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?
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.
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, www.annabelfrage.com
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