are still with us today.

Twelve tales by twelve accomplished writers who explore these historical yet timeless challenges.

AD455—Roman leader Ambrosius is caught in a whirlpool of shifting allegiances

AD940—Alyeva and cleric Dunstan navigate the dangers of the Anglo Saxon court

1185—Knight Stephan fights for comradeship, duty, and honour. But what about love?

1330—The powerful Edmund of Kent enters a tangled web of intrigue

1403—Thomas Percy must decide whether to betray his sovereign or his family

1457—Estelle is invited to the King of Cyprus’s court, but deception awaits

1483—Has Elysabeth made the right decision to bring Prince Edward to London?

1484—Margaret Beaufort contemplates the path to treason

1577—Francis Drake contends with disloyalty at sea

1650—Can James Hart, Royalist highwayman, stop a nemesis destroying his friend?

1718—Pirate Annie Bonny, her lover Calico Jack, and a pirate hunter. Who will win?

1849/present—Carina must discover her ancestor’s betrayer in Italy or face ruin.

“I read this anthology from start to finish in a matter of days…. Each story is gripping.”– Discovering Diamonds Reviews

Betrayal is available as a FREE ebook on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Apple and more FROM 17 November 2020.

Sunday, 15 November 2020

Lady Estrid: A Novel of Eleventh Century Denmark





Lady Estrid: A Novel of Eleventh Century Denmark 

By M J Porter 

Daughter, Sister, Duchess, Aunt. Queen.

United by blood and marriage. Divided by seas. Torn apart by ambition.

Lady Estrid Sweinsdottir has returned from Kiev, her first husband dead after only a few months of marriage. Her future will be decided by her father, King Swein of Denmark, or will it?

A member of the ruling House of Gorm, Estrid might not be eligible to rule, as her older two brothers, but her worth is in more than her ability to marry and provide heirs for a husband, for her loyalty is beyond question. 

With a family as divided and powerful as hers, stretching from England to Norway to the land of the Svear, she must do all she can to ensure Denmark remains under the control of her father’s descendants, no matter the raging seas and boiling ambition that threatens to imperil all.


An excerpt from Lady Estrid 

My sleep is disturbed, and when I wake, I’m twisted tightly around furs and pillows, and I’m drenched from head to toe in the stale odour of my body.

My chest heaves, and I reach for and then fumble the wooden beaker kept beside my bed in the event of such awakenings, the water spilling noisily onto the wooden floor. I tense, expecting Frida to rush to my side, as so often the case, but she doesn’t. Perhaps she imbibed too much wine before sleeping. I wouldn’t blame her. She rarely lets down her guard.

This true dream is different from my usual ones, the tendrils of it seeping into me, even as I shake my head, expecting it to dispel. I almost jump from my bed, pulling my abandoned cloak around my shoulders to fight the cold that seems to permeate everything, as though the coldest of nights.

A moment ago I was hotter than a flame-forged blade, but now an iciness has enveloped me, and I almost find it impossible to put weight on to my feet because they’re so chilled as I swing from my bed.

I reach for my boots, slip them over my feet, fumbling in the small light from the brazier in the corner of the room. Only then do I turn and creep from my room, the creaking door overly loud in the depths of the night, when everyone sleeps apart from the huscarls on watch duty at the main door. I don’t pity them such a cold night. I hope the brazier is piled high beside them, and that they wear thick cloaks, gloves and hats.

I tremble again, making my way silently to where I know a water jug will be waiting. In the main hall, the gloom is less, because of the embers from the massive hearth that smoulders at its centre. A few snores greet my steps but nothing else. With a shaking hand, I pour water into yet another wooden beaker and drink it desperately, hoping the water will root me firmly in my body, entirely extricating myself from the dream. 

Only my eyes close involuntarily with the action of swallowing, and the scenes of my true dreams immediately reappear before my eyes. I’m gasping for breath as I seek a chair to steady myself, eyes fleeing open, hands outstretched, trying to banish the images that don’t want to leave me.

What is this?

Why is this?

 I crouch further into my cloak, facing the autumn-red embers as a way of holding on to the reality of the here and now. Only then do I allow the flickers of my dream to subsume me.

I need to see what’s terrified me so much that my heart beats loudly enough that I believe they might even hear it across the sea, in Sk√•ne.

I close my eyes, my legs and booted-feet extended toward the warmth of the fire, and then I focus on one of the images that I recall clearly.

Two bowed heads, one blond, and one auburn, and behind them, an array of others. My hands rest on those heads, and yet another blond-haired head tries to force their way between them, as they kneel before me. Behind the bent heads, eyes watch me, little more than hooded flickers of blinding white from the gloom, the only colour caused by the irises.

I don’t know where I am, only that I’m the focus of attention.

I meet the first set of eyes, noting the green tinge in the strange half-dusk, half-night light where the colours of the day are polluted by what seems to be tendrils of the hottest forge, blue and white at the centre.

But the eyes draw me in. I know those eyes. 

And then another set joins those, the one pair green, the other brown. I would recognise those eyes anywhere; Cnut and Harald. Quickly, their gazes flicker to the three bowed heads before me, but my vision is filled with yet more eyes all fighting for my attention.

These I don’t know. Not at all.

There are many of them. Gazes peer from the creeping shadows, all of them focused on me. I resent the scrutiny. I don’t know all of these people. Yet I feel as though I should. 

If only I could see more of them, determine who they are, and who the three dipped heads belong to as well, their faces hidden from me.

My heart thunders in my chest as I try and focus on only one set of eyes, try to recall what so frightened me that it chased me from my dreams, brought sweat to my forehead, urging me from my bed.

The first to willingly acquiesce to my scrutiny seems to shimmer as a sudden spark of light reveals more than just eyes. I have the impression of long hair, tightly braided, and a smile appears to play on tight lips, satisfaction emanating from the body.

I see the fall of rich fabric around a curvy body, reminding me of my plain figure, and I realise that those eyes focus on the one head trying to come between the two of whom I already bestow my benedictions.

I sense, rather than see, a desperate need in that look, a desire to accomplish a great deal, and also something else that surprises me so much it casts the figure back into the shadow, and I’m left swallowing the sour taste of envy.

The next eyes to truly focus on me, wash me with their superiority and rather than seeing their clothes or hair, I see only a vision of a sea teeming with warships, the cries of two embattled sides drowning out even the sound of my breathing.

I wrench my head away from the gaze, bile in my throat and my stomach rolling with more than the gait of a ship in a storm. The grey haze of the future swallows a sanctimonious smirk, and then another figure appears.

I know what this is. It’s a vision of what will happen in the future only filled with too much for me to be able to decipher.

I’ve never dreamt of so much before. 

But one of those first sets of eyes draws me back, seeming to clamour for my attention.

Harald. My beloved brother. He stands apart from the other seething mass of scrutiny, I realise now, and I hold his green-tinged eyes, trying to understand his place in all this. But although his mouth moves, the sound of his words is lost to me, and I hear nothing, nothing at all, although his concern is easy to decipher. His soundless words are short and sharp, his mouth moving furiously through them all, a vision of his balled hands adding to the feeling of intense unease. 


And then his eyes shift toward Cnut, and abruptly I understand so much more.

Not that I’m given the time to let him know that. Far from it.

A new shape emerges, close to Cnut, and this is someone I’ve never met before, or at least, I have no recollection of having done so.

The image of laughter suddenly ripples through the air, more substantial than sound. Yet my brother welcomes this new visitor. It seems Cnut is unaware of the bleeding knife the man covers in his hand, or even his leering glance my way. And there is the suggestion that he’s just one of many, the others all cowering behind him.

Whoever this person is, I must stay away from him, and caution Cnut to do the same. The warning is clear to see. I wish I could see more, know who this figure is.

But what of Harald? He’s gone, no longer watching me.

A rattling sound in the darkness wrenches me back to the here and now. Sweat pools down my face, and then beneath my cloak, even though I shiver.

I peer into the gloaming, trying to determine if I’m in danger, or whether it’s merely the footsteps of one of the servants come to revive the fire, or the huscarls changing positions as they guard the main door.

My gaze skims the room, seeking into the secret places, the shadowed corners where someone could hide if they needed to, but I see nothing, my eyes rimmed with the light of my dreams, making it difficult to see well.

I judder, wishing I could banish the feeling of being watched as well as the lingering fatigue of my strange dream.

A breath of air passes over my face. My eyes turn to the door, where a slim figure seems to creep through the night, even though the door has neither opened nor closed. Only, the figure is insubstantial, merely a wisp and nothing more, and when the woman looks at me, I see someone I think I recognise, but I’m not sure. Her hair is white, clumps of it missing from her head, and I know what this is, and my hands clench the arms of the chair, as though I can use them to hold on to reality. 

I’m not awake. Not yet, despite what I thought.

In her wake, the wreath-like figure brings more wavering figures, all seeming to steal through the closed door.

She beckons to me, but I stay seated, wishing I could close my eyes but knowing that to do so would only bring back the other half of my dream.

What is this? Why tonight do so many visions torment me? 

Behind her, the woman brings my father, and I can suddenly see the resemblance clearly, even though I never met the woman, dead before I was born. This then is my grandmother. Swein strides as though for war, a grimace on his familiar face. His beard covers his chin as always, although now it’s shadowed with grey frost. 

I can see where blood pools from a wound in his side, and his face, although resolved, shows the strain in the white and blue that marbles his skin and touches his lips and eyelids. I gasp. I don’t want to see this. He’s dead. I don’t need to see the pain he was in before he took his last breathes.

And my grandmother brings more of the dead with her. I harbour a guess that the one man is my grandfather, his resemblance to my father too obvious not to remark on, although, again, I was born after his death. The great warrior, King Harald Bluetooth, killed by his son. He carries a wound as well, and the scent of rotting flesh suddenly envelopes me.

I blink, try and clear my sight, only for the eyes of my initial vision to seek me once more. I open my eyes wide, torn. Do I wish to see the dead or the living?

I swallow, rub my hands together, wishing daylight would break and the hall would fill with people, busy about their tasks. I need to be distracted from these strange hallucinations, and only the light will wholly banish the dead.

Marble hands seem to reach for my chin, and I move my head, keen not to feel the creeping flesh on me, and yet they seem to dig deep inside me. I turn aside, reach for my beaker of water, only to have my face turned aside.

My grandmother’s mouth opens, but no words pour forth, and the scent of her is disgusting. I want to gag, but I can’t, her hand holding me transfixed.

Where her eyes should be, there are bottomless pits, but I can’t turn away. The blackness of nothing beckons to me, a promise that if I follow it, all of this will disappear. 

But can I? This is undoubtedly a gift, isn’t it, to step aside from my future?

Or is it a curse? 

Still, the slack jaw of my grandmother tries to speak to me, but I swallow, yank my head away from her hand, trying not to hear the clatter of her dislodged finger bones falling to the floor, and I close my eyes once more.

No matter these warnings from the past, I need to see, and I need to know precisely what the future holds. I allow myself to sink back into the dream where a collection of eyes pierce me, all trying to tell me one thing, while others vie for my attention. I want to know. I need to know. 

Yet, despite my brothers being there, both of them, I now see, it is to the women that my gaze turns, time and time again.

I wish I knew who the woman was, her reaching hands floating through the air, as though she means to gather as much as possible, the one bowed head most urgent of them all. I open my mouth, as though to shout a warning to my brothers, and the three heads before them, only for the woman to laugh at me, the hint of menace intensified as her hands scoop up more and more of my vision.

But she’s not alone, another woman is there as well, and all I can detect is a huge belly, as though she holds a litter of puppies inside her, and not children at all. Her hand rubs the protruding bump, and more and more of the eyes flock to her, seemingly keen to be under her command. Amongst them is the man, with the sea teeming with warships, and another, who seems to go unwillingly. And yet another, who floats eagerly toward her.


My gaze slips downwards, and I shudder, for there are no longer three bowed heads, but rather, seven, with two others squirming between them. Who are they? What are they? I can’t tell, although it seems clear to me that I’m supposed to know who they are.

And then I blink awake, Frida before me, her face pale with the lack of sleep, the worry in her eyes making me blink back tears.

Her arms are around me, rocking me gently. All of my dreams are banished, and there’s only me, and Frida, and the light of day to oust both of my nightmares.

For all that, I wish I knew who the people who inhabited my dreams were. Without such knowledge, the horrors that I’ve endured are impossible to decipher.

All the same, I take stock of what I saw; the three bowed heads, my two brothers, and eleven others as well, a woman, a man with warships and another with a bleeding knife. I hardly know who the images represent. But I vow there and then that I’ll find them all. I’ll protect my brothers.

Even if they won’t thank me for it. 


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Author Bio: M J Porter  

I’m an author of fantasy (Viking age/dragon-themed) and historical fiction (Early English, Vikings and the British Isles as a whole before the Norman Conquest), born in the old Mercian kingdom at some point since AD1066. 

I write A LOT. You’ve been warned!

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Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Step five of The Coffee Pot Book Tour for Anke: The Beginning

 

Publication Date: September 16th 2020

Publisher: Exotic Reads

Page Length: 111 eBook / 170 paperback

Genre: Historical Fiction


Anke: The Beginning

By Anas Hamshari and Caroline Snodgress

Living in the city of Mechelen, just south of once-prosperous Antwerp, in the aftermath of the Thirty Years’ War, Anke Verhaegen, an ambitious nineteen-year-old, is determined to make the most of her life.

When her brother Johan suggests crossing the Atlantic to New Netherland, Anke knows this is her destiny. Together, the two set about attempting to secure passage across the sea.

Before long, their plans are in motion, and hopes are high. Yet, with vengeful enemies, secrecy, and danger on the high sea waiting to be faced, will Anke really be able to secure a better life for herself?

                                                An excerpt from Anke: The Beginning

In short, I had no interest in men. Or, at least, no interest in marriage; for, I knew that some men were interesting. Not the eligible, wealthy bachelors that Dutch fathers everywhere arranged for their daughters to marry, of course. But, there were other kinds of men. Men at the port up north, or at the market down the street, who spoke of a different kind of life. Adventure seemed to cling to them, the way the smell of smoke lingered on the skin and in clothes. I would loiter just outside the crowds of them, pretending to be interested in some limp pile of vegetables in a dilapidated market stall, and I would listen to their stories. There was such boisterous, swaggering energy about them, the way they strutted and laughed and bragged about their business ventures. Usually, I found such arrogance appalling. But, these men, it seemed, had earned it. They did not live off the wealth of their fathers or the prodigious dowries of their pretty little brides. Instead, they made their own way in the world. Everything they had, they had fought for, and had earned. My only wish was that there could be a few women about them, not merely as maids or mistresses, but as equals. That is the life I would choose for myself.

 Still frustrated by my father’s scheming, I returned to the kitchen, not bothering to go to the trouble of changing again. In the little room, the heat of the oven was overpowering. After the relative coolness of the parlor, it hit me like a sickening wave as I passed through the door. When I had first begun to take on a few responsibilities in the kitchen, it had seemed so exciting. I loved the sense of responsibility and adulthood, to know that someone was putting their trust in me, and that a task, however small, depended on my hard work to be completed successfully. But, nowadays, it was merely stressful. There were plates and bowls that needed washing, cups that needed to be filled, things that needed to be bought—no matter how little money we had to spare on it. It was a hard lesson to learn that no matter how much planning and organization I implemented, my hands could only do so much work. I knew I was capable of more than this. Could I but hire a few more girls, I would delegate, and they would bustle around the kitchen, and everything would get done in time. I wanted to use my brain, wanted to lead and organize, not mindlessly chop vegetables. I greeted the flour-covered room with a look of contempt.

Fortunately, there was nothing to keep me there; our one maid had found my unfinished attempt at a pie and had tended to it. The two of us exchanged weary smiles, and I let out a breath, smoothing my hair back as best I could. The heat was unbearable. No one would miss me for an hour or two. The market was calling to me.

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Meet the Authors




Anas Hamshari

Anas Hamshari is an established businessman residing in the State of Kuwait, and an author of one personal growth book and two historical fiction novels. Anas has been a lifelong writer and first began creating medieval fiction tales and short stories when he was seven years old. In June 2020, Anas formed Exotic Reads, a historical fiction self-publishing division in one of his main businesses, Exotic Flavor. Exotic Reads will be self-publishing a variety of historical fiction novels in the weeks, months, and years to come.

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Caroline Snodgress

Caroline Snodgress is a first-time author but a long-time writer and ghostwriter. As an Echols Scholar at the University of Virginia, she is planning to double major in English and History, and is thoroughly enjoying taking as many fiction writing classes as she can fit into her schedule. When not in Charlottesville, she lives with her family just outside of Richmond, reading eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literature and watching plenty of period dramas in her spare time.


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