Free Historical Fiction: Stonehearted 2: Chapter 4

First look at chapter 4 of the next volume of Stonehearted. The first volume is By the Sword’s Edge. The second volume doesn’t have a title yet, so I’m going to call it Stonehearted 2 for now. I started writing the second volume towards the end of last year and am making fairly good progress on it at the moment. I thought it would be fun to post here each completed chapter as I write them. They’re only drafts at the moment – no fancy editing, so probably riddled with typos and inconsistencies. Once I have finished this volume I’ll publish it in print and eBook format and announce it on this blog.

Other chapters from Stonehearted Volume 2 can be found by clicking here.

Chapter 4

Eolande clutched the wooden rail of the ship that was named the Dame of Good Chance by its crew, and steadied herself against the deepening swell. A gust of wind tugged at her wimple and threatened to pull of the woollen cap that sat on top of her head. She pulled the cap down hurriedly. What lay beneath was worth hiding.

The winds had been erratic, and after two days at sea out of Lynn, it had only been that morning that the poor scamp of a boy they kept at the top of the mast in a small wooden open box had cried out “Land ho!” The boy had shouted down repeatedly after that telling the captain of the Dame and her crew everything he could see. The land was green, but there were snow capped mountains in the distance. Eolande had listened in amazement as the boy told of the dark purple peaks of hills that he could see. Until that was the captain sent two men up in the rigging to pry the boy from his perch.

“First time out and already touched in the head,” muttered the captain’s mate, and old shipman with a thick but close cut silver beard by the name of John Scot, “Jock” to the others, who spoke with a deep burr and seemed to have made it his main job to follow Eolande around the ship to make sure she kept out of trouble and that she didn’t get knocked overboard.

Despite their rough manners the crew of the Dame had treated her well. The captain had respected the purse of money enough to ask no questions of a lone young woman dressed like a woodsman, but with the manners of a gentlewoman.

Now, coming into view, was the harbour of Calais, England’s toe-hold on the north coast of France, a friendly port for any English ships. Eolande could make out the bay of the harbour and the smudge of buildings bumping up to break up the flat coast-line. Other wooden cogs, like the Dame, bobbed in the bay like a clutch of corks in a bucket.

“You’ll be a’right when you step ashore, will ye?” asked Jock. “Got somewhere to go, like. I expect, you got a fine young man waitin’ for ye?”

“Yes, of course,” she replied. “I’d better be getting my things together.” With that she turned and staggering, almost expertly now, to the rhythm of the sea’s swell, she made for the single passenger’s cabin under the Dame’s stern-castle.

When she was inside with the stiff wooden door shut behind her, she kicked out at the low wooden cot that had been her bed. Her boot made a satisfying thud against it. She should curse herself for a fool and a wretch. Jock had been nothing but courteous and kind to her for the whole voyage, and now one question that touched a nerve triggered her to rudeness. That was no way to win friends. And perhaps onshore she would need one.

She pulled of the cap and the wimple and rubbed her short chopped hair. She liked to do that when she was thinking. It could become a habit.

The truth was she had no idea what she would do in Calais. Where would she start looking for her father? She would have to leave Calais and venture into French territory, through hostile lands. Her French was passable; she was a noblewoman after all. But travelling on her own, on uncertain roads with little knowledge of where she should be searching would be difficult.

No, surely the quest she had set herself was impossible.

She picked up her travelling bag from the peg on which it hung and started stuffing the small amount of clothes she had brought into it. She wore a simple woollen dress now, but she had brought more boyish clothes with her. Clothes that she didn’t want the shipmen to see her in. To pass as a boy? How stupid she was. It would never work.

There was a knock on the door, and before she could react the door was opening, and in leant the Dame’s captain.

The captain was a normally quiet man. Eolande had been nervous of him during the voyage, always feeling that there was a brooding anger beneath the surface ready to boil over. But he had never given her any trouble. But that looked set to change.

He looked at her with puzzlement. “Your hair?”

Eolande resisted the temptation to cover her hair with the cap and wimple. He had seen her short boyish crop now, so what would it help if she denied it.

“What of it?”

The captain weighed his words before speaking. There was an uncomfortable knowingness in his expression. “Your hair is shorter than I expected from a lady. I have never seen hair so short on any woman, and did not expect it of the wife of a knight in the King’s pay, en route to visit her husband.”

The captain stepped into the small cabin, unconsciously ducking his head as he did so to avoid the low beams, he was a tall man to be skulking below the decks of a cramped vessel like the Dame, and Eolande wondered if that discomfort of posture did not impinge on any fellow feeling he might have for others.

“What did you say his name was again?” asked the captain. “Did you say he was a knight of the Calais garrison? I don’t remember his name being familiar to me.”

Eolande had made up a name to make her journey at least appear more possible. A young, unmarried, noblewoman, travelling on her own was just not believable. A married woman, whose treacherous servants had stolen her travelling belongings (but not her purse) and deserted her, at a stretch she had thought, might.

“Did, did, I give you a name?” she said. She backed away, until her legs met the side of the narrow cot, and as the ship swayed on the swell, she found herself sitting. “Do I need to justify myself to you, captain. You have received an honest payment for my passage to Calais, have you not?”

The captain, despite his height, had steady sea legs, and remained standing looking down from her from his crooked height. As she looked up, she could see black hairs jutting like a brush from his large nostrils. She gripped the sheet of the bed tightly in her left hand, and felt for her bag with the other where it lay near the pillow, not taking her eyes from the cruel face of the captain.

“Sir Richard Malfoy you said his name was. I’ve never heard of him. Who’s his lord?”

Eolande hesitated. She knew the game was up. She had no idea which lords or commanders were part of the garrison of Calais, a simple collection of facts, which surely the captain of the Dame would know.

“He has no lord. He is one of the King’s knights on a secret commission for the King only.” Her voice grew in power and certainty as she boldy worked her way into the lie. So outrageous that the captain might think twice. “Do you want to jeopardise the work of one of the King’s own knights by questioning more? Would you like me to tell my husband that the captain of the Dame of Good Chance asks too many questions?”

The captain grimaced. “This is nonsense. I smell a lie here.”

“And I smell a spy.” Eolande stood up and pushed the captain back in defiance, and this time he did lose his footing as the Dame jarred in the water, and he landed with a clatter in doorway of the cabin, bashing his elbow against the door. He winced in pain and scrambled to his feet.

Clutching his elbow he looked with what seemed close to hatred at Eolande. “We’re not finished yet. I have many friends in Calais, and be assured that I will be watching you, but don’t call me a spy. I am no traitor. I am not running away from anything.”

He left the door that had done such hurt to his eblow swinging, and Eolande rushed to shut it firmly and standing with her back against it unless anyone else tried to barge in on her, she stood there and breathed deeply, filling her lungs. She felt that she had been holding her breath ever since the captain had appeared in his cabin. He knew there was something wrong, and now she was even more caught in a lie that the captain could only disprove. But he was wrong about one thing. She wasn’t running away from anything, she was running to someone. Running to her father wherever he was.

 

***

If you want to read the first volume of StoneheartedBy the Sword’s Edge, then click here.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Hell has its Demons – my latest novel published in Print and eBook formats

My most recent novel, Hell has its Demons, is now available from all major retailers

Hell has its DemonsHell has its Demons by Mark Lord

Volume 1 of The Sotil and Savage Adventures

Available as an eBook and in Print at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, see Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk | Barnes & Noble

Available as an eBook from Kobo | iBooks | Smashwords

A roller-coaster ride of medieval action, adventure and magic!

Roger Sotil, Master of Astronomy and his sceptical servant, Jake Savage, are called upon to rid a town of its demons.

Investigating an infestation of demons in the town of St Brett’s is the last thing that Jake Savage wants to do this summer. But for his master, the controversial Oxford scholar Roger Sotil, it is a chance to prove that demons can be conjured and avoid charges of heresy.

In St Brett’s, Roger sees demons possessing the townspeople. Jake thinks they are just acting very strangely. The people are scared and want answers fast. A beautiful woman, Isabel Haukwake, is accused of witchcraft. Roger feels sure that she isn’t guilty. Jake knows she isn’t. He was once engaged to marry her, until his father took her from him.

In Hell has its Demons a plot unfolds to use demons to take the ultimate prize of all – the crown of Edward III, King of England.

Hell has its Demons is the first novel in a trilogy.

Click here to read Chapter 1 for free!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Free Historical Fiction – Stonehearted 2: Chapter 3

First look at chapter 3 of the next volume of Stonehearted. The first volume is By the Sword’s Edge. The second volume doesn’t have a title yet, so I’m going to call it Stonehearted 2 for now. I started writing the second volume towards the end of last year and am making fairly good progress on it at the moment. I thought it would be fun to post here each completed chapter as I write them. They’re only drafts at the moment – no fancy editing, so probably riddled with typos and inconsistencies. Once I have finished this volume I’ll publish it in print and eBook format and announce it on this blog.

Other chapters from Stonehearted Volume 2 can be found by clicking here.

Chapter 3

Louis propped the arbalest against the wall of the stable, bent over and clutched his aching knees. His breath came in red gasps. Raw like a side of beef. He wanted to stop. To sink to the ground and sit or lie. Like he had in the orchard under the hot sun. But there was no time. As he pulled himself upright he looked across the fields towards the town of Montdidier. Smoke rose across the horizon and tongues of flame licked into the evening sky. It had been a long day and the English had not yet departed after finishing their business. They had burnt houses, set light to the dry wheat in the farms, and worst of all, uprooted Louis’s beloved apple trees and hacked the roots to pieces. Wheat could be sown again. Trees would take years to replace.

Louis felt hot moisture on his cheeks and tasted salt on his lips. He wiped the tears away and smeared dirt and ash and blood as he did so onto the back of his hand.

He didn’t weep for the trees, but for the people of Montdidier. You could not grow new family or friends of neighbours.

As he watched Montdidier burn there was a clatter of wood. He turned, his heart racing. His arbalest had been knocked to the floor and behind stood the mercenary, Wulf, his sword drawn.

“If you want to stay alive, if you want to get your revenge one day, then you need to be more careful. Always watch your back.”

The mercenary returned his sword to his scabbard and strode away. Two horses were tied to a wooden rail nearby.

“I have a horse for you,” he said as he mounted one of them, seemingly unbothered by the weight of his armour. “Will you ride with me?”

Louis nodded, picked up his arbalest, and followed Wulf.

They rode behind the main line of houses, leading their horses behind the gardens of the finer townhouses that had belonged to the merchants of Montdidier. Some of the English were in the town by now and they wanted to avoid them so they could get away. Louis felt like a coward creeping along like that, but he knew that bravery would only lead to his death.

They came to the end of the row of gardens. A narrow alley lead out onto another short street that went over a small stone bridge and then towards Paris. They were nearly out.

Wulf motioned him to stop and in a low voice murmured, “Mount your horse. We’ll need to write like demons when we hit the open.”

“What if there are English in the way?”

Wulf grinned. Louis noticed how white the man’s teeth were. Like pearls. “In that case, we do what God made us for. We fight, and then we die.”

Louis shivered. He wasn’t ready for this. He wanted to find a corner of a garden, soft hay or grass to curl up in and hide, like he had when playing hide and go seek with his brother, when he was a child, in the orchard.

An image came into his head of Oliver leering over him where he hid behind a stack of hay in the family barn, a wicked grin on his face, a fist raised to jab down at Louis’s shoulder. His smug older brother. Where was he?

Wulf lead the way down the alley. The mercenary leant over the neck of his horse, stroking the animal’s neck to calm it, to make sure it walked slowly, ever so slowly. If their horses gave them away they might be dead men. Louis copied Wulf and patted the neck of his horse, which at his touch snickered and bent its head back towards him, its teeth bared. Louis pulled sharply on the reins, and the horse let go a louder whinny of anger as the iron bit pulled back in its mouth.

Wulf’s head snapped back. “Quiet!” he hissed.

But it was too late, and Louis’s horse, panicked by the enclosed space of the alley and the clumsiness of Louis’s horsemanship, put its head down and bit the rump of Wulf’s horse. The surprise on Wulf’s face would have been funny if the situation hadn’t been so serious. Wulf’s horse leapt forwards, hooves skidding and the dry dusty earth of the alley as it bolted into the street in front of them. Wulf clutched the reins tightly and pushed his body weight forward to prevent flying off the back of his horse and Louis just followed. What else could he do? He thumped the horse’s flanks with the heels of his boots, the weight of the hit and the leather having to do the work as he wore no spurs, and he eased the pressure on the reins. With a guttural yell he urged his horse through the alley and onto the street where he could see Wulf’s horse already galloping to the left, towards the bridge, Paris and safety.

As man and horse entered the street, Louis could not resist a glance to his right, even though he knew the head of his horse might well be tugged to the right as well in case he kept careful control of the reins. He knew it was a mistake and that he wasn’t a good enough rider to control his horse unless he was fully determined on his direction. But he couldn’t help him. An impulse of curiosity drew him to look.

And there he saw a cart, and a man that was his brother, Oliver, supervising the loading of it with bales of flour, barrels of wine, sides of meat. Servants worked under his supervision next to a communal warehouse that belonged to the merchant guild of the town. And there were men in armour standing around, some with thin long wooden bows at their sides, laughing and drinking from an opened barrel of wine. They looked up at the sound of the horses down the street, and then Louis knew he must turn away before it was too late. But before he did his eyes, even at the distance of over fifty yards met those of Oliver. The first arrow that whizzed past made him turn. He could hear shouting. He saw it was Wulf. He had reined his horse in just before the bridge, and he was shouting at Louis. Louis dug his heels again into his horses flanks and drove the beast towards the bridge.

Wulf did not wait. He was across and galloping down the tree lined road to the south, to Paris. But Louis knew he would catch him up. The arrows fired at him were wild, and the English soldiers on the street didn’t have their horses.

And he knew that one day there would be a reckoning against the man who had betrayed their country. His brother.

***

If you want to read the first volume of StoneheartedBy the Sword’s Edge, then click here.