Friday, May 28, 2010

Till the Day Go Down

Here's an excerpt from my latest book. I think, I hope the excerpt is self-explanatory! The setting is 1543 in Aydon Castle near Corbridge in the Tyne Valley, not far from where I live, so doing the site research was both a doddle and a pleasure.

Harry looked bedraggled, but courage spoke through the tilt of his head and the way he carried himself. The white of his shirt showed through the tears in his doublet and the skin of his face and throat was patchily pink. They must have struck him. She supposed he would have resisted them, for she did not think he was the kind of man to give up easily.

His black hair hung over his brow and as they pushed him forward into the hall, she saw that his wrists were tied together behind his back.

Oh, Harry. Alina felt sick, yet filled with pride in him. Lance sat white-faced and still. Cuddy, obviously frightened, ran to his mother, who held him in her arms and made soothing noises.
The sentries marched Harry to the east end of the hall, towards the high table. He did not look for her, but stared grimly ahead. No doubt he thought she had betrayed him.

Father got up, walked the few steps around the table to confront Harry. They were of the same height. Her father carried more bulk, and the rich red of his doublet proved a strong contrast with the dull browns of Harry’s garb.

The silence stretched on. Frightened but unable to look away, Alina watched Harry lift his chin and survey the lord of Aydon with a gaze neither cowed nor unsteady. The tendons of his throat stood clear in the flickering candlelight and the shadows around his collarbones swelled and died with his breathing. Her stomach quivered in response and she feared for him. Father might be generous, if Harry looked frightened or begged for clemency, but this display of courage would only aggravate him.

She looked again at Harry’s expression. A spasm of alarm ran through her. For goodness sake, Harry, don’t stare at him as if he is nothing more than a field hand.
Cuthbert Carnaby obviously felt the same. The silence in the hall seemed ominous as he contemplated his prisoner through half closed eyes. His hand, heavy with rings, lashed out and caught Harry across the cheekbone.

Several feet away, Alina jolted on her bench as the blow struck. She gasped aloud, and her fingers clenched on the table.
Harry took an inadvertent step sideways. Dark hair tumbled over his brow. He steadied himself, tossed his hair back and faced his tormentor. He ought to be wary, but the tilt of his head was insolent.

“Who are you?” Carnaby demanded.
A thread of blood trickled towards Harry’s mouth. A surge of heat and anxiety ran through Alina. She sat taut and rigid with her teeth clamped in her lower lip, unable to think of a single thing to say that might help.

“My name is Harry Scott.” He inclined his head. “My home is in Carlisle.”
Oh Harry! Why did you not lie? You know that name will enrage Father.
“What are you doing on my lands?”

“A fall from my horse meant I needed a day or two’s rest.” The wide shoulders lifted an inch. “I intended to move on as soon as I was able.”
“A likely story!” Hot with excitement, Carnaby leered at the prisoner. “Rode here with the rest of your thieving relatives, did you? What a pity you got left behind. How inept of you!”
He thinks he’s found one of the raiders, and he’s pleased.
Harry glared at him. “Unhappily we can’t all be fortunate as the man who talked an earl out of leaving his goods to his sons.”

Oh God! Harry, no! He referred to Uncle Reynold, who talked the Earl of Northumberland into leaving estates to Reynold rather than the true Percy heirs. Blood rushed into her father’s face and his fists clenched.

“Father, he was unhorsed and unconscious.” Alina cried. She could not let Harry face this alone.
Carnaby swung round and glared at her. A cold shiver ran down her spine. She had spoiled his pleasure and he did not like it.

Harry’s glance followed her father, found her and meshed with hers. His mouth tightened and he gave a tiny shake his head as if to say she should stay silent. His chin lifted. Let me deal with this, his eyes commanded.
“You know this man, daughter?”

“Only that I found him unconscious in the meadow, sir. He had suffered a blow to the head.”
Carnaby turned from Alina. He grasped Harry’s jaw in one large fist, tilted his head up towards the candlelight to search for bruises. “There is a mark, I grant you.”

“He rode into a tree branch, sir.”
Carnaby stared into Harry’s face, and laughed. The sentries at either side smirked. Harry scowled. Alina guessed he hated to be made to look a fool. “It was dark!” she cried. “Any one could ride into a low bough in strange country in the dark.”

The laughter slowed and stopped. The sentries looked at her father. She realised she had made things worse when Carnaby swung around and grinned at her.
“He was riding the night we were raided? Alina, are your wits addled?” He turned back to Harry. “It’s a damned clumsy raider who gets knocked off his horse,” he snarled. “But the Scotts are ill-bred to the last snivelling bastard, so why am I surprised?”

“I am no raider, sir. The fact that my name is Scott is pure chance. I bear no relation to any of the Scottish family of that name. My home is Carlisle.”

“Anything to save your skin, eh?” Carnaby jerked his head. “Fling him in the dungeon. He can take the Leap tomorrow.”
“Father! No!” Horrified, Alina sprang to her feet, unaware and uncaring that every eye in the room swung to her. “He is not a raider! You can’t do this! I beg you!”

The book is available from Amazon and, so I'm told, Powells in Portland. A postcard from my daughter-in-law dropped this amazing information on me just last week. They'll be back home in Australia now. Amazon. It's also on Book Depository and bookshops.


Maggi Andersen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Alan Orchard said...

Jen, This looks good stuff. It also brings back memories for me of a couple of good holidays in Corbridge, exploring raider country, Hadrian's Wall and so on. An interesting place to live!


Annette Snyder said...

What a cool blog! I recognize many of your names.

Unknown said...

Congratulations on your blog debut, Anne. It's very...well...historical. Very nice, and your list of authors is super. Celia

Maggi Andersen said...

This is great Jen. I love your writing. Miss you on the crit group. How does this relate to Matho's Story?

Jen Black said...

Celia? I wonder whose blog you've been looking at? (vbg)
Thanks Peter, Maggi - if you think of this as a
prequel to the one I recently dragged through the crit group...and don't worry, I'll be back soon with something new.