14 August 2014
Excerpt Thursday: FIRE & SWORD by Louise Turner
This week, we're pleased to welcome author LOUISE TURNER with her latest novel, FIRE & SWORD. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. The author will offer a free copy of Fire & Sword in ebook format from Amazon to a lucky blog visitor. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.
On the 11th June in 1488, two armies meet in battle at Sauchieburn, near Stirling. One fights for King James the Third of Scotland, the other is loyal to his eldest son, Prince James, Duke of Rothesay.
Soon, James the Third is dead, murdered as he flees the field. His army is routed. Among the dead is Sir Thomas Sempill of Ellestoun, Sheriff of Renfrew, whose son and heir, John, escapes with his life.
Once John’s career as knight and courtier seemed assured. But with the death of his king, his situation is fragile. He’s the only surviving son of the Sempill line and he’s unmarried. If he hopes to survive, John must try and win favour with the new king.
And deal with the ruthless and powerful Lord Montgomerie...
**An Excerpt from Fire & Sword**
His parents stood with their guest by the fireplace: his father Sir Thomas Sempill, spared him no more than a brief glance, while his mother Elizabeth Ross was too absorbed even to acknowledge his arrival. Her neglect went unnoticed; of far greater interest to John was the man who stood with them: the Lord Montgomerie.
John had heard of Hugh Montgomerie. There wasn’t a soul in the Westland who hadn’t. Over the last few years, Lord Hugh had earned quite a reputation as an arsonist, a murderer, and an abuser of the King’s laws.
It was impolite to stare, but John stared regardless. He’d expected Hugh Montgomerie to be a big scowling hulk of a man; instead, the much-feared Butcher of Eglintoun was a long lean creature with a pale imperious face and dark hair hanging about his shoulders. Montgomerie could only have been thirty or thereabouts, but already he carried himself with the measured elegance of a seasoned courtier.
Before John knew it, Montgomerie’s gaze was on him. It was too late to look away; it was as if in that brief moment, the cold grey eyes had bored right through him.
“It would be splendid to have another son,” Montgomerie said. “I’d welcome a Bishop in the family. Perhaps even a Cardinal! But I mustn’t be selfish. I already have my heir, and my wife would relish a daughter. Rest assured, Lady Elizabeth, that I’ll greet whatever God sends me with a cheerful face and a joyful heart.” He smiled and leaned closer to Lady Elizabeth, who clapped her hands and laughed in coy delight.
“Ah, there you are, John,” Sir Thomas Sempill said. “I’m glad Marion caught you before you disappeared with the hounds.” He grasped John’s arm and steered him before Montgomerie. “You’ve not met my son, my lord?”
“No, I haven’t yet had the pleasure,” said Montgomerie. “Good day to you, Master Sempill.”
“Good day, my lord,” John replied. Looking at their guest, he sensed a restless undercurrent beneath the polished facade. Given the right circumstances, he supposed it might erupt into violence.
For once, then, he’d met a man whose reputation was justified. As he watched his father usher Montgomerie to the stair, exchanging token pleasantries all the while, John wasn’t sure if he should be impressed, or alarmed.
It was already late morning, but the day had not yet dawned in the laird’s chamber, where the shutters were closed against the cold. Flames roared high in the fireplace, and candles blazed in every corner, a forlorn attempt to hold back the darkness. The black, heavy beams of the ceiling only added to the wintry gloom of the place. But first impressions were deceptive. John looked up and couldn’t resist a smile, for lining every joist and timber were painted strings of flowers and leaves. They lifted the heart, glowing like stars in the velvet black of a midwinter sky, a delicate detail lost on those who gave the room no more than a casual inspection.
“Fetch our guest some wine.” Sir Thomas sat down in a heavy chair beside the fire. He was fifty years old, strong and proud. The thick mane of tawny gold hair he’d once borne had faded largely to silver, but his face remained smooth, flawless, as if untouched by time.
Wine had been left on the carved wooden kist by the far wall, next to the vast curtained bed that dominated the room. John poured two measures, one for his father, one for their guest.
His father gestured to a nearby chair. “Please be seated, my lord.”
“I’d rather stand.” Montgomerie halted with his back to the fire, hand resting on his sword hilt.
“As you wish.” Sempill’s neutral expression did not waver.
“Your wine, Lord Hugh.” John delivered the goblet into Montgomerie’s ring-encrusted fingers.
“Thank you so very much.” Montgomerie’s smile didn’t quite reach his eyes.
“Sit down, John.” Sir Thomas snatched the remaining goblet from John’s grasp.
Stifling a sigh, John settled in an unobtrusive spot by the window. A sliver of clear bright blue was visible through a gap in the shutters; he stared at it transfixed until the frustration grew too much and he slumped against the panelling, arms folded.
“I can guess what brings you here,” Sir Thomas Sempill said. “I hope you’ve come seeking guidance.”
“I don’t need guidance.”
“Then why are you here?”
“You helped me in the past,” Montgomerie said. “I don’t forget such favours.”
Sempill gave a mirthless snort. “So you’re not entirely bereft of honour? That’s comforting to know.”
Hearing the disdain in his father’s voice, John sat up, his resentment forgotton. He swivelled unobtrusively round, planting his feet square before him and clasping his hands loosely in his lap.
“I won’t waste your time, Sir Thomas. Argyll’s washed his hands of King James now. He’s backing the Prince. So am I.”
“Do you think that’s enough to make the Sempills ride with you?”
“I thought you might consider not riding against me.”
“This is treason, Hugh. It’ll give Kilmaurs the excuse he needs to hang you.”
“I’ve nothing to fear. There’s too many of us.”
“What have they offered you?” Sir Thomas Sempill’s voice was chill. “A remission for the burning of Kerrielaw? Or Cunninghame of Kilmaurs’ head on a platter?”
“You malign me. It’s the fate of the kingdom that’s at stake here.”
“Oh, for God’s sake!” Sir Thomas snapped. “This holier-than-thou air doesn’t suit you. They must be paying you well, I must say. And don’t try and resort to bribery--”
“Nobody mentioned bribery,” Montgomerie countered. “I was trying to appeal to your common sense.”
“Common sense? Christ, don’t patronise me.”
“He’s betrayed our trust in him. He’s incapable of ruling fairly--”
“He’s incapable of favouring you, you mean--”
“He should be removed.”
“He’s the King!”
“Thank you,” Montgomerie said. “It’s good to know where the Sempills’ loyalties will lie in the months ahead.”
Learn more about author Louise Turner