To Be A Wife
An epic historical romance/erotica set in England in 1147 just as the civil war between Stephen of Blois and Empress Matilda is ending.
The blurb: a work in progress
Lady Bren struggles to keep her castle, her children, and the few peasants she has left from total ruin. With a dead husband, if he could be called a husband, and a civil war between Stephen of Bloise and Empress Matilda over the crown ragging around her, she expects someone to come and try to take everything away again. What she didn’t expect at her gate was the man who showed up with an army.
Awarded a title, a castle, land, and a possible bride for his loyal service to King Stephen, Baron Davyn Rhuddllan is ready to settle down after years of war. Once he arrives at his new home, shock cannot describe his reaction with the utter desolation of the area and decline of the stone buildings, however, the surprise addition of a smart, brave, beautiful woman as his choice for a bride excited him. On a deadline to be married quickly, Davyn must win her trust and her heart before she can become his wife.
Still needs a final round of edits when I finish the last few chapters.
Sample of Chapter One
Wiltshire England – March 1147
Sir Davyn Rhuddllan slowed his horse and scouted the area. Close to their destination, he held up a hand, stopping his army in the middle of the road to await a report of the situation at Castle Cricklade. A mixture of heart-pounding adrenaline from battle warred with the disappointment of being called away from London back into action. Davyn took a deep breath, mentally shaking off the weariness after years of civil war.
A billowing cloud of dust beat the horse and rider as his trusted man, Baldur approached at a gallop. Baldur’s horse skidded to a stop and pranced in a tight circle. “I’ve no idea who they are, but there are less than fifty men trying to take the town.” His grin reached his eyes, crinkling the corners in mischief. “I’ll wager we can win this skirmish by simply riding into battle.”
Davyn kicked his horse into motion. “Let us get it over with. The sooner we quell this little uprising, the sooner we can be on our way back to London.”
His army of one hundred horsemen and foot soldiers rushed the enemy, scattering them in all directions. Regrouping, the opposition charged back into the fray. Chainmail flecked with blood, Davyn slashed his way through the small, attacking group.
He smashed the hilt of his sword on the helmet of a soldier and blood splashed from the edges of the head covering. Someone dragged him from his horse. A mace swung in an arc at Davyn’s head. He deflected the blow with his shield, sparks flying. His ears rang with the deafening screams of injured men and horses. He slipped and slid in blood, catching his balance in time to bury his sword into the thigh of an enemy.
“Yield! I yield.” Rang through the air, growing with intensity as more men joined in the cry of surrender. A warrior not far from Davyn put his sword on the ground and raised his hands. “I yield! I’ll not die for a man who has not paid me to fight.”
Davyn took three lunging steps and grabbed him by the front of his chainmail, hauling him forward. “Who hired you?”
“Henry, son of Matilda.”
Letting go of him, Davyn stepped back in surprise that a mere lad of four-and-ten would gather a band of mercenaries and try to take England. Laughter rolled from his chest, and soon the men around him looked on as if he had two heads. Gathering his wits, he subdued the humor he found in the situation.
A still, calm enveloped the battlefield. With no wind to support them, banners from both armies hung limp. Arching his back to ease the discomfort, Davyn took a hard look at the dead and dying around him, disgusted with the loss of life brought about by a mere child. Weary after years of battle, he longed for the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Matilda to end. The crown needed to rest firmly on Stephen’s head, and hopefully winning this skirmish would end the siege once and for all.
Baldur appeared out of the carnage, wiping sweat from his face. “Never saw an army give up so fast. Look how some are running away as if the hounds from hell are on their backsides.”
He chuckled. Baldur always had a way of making him laugh.
A red-headed lad with freckles rode at a gallop towards them with his sword in the air. “Why are you leaving? Pick up your swords and fight, men. Fight! Fight in the name of the rightful queen, Empress Matilda!”
Laughter burst from Baldur. Davyn elbowed him in the ribs. “Your men have run away for lack of payment. Will you fight my army alone?” Davyn asked.
“Who are you to question me? My mother is the rightful heir to the throne of England!”
Davyn sheathed his sword and bowed. “My Lord, I am Sir Davyn Rhuddllan. I fight for King Stephen of Bloise, and you are my hostage.”
“Hostage? How dare you! Drop your weapons, I am capturing you.”
The laughter of many men, from both sides, filled the air. Henry, red-faced and sputtering raised his sword into the air. “I am ordering you to fight!”
Baldur inched to the side, closer to the boy’s horse. He swung his shield and knocked Henry out of his saddle.
The boy landed on the ground with a thud. When he failed to get up, what was left of his pitiful army gathered around him, cursing and threatening to take their pay from his hide.
Davyn pushed his way through the group. “I am taking him to the king. You’ll not harm a hair on his head.” Making sure the boy still drew breath, he turned to his friend. “Put him in one of the wagons with a guard. Then send my scribe to London with a message for the king that we have his nephew.”
Baldur hefted the lad over his shoulder. “Yea, Sir Davyn.”
Davy made his way to the wooden structure Henry had tried to conquer. With the desire to be on his way back to London, Davyn explained the situation to the only person he could find and made haste back to his horse. He assembled his men. “Baldur and I will ride ahead. Meet me at camp in Westminster, and make haste. I intend to have my feet up, a wench on my lap, and a tankard in my hand by the end of the week. I wouldn’t want you to miss out on the fun.”
His men laughed and assembled for the march as Davyn and his small group departed. After several hours on the move, Henry awoke, demanding to ride his own horse. The only way to shut him up was to put him in the saddle, but Davyn ordered his hands bound and took the reigns. “Keep quiet, or I’ll have you gagged as well.”
Sample of Chapter Two
West of Shrewsbury
Lady Bren knelt on the hard floor before the altar, rocking back and forth. She prayed for the soothing chant of Vespers to ease the stomach-churning fear, but word of her husband Thegn’s imminent return from battle had stolen her only moments of peace.
Less than a month and Thegn would be home. She cringed, squeezing her hands together until her knuckles ached, praying the same prayer she had recited every day since he arrived with an army, and attacked her home. Six years of kneeling on the stone surface, expressing gratitude when he was away fighting in one battle or another in the kingdom’s quest to secure a stable throne. Begging for his speedy departure every time he came back. Six years of praying to be released from his tyranny and brutality in the marriage bed. Six years of him absconding with almost everything of value, emptying the fields, and leaving his own children starving so he could fund his army.
Repenting of her sins, Bren appealed to the Lord for the strength to stop thinking of ways to end the torture herself, like stabbing Thegn in his sleep.
“Oh Lord, I pray to Thee. Please keep us safe from evil, and provide us with enough food to survive next winter.”
Thegn, please stay away –
“Amen.” Edwin fidgeted beside her.
She smiled at her five-year-old son’s impatience. “You may go, Edwin. Perhaps Tom needs help hunting rabbits.”
The boy made the sign of the cross, then raced from the chapel. Once in the passageway, he whooped his excitement, the sound of his pounding feet fading into the distance.
Bren’s empty stomach grumbled, reminding her the mushrooms would not find their way to the evening meal until she collected them from the nearby woods. She gathered her tattered shawl around her shoulders, blessed herself, and trudged down the stairs to the great hall. The smell of stale rushes drifted from the floor, and she wished for fresh straw sprinkled with mint leaves. Her mother had always added mint to the rushes, giving the hall a pleasant smell.
Pain stabbed her chest with the grief of her parent’s death, still as fresh as on the day of Thegn’s attack. Tears stung her eyes, and she blinked them away. There was no time for crying or the luxury of succumbing to the sadness of life without her mother and father.
She searched the corner for her favorite basket, the best of the sorry lot. Whiskers, the castle cat bumped her elbow. He meowed for attention and nuzzled into her hand. Bren scratched the soft fur of his neck for a moment before she made her way to the front entrance. When she reached for the latch, the door swung open, hinges groaning in protest, and banged against the inside wall.
Her husband’s henchman, Ernald, and his five minions stumbled over the threshold, laughing with drunken glee. One spewed the contents of his stomach onto the floor as two men dragged him inside and dumped him to the ground.
Bren edged into the shadows, attempting to hide. She struggled to control each loud breath, convinced they echoed through the hall.
Ernald spotted her. “What are ye about?”
Her husband may have complete control over her, but this uncivilized barbarian was nothing more than a servant. He wouldn’t dare touch her for fear of Thegn’s wrath. She lifted her chin in defiance. “Gathering a contribution for the table. Unlike you and your men, the rest of us wish to eat our evening meal. Not drink it.”
His eyes narrowed. “I find nothing wrong with finishing the last of the mead before it goes stale.”
A knot in her throat threatened to strangle her. The long, cold winter had left little in the pantry, the grain ran low, and now they had no mead left. Her shoulders fell with the weight of it all. “Without regard for anyone else, you and your laggards have consumed it all?”
“We had a powerful thirst. We cannot stand guard with that kind of dryness.” He leered at her. “Are ye jealous ye didn’t get any?”
“Jealous of a miscreant who would let children go thirsty?” She shook her head. “I think not.”
Ernald closed the distance between them, stopping a few inches from her. “Ye’ll do well to remember yer place.” He pointed at his chest. “I am in command when the lord is away, and I’ll be sure to inform him of yer displeasure with me.”
She gagged on the stench of rotting teeth and garlic. Terror flooded her mind, and she wanted nothing more than to get away. Hitting Ernald’s chest with both hands, she shoved. He stumbled back, tripped over his own feet, and tried to pull her down with him, his hands slipping and clawing at her arm.
Bren jerked free, and he landed flat on his back. Cringing with the crack of his skull hitting the stone floor, she seized the opportunity to escape and ran.
Overgrown grass brushed against her skirt as she hurried across the bailey to the drawbridge. With a hand against her chest, she tried to calm the panic of Ernald’s assault. Frustration with his presence and the inability to get rid of him chipped away at her will to fight for everyone who lived here.
The tickle of her daughter’s laughter echoed through the air, and the fear retreated to the back of her mind. Shielding her eyes with a hand, Bren scanned the empty bailey before she made her way to the gate. Mildred ran across the drawbridge, arms out, hair flying in the breeze. She threw her tiny arms around Bren’s legs in a hug.
No matter what tragedy fell upon Bren’s shoulders, one hug from her daughter and her spirits lifted. Bren picked up the three-year-old, settling her on a hip. “Where have you been all by yourself?”
Fina hurried towards them. Out of breath and shuffling with an old woman’s gait, she wiped her brow with the hem of her apron. “My apologies, M’lady. She got ahead of me.”
“Mildred, you shouldn’t make Fina run after you. A lady treats her elders with respect.” She kissed the top of the child’s head. “Would you like to join me in a mushroom hunt?”
“Go and rest your bones, Fina. I can take Mildred.”
“I’ve still some life left in me. No need to put me to bed yet. I’ll go with you.”
Bren touched her arm. “All your years of service for my family have earned you an afternoon rest before the meal. Now go. I’ll hear no more of it.”
“They’ve been years full of joy. Nothing makes my heart happier than to have taken care of two-generations of lasses in such a splendid household.”
Blinking back tears, Bren gave the woman a shaky smile. “It was, wasn’t it? I fear we will never again find a life of peace and prosperity. If only…”
“None of that now. We find a way to be our best in the face of things we cannot change. God sends us no more than we can handle. You will find a way.” Fina’s warm hand wiped the tear from Bren’s cheek. “‛Tis perilous times. Let me go with you. I’ll not have you exploring the woods alone.”
“Nay, ‛tis not far off the road. I shan’t be long.”
Bren waited until Fina disappeared into the great hall before she took her daughter’s hand and they meandered through the trees. Mildred ran ahead and Bren enjoyed the forest, allowing herself to forget her troubles for a time. The early evening cast deep shadows through the trees, and the howl of a wolf echoed around her, making her hurry to gather the mushrooms and her daughter.