An Endless Exile is the story of the eleventh century hero, Hereward "the Wake", the only Englishman to have defied and defeated William the Conqueror.
Torfrida is thirty-two years old, cynical, secretive, confident of her own wisdom and learning. Yet even she is taken by surprise when Hereward is brutally killed by his Norman guests. Lonely and embittered, it is with reluctance that she remembers the past, from her first childhood meeting with the tumultuous Hereward, through their stormy courtship and Hereward's military adventures as mercenary and as patriot - which she shared - up to the unforgivable betrayal which parted them.
Even more reluctantly does Torfrida begin to question Hereward's murder, eventually seeking the elusive truth with a desperation that mirrors her own unacknowledged need to believe in him and the value of their marriage.
But the truth only leads her into greater danger, threatening her unexpected new happiness in the very moment of its discovery.
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October 31, 2005
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Excerpt from An Endless Exile by Mary Lancaster
"Hereward is dead."
Whatever I had expected of my husband's nephew, rousing my household in the middle of the night to throw his dripping person and its accompanying blast of cold air at my feet, it was not that. Even though there can have been few men more likely to die.
Just for a moment, I could only stare at the bent, agitated head, watching the rivulets of water run down his hair to join the thousand others on his sodden cloak. By the trembling, almost sinister flame of my porter's lamp, I could even see the little pool of water forming between us. Just for a moment, that fascinated me too.
Hereward is dead. Was this news, then, already galloping and spreading under the night-stars? Northwards, perhaps, to York and beyond, to his sister and to his erstwhile Danish friends of Northumbria. West too, to the old rebels of the Welsh marches - would Edric the Wild weep for the ally he had never met? South, probably, to the King in London or Winchester or wherever he was, and whatever pity was in his heart today. And eastward - was it eastward? - among the fens which had always been his. Were his people, the lost and despairing, loud in lament for their last great hero? Wildly - or silently - inconsolable? Or did they close their eyes in peace, breathe a mighty sigh of collective relief and say, "Thank God it is over at last: Hereward is dead."
Perhaps, in the end, it would even be the Normans who mourned most for their new and prestigious friend. Or were the present masters of this land too full of such an unexpected triumph over their one-time enemy? An enemy who could never, after all, have become one of them; only a dangerous rival. Perhaps they would be unable to believe their luck, passing on the news in superstitious whispers through the great estates and courts of England and Normandy, that Hereward the Exile, the Outlaw, was dead.
There is a dreadful finality about that word. Even through the detached ramblings of my mind, I was aware of it. Gradually too, I became aware of the pain in my hand where Siward, my husband's nephew, was pressing it into his face. He was kneeling still at my bare, icy feet as though begging forgiveness for the news he bore, and in his own torment of grief - or his completely misplaced fear for mine - gentleness was forgotten.
Still distractedly, I began to draw my fingers free. They were wet. Releasing me, Siward dashed his hands across his eyes, and rose slowly to his feet, sword clanking dully at his belt and brushing against the fur cloak I had dragged around my chemise to receive him. In the dimly flickering light of the lamp that my porter held unsteadily above us, the skin of his still young face looked taut and sickly, the hollows around his exhausted eyes black. The tangled mass of fair hair, palely imitating his uncle's, fell damply forward over one cheek; then, impatiently, he pushed it back, the better to peer at me, I think, for signs of emotional disintegration. Baffled, I gazed silently back at him until in pity he lifted both arms for me.
Instinctively, I stepped backwards out of his reach, and as his arms fell again, a frown of puzzlement creased his low brow.
"Torfrida, he is dead," he repeated deliberately, as if to a child, or to an imbecile who could not understand simple words. "Hereward, your husband, is dead."
And at last the breath seemed to seep back into my body.
"Good," I said with satisfaction. "Then I can go home to Bourne."
In the first light of a grey, wintry morning, I prepared with some care for my ride from Lincoln to Bourne. I dressed in a warm woollen gown of bright, sky blue, over a fine yellow under-dress. Beneath my veil, which was circled with a braided ribbon of the same blue and yellow, my hair was as neatly and becomingly pinned as I could make it. I had no intention of being surprised by anyone at any time.