First Chapter of the next King Arthur romance!
It’s Christmas Eve!!
We’ve got a full round of video phone calls to make tomorrow, along with the turkey and eggnog and other delights. And I have stuff for you, too. Watch for an email from me tomorrow. 😉
In the meantime, today is actually Thursday (which you might have failed to notice in the usual pre-Christmas hysteria). And we’re a week away from the release of Downfall of Cornwall.
That means that everyone who pre-ordered from me already got their copy first thing this morning — enjoy!
And if you overlooked this little bonus, then you can jump down to the bottom of this email and buy a copy right now and be reading it in a few minutes.
Or, if you prefer to buy your copy from the retail stores, the book will be released next Thursday.
But the week before also means you get the first chapter to sample, so here we go:
EXCERPT FROM DOWNFALL OF CORNWALL COPYRIGHT © TRACY COOPER-POSEY 2020 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Cair Brithon, Kingdom of Strathclyde. 505 C.E.
Anwen didn’t know about the messenger until she was nearly home.
Dumbarton Rock, upon which Cair Brithon had stood for hundreds of years and would likely stand for a great many more, thrust high enough into the sky that a rider could see it nearly a day’s ride away. The rock covered three-quarters of the short, squat promontory it sat upon. The promontory thrust its rounded front into the River Clyde, preventing unnoticed approach from that side. The Rock barred access from the landward side except for a narrow chunk of flat land to the south, which was guarded day and night.
When she rounded the rock and the enduring, irregular walls of Cair Brithon came into view, she saw immediately that there were no ranks of fighters drilling on the flat field in front of the buildings. Only something extraordinary would suspend daily drills.
She hurried forward, tugging on Drest’s reins. Drest carried the deer she had caught. Cadi would be pleased to have fresh meat for the cooking pot and everyone who sat at the family table would also be pleased to eat something other than salted pork or herring. It had been a long winter.
Anwen took Drest around to the kitchen yard and directed three of the boys to take the deer inside for Cadi to deal with later. As they struggled and huffed, one of the more courageous of the boys looked up at Anwen through eyes slitted against the noon sun, which was weak still, but dazzling in the cloudless sky.
“Messenger from the south came.” The boy puffed up with importance because he knew this, and she did not. “From Camelot.”
That was why there were no drills, she realized. A normal messenger carried dozens of letters and small parcels and Cair Brithon might be only one of several destinations he would visit. A messenger direct from Camelot would have naught but a single message to deliver directly to her father, news which would interrupt the steady flow of days and nights and seasons.
If Anwen wanted to hear the news before it had passed through a dozen mouths, who would embroider and warp the message, then she must brave the main hall.
With a sigh, she handed the cheeky boy Drest’s reins. “See he’s brushed, watered and fed, and there’s a coin in it for you.” She took her bow and quiver off Drest and gave him a pat on the rump.
Drest followed the boy to the stable and Anwen hurried to her chamber to wash and swap her trews for her gown and brush her hair.
When she reached the large hall, she saw she was the last of the family to hear the news. Her little brothers, Emrys and Kay, sat on stools at the far end of the firepit. Her mother, Rhiannon, sat in her father’s big chair, pulled up to the center of the fire, with the letter from Camelot in her hands, turned so she could read the script in the light from the flames. The last of the old cedar logs were in the pit, sending up a pleasant aroma.
Her father stood at the other end of the rectangular pit, one foot on the hearth stones, his arms crossed and his back to the door in flagrant disregard of his own rule about always keeping an eye on the entrance.
Anwen’s gut tightened as it always did when she saw him. Idris was a big man, the tallest in the kingdom, and despite his age, still a powerful fighter. His captains and their men called him Idris the Slayer when his back was turned. She had learned of their name for him only because she could creep up to almost anyone if there was cover to hide her.
The hair at her father’s temples was almost white, a deep contrast to the remaining black mass. He tied the top of his hair out of the way with a thong of leather, while the rest hung loose down his back. Black wolf pelt hung over his shoulders, his tunic was black and so were the leather wristbands. The pouch he always wore around his neck peeped from below the pelt. Dark trews and boots. He wore the colors which matched his temperament, Anwen often thought. It was the reason she refused such colors in her own clothes.
He was scowling at the fire. Of course he scowled. He rarely wore any other expression, especially when he looked at Anwen.
Idris turned enough to check who entered the hall—but really, who else would be permitted to enter here? There were two guards outside the door and a hundred fighters in the other buildings, all within earshot.
Then there was her mother, who had been an acclaimed warrior in her day, even though she now wore graceful gowns and left her hair loose. Her mother’s hair had glints of grey in it, too. But she still kept a long knife in her boot, as well as her eating knife upon her belt.
Idris was also a fighter. His great sword, Cingeto, hung on the wall opposite the long table, five paces away. That was why he felt comfortable with his back to the door.
His frown deepened when he saw Anwen. “I sent for you an hour ago.”
“Mother.” Anwen smiled in greeting at Rhiannon. Her mother barely looked up from the letter.
Anwen turned to her father. “I was hunting.”
“The guards never move quietly. They scare away prey.”
Idris took his boot off the hearth stones and planted his feet. “How many times must I tell you that you cannot wander the land alone?”
“Everyone else does so.”
“You are not everyone else!”
“Are you not the King of Strathclyde?” Anwen shot back. “Are you not charged with keeping your people safe? Does that not include me? If I cannot ride out alone, what does that imply about you?”
Her father gave a great hissing bellow, his chest rising as he prepared to shout.
“Anwen, Idris, stop it,” her mother said, lowering the letter. “There is news you must hear, Anwen.”
Anwen shot a glance at Emrys, hoping he would give her some sort of warning. Was this good news? Bad news? Would she like the news?
Emrys, at fifteen, was several years younger than her, but old enough to understand the language behind written words. Yet this time he merely stared back at her, a lock of pitch-black hair falling over one eye.
He was angry about something and hiding it because their father rarely tolerated tantrums in anyone but himself.
Anwen braced herself and turned to her mother, across the fire. “Yes?” She kept her tone polite.
Rhiannon raised the letter a little, then let it roll up into a loose scroll. “King Mark of Kernow and the daughter of King Anguish of Ireland and Queen Iseult the Elder are to be wed at Camelot this summer.”
Her mother had spoken before about the alliance with Ireland that Arthur, the High King of Britain, had been working to arrange. “Arthur got his alliance, then,” Anwen murmured.
She saw Emrys’ steely expression, the tightening of his jaw, and frowned. What was she missing? She looked back at her mother and raised her brow.
The corner of her mother’s mouth turned up. She was laughing and hiding it because Idris was back to scowling again. “All of Britain is required to attend the wedding and the celebrations surrounding it. Every petty king, every duke, every clan and tribal leader is to attend the High King.”
“And we can’t go,” Emrys muttered, his tone sulky.
Anwen glanced at him, alarmed, and caught the look he and Kay exchanged. Emrys was talking about him and Kay, not the whole family.
Then she understood. Anwen shook her head. “No.”
“One doesn’t refuse the High King,” Idris growled.
“Then you go,” Anwen shot back. “There is no need to take me with you.”
Idris dropped his arms. “You will go to Camelot, daughter.”
“It is time you were presented to the High King, Anwen,” her mother said, her tone calm.
“I would rather be boiled in oil.”
“Do not speak to your mother with that tone!” Idris bellowed. “You will come with us to Camelot and present yourself as the daughter of a great kingdom.”
“You are well beyond marriable age—” her mother added.
“I’m eighteen!” Anwen cried.
“I was married at nineteen,” her mother said softly. “It is time, Anwen. The most powerful and strongest leaders, all of them, will be there in the summer. It will give you a chance to assess their strength and their charms. Otherwise, we must rely upon second and third hand reports and letters to deal with such matters. Wouldn’t you rather see the man for yourself?”
“And inspect his teeth?” Anwen asked, her tone tart.
“Anwen…” Idris growled.
“Arthur will ensure that whatever match you desire will be made,” her mother continued inexorably. “As long as the man has suitable antecedents, you can choose who you like. That is a rare privilege for a daughter of a king.”
Anwen stared at her mother, horror building in her. “I don’t want to marry anyone.”
Rhiannon rested the letter on her lap. “You must, eventually.” Her voice was soft. Her tone unmoved.
Anwen swallowed. Even her mother would force her to this most unpalatable future.
Yet her father had not spoken of marriage, merely of presenting herself to the High King. Anwen turned to him. “Must I do this, Father? Can I not stay here? Just one more year, to…to become accustomed to the idea.”
Idris drew in a breath that made his big chest and shoulders rise. “Your mother is wise. This is an opportunity to bind another kingdom with ours. The chance will never come again. Every lord and worthy man in all the Britains will be there.”
“You will use me as binding to build your kingdom!”
Her father’s gaze dropped to the flames. Anwen understood then that even though he might not agree with her mother, he would make her do this, anyway.
Anwen stared at him, bitterness in her mouth and her heart, as her mother spoke of making gowns suitable for the High King’s court, of preparations and fuss that made the back of her neck prickle and her heart to thud unhappily.
Her mother even tried bribery. “The messenger brought books with him,” she added, when she had finished the list of horrifying activities that would fill the spring and take away any chance of roaming the glens.
Anwen tried to be pleased at the prospect of reading new books but couldn’t. “As if I will have time to read them,” she muttered.
Idris kicked at the logs, sending sparks up into the air. “We leave for Camelot the first full moon after the equinox.”
Her life had been shortened to a few weeks, then it would be over.
She crossed her arms and scowled at the flames, her heart aching.
The crows of his dreams were pecking at his nose, which woke Sagramore with a start. Relief weakened his limbs as he opened his eyes and realized the crows were not real. Bright sunlight seared the back of his eyes. He winced and closed them swiftly.
The hand on his face was not gentle. “Wake up, I tell you.” Dinadan’s voice. Slurred.
“Wasn’t sleeping,” Sagramore muttered. His own voice was strained, but even.
“You were snoring.” The slapping stopped. It was little wonder he’d dreamed about his face being attacked.
Sagramore opened his eyes more cautiously, this time. He shaded them against the direct rays of dawn sunlight and eased himself up off the flattened grass he had been sleeping upon. He settled himself so the sun was not directly before him.
Dinadan broke a branch over his knee and dropped it on the nearly cold ashes of last night’s fire. A whisper of smoke rose lazily from the rank, dew-damp wood and coals. Dinadan would have a devil of a time stirring it back to life.
Sagramore could feel the same dampness on the front of his tunic, which had been exposed to the night air. His cloak was heavy with it.
Tristan sat on the other side of the fire from Sagramore, which made him the fortunate one, for his back was to the sun. Tristan raised one of the wine skins and shook it, then tossed it aside reached for another to test. There were many skins lying about the fire, most of them flat.
“I’m hungry,” Dinadan declared and stirred the ashes beneath the fresh wood. “One of you needs to find meat.”
“We could go back to Camelot. Break our fast in the king’s hall.” Sagramore thought of warmed wine and honey cakes with sudden longing. Yet his gut gave a sour protest at the idea.
They had escaped the main hall last night and come out here to drink around the fire because…because…he couldn’t remember exactly why, except that it had not been the main hall, with its formalities and sensibilities.
At least, that was what Tristan had said. It had made sense at the time. “Arthur’s new-fangled rules are a pain in the neck,” Tristan had said more than once in the weeks they had been waiting for the arrival of the court and the wedding. As they had been the ones to escort Iseult, the Irish princess, to Camelot, they had been cooling their heels in Arthur’s hall the longest, and time had drawn out, empty and useless.
“Why can’t I just gut a man who insults me?” Tristan would always add when he returned to the ills of Arthur’s reign—strictly between the three of them, of course, for Tristan wasn’t a fool. “If I’m stupid enough to take on a man who can best me, that’s my concern, and no business of some old, doddering idiot who thinks he knows better than me. I’m the one who was insulted!”
Sagramore was still trying to sort out the odd ideas that Arthur and Merlin were insisting upon these days. He was good at fighting, only there were no wars, anymore. Instead, there was peace and new ideas.
For that reason, he’d agreed that a night by the river around a campfire might be a nice reminder of times long gone. They’d once drunk themselves to sleep around an open fire every single night.
And it had been a good night, only he had forgotten about the aftermath, which seemed particularly brutal this morning. Any meal he didn’t have to arrange for himself would help address the effects, although he wasn’t close to being hungry as Dinadan was.
“I don’t want food.” Tristan shook another skin and gave a grunt and unstopped it, lifted it and drained the last trickle of wine from it. His hair, which always looked somewhat wild, was in complete disarray after a night of drinking, the white and brown shaggy locks tangled together. His chin was thick with several days of growth, also brown and white. His normally clear green eyes were red and cloudy.
“You’re the best shot,” Dinadan told Tristan.
“Not in his condition,” Sagramore observed. “Me, either.” His head was starting to thud with thick, heavy beats. The river running almost soundlessly alongside their camp pulled his gaze, despite the sun dancing on the surface and making his eyes water.
Tristan snorted. “Can, too.” He unstopped a half-full skin, looking pleased.
Dinadan laughed, showing white, even teeth. “Can not.” He bent and blew on the ashes, making the coals glow, proving there was still some life in the fire.
Tristan lowered the skin, glaring at Dinadan.
Sagramore laughed softly. He knew that expression in his friend’s eyes. He smiled as Tristan put the skin aside and rose carefully to his feet.
“Oh, ho!” Dinadan crowed, rubbing his hands together.
Tristan bent to his saddle bags, then paused, his throat working. He straightened and carefully squatted, keeping his head upright, and fished through one of the sacks and withdrew a length of string. He plucked an arrow from the quiver lying next to the sacks and tied the string to the very end of the fletches, right below the notch.
Then he laboriously rose to his feet and picked up the bow. “Watch and…” He swayed, then straightened. “Learn,” he finished. He moved past Dinadan, who turned to watch him walk over to the very edge of the low banks of the river.
Tristan stepped on the loose end of the string, notched the arrow and raised the bow, while peering into the glittering water.
“No, he cannot…!” Dinadan breathed, sounding delighted.
“Wait,” Sagramore said softly. He’d not seen Tristan do this trick before, but he knew his friend too well to doubt he would manage it.
Tristan did not appear to have heard them. He stood utterly still, the bow pulled at full draw, his shoulders flexed to hold the draw steady.
Then he let the arrow fly. It broke the surface of the water with a little plinking sound. Instantly, the water thrashed and roiled.
Tristan dropped the bow and crouched—no bending this time—and hauled swiftly on the string. He lifted a fat carp out of the water and held it by the arrow through its middle as it wriggled.
Tristan stalked over to Dinadan and slapped the fish against his chest. “Eat that.”
Dinadan plucked the fish from his chest and held it away from him. His smile didn’t slip. “Food,” he said, sounding pleased with himself.
“That was pure luck,” Sagramore said. “I wager you couldn’t hit a target five times in a row, right now.”
Tristan glared at him.
“A wager?” Dinadan’s voice rose in eager anticipation. He took the knife out of his belt and laid the carp on the flat rock beside the fire to fillet it.
Sagramore kept his gaze on Tristan. “Drink wine for breakfast. Then shoot another five arrows into a target…let’s say the width of my hand. Five times.”
“What will you give me if I do?” Tristan said, rubbing his chin and making the whiskers rasp.
“It isn’t possible,” Dinadan interjected. “Five times, with five arrows?”
Tristan’s gaze was steady, waiting for Sagramore to answer.
Sagramore considered. “My iron shield.”
“I don’t need another shield.”
“My dagger.” Sagramore pulled out the knife and let it drop so the blade stuck in the earth. The blue-jeweled hilt glinted in the sunrise. The knife, he’d been told, had come from Constantinople itself and had been used by the Emperor.
Tristan knew the value of the knife as well as Sagramore did. He examined the knife, then said, “Your dagger, and your fur-lined cloak.”
Sagramore shook his head. The cloak was unique, the fur so warm that even in the depths of a British winter, he was comfortable. He didn’t know what type of fur it was. The outer layer of the cloak shed water, too. It was a marvelous garment he was loath to give up. It, too, had come from somewhere in the east. Perhaps from Constantinople, too, or perhaps from the lands of the father he didn’t remember.
Tristan held up his fist, with his thumb stuck out sideways. “A target the length of my thumb. Five times, five arrows. I’ll have your cloak and your dagger before noon.”
“Done,” Sagramore said.
“Can we eat first?” Dinadan complained, although Sagramore could hear the tinge of excitement in his voice.
A contest of skill. It was something to do, at least.
Sagramore moved carefully over to the fire pit, to charge the flames while Dinadan dealt with the carp. Tristan sat on the other side of the fire, brooding and drinking. He did both frequently, of late.
It was just one of the many unsettling changes that had taken place since Tristan’s uncle, King Mark, had announced that he was to marry the Irish princess and forge an alliance for Arthur.
Sagramore firmly pulled his thoughts away from the shadows. Food and a wager, and perhaps more wine, then he would be fortified enough to face yet one more day in Camelot, where he was even more a stranger than he was in Kernow.
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.
When Tristan becomes obsessed with his uncle’s new Queen, Iseult, and sinks into a black maw of hate and bitterness, Sagramore must avoid being pulled in with him, for Tristan’s attachment to Iseult, a Princess of Ireland, threatens the peace of Arthur’s Britain. Can Anwen help Sagramore find a way out of the darkness? Or will the shadows which loom over Britain consume them all?
This novel is part of the ancient historical 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
4.0 War Duke of Britain
5.0 High King of Britain
6.0 Battle of Mount Badon
7.0 Abduction of Guenivere
8.0 Downfall of Cornwall
9.0 Vengeance of Arthur
10.0 Grace of Lancelot
11.0 The Grail and Glory