Wednesday, 16 June 2021

The Coffee Pot Book Club present Queen of Blood by Sarah Kennedy



Book Title: Queen of Blood

Series: The Cross and the Crown, Book 4

Author: Sarah Kennedy

Publication Date: 26th  March 2021

Publisher: Penmore Press

Page Length: 321 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction


Twitter Handle: @KennedyNovels @maryanneyarde

Instagram Handles: @coffeepotbookclub

 

Queen of Blood 

(The Cross and the Crown, Book 4)

By Sarah Kennedy


Queen of Blood, Book Four of the Cross and the Crown series, continues the story of Catherine Havens, a former nun in Tudor England. It is now 1553, and Mary Tudor has just been crowned queen of England. Still a Roman Catholic, Mary seeks to return England to its former religion, and Catherine hopes that the country will be at peace under the daughter of Henry VIII. But rebellion is brewing around Thomas Wyatt, the son of a Tudor courtier, and when Catherine’s estranged son suddenly returns from Wittenberg amid circulating rumours about overthrowing the new monarch, Catherine finds herself having to choose between the queen she has always loved and the son who seems determined to join the Protestants who seek to usurp her throne.


Excerpt from Queen of Blood by Sarah Kennedy


The room was smaller than Catherine had expected, an ambitious, gilded closet rather than a grand receiving room. Anne of Cleves had had more imposing places than this for playing cards. Catherine expected her heart to clutch at her ribs, but it sat quiet within her. Almost against the back wall, Mary Tudor perched on a defiant, single throne, and when Catherine approached the chair and knelt, Ann drew back. Catherine uttered a simple “Your Majesty” and waited. She could see the specter of her own breath.

“Catherine Davies,” said the queen. “On your feet.”

Catherine obeyed and faced her monarch. Mary’s skin hung from the bones in soft pouches, but she was fatter. She wore a severe headdress and a more severe smile.

“How does your family?” said the queen. “Growing?”

“Not growing, Your Majesty. Not for many a day. My husband is well. We have our three daughters about us, and they take lessons in writing, music, and languages. I have much to thank God for.”

“God. You have much to thank us for. It was our hand that formed your family. You will recall that. It was this hand that stayed our father’s wrath. The king’s.” The queen extended five knobby fingers. “We will not see sundered what God has joined together, however ill-conceived was the joining.” A smirk wrinkled her lip. It looked painful. Mary Tudor was not famed for her wit.

The walls breathed cold. Someone’s skirts whispered. Catherine said, “I am in your debt, Your Majesty, and will ever be your loyal servant.” She did not know whether she was expected to return to her knees, and no one was nearby to provide an example, so she dipped her head in a compromise.

“Do you still practice your art?”

“My art?” Catherine’s mind skittered about. Safer to let the other woman say it.

“Your healing. Your herbs.” A high note of irritation, in discord with the undertone of threat.

“I tend my household these days, mostly.” It was true enough. “The younger girls help me. I keep a small garden, but I would want the countryside to grow herbs. We depend on the merchants in the city.”

“Yes, yes.” Mary waved her hand and laboured from the seat. “Come. We will walk. Do you recall our walks?”

The women behind Catherine swept backward. Catherine stood her ground. “Yes, Your Majesty. Those times stick in my memory.”

“Like nettles?”

“It was a difficult time,” Catherine said.

“I have something to show you.” Mary linked her arm through Catherine’s, as though they were still girls, chaining themselves together against the king. They turned, and Ann busied herself with her shoe, not wanting to be noticed at all. She wasn’t. Mary led Catherine out and down a hall, where courtiers plastered themselves to the walls, “Your Majesty”ing themselves into a blur of noise. She turned into an enclosed courtyard. “This will please your eyes,” said the queen. It was a garden of herbs, still mostly green in the aging autumn. Here, the red walls burned, and the plants, laid out in raised beds, lifted their rusting leaves to the sun. Some exotics that Catherine had never seen before. She touched a familiar rosemary stem and put her fingers to her nose to remind herself that she knew this woman, this world. The scent brought water to her eyes, and she closed them.

“You have a son, as well as daughters,” said Mary.

Catherine wiped her hand against her skirt. “Robbie. He prefers to be addressed as Robert now.” She allowed herself a shadow of a laugh. “Young men want to be men before they have worn out their boyhoods.”

“So he lives?” Mary strolled down the center aisle, and Catherine followed.

“Lives and breathes.”

“Breathing the air of England lately, or so I hear.” Mary’s fingers grazed the top of a stem and snapped off the head.

“He has unexpectedly returned. I hope he means to celebrate the Yuletide with us.”

“Here is one that you will enjoy.” Mary walked to a small tree. “An orange. Sent to me from Spain. Isn’t it delicate?” She took it by the trunk and squeezed. “If this were a man’s neck, how easily it would break.”

Catherine said, “From Spain? It is a gift for a queen indeed.”

“Yes.” The hand relaxed. “And why has your son come back to this island? We thought that he abjured our policies. Our religion.”

Catherine stepped into a soggy spot and almost lost her balance. “My husband thinks that he has tired of his studies and longs for home. We have not sounded him on the matter. He is too lately arrived.”

“Your husband. And how do you like your husband, Catherine?”

“Right well, Your Majesty.”

“Once, you claimed never to think to see yourself outfitted with a husband.” Mary sniffed and her face puckered. Her nose was red. “But that was a long time ago.”

“I am a mortal woman, and I hope God will forgive me for my sins. I pray for it.”

“As do we.” Mary moved on, and they reached the wall. “Feel of this stone.”

Catherine put her palm up to the heat. “This place must give you great comfort. It holds the sun.”

“More comfort if it held a son.”

“Yes, Your Majesty. You will marry?”

Now Mary Tudor smiled, and looked like a woman. She fished in her pocket and produced a miniature. “Have you seen him?” The portrait showed a dark prince, posed in arrogant red.

“He is as handsome a man as befits your station.”

“He is.” Mary gazed into the slick surface, and Catherine thought she might giggle. Then she popped him away, into the folds of her skirt. “He must get me a child.”

“I will pray for it,” said Catherine. “Children bring great comfort. A child of yours would comfort an entire people.”

“You will study upon it. You know of women’s bodies. How to improve the chances of conception.”

“I must consult my books. I have only dealt with my own people of late.”

“Your son will inherit a great deal of land.”

“God willing.”

“Those lands. They belonged to the Church, did they not?”

They had made their way back to the center of the garden, where the alien tree grew, and Catherine stopped to admire it. “His name is on the Overton lands, once Havens lands. The convent and church are in Mount Grace, miles away.”

“And who has his eyes on that?”

Catherine examined the bark and stroked the branches. “My daughter is named for those.”

“Which daughter?”

“Veronica. The elder. The little one, my Alice, will get half of her father’s lands.”

“The Davies property. It is extensive.”

Catherine nodded. “Benjamin has raised it all with his own hands. The country house was his mother’s, but it was almost fallen into the dirt when he took it over. You should see how he prospers. He has a great head for business.”

Mary walked on, and Catherine resisted the temptation to pluck a leaf before she followed. She wondered idly if a cutting would root, then scolded herself inwardly for allowing her curiosity to overtake her.

“Let us hope that he can keep those lands. And what of your father?”

“Dead these six years, God rest his soul.”

“You will have to light many a candle to ensure that. But he is perhaps the more fortunate.”

“He is with God.”

“He may be, in time. The others will lose their benefices.”

“The others?”

“Priests who once were. The ones who have broken their vows and taken wives. We shall see to the lands in time. But yours,” she said, claiming Catherine’s arm again, “will remain your daughter’s.”

“You are most generous.”

“I am just. I have a justice in me that burns like these walls.” They had achieved the doorway back into the palace, and Mary slapped the stone. She faced Catherine, blocking their entry. “Your son. A mother must direct her son to goodness. Sometimes back to goodness. We hear that he runs with a pack of malcontents. This displeases us.”

A cold bolt from the heart of the palace enveloped them, and Catherine, sweating inside her heavy clothes, shivered. “They are young, and young men often try out their strength before they have their wits.”

“And they sometimes find themselves up against strength mightier than their own.”

“Indeed they do. They are like young stallions, eager to leap and kick. I will endeavor to correct it in him.”

“Do, Catherine, do. We should like to see you keep your family.” Mary Tudor waved her hand, waded through a pile of kneeling women, like enormous pillows with heads; just inside she turned right, away from Catherine, and walked on alone.





Buy Links: Universal Link: mybook.to/QueenofBloodBookFour


Amazon UKAmazon US: Amazon CA: Amazon AU: 


Sarah Kennedy is the author of the Tudor historical series, The Cross and the Crown, including The Altarpiece, City of Ladies, The King’s Sisters, and Queen of Blood. She has also published a stand-alone contemporary novel, Self-Portrait, with Ghost, as well as seven books of poems.  A professor of English at Mary Baldwin University in Staunton, Virginia, Sarah Kennedy holds a PhD in Renaissance Literature and an MFA in Creative Writing.  She has received grants from both the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.





Social Media Links:

Website: Twitter: Facebook: Amazon Author Page: Goodreads: 




Monday, 14 June 2021

The Cofee Pot Book Club Blog Tour welcomes Tim Walker



Book Title: Guardians at the Wall

Author: Tim Walker

Publication Date: 1st June 2021

Publisher: Independently published

Page Length: 310 Pages

Genre: Historical dual timeline (Contemporary/Roman)



Guardians at the Wall 

By Tim Walker


Blurb:

Archaeology student Noah scrapes the soil near Hadrian’s Wall, once a barrier that divided Roman Britannia from wild Caledonian tribes, in the hope of uncovering an ancient artefact around which he can build a project-defining story.

He makes an intriguing find, but hasn't anticipated the distraction of becoming the object of desire in a developing love triangle in the isolated academic community at Vindolanda. He’s living his best life, but must learn to prioritise in a race against time to solve an astounding 2,000-year-old riddle, and an artefact theft, as he comes to realise his future career prospects depend on it.

In the same place, almost 2,000 years earlier, Centurion Gaius Atticianus, hungover and unaware of the bloody conflicts that will soon challenge him, is rattled by the hoot of an owl, a bad omen. 

These are the protagonists whose lives will brush together in the alternating strands of this dual timeline historical novel, one commencing his journey and trying to get noticed, the other trying to stay intact as he approaches retirement.

How will the breathless battles fought by a Roman officer influence the fortunes of a twenty-first century archaeology mud rat? Can naive Noah, distracted by the attentions of two very different women, navigate his way to a winning presentation?

Find out in Tim Walker's thrilling historical dual timeline novel, Guardians at the Wall.


Guardians at the Wall by Tim Walker


Extract 1 – Archaeology in Action


[POV – Noah Jessop, archaeology student on a dig at Hadrian’s Wall]

I turned at the sound of Mike’s approach, his gum boots bouncing on the wooden boards preserving the moorland grass around the outer edge of the dig. Beyond him, white woolly blobs ripped at the tough turf with teeth and jaws suited to the harsh environment.

“Once you’ve photographed it, make an entry in the day log,” he said, before leaving me to check on the four volunteers who were sieving soil for hidden fragments of pots or small coins in a long wooden box outside the marquee.

It was the site of a settlement of wood and mud-daubed huts and their adjacent animal pens built by the Brigante people, next to what had once been the stone walls of the Roman fortress at Vindolanda. The Romans would have referred to the cluster of buildings as a ‘vicus’. Every fort had one. The fortress site had been excavated almost continuously since the 1930s, and had yielded a wealth of finds that revealed a detailed picture of how successive Roman garrisons had lived their lives – including written records and correspondence that had miraculously survived for almost two thousand years entombed in layers of peat and soft clay. Now a number of archaeology undergraduates had come together to excavate and map the vicus that had once serviced the needs of the Roman occupiers.

I returned to my trench and resumed scraping the earth beside the street. After ten minutes, I stopped abruptly as my trowel blade made contact with a solid object. “Another stone,” I muttered. I dug around it, slowly scraping the dark, loamy soil and patches of sticky clay, then I burrowed gently with my fingers to get underneath the object. It was no ordinary stone. I picked up my paint brush and swept away the clinging soil to reveal a carved face on a smooth, rounded stone, its form and facial features exposed to the sun and air for the first time in almost two millennia. And my eyes were the first to behold it. Time froze. The excavation didn’t exist, just my breathless awe at the face that had last been touched by the hands of someone from the Roman era. I embraced our private moment and then my excitement erupted.

“Mike! I’ve found something!” I yelled in the direction of my crouching supervisor.

Mike stood up and strode purposefully towards me, springing on the boards like a March lamb, calling, “I’m coming!” He knelt down and stared at the stone face peering out of the soil. “Yes, you’ve found something alright, young Noah. Brush away the surface and then photograph in situ before easing it out.”

One careful centimetre at a time, I freed the object, and I held it in my calloused hands, gently brushing away the top layer of clinging soil. I raised the carving and saw grooved swirls and inscriptions that would be revealed when it was clean, and the delicate features of the statuette. It was carved from light grey marble, had a flat base, and stood about ten inches tall. I estimated the weight to be about two pounds – a bag of sugar.

The other students and volunteers had stopped what they were doing and now gathered around, making cooing noises or remarking ‘nice’ and ‘lovely’. I brushed some more, exposing details of the impassive face and shrouded body that suggested it was a female form, its hands cradling the mound of its belly. After admiring her for a few seconds, I handed her over to Mike, grinning like a bridegroom.

“Hmmm, it looks like a deity of the Brigante tribe, perhaps a goddess of fertility or one to ward off evil spirits. Could be carved from a lump of marble found in the quarry pits that produced the blocks used to build the fortress walls. There’s a vein of quartz running through it that perhaps influenced its selection. I’ll take it to Professor Wilde to get her opinion. Well done, lad. Now everyone, back to work. Noah’s shown us that there are riches still to be discovered!”

I beamed with pride as if I’d uncovered the tomb of a pharaoh, and as Mike continued the process of recording and tucked up my beautiful goddess nice and safe, my eyes followed his every move, and I nodded as he talked me through it.  


*****

[In the year 180 CE at the same location, Centurion Gaius Atticianus returns to Vindolanda fort after a successful patrol. Kerwyn is his native scout.]

As his unit gathered and men dismounted to clasp each other’s forearms with relief, Kerwyn and his family came to Gaius’s side.

“Sir, I am indebted to you for coming to our aid, although I did not ask for it. I will await your punishment for my disobedience.”

“That punishment will come, Kerwyn, but not today. Be with your family and be thankful to the gods, and your brave wife.”

The scout nodded and pulled his wife forward by her hand. “This is Morwen, who put the mother of our gods to good use in my defence.” 

Morwen, still holding her woollen garment that was torn at the shoulder, held out a rounded stone in her other hand, and looked up sheepishly at the officer from behind an uneven fringe. In response to Gaius’s puzzled expression, she lifted the rock and showed him the carved face and body on its smooth, sculptured side.

Kerwyn explained. “Brigantia is the mother of our people; she is like your goddess, Minerva, and is the great protector of our children.”

“Well, she certainly protected you today!” Gaius laughed.

Kerwyn nodded. “The gods were with us today.” He looked shaken and ill at ease, rotating his felt riding hat through his hands.

Morwen said, “Please take the goddess to watch over your wife and family, sir.” She held the stone carving out, and Gaius hesitated before accepting it.

Gaius noticed that his men had assembled and Paulinus was organising them into two ranks, whilst still holding the reins of their horses. He nodded to Kerwyn and Morwen, then turned away and went to Paulinus. “How many have we lost?”

“I make it twelve Gauls and two Sarmatians,” Paulinus replied with a sigh.

Gaius flinched and took his gold coin from his pouch, burying it in his big fist. He hated the loss of any of his men, and now felt the heavy weight of his responsibility. He knew all the Gauls by name and much of their backgrounds. It was a hard loss to bear – the biggest loss in any single action since he had become cent commander.

Just then, two Gauls came into the square, leading their horses, to tired cheers from the men. It was the whipped troublemaker, Vetonrix, and another younger man with a bandaged head and bloody tunic. The men called out friendly insults in welcome.

“There is a story here,” Gaius whispered to Paulinus. They grinned their shared relief that two more had survived.

“There’s a story in your hand, sir,” Paulinus said, nodding at the stone carving. 


Kindle: Paperback: 


Available on Kindle Unlimited



Tim Walker is an independent author living near Windsor in the UK. He grew up in Liverpool where he began his working life as a trainee reporter on a local newspaper. After studying for a degree in Communication studies he moved to London where he worked in the newspaper publishing industry for ten years before relocating to Zambia where, following a period of voluntary work with VSO, he set up his own marketing and publishing business. He returned to the UK in 2009.

His creative writing journey began in earnest in 2013, as a therapeutic activity whilst recovering from cancer treatment. He began writing an historical fiction series, A Light in the Dark Ages, in 2014, inspired by a visit to the part-excavated site of a former Roman town. The series connects the end of Roman Britain to elements of the Arthurian legend and is inspired by historical source material, presenting an imagined history of Britain in the fifth and early sixth centuries.

The last book in the series, Arthur, Rex Brittonum, was published in June 2020. This is a re-imagining of the story of King Arthur and follows on from 2019’s Arthur Dux Bellorum. Both titles are Coffee Pot Book Club recommended reads. The series starts with Abandoned (second edition, 2018); followed by Ambrosius: Last of the Romans (2017); and book three, Uther’s Destiny (2018). Series book covers are designed by Canadian graphic artist, Cathy Walker.

Tim has also written three books of short stories, Thames Valley Tales (2015), Postcards from London (2017) and Perverse (2020); a dystopian thriller, Devil Gate Dawn (2016); and three children’s books, co-authored with his daughter, Cathy – The Adventures of Charly Holmes (2017), Charly & the Superheroes (2018) and Charly in Space (2020).


Website:  Goodreads: 

Amazon Author Page: Facebook Page: Twitter: Instagram: Newsletter sign-up and free short story:





Thursday, 10 June 2021

The Coffee Pot Book Club welcomes Deborah Swift with her new release The Poison Keeper



Book Title: The Poison Keeper 

Author: Deborah Swift

Publication Date: 18th May 2021

Publisher: Quire Books

Page Length: 394 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction


The Poison Keeper 

By Deborah Swift


(Blurb)

Naples 1633

Aqua Tofana – One drop to heal. Three drops to kill.

Giulia Tofana longs for more responsibility in her mother’s apothecary business, but Mamma has always been secretive and refuses to tell Giulia the hidden keys to her success. When Mamma is arrested for the poisoning of the powerful Duke de Verdi, Giulia is shocked to uncover the darker side of her trade.

Giulia must run for her life, and escapes to Naples, under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, to the home of her Aunt Isabetta, a famous courtesan. But when Giulia hears that her mother has been executed, and the cruel manner of her death, she swears she will wreak revenge on the Duke de Verdi.

The trouble is, Naples is in the grip of Domenico, the Duke’s brother, who controls the city with the ‘Camorra’, the mafia. Worse, her Aunt Isabetta, under Domenico’s thrall, insists that she should be consort to him – the brother of the man she has vowed to kill.

Based on the legendary life of Giulia Tofana, this is a story of hidden family secrets, and how even the darkest desires can be vanquished by courage and love.

‘Her characters so real they linger in the mind long after the book is back on the shelf’ Historical Novel Society


Extract From The Poison Keeper by Deborah Swift

Chapter 1 

A splash of noonday sun danced against the latticed window. Giulia paused, plate in hand, as a spider, escaping the sudden light, spooled slowly downwards on a silvery thread. If it put so much as a leg into the downstairs chamber, Mamma would kill it. Any stray crumb could pollute her work, she said. Any creature that fell into her carefully measured remedies could change the balance. Turn good to ill. Things were apt to turn into their opposite without careful attention, Mamma said, and Mamma was always right. 

Fortune smiles on you today, little one, Giulia thought, Mamma is busy in the still-room. 

The spider completed its acrobatic descent and was gone; spindly legs scuttling away across the windowsill, and into the blue-black shadow behind the cheese press. Giulia finished laying out the meal; yesterday’s bread, wedges from a round of hard salty cheese, pickled olives and figs from Tuscolo. 

She called down the staircase, ‘It’s ready, Mamma.’ 

It was their servant Maria’s day off, so it was left to Giulia today to make Mamma eat. And today she was determined to make her listen.

She cocked her head. No answer. 

Mamma often didn’t hear, or pretended not to, when she was involved in her work. Giulia tucked the stray wisps of hair back into her dark coiled braids, lifted her heavy skirts and went downstairs, heels clacking on the stone treads. The door was shut as usual. It seemed to her she’d been locked outside this door her entire life. Only when Mamma was ready, would she open it. 

She remembered the time when she was eight years old straying into the still-room and lifting the end of a stopper to her nose to smell it. A stinging slap to the cheek. ‘Never, never do that,’ Mamma had shouted, whipping the stopper away with a gloved hand, ‘You could die.’

Since then the door was locked, until Mamma deigned to open it.

Jerking her attention back to the present, Giulia gave a double knock, louder than necessary. She’d make Mamma listen, this time.

The door swung open, and Mamma was there, angry as a wasp, a pair of red-hot tongs in her hand and a lump of something black smoking in their jaws. She hated being disturbed. ‘What?’

Giulia put a hand to her nose. The heat and noxious smell of the still room had stopped her at the threshold. There was always something on the boil down here. 

‘Well, what is it, that you must knock fit to wake the dead?’ Mamma pulled down the gauze so only her sloe-black eyes were showing. The lower part of her face was covered so she did not breathe in the gases as she worked.

‘It’s ready,’ Giulia said again.

‘What?’ 

‘Food, Mamma. You put it in your mouth and swallow it, and it stops you from dying.’

‘Ha, ha. Less of that. I’m coming. What’s the hurry? Nothing will spoil. I must wait until this dissolves.’ She pointed with the tongs to a small charred pan bubbling over the fire. 

‘I’m hungry,’ Giulia said, ‘even if you’re not.’ She blew onto her upper lip. ‘It’s airless again down here. How can you can bear it?’

‘Because if I don’t finish this, neither of us can afford to eat, my dove, that’s why.’

‘You should let me help more.’

Mamma dropped the smoking lump of matter into the pot. ‘This is delicate and needs a slow and steady hand. Better I do it. And never fear, there’ll be time enough for learning this when you’ve mastered the kitchen simples.’

‘They’re mastered, Mamma. I can make them blindfold, every single one. You promised you’d train me in the secret arts when I was sixteen. Then you changed your mind, and said when I was eighteen. And still, even now I’m waiting.’ 

Mamma threw her look that said, ‘not that old argument’. Giulia watched her mother hang up the tongs, wash in the stone basin, wipe her hands, wash and dry them again, examine them minutely, put her gloves back on, and then return to ministering to the fire.

She was used to her excessive cleanliness, though today it made her want to scream. Mamma dealt in grains and specks – granules of matter so small they could barely be seen. Not a single ant was allowed to tiptoe into her workroom; every table was scrubbed with lye and bleached white, and she made Maria burnish the tiled floor with beeswax to a high gloss. 

Giulia hovered by the dispensing table, picked up a small lead weight from the scales, then put it down again. It was fruitless to discuss this again. But the words still came out of her mouth; ‘When will you train me in alchemy, Mamma? Who will make the remedies when you’re too old and sick?’

‘Tush. I’m hale as ever I was. Can’t get rid of me yet. Anyway, I’m far too occupied at the moment to spare the time.’ Mamma shrugged and turned away again to stir the pot. ‘Pass me that flask, will you.’

The sight of Mamma’s bent back, with the neat grey curls poking from under her starched cap, and the hunch of her shoulders, suddenly made Giulia furious. By God, she’d make her listen this time. Deliberately, she picked up the slender glass flask from the table, opened her fingers and let it crash to the ground. 

Mamma whirled round at the sound of splintering glass, astonishment in her face.

‘Will you heed me now?’ Giulia said. ‘I’ve asked you over and over. God in heaven, I’m twenty-three years old. More than old enough for a proper share in the business. A son would have taken over by now. Instead you leave me toiling in the kitchen like a servant. Even Francesca has more responsibility than I, and she’s not even part of the family.’

‘It’s because she’s not part of the family that I use her. I’m trying to protect you. It’s more complicated than you—’ 

‘Oh, not those excuses again. You just want iron control over everything. I’m weary of it Mamma, weary of your promises that come to nothing. Weary of the whispers between you and Francesca. Weary of all the women that come here with their aches and pains and desperate faces. What are you all so afraid of? That I’ll make some sort of mistake and kill someone?’

Mamma’s eyes sharpened with suppressed anger. ‘Who was it that burned the wax for the liverwort balm? Who forgot to add borax to the tooth dressing? Do you think I can trust you with my remedies?’ She picked up a green-tinged bottle and brandished it before her. ‘One drop of this has healing power. Three drops can kill. Are you ready for that responsibility?’



Buy Links:


Available to read FREE on Kindle Unlimited


Universal Link: mybook.to/PoisonKeeper


Amazon UK: Amazon US: Amazon CAAmazon AU: 


Author Bio:

Deborah Swift lives in the north of England and is a USA Today bestselling author who has written fourteen historical novels to date. Her first novel, The Lady’s Slipper, set in 17th Century England, was shortlisted for the Impress Prize, and her WW2 novel Past Encounters was a BookViral Millennium Award winner. 

Deborah enjoys writing about ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and most of her novels have been published in reading group editions. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University and is a mentor with The History Quill.


Website:  Twitter:  Facebook:  Instagram:  Pinterest:  Book Bub: Amazon Author PageGoodreads: 



Wednesday, 9 June 2021

The Coffee Pot Book Club presents Sisters at War by Clare Flynn



Book Title: Sisters at War

Author: Clare Flynn

Publication Date: 1st May 2021

Publisher: Cranbrook Press

Page Length: 314 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction


Sisters at War

By Clare Flynn

1940 Liverpool. The pressures of war threaten to tear apart two sisters traumatised by their father’s murder of their mother.

With her new husband, Will, a merchant seaman, deployed on dangerous Atlantic convoy missions, Hannah needs her younger sister Judith more than ever. But when Mussolini declares war on Britain, Judith's Italian sweetheart, Paolo is imprisoned as an enemy alien, and Judith's loyalties are divided.

Each sister wants only to be with the man she loves but, as the war progresses, tensions between them boil over, and they face an impossible decision.

A heart-wrenching page-turner about the everyday bravery of ordinary people during wartime. From heavily blitzed Liverpool to the terrors of the North Atlantic and the scorched plains of Australia, Sisters at War will bring tears to your eyes and joy to your heart.


EXTRACT 

May drifted into June with still no news of Will.

 In the queue at the butcher’s one morning, the general consensus had been that, with this retreat from Dunkirk and the inevitability of France falling, it was only a matter of time before Britain, too, was forced to acknowledge the likelihood of a German victory.

 ‘That Hitler’s got us well and truly on the run,’ said a large woman wearing curlers under her headscarf.

 ‘If you ask me, love, we’ll all be learning German soon,’ said Mr Collins, the butcher, as he stamped the woman’s ration book.

 ‘And you’ll be serving us those blooming German sausages.’

 ‘Hope you know how to make sauerkraut,’ he replied.

 Don’t even know how to say it, let alone what it is, but I won’t be eating any of that foreign muck. Not blooming likely! I’d rather starve.’

 We’re practically starving already,’ moaned another woman in the queue. ‘Trying to stretch the tiny bit of meat we get is like feeding the five thousand. I wish it was all over. Bring on the German sausages. My Harry used to be in port in Hamburg all the time before the war. He sometimes brought me back a tin. Not bad at all when you get used to them.’

 ‘You get used to anything in the end,’ observed the butcher, shaking his head.

 Hannah hated the defeatism that was so widespread but told herself that if it meant an end to Will crossing the Atlantic, she’d sleep better at night.

 That evening, Hannah was alone in the front parlour. Nance had gone to a dance and Judith was at the Italian Club with Paolo. Hannah sat in an armchair, waiting for the nightly news from the BBC and knitting a woollen hat for Will to match the socks and gloves she’d already made.

 Keen to hear what Mr Churchill had said in the Commons that day about the evacuation of Dunkirk, Hannah put down her knitting and got up to fiddle with the wireless dials to tune in the Home Service.

 As she listened to the radio announcer reading the transcript of Churchill’s speech in the House, it was clear that while the man and woman in the street may be ready to give up the ghost, the Prime Minister certainly wasn’t.

 I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once more able to defend our island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do.’

 Hannah squeezed her eyes tightly shut. She couldn’t bear it. That terrifying word ‘alone’ made her shudder. What chance did this little island have against the might of the Third Reich if forced to stand alone? She wanted to shut out his words. It was too upsetting. She started to get up from her chair to cut off the drone of the BBC newsreader’s voice. But something about the words made her pause, before her hand touched the dial.

 We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.’

 The simplicity of the words and the rhythmic repetition of the phrases was mesmerising. The paralysing fear that had overwhelmed Hannah faded away. Even with the bland voice of the announcer, it was impossible not to be infected by Churchill’s courage and determination.

 She put down her knitting. His reference to the British Fleet had brought tears to her eyes. Her mind drifted back to the day war was declared – the day after she and Will were married – when he told her that he intended to remain in the merchant navy and their plans to travel to Australia would have to be postponed. He’d said to her then that if he failed to do his duty, he would not be the kind of man she could respect or love. Nothing could ever stop her loving him. But that meant loving everything about him, including the fact that he had chosen to undertake one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. Painful as it was to know that any day might be his last, she had to admit that if Will had failed to step forward he would not have been able to live with himself. Whatever tough choices he made, she must always find the strength to support him in them.

 When the broadcast ended, Hannah went into the scullery and made a pot of tea. Sitting at the kitchen table, she prayed for the strength to get through this war and whatever challenges it brought to them all. Religion was not something she had much time for – not after the years of her father’s fire-and-brimstone zealotry – but sometimes prayer was a natural instinct. The God she prayed to was not a Biblical construct, but some form of higher being, a force for good, a bringer of comfort, someone to confide in. It didn’t matter whether her prayers were listened to: the act of unburdening herself was a relief in itself.

Universal LinkAmazon UK: Amazon US:Amazon CA:Amazon AU: Kobo: 



Clare Flynn is the author of thirteen historical novels and a collection of short stories. A former International Marketing Director and strategic management consultant, she is now a full-time writer. 

Having lived and worked in London, Paris, Brussels, Milan and Sydney, home is now on the coast, in Sussex, England, where she can watch the sea from her windows. An avid traveler, her books are often set in exotic locations.

Clare is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a member of The Society of Authors, ALLi, and the Romantic Novelists Association. When not writing, she loves to read, quilt, paint and play the piano. 



Website: Twitter: Facebook: Amazon Author Page: Goodreads: Instagram  LinkedIn: Pinterest:  

Book Bub





Tuesday, 8 June 2021

The Coffee Pot Book Tour welcomes Barbara Greig, author of Discovery



Book Title: Discovery

Author: Barbara Greig 

Publication Date: 28th June 2020

Publisher: Matador (imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd)

Page Length: 336 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction


Discovery

By Barbara Greig


(Blurb)

Discovery: An epic tale of love, loss and courage When Elizabeth Gharsia’s headstrong nephew, Gabriel, joins Samuel Champlain’s 1608 expedition to establish a settlement at Quebec, he soon becomes embroiled in a complicated tribal conflict. As months turn into years, Gabriel appears lost to his family.

 Meanwhile at home in France the death of her father, Luis, adds to Elizabeth’s anguish. Devastated by her loss, she struggles to make sense of his final words. Could her mother’s journals, found hidden among Luis’s possessions, provide the key to the mystery? 

The arrival of Pedro Torres disrupts Elizabeth’s world even further. Rescued from starvation on the streets of Marseille by her brother, Pedro is a victim of the brutal expulsion of his people from Spain. Initially antagonistic, will Elizabeth come to appreciate Pedro’s qualities and to understand the complexity of her family?



Extract from DISCOVERY by BARBARA GREIG

The sun, ablaze with orange light, slipped towards the horizon but the heat, fierce for early summer, continued to linger in the narrow streets and crowded houses of the city. Feeling stifled by the heavy air, Elizabeth made her way across the courtyard, her soft leather shoes making little sound on the beaten earth. The gate creaked as she pushed it open, disturbing the small rodents who rustled among the undergrowth at the side of the track. A few steps took her to the riverbank where she paused. Leaning forward and inhaling deeply, she filled her lungs with the verdant dampness, so characteristic of the Olt, hoping for some respite from the heat. Although the water level was low, the river was still navigable and a late barge, its lanterns casting an eerie glow, sailed sedately past her.

Loath to return to the house, Elizabeth watched the vessel until it was out of sight. She wrapped her arms around herself, not for warmth on such a hot night but for comfort. Her father was dying; of that, she was sure. He had suddenly become less interested in the process of living: he had appeared to have given up all hope of seeing Gabriel again, and the death of the king had affected him badly. The last couple of weeks had seen him keeping to his bed more often, which was so out of character. The thought of losing him tightened her chest, threatened to suffocate her, and consumed her so completely that the horsemen were upon her without her realising.

One of the horses shied, as startled by Elizabeth as she was by him. She glanced up to be greeted by an achingly familiar silhouette. Her elder brother, Thomas, towered above her, etched against the night sky, while behind him, a smaller horse and rider almost hid in the shadows. Thomas spoke sharply. “What are you doing skulking around outside? You frightened the horses.”

Elizabeth bit back her retort and moved to see her brother’s companion more easily. As she did so, the man seemed to sink further into the saddle. She returned her attention to Thomas. “It is a long time since we last saw you.”

Thomas acknowledged her comment with a slight movement of his head. She waited for him to speak but she could not elicit an apology for his lengthy absence. It seemed that they would remain on the riverside with only the sigh of the water, and the breathing of the horses, to break the silence when Elizabeth capitulated first. “You had better come in.”

As Thomas strode across the hall, after he had stabled the horses, Elizabeth had the uncanny feeling that she was a small child once more and that the man before her was her father. She could see the same height and broad shoulders, although Thomas’s complexion was not so dark. His eyes lighted on the food she had hastily brought from the kitchen and then shifted to his companion.

“Are all the shutters closed?”

“The shutters?”

“It is a simple enough question, Bess.”

Elizabeth ignored his use of the hated derivative. “Yes, of course,” she replied tartly. “How else would we keep the house cool?”

Thomas appraised her, a glimmer of a smile playing around his lips. He admitted, “I had forgotten how forthright you can be.”

In the blink of an eye, Elizabeth responded, “I have not forgotten how rude you can be.”

Thomas’s expression hardened, all trace of amusement gone. “We do not want the neighbours to see.” He turned to his companion, who appeared to be lurking on the dark edge of the cavernous room. “Pedro, come and meet my little sister, who has spent all her life in comfort and warmth, hiding behind the popish religion.”

Elizabeth, refusing to be riled and with a benign expression planted on her face, stepped forward to greet the stranger. He remained where he was, anxious about his welcome, his hands firmly clasped together. Nobody moved. Elizabeth spoke softly. “Please come into the light. You must eat and then rest.”

Thomas’s loud voice echoed up to the rafters. “This is Pedro Torres. A man without a country.”

Elizabeth ignored him and addressed Pedro Torres. “Come, eat some bread and cheese.”

The man walked towards the large table set along one side of the wall. The family usually ate in the parlour but Elizabeth felt the cosy room to be inappropriate for two men who had obviously been on the road for some time. The acrid odour of unwashed bodies caught at the back of Elizabeth’s throat and she had the great urge to pinch her nose but instead she pointed to the bowl of water, and the towel, next to the food. “Please, wash your hands.”

The stranger spoke for the first time, his French thickened by a strong Spanish accent. “Thank you.”

She watched as he carefully soaped his hands, noting his slight frame, bordering on emaciation, and his profile, which possessed the haunted, hungry look of a man who had survived on too little food for too long. Thomas, as contrary as ever, grabbed the nearest chunk of bread with a large, dirty hand and bit down heartily. “You will find, Pedro, that the occupants of this house are very good at washing.”


*

The silence was dragging out but Elizabeth lacked the energy to keep trying to be civil. Her eyes wandered to the far end of the hall where the stranger had immediately fallen asleep on a bed of rushes and blankets. She almost envied him. Thomas followed her glance.

“Not the guest chamber for this traveller?”

Experiencing a touch of guilt, Elizabeth defended her decision. “I will make up the guest bed tomorrow. He could not sleep there as he is.”

“What about me?” challenged Thomas.

“What stink you take into your own room is up to you.”

He studied her for a while, then he shrugged. “I will swim in the morning so that no stench offends your delicate nostrils.”

“It is only as it should be.”

Thomas was about to retaliate but changed his mind. “How is the old man? Is he abed?”

Elizabeth stiffened, always saddened and annoyed, in equal measure, when he spoke of their father in such a way. She moved on quickly to more neutral ground.

“What is his story?” she asked, nodding towards the recumbent figure breathing steadily on the other side of the room.

“He is a Morisco.”

“I gathered as much.” To Elizabeth, the stranger’s ancestry was clear in his features and colouring.

“Where did you meet him?”

“In Marsilha. Pedro was destitute. Did you know that within two weeks of King Henri’s assassination, the Moriscos, who had taken refuge in that port, were no longer welcome? Suddenly they were spies for Spain and the authorities confiscated their money!”

Elizabeth’s eyes widened in surprise. “Spies for Spain, that is ridiculous. I thought they might be safe in France.”

“No, most of the Moriscos who came to the Mediterranean coast are now sailing to Algiers, following the thousands already expelled from Spain last year.”

“Why does Pedro not want to go with them?”

“He has no family, no ties. He wants to make his way to the Netherlands but he is in no state to do so.”

“You are helping him?”

“It is the least I can do.” Thomas’s gaze was intent. “I do have some awareness of my heritage.”

Elizabeth smiled at him with genuine warmth. “You will stay here awhile? Father will be pleased.”

He did not return her smile. “I plan to leave Pedro here to recover but I must go to Montauban immediately. Storm clouds are gathering now that we Huguenots have lost our protector.”


Available on Kindle Unlimited.


Amazon UK:Amazon US: Amazon CA: Amazon AU: 

Waterstones: Kobo: TroubadorWHSmith: iBooks: Google Play: Book Depository: 


Barbara Greig was born in Sunderland and lived in Roker until her family moved to Teesdale. An avid reader, she also discovered the joy of history at an early age. A last-minute change of heart, in the sixth form, caused her to alter her university application form. Instead of English, Barbara read Modern and Ancient History at Sheffield University. It was a decision she never regretted. 

Barbara worked for twenty years in sixth form colleges, teaching History and Classical Civilisation. Eventually, although enjoying a role in management, she found there was less time for teaching and historical study. A change of focus was required. With her children having flown the nest, she was able to pursue her love of writing and story-telling. She has a passion for hiking, and dancing, the perfect antidotes to long hours of historical research and writing, as well as for travel and, wherever possible, she walks in the footsteps of her characters.

Discovery is Barbara’s second novel. Her debut novel Secret Lives was published in 2016 (Sacristy Press).


Twitter: Facebook: Amazon Author PageGoodreads:



Monday, 7 June 2021

The Coffee Pot Book Club Blog Tours present Sigurd’s Sword (Olaf’s Saga Book 2) by Eric Schumacher





Book Title: Sigurd’s Swords

Series: Olaf’s Saga, Book 2

Author: Eric Schumacher

Publication Date: June 28, 2021

Publisher: Bodn Books

Page Length: 300 Pages (print)

Genre: Historical Fiction


Sigurd’s Swords

(Olaf’s Saga, Book 2)

By Eric Schumacher


From best-selling historical fiction novelist, Eric Schumacher, comes the second volume in Olaf’s Saga: the adrenaline-charged story of Olaf Tryggvason and his adventures in the kingdom of the Rus.

AD 968. It has been ten summers since the noble sons of the North, Olaf and Torgil, were driven from their homeland by the treachery of the Norse king, Harald Eriksson. Having then escaped the horrors of slavery in Estland, they now fight among the Rus in the company of Olaf’s uncle, Sigurd. 

It will be some of the bloodiest years in Rus history. The Grand Prince, Sviatoslav, is hungry for land, riches, and power, but his unending campaigns are leaving the corpses of thousands in their wakes. From the siege of Konugard to the battlefields of ancient Bulgaria, Olaf and Torgil struggle to stay alive in Sigurd’s Swords, the riveting sequel to Forged by Iron. 


Below is an excerpt from Chapter 12:

We turned our prows to steer board and headed for the docks below the fort. Though the sun had not yet risen, the garrison and people who lived in or near the fort came to greet our ships, for many were wives and kin to the warriors who had just returned. I knew their smiles and waves would die as soon as our ships touched land. Nearly half of our warriors had perished in the south, and there would be many families left without their menfolk that night.

As our hulls scraped land and we shipped our oars, the crowd settled into an uneasy silence. Families and friends scanned the ships with weary eyes for their loved ones. Most of our warriors did not wait to grab their things. They simply leaped from the ships and made their way into the crowd to end the suspense of those who waited. It was at once a tender and solemn affair, for seeing loved ones reunited warmed me, but seeing wives and children standing alone, searching, then eventually learning the hard truth, wrenched my gut. For them there was no comfort on that brittle night. There were only tears and memories.

To look upon them was too hard, and so I turned to Olaf, who stood beside me. But his gaze was fixed on something else — or I should say, someone else. I followed that gaze up the boarded path that led to the fortress, where a notable group of warriors and lords stood, looking down at us. They surrounded a young woman, and it was on her that Olaf’s eyes now focused. The entire group was dressed in dark cloaks and hats of fur. She, too, was wrapped in a thick cloak of fur. But unlike the others, her white-blond hair danced on the breeze in the wavering torchlight, giving her an almost ethereal aspect. 

I knew instantly who she was and punched Olaf’s shoulder. “Best not be caught ogling the prince’s bride-to-be.” Though I admit, I too was fascinated by her. Even from a distance, she was as mesmerizing as a flame.

Olaf smiled that mischievous smile of his. “Who is ogling? I was just curious.”

I rolled my eyes. “Curious in a leering sort of way.” I lowered my voice and looked about to ensure no one was listening. “Just mind yourself,” I warned.

Olaf brushed my warning aside with a wave of his hand and lifted his pack from his sea chest. “Take your ease, Torgil. I seek only good beer and hearty food, and mayhap the company of a warm woman. I will let the nobles have their own dealings. Come, we have earned our fun this night.” 

I looked at the milling crowd, then at the stark walls of the town, then back at Olaf’s mischievous smile. I envisioned myself in some tavern sipping beer, while he and the others bragged about their exploits and I struggled to stay awake, and the mere thought of it exhausted me. What I needed most was silence and comfort. “The night is gone,” I said. “Besides, I seek someone else.”

Now it was Olaf’s turn to roll his eyes. “Gods. You are about as fun as a rock.” He dismissed me with a snort. “If you find her, I wish you an evening like no other. If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”

I hefted my own pack, which carried my byrnie, helmet, and a few loose items, then I grabbed my shield from the port-side rack. “Watch yourself,” I said again as I leaped from the ship. 

I threaded my way through the growing crowd and headed north along the Volkhov, following the beach several hundred paces until I reached the tributary that turned east from the main river. There, at the intersection of the waterways, stood Sigurd’s hall. And there I froze, as nervous as if I were facing an army of Pechenegs, a hundred doubts accosting me at once. What would Turid think when she saw me? How would she react? Had I changed? Had she? Had she met someone else in my absence? The questions came at me unhindered, unabated, rapid-fire. They made my palms sweat and my stomach flutter. I had never been good with women, and here I was again, faltering. I cursed myself in an attempt to bolster my courage, but it did not work. Rather, it alerted the guard who walked nearby and whom I had not seen.

“Who is there?”

I raised my hands in surrender. “It is me, Oleg. Torgil Toralvsson.”

The man turned to me and a flash of light danced across his drawn blade. There was a smile on his wrinkled face. “Gods, you had me worried. I am getting too old for night fights.” He stepped closer and looked me up and down. “So Sigurd is home?” he asked.

“Aye,” I said. “He is. He and the men are at the fort.”

He sheathed his blade. “We heard rumors. Was it bad?”

“Aye, Oleg. It was.”

He beckoned me to him. “Come, lad. You are home.” There was that strange word again. I walked to him and he patted my back, ushering me forward.

Sigurd’s was a large estate, with a comfortable main hall in which he lived and entertained, a barracks for his men, a smithy, a larder, and a barn. Attached to the barn was a pen for his chickens, sheep, pigs, and two horses. Down near the water was a boathouse for Sea Snake and Sigurd’s two other ships. Service in the East had been kind to him.

“Head to the barracks and find yourself some warmth,” Oleg instructed. “The men are sleeping, so try to be quiet.” 

His words turned my mind to the ten men who had remained behind to guard Sigurd’s estate. Those lucky bastards were sleeping in their cots with full bellies and furs to warm them, and they were the last thing I wanted to see. I shook my head. “There is someone else I must see first.” Though it was night and I knew Oleg could not see my face very well, I blushed. “Is Turid in the main hall?”

“Oh,” he answered. I was about to explain myself when he waved me forward. “Come, then. Leave your things by the door. She sleeps in the first bed to the left as you enter. Mind your noise, now.” He winked at me. “And do not fall asleep. You know the rules. No warriors are to sleep in the main hall.”

I thanked him and deposited my things at the door, then entered the hall as quietly as I could. The door creaked as it swung open. I paused, letting the warmth seep into my skin as my eyes adjusted to the firelit interior and my nose to the smoke and body odor and must. Snores and heavy breathing and the crackling of burning logs filled the space. As silently as I could, I closed the door and moved to Turid’s bed. She lay curled in a ball with her face near the wall. Her fire-red hair was splayed across her shoulder and pillow. Gods, how peaceful she looked. My heart thundered as I sat carefully on the frame of her bed, then brushed my fingers against her shoulder. “Turid,” I whispered with my heart in my throat.

She rolled her head to me suddenly, a mixture of confusion and sleepiness on her freckled face. “Torgil?” she finally asked.

I smiled and whispered, “Aye.”

She sat up and wrapped her arms around my torso. I returned the hug, my nose close to her neck, and immersed myself in her scent. 

“I have missed you, Torgil,” she whispered fiercely.

I pulled back from her and studied her face. Those glacial eyes now filled with tears. That straight nose and prominent jaw and jutting chin. Those full lips and fair skin covered with freckles. “I have missed you too,” I whispered back, then looked away because her beauty left my cheeks searing hot and my body bereft of strength.

She lifted my furry chin with her finger and smiled gently. “From the rumors we heard, I feared I might never see you again.”

“And I, you,” I admitted softly. “It was good that you remained here.”

Suddenly her brows dipped and she looked beyond me, then back at me. “Where is Olaf?”

“He is at the fort. I came to see you.” My voice trailed off.

She lifted her blanket. “Come. Warm yourself.”

“Are you certain?” I knew what she had suffered at the hands of our Estland captors and did not want to break that barrier indelicately.

“Aye,” she whispered, holding the fur blanket open for me.

I shed my boots and slid under the furs beside her, aware of how much I must reek and hoping she did not care. She reached up and wrapped her arms around my torso. I closed my eyes, reveling in her touch and her scent, trying to ignore my ache for her. 

Her hand reached up and stroked my chest softly. “Rest now. You are home,” she breathed.

I sighed, relaxing into her warmth and into the peace I suddenly felt. Home.

“One day you must tell me of your adventure.” 

“I will,” I responded drowsily, trying to keep my weary mind from falling asleep.

It was the last thing I remembered. 


Available to read FREE on Kindle Unlimited

Pre-order link



Eric Schumacher (1968 - ) is an American historical novelist who currently resides in Santa Barbara, California, with his wife and two children. He was born and raised in Los Angeles and attended college at the University of San Diego.

At a very early age, Schumacher discovered his love for writing and medieval European history, as well as authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Those discoveries continue to fuel his imagination and influence the stories he tells. His first novel, God's Hammer, was published in 2005.

Social Media Links:


Website:  Twitter: Facebook: LinkedIn:  BookBub: Amazon Author Page:  Goodreads:




Sunday, 6 June 2021

Sigurd’s Sword (Olaf’s Sage Book 2) by Eric Schumacher

 


 


Book Title: Sigurd’s Swords

Series: Olaf’s Saga, Book 2

Author: Eric Schumacher

Publication Date: June 28, 2021

Publisher: Bodn Books

Page Length: 300 Pages (print)

Genre: Historical Fiction

  


Sigurd’s Swords

(Olaf’s Saga, Book 2)

By Eric Schumacher


From best-selling historical fiction novelist, Eric Schumacher, comes the second volume in Olaf’s Saga: the adrenaline-charged story of Olaf Tryggvason and his adventures in the kingdom of the Rus.

AD 968. It has been ten summers since the noble sons of the North, Olaf and Torgil, were driven from their homeland by the treachery of the Norse king, Harald Eriksson. Having then escaped the horrors of slavery in Estland, they now fight among the Rus in the company of Olaf’s uncle, Sigurd. 

It will be some of the bloodiest years in Rus history. The Grand Prince, Sviatoslav, is hungry for land, riches, and power, but his unending campaigns are leaving the corpses of thousands in their wakes. From the siege of Konugard to the battlefields of ancient Bulgaria, Olaf and Torgil struggle to stay alive in Sigurd’s Swords, the riveting sequel to Forged by Iron. 



An excerpt from Chapter 12


We turned our prows to steer board and headed for the docks below the fort. Though the sun had not yet risen, the garrison and people who lived in or near the fort came to greet our ships, for many were wives and kin to the warriors who had just returned. I knew their smiles and waves would die as soon as our ships touched land. Nearly half of our warriors had perished in the south, and there would be many families left without their menfolk that night.

As our hulls scraped land and we shipped our oars, the crowd settled into an uneasy silence. Families and friends scanned the ships with weary eyes for their loved ones. Most of our warriors did not wait to grab their things. They simply leaped from the ships and made their way into the crowd to end the suspense of those who waited. It was at once a tender and solemn affair, for seeing loved ones reunited warmed me, but seeing wives and children standing alone, searching, then eventually learning the hard truth, wrenched my gut. For them there was no comfort on that brittle night. There were only tears and memories.

To look upon them was too hard, and so I turned to Olaf, who stood beside me. But his gaze was fixed on something else — or I should say, someone else. I followed that gaze up the boarded path that led to the fortress, where a notable group of warriors and lords stood, looking down at us. They surrounded a young woman, and it was on her that Olaf’s eyes now focused. The entire group was dressed in dark cloaks and hats of fur. She, too, was wrapped in a thick cloak of fur. But unlike the others, her white-blond hair danced on the breeze in the wavering torchlight, giving her an almost ethereal aspect. 

I knew instantly who she was and punched Olaf’s shoulder. “Best not be caught ogling the prince’s bride-to-be.” Though I admit, I too was fascinated by her. Even from a distance, she was as mesmerizing as a flame.

Olaf smiled that mischievous smile of his. “Who is ogling? I was just curious.”

I rolled my eyes. “Curious in a leering sort of way.” I lowered my voice and looked about to ensure no one was listening. “Just mind yourself,” I warned.

Olaf brushed my warning aside with a wave of his hand and lifted his pack from his sea chest. “Take your ease, Torgil. I seek only good beer and hearty food, and mayhap the company of a warm woman. I will let the nobles have their own dealings. Come, we have earned our fun this night.” 

I looked at the milling crowd, then at the stark walls of the town, then back at Olaf’s mischievous smile. I envisioned myself in some tavern sipping beer, while he and the others bragged about their exploits and I struggled to stay awake, and the mere thought of it exhausted me. What I needed most was silence and comfort. “The night is gone,” I said. “Besides, I seek someone else.”

Now it was Olaf’s turn to roll his eyes. “Gods. You are about as fun as a rock.” He dismissed me with a snort. “If you find her, I wish you an evening like no other. If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”

I hefted my own pack, which carried my byrnie, helmet, and a few loose items, then I grabbed my shield from the port-side rack. “Watch yourself,” I said again as I leaped from the ship. 

I threaded my way through the growing crowd and headed north along the Volkhov, following the beach several hundred paces until I reached the tributary that turned east from the main river. There, at the intersection of the waterways, stood Sigurd’s hall. And there I froze, as nervous as if I were facing an army of Pechenegs, a hundred doubts accosting me at once. What would Turid think when she saw me? How would she react? Had I changed? Had she? Had she met someone else in my absence? The questions came at me unhindered, unabated, rapid-fire. They made my palms sweat and my stomach flutter. I had never been good with women, and here I was again, faltering. I cursed myself in an attempt to bolster my courage, but it did not work. Rather, it alerted the guard who walked nearby and whom I had not seen.

“Who is there?”

I raised my hands in surrender. “It is me, Oleg. Torgil Toralvsson.”

The man turned to me and a flash of light danced across his drawn blade. There was a smile on his wrinkled face. “Gods, you had me worried. I am getting too old for night fights.” He stepped closer and looked me up and down. “So Sigurd is home?” he asked.

“Aye,” I said. “He is. He and the men are at the fort.”

He sheathed his blade. “We heard rumors. Was it bad?”

“Aye, Oleg. It was.”

He beckoned me to him. “Come, lad. You are home.” There was that strange word again. I walked to him and he patted my back, ushering me forward.

Sigurd’s was a large estate, with a comfortable main hall in which he lived and entertained, a barracks for his men, a smithy, a larder, and a barn. Attached to the barn was a pen for his chickens, sheep, pigs, and two horses. Down near the water was a boathouse for Sea Snake and Sigurd’s two other ships. Service in the East had been kind to him.

“Head to the barracks and find yourself some warmth,” Oleg instructed. “The men are sleeping, so try to be quiet.” 

His words turned my mind to the ten men who had remained behind to guard Sigurd’s estate. Those lucky bastards were sleeping in their cots with full bellies and furs to warm them, and they were the last thing I wanted to see. I shook my head. “There is someone else I must see first.” Though it was night and I knew Oleg could not see my face very well, I blushed. “Is Turid in the main hall?”

“Oh,” he answered. I was about to explain myself when he waved me forward. “Come, then. Leave your things by the door. She sleeps in the first bed to the left as you enter. Mind your noise, now.” He winked at me. “And do not fall asleep. You know the rules. No warriors are to sleep in the main hall.”

I thanked him and deposited my things at the door, then entered the hall as quietly as I could. The door creaked as it swung open. I paused, letting the warmth seep into my skin as my eyes adjusted to the firelit interior and my nose to the smoke and body odor and must. Snores and heavy breathing and the crackling of burning logs filled the space. As silently as I could, I closed the door and moved to Turid’s bed. She lay curled in a ball with her face near the wall. Her fire-red hair was splayed across her shoulder and pillow. Gods, how peaceful she looked. My heart thundered as I sat carefully on the frame of her bed, then brushed my fingers against her shoulder. “Turid,” I whispered with my heart in my throat.

She rolled her head to me suddenly, a mixture of confusion and sleepiness on her freckled face. “Torgil?” she finally asked.

I smiled and whispered, “Aye.”

She sat up and wrapped her arms around my torso. I returned the hug, my nose close to her neck, and immersed myself in her scent. 

“I have missed you, Torgil,” she whispered fiercely.

I pulled back from her and studied her face. Those glacial eyes now filled with tears. That straight nose and prominent jaw and jutting chin. Those full lips and fair skin covered with freckles. “I have missed you too,” I whispered back, then looked away because her beauty left my cheeks searing hot and my body bereft of strength.

She lifted my furry chin with her finger and smiled gently. “From the rumors we heard, I feared I might never see you again.”

“And I, you,” I admitted softly. “It was good that you remained here.”

Suddenly her brows dipped and she looked beyond me, then back at me. “Where is Olaf?”

“He is at the fort. I came to see you.” My voice trailed off.

She lifted her blanket. “Come. Warm yourself.”

“Are you certain?” I knew what she had suffered at the hands of our Estland captors and did not want to break that barrier indelicately.

“Aye,” she whispered, holding the fur blanket open for me.

I shed my boots and slid under the furs beside her, aware of how much I must reek and hoping she did not care. She reached up and wrapped her arms around my torso. I closed my eyes, reveling in her touch and her scent, trying to ignore my ache for her. 

Her hand reached up and stroked my chest softly. “Rest now. You are home,” she breathed.

I sighed, relaxing into her warmth and into the peace I suddenly felt. Home.

“One day you must tell me of your adventure.” 

“I will,” I responded drowsily, trying to keep my weary mind from falling asleep.

It was the last thing I remembered. 

 

Available to read FREE on Kindle Unlimited 

http://mybook.to/sigurdsswords

 

 


Eric Schumacher (1968 - ) is an American historical novelist who currently resides in Santa Barbara, California, with his wife and two children. He was born and raised in Los Angeles and attended college at the University of San Diego.

At a very early age, Schumacher discovered his love for writing and medieval European history, as well as authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Those discoveries continue to fuel his imagination and influence the stories he tells. His first novel, God's Hammer, was published in 2005.






Website:  Twitter: Facebook:  LinkedIn: BookBub:  AmazonAuthor Page:  Goodreads: