JOURNEY TO THE DARK SIDE
Every once in a while I love to delve into the past with a good historical/medieval read. Linda Sole, prolific author with over 70 books to her credit, is just the author to hold me captive.
Love Hate & Betrayal (The Apothecary) is a medieval story which suits the title and a book you'll enjoy. Melloria is driven out into the snow when her husband’s castle is stormed. Big with child and close to her time, she collapses outside the gates of Nicholas Malvern’s manor house. Nicholas is the Apothecary, but he is suspected of using the dark arts.
LOVE HATE & BETRAYAL - THE APOTHCARY
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Yorkshire, in the year of Our Lord 1254
“I curse you, Montroy,” she cried in a loud voice that carried to every corner of the hall. “For what you have done this day, I curse all those who serve you. You have murdered my brother and you will live to regret every drop of the precious blood you spilled. When my husband returns to England, you will die, as you deserve.”
“Daubeney deserved his fate.” The Earl of Montroy leaped to his feet. “Your husband murdered my brother and I vowed revenge. Now it is taken.”
“You are a liar,” the woman cried. “My husband killed your brother in fair fight by the laws of combat. You were not in England. You did not know that your brother was convicted of treason. He was given the choice to die at the block or prove his innocence in a fight to the death. My husband was the King’s champion. Now my brother is dead at your hands. I curse you and all your descendants. You murdered him and many of my people lie dead this day. The blood of innocents stains your hands. May your sins find you out and may you die in agony of body and mind…”
“Damn you! Be quiet woman,” the earl thundered down at her. “I gave orders to let you live for you are but a woman and with child but if you continue to plague me with your curses I shall have you hung – as the sorceress some claim you are.”
He turned to his men-at-arms, who stood poised and waiting. “Cast her out of the castle and if she returns you have my permission to put her to the sword.” There was a murmur of dissent from some of the company, and men looked at one another, shame and fear in their eyes. “Do as I say, damn you.”
“She has powers of witchcraft, my lord,” one man spoke up at last. “None here dare kill her.”
“Fools! Every last one of you. Give me my sword and I will do it myself.” He grasped the heavy broadsword that he had earlier used to kill the young knight. The blade still stained with blood of the youth’s followers as he raised it high above his head. Yet when the woman looked up, something held his arm. Suddenly, his sword was so heavy he could not move it.
“I shall leave this accursed place. There is nothing here for me now,” she said, her voice softer now, dangerous, filled with hatred. “Think of me when you lie sleepless, Montroy, and remember. My husband will avenge my brother and me…”
The countess turned and left Montroy standing there with his arms raised above his head unable to move until she had left the hall. The sword fell from his hands, a crippling pain curled up his left arm. He bent double as the pain seemed to crush his chest; his eyes rolled, he fell to the ground and lay kicking and foaming at the mouth.
“It be not witchcraft, but a seizure,” she cried. “He is overcome by weariness from battle. Carry your lord to his chamber and put him to bed. Let the physicians tend him and if the Lord wills it he may recover.”
Melloria had known she risked death by returning to curse Montroy, but her heart was filled with bitterness toward the man. If only her husband had not gone to Spain. The earl would have resisted any siege, but with the lord gone they had been vulnerable. The men had fought hard but Peter had responded to Montroy’s offer to talk and been betrayed by a callous devil who disregarded the white flag to overrun their defenses. Montroy was ruthless but for one moment as she looked into his eyes she had known that despite his bold talk he feared her.
The snow penetrated the soles of her shoes, dampness soaking through the fine leather, but she no longer felt the cold. Covered from head to ankle in the thick, fur lined cloak, her body was insulated from the bitter weather, but the rest of her had long since become numb. Any tears she might have shed had dried, her mind empty of all but the hatred that drove her on through the icy wind and the softly falling snow. The Abbey of Saint Innocent was but thirty leagues from her home. There she could find shelter, someone to help her through the birth of her child, which was imminent – someone to care for the babe if she died.
Pain swept through Melloria, engulfing her body. She had been blocking out the ache in her back for hours but this was such agony that she could not ignore it. Giving a cry of fear, she clutched at her belly. The pain was almost unbearable but she must bear it. There was a way to go yet to reach the Abbey and sanctuary.
The snow lay thickly, covering the moors. The hem of her gown trailed on the ground, soaked as ice clung to it. Ahead of her, lay a dark shape; one large building surrounded by a huddle of outbuildings. Was it the Abbey? Was she closer than she had thought? She moved forward eagerly. Here was warmth and comfort, a bed where she could give birth to her son.
As she saw the building more clearly, her heart sank. This was not the Abbey but a large manor house. She did not know who lived within its forbidding walls. She moved towards the high gates made of wood banded with iron and, as she tried them, locked against her.
“Help me…please help me…” Her pride gave before the overwhelming pain as she sank to her knees, tears trickling down her cheeks.
She was falling into a pit of burning coals, the pain more terrible than before. She gave one despairing scream then crumpled into a heap on the icy ground.
“Here Brutus! Come I say!” the man commanded in a tone the great brute of a dog could not ignore. “Cedric, what have you found?”
“It is a woman, my lord.” The keeper of the hounds bent to investigate. “I think she lives yet…” He gave a cry as he turned her. “She is with child, Sire, and close to her time. I think her waters have broken.”
Nicholas Malvern bent to pluck the woman from the snow, a frown making his scarred face fearsome as he saw she was close to death.
“God’s Body! She is gentle born. What madness drove such a woman to my gates on a night like this?”
It was not a question his vassals dare answer for in truth no woman in her right mind would seek this house whether it be in sunlight or darkness. Nicholas knew he was dreaded, hated by many; even those who served him lived in fear of shadows for they did not understand him; though each and every one had come here more dead than alive and been saved. It was whispered that he was a sorcerer; some accused him of necromancy and the black arts, and some thought him the Devil incarnate. Only the dregs of mankind with nowhere else to go would stay near him save for a few devoted servants.
As he strode up the stairs leading to his chambers none followed. Nicholas took the woman to a bedchamber close by his own. He had allowed no one to use it since she died – the one woman he had loved and the woman he had killed. He had not ventured here since they had torn her body from his arms…
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I'll be back tomorrow. Until then...
Sweet as Honey...Hotter than Hell