Fantasy Romance excerpt
We’re two weeks away from the release of the third boxed set in the Once and Future Hearts fantasy romance series. Which means it’s time for an excerpt. In this case, the entire first chapter from the first book in the set, Abduction of Guenivere.
Camelot. Ostara (early Spring). 500 C.E.
Later, Tegan would tell herself she should have been seated at her family’s table, that perhaps the tragedy might have been averted if she had.
Instead, Tegan had murmured to Elaine, her stepmother, that she would sit at the high table for the feast, for she was concerned about Guenivere. Elaine patted Tegan’s hand where she had rested against Elaine’s shoulder. “You are a good friend to the Queen. Go and care for the poor girl.”
Tegan hurried through the guests assembling in the big hall. The guests stood in clumps between the tables set for the feast. Tegan was careful not to step upon hems or jostle shoulders which might dislodge headpieces. She kept her own hems firmly in hand, so that no one snagged her gown. The gown had only just been completed by the seamstresses in time for the feast. It was one of the new style gowns, which clung to breast and hip, with sleeves that dipped and threatened to sweep the floor alongside her hems. There was an excess of fabric in the gown from hip to hem. Tegan was not certain how the gown could be so restricted about the hips yet manage to fold and drape around her ankles the way it did, but she liked the effect and didn’t want her gown ruined the moment she first appeared in it.
She reached the high table just as the King and Queen were announced with a three-note call upon a horn, and took her place beside Guenivere’s high chair. Directly in front of the King’s table were the family tables of his companions. It was an unfortunate fact that the Lothian table was directly in front of Tegan.
As everyone moved to their tables and stood waiting for the King and Queen to seat themselves, Tegan’s gaze shifted to the Lothian table. As it was the Feast of Ostara, many of the petty kings had travelled to Camelot to celebrate with Arthur and the court. This year, they included King Gaheris of Lothian. He sat at the head of the table, facing toward Arthur’s chair. It meant that Gawain, the second oldest of the fiery red-headed family, sat at the other end of the table, for Gaheris had no queen yet.
It meant that Gawain’s gaze, if he peered directly ahead, would be upon her. Right now, he watched Arthur help Guenivere to the table. As usual, Gawain wore a richly embroidered tunic. The fibula in his mantle shone golden and glinted with gems but did nothing to hide the warrior’s shoulders beneath.
Vexed that she was staring at the man, Tegan looked away even as his gaze flickered in her direction. Had he sensed she was watching him? She would not look back to check.
Instead, Tegan got to her feet and took Guenivere’s other elbow. Cara pulled out the Queen’s chair, even though Cara was heavy with child. Then Cara settled carefully upon her own well-cushioned seat.
Tegan and Arthur helped Guenivere onto the big chair while the hall politely waited.
Then Arthur returned to his chair and took the mug Merlin offered him and held it up to the people watching him. “I call good fortune upon the land. May the planting of this year’s crops go smoothly and bear fruit.” He did not look at his queen as he spoke the traditional words and no one shifted their gaze from the king, but Tegan suspected that everyone had focused upon Guenivere at that moment.
Guenivere kept her gaze upon her lap, but Tegan saw her cheeks redden.
“The gods bless the land,” Merlin added, in a firm voice.
“Amen,” some of the Christians in the room added.
Then the servants hurried in with their trays and kettles and platters. The feast began.
Conversation immediately began at all the tables. The pleasant noise of companionship rose up toward the high ceiling, where doves roosted.
While the head man served Arthur, Tegan leaned toward Guenivere. “Are you well enough, Jenny? It is far too soon to rise from your bed—”
Guenivere shot Tegan a glance, one filled with both frustration and amusement. “And miss this feast?” she breathed. “The court already disapproves of me. That would merely add to their complaints.”
“That is not true,” Cara said just as quietly, from the other side of Tegan. “You overestimate their ire, my lady.”
Only Tegan dared called Guenivere “Jenny”. The practice had started as a joke. The silly form of teasing had made Guenivere laugh at the common, unadorned simplicity of the name and desist with whatever pretentious and overly grand scheme she was building at that moment.
The name had remained, just as Guenivere’s ambitious plans for Camelot had remained…and grown.
Guenivere gave Cara a fond look. “You underestimate the will of the people, Cara. You always have. I have lost a third child…” She hesitated, her slender throat working, then she continued. “People already speak too much of portents and signs and look for bad luck where there is none. I will not give them further reason to point at me.” She lifted her chin and smiled beautifully at the kitchenhand as he laid slices of venison upon her platter and thanked him, her voice even and musical.
Once the servants had finished serving everyone at the King’s table and had placed dishes in the middle from which they could take additional portions, Guenivere bent her head and spoke so Tegan alone could hear it. “In truth, I am not sure I should have attempted to rise tonight.”
“I suspected so,” Tegan replied just as quietly. “Is Arthur…is he very upset?”
Guenivere did not look at her husband. “I do not know. He is so very hard to understand, at times.”
All the time, more likely, Tegan amended in her mind. Arthur was a distant man even to those counted close to him, including Guenivere. He shared more of his true nature with his companions, those who had been his senior officers when war had gripped the land.
One of those companions was Gawain. Tegan resisted the need to look at him. It had become a habit to let her gaze drift to any areas of a room Gawain did not occupy. “Eat a little,” she told the Queen. “If you cut the meat up and push it around, it will appear you have eaten much more than you have.”
Guenivere gave a small nod. “Thank you.” The appearance of a healthy appetite would not go unobserved by the court.
Tegan turned to her own meal. She had little appetite for the rich meat, the herbed vegetables and sauces which accompanied every meal. The near-burnt slice off a haunch hanging over an open flame would suit her better. Although a lady did not profess such preferences aloud.
So she ate daintily, drank rather more of the strong wine and let her gaze move around the hall.
Her family’s table was farther down the room, yet she was still able to see everyone there clearly enough, for it was in the middle of the room and in direct view of the King’s chair, and not off to one side or up against the wall, as some of the lesser families and houses were.
Tegan saw that Bricius, her father, watched her. As she looked at him, Bricius lifted his goblet toward her. He winked, his dark eyes merry. While his beard and hair had developed alarming streaks of grey lately, his eyes never seemed to change.
Tegan smiled and lifted her own cup and sipped from it. Her father was immensely proud of her high position at court, even though Tegan had protested more than once that it had not been skill and diplomacy which had placed her there. “I like Guenivere, father. She likes me. All I did was be a good friend to her.”
“The gods know she has few enough of those,” her father replied. “It is an honorable thing to be a friend a man can count upon.”
As Tegan watched, her father leaned and murmured something to Elaine, his wife. Elaine was older than her father, although Tegan was not certain exactly how old the great lady was, for she would not speak of such things. Despite her age, Elaine’s hair was still mostly pitch black, her brows still firmly arched and her chin firm. Only about her eyes did her flesh show any sign of the years she owned, for Elaine laughed often.
Tegan liked Elaine immensely. It was from studying Elaine—and Guenivere, too—that Tegan had learned the ways of a lady. Elaine had never attempted to become the mother Tegan had lost when she was quite small. Instead, Elaine had been supportive and kind, encouraging Tegan and Cadoc to depend upon her.
Elaine was laughing now, although Tegan could not hear her musical laugh over the buzz of conversations and the clatter of plates and cups and knives. Cadoc, Tegan’s brother, also began to laugh, while Bricius smiled. A family joke—one they would share with her later, Tegan was certain.
The meal went on. As bellies filled and cups emptied, people moved from table to table to pour wine and knock cups together and drink to each other’s health. Women, too, moved about the tables to drink with friends, steal morsels from each other’s’ plates and laugh together…and perhaps glance coquettishly at the men.
Tegan said to Guenivere, “Have you noticed how many ladies are wearing the same style of gown as you, now?”
“Yes, I saw that, too,” Cara added. “Surely, that is a mark of their respect, my lady?”
Guenivere gave a small smile. “It is a simple enough style. The younger men, though…my goodness!” She rolled her eyes.
Both Cara and Tegan laughed softly. Lately, it seemed, the garments and outfits the younger men of the court wore had become more elaborate and embellished, as they tried to out-do each other in brilliant plumage. Cara had dubbed them “bullfinches” for the dazzling arrays of color.
Tegan privately thought such displays were ridiculous but as the practice was essentially harmless, she said nothing. Instead, she rolled her eyes when she spotted the more excessive outfits.
Gawain and the older officers, including Cara’s husband, Bedivere, did not bother with the excessive fripperies, which Tegan approved of. Even Arthur, who had the greatest right to excessive display, did nothing more than wear rich fabrics and well-made garments, and for high feasts such as tonight, a golden torc to indicate his rank.
Excalibur strapped to his hip was embellishment enough, Tegan thought.
“Is that…Constantine?” Tegan asked, when she spotted a tall young man with a square chin and thick neck, standing by the Cornwall table. “Cador’s heir?”
“I believe so, yes,” Guenivere said, assessing the youth. “He is sixteen now…old enough to attend court.”
“He will break hearts,” Cara judged. “A fine pair of shoulders.”
“He is a strong fighter, Arthur says,” Guenivere replied. “So are Martyn and Trevor.” She glanced at the curly-haired Calleva twins who, as usual, were on opposite sides of the hall from each other. She looked at Cara, amusement showing in her eyes. “We should encourage your two younger sisters to take an interest in them, yes?”
Cara laughed. “Nareen and Isolde are too interested in themselves yet, my lady, but it would be an interesting match, would it not?”
The practice of devising suitable matches among those at court was a very private game the three of them enjoyed and that Guenivere encouraged. “We are fostering the longevity of the court,” she had pointed out. “A subtle word here and there does no harm and might bring joy to a pair who overlooked each other previously.”
As Guenivere had just lost her second unborn child when she had first suggested this, Tegan thought she understood why the Queen was so interested in the pair bonding of others.
Cara nudged Tegan’s side. “There goes the Maiden’s Champion, again.” She nodded.
Tegan scowled as she followed the direction of Cara’s gaze. Gawain was just settling at King Bevan’s table. He had not taken the bench directly beside Branwen, which would be too obvious, but was sitting beside Bevan, as the King filled Gawain’s cup.
Branwen was a beautiful, ethereal woman, with pale, wavy hair that swung about her hips and framed her delicate, pointed face.
“Branwen is hardly in need of rescue,” Tegan said and reached for her own wine.
“Or ruin,” Cara added.
Guenivere smothered her laugh, for when men invoked Gawain’s title as a defender of women, they most often added the qualification that he rescued them in order to ruin them. As Gawain rarely left the hall alone in an evening, the ribald statement was true enough.
Tegan drank deeply.
Cara nudged her once more and Tegan looked up. King Melwaes approached the King’s table. His direction said he did not intend to speak to the King as most men did. His gaze was upon Guenivere, as he minced and hedged toward the ladies’ end of the table.
Cara rolled her eyes.
Tegan hid her smile and tapped Guenivere’s arm in warning.
Guenivere looked up with a polite smile as Melwaes stopped before her and washed his hands together nervously. He gave a hesitant smile, as he gazed upon her with adoration in his eyes. “My lady, may I bid you felicitations for the season?”
“You are too kind, King Melwaes,” Guenivere replied. She did not move to lift the wine jug and offer him wine from her table.
“It is my fervent hope that you have fully recovered, my lady. I cannot express how overjoyed I am that you have appeared among us tonight.” His smile displayed large teeth.
“As she is among us, one presumes she has recovered,” Cara said flatly.
Tegan glanced at her and shook her head. Cara always tended toward direct speech, especially when she was irritated.
Cara pressed her lips together, holding in any other response she might make.
It was as if Melwaes could hear no one but Guenivere. He stared at her, his gaze roaming over her, waiting for her response.
“I am well, thank you,” Guenivere said, her tone still perfectly polite and gentle. “I will not keep you from the company tonight, Melwaes. Please…mingle as you may.”
Tegan admired Guenivere’s diplomacy. She had clothed a direct order to go away and made it sound magnanimous.
Melwaes washed his hands some more. “Yes, of course. Thank you, my lady.” He bowed and dithered, before forcing himself to turn and move away.
Cara blew out her breath. “Really, you should not be so polite, Guenivere.”
“He is harmless,” Guenivere replied. “And it is nice that someone approves of me, at least.”
Tegan bumped her shoulder against Guenivere’s. “You know perfectly well that I approve of you and everything you do. So does Cara.”
“And I, too,” said a voice from behind them, speaking as softly as they.
Tegan looked over her shoulder. Vivian, Lady of the Lake, stood behind them, clothed in deep, dark green and looked more regal than anyone wearing golden torcs. Her very long straight hair fell in an ebony curtain down one shoulder and gleamed in the lamplight. So did her flesh.
“Thank you, Lady Vivian,” Guenivere murmured.
“You are pale, Guenivere,” Vivian said. “You should not strain yourself tonight.”
“I am not yet challenged,” Guenivere assured her. “You know my reasons for attending, tonight of all nights.”
Vivian nodded. “And I agree with them or I would not have permitted you to come.”
No one disputed that Vivian had the power to make a Queen stay in her chamber should she deem it necessary.
“Oh, and look at that little man…what is his name again?” Cara said.
“Dilwyn,” Vivian supplied. “He is an odd duck, isn’t he?” She didn’t laugh, but her amusement was plain. “I do believe he stands half-a-head shorter than any woman I know.”
“What is he doing against the wall, like that?” Cara asked. “He looks as though he is holding the wall up.”
“Or the wall is holding him up, perhaps?” Guenivere suggested.
“He looks ill,” Tegan said, studying the working of Dilwyn’s small features. His forehead gleamed with sweat, as he stared into the middle of the room.
A woman screamed.
Tegan jumped. So did Guenivere. Cara drew in a startled breath.
“Merlin! Vivian! Help me!”
Tegan jumped to her feet, for that was her father’s voice. She could no longer see the family table, for people crowded around it.
Arthur rose to his feet, as Merlin stood and vaulted over the table with the vigor of a much younger man and flung himself into the crowd about the Dunoding table.
“Tegan,” Vivian murmured. “Come with me.” She moved around the table, trailing green folds.
Cold fingers walked up Tegan’s spine. Had Vivian arrived behind Guenivere when she did because she had seen this moment approaching?
Tegan followed the Lady of the Lake into the middle of the hall. Vivian did not need to push her way through the crowded backs. People parted on either side, as she lifted the front of her dress and sailed between them.
Cadoc stood between Tegan’s family table and the next one, staring down at the floor, his expression stricken.
Tegan’s heart thudded as she and Vivian rounded the table, people stepping back to give them room. Then she came to a horrified halt at the corner of the table.
Her father knelt on the floor, Elaine in his arms. Elaine writhed, her face wracked in pain, her breath squeezing from her in quick, harsh pants.
Merlin had his hand against her forehead, as if his touch would allow him to see inside her. His expression was grave.
“She was fine,” Bricius told the druid. “Drinking with everyone…then she gripped her throat and screamed, only no sound came out…” He looked as though he would weep. “Heal her, Merlin.”
Merlin glanced over his shoulder at Vivian.
Vivian reached over to the table and picked up Elaine’s jeweled cup, which lay on its side, the contents spilled across the wood. She sniffed at the cup, wrinkled her nose and pulled the cup away from her face quickly. “Poison,” she said softly. “One I have never come across before.”
Merlin reached into the pouch at his hip and withdrew a small vial and plucked the stopper from it with fast movements. “Help me make her drink this,” he told Bricius.
Cadoc whirled on his feet and thrust his way through the crowd. “You! Dilwyn!”
Everyone shifted out of Cadoc’s way as Tegan’s brother leapt at the little man and gripped his tunic and pushed him up against the wall. “What did you give my mother when you sat at our table?” Cadoc growled at the man, his jaw harder than Tegan had ever seen it.
Gawain moved swiftly around the table. “Give me the cup,” he told Vivian urgently, as Merlin and Tegan’s father fought to bring Merlin’s vial to her lips.
Vivian raised her brow at Gawain.
“Remember who my mother is,” Gawain said heavily, and held out his hand. “I understand poisons.”
Vivian put the cup in his hand. He sniffed carefully. Then a second time. “…gods above!” he breathed and whirled to face Merlin and Bricius. “Don’t give her that!” he cried.
Merlin looked up, frowning. “Too late,” he said, lifting the empty vial.
“Merlin!” Tegan’s father cried hoarsely, as Elaine struggled, moaning.
“Turn her on her side,” Merlin said, dropping the vial and reaching to help.
A light arm came around Tegan’s shoulders. “It will be all right,” Guenivere whispered.
Gawain watched Tegan. Pity showed in his expression.
Tegan shook her head, her eyes stinging. “No, it will not,” she told Guenivere, the truth making her heart hurt.
Elaine gave a great spasm, every muscle growing taut. Then she wretched hard, over and over. The contents she brought up were noxious with fumes. Not everything was normal food.
People moaned and shifted away. Tegan could hear sobbing, too. She closed her eyes and turned her head away. Keeping her eyes closed stopped her tears spilling but did not stop her shuddering.
In a little while, Elaine stopped making the agonized sounds.
Bricius drew in a hitching breath. “My sweet, sweet Elaine…” He whispered the words, his voice broken, but everyone heard them for the room was still and silent around them.
Tegan’s tears spilled then. Beside her, Vivian’s breath squeezed, and she sighed.
“Someone must tell Lancelot,” Merlin said, his voice heavy. “Let him know his mother is dead.”
Vivian cleared her throat. “I will send word.” Her voice was hoarse. “Although I suspect he already knows.”
Tracy Cooper-Posey once again found a way to drop you into history through her extraordinary storytelling
– Reader Review
The third set of three books of the series that will “keep you hooked until the end”, featuring the myths, legends and magic of the beloved King Arthur stories, surrounding heart-rending romances of the men and women who lived and loved in these perilous times.
7.0 Abduction of Guenivere
A politically expedient marriage, rife with bitter history. Gawain, one of Arthur’s greatest warriors and companions, seethes restlessly now war has ended. He brings himself to marry the politically suitable Tegan of Dunoding, who is far removed from the soft, gentle women he prefers, and irritates him more often than not. Tegan’s bitterness toward Gawain is driven by a history he doesn’t remember, and that she cannot forget, which dooms the marriage. When Tegan’s closest friend, Queen Guenivere, goes missing, sending Camelot into chaos, Arthur tasks Gawain and Lancelot with finding the Queen. Gawain shocks Tegan by seeking her unique talents to help with the quest. The two must find a way to work together, for the good of Camelot and Britain…
8.0 Downfall of Cornwall
Can Anwen help Sagramore find a way out of the darkness? Sagramore and Tristan are closer than brothers, sharing wine, women and an affinity for feral, furious fighting. As heir to both the King of the Magyars and the Eastern Roman throne, Sagramore is an outsider who has never been fully accepted by King Arthur’s court, or King Mark’s either. Calm, composed Anwen Idria, oldest daughter of the King of Strathclyde, is adored by all of Camelot the moment she arrives. She refuses the attention of the passionate, fiery Sagramore, for his wildness and blistering emotions remind her too much of her father, a former slave called Idris the Slayer, who terrifies her.
9.0 Vengeance of Arthur
The omens gather, while Camelot fractures… Saraid is an orphan, thanks to the Saxons, but has found a place as lady companion to Adrivete, the daughter of King Drust of Deira. She wants nothing more than to stay where she is and live a quiet, uneventful life. Her peace is shattered when Owain, the son of the dead King of Rheged, rides into Deira and demands they hand over Lamorak, the murderer of his aunt, Morguase of Lothian…before sliding from his horse in exhaustion. Then a message is received from Arthur, the High King of Britain, ordering Adrivete to travel to Camelot with Owain. Adrivete insists Saraid travel with her. When Owain unexpectedly helps her cope with the rigors of travel, Saraid learns he is not at all the gruff, infamous son of Rheged that rumour paints him to be. Neither of them wants to go to Camelot. Together, they might survive the politics, conspiracies and the storm that gathers over the city of miracles…
Included in this boxed set:
7.0 Abduction of Guenivere
8.0 Downfall of Cornwall
9.0 Vengeance of Arthur
This story is part of the historical fantasy romance series, Once and Future Hearts, set in Britain during the time of King Arthur.
1.0 Born of No Man
2.0 Dragon Kin
3.0 Pendragon Rises
3.5 Once and Future Hearts Box One
4.0 War Duke of Britain
5.0 High King of Britain
6.0 Battle of Mount Badon
6.5 Once and Future Hearts Box Two
7.0 Abduction of Guenivere
8.0 Downfall of Cornwall
8.1 Touch by Maen Llia
9.0 Vengeance of Arthur
9.5 Once and Future Hearts Box Three
10.0 Grace of Lancelot
11.0 The Grail and Glory
A Historical Fantasy Romance/Ancient Historical Romance series
This boxed set will be released on Stories Rule Press on August 16th, and on all other retail stores on November 16th. It is currently available for pre-order everywhere.
If you haven’t yet bought a book directly from me, then you can grab the 10% Off coupon code on the front page of the SRP site.
If you have bought from me before (thank you!), then you will have reward points that you can use to earn a discount on the boxed set.