Friday, 10 June 2011
This is an excerpt from my Medieval book coming out in December in HB and Feb next year in Paperback
Rosamunde looked down from the solar at the top of the tower, watching the activity in the courtyard below. The compound was filled with men, horses and dogs, because the hunting party had just returned. The huntsmen seemed to have been successful and there was evidence of more than one kill. That meant that Lady Meldreth and her women would be busy for a few days salting the flesh of wild boar into barrels for the winter, but most of the game and venison would be roasted for the feast the next day.
She was not yet thirteen years of age, but Rosamunde was accustomed to helping her mother in her still room; she kept accounts and embroidered hangings to keep the chill from the stone walls of her father’s keep. She was wise beyond her years and knew that Sir Randolph Meldreth was not as rich and successful as some of the knights he was entertaining. Behind her, she could hear her mother complaining.
‘If you do not watch your spending, husband, you will ruin us,’ she scolded. ‘The King is off to the crusades and you will earn no favours by entertaining him and his knights to a lavish feast. You would do better to save our money and wait until you see which way the wind blows. Prince John is to be Regent in Richard’s place and it is he you should seek to please now.’
‘Hush woman. Richard asked me to entertain his friends for a few days,’ Sir Randolph replied in his cheerful, easy manner. ‘It is an honour, wife. Besides, I cannot refuse. If my health did not prevent it, I should offer my sword to this holy cause and go with the King.’
‘Then I must thank God that you have the agues and cannot ride for days and weeks at a time,’ Lady Meldreth’s mouth turned down sourly. ‘The King may be gone for years and only God knows if he and his knights will ever return.’
Unwilling to listen to yet another quarrel between her parents, Rosamunde went quietly from the room. She walked down the narrow spiral staircase to the great hall below the solar. Some of the men were already spilling into the large room, laughing and talking excitedly as they boasted to one another of the day’s exploits. One of them had brought his dogs in with him and they were sniffing at the rushes, yelping and growling as they hunted for scraps that might have been tossed to the floor.
Suddenly, a small kitten rushed at one of the hounds and scratched its nose; it had obviously been startled by the arrival of the dogs and lashed out in fright. The great hound stared at it for a moment then growled and pounced, intending to crush it between its heavy jaws.
‘No, please, do not let the dog harm my kitty,’ Rosamunde cried and rushed towards them. Somehow the kitten had avoided capture thus far and she flung herself on it, clutching it to her breast as the dog snarled and jumped at her trying to reach its prey, its sharp teeth snapping inches from her face. ‘Get down you, brute. Leave my poor kitty alone.’
The dog saw only the kitten. It reared up on its hind legs to growl and bark as it attempted to grab its prey from her. Rosamunde screamed as the dog’s saliva dripped on her and its yellow fangs scraped her hand.
‘Down, you cur,’ a voice cried and then a youth, dressed in a short parti-tunic of blue and silver over black hose, caught hold of its collar and dragged it off her. The dog snarled and fought but the youth hauled it to the door and thrust it outside, where it could be heard barking fiercely.
Rosamunde ran to a corner of the hall and sat down on the stone floor, hunching her knees to her chest and hugging the terrified kitten. Tears trickled down her cheeks because she was frightened and her hand hurt where the dog’s fangs had scraped her skin.
‘Are you hurt, little mistress?’
Rosamunde glanced up as the youth spoke. He was perhaps sixteen or so and handsome, with dark blond hair and blue eyes. His mouth was wide and generous and there was concern in his eyes as he looked at her.
‘I thought he would kill my kitten,’ she said and wiped her hand over her cheek. ‘I’m not frightened for myself.’
‘Of course not,’ he said and smiled. ‘Did the dog’s teeth break the skin?’
Rosamunde showed him her hand. His fingers were gentle as they examined the red marks the dog’s fangs had made.
‘The brute has not drawn blood. I think you will not take harm from it.’
‘You were in time to save me,’ she said. ‘I thank you, sir. What is your name? Are you here because you’re going to the crusades?’
‘Aye, that is my reason for being here.’ His eyes lit up. ‘It is a wonderful chance for me to win glory and fame, and perhaps a knighthood. My father will not join the King’s cause but I think it an honour.’
‘Shall you fight the Saracens? My mother says they are fierce fighters and many will die in a foolish cause.’
‘We fight for a holy cause, little mistress,’ he said. ‘Your mother does not understand that men will gladly risk everything for such honour and glory.’
‘I do not think I should like you to be killed,’ Rosamunde said, looking at him shyly. ‘You are so brave. The hound could have bitten you but you did not think of yourself.’
‘It was nothing. I knew the dog was too strong for you. He would not have stopped until he had the kitten and, since you would not let go, you could have been seriously injured.’
‘Raphael. Here to me, sirrah. I need you.’
‘My master calls me,’ Raphael said. ‘Sir Harold of Fernshaw trained me his squire and I owe him allegiance. If it were not for him I should not have this opportunity. Excuse me, little mistress. I have work to do.’
‘My name is Rosamunde,’ she whispered but she did not know if he heard her. ‘When you return to England visit us again, sir. I shall be here waiting for you.’
The young man turned his head and smiled at her once more. Rosamunde’s heart raced, her breath quickening. She was only a child but the men would be many years at the crusades and by the time they returned she would be a woman.
Would Raphael remember her? She would never forget him but perhaps he believed her merely a child. His thoughts were only of the Holy Land and the adventures he would discover there.
‘Come back safely,’ she whispered as she stroked the kitten and kissed its soft head. ‘I shall not forget you, Raphael. One day I pray we shall meet again.’
Posted by Anne Herries Author at 06:25