My novel is a three-volume historical fiction set in Medieval England (the 13th century).
(I’ve long had titles I thought were perfect for both the series and each book within it. More and more, though, I’m questioning their fit. As such, for now, my work will remain untitled.)
In 13th century England, a low-ranked lady with shrewd political and household management skills takes a secret job with a baron helping smooth his succession as a means of escaping her abusive father and securing a husband.
Women’s fiction; political; slight hints of fantasy (related to the unnatural phenomena people believed in during the medieval times); not a capital-R Romance novel, although it does contain some romantic elements
The first draft of all three books is complete. I’m currently revising the first book in preparation for future submission.
The Hostage, by Edmund Leighton (1852-1922). Not the eponymous subject of the painting itself, but rather the woman in the background with her head covered; the one staring directly at the viewer.
Lord Edward Terrin slowly closed the gap between us, his eyes never leaving me.
“I don’t still frighten you do I, Lady Aline?” he asked. “Of course, every lord expects some fear—and much obedience—from all the vassals beneath him. But I was certain you understood that as a person, albeit a person with two different colored eyes, I mean you no harm. Especially since I want you to come work for me.”
“Work for—?” I broke off, shaking my head. He was right in part: despite being alone with him in a garden, defenseless in the dead of nighttime, his eyes had since become the most menacing aspect of the situation. “Do I not already work for my lord through my efforts as the lady of Peak Castle? Don’t all vassals of Calderham work for my lord in all their varied capacities?”
“You all work for my father, the baron. What I want is for you to work solely for me.”
I spread my hands, at a loss. “Doing what?”
Lord Edward fell silent. He bent to retrieve the floral chaplet I’d dropped and began twisting it around in his hands.
“Lady, are you aware that my father is on his deathbed?” he eventually asked. Another cloud drifted overtop the moon as he spoke. Once again, his face withdrew into shadows, causing his words to arise, rather appropriately, like a voice from beyond the grave.
“I am aware of Lord Terrin’s imminent departure,” I replied.
“And do you know what happens after that?”
“After that, my lord will succeed Lord Terrin as his rightful heir and become the new baron of Calderham.”
The moon returned and lit the white of the flowers and Lord Edward’s hands as he continued to worry at the chaplet. “After that,” he said, his demeanor grim, “‘my lord’ is legally entitled to lay claim to his father’s lands, and if nothing else, to succeed him in name upon paying the relief fee to the earl.
“But do you know what else sometimes happens when a lord dies? Sometimes it steels the hearts of his rivals—some of them legitimate, but all of them opportunistic—who then set their sights upon his heir. They would slice up that heir’s inheritance like meat from a spit if they could, if not each devour the entire haunch himself. And that’s without one’s father being a usurper.”
I clapped my hands to my mouth in astonishment. “There are claimants to parts of Calderham?”
Lord Edward just looked at me, both of his eyes dark with disbelief.
“I mean besides the obvious,” I amended.
Lord Edward sighed. “His vehemence notwithstanding, the Baron of Bradford is probably the least prepared person to move against me right now. My father’s ruinous campaign in Normandy, as well as ongoing raids of Bradford’s lands by the lords of Wentham and Balceter, have seen to that. You do know about Calderham’s alliance with Wentham and Balceter? You should; it was your father who came up with the idea, and who conducted the early negotiations to assess its feasibility.”
“In truth, my lord, the idea of a northern alliance to help keep Bradford at bay belonged to me.” My first official act as Peak’s lady of the household had been to persuade Sir Ellis to put the suggestion to Sir Gérard, who in turn communicated it to Lord Terrin. My second act had been to oversee all of Sir Ellis’s meetings at Peak with the two intractable and intimidating northern lords.
“There! You see?” Lord Edward shook the chaplet in one fist as if the flowers had tried to argue with him. “I was right to inquire about this with you. You possess the very skills and attributes I require. I’ll succeed my father; of that I’m certain. But who’s to say how much of Calderham will remain for me to rule over when I do?”
“But who are these other, less beleaguered competitors of my lord’s, plotting to seize his lands as we speak?”
Near the garden’s entrance, from within one of the fruit trees, an owl echoed a high-pitched, shortened version of my query.
“That, Lady Aline, is what I want you to tell me. Identify all my potential rivals and assist me in eliminating them. Make me the baron of all of Calderham, at all costs. Do this for me, and I’ll reward you in the manner of your choosing. Anything—” Lord Edward paused and proffered my chaplet back to me, “—except for the crown of a baroness.”
It was my turn to fall silent, my heart speeding up. A desire to examine Lord Edward’s offer more closely warred against the instinct to reject it as a grand jape. He didn’t look to be jesting, though. Nor could I envisage such sport with someone he’d only just met under nowhere near the best of circumstances.
“How am I supposed to do that?” I asked. “How could I possibly figure out who in all the county represents a threat to my lord’s inheritance?”
“Who am I to instruct you in matters not unlike those you already deal with daily? I doubt I even know half of what you ladies do to keep a man’s holdings intact. What I do know, however, is that you’re the lady of Peak Castle, so that makes you one of the best.”