17 November 2011

The Honor Due a King by N. Gemini Sasson

This week on Excerpt Thursday, we're welcoming historical author N. Gemini Sasson, as she celebrates the release of THE HONOR DUE A KING, the third book in her Robert the Bruce trilogy, set in 13th century Scotland. The novel is available now. Join us Sunday, when Gemi will be here to talk about her novel and give away a copy of her latest, AND the two prior books in the series, THE CROWN IN THE HEATHER and WORTH DYING FOR! Here's the blurb:

In the dawn of a kingdom, 

loyalties and lies collide. 

The truth will change England and Scotland forever.

In the triumphant aftermath of Bannockburn, Robert the Bruce faces unfamiliar battles. His wife Elizabeth, held captive in England for eight long years, has finally returned home to Scotland. With his marriage in ruin and hopes for an heir quickly fading, Robert vows to fulfill an oath from long ago—one which will not only bind his daughter to a man she does not love, but challenge the honor of his most trusted knight, James Douglas.

While Ireland falls to the Scots, King Edward II of England must contend with quarrelsome barons. Hugh Despenser is the one man who can give him both the loyalty and love he so desperately craves. War with France looms and Edward’s only chance at peace rests with his queen, Isabella—a woman who has every reason to seek her own revenge.

Tormented by his past, James returns to a solitary, ruthless life of raiding into the north of England. When a bewitching spy promises him the ultimate victory, James must weigh whether to unveil the truth and risk losing her love—or guard his secrets and forever preserve Robert’s faith in him.

**Excerpt from The Honor Due a King** 

(Ch. 2, Robert the Bruce - Melrose Abbey, 1314 … A few months after his victory at the Battle of Bannockburn, Robert the Bruce’s wife Elizabeth, who has been imprisoned in England for eight years, has just been returned to Scotland. She has fallen gravely ill on the journey and Robert is praying for her recovery.)
When not by Elizabeth’s side, I was in the barley fields beyond the abbey, one eye straining to focus on the broken barrel that served as my butt, the taut string of my bow cutting into my fingers and the fledging of an arrow tickling my cheek before I let it sing across the distance. But my arrows too often missed their mark, their points plowing into soft dirt. James attempted to join me one morning, retrieving the arrows scattered about the fallow field from the previous evening, but he soon sensed I was not in need of company and left me alone with my silence.
Cold whispered against my neck and I looked around to see the first snowflakes of the season falling. I tucked the last arrow back in my belt and dragged the corner of my cloak across a runny nose. All around, the world blended in shades of gray, transmuted between the faint light of a cloud-choked day and the heaviness of descending night. The faint silhouette of the abbey’s narrow belfry against a silver sky beckoned and I started back. At once, I stepped upon a frozen puddle, too lazy or lacking in care to go around it. The ice cracked and broke under my weight. Mud splattered over my leggings and frigid water seeped into my boots. Toes numb, I trudged across the snowy ground, up mossy stone steps and down the narrow corridor that led to Elizabeth’s room.
It was well past vespers when I nudged open the door. Instantly, I was assaulted with the caustic scent of lye mingled with a faint fumitory of pennyroyal. I put a hand over my nose until my senses grew accustomed to the odors. On a long, narrow table near the door sat an empty laver, a ewer full of water and a stack of folded, clean cloths. Wisps of smoke curled from the small piercings in the bell lid of a bronze incense brazier which was topped with a small, leaning cross, tingeing the air with the sweetness of rosemary and cloves.
On the far side of the room, a small hearth contained the flames of a well-fed fire. The stones around it bore little trace of soot, indicating that the abbot must not have used it often, probably thinking the luxury too much of an indulgence when wood could be used to cook food or warm the sick.
The abbot had afforded himself one comfort and that was a large four-postered bed, its mattress plump with feathers and encased in undyed canvas. Cocooned beneath layers of linen sheets and woolen blankets lay my Elizabeth, her head propped against a dark blue bolster.
If not for Gruoch’s snoring, I might not have seen her lying in the shadows on her pallet between the door and the bed. I crept toward Elizabeth’s sleeping form and stood at the side of her bed. Barely, slowly, her chest rose and fell. A ragged tendril of hair, damp with sweat, lay crookedly from her hairline to the corner of her mouth. I pushed it away, the backs of my fingers lingering at her jawline.
Dear God in Heaven, don’t . . . please don’t take her from me. Not after bringing her back. Not after so long without her.
I wanted to kneel beside her and lay my hand over hers, but instead I turned back toward the door. An indrawn breath, ragged but deep, stalled me.
“Will you go . . .” came a hoarse voice, “without a kiss?”
When I first turned to look, her eyes were closed. Surely I had dreamed the words? But then her lashes fluttered and parted.
“Turnberry,” she said meekly, curling her fingers over the edge of her blanket. “Will you take me there?”
I returned to her and sought her hand. “Aye. In time.”
Elizabeth turned her face away, but when she looked back at me, I could see the heartache of eight long years behind those once vibrant green eyes. “When?”
“Soon, my love. Soon.” The coolness of her cheek as I kissed it reassured me that the fever had at last left her. “The sea air is brisk this time of year, but perhaps it will refresh you.”
“It has been so long, Robert. So long.” Her mouth trembled. “I hardly know what to make of everything that has happened. What to say . . . Where to begin, even.”
Begin? Why not now, today . . . this very moment?
In truth, though, I knew it would not be so easy. We were strangers, she and I, in ways as yet unknown to us both. God knows I had changed—and not so certainly for the better.
I knelt at her bedside and cupped her hands between mine. “We have many years still ahead of us, sweet Elizabeth. Many, many years.”