28 March 2013

Excerpt Thursday: Bladesong by Jean Gill

This week, we're welcoming author Jean Gill, whose latest title is Bladesong, book two of  The Troubadours series. Join us on Sunday, when the author will offer a free copy of the book to a lucky blog visitor. Here's the blurb:    

1151 – the Holy Land during a fragile peace

Estela, the troubadour, following the destiny of her beautiful voice, and Dragonetz, her passionate knight; divided by the times they love in.

Dragonetz is imprisoned in Damascus, his military prowess as valuable and dangerous to the balance of power as the priceless Torah he has  to deliver to Jerusalem.

Can Estela get him out alive, despite Nur-ad-Din, the Muslim Atabeg; Melisende, the Queen of Jerusalem; and an avenger from the past?

Will she still want to, when she knows what they’ve done to him?

On the run from abuse, Estela wakes in a ditch with only her lute, her amazing voice, and a dagger hidden in her petticoats. Her talent finds a patron in Alienor of Aquitaine and more than a music tutor in the Queen's finest troubadour and Commander of the Guard, Dragonetz los Pros. Weary of war, Dragonetz uses Jewish money and Moorish expertise to build that most modern of inventions, a papermill, arousing the wrath of the Church. Their enemies gather, ready to light the political and religious powder-keg of medieval Narbonne. 

**An Excerpt from Bladesong**

Chapter Two

While her lover Dragonetz is on a mission in the Holy Land, Estela is a troubadour at the court of Dia, accompanied by her men-at-arms Raoulf and Gilles, and by a huge white dog …

It took both Raoulf and Gilles to drag Nici away from Estela and lock him in another room so the midwife could get anywhere near her, and it was just as well they were wearing gauntlets, boots and leather jerkins. Estela could still hear Nici’s furious scratching at the door and outraged yelps at being shut away from his mistress when she clearly needed him.
She had known when she woke in a pool of liquid that it was time to send for the midwife and, after a scurry of servants, Bèatriz’ women had ushered her to a chamber well away from the daily bustle of castle life. The purpose of the room was clear enough. Apart from the blazing fire, which barely took the chill off the air, there was a bed, a birthing stool, chamber-pot, wash-stand and ewer.
In her own home, the mattress would have been stuffed with our lady’s bedstraw and the fire strewn with juniper branches but Estela didn’t know what herbs were used here, if any. The only light came from the fire and the pitch torches on the wall, as if the business of birthing should be in darkness, like the act that produced it.
Estela’s gloom deepened into panic as her body spasmed. She had a rough idea of what would happen, thanks to visits with her mother, a healer, and thanks to a Moorish physician, who’d held science above prudery and discussed medicine with her. If only her mother or Malik could have been with her now, instead of women whose names she could barely remember. She hadn’t felt so alone since she’d woken in a ditch after running away from home.
And then Nici appeared as if by magic, bounding to her side, anxious brown eyes and insistent tongue, her only friend now as then, licking the salt of her tears as she indulged in self-pity. In between the waves that racked her, Estela trailed her hands in the coarse white fur but when the midwife arrived, Nici made it clear that no-one was going to touch his mistress when she was so clearly vulnerable and incapable of making any decision. It was unquestionably his job to take charge.
Usually an easy-going lump of a dog, who was as happy milling around with any of the hunting packs as he was dozing hopefully under a trestle table at meal-time, Nici was unrecognizable. Hackles raised, eyes bright as pebbles in water, he fixed the midwife with an inimical glare.
The midwife made it equally clear that she was leaving unless someone removed the growling monster from the room. Helpless with contractions, Estela’s half-hearted attempts to reassure Nici seemed merely to convince him that she was not herself.
At which point, Raoulf and Gilles braved women’s territory and took matters into their own gauntlets, ignoring the scandalised squeaks of the attendant women as much as the furious complaints of the huge dog, whose muffled barking from his solitary confinement accompanied Estela’s involuntary shouts of pain.
‘Jasmine oil,’ she begged the midwife, whose face looked like a child’s dough sculpture, lumpy and white, with raisin eyes. Eyes that narrowed, weighing her up. In the birthing chamber, the only queen was the midwife, whatever the rank of the mother-to-be.
‘Jasmine oil,’ the midwife repeated flatly.
Estela couldn’t keep the desperation out of her voice as she felt the beginning of another wave. No longer a baby kicking; more like a herd of horses pounding her into the dust. ‘Inhaling oil of jasmine helps with the pain...’ she tailed off, biting her lip bloody and doubling over, half-falling onto the bed.
‘Well we don’t hold with such fancy things here and babies get born just the same. You’ll manage,’ stated the midwife, moving Estela to the birthing chair to see how wide open she’d become.
Estela felt the screams rising as if they belonged to someone else, except that Nici joined in, so they must be hers. She knew Raoulf and Gilles were just outside the door, hers in a way that none of these women were, and she was overwhelmed by longing to call them in, to grab onto a hand of each, to anchor her body in this world to the rock of their loyalty. To have them with her when she brought Dragonetz’ baby into the world.
 She almost called them but enough thought remained to know she mustn’t. This dour woman was her baby’s herald, able to doom - or bless - him or her with a word. Let it be said that men had been at the birth and the baby would be cursed, hag-ridden, switched, any of a thousand insinuations that would make themselves into truth. Men would cross themselves and avoid touching such an ill-fated child, and if he sickened from so much as gum-fever, it would be the devil’s work and no-one would lift a hand to make him better.
Estela knew the way people’s minds worked. When visiting cottages with her mother, with salves and potions, she’d listened to the rhymes and prayers that her mother advocated applying with the medicaments, knowing that the patients’ minds played a part in the healing. So Estela gripped the chair arms instead of her friends’. She would bring this baby into the world, whatever it cost her.
Hours, days or years later, adrift and dazed in the distinction between more pain and less pain, exhausted beyond obeying the midwife’s impossible instructions, Estela nevertheless realised that the purse-mouthed enemy was about to stick some kind of irons into her most tender parts, irons more suited to turn a pig on a spit than a baby in its mother.
Bursting her lungs, Estela screamed and pushed one last time, Nici no longer barking but howling with her, a wolf-call of solidarity. The irons were dropped on the stone flags as the midwife caught the baby and, astonishingly, smiled up at Estela.

Want to read more?

Bladesong is available from Amazon and in all ebook formats from Smashwords.   Also available in print from Lulu

Book one, Song at Dawn, won the Global Ebooks Award for Best Historical Fiction
'Believable, page-turning and memorable' - S.P.Review 

Jean Gill is a Welsh writer and photographer living in the south of France with a big white dog, a Nikon D700 and a man. For many years, she taught English in Wales and was the first woman to be a secondary headteacher in Carmarthenshire. She is mother or stepmother to five children.

Publications are varied, including prize-winning poetry and novels, military history, translated books on dog training, and a cookery book on goat cheese. With Scottish parents, an English birthplace and French residence, she can usually support the winning team on most sporting occasions.

Follow jean on twitter @writerjeangill

Join the Troubadours on Facebook 

Have fun with the Troubadours on TV Tropes   

Jean says:

I love hearing from readers so feel free to mail me at jean.gill@wanadoo.fr with comments or questions. You'll find a mix of my work, along with fun trivia about books, at www.jeangill.com My photo portfolio is at www.istockphoto.com/jeangill and I blog at www.jeangill.blogspot.com I sometimes accept guest bloggers so get in touch.

GIVEAWAY to readers of Unusual Historicals blog; a signed copy of Bladesong by Jean Gill by random draw. If you can find the time to post a review, whether on Smashwords, Amazon, Goodreads, your blog, wherever, Jean will be very grateful.