This blog is to keep my readers updated about my forthcoming historical romance books and to tell you a little bit about the history behind each one. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel free to comment.
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Thursday, 15 January 2015
The Crusader's Widow
THE CRUSADER'S WIDOW
Carrington, Countess of Whyford, locked the door to the master bedchamber and
carefully tucked the key into the space between her wrist and her elbow,
concealing it among the folds of her sleeve. She would lose no time in hiding
it in the secret recess beneath the hearthstone in the great hall, a recess
only she and Philip knew about. She had no doubt that Roger would be furious, would
be likely to make her life a living hell until she gave in and unlocked the
chamber, but she could not care very much. That chamber had been for her and
her husband, and no other man was going to lay his head on that pillow, share
that bed with her.
She did not want
this marriage; it had been only six months since Philip had given his life
defending King Richard in the Holy Land, only six months since her excitement
and joy at the anticipation of having him back in her arms, had turned to
bitter resentment and heartache when Roger had returned without him.
As she moved
quietly and quickly away from that bedchamber, her heart twisted painfully to
know she would never step inside it again, never see the beautiful tapestries
which Philip had commissioned just for her, never see the beautiful silk
coverings he had ordered made by the nuns in the local convent. When she had
come to this house as a child, to be raised by Philip’s parents to be his
bride, those things had helped to make her welcome in her new home. Now she
would never look upon them again, now the memories which they aroused only
served to fill her with despair.
She recalled her
elation on hearing the news that King Richard had drawn a truce with Saladin,
that he was on his way home. That meant Philip would also be on his way
home.The news spread rapidly throughout
the Kingdom – a truce had been called in the Holy Land, Saladin had agreed with
King Richard to allow access to the Holy City to Christians. King Richard was
on his way back to England and so were his soldiers, including Lord Philip Carrington,
Earl of Whyford.
Lady Isabella woke
each day with an excited flutter in her heart, hoping this would be the day her
beloved husband would arrive. She had no idea how long the journey from
Jerusalem would take, but he had been gone for two years and she could not wait
to see him.
She imagined how
surprised he would be to see his daughter, to see how tall she had grown, to
see the tiny buds of womanhood blossoming. A beautiful young woman was fast
emerging where their little girl used to be. She was now thirteen years old,
and Isabella was so proud; she knew Philip would be too. And when he returned,
they could give themselves up to trying once more for a son, an heir to
That image set her
heart aflutter once more and produced a little throb of desire deep inside her
body. She had always loved her nights with Philip, ever since that very first
time when they were both so young and naïve, and she had no idea how she had
lasted all this time without his comfort. She could not wait to renew their
passion, their love.
Before he left, he
had begun negotiations for a marriage for their daughter and Isabella had
continued those arrangements in his absence. Sarah would soon be a bride and her
mother had wondered how long they should wait for her father to come home
before the wedding could take place.
Word that King
Richard was on his way home changed everything. Now Isabella looked forward to
Philip being there to escort his daughter to the church porch, to give her hand
to her new husband. The young man was the son of an important earl and he had a
pleasant nature, was polite and seemed to Isabella to be caring. She hoped the
young couple would find the love she had found with Philip.
She had been very
fortunate to be wed to a man she could fall in love with and who loved her in
return. When King Richard called for volunteers to accompany him to Jerusalem,
to try to recapture the Holy City from the Infidel, Isabella thought little of
it. She believed it to be a hopeless cause as she had heard their leader was as
fierce and skilled a warrior as King Richard himself. This would be the third
crusade to the Holy City, the third time the Christians had tried and failed to
secure it permanently. Should that not tell them that God was not on their
But it was of no
importance to Isabella. Her world consisted of her husband and her daughter, of
running the household and making a home for those two special people. She
thought only of giving Philip a healthy, living son, something she had failed
to do in the years since their marriage. She was content with her routine, with
her day to day activities and with the tenderness she shared with the man she
loved. What could it possibly matter to her if the King wanted to waste his
time on yet another battle?
They had retired
for the night and were getting ready for bed when Philip told her he was
joining the crusade; she was so angry with him, she wanted to lock him in his
own dungeon and throw away the key.
“You cannot!” She
cried. “Why do you want to go and risk your life?”
“It is something
all Christian men should do,” he replied. “Jerusalem is God’s own city; it
should not be in the hands of these Infidel.”
“Why? Don’t they
have as much right to it as anyone else?”
He shook his head
calmly and smiled, a benign but patronising smile as though telling her she
could not possibly understand. That made her even angrier.
“What of Sarah?
What of the negotiations for her marriage? She needs you to be there for her?”
“I will be back
long before the marriage takes place. It will not take long to overcome the
Infidel; God is on our side.”
And just as she had
been thinking just the opposite.
“Philip, you cannot
leave me. I love you, I will miss you too much. Please, if you ever loved me,
do not go.” She took a step toward him and wrapped her arms around his waist,
kissed his chest where his shirt fell open and whispered seductively: “We have
sons to make.”
A shadow of sadness
crossed his features. Their two sons had not survived more than a few hours and
it was painful for him to remember. He knew it was also painful for her, but
she would use any argument to make him change his mind, even that one.
He pulled her into
his arms, held her face against his chest and kissed the top of her head.
“And my reward for
joining this crusade might well be the birth of a living, healthy son.”
“Your reward? From
“What sort of God,”
she demanded, “would want you to risk your life and leave the two people who
love you more than anything in the world, the two people who cannot live
“Do you not think
it might help?”
A bitter line
formed on her mouth.
“Even the Almighty
cannot give you a son if you are not here to conceive one,” she said
stubbornly. “Unless you think it is my fault, is that what you are saying?” Her
voice rose angrily. “I have failed to give you a healthy son and now you must
go and risk your precious life because of me?”
“You know perfectly
well I have never blamed you,” he assured her. “But one or both of us must have
done something to offend the Almighty, else why give us sons too weak to live?
Whatever it is, this crusade will earn His forgiveness.”
She shook her head
despondently. She could not argue with his logic, but that made her feel no
better. She was rather have no sons than lose Philip.
He kissed her then,
that arousing kiss which only he could give, and began to remove her clothes
and let them drop to the floor. He crushed her against his chest and kissed her
neck, trailed his lips along her shoulders and down to her breasts. She
shivered with pleasure, gave herself to him completely as she had done at every
opportunity since their wedding night, blotted from her mind the horrible
thought that he would not be here to love her like this for a very long time.
Once spent, he laid
on his back and folded her into his arms, holding her warm flesh against his
own as he held her tightly.
“How can you think
of going away after that?” She said. “How will I manage without that love, how
will you?” She paused and turned on her side to look up at him. “You will not,
will you?” She asked him. “You will find some whore to satisfy your needs.”
“You will. I will
be here alone and lonely, longing for your touch, and you will be paying some
prostitute to service you.”
He pulled her to
him and kissed her deeply, a long kiss which went on for minutes, which sent
shivers of longing throughout her body.
“I promise you,” he
said. “This is a holy battle for which I go to fight. There will be no woman
for hire. I would never do that to you; I have been faithful to you since the
day we met and can never be otherwise.”
But the seasons
changed, the bare branches sprouted green leaves, the spring blossom turned to
fruit and the grass grew longer, but still he did not come. The summer sun
warmed the walls of the house, the summer insects feasted on the people, the
children played in the river with their dogs to keep cool, yet still he did not
come. The mists of autumn dampened the air, frost covered the ground and turned
to heavy snow, yet still he did not come.
tormented her more even than missing him. In the small town stood a tall torch
reaching up into the sky, taller than any man. Every town had one; it was how
people learned of important news. When a new monarch was crowned for instance,
a torch would be lit in London and the people in the next town to see it would
light their own torch, and so on until the whole country knew there was great
news. Isabella eyed the torched enviously, wishing such a thing could be done
to tell her that her beloved was on his way home.
But she had no idea
if he had even landed in England or if he had contracted some foreign disease
and lie in a fever in some foreign house. He had not written, or if he had his
letter had gone astray, had failed to reach her.
She made sure she
was always ready for him. She had no wish for him to arrive and find her
unprepared to take up her role as his wife and his lover. She bathed each day
in rose scented water, despite the servants’ disapproval. She overheard them
muttering about having to carry the heavy water buckets up the staircase every
day, so she decided on a compromise.
“If you promise to
stop complaining,” she said with a smile, “I will have my bath in the small
sitting room. Just post someone beside the door to make certain I am not
disturbed, unless it is His Lordship who disturbs me, of course.”
The maids gave her
a puzzled frown. She knew they thought her overly familiar, but she was too
happy to be anything else. Neither of them smiled in return; they thought
bathing every day to be unhealthy, even believed it might make her ill. What
did they know about being ready for the man she loved, after such a long time?
worried while Philip was away that he might have grown weary of the celibate
life, might have taken an eastern woman to himself, to give him comfort during their
separation. He had promised her there would be no woman for hire, but he had
not promised there would not be a more virtuous woman, one who could be as a
wife to him. Or had he? That last night was vivid in her mind, but not for its
She would forgive
him if he had succumbed to temptation, because she loved him so much she would
forgive him anything, but she hoped he would not ask forgiveness. She
understood a virile man’s needs, how he would want the comfort of a woman, but
she would rather not know. As long as he was hers alone when he was here with
her, that was all she cared about.
She sat and watched
her daughter’s nurse as she struggled to brush Sarah’s hair, followed the
small, blonde head as it pulled away from her and the pouting lips of the
little girl. She was really too old now to need a nurse, but the woman had
grown to love Sarah and Isabella was not about to ask her to leave. Besides,
she hoped one day to need her services again, so she stayed on in the capacity
of maid to both Sarah and her mother.
She would be an
honoured guest at Sarah’s wedding regardless of the social distinction. She
loved Sarah and Sarah loved her.
said, “please be still for Nurse. It will all be over a lot quicker if you let
her do your plaits.”
The child folded
her arms and the pout grew stronger.
“Why must I have
father will be home any day and he wants to see the pretty girl he left behind,
not an untidy urchin he could not distinguish from a peasant.”
The girl eyed her
mother sceptically, but stopped squirming at last.
“You said that
yesterday,” she said, “and the day before. In fact you have said it every day
for weeks now, and still no sign of him.”
Isabella smiled at
the grown up way her daughter argued and wondered what Philip would think of
such adult talk from the child. She had allowed a lot of laxness since he went
away and now she wondered if she had done the right thing. She wanted and
needed someone to talk to, and her daughter had filled that role perhaps more
than she should have. She had allowed the child to gradually become more
forward than a girl her age had any right to be.
“He will come,” she
replied at last. “The Holy Land is very far away, it is a long journey and we
have no way of knowing when he left. We only know the King is on his way home
so your father will be close behind him.” She paused for a moment and waited
until the nurse had gathered her things and left the room. “Are you looking
forward to seeing him?”
The child shrugged.
“I hardly remember
him, Mother,” she said.
“It has been but
two years, Sarah. Hardly long enough to have forgotten him.”
Mother, I did not know him that well before he left. He is my father and I love
him, of course I do, but I did not really know him.”
Isabella felt her
lip crease in dismay. It had never occurred to her that Sarah would not know her
own father, but then she had been a child when he left and had little to do
with him. He was a good father, but his time was very much taken up with
running his estate. A son would have ridden out with him, got to know the
tenants and learned how to manage things himself when his time came. A daughter
was a different matter; she was groomed and trained to become someone’s wife,
to be somebody’s countess or even Duchess. She would not ride out with her
father to meet the tenants and learn the ways of running the estate; that was
Isabella had prayed
for a son with three pregnancies, but two of those pregnancies had ended in
frail little boys who lived but a few hours. Sarah was the only living child
she had managed to produce and she often wondered if Philip resented that,
although he always denied it. But she knew it to be one of his reasons for
joining this holy crusade; had he not told her so with his own lips?
She was so anxious for
his return, she could hardly recall what he had said or what she might have
imagined. Philip was always more devout than his wife, although she never told
him that, and he was convinced the Lord would bless him with a healthy son as a
reward. But there would be no son, healthy or otherwise, if he did not soon
return to share himself with her again.
He was also sure he
would spend less time in purgatory if he went to fight a holy war. That is what
all the crusaders had been told; that is why most of them had gone with the
King, with only a few whose main motive was to take back the Holy City. As far
as King Richard was concerned, any war was a war worth fighting and Saladin
must surely be a formidable foe to entice the King to agree to a truce. She had
heard a rumour that the King of France, with whom Richard had gone on this
crusade, had given up and gone home. It was likely King Richard realised the
futility of trying to take the city without him.
Now she felt that resentment
rising again. It had all been futile, no point in going at all when they were
only going to give up and go home. For two years she had been deprived of
Philip’s love, for two years his daughter had grown without his counsel and
guidance, all because of some war thousands of miles away.
But no more. As
soon as she got Philip home with her, she would make quite certain he would
never want to leave again.
She smiled at the
thought then turned to see Sarah watching her curiously, as though her mother’s
thoughts were showing on her face. She hoped they were not, for they were not
thoughts suitable for a child to see.
From the window she
could see the new mother mastiff playing with her litter in the yard. She
smiled at the scene. The puppies were so cute and two of them would be the
perfect gift for Philip when he returned. She had bred them specially, hoped he
would be home before they grew too big, and now she could not wait to see his
face when he saw them. The bitch was older now; it was high time to teach new
puppies how to hunt. They were fascinating to watch, to see how spontaneously
they followed their mother about as though afraid of letting her out of their
sight. Would Philip arrive in time to witness that, to savour the joy of seeing
the six baby dogs together with their mother? He loved that bitch; he would be
Isabella could only
hope there would be no more holy wars for him to fight; she did not want her
son risking his life in a futile war as well, and she was certain that this
time she could give her husband a son.
What right had
Christians to decide theirs was the right way to worship, anyway? Why was their
claim to Jerusalem greater than that of the Muslims or the Jews? It was
everybody’s ancient Holy place, not just theirs. She had heard the prophet
Mohammed had believed in sharing the city; why could they not do the same?
She watched Sarah
sorting through her embroidery silks for a few more moments before she heard
the sound of hooves trotting toward the house and her heart skipped painfully.
Philip! She turned to look down from the window in time to see the back of a
huge horse disappearing beneath the arch which led into the courtyard.
She lifted her
skirts and ran out of the chamber, down the spiral, stone staircase,
impatiently cursing the structure of the stones which made it impossible to
hurry. She did not stop for breath when she reached the ground, but rushed out
to the courtyard. She arrived just as the rider was dismounting, her heart
skipping with excitement and ready to throw herself into his arms, to be held
tightly against his chest, to feel those arousing kisses at last. But as the rider
turned, the disappointment almost overwhelmed her and she felt her muscles
There before her
stood the tall, dark figure of her husband’s cousin, Sir Roger Farley, who had
travelled with him to join the King on crusade two years ago. His black hair
was wet with grease and hung almost to his shoulders, his beard thick and
unkempt and his clothes were covered in dust and muck from the road. She hardly
Her eyes moved
passed him to the open gates, searching for the blonde head of her husband, her
senses keenly waiting to hear the sound of more hooves, but there was only
As Roger turned,
she noticed his sombre expression, the downturn of his lip beneath his
moustache, and she watched with mounting panic as he turned back to his horse
and removed the sword which hung from the saddle. She recognised it at once,
with its gold hilt and Whyford family crest, the embedded ruby glinting in the
“Roger?” She said
his name, taking a step toward him. Her glance moved passed him once more, into
the distant hills beyond, the empty hills beyond. “Where is Philip?”
answered, “I am so sorry.” He held the sword with its hilt away from him and
passed it to her, waited until she had clasped it in both her small hands
before bowing his head and taking a step backward. “Philip is dead.”