Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Celebrating Christmas in the Ninth Century during the time of Alfred the Great by Mary Ann Bernal


The court of Alfred the Great was Christian, deferring to the Pope in Rome for religious guidance. King Alfred rigorously enforced the Church’s mandates from fasting during Lent to Almsgiving throughout the year, and not just at Christmastime.


There was merrymaking and feasting, but it was also a solemn occasion; prayer and attending Mass was foremost since the holiday celebrates the birth of Christ.


During the twelve days of Christmas, the Christian community prayed at daily Mass, attended vigils, and participated in almsgiving, donating to the poor and the religious communities.


One must not forget the food. Meats included beef, pork, turkey, and boar. Available vegetables were carrots, onions, parsnips, and cabbage. Bread warmed on the hearth, and everything was washed down with wine, mead, and ale. Yes, there was always room for dessert with a variety of tasty pies or fruit, such as apples, plums, and cherries. And, like today, a great chef was worth their weight in gold.


Minstrels would play festive tunes, and guests would dance; gift-giving was also practiced.


Over the centuries, customs have come and gone, but the main reason for the celebration remains, celebrating the birth of Christ.

The Briton and the Dane series transports the reader to ninth-century Anglo-Saxon England, a tumultuous period in history when the feared Vikings ravaged all of Christendom. Click HERE to learn more. 

About the Author


Mary Ann Bernal

Mary Ann Bernal attended Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry, NY, where she received a degree in Business Administration. Her literary aspirations were ultimately realized when the first book of The Briton and the Dane novels was published in 2009. In addition to writing historical fiction, Mary Ann has also authored a collection of contemporary short stories in the Scribbler Tales series and a science fiction/fantasy novel entitled Planetary Wars Rise of an Empire. Her recent work includes Crusader’s Path, a redemption story set against the backdrop of the First Crusade, and Forgiving Nero, a novel of Ancient Rome.

Since Operation Desert Storm, Mary Ann has been a passionate supporter of the United States military, having been involved with letter-writing campaigns and other support programs. She appeared on The Morning Blend television show hosted by KMTV, the CBS television affiliate in Omaha, and was interviewed by the Omaha World-Herald for her volunteer work. She has been a featured author on various reader blogs and promotional sites.

Mary Ann currently resides in Elkhorn, Nebraska.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Book Spotlight: Minotaur’s Lair by Luciana Cavallaro


The Minotaur stirs. Evan is drugged to forget the gods’ quest.

Evan and his companions are entrapped by the Amazon Queen Antioche and her warriors. Memories and allegiances are tested. The Dark Master’s victorious revenge over the gods is almost complete. The plight of the High Priestess is precarious, her health ailing, and unable to rescue her brother and fellow Atlanteans.

The last sacred relic, secreted in the lair of the Minotaur, must be recovered or the Dark Master’s succession plans of a new god are complete. The mystical lands of Krete, the final stage of Evan’s journey, are within his grasp. He must succeed so his father, Zeus, fulfills his promise. Then there is Queen Antioche, and the precious gifts she presents him.

Will Evan return home, and what will become of his future?

Minotaur’s Lair is the third and final book in the action-packed Servant of the Gods historical fiction series. If you enjoy well-researched landscapes, historic characters, excitement, mythical creatures and unique settings, then you’ll love Luciana Cavallaro’s heroic odyssey.

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Luciana Cavallaro


•           Award-winning author of The Labyrinthine Journey

•           Nominated for book awards in the Action/Adventure and Historical Fiction genres

•           Drove her first car at the age of three

Luciana Cavallaro’s alter ego is a high school teacher where she plugs away educating teenagers the merits of reading and ancient history. She often looks for a brick wall to bang her head when faced with disinterested looks from her students. She’s also a historical fantasy and thriller/suspense author, who creates fast-paced, action-packed series for her readers.

Born and raised in Western Australia, residing in Perth, Luciana loves to travel and since getting her passport at the ripe old age of twenty-four has toured parts of Europe, a legacy of her Italian heritage. She enjoys being active, going out with friends, reading and tries to grow her own vegetables. She dreams of travelling again and visiting the ancient sites that inspired her stories, that is when she’s not spending time being an unofficial stunt person and knocking herself out in the process.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Spotlight on Donovan Cook, author of Son of Anger (The Ormstunga Saga, Book 1)


Ulf is like a storm, slowly building up its power, he grows more dangerous with each passing moment. And like all storms, he will eventually break. When he does, he will destroy everything in his path.

Ulf is one of a long line of famous Norse warriors. His ancestor Tyr was no ordinary man, but the Norse God of War. Ulf, however, knows nothing about being a warrior.

Everything changes when a stranger arrives on Ulf’s small farm in Vikenfjord. The only family he’s ever known are slaughtered and the one reminder of his father is stolen -- Ulf’s father’s sword, Ormstunga. Ulf’s destiny is decided.

Are the gods punishing him? All Ulf knows is that he has to avenge his family. He sets off on an adventure that will take him across oceans, into the eye of danger, on a quest to reclaim his family’s honour.

The gods are roused. One warrior can answer to them. The Son of Anger.

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 ¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨) ( ¸.•´

 Donovan Cook

Please tell us a little about yourself.

I was born in South Africa and lived in a small town near Johannesburg called Springs. My family moved to England when I was fourteen years old, which was a bit of a culture shock for my younger brother and me. My passion for history started in England, especially medieval history. I can speak two languages, Afrikaans and English, which is a result of my family background. My mother is South African, and my father is English. I’m keen on rugby, watching, not doing, but I enjoy watching other sports as well. I live with my wife and Viking French bulldog, Joey Missing-Tooth.

When did you start writing?

I started writing in 2019. In fact, my wife and I were on holiday in Montenegro when I wrote the first words of my debut novel. I had been struggling for a while to find the right words, and the opening scene came to me while we were on holiday. I quickly grabbed my laptop and typed as fast as I could while enjoying the beach view from our hotel room balcony.

Tell us about Son of Anger.

Son of Anger is about bloody battles, chaotic journeys, and interfering gods. It is also about Ulf, a young man who lost his family and an important family heirloom, his father’s famous sword. On his journey to avenge his family and retrieve the sword, he learns more about his family history and the story of the sword he coveted his whole life. All Ulf cares about is finding and killing the man who brutally murdered his family, but he soon learns there is a price for everything, and that price is especially high when you catch the eye of Odin, father of the gods of Asgard.

What was your inspiration?

I’d have to say religion played a huge part in inspiring me to write Son of Anger. I am not religious myself, but I come from a religious family, and I regularly saw how religion affected the lives of my family. This made me wonder how the Norse people in the 9th century viewed their world through the eyes of the gods they followed. The Norse gods were chaotic, and the sagas of the gods are filled with bizarre stories that leave you scratching your head. So I was intrigued about how this would affect their daily lives. Viking history also inspired me and reading novels by Bernard Cornwell, Giles Kristian, and Matthew Harffy encouraged me to learn more about the Norse and Danish invaders who played a huge part in the creation of England and the English language. Writing Son of Anger gave me the opportunity to learn more about these people and what their lives would have been like.

What do you like to do in your free time when you're not reading or writing?

I’m quite a lazy person, to be honest, so when I’m not writing or reading, I tend not to do much. If the weather is nice, my wife and I will take our dog out for walks. We often go to our local park and just sit on a bench and enjoy the weather. As mentioned before, I enjoy watching sports, especially rugby. Being born in South Africa, I follow the Springboks and try not to miss any of their matches. I also watch the United Rugby Championship every weekend when it’s on. If the weather is bad and there is no rugby to watch, then I might play some computer games or watch a film.

And finally, can you tell us some fun facts about yourself, such as crossed skydiving off your bucket list?

1) I have a BSc in Marine Biology and Coastal Conservation. Another passion of mine growing up was the natural world, and I would always be watching documentaries by Steve Irwin and David Attenborough. I originally wanted to do a degree in Zoology, but unfortunately, my grades weren’t good enough. Luckily though, I was given the opportunity to do this degree and enjoyed (mostly, the exams were never fun) every minute of it. Unfortunately, when I finished my degree, I wasn’t able to find a job in the field, but I’m still glad I did it.

2) This is a result of fact one. I am a qualified divemaster. While doing my degree, I decided to learn how to scuba dive, mainly because most of the people in my course could, and it was all they talked about. I did my open water course during my first year and loved it so much that over the years, I just kept doing different courses and eventually decided to do the dive master course. The plan was to work as a divemaster in South Africa (I moved back briefly in my early twenties), but by the time I finished the course, it was winter in South Africa, and I couldn’t get a job. I was also running out of money, leading to fact three.

3) I worked on cruise ships for three years. As mentioned before, I was living in South Africa, had no job, and ran out of money. I also really wanted to travel, so I decided to get a job on cruise ships. That way, I got to see more of the world and earned money while doing it. I used to work in the duty-free shops and was lucky enough to work on three great ships, The Independence of the Seas, Queen Elizabeth, and The Azura. Working on cruise ships was not easy, but it was definitely the best experience of my life. Not only did I get to see some amazing places I would never have seen otherwise, but I met some amazing people, including my wife, along the way.

 4) Not really about me, but about Joey Missing-Tooth. As his name suggests, he has a tooth missing, and we have no idea where it is. He likely lost it on a raid, but he refuses to tell us.


Donovan Cook


Donovan Cook was born in South Africa but raised in England, and currently works as an English tutor. He is the author of the Ormstunga Saga, which includes his debut novel Son of Anger and the follow up, Raid of the Wolves. His novels come from his fascination with the Viking world and Norse Mythology and he hopes that you will enjoy exploring this world as much as he did writing about it.

When Donovan is not teaching or writing, he can be found reading, watching rugby, or working on DIY projects. Being born in South Africa, he is a massive Springboks fan and rarely misses a match.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Spotlight on The Hearts of All on Fire by Alana White


Florence, 1473. An impossible murder. A bitter rivalry. A serpent in the ranks.

Florentine investigator Guid’Antonio Vespucci returns to Florence from a government mission to find his dreams of success shattered. Life is good—but then a wealthy merchant dies from mushroom poisoning at Guid’Antonio’s Saint John’s Day table, and Guid’Antonio’s servant is charged with murder. Convinced of the youth’s innocence and fearful the killer may strike again, Guid’Antonio launches a private investigation into the merchant’s death, unaware that at the same time powerful enemies are conspiring to overthrow the Florentine Republic—and him. A clever, richly evocative tale for lovers of medieval and renaissance mysteries everywhere, The Hearts of All on Fire is a timeless story of family relationships coupled with themes of love, loss, betrayal and, above all, hope in a challenging world.

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Alana White

Alana White's passion for Renaissance Italy has taken her to Florence for research on the Vespucci and Medici families on numerous occasions.  There along cobbled streets unchanged over the centuries, she traces their footsteps, listening to their imagined voices, including that of her protagonist, Guid'Antonio Vespucci and his friends, Sandro Botticelli, Michelangelo, Lorenzo de' Medici.  

Alana's first short story featuring real-life fifteenth-century lawyer Guid'Antonio Vespucci and his favorite nephew, Amerigo Vespucci, was a Macavity Award finalist and led to the Guid'Antonio Vespucci Mystery Series featuring "The Sign of the Weeping Virgin" (Book I) and "The Hearts of All on Fire" (Book II). 

She is a member of the Women's National Book Association and the Historical Novel Society, among other organizations.  She loves hearing from readers, and you can contact her at her website,

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Book Spotlight and Excerpt: The Fortune Keeper by Deborah Swift


Count your nights by stars, not shadows ~ Italian Proverb

Winter in Renaissance Venice

Mia Caiozzi is determined to discover her destiny by studying the science of astronomy. But her stepmother Giulia forbids her to engage in this occupation, fearing it will lead her into danger. The ideas of Galileo are banned by the Inquisition, so Mia must study in secret.

Giulia's real name is Giulia Tofana, renowned for her poison Aqua Tofana, and she is in hiding from the Duke de Verdi's family who are intent on revenge for the death of their brother. Giulia insists Mia should live quietly out of public view. If not, it could threaten them all. But Mia doesn't understand this, and rebels against Giulia, determined to go her own way.

When the two secret lives collide, it has far-reaching and fatal consequences that will change Mia's life forever.

Set amongst opulent palazzos and shimmering canals, The Fortune Keeper is the third novel of adventure and romance based on the life and legend of Giulia Tofana, the famous poisoner.

'Her characters are so real they linger in the mind long after the book is back on the shelf' - Historical Novel Society.

This is the third in a series, but it can stand alone as it features a new protagonist. 

Trigger warnings:

Murder and violence in keeping with the era.

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 ¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨) ( ¸.•´


Venice 1643

The day after meeting Brother Mario, Imbroglio arrived early at his bolt-hole – a second set of lodgings in the German quarter. The snow had stopped, but the pale winter sun was out and the place stank. It was above the night-soil collector, who took the human refuse by boat and dumped it at sea, out of the reach of men’s noses and away from the tidal flow into Venice. Though these lodgings lacked luxury, and were devilish damp, this place afforded him the privacy he wanted. On the top floor, with a sturdy door and a good firm mortise lock.

He had a semblance of luxury at the Palazzo Dario, but here the stink would certainly put off all but the brave-hearted. Imbroglio tried not to inhale. With luck and a following wind he’d be gone by summer. Thank God, he thought, because it would be unbearable here then. He thrust the shutter open to get some air, but banged it shut again as the stench increased.

Here, he was only Antonio Imbroglio, a poor pilgrim visiting San Marco. A crucifix was displayed prominently on the wall, for the sole benefit of the daily woman Signora Cicerone.

He peered out through the striated light of the shuttered window.

A few muffled-up street urchins were hanging on the corner hoping for work on the canal. They’d ignored him as he passed, as not rich enough to bother pestering. He enjoyed the switch of personalities – that one day he could be the count’s advisor, Signor Moretti, nobleman and Doctor of Law, parading in his fur-lined cloak, and another day, Antonio Imbroglio, the man who looked like a beggar.

Now to check the contents of his trunk, a nondescript looking cask covered in scuffed leather, of the type a poor traveller might use. All the accoutrements of his assassin’s trade were here. He heaved open the domed lid and brought out the contents one by one.

Picklocks, gloves, razor and whetstone, a pistol with a walnut handle, his good duelling sword.

He paused. Beneath lay the souvenirs of those he’d killed. Time was, he could draw out each object – each precious gold watch, each diamond-fobbed seal, each ’broidered kerchief – and remember the face.

Now there were so many it was a mere heap of scrim-shaw.

He ran a thumb softly over the edge of the razor. It would need to be sharpened. He’d vowed not to use the damn thing here in Venice; it was there only for emergency. But things had gone wrong, so now he’d have to re-think.

Curse Count D’Ambrosi. He shouldn’t have taken him on at cards. He should have realized the best gamblers in Europe were here in Venice at the Ridotto, and the stakes high. To his humiliation, Count d’Ambrosi had beat him playing Gillet and emptied him out. It looked bad, especially if he wanted a stake in the observatory – the biggest waste of money in Venice.

He began to sharpen the razor, thinking he’d be better off to sharpen his skills at cards. Meanwhile, thank God for Brother Mario and his pound of gold lira.

This time would definitely be the last, he swore to himself, because now, thanks to that measly monk, he was onto something. Tomorrow, he’d find out if Agnese di Napoli, formerly Agnese de Verdi, could shed any light on the whereabouts of Giulia Tofana and her Aqua Tofana. The thought of it quickened his pulse.

He liked to make people talk— before they were consigned to a place where they would never speak again. And imminent death was a marvellous incentive to loosen the tongue.

The rasp of the whetstone grew rhythmic in the quiet of the room.

 Deborah Swift

Deborah Swift is a USA TODAY bestselling author who is passionate about the past. Deborah used to be a costume designer for the BBC before becoming a writer. Now she lives in an old English school house in a village full of 17th Century houses near the glorious Lake District. She divides her time between writing and teaching. After taking a Masters Degree in Creative Writing, she enjoys mentoring aspiring novelists and has an award-winning historical fiction blog at her website

Deborah loves to write about how extraordinary events in history have transformed the lives of ordinary people and how the events of the past can live on in her books and still resonate today.

Recent books include The Poison Keeper, about the Renaissance poisoner Giulia Tofana, which was a winner of the Wishing Shelf Readers Award, and a Coffee Pot Book Club Gold Medal, and The Cipher Room set in WW2 and due for publication by Harper Collins next Spring.

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Friday, December 2, 2022

Spotlight on Michael L. Ross, author of Across the Great Divide: Book 3 The Founding


Two men, two dreams, two new towns on the plains, and a railroad that will determine whether the towns—one black, one white—live or die. 

Will Crump has survived the Civil War, Red Cloud’s War, and the loss of his love, but the search for peace and belonging still eludes him. From Colorado, famed Texas Ranger Charlie Goodnight lures Will to Texas, where he finds new love, but can a Civil War sharpshooter and a Quaker find a compromise to let their love survive? When Will has a chance to join in the founding of a new town, he risks everything—his savings, his family, and his life—but it will all be for nothing if the new railroad passes them by.

Luther has escaped slavery in Kentucky through Albinia, Will’s sister, only to find prejudice rearing its ugly head in Indiana. When the Black Codes are passed, he’s forced to leave and begin a new odyssey. Where can he and his family go to be truly free? Can they start a town owned by blacks, run by blacks, with no one to answer to? But their success will be dependent on the almighty railroad and overcoming bigotry to prove their town deserves the chance to thrive.

Will’s eldest sister, Julia, and her husband, Hiram, are watching the demise of their steamboat business and jump into railroads, but there’s a long black shadow in the form of Jay Gould, the robber baron who ruthlessly swallows any business he considers competition. Can Julia fight the rules against women in business, dodge Gould, and hold her marriage together?

The Founding tells the little-known story of the Exodusters and Nicodemus, the black town on the plains of Kansas, and the parallel story of Will’s founding of Lubbock, Texas, against the background of railroad expansion in America. A family reunited, new love discovered, the quest for freedom, the rise of two towns. In the end, can they reach Across the Great Divide? The Founding is the exciting conclusion to the series.

Praise for The Founding:

“Michael is an excellent storyteller and has done a wonderful job depicting Luther, and the other black characters in this book.  He has done his homework and depicts many historical facts about Nicodemus in a most enlightening and creative way.  It has been a pleasure working with someone who has made a concerted effort to get things right.  

~ Angela Bates
Nicodemus Descendant/Historian
Executive Director
The Nicodemus Historical Society and Museum

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Michael Ross

Fun Facts
(Stuff you may or may not already know!)

The Atchison, Topeka, Santa Fe railroad had as its president at one point one of the most incompetent Confederate generals - Braxton Bragg

170,000 miles of railroad tracks were laid in 1860-1900. Some of it was never used. 140,000 miles of tracks are in use today. Old railroad tracks are recycled as metal T posts for fencing. 

It took one full year (minus a month for COVID) to research and write The Founding. 

I re-visited Lubbock, Texas in March 2022, spending a few days at the Southwest Collection at Texas Tech University. They have huge boxes of paper material on the Crumps, none digitized. It includes such material as the genealogy of all the cows Will Crump raised, deeds for land, court cases, and - my thrill - papers signed by Will Crump, his wife Mary, his son Bob, and my own parents and grandparents. 

Nicodemus still exists, and people still live there - it may not be thriving, but this quiet little town in western Kansas still has the heartbeat of history. In its heyday, it produced two famous NFL running backs (the families have requested me not to identify them), a state auditor, and its own newspaper. 


Angela Bates 
(Image used with permission.)

Angela Bates is the driving force behind Nicodemus today. 

Kansas Historical Foundation
Board of Directors
Elected to board: 1995
Elected to executive committee: 2007

Angela Bates’s ancestors were among the original settlers of Nicodemus in 1877. She grew up in Pasadena, California, but her family’s trips to Kansas drew her to relocate to the state. She received a bachelor’s degree in education from Emporia State University.

Bates has devoted much of her career to sharing the history of African American migration and the preservation of history and architecture in Nicodemus. She is a member of the National Parks Conservation Association and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She served as president of the Nicodemus Historical Society. She shares her stories through performances, documentaries, radio, and television.

She received the Kansas Sampler Foundation’s “We Can” award for her work in historic preservation. She received the Brown Foundation’s award for excellence in preserving African American history. She has been honored by the Kansas Humanities Council for outstanding contributions. The National Trust named her a “Preservation Hero.” She was named a woman of distinction by the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Committee of Topeka.

Bates was first elected to the Kansas Historical Foundation Board of Directors in 1995 where she served until 2016.

Michael Ross

Michael Ross is a lover of history and great stories.

He’s a retired software engineer turned author, with three children, and five grandchildren, living in Newton, Kansas with his wife of 39 years. Michael graduated from Rice University and Portland State University with degrees in German and software engineering. He was part of an MBA program at Boston University. 

Michael was born in Lubbock, Texas, and still loves Texas. He’s written short stories and technical articles in the past, as well as articles for the Texas Historical Society. 

Across the Great Divide now has three novels in the series, "The Clouds of War", and "The Search", and the conclusion, "The Founding".  "The Clouds of War" was an honorable mention for Coffee Pot Book of the Year in 2019, and an Amazon #1 best seller in three categories, along with making the Amazon top 100 paid, reviewed in Publisher's Weekly. "The Search" won Coffee Pot Cover of the Year in 2020, and Coffee Pot Silver Medal for Book of the Year in 2020, as well as shortlisted for the Chanticleer International Book Laramie Award. 

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Thursday, December 1, 2022

Cover Reveal: The Captain’s Woman by Holly Bush


Meet the Thompsons of Locust Street, an unconventional family taking Philadelphia high society by storm…

1870 ~ Muireall Thompson has taken her duties seriously since her parents died on the family’s crossing from Scotland to America in 1854. As the eldest sibling, their death made her responsible for her family and left little time for a life of her own. But now her brothers and sisters are adults; even the youngest is nearly ready to face the world on his own. What will she do when she is alone, other than care for an elderly aunt and volunteer at the Sisters of Charity orphanage? Has the chance for a husband and children of her own passed her by?

Widower Anthony Marcus, formerly a captain in the Union Army, is a man scraping the bottom of his dignity and hanging on to his honor by the barest thread. Reduced to doing odd jobs to keep a roof over his dear daughter Ann’s head, he often leaves her with the Sisters of Charity while he is out seeking steady work with a decent salary that will allow him to move from their single-room living quarters.

After an initial meeting that finds Muireall and Anthony at odds, a tentative friendship forms as they bond over their mutual affection for Ann. As friendship leads to passion, can a wealthy spinster and a poor soldier overcome their differences in station to forge a future together? Just as Muireall finds the courage to reach for her own happiness, Anthony’s past rises up between them and an old enemy reemerges to bring the Thompson family down once and for all. Will the divide between them be insurmountable, or can they put aside pride and doubt for a love worth fighting for?


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Holly Bush

Holly Bush writes historical romance set in the U.S. in the late 1800s, in Victorian England, and an occasional Women’s Fiction title. Her books are described as emotional, with heartfelt, sexy romance. She makes her home with her husband in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  Connect with Holly at and on Twitter @hollybushbooks, and on Facebook at Holly Bush.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Book Spotlight and Excerpt: Her Castilian Heart by Anna Belfrage


Blood is not always thicker than water…

At times a common bloodline is something of a curse—or so Robert FitzStephan discovers when he realises his half-brother, Eustace de Lamont, wants to kill him.  

A murderous and greedy brother isn’t Robert’s only challenge.  He and his wife, Noor, also have to handle their infected relationship with a mightily displeased Queen Eleanor—all because of their mysterious little foundling whom they refuse to abandon or allow the queen to lock away.

Eustace is persistent. When Robert’s life hangs in the balance, it falls to Noor to do whatever it takes to rip them free from the toothy jaws of fate. Noor may be a woman, but weak she is not, and in her chest beats a heart as brave and ferocious as that of a lioness. But will her courage be enough to see them safe?

Trigger Warnings:

There is some sexual (consensual) content. Also some violence

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 ¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨) ( ¸.•´

In which a most ungodly Friar plays a central role.

Robert kept his distance from the others for the following days, and especially from the friar, whose bright-eyed enthusiasm at the idea of pulverising yet another castle—and thereby maiming or killing many people—had his innards twisting.

“How can he be a man of God?” he muttered to John, mounting Mars. In front of them, Friar Robert was yelling at the drovers, alternating between pointing at the yoked oxen and the heavy contraptions they were to pull.

“Oh, I am sure he prays and fasts regularly,” John replied.

“Mayhap he should spend more time pondering the Holy Script,” Robert said. Not that he knew anything about it; writing was a chore, and reading was a challenge he had yet to fully master. And as to Latin, well, he spoke better Arabic, which was not saying much.

“Ready?” Mortimer held in his horse beside them.

“Aye.” Robert and his men were to form the vanguard. Mortimer and the rest of the men were to ride on each side of the gigantic, lumbering train, with only Geoffrey de Bohun and four men-at-arms holding the rear. Robert studied one of the huge contraptions as it rolled by, the wheels easily the size of him.

“If that gets stuck in a rut, we’ll never get it free,” John commented.

“Best pray it doesn’t happen,” Mortimer said. He flashed them a quick grin. “I fear our dear friar would likely have a fit should one of his precious engines be damaged.”

It took one day to Llanteulyddog, the inhabitants in the small town thronging on the city walls to gawk at the siege engines. They spent most of the night on guard, taking turns to eat and sleep. Robert stamped his feet, glad of the breeches he was wearing on top of his hose and of the thick cloak he’d wrapped himself in. Above, the stars twinkled like shards of ice, his breath pluming before him.

“Cold enough to freeze the devil’s arse off,” Geoffrey commented, his voice muffled by the length of woollen cloth he'd wound round his neck and face.

“As long as it doesn’t start to snow,” Robert said.

It did, of course. Come morning, it began to snow, alleviating the cold somewhat but making progress along the Teifi excruciatingly slow, even with the extra oxen Mortimer had commandeered in Llanteulyddog.

After hours at a crawling pace, they finally saw the castle of Newydd Emlyn rise out of the snow. At some distance from the village, it sat on a narrow headland with the River Teifi running on two sides. The outer curtain walls ran straight across, a stout gate leading into the outer wards. Just in front of the walls huddled a group of houses.

Friar Robert studied the castle in silence. “Hmm,” he said, walking back and forth. “Breaching this will be easy.”

“Aye,” Mortimer said, “but the gatehouse to the inner wards is quite the beast.”

Friar Robert scoffed. “Nothing withstands my precious engines. Nothing.” He gestured at the buildings by the main gate. “Set them on fire.”

“I hoped to have celebrated Christmastide at home,” Robert groused a day or so later. More than six weeks away, and he felt constantly cold and damp.

“Well, at least we have the good friar to lead us in rejoicing at the birth of Christ our Saviour,” Mortimer replied. “Though it seems to me he prefers bonfires to mass.”

The buildings round the main gate had been reduced to ashes their first morning here. Under the protection of Robert’s men, the friar had sent forth his own men to wreak destruction. Robert had insisted on making sure the houses were empty—much to the friar’s irritation. “If there’s someone there, they’ll come running once the flames start licking their toes!” he’d snapped.

 “Assuming they can get out,” Robert had snapped back. “Surely, you do not want innocents to die?”

“Innocents? Pah! I’d wager every one of those people living in those houses have supported that rat Rhys in some way or other. Mark my words, every single one of them!”

Once the houses were gone, the friar had used one of his engines to blast a giant hole through the massive wooden gates—and level one of the turrets. Mortimer’s men had poured in, the few defenders on the wall fleeing for their lives towards the distant gatehouse. It was quite the impressive construction, that gatehouse. Relatively recent, it rose stout and menacing towards the skies, the entry guarded not only by gates but by a heavy portcullis that had caused the entire ground to shake when it had been lowered.

Friar Robert had frowned upon seeing the inner construction.

“What?” Mortimer demanded.

“You didn’t tell me there was so little land on either side of it. How am I to get my siege engines in position without risking they shoot my men—or manage to set one of them on fire, eh?”

“So we concentrate on the gatehouse,” Mortimer said.

Friar Robert crossed his arms—and impressive arms they were as well, the chain mail he’d donned bulging. “That,” he said with emphasis, “will take time.” He waved his hand at the structure. “Whoever built that knew what they were doing!” He frowned. “I have to think,” he muttered, flouncing off while yelling for his two sergeants.

Anna Belfrage

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England. 

Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients.

Her Castilian Heart is the third in her “Castilian” series, a stand-alone sequel to her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk. Set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty, integrity—and love. In the second instalment, The Castilian Pomegranate, we travel with the protagonists to the complex political world of medieval Spain. This latest release finds our protagonists back in England—not necessarily any safer than the wilds of Spain!

Anna has also authored The Whirlpools of Time in which she returns to the world of time travel. Join Duncan and the somewhat reluctant time-traveller Erin on their adventures through the Scottish Highlands just as the first Jacobite rebellion is about to explode!

All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of various Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards.

Find out more about Anna, her books and enjoy her eclectic historical blog on her website, 

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