910AD, a convent in Mercia in 'England'
Someone pounded on her cell door. “Wake up, Lady Eadlin! Wake up!”
Eadlin shook her head to clear her sleep-befuddled mind. “Cenric! What’s wrong?” Dread balled in her stomach.
She tugged her habit over her shift and wrenched the door open.
Cenric burst in. He held a sword and small knife. His face was grim, set into harsh furrows.
“Raiders, Lady Eadlin. You must flee at once. They’re in the village and heading this way.”
Now Eadlin could hear distant screams and shouting. The acrid smell of smoke floated on the night air.
Fingers of fear crept amongst her guts like ice spreading across a pond in winter. “I can’t leave the sisters. Can we defend ourselves?”
His jaw dropped. “Not against armed raiders.”
“Are they Vikings?” Her words were high-pitched and breathless.
“Probably.” His voice was severe.
Her heart pounded in terror. Oh God, not that! Eadlin pulled on her veil and boots then upended her reed mattress and took an ancient engraved dagger from beneath it.
The old warrior gestured at her with his sword. “You would prefer to die defending them?”
He grimaced in distaste. “Then get them into the chapel. It’s the strongest building.”
Eadlin ran out to beat on the doors of the nuns’ rooms yelling, “Vikings! Go to the chapel!”
The abbess, veil askew, joined her in shepherding the sisters into the stone building adjacent to their sleeping quarters. A few squat candles burnt on the altar, casting ghoulish shadows across the walls.
Fear haunted the abbess’ eyes, but her voice held its usual calm and commanding tone.
Cenric secured the door and stood ready with his sword. As he waited he pleaded, “Flee, Lady Eadlin, flee! There’s still time! It’s what your father would want you to do. Go while you can!”
Blood pounded loud in her ears. He was asking her to abandon these gentle women who took her in, to leave them defenceless. “I can’t, Cenric. There’s nowhere to go. This is my home, and this is my family now.”
Sounds of timber splintering and pottery breaking shattered the air. A dozen nuns huddled on their knees before the altar.
The abbess led them in prayer, “Domine, libera nos a furore normannorum….” Lord, save us from the fury of the northmen, but most, Eadlin saw, were distracted by the screaming and shouting coming from the village across the river and the noise outside the chapel door.
Some sobbed, and Sister Ælthgifu held a trembling novice in her arms.
The door to the chapel reverberated with the force of a shoulder or foot against it.
“Open the door or die!” yelled the attacker in English, his voice harsh and authoritative.
Surprised, Eadlin exchanged a glance with Cenric across the doorway.
Who were these attackers who spoke their language?
Were they the king’s men, come for her, or were they Vikings as Cenric had thought?
Neither she nor Cenric moved. Either way, danger stood beyond the door and would be in the chapel soon enough without their aiding it.
In seconds the cleaved door hung tattered from its hinges, and their attacker towered before them.
He was tall. Very tall.
His form filled the doorway.
Smoke and the sweet tang of blood clung to him. An iron helmet with nosepiece and a ragged blond beard hid all but his cold blue eyes, harsh cheeks, and bitter mouth.
Eadlin knew then-
#romance, #historicalromance, #Viking, #HistoricalFiction, #historical
Here's an excerpt from the third short story in Forbidden Valentines - 'George'.
I've posted excerpts from the first two stories on Facebook already see; https://www.facebook.com/IsabellaHargreavesBooks/.
“Stop tidying, George, and get to bed.”
“Oui, my lord.”
“Don’t ‘my lord me’. Come here.”
George banged around in the dressing room a little longer, closing wardrobe doors, before exiting to respond to James’s order. “Yes, my lord? Is there something more I can do for you this evening?” George raised an eyebrow.
James’s heart beat strongly in his chest. “Come here, I said.”
George stepped to him and waited with a look of enquiry.
“There is something you can do for me.” James tugged on the black stock at George’s neck. It fell open on the shirt.
George glanced down at the material then raised dark eyes to James with a questioning look and a half smile.
James pushed the black coat from George’s narrow shoulders. It fell unhindered to the floor. “Not going to pick that up, George?” he taunted.
“Non.” George watched him intently.
“Lady Helena, I have come with a proposal.”
“For a business venture?” She acted intentionally obtuse.
“No – of marriage, your ladyship.”
“But we have just established we are barely acquainted. How can you propose marriage?”
“It’s for that very reason that I believe we should marry.”
She must have looked askance at him because he explained, “Marriage is a great journey through life, during which two people come to know each other intimately. The difficulty, I believe, is that when people marry knowing each other well already, they ruin the journey. Whereas, if we were to marry knowing nothing about each other, then we would have our whole lives to discover the other person.”
He seemed perfectly serious in his belief.
“I take the opposite view, I’m afraid, Sir Hercules. I believe that people marry before knowing the right things about each other.”
However, his was an intriguing argument. One she had not heard before from any of the army of fortune-hunters who had pursued her wealth and proclaimed a great love for her.
She made a spur-of-the-moment decision – not something she did often – and decided to assess his suitability, although she knew nothing about him.
He looked about to argue their differing viewpoints so she forestalled him. “You haven’t yet proposed to me,” she reminded him.
“Would you consider me if I did? If not, I won’t take that honour upon myself.” He gave a cheeky smile.
Intriguing though he was, she kept her manner sombre. “Should you propose, I will take your offer seriously and give you a considered answer after we have gotten to know each other better.”
“In that case…” He dropped to one knee in front of her and taking her hand in his said, “Lady Helena Tremoyne, will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?” He smiled in his beguiling way.
This time, she couldn’t help but return his smile. “As soon as I have made my decision, I will inform you, but it may take a week or two. Now we must get to know each other and to achieve that there are some social events to which I would like you to accompany me.”
“I am at your disposal, Lady Helena.” He flashed another charming smile.
“Good. Do you have a carriage?”
“Never mind, I have two. This afternoon you will accompany me in my landau for the circuit around Hyde Park, at the fashionable hour.”
“I will?” He looked bemused.
“You shall. Please arrive promptly.”
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