Isolde's day has come. In Ireland, her mother, the Queen, lies dying. The throne of the Emerald Isle, one of the last strongholds of the goddess, awaits her. But while Ireland is her destiny, Isolde is already Queen of Cornwall, trapped in a loveless marriage to its mean-spirited King Mark. Her true love is his nephew, Tristan of Lyonesse, who has never married, remaining faithful only to Isolde.
Across the sea in France, a young princess who shares Isolde's name enters the story. King Hoel named his daughtor in honor of Isolde of Ireland, and young Isolde of France has always been determined to outdo her beautiful namesake. She is a physician, too, and is called "Blanche Mains," for her white hands and healing touch. Blanche is of an age to be married, and she has chosen her husband--Tristan of Lyonesse. Her father objects, but fate favors Blanche. King Mark has become suspicious of his wife and nephew, and when Tristan is wounded in battle, he sees a chance to separate them for good.
Mark sends Tristan to France to be healed by Blanche, who makes the most of the opportunity. Tristan's letters to Isolde are intercepted, and he is told that she has given him up. Near death from his wounds, Tristan sends one last, desparate letter to Isolde by a trusted servant. He is dying, he tells her, and asks for one final sign of their love. If she can forgive him for betraying her, she must come to France in a ship set with white sails. If the ship's sails are black, however, he will know that she no longer loves him. Isolde immediately leaves for France, but when Blanche sees the white-sailed ship from the castle window, she pulls the curtains and tells Tristan that the sails are black. To her horror, he turns his face to the wall and dies.
There ends the traditional medieval story of Tristan and Isolde--with betrayal, death, and grief. But the original Irish lengend ends differently, and so does this book, wth magic and drama as only Rosalind Miles could write it.
Isolde may have become queen of Ireland, but she is still unhappily married to King Mark of Cornwall, who sends her beloved Tristan to France. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 03, 2005
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Excerpt from The Maid of the White Hands by Rosalind Miles
The worst of the winter storms lashed the Western Isle. Raging seas beat on the ancient citadel of Dubh Lein and the night-riding demons howled through the sky overhead. But in the Queen's Chamber the air was hushed and still.
One tall candle lit the figure on the bed. Her white silk shift gleamed in the torchlight shining from the walls, and on her hand she wore the ancient ring of Queens. Beneath the billowing blood-red canopy, the long elegant body and strong face were as beautiful as ever they had been in her life. But the skin had the pallor of oncoming death, and the long henna-colored hair streamed out on the pillows as if the sleeper had already been laid to rest in the quiet earth.
A low fire burned sadly on the hearth, and standing braziers warmed the far corners of the room. Moving to and fro on silent feet, the Queen's women fed the glowing coals with sweet herbs, rosemary, thyme, and rue. They took care not to disturb the tall, hawk-faced old man watching by the bed. Imposing as he was, after so many long hours and days he was part of the sickroom now.
Hovering by the door, the youngest of the maids wept and wrung her hands. "She should be in the infirmary. That's the place to die."
The chief attendant placed a comforting finger on the girl's trembling lips. "All the Queens of Ireland die in this bed. Her mother and her mother's mother went from here to the Otherworld. As Queen Isolde will, when her time comes."
Isolde . . .
A sudden gust of wind stirred the shadows in the room. Clustered around the walls, countless swan lamps flickered and danced, each tiny flame sheltered by upreared wings. The warm light played over the crimson hangings of the bed, the low gnarled ceiling, and the cream-washed walls, and lingered lovingly on the still watcher keeping his solitary vigil in the shining gloom.
"Young Queen Isolde?" The little maid's tearstained face lit with the memory of a merry laugh and a cloud of glowing hair. "She'll be coming back now, won't she? She'll be our next Queen?" Her eyes moved uncertainly to the still figure in the bed. "If . . . ?"
"When the Queen dies, yes," said the older woman with soft certainty. "Ireland has always obeyed the Mother-right. The throne has passed from mother to daughter since time was born. Isolde will be Queen."
Fools! How could they be so sure?
The hooded figure standing beside the bed wrinkled his lips in a savage snarl. Didn't they hear the booted feet below, the clink of spurs, the rattling of swords? Didn't they know that the wolves were already gathering, drawn by the scent of blood? He looked down. Why, even the unconscious woman lying here knew that her knights and lords had come to carve up her kingdom before she had breathed her last.
And before her rightful heir could return to claim her throne. The old man gave another silent snarl. How many ages had the throne of the Western Isle passed down from mother to daughter in the line of queens? Yet every rising generation was at the mercy of rapacious men. He raised his eyes to the ceiling in a furious prayer. Hurry, Isolde, hurry, or you will come too late!
In the chamber below, the young knight leaned back and looked around with a challenging stare.
"She's our next Queen, you say. Tell us then, Gilhan, why isn't she here?"
The knight at the head of the table smiled thinly and eyed the speaker as coldly as he dared. So Breccan was already questioning Isolde's right to the throne? This was going to be worse than he thought.
"Rest assured, Sir Breccan," he said with elaborate courtesy, "Queen Isolde will be with us soon."
"She's still in Camelot with the High King and Queen?"
Gilhan nodded. "Visiting on behalf of her husband, King Mark."