Lady Bronwen, proud inheritor of the ancient ways of the Britons, had lost all she held dear. She had been widowed in war, then robbed of the ancestral home that was her birthright. And now her last hope was a stranger--one with whom she'd shared a single tender kiss.
The foreign knight Jacques le Brun begged her to let him defend her honor--nay, her very life. But he owed fealty to the hated French who had conquered her country, England, and to the new faith they brought with them. Could Bronwen place her trust in the pure, untainted love she saw shining in this man's eyes--and follow him to a new world...?
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February 11, 2008
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Excerpt from The Briton by Catherine Palmer
Amounderness in northeast England
Like some relic of a half-forgotten age, the Viking longboat sliced through the icy waters of the natural harbor. Its once brightly painted bow was scarcely visible through a thick coating of barnacles and algae. The sails hung limp and tattered.
A soft dipping of oars drifted through the mist toward an ancient walled keep, where a thin shaft of light from an open window glimmered on the water. An anchor suddenly splashed into the water, shattering the light.
The dark-haired young woman at the window of the keep watched as a small boat, heavily laden with armed men, left the longboat and made its way to shore. A burly old Viking lord stepped from the boat and waded to the beach. Then, with a shout that echoed into the marrow of the woman's bones, he called his men to follow him across the hard sand toward the stronghold. "The barbarian has come," the woman whispered as she barred the wooden shutter.
She turned to find her younger sister looking at her with a petulant expression. "Do leave off peering into the night, Bronwen. I want no gloomy tidings on the eve of our winter feast. Just look how Enit has arranged my tunic. Please come and drape it properly."
A chill ran through Bronwen as she hurried from the window across the rush-covered wooden floor toward her sister, who stood by a fire built on a stone hearth in the center of the room. The warm flicker of the flames served only to intensify Bronwen's discontent.And the smoke, drifting upward to the vents in the roof, filled her nostrils with an acrid tang.
How could her father invite the Viking to their feast? To her, the barbarian stood for everything evil that her people, the Briton tribe, had worked so hard and so long to defeat. Vikings! Raiders of villages, ravishers of women, pillagers of the countryside. Why would her father, with the Viking threat all but over, extend the arm of friendship to this barbarian now? Bronwen shook her head in dismay.
But she was forced to smile as she caught sight of Gildan fussing over the folds of her tunic with the nursemaid.
"Sister, you look lovely just as you are," Bronwen admonished. "Let me help you with your gown, and then I shall plait your hair. Most of the guests have arrived, and Father will be growing impatient."
"Yes, only to have us make an appearance and then send us back up to our rooms again so the entertainments may begin." Gildan pouted as her sister arranged a golden gown over her tunic. "I do think this waist is too long, Enit. And just look how pointed the sleeves are!"
The old nurse clucked at her charges. "You two sisters are even fussier than your mother, may she rest in peace. But you do look pretty. As they say, 'Fine feathers make fine birds.'"
Taking an ivory comb, Bronwen divided and began to weave Gildan's hair into two long golden braids. Her sister was entirely lovely, Bronwen realized. Though she had been a sickly child most of her life, tonight Gildan's pale skin glowed rosily and her blue eyes shone. She would make some man a lovely bride to carry on the great line of Edgard the Briton, their ancestor.
At the thought of marriage, Bronwen gazed into the fire.As her fingers continued nimbly in the familiar braiding pattern, Bronwen imagined she could see in the coals a dark shape. A man's black eyes flickered, and in the wraithlike fire his raven hair floated above his temples. Bronwen sensed a strength in his determined jaw, a gentleness in the curve of his lips and a high intelligence in the smooth planes of his forehead.
Sighing, she turned away from the vision she had conjured more than once in the flames. Her father would never link her with such a man. She must wed the one he selected, and his choices were few indeed. He must betroth her to one of the remaining Briton landholders in the area, for her veins coursed with blood of the most ancient tribe still dwelling on the great island of Britain.
"Bronwen, just look at what you've done!" Gildan's voice broke into her sister's reverie. "You have wrapped this ribbon backward. Do stop your daydreaming and help me with my mantle."
Bronwen gathered the soft woolen cloak and laid it over her sister's shoulders. She placed her own mantle on the heavy green gown she wore and arranged her thick black braids over its folds. Kneeling on a pillow, she waited pa"Bronwen, you do look fine," Enit remarked as she arranged Bronwen's veil. "Let me rub a bit of fat into those dry fingers. You've worked far too hard on this feast. You must learn to let things go a bit, child. And do stop worrying over your father's choice of guests. Edgard is a wise man."
The young woman looked up into Enit's bright eyes. The old nurse had cared for her since Gildan's birth had resulted in their mother's death. Enit's skin hung in thin folds beneath her chin, and tiny lines ran randomly across her face. But when she grinned, as she did now, showing her three good front teeth, each line fell into its accustomed place with ease.