For the last several Mondays I’ve taken a look at issues that affect my latest novel, The Faithful Heart. We looked at how someone became a noble, who rally had the power, the crown or the nobles, and King Richard’s soap opera of a crusade. So, you might ask yourself, now that we know all these bits of history, how do they all come together to make a story? How does one take the facts and events of the past and weave them into fiction?
I’m proud to announce that the second book in The Noble Hearts trilogy, The Faithful Heart, was published yesterday and is now available wherever ebooks are sold. Here is a brief excerpt that incorporates several of the historical topics we’ve discussed….
The restlessness that had kept Jack tied in knots all day began to subside once he had some food in his belly, but the sense of being caught in a dream was as strong as ever. Madeline was there, right there by his side.
“Oy, you want some of these vegetables?” he asked, scooping a heaping spoonful from the bowl in front of him. “Only they’re not as good as a turnip mash, if you ask me,” he confided in her with a wink.
She laughed and blushed up to the tips of her ears. “Yes, please.” His heart plopped straight down to his nethers.
“I’ll have some too.” Lydia pushed her trencher towards him, bumping his arm as she did.
“Right. Here you go,” he served her with a smile. Madeline’s smile had faded when he glanced back to her. “What’s wrong, MP?” His chest tightened. “You don’t like them?”
“It’s not that.” Her voice was hardly a whisper.
A commotion at the far end of the room pulled his attention. A noble decked out in red and green wearing a thick chain around his neck and an empty sword belt strode into the room. He was flanked on either side by short, slight men who must have been his sons. Something about them looked familiar.
“Bloody hell,” he heard Crispin grumble as the men marched closer. He glanced to his friend with raised eyebrows as Crispin stood and cleared his throat. “Matlock.” He nodded to the older man, his face set with the same stony expression he had always worn when Buxton was giving him a hard time.
The name clicked in Jack’s mind. Matlock. He glanced to Madeline only to find her white as a ghost and cowering in her seat. That alone was enough for him to push his chair back and stand with a scowl to face the new guests.
“Huntingdon,” Matlock nodded.
“I am honored by your presence.” Crispin’s voice was cold and hard as steel.
“It is my pleasure,” Matlock replied as if it were anything but.
Every nob in the room watched the conversation holding their breath. Jack stole a glance at the high and mighty faces that filled with fearful admiration as they watched Matlock. He narrowed his eyes at the man, studying him.
“Please, join us for the feast.” Crispin gestured for the seats on the other side of Aubrey to his left.
The lords who had been sitting there jumped up and scurried away without question. Jack’s jaw hardened. Lydia sat straighter.
“I have not come for entertainment, my lord,” Matlock raised his voice so that everyone could hear him. “I have come for answers.”
Crispin stiffened, staring down at the man from the dais without flinching. “What answers do you seek?”
“The king has been given by Leopold of Austria to Henry, the Holy Roman Emperor,” Matlock spilled the beans. A chorus of gasps and whispers rose up from the assembly. “I understand he is to be ransomed and that Derbyshire is to bear part of the burden.”
“You are correct, Lord Stephen.” Crispin radiated fury. Matlock had stolen his thunder by making the announcement before Crispin could. Jack glanced back and forth between the two men, flexing his hand and making a fist that wanted to find a home in Matlock’s face.
“I wish to know what you plan to do about it,” Matlock pressed on. “I wish to know what you plan to do about the king’s ransom when you can’t even control a band of outlaws in the forest.”
Another murmur swirled up from the feasting nobles. Bloody hell.
“There will be a Council of Nobles,” Crispin dealt with the threat to his power by addressing the room as if everything was his idea. “In a fortnight. We will discuss both issues then.”
“At last. Action from the Earl of Derby. And here I thought you would carry on with Buxton’s habit of throwing parties when work needs to be done.” He glanced around at the tables piled with food and the minstrels with an exaggerated look of surprise. As he turned back to Crispin that look melted into a grin of satisfaction at one-upping Crispin in front of their peers.
“I don’t recall you ever missing one of Buxton’s entertainments, Lord Stephen,” Crispin volleyed the insult. “You were quite close, weren’t you?”
Matlock’s grin slipped. Jack swayed forward, eyes narrowed in hatred. Matlock turned to him with a sneer as if someone had let a mangy dog into the Great Hall.
His attempt at intimidation stopped short when he saw Madeline shrinking in the chair next to him. “I told you to go back to St. Mary’s girl!” he shouted at her.
Madeline squeaked and lowered her head.
“Oy! Where do you get off talking to her like that, mate!” Something in Jack snapped. He would have lunged at the man if the table hadn’t been between them.
Matlock stared fury at him. “How dare you address me like that, peasant!”
“I’m no peasant, I’m Lord John of Kedleridge!”
Matlock laughed in his face.
“Jack, don’t!” Madeline stood and grabbed his arm, trying to pull him to sit.
“Oh I see.” Matlock narrowed his eyes, his laugh becoming a disgusted sneer as he glanced between Jack and his daughter. “You’re an ambitious little peasant, but you’re still a peasant.”
“Madeline will stay where she likes.” Jack met the man’s eyes with a fierceness that wouldn’t be dismissed.
“Sister Mary Peter will be returned to the Abbey of St. Mary’s,” Matlock scoffed. “If for no other reason than to protect her from the lusts of presumptuous filth like you.”
Before Jack could counterattack Matlock turned and marched through the tables of gawking nobles and out of the room.
“Oy!” Jack shouted after him. “I’m not done with you!”
“Jack!” Crispin warned him. “Enough.”
“We lost the battle,” his friend’s voice dropped to a bass growl. “We can’t afford to lose the war.”
“That bloody, fucking wanker!” Jack vented his frustration a little too loudly. The whole room was buzzing and all eyes were on him. And Madeline.
“I think I need to go lie down.” Madeline folded her hands over her stomach as if she was on her way to prayers.
“You don’t have to listen to a word he says.” Frustration poured off of Jack as he reached to pull her into an embrace. “And you don’t have to go anywhere.”
She shrugged away from him, glancing around at their audience. “No, really Jack, I think it’s for the best.”
“Aw, but there’s gonna be dancing ‘n all.” He struggled to contain the swell of panic that pushed through him as the anger left. He’d made a serious mistake.
Madeline glanced down, her freckled face flushing. “I don’t know how to dance, Jack.”
“Aw, don’t be upset, mate.” He pushed his chair away, bumping into Lydia’s without noticing. “Let me walk you back to your room at least?” He didn’t know what else he could do. She nodded, trying to bring herself to smile, but couldn’t. “Right then,” he forced cheer and certainty into his voice. He held out his arm for her and she slipped her tiny hand into it. “You just show me where to go and I’ll take you there. You don’t even have to say nothing if you don’t want.”
A hint of a smile spread across her face at last, but she kept her eyes on the floor as he put his free hand over hers and escorted her around the tables of nosy nobs and out of the room.
Intrigued? There’s so much more story where that came from! Click below to go straight to Amazon.com to purchase The Faithful Heart.
But wait, you haven’t read the first book in the series, The Loyal Heart? You really need to read that first. Here’s the link to that one.
Both books are available wherever ebooks are sold, so if you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry.
And as an added bonus, I will give away a copy of either The Loyal Heart or The Faithful Heart to one lucky reader! Just leave a comment below and I’ll draw a winner from the Kleenex Box of Fate this coming Saturday.