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Excerpt Thursday: The Handfasted Wife by Carol McGrath
This week, we're pleased to welcome author Carol McGrath, whose latest novel THE HANDFASTED WIFEis set during the Norman Conquest period. Join us on Sunday, when the author will offer a free copy of The Handfasted Wife to a lucky blog visitor. Here's the blurb:
Harold loves Elditha, his beautiful handfasted wife for many years,
and she loves him back. It is Christmas 1065. When aging King Edward
dies Elditha’s husband is elected king. To her horror she is set
aside for a marriage which will unite north and south against a
Norman threat. But the Conqueror swoops over the channel, burns
English lands and destroys King Harold. Can Elditha protect her
family from the Conqueror’s wrath?
**An Excerpt from The Handfasted Wife**
women clutched each other, weeping. They could hear people dragging
trestles across the flagstones in the hall. Soldiers began banging
on the great front door.
clung to his mother’s hand.
said, ‘I’m going down.’
snatched at her skirt with his other small hand. For a moment she
froze, afraid for them all. Determination crept back into her voice,
‘Margaret, hold on to Ulf.’ She handed him to the nurse and
pulled her cloak about her shoulders.
The calls continued. ‘Putain, putain!’
And in English, they bellowed, ‘Harold’s whore, come out.’
Holding her head high, she walked down the staircase into the crowd
of servants, men, women and children who had already sought the
shelter of the hall.
huddled behind pillars. Others clung to their mothers. Everyone
turned to watch her pass. She saw her linen table covers in a heap
amongst rushes on the flagstones. Wooden bowls had toppled from
trestles which had been dragged away to make barricades. Dogs
whimpered and cowered in corners.
Again and again, their chant penetrated the great door, ‘Concubine,
concubine, come out.’
Guthlac ordered the men to pull more
trestles against the door. Brother Francis sank against a pillar
crying, shaking and sweating and holding aloft a great wooden cross
that hung around his neck. There wasn’t a fighting man left in the
they all out there?’ she said.
none of them in here!’ Guthlac exclaimed. ‘Go back up to your
women, my lady.’
pushed him aside. ‘Let me through, Guthlac, and Brother Francis,
glanced past her to the priest. ‘Some luck that one will bring!’
firebrand of rushes was shot into an opening; another and another and
another. Hangings caught fire. Everyone began running. They tried to
beat out the fire with linen cloths. More and more burning torches
flew through window openings. The villagers ran along the wall
beating at flames but to no avail. The flames took hold and snatched
at banners, devouring them in a red-and-gold blaze.
out for the shields!’ Guthlac yelled and pulled Elditha towards
A shield with a great dragon painted on it came crashing down. The
fire raced, eating into tapestries and hangings as it flew. Children
were pulled from chests and clasped close to their mothers. Hounds
went mad, barking and growling, snapping, wildly shaking the bells on
their collars. Everyone coughed and spluttered as smoke rose in the
hall. Those who could lay their hands on a ladle or a pitcher ran
back and forth from the vat that stood by the central hearth. They
hurled water at the flames. It was hopeless.
grasped at Elditha’s swan pennant and Harold’s warrior,
swallowing feathered bird and fighting man. Small fires began to
flare up, catching at the straw strewn over the flagstones. Smoke
thickened in dark, suffocating plumes.
Elditha’s ladies hurried down the stairway clutching veils over
their faces. They ran with the crowd to the entrance. Elditha
screamed at Guthlac. ‘Let my ladies out.’ Then she cried, ‘Where
is my son?’