This blog is to keep my readers updated about my forthcoming historical romance books and to tell you a little bit about the history behind each one. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel free to comment.
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Friday, 14 November 2014
A Man in Mourning - first chapter
The final battle
for the crown of England had left most of the country’s inhabitants in a state
of bewilderment. The men who had fought for King Richard were wondering if
their lives would be spared, if their property would be confiscated. The men
who had fought for Henry Tudor were wondering if they had done the right thing,
pleased their side had won, but most had acted through distrust of Richard and
a wish to put an end to the long, drawn out wars between the Houses of
Lancaster and York, the endless turnabout of Kings.
They had seen kings
murdered, kings deposed, kings reinstated until they knew not who was the
reigning monarch and who was not. The last King before Richard was a little boy
whose claim could never prevail in a time of such chaos, and he had been
intercepted on his way to his coronation and confined in the royal apartments
in the Tower of London, on the orders of his Uncle Richard.
With Henry Tudor on
the throne, at last that insecurity would hopefully end, even though the man
had little claim.
But those battles
had cost families dearly and now the Earl of Westerby stood in the August
sunshine and watched the coffin containing the lifeless corpse of his younger
brother as it was slowly and carefully lowered into the ground. His brother had
fought for Richard, despite the Earl’s pleas that he not risk his life. Now the
Earl had no heir, but that was not what was on his mind as he stood with the
warmth of the sun on his neck and watched his only remaining relative depart
into the afterlife.
This small churchyard
attached to the Westerby church on his own estate was reserved solely for the
Westerby family and some of the gravestones bore dates going back centuries,
but next to the newly dug tomb of his brother was the ten year old grave of his
beloved wife, Eleanor.
As he stood with
his head bent and his hands clasped loosely in front of him, his glance
wandered to the giant memorial cross showing Eleanor’s date of birth and death,
with the additional inscription for two baby boys, both named Ian after their
father, both dead before they had drawn many breaths, before they had had a
chance of life.
All the villagers
and tenants had turned out for the young viscount’s funeral. Ian could feel
their eyes on him, knew they were watching for his reaction to this latest
loss. He was their Lord and his fate was their fate.
They came out of
respect for the family rather than any feeling of personal loss, but still Ian
was grateful for the support. Now his brother was gone as well as his beloved
wife, there was little left for him but more mourning, more grief.
Every day for ten
years he had stood in this churchyard, had paid his respects to Eleanor, even
spoken to her, told her his problems. He had never wanted to move on; he was
happy enough being buried in the past, because that is where Eleanor still
lived, that is where the two of them still loved.
began to shovel earth over the coffin and Ian closed his eyes to shut out the
sight, wishing he could also shut out the sound of that earth as it dropped
onto the oak box. His secretary, Sir Alfred Pincher stepped forward and gently
touched his arm.
“My Lord,” he said,
“Come away. I need to talk to you.”
Ian turned to him with
a perplexed frown. What did the fellow mean by disturbing him at this time? The
man was a lifelong bachelor and an only child; he had no idea what it meant to
lose the people closest to him.
“I know this is
likely the worst time to mention this, but with your brother gone, you need to
glared at him furiously.
“What on earth are
you talking about?”
“Forgive me, My
Lord, but you have surely thought of it yourself. You have no heir. Your
brother fought bravely, gave his life for King Richard and the Plantagenet
dynasty. If you die without issue, everything you own will go to fill Henry
Tudor’s coffers. I am sure that is not what you want.”
Ian glanced about
and was relieved to see the villagers and tenants, the servants slowly walking
away, leaving the churchyard. He was angry now and had no wish for them to see
his anger, not on this day, not in this place.
He stared thoughtfully
at the man, then frowned. He was right, of course, and nobody else would have
had the courage to tell him; there was no longer a male relative to inherit his
title and estate, his fortune, and he did not want it to go to the Tudors, to
the usurper who would soon be crowned King of England.
The Earl gazed for
a few moments at the stone which marked Eleanor’s grave, ridden with guilt for
even thinking of another marriage, then he turned to Sir Alfred.
“Leave me,” he
ordered. “I will talk to you later.”
When his secretary
had gone, Ian dropped to his knees beside his wife’s grave and whispered; he
wanted no passer by to hear.
He had not wanted
to admit to Sir Alfred that he had thought of this as soon as he was told of
his brother’s death, but he had pushed the notion away. He had even spent a
whole day going through family documents hoping to find some sign of a male
relative, anyone who could legitimately lay claim to the title and estate, to
spare him the need to take another wife.
But there was no
one, and he had to explain to Eleanor, be sure she understood.
“I must do this,
Eleanor,” he said. “You have to appreciate that I must try to produce a living
heir. I know you always believed I wanted sons more than anything, but you were
wrong. I wanted you more than I wanted babies, and I still had Alan then. Now I
have no choice. God chose not to bless us with healthy, living sons, but you
would never accept that, my darling, would you? I have to marry again, but it
will make no difference to the way I feel.”
He waited a few
moments, as though expecting an answer, then got to his feet and brushed damp
earth from his knees.
He looked across
the few hundred yards to the house, an old mansion with nearly a hundred rooms
and emblems carved into its stone walls. He had been born in that house, his
brother had been born in that house, and his sons were born their too.
There were formal
gardens leading up to the double oak doors, gardens Eleanor had loved; she had
even planted flowers herself. He knew which flowers they were, he would often
take a stem to place upon her memorial stone so she would know he had not
forgotten the hours she spent on her knees planting them. He recalled the excitement
when the first buds peeped through the earth, how she had clasped his hand and
run outside to show him. It seemed to her to be some sort of miracle, and
perhaps it was, but there was no miracle when they really needed one.
He would stand here
and in the little church and say his prayers to Eleanor, for his belief in God
had died with her and had never returned. If there was such an entity as God, Ian
did not think He was worth praying to. He had taken his wife and his baby boys
and now He had taken his brother, his heir, forced him to think about another
Ian knew his
reputation was well known, that the whole county knew his heart was in the
coffin with his wife, and he wondered what manner of female could possibly be
persuaded to marry him, knowing he would never love her. It would have to be a
cold woman, a woman whose only interest was in the title and the wealth.
Anything else was unthinkable.
Yet Ian was not a
cold man. He was warm and kind and if he were to take another wife, he would be
as good to her as his heart would allow. He did not relish sharing his
remaining years with a woman who would not appreciate his generosity of spirit.
Perhaps Sir Alfred could find him an unattractive woman, one who had few
suitors and would be grateful for his offer, appreciate what gifts his memories
would allow him to give.
It was warm today,
the August weather promising to last out the week, and that only depressed him more.
Funerals should not be held in sunny weather; it made a mockery of the mourners’
angst somehow. It had been pouring rain when he buried Eleanor, a cold wind
blowing as though the angels were flapping their wings and weeping in sorrow.
His hair was wet
with perspiration by the time he opened the oak doors to his house, and saw at
once Sir Alfred sitting beside an open window, taking in the fresh air; he
frowned. His secretary wore black out of respect for Ian’s brother, but it was
trimmed with colourful embroidery, unlike his own clothing which was plain
black as it always was. It had been ten years since he had worn anything else,
and he was affronted that this man should attend his brother’s funeral, stand
before Eleanor’s grave, with fancy embroidery on his garments.
He knew what he was
waiting for, and he knew he had to marry, but his heart sank at the prospect.
It was not the idea of another woman in his life which he dreaded as much as
the potential loss of more baby sons. That is what he could not bear, what he
had no strength for. As to the woman, she was an irrelevance, a mere vessel.
She would never take the place of Eleanor and he hoped Sir Alfred would find
him someone who would not attempt it.
“Well,” he said as
he made his way to the sideboard and poured wine. “Do you have someone in mind?”
Alfred’s face lost
its worried frown and he stood hurriedly, as though expecting the Earl to
change his mind.
“I do, My Lord.
Lady Francesca Allinton has lost her betrothed in the battle. She was due to be
married next month, but now he has gone, her father might be amenable to an offer
Ian eyed him
suspiciously. It was a small county and nobles tended to know one another,
although Ian had only had a fleeting glimpse of the lady in question.
“Is she not
crippled?” He demanded.
“She does have a
deformed leg, My Lord, it is true. But that should not affect her ability to
mouth turned down in distaste. He remembered when he had seen the lady, seen
her in the distance hobbling across the market square with the aid of a bamboo
cane. He had pitied her at the time, thought what a tragic waste it was that a
young girl should have to depend on a walking cane to aid her. He remembered
that sight now, and could not help but compare her to Eleanor, to her straight
and elegant body, and his heart twisted.
“Why do you offer
me a cripple? Can you not find me a woman who is at least a whole person?”
“My Lord, may I
speak freely?” Ian nodded. “There are not that many ladies available who are happy
to wed a man still devoted to his dead wife.”
Ian glowered at him
angrily, his fists clenched, but he said nothing. Sir Alfred but voiced the
very thoughts Ian had been thinking himself only a short while ago. He accepted
that finding him a wife would not be easy, but if he had to do this, he wanted
someone independent, not a needy woman who would look for love where there was
none to find.
“Lady Francesca is
a beautiful woman, My Lord,” Sir Alfred went on. “She has inherited her
mother’s dark Latin splendour and she is young, only sixteen years old. She can
bear you many sons.”
“I do not need many
sons, Alfred. I need but one. Can you be sure her deformity is not also
“It is not, My
Lord. It is the result of an accident some two years ago. Her brother and
sister stand straight.”
Ian pursed his lips
thoughtfully, recalling what he had heard of the village gossip.
“Yes, I remember
now. A horse threw her, then reared and stamped on her leg.” He paused
thoughtfully for a moment, his memory full of Eleanor, and he shrugged. “Very
well,” he said. “It is of little moment. Has she agreed to the marriage?”
“I have not made my
proposal yet, My Lord.”
“Well, do so, the
sooner the better. Let us get this over with before I change my mind.”
When Alfred had
gone he sat before the open window, breathed in the smells of fresh grass and
wild flowers, and tried to imagine another woman in Eleanor’s place, another
female form in his bed, in his arms, giving herself to him. But would she give herself?
Or would she lie still and accept his passion with tolerance and distaste? If
she accepted him out of desperation, because there was no alternative, she
might not feel inclined to return his ardour, even assuming there was any
ardour to return.
He had not had the
comfort of a woman since the death of his second son, a little over ten years
ago, and he cursed his brother for getting himself killed and forcing this
marriage on him.
He recalled the
argument he had had with Alan, when he announced he would fight for the King.
“You cannot go,” he
had told him. “What will happen if you are killed? You are my heir; one day you
will be Earl of Westerby and Westerby Hall and the whole village will be yours.
Are you prepared to risk all that for the sake of a dynasty which is already in
the throes of death?”
“Ian, I have to be
able to do this. Henry Tudor has no business laying claim to the throne and you
know King Edward always favoured our family.”
“I need you to be
safe, Alan. You must marry and have sons to carry on the title, to inherit the
estate after we have gone.”
Alan returned his
plea with determination in his countenance.
“The King has
summoned me to take up arms for him. I will be condemned as a coward and a
traitor if I do not go. Have you received no summons?”
Ian glanced away
for a moment before he finally replied.
“I have, but I
refuse to support King Richard. Were it his brother, or his nephew, I would be
eager, but I do not believe in him. He had his brother’s marriage annulled,
made his brother’s children bastards so he could declare himself King. And
there have been no sightings of the princes since Richard sequestered them in
the Tower. Why would I fight for a man like that?”
impatiently, then that teasing grin of which Ian was so fond flickered about
“Well I am going,”
he said. “Who knows? If I am killed in battle, it might spur you to put Eleanor
in the past where she belongs and take another wife.”
Ian scowled at him,
saw the mischief in his eyes and smiled. It was his way and he had never
approved of Ian’s devotion to the past, but now the Earl must accept that he
would never see that mischievous glitter in his brother’s eyes again, never
smile at that teasing grin which he found so endearing. He was dead, buried
deep in the ground alongside Ian’s wife, and his flippant words had become a
prediction, even a premonition.
The house felt
empty without him, without his whistling, his singing as he went about the
place and his laughter as he teased the servants and made them laugh
indulgently. Perhaps if Ian had insisted on Alan taking a wife he would have
had a son of his own by now, and not left Ian with this awful dilemma. A wife
might even have made him think twice about going into battle at all, but he
would have none of it. He said it was Ian’s fault; he had shown him what a
marriage for love could be and he wanted nothing less for himself.
Ian poured more
wine and closed his eyes, dragged up the memory of Lady Francesca. He had seen
her for but a brief moment and she would not have aroused his interest at all
had it not been for the pronounced limp, the bamboo cane. He could barely
recall what she looked like; he only remembered the dark hair and the uneven
Still, if she could
give him a son she would do. It is all he wanted, then he could return to the
love of his life, to memories of Eleanor and ghosts of the life they had once