In my blog post last week, I promised an extract from De Bohun’s Destiny, the third MEONBRIDGE CHRONICLE, which will be published very soon.
I am actually launching the book on the 6th May, with a week-long online BOOK TOUR of reviews and guest posts organised by Rachel’s Random Resources. All that week, I will be posting links to the Tour on Facebook and Twitter, so do look out for them, so that you can discover what bloggers think of my new book – and of course share the buzz about the new book to your own followers!
De Bohun’s Destiny
THE THIRD MEONBRIDGE CHRONICLE
How can you uphold a lie when you know it might destroy your family?
In 14th century England, Margaret, Lady de Bohun, knowing her noble husband lied for the best of reasons, must maintain his falsehood. Yet her companion, Matilda, decides the truth has to be told, so as to win the heart of Thorkell Boune. But she’s oblivious to the danger, for he won’t scruple to pursue exactly what he wants, no matter who gets in his way.
“A lie told for the best of reasons; the truth told for the worst…”
And now for that extract…
In the bright and airy solar of Meonbridge’s graceful manor house, Matilda Fletcher was sitting with her lady, Margaret, as they did every morning in the hour or two before dinner. Both were sewing, taking advantage of the sunlight streaming through the open window, a rare event in this wet and gloomy summer. Although, as ever, Matilda wondered why she even bothered, when her embroidery was always such a dreadful botch.
At the far end of the room, little Elizabeth was playing with her dolls, or rather she was shouting at them and throwing them around the floor.
Margaret tutted at the noise the child was making, and Matilda sighed.
‘I’m so sorry, my lady. Libby’s only misbehaving because she wants to go outside and play with Dickon.’ She glanced over at the window. ‘Especially when it’s such a lovely day for once.’
Margaret nodded. ‘I realise that, my dear. But Dickon’s mother has made it clear she does not want them playing together too often, and I suppose you must respect her wishes.’
Matilda snorted. ‘Agnes is always saying they “run wild” when they’re together, and insists it’s Libby who gets Dickon into mischief, which is laughable, as he is just like his father.’ At once she bit her lip. ‘I’m sorry, my lady, that was tactless. But Philip was a lively boy, by all accounts.’
‘My son was certainly as boisterous as any village lad. In truth, I found him difficult to control when he was Dickon’s age.’
Her face softened and Matilda knew she was thinking about her murdered son, as she often did, even after so many years. And Matilda thought yet again how painful it must be to lose a child – even one who was unruly and ill-tempered, as Philip evidently had been, and as both young Dickon and even her own Libby often were.
‘It was your father who found the way to tame him,’ Margaret continued, tears glistening on her bottom eyelids. ‘Which is why I never understood—’
Matilda leaned across and touched her arm. ‘I’m so sorry,’ she whispered, words she found herself repeating often, as the memory of Philip’s murder, committed by her own father Robert and her husband Gilbert, and their henchman Thomas Rolfe, surfaced yet again in Margaret’s thoughts, a dreadful and incomprehensible spectre from the past.
In fact, Matilda was quite resentful that the murder of the de Bohuns’ heir, and the subsequent ignominious deaths of all his killers, had left hernot only with the taint of being both a Tyler and a Fletcher, but also with no property and no funds and, shortly afterwards, a baby daughter to care for. Yet, despite her connection to their son’s murderers, the de Bohuns – or, at least, Margaret – had felt sorry for her. Margaret declared herself so saddened by the cruelty Matilda had suffered at the hands of Gilbert and her father, she had offered Matilda a home until she found herself another husband.
Whilst grateful for Margaret’s kindness at giving her a home, Matilda was lonely.
She had lived here in the manor house since before Libby was born – more than six years past. She was twenty-five and was still living essentially as a lady’s companion – a servant. The husband the de Bohuns had undoubtedly hoped would soon take her off their hands had not materialised.
To Matilda, her failure to make another marriage seemed ridiculous, and she recognised that it was mostly her own fault. She was certainly to blame for rejecting John atte Wode, after their long courtship, and then the various suitors that Sir Richard had found for her. She hated all the suitors, but now she sometimes wondered if she’d been foolish not to find something good in one of them.
She thought Margaret was still happy enough to have her company, but she was surprised that Sir Richard continued to put up with her and Libby – and indeed to fund them. She put it down to his mixed feelings about her father, who had been his bailiff for many years, as well as Philip’s guardian and tutor, and whom his lordship had once much respected and admired, until he apparently lost his wits and betrayed his lord in the cruellest possible act of revenge.
Moments passed as Matilda thought about lost opportunities, then Margaret’s maid, Agatha, appeared at the entrance to the chamber, and Matilda twisted around, eager not to miss any scrap of news the maid might bring.
Agatha curtsied, then announced that Sir Richard had two visitors.
‘His lordship will be back soon, for dinner,’ said Margaret, ‘so ask them to wait for him in the hall.’ Agatha nodded and turned to go, but her mistress called her back.
‘Do you know who they are, Agatha?’
To Matilda’s great amusement, Agatha, despite her advancing years, blushed from her cheeks up to her wimple. ‘Two most handsome young men, my lady. Such golden hair… They said they’re cousins of Sir Richard.’
Matilda’s heart leapt a little, for visitors here of any sort were rare enough, and handsome young men almost unimaginable.
After Agatha had gone, Margaret looked across at Matilda, her eyes wide. Matilda pushed Libby gently off her lap and, because one leg had gone a little numb, somewhat lumbered to her feet. She took the child by the hand and led her over to the chair by the window.
‘Do you know them, my lady?’
Margaret ran her hands over the skirt of her blue gown, then did it again. She nodded. ‘They might be the sons of Sir Morys Boune. How strange…’
Matilda shook her head, not recognising the name.
‘Morys is Richard’s first cousin,’ continued Margaret. ‘He lives in Herefordshire, I believe.’
‘So why would his sons come here today?’
Margaret did not answer. She stroked at her gown again, then fingered the golden crucifix hanging on a long chain around her neck.
Then, all of a sudden, she sprang up from her chair, with an energy unusual in Margaret in recent years. ‘I must find Richard,’ she said, her voice tight, ‘so I can warn him.’ Smoothing her skirt yet again, she adjusted her already perfectly positioned wimple, but for moments did not move.
‘Margaret?’ said Matilda, coming over and taking the lady’s hand in hers. ‘You were going to find Sir Richard…’
Margaret gave a start. ‘Yes, yes, I must.’ She squeezed Matilda’s hand, and hurried from the room.
Intrigued by the prospect of two “handsome young men” visiting the manor, Matilda imagined herself slipping quietly down the narrow staircase that led to the hall, so that, hiding behind the screen at the bottom of the stairs, she could take a peek at the visitors as they waited for Sir Richard to arrive. But she also imagined Margaret coming back and catching her there; such a demeaning possibility that she resisted the temptation. It would be time for dinner soon enough, and she could go down with Margaret and Richard, as she usually did, dignified and aloof, and spy on them discreetly from behind the edge of her veil.
Indeed, Margaret did return only moments later, a faint smile on her face confounded by a continuing air of agitation. ‘I have seen them,’ she said, ‘and they are indeed most handsome. One of them in particular…’ She let the smile blossom for a moment, but then it vanished, and she frowned. ‘But then I met Richard in the yard, returning from his ride, and he was most displeased with the news of their arrival.’
Margaret paced to and fro whilst Matilda sat in the chair and, encouraging Libby to return to playing with her dolls, she picked up her embroidery again.
It was not long before Sir Richard burst into the chamber, and Margaret at once hurried over to him. Matilda glanced at them, and thought he looked even more disquieted than Margaret. He did not acknowledge Matilda’s presence; she thought perhaps he had not realised she was in the room, as she was hidden by the tall chair’s solid back. So, she continued to sit quietly, apparently attending to her sewing.
Margaret’s agitation erupted into a torrent of questions. ‘What’s wrong, Richard? Who are those young men? Why have they come here?’
He paced a while, then took Margaret’s arm and drew her towards him. ‘Calm yourself, Margaret, but we must treat their presence here with caution.’ Then he lowered his voice a little, so that Matilda found it difficult, but not impossible, to hear.
‘Their visit is not purely sociable, you can be sure of that. It will relate to Morys’s claim on my estates.’
‘Morys has a claim?’ Margaret’s voice was tremulous.
‘Of course.’ He sounded vexed. ‘You must surely realise, Margaret, that he is next in line after Johanna.’
‘But Johanna is no longer in line. Surely Dickon is your heir?’
Sir Richard did not answer, and Matilda peeked around the upright of her chair. His lips were pressed together. ‘Indeed,’ he said at length. ‘Johanna has put herself beyond inheritance, and young Dickon is my nominated heir…’ He paused. ‘But he is a bastard, and bastards, as you must know, are not legally entitled to inherit—’
Margaret let out an audible gasp, and Matilda was astonished but managed to keep silent whilst his lordship carried on.
‘You might well gasp, my lady, for those boys may look like angels, but I can tell you they are malefactors, if they are anything like their father, and why would they not be?’ He paced up and down the chamber. ‘But you can be sure they know the law.’
‘But why have they come now?’ said Margaret, wild confusion in her tone.
Richard grunted. ‘I have no idea, wife, what has prompted it. Perhaps we shall discover the answer shortly?’
‘At any event,’ said Margaret, ‘we must be civil to them. No matter what their intentions, they are still guests here in our house.’
‘Indeed, but be wary of what you say, Margaret. Do not mention Dickon. Nor even Johanna. I must think out what to do to send them away without any expectations.’
As Margaret gave her agreement, Matilda got up and came across. Sir Richard seemed startled to see her.
‘I suppose you heard all that, young woman?’ Matilda nodded, and a scowl of frustration crossed his face. ‘Same applies to you. Keep your mouth shut on family matters. Just stick to pleasantries.’
If you enjoy my writing, perhaps you’d like to join my Meonbridge supporters’ team? Everybody needs a little moral support and authors need all the help they can get! In return for your support, I’ll send you updates on my books, and periodically ask for your help or feedback.
As a small “thank you” for joining the team, I’ll send you occasional unpublished novellas featuring some of the Meonbridge characters.
Two novellas are available at present: Maiden’s Chance and Maiden’s Hap.
I would love you to join the Team. If you decide to do so, I promise not to bombard you with emails. To join, please click on http://bit.ly/joinmeonbridge to open the sign up form. I look forward to your company!