02 May 2013

Excerpt Thursday: The Fifth Knight by E.M. Powell

This week, we're welcoming author E.M. Powell with her latest title, The Fifth Knight,  a #1 Amazon Bestseller in Historical and Action & Adventure.   Join us on Sunday, when the author will offer a free paperback copy of the book to a lucky blog visitor. Here's the blurb:

To escape a lifetime of poverty, mercenary Sir Benedict Palmer agrees to one final, lucrative job: help King Henry II’s knights seize the traitor Archbishop Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. But what begins as a clandestine arrest ends in cold-blooded murder. And when Fitzurse, the knights’ ringleader, kidnaps Theodosia, a beautiful young nun who witnessed the crime, Palmer can sit silently by no longer. For not only is Theodosia’s virtue at stake, so too is the secret she unknowingly carries—a secret he knows Fitzurse will torture out of her. Now Palmer and Theodosia are on the run, strangers from different worlds forced to rely only on each other as they race to uncover the hidden motive behind Becket’s grisly murder—and the shocking truth that could destroy a kingdom.

**An Excerpt from The Fifth Knight**
Chapter 2, as the knights approach Canterbury
“How much longer till we get there?” Palmer asked le Bret, the driver of their small tarpaulin-covered cart.
Ahead, down a long, straight featureless highway, with winter-empty ploughed fields on either side, lay the town of Canterbury. The storms of two days ago had been replaced by clear skies and ice on the air, making easier progress along the mud-churned road. Plumes of grayish white smoke rose from hundreds of hearths and hung above the distant roofs, shrouding the cathedral’s huge towers.
Le Bret shrugged. “Hour. Two, maybe.”
“Good,” said Palmer. “My backside’s sick of this seat.” He shifted to stretch his deadened legs and nodded to where the other three knights led the way on horseback. “I’d rather ride any day. Keeps you moving. And warm.” He pulled his thick woolen neckerchief tighter to keep the afternoon’s deepening chill at bay.
Le Bret shrugged again. “Need the cart. Fitzurse says so.”
“What for?”
“Don’t know.”
Palmer shook his head to himself. Le Bret didn’t know much.
“You there!” De Tracy’s shout carried across the frozen fields. “Make haste and stand aside.”
Palmer leaned to one side to see past his mounted companions. Shortly ahead on the roadway on the left side were two men, ragged laborers mending a wide gap in the hedge by laying new pleachers. Piles of dead branches and shorn evergreens spilled partly on to the road. Both men looked up at the order and dropped their billhooks at once. They bent to scoop the trimmings back up onto the ditch, scrabbling low in their haste.
As the knights on horseback went past, the men snatched their coarse dark woolen caps off and bowed their heads.
Palmer’s rumbling cart drew level. One of the ragged men risked a glance up, then dropped his gaze abruptly again.
“Sorry sirs,” he muttered, eyes fixed low on the muddy wheels.
Neither Palmer nor le Bret acknowledged him.
“Stupid peasant,” said le Bret as they carried on.
Palmer glanced back around the canvas cover. The men had replaced their hats and were re-ordering their work, gesturing angrily to each other. He faced forward again. “He should have better manners. But they’ve a job to do with that hedge.”
Le Bret smirked. “You a clod-grubber, Palmer?"
“Better that than the son of a gargoyle and a whore. Go grab yourself, le Bret.” But Palmer was born a clod-grubber, with no land, no money. He’d hedged, ditched, picked stones from behind a plough, pitching them into a basket on his back until his five year old knees would near give way. Unblocked privies, carried hay on his shoulders. Always following behind his weak, meek father, trying to earn enough to feed them as well as his mother and his sisters. And never succeeding. Like the men on the side of the road, he’d lived in rags, feet numb and frost-bitten in split, useless tatters of boots. He too had snatched off his cap a thousand times to his betters.
Palmer took a last look back at the two men bent low at their back-breaking task. There would come a day when they couldn’t do it anymore, when illness or old age or a slipped billhook would rob them of their pitiful livelihood. He settled himself onto the hard seat again. He wouldn’t have to face that fate, not any more. Once he’d finished his work for Fitzurse, he’d never know poverty again.

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Twitter: @empowellauthor