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.

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