Thursday, 25 July 2013 01:15

The Devil in Ermine

ISBN 978 0 98 738460 7 print on demand and Amazon

e-book ISBN 978 0 98 738465 2 Amazon and Smashwords

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  • About the book
  • Read an excerpt
  • Author's notes

A real life 'game of thrones'!

1483: England has a new king – a mere boy – but who is to rule the kingdom until he comes of age? His ambitious mother, Queen Elizabeth Woodville, or his uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester?

Into this impasse steps the eloquent and charming Harry, Duke of Buckingham, Richard’s cousin, but what are his true intentions? Here for the first time is his account of that fateful summer when Gloucester became King Richard III. But of the two, who is the statesman and who the villain?

In this novel, rich in intrigue, Isolde Martyn, author of Mistress to the Crown, draws Richard III and Buckingham, two of history’s most enigmatic men, out from the shadows.

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April 1483

Before the strange messenger arrived, I could have been struck by a lightning bolt and made no difference to England’s history. But in April 1483, the planets that favoured my birth sign moved into unparalleled amity. In one day, one hour almost, my fortune changed.

Instead of attending King Edward at Westminster Palace, I had taken leave and returned to my castle above the town of Brecknock – Aberhonddu as the local Welsh call it. I was weary of hanging about the royal heels like an idle dog. Being Duke of Buckingham and the last legal heir of the House of Lancaster might engender envy in some but they would be misguided. I hungered for the respect that comes with high office, the respect that had been accorded to my grandsire, the first duke, but Edward gave me no opportunity to prove myself. At twenty-eight years old, it was little wonder I was so discontent.

On the afternoon of the day the messenger rode into Wales, I admit to frolicking. My servants had done their best to alleviate my tedium by finding me two pert wenches in a hamlet south of the town. These twin girls were pretty as briar roses, fragrant, black-haired, blue-eyed, mischievous and, mercifully, clean. I was welcomed into their dwelling, where they blindfolded me and tormented me so exquisitely that I could not tell who nuzzled me or which one of them sat astride me first.

When I was sated, their sweet whispers and girlish laughter lapped around me – as gentle as perfumed bathwater after a day in the saddle. One of them slid from the bed to stoke the cottage fire. The other girl fetched sweetmeats and, while her sister fed me, she teased me to hardness once again. I might have stayed longer in their company but Sir William Knyvett, my uncle by marriage, rapped upon the cottage door and straightaway let himself in.

‘Harry, are you going to be much longer?’

‘You wish to join us?’ I asked, but something in his face made me toss aside my delightful rider and reach for my shirt.

‘And have your aunt strangle me with one of her garters? No, Harry, it’s John Shenmore – the bailiff you sent to Abergavenny, remember. He has just has been carted in with broken ribs. He was attacked down by Tretwr on his way back this morning.’

‘The Vaughans?’ I asked. It had to be the Vaughans, the greediest marauding whoresons this side of the Black Mountains.

‘Aye, who else?’

‘Excellent.’ I turned and gestured for my clothes. ‘We can ride down tomorrow and whack the hell out of them. It may not be as satisfying as sitting on the Royal Council, invading France or—’

‘Or risking the pox,’ Uncle Knyvett cut in. He moved aside to let the girl bring me my gipon and underdrawers. ‘Good, were they?’ His stare was appreciative

‘Very good, eh, cariad?’ I smiled down at the girl as she knelt to slide my feet into my woollen stockings. I thanked her in Welsh and carried her sister’s hand to my lips. ‘So, is Shenmore badly hurt?’ I asked Uncle Knyvett. No doubt extra payment would ease the fellow’s pain.

‘He’ll mend.’

‘Come, then, I am done here.’

I teased the wenches by striding to the door without giving them payment. But as I grabbed the latch, I turned, laughing, and paid them double their worth, amused to see their dismayed mouths tilt into merriment again.

It was a shock to leave the warm stew of the wenches’ abode. The chill wind scourged our backs. April still had the breath of winter. Last night’s toss of snow garlanded the hedgerows and the road was hard with frost beneath our horses’ hooves. As we neared the river, I glanced over my shoulder. The clouds above the ebbing sun had parted over the mountains in a splendour of gold and vermilion as if Christ’s return was due. Was it an omen?

I gave spur to my horse and hastened across the drawbridge of my castle with new heart. The murrey sandstone walls were blushed a deeper hue beneath that glorious light and the grisailled windows of the great hall were conjured into a hundred tiny, shining mirrors. I do not exaggerate. I had never beheld such an immodest configuration of clouds and I tossed my ambler’s reins to a stableboy, hurtled up the stone steps and stood gasping on the battlements. But already the beauty of that sky was fading. So soon? Did it mean nothing? Oh God, surely there had to be some worth to life instead of the constant yearning that obsessed my soul.

‘Your grace?’

Pershall, my bodyservant, had come to find me. His dark blue eyes were concerned. He had reason; I do not usually behave as though stung by a gadfly.

‘Observing me for signs of fever, Pershall? I came to see the sky.’

‘Not like you, my lord.’ Impertinent, disbelieving, he stared across the rooftops of the town to where the hills reared like an angry sea, and instantly dismissed the fading clouds. ‘Were the girls not to your liking, your grace?’

‘Most satisfactory, Pershall. Quite imaginative.’ I guessed the blindfold had been his suggestion.

‘Thank the saints for that. Well, I should stay up here a bit longer if I were you, my lord. Your youngest is bawling fit to wake the dead.’

I narrowed my eyes against the rising wind as I looked towards the great ridge of Pen-y-Fan, the inevitable horizon of Brecknock. It was dark and brooding now, its green-gold collar lost in the half-light. Maybe I believed in far too gracious a god. No gentle hand had clawed out those valleys and slapped those crags against the sky.

‘Should be good fishing on Llyn Safaddan soon, my lord.’

I shrugged sourly.

‘What about the Myddffai girl for you tonight? You remember, my lord, the red-haired wench with duckies to die for.’

Was that my reputation? Naught but a horny Plantagenet? Sweet Christ, any lord can have a warm-thighed woman who by night willingly creases the sheets she has so lovingly laundered by day. I would have given my soul to be useful instead of rutting in Wales.

Pershall would have earned a terse answer had not the barking of dogs and the trumpeting from the river gatehouse proclaimed the monthly arrival of the messenger from the Queen, my sister-in-law.

‘Shall you go down, my lord?’ Pershall looked hopeful.

‘What for, Pershall? News of the latest royal runny nose can wait until suppertime. Go and make ready my bath.’ I kept walking, the black dog of despair following behind my spurred heels like a shadow.

‘Harry! Harry, where in Hell are you?’

Uncle Knyvett emerged from the upper floor of the nearest tower. For a man in his forties he was very fit but the stairs had made him breathless. ‘Th…the messenger that has just come from Westminster, Harry, he’s a strange one. I think you should go down. He’s not from the Queen and he will speak only with you.’ I shrugged, but Uncle Knvyett had the bit between his teeth. ‘He’s poorly clad and yet he rode in on one of the King’s post-horses. Something’s up, lad. Something’s definitely up.’

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I set out originally some years ago to write a novel about Margaret Beaufort but a hand kept going up: 'What about me, miss? Write a novel about me.' The voice was Harry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham's.

I hope you will enjoy his story and it has been good to write a Wars of the Roses novel from a male viewpoint for a change. When I first began this book, I set out to create an absolute anti-hero. Trouble is authors have to keep the reader's empathy for the main character so he had to have a lot of likeable qualities, too, and the more I researched him, the more I could see why he made the decisions he did. Not always the right ones, I'm afraid.

If you think about it, all great men have flaws that can bring about their downfall. Consider Shakespeare's tragedies, and we only have to look at a lot of world leaders today. So many are corrupted by power that they haven't the greatness to step aside when they start failing to fulfil their people's hopes.

So here is political intrigue in abundance and I hope this novel may lift a candle to the events of 1483 and how Richard III became king. We may only conjecture what really happened back then and the jury are still out on who were the villains. Enjoy!

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Published in Publications
Sunday, 09 December 2012 06:22

The Silver Bride

Published in Australia and the United States with different titles. There is also a German edition.

  • Australia (The Silver Bride) ISBN 0 732 91127 3, paperback ISBN 0 330 36403 0
  • United States (Moonlight and Shadow) ISBN TBC, paperback ISBN 0 425 19328 4
  • e-book published by Momentum

  • Author's notes
  • Read an excerpt

A lot of readers have asked me what happened to the real historical people in The Maiden and the Unicorn after the novel ends. Well, some of them are in my third book Moonlight and Shadow aka The Silver Bride, which is set twelve years later during the Buckingham Rebellion of 1483.

The political events of 1483 have always intrigued me. Like 1470–71, this was a year of tremendous upheaval with people changing sides and taking huge risks. Looking back from the 21st century, the truth of what really happened is hard to glimpse. Few records survive from that period and those that do exist have been gone over again and again by historians and writers with truth detectors, hoping that some undiscovered nugget of insight might lie there still. This lack of knowledge, of course, makes it much more exciting for the historical novelist. There is room for conjecture, and because the chief protagonists are shadowy figures, it is very satisfying to try and flesh them out.

While I have enjoyed researching the politics of these fifteenth century dukes, I haven't forgotten that it's a love story as well. Neither Margery nor Richard Huddleston have lost their delight in political intrigue, but it is a different hero and heroine who now take centre stage. Miles Rushden (nicknamed Y Cysgod (the Man of Shadow) by the Welsh, is a close friend and companion of the twenty-nine year old Duke of Buckingham, Harry Stafford, and both men are ambitious and prepared to embark on a ruthless, risk-all bid for political power.

Heloise Ballaster, the, fey heroine, is a maid of honour in the household of Richard, Duke of Gloucester. She has the voice of an angel, the face of a Madonna and the hair of a witch. She is also cursed with glimpses of the future – not a blessing in such a superstitious age. But her biggest problem is her father. He's a small, strutting rooster of a man, and a family tyrant. And quarrelsome, too, especially when there is land at stake, which is how he comes to blows with Miles's father and challenges him to a duel. However, what sensible father would put on armour if his adult son is at hand to play his champion? And if Heloise's father turns lily-livered at the thought of combat, which of his daughters is going to defend the family honour? Heloise!

Miles and Heloise, like all my heroes and heroines, are flung into the thick of royal intrigue as Richard, Duke of Gloucester seizes the crown.

Research for this novel took me to Brecon (headquarters of the Duke of Buckingham in 1483) in Wales and to Weobley in Herefordshire. The combat scene between Heloise and Miles was prompted by the Northamptonshire folktale of Skulking Dudley, and the kidnapping of Miles was based on the real-life abduction of Margery Huddleston's son.

And for animal lovers – no dogs or pigs this time but a Welsh mouser called Dafydd (modelled on Cagney, a cat of California) and a noble stallion named Traveller, named after a friendly horse in Dorset, UK, who never said no to an apple.

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Prologue
Yuletide, January 1483, Middleham, Yorkshire

Packed like a row of spoons, the maids of honour to her grace of Gloucester snuggled together in the great bed for warmth against the icy wind howling across the moors of Wensleydale. It should have been impossible for a nightmare to insinuate itself amongst them, but Heloise Ballaster awoke as she hit the floor, bringing the candlestick crashing down with her and bruising her elbow on the wooden bedsteps.

The shriek of her nearest neighbour awoke the others and four faces peered down at her from the edge of the coverlet, their braids dangling like a row of bellropes.

'Your pardon,' whispered Heloise ruefully, goose-fleshed as she scrambled quickly back up into the high bed.

'Was it him again?' asked someone.

The dream of an armoured knight, visor down, thundering towards her with a deadly lance aimed at her breast?

'Yes. And I always fall. Why do I always fall?'

'Mayhap it was not his lance he was aiming at you, Heloise,' giggled the worldliest among them. 'Maybe there is something you are not telling us.'

There was.

Heloise's nightmares always came true.

Chapter One

Bring us in no bacon, for that is passing fat,
But bring us in the good ale and give us enough of that,
And bring us in good ale!
Bring us in good ale and bring us in good ale,
For our Lady's blessed sake, bring us in good ale.

Tankards slammed bawdily upon the trestle tables and the great hall of the Duke of Gloucester's castle at Middleham guffawed with Yorkist laughter as the cockatrice, a gaudy, four-legged monster with the head of a rooster and the tail of a crocodilus, capered round among the revellers. By rights, the legendary creature should have had a piglike rear but no one could be bothered arguing. It staggered and swore with two voices as someone grabbed hold of its scaly tail.

'Ouch!' spluttered Heloise Ballaster, who was playing the head. She recovered her balance and craned the cumbersome beak round to see which drunken lout was impeding her progress. The merrymaking had become suddenly too boisterous and some of the more unruly youths were trying to discover who owned the cockatrice's legs.

'I'll deal with this knave,' exclaimed the cockatrice's tail. Will, the duke's jester, loosened his arms from Heloise's waist and jabbed two fingers out the rear end of the costume into the fellow's nose, and then he squirted the contents of a leather bladder after it. The onlookers collapsed in fits of raucous laughter as the esquire staggered back in humiliated surprise, his face dripping with pudding ale.

'We must end this, Will!' Heloise muttered, lurching away as a reveller tried to peer inside the beak. Thank heaven she wore a black mask as well. Yes, definitely time to make their exit. This prank was growing far too perilous. God's mercy! If it should be discovered that one of the duchess's maids-of-honour was prancing in doublet and hose – with a man's arms and face against her waist (not that the jester ever showed any interest in women) – her virtue would be put to the question. Besides, it was not just fear of disgrace that was fraying her wits but a gnawing sense of evil about to happen.

'Shall we make for the great chamber then, mistress? Mistress?'

Heloise did not answer. She swayed as the rush of blood that precipitated a vision flooded her mind. Not now, please God, not now! But it came unwanted – the nightmare image of the duke's son choking for breath, writhing upon the floor.

'Mistress?' Will's arms shook her back to the reality of the smoky hall. He turned her towards the dais, for the great chamber where they had left their outer garments lay beyond the high table – the high table where the duke's heir, a giggling ten year old, was reaching out to the golden platter of wafers and sugar-coated almonds. Almonds that could choke a laughing child!

'Jesu!' Fear of discovery, not just of shamefully playing the cockatrice but her terror that the entire castle might shrink from her as a witch-warred with her duty. But how could she risk the life of Richard Gloucester's precious only child?

'No,' Heloise exclaimed. 'No!'

The cockatrice hurtled up the hall-its rear staggering-dived under the cloth of the high table and heaved. It reared up to grab the platter of almonds and tripped. Silver dishes skidded, sweetmeats flew as if magicked, goblets splashed their contents down the sumptuous cloth, the central trestle tumbled, crashing down the steps and the duke and his guests sprang up.

The music and the laughter stopped in mid-breath. Heloise, blanching behind her mask, took an anguished look at the coloured shards of costly glass spattering the tiles, and gazed up wretchedly at his grace's astounded face. But the boy was safe. Uncertain, surprised, but beside his father, safe.

Silence, growing more menacing by the instant, surrounded the grotesque cockatrice. Heloise backed into Will, wishing the floor would swallow her up. For an instant, it seemed to the onlookers that the monster's back and front legs were trying to go in different directions and then the creature shook itself into some sort of unison and hurtled out the nearest door.

'That was impressive,' commented a female voice, laced with humour. 'We shall have to remember that for next year as well.' Lady Margery Huddleston, the creator of the costume, had hastened after them into the great chamber. Briskly, she gripped the painted edifice that had been stifling Heloise and wriggled it free. Already there were raised voices beyond the door.

Heloise blinked at her helplessly, wishing desperately that she might turn time backwards. How could she possibly explain? 'I am sorry, madam. I am so sorry.' Here was the last person she wished to anger; Margery, the duchess's bastard half-sister, had been a good friend to her.

'They will want to understand.' Margery tilted her head towards the great hall. 'I want to understand? God's mercy, where –' Scanning the chamber, she snatched up Heloise's discarded over gown. 'Quickly!' Hastily, she tugged it over Heloise's head, struggling to hide the shirt and borrowed hose just as the door opened.

'Aye, Mistress Ballaster!' exclaimed the jester crawling with sweating pate and scarlet face from the beast's entrails. 'Would you care to explain what in hell you were about? Oh, lordy, here is the judge and jury.'

Despite his thirty-one years, Duke Richard of Gloucester was not a tall man but being a brother to the King, his authority gave him the extra stature and he was looking stern enough to hang a man-or woman. His brown eyes took in the discarded skin of yellow fustian, the scaled, flaccid tail, and rose questioningly to the scarlet-beaked head that his sister-in-law was hugging to her bosom. Margery gave a tiny shrug and the duke stared beyond her to his wife's crumpled maid-of-honour.

'Close the door!' he ordered grimly.

Heloise's face burned with shame as his shocked gaze fell upon the ungirded gown with its collar slatternly awry, and the loosened ginger legs of the cockatrice puddled around her ankles. Gravely, she removed her mask. At least her accursed hair, bonneted into a coif, was out of sight. They had been so courteous and decent to her, these people, and this was how she repaid them. All the warmth and respect she had sought to kindle in her few months atMiddleham was turning to ashes. Controlled though it now was, Gloucester's voice was like a lash to her already bruised morale.

'Since you seem to be the brains of this creature, mistress, perhaps you would care to enlighten me as to why you upset our table?'

Others had followed the duke in; the chamberlain and his grace's chaplain, and she could hear an inebriated crowd gathering outside with the excitement of carrion crows anticipating a killing.

'I thought my lord your son was about to choke.' It was the truth. 'I was wrong. I beg your pardon, your grace.' Please do not send me home, your grace, her eyes beseeched him. Not to the beatings and the anger.

'How could you discern such a thing?' Dr Dokett, the chaplain, stepped forward, his huge black sleeves aflap with malevolence. 'You were at the end of the hall. How could you possibly see?'

'I –' The right words evaded Heloise. How could she tell these noblemen of her premonitions without making them loathe her, fear her? Even Duke Richard, sensible as he was, would send her away. People did not want to hear. It terrified them. Dear God, it terrified her.

Then suddenly there was shouting and the oaken door was wrenched open. The throng crowding its portals separated as Anne, Duchess of Gloucester, eyes awash with tears, pushed through to sag against the doorway.

'What is it?' Gloucester asked, his voice serrated with the edge of sudden fear.

'Our son,' whispered the duchess, fingers pressed against her lips. 'He choked on a sugared almond but Richard Huddleston turned him upside down, thank God, and he is restored. Oh, my dearest lord.' With a sob of relief, she flew across the chamber to the comfort of her husband's arms. Although Gloucester lovingly stroked the back of his fingers down his wife's cheek, above her head he was staring at Heloise.

'When? Just now?' he asked his duchess.

'It was probably the excitement. Foolish child.' Anne of Gloucester raised her head cheerfully, knuckling her tears away, and then she sensed the tension around her and recognized Heloise and Lady Margery, snared in the midst of it. 'Let us not spoil the feast,' she said quietly, receiving a plea from her half-sister. 'I pray you, my lords, let us return to the merrymaking.'

The duke hesitated, confusion behind his frowning brow. The duchess drew him away, but he was still glancing back at Heloise as the company thronging the dais drew aside deferentially to let their lord and lady pass.

'Cockatrice!' sneered Dr Dokett, delaying to cast an evil look at Lady Margery and her accomplices. He drove a sandalled foot savagely into the belly of the carcass. 'A work of the Devil! And that foul Fiend already has your soul! Cavorting shamelessly and you a maid. You should be dismissed!' He hurled the words at Heloise over his shoulder like salt as though she was a demon. And, perhaps, thought Heloise, shaken by the ugly hatred, perhaps she was.

Copyright Isolde Martyn
Reproduced with the kind permission of Pan Macmillan Australia. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Published in Publications
Sunday, 09 December 2012 06:21

The Lady and the Unicorn

Published in Australia and the United States with different titles

  • Australia (The Lady and the Unicorn) trade paperback ISBN 0 733 80144 7, paperback ISBN 0 733 80199 4
  • United States (The Maiden and the Unicorn) published by Berkeley ISBN 0 553 58168 6
  • e-book published by Momentum

Audio edition published by Bolinda ISBN 9 781 74317897 3, read by Rebecca Macualey

  • About the book
  • Author's notes
  • Read an excerpt

In 1470 the Wars of the Roses between the house of York and Lancaster threatens to tear England apart once more. In the middle of the conflict is a most unlikely heroine. For Margery, the beautiful and spirited ward of Warwick the Kingmaker, freedom is the only prize worth having. But it is a prize that could cost her her life. Sent to France on a mission for King Edward IV, she finds herself the target of a man who may be one of the king's most dangerous enemies.

Richard Huddleston is bold, enigmatic and devastatingly handsome. He is used to getting what he wants, and he wants Margery to be his wife. Margery suspects that Richard has abandoned the king and the House of York and is conspiring with the rebel queen and the traitorous House of Lancaster. Caught between her role as a spy and a fierce passion that neither she nor Richard can deny, Margery finds her heart exposed to the ultimate danger: falling in love. Yet she cannot admit her real mission to Richard. For if she stays true to her noble cause, she'll save many men ... and lose the one that matters most.

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This was the novel I always wanted to write. When I was fourteen I came across the mention of a woman spy in the Wars of the Roses, and I promised myself that one day I would write a novel with her as the heroine. Imagine my delight when I came across the mention of Warwick's bastard daughter, Margaret Neville, and her husband being present at the coronation of King Richard III and Queen Anne Neville, her half-sister. It made sense that the woman spy mentioned by the Burgundian Chronicler, Philippe de Commynes, was Margaret and now I had a name for her and for my hero – Richard Huddleston! As a historian, it was a joy to use real people and it gave veracity to the story.

While the main plot is the relationship between Margaret and Richard, the subplot concerns the intrigue and turmoil of 1470–71. This required a supporting cast of some of history's most intriguing characters: the overmighty earl, Warwick the Kingmaker, the gorgeous womaniser, Edward IV, and his treacherous young brother, George. Then there's his tenacious, ruthless enemy, Queen Margaret of Anjou and her wily cousin, the 'spiderking', Louis XI and, of course, the young Duke of Gloucester, the future Richard III.

I never dreamed this novel would win the top awards for romance writing in both America and Australia and I am not only in the debt of my wonderful critique group for all their help and encouragement but above all grateful to editor Fiona Henderson and the publishing team at Transworld Australia who believed in the story so wholeheartedly.

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The banns were called at mass again next morning, sending Margery into such a state of inward panic that she was scarce aware of the buzz of conversation about her or a page's tug at her sleeve, summoning her to attend my lord of Warwick straightway.

The Earl was waiting for her in his solar.

‘My dear Margery,’ he exclaimed as made obeisance to him. ‘I am so pleased at your change of heart that I have decided to hold your wedding this week. Since your bridegroom is busy on my behalf, it will be more convenient to have it all signed and sealed immediately.’

‘My lord, you ride roughshod over my feelings. I am against this marriage. What makes you suddenly think otherwise?’

Her guardian gave a snort of disbelief. ‘Ah no, you merely flirt and dance with the man as if you care for him. Have you no shame?’

‘I danced with one man last night. Ankarette danced with him t–’ she faltered and her eyes flew to Warwick's as shock and disbelief flooded across her face. She wanted to sink down onto a stool; surely her legs would collapse beneath her.

‘Come let us be done with this fast-and-loose nonsense. You are marrying Richard Huddleston tomorrow and have done. Ah, Richard lad, Margery is a little overcome at the haste of all this but I have explained the situation.’

Richard Stone came through the doorway, removing his plumed beaver hat, and bowed to the Earl. If he knew Margery's appalled eyes were upon him, he seemed unruffled.

‘My lord. I think it may be the matter of my horse's tail.’ He looked round at her now. Did the Devil look so on the acquisition of a new soul? Oh, Jesu, how could she be so stupid? His name was not Stone. Agnes Guppy had told her wrongly. All that time he must have thought she had been deliberately calling him so to rile him. He was Richard Huddlestone.

Be calm, talk yourself out of this, an inner voice advised. Calm? When the deceitful knave was deliberately reminding her who had won all their past battles!

‘No, sirrah, it is the matter of you! I had rather wed a heathen than be yoked to you in matrimony. As I have made very clear, my lord of Warwick, one, I do not want to marry; two, I do not want to marry this week; and, three, I do not want to marry Master Richard Sto – Huddleston.’

‘At least you have finally gotten my name right at last.’ Richard laid his hat and gloves on the table. ‘My lord, there has been some misunderstanding. It seems the lady thought that she was marrying someone else.’

The Earl, appearing half-irritated, half-indulgent at their quarrel, glanced sharply at Margery. ‘Is this true, child?’

‘Yes, my lord.’ Her fingers writhed in front of her. ‘You led me to expect it was someone of your lordship's years. Old was the word, you used, I recollect.’

‘Old!’ Richard regarded the Earl with polite astonishment.

Warwick snorted, ‘So now he's not old, he's known to you and he wants to marry you, though why I cannot imagine, and I want you off my hands, Margery, so there's an end to it. What pleases me and Master Huddleston shall satisfy you. I have two emissaries arriving from the King of France the day after tomorrow. You will be wed before mass and I shall feast you together with the French lords. Tomorrow, Huddlestone, we shall hunt.’

Margery fleetingly closed her eyes and gave an angry sigh, prepared to sweep away in dignity before tears overwhelmed her. Huddleston stepped to block her way. She refused to look at him.

‘My lord,’ he said across her shoulder to the Earl. ‘Permit me to speak to my betrothed privily. This is obviously a shock to her.’ She flinched at the word betrothed, recoiling as if he had struck her.

The Earl shrugged, ‘Well, I suppose there is no impropriety in that since you will soon be man and wife. You may speak with one another here but there is the contract to draw up so make haste.’

Huddleston bowed as the Earl passed them but remained an obstacle between Margery and the door. She turned away from him, her eyes on the ceiling. It was pain enough to endure being married to a stranger but that it was Richard Sto ... Huddleston. She cursed herself for a blind and stupid fool.

His voice was kind. ‘Mistress Twynhoe told me last night that you did not realise that my name was Huddleston. I had no intention of misleading you, believe me.’

Margery took a deep breath, her shoulders proud. ‘Master Huddleston, I value my freedom. I repeat that I do not want to marry anyone. I will not be sold like some Paynim slave to a harem. I came here this morning expecting a public apology and instead’ She waved her hands in despair.

‘If it is the business of my horse's tail that still angers you then I admit my error. You have my belated but humble apology.’ The humility in his voice sounded genuine enough but she turned to see if the sincerity was in his eyes. It was, but he was playing kind, of course.

‘No, it – yes, of course it is your horse's tail and all your insults. How dared you abuse me so for your amusement because I am a landless woman and lack a father's name! Do you imagine I have no feelings because I was born in some unblest bed?’

‘Lady, you shall have land, name and your bed will be blessed.’

The blood flooded into her cheeks at the thought. ‘Blessed, sir, with you in it? I do not know why you have chosen me as a butt for this madness of yours but please change your mind. It will not suit. It will be a marriage made by the Devil.’

He laughed and half-seated himself on the edge of the table, one leg swinging. ‘I am resolved on it.’ He selected an apple from the silver platter and bit into it with his fine white teeth.

Margery's hands curled into fists at her side and she paced the room before she swung back to confront him. ‘Why do you want to enslave me? What have I ever done to you? Why should it be your choice? Why cannot it be mine?’

‘Because I know what is best for you.’ Warwick's voice came from behind her. Huddleston slid off the table respectfully to face the Kingmaker. The Earl's hands settled upon Margery's frozen shoulders, his breath was upon her cheek. ‘I make this marriage for you out of loving kindness, child. Trust me in this.’ He put a finger beneath her chin and made her look at him. ‘A firm hand is needed on your bridle, Margery. Once you start bearing you will no doubt calm down and become a sensible wife and mother.’

‘I am not a horse!’ she exclaimed hotly, and snatching up her skirts, she fled.

Richard left the Earl some half hour later well pleased with the bargain. Everything was going according to his plans. Warwick's fondness for the girl and his determination to dispose of his defiant ward had permitted Richard to demand a higher dowry. Of course, it was all on paper but six manors definitely made it worthwhile.

He was not expecting a slender female hand to reach out from behind a curtain and grab the coney-fur tip of his hanging sleeve. His right hand flew to the handle of his sword as he whirled round.

‘By Christ's blessed mercy, lady!’ He slid the sword back into its black scabbard as he recognised that the blue brocade enclosing the feminine arm belonged to the gown Margery had been wearing.

Her face peeped out at him. ‘Could we please speak about this matter?’ Pink tinged the white around the delightful blue of her eyes, hinting at angry tears. He hated seeing her distressed but you needed to break eggs to make a custard. What was the little witch up to now?

‘Right willingly, mistress, but it seems there is little more to say unless you have changed your mind. This curtain is mighty dusty. Do we have to stand behind it like lovers? Is this locked?’ She gave an angry growl. He rattled the door ring. It opened onto a small storeroom stacked with broken benches, brooms and buckets. ‘Hardly something out of a French romance. Would you prefer somewhere with tapestries?’

His betrothed stamped her foot at him. He grinned at her, revelling in his consistent ability to arouse the desire in her to hit him.

‘I think we should discuss this marriage in a sensible manner, sir. You will have to persuade my lord to reconsider this match.’

‘You want to marry someone else?’ If she did, would he change his mind? There went that little foot again.

‘'No, Master S–Huddleston, I thought I made it clear I do not want to marry anyone.’

‘Least of all me.’' He allowed the good humour to fade from his voice.

‘ Thank goodness, you are intelligent enough to see that.’

‘May I ask why?’

‘Why’' she spluttered. ‘Because we do not like each other.’

‘I am sorry I teased you.’

‘Teased me! You taunted, insulted and riled me. Your arrogant behaviour was insufferable. Just because I have no parents–’

‘–and a doubtful reputation.’

‘Exactly! I am quite unsuitable for you. I am sure your parents - if you have not annoyed them to an early grave – would not approve.’

‘I admit, lady, your besmirched reputation pleases me not one whit but as to your lack of parents, I am pleased to disregard the fact. Besides you come to me with a substantial dowry. I shall be wealthier by several manors.’

‘Dowry!’ He could not decide if she looked like an owlet or a kitten at that point. Tendrils of honey hair were rapidly escaping from her embroidered cap. ‘How many manors?’

‘Five so far, one more to be arranged. Now what's amiss?’

‘Can you not see he's only doing this to mend my reputation and wash his hands of me. You have no need to marry me.’ His patient expression must have exasperated her further for she stuck her hands on her hips like a little fishwife. ‘Jesu, you are not prepared to make him change his mind, are you?’

‘No, mistress, for his mind is fixed like the north star.’ He curbed the desire to pull her across the pace of flagstones between them so he could slide his hands down over her lower curves and cradled her hard against him. ‘You must be a heavy responsibility, Margery. Perhaps I should have bargained for seven manors. The sixth is for your little sin with the King.’

‘If were a man, I should run you through for your continual insults’'

‘But you are not a man, my mistress, so why not try your woman's wiles on me instead?’ It was time he showed her what he wanted from her. By all the Saints, he had been waiting long enough.

‘To Hell with you, Master Huddleston!’

She ran out and down the passageway before he could stop her and flung open the Earl's door. ‘Sutton Gaveston! Let the sixth manor that you sold me for be Sutton Gaveston!’ Then she grabbed up a fistful of her skirts in each hand. ‘You said you did not want used goods. You said I was a bad bargain,’ she snarled at Richard as she hurried back towards him. She would have torn past had he not seized her arm. He was about to kiss the anger out of her when the Earl loudly opened the door of the antechamber.

Warwick's face struggled in a contortion of anger interbred with laughter. ‘Margery, enough!’ he thundered.

Richard's fingers bit into the top half of his betrothed's sleeve. It was like trying to hold onto a spitting cat but he had a point to make and he made it loudly. ‘You said you wanted me shackled and bound. Well, I shall be, for all eternity.’

Margery gave Warwick a deadly glare before she wrenched her arm from Richard's grasp.

‘But I did not mean to me, Master Huddleston, not to me!’

Copyright Isolde Martyn
Excerpted by permission of the Transworld Division of Random Australia Pty Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Published in Publications
Sunday, 09 December 2012 06:15

Fleur de Lis

Published by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd

  • trade paperback ISBN 1 405 03569 2
  • B format ISBN 0 330 42134 4
  • e-book published by Momentum

  • Read an excerpt
  • About the book
  • Author's notes

January 1789

Since the stable behind the Clef d'Or was where he had been initiated into making love some seven years earlier, Raoul de Villaret rode into the town of Clerville in the January twilight, wondering whether he should just pass through, or halt and revisit the generous ‘magdalene’ who had provided such a delightful tutorial. Not for an anniversary encore, of course – Bibi must be prodding forty by now, and at twenty-two, he had become choosy – but perhaps to say a thank you for the only decent memory he had of the place.

His stomach complained of hunger and he frowned against the knife-edged wind as he rode towards the town square, knowing he would be unlikely to find a decent supper before he reached Rennes. The rivers were frozen over, the grindstones of the watermills were locked in ice and there was little flour. He had seen desperate hunger in the haggard faces of the migrating workers he had passed on the road. He doubted they would find labour in Clerville or anywhere else in the region; he doubted also that the King's call for every parish to submit a written list of grievances would make much difference. The incidents were growing and it looked as though he was encountering one now.

The place Saint-Denis was still crammed with the poorer people who had come in for market day and there was great deal of angry shouting going on. They had snared a grain transport. The carters, pulled from the running board, were struggling within the crowd, and the four-dragoon escort had foolishly let themselves be isolated in front of the market cross. Astride on top of the grain sacks, defying the soldiers' muskets, a gaunt workman was addressing the crowd.

‘The King does not wish our children to starve, patriots!’ he exclaimed, his dialect proclaiming him a local man. ‘It is his evil counsellors and that Austrian bitch who are trying to squeeze every last sou from us. Take the grain to feed your children, mes braves, and you,’ he snarled at the dragoons, ‘shoot us if you dare!’

Another man sprang up onto the cart and jabbed a finger in the air. ‘Go and observe the fine English lawns, mes amis , the strutting peacocks, the mulberry trees. Why should we labour while the Duc de Montbuillou leads a life of idleness? We're not even allowed to shoot his doves for eating our peas. Has he done anything to keep us from starvation? No! Break open his barns, I say! Allons! Let us seize the grain and feed our children!’

‘To the chateau!’ a woman bawled. ‘Burn it down!’

‘And be broken on the wheel?’ scoffed someone.

‘Starve then!’ The second orator exclaimed. ‘The only difference between us and the noblesse is in the ledgers! I say burn the records which make slaves of us! To arms!’

One of the dragoons fired above the head of the speaker, merely to frighten him, but the crowd erupted in bitter fury.

Raoul reined his horse Nostradamus round. The chateau ? For years, he had tried to forget the Chateau de Clerville, vowing never to set foot within its detestable proximity, but the painting was there. Jacques-Louis David's painting! He could not let David's work be destroyed, even though he loathed every oiled pore of the canvas; even though to see its brilliance again would make him remember that humiliating month at Clerville when he had been David's apprentice.

With hatred burning anew, he circumnavigated the square through the back streets and spurred out of the town ahead of the mob to that loveless chateau. It was not just David's impatient snarl Raoul recalled, but the sting of the Duc de Montbulliou's horsewhip across his shoulders and the sniggers of the duke's daughters. Their hateful laughter whirled around his temples as he rode, so infecting his senses that he grew hot with shame beneath his greatcoat, remembering the ripe, pointing breasts flaunted to torment him.

He drew rein at the gates of the chateau, smiting his riding crop against the ironwork, gratified that the old gatekeeper hobbled forward in his sabots with a respectful touch of forelock. Thank God for that! So no ghost of a thin gauche, sixteen-year-old was recognisable any more.

‘There is a mob on the way,’ Raoul exclaimed, but the ancient cupped his ear and grinned. ‘Open the gate, damn you! Holà, you!’ Raoul snatched off his tricorne hat and gestured frantically to a boy loitering in the doorway of the gatekeeper's cottage. ‘Run to the servants' quarters as quick as you can and warn them. There's a rabble coming to burn the chateau. And you, man, for Christ's sake, let me through!'

He swung the horse round impatiently. The torches flaring behind him on the road were distant enough. The old fellow, fumbling now with sudden fear, unlocked the gates to let him in. Instead of following the carriage drive, Raoul turned into the basse-cour. His memory served him well; beyond the clipped hedges that hemmed in the lawns and en broderie flowerbeds was a copse sheltering an English grotto. Little had changed in six years. The old, artificial cave was as he remembered it, large enough to tether Nostradamus out of sight. He listened again but the winter dusk was quiet. Even on foot, the rioters would not take long to reach the chateau, for it lay but one mile from the outskirts of the dirty, impoverished town like a pendant jewel around a beggar's neck.

Jamming his hat firmly down and with his neckerchief back to front so he might draw it up to hide his face, Raoul made stealthily for the rear terrace and tested the second window of the billiard room. The frame slid up easily as it always had. He adroitly climbed over the sill into the cold gloom of the unlit room, and skirting the billiard table, he softly opened the door to the grande salon. Despite the heavy odour of lavender polish, the faint hint of mustiness spoiled the elegant room like the whiff of sweat from beneath a nobleman's expensive waistcoat.

Only the candelabra on the harpsichord had been lit. Raoul's gaze slid round the walls and halted at the artwork which hung beside the opposite door. Not David's, but a more recent portrait of Montbulliou and his son. Both faces mocked Raoul with their supercilious expressions just as they had done in real life. The duke's eyes bore smugly into his, forcing him to remember the shame and the violence, the raised whip beating him painfully to his knees. Merde , it was tempting to drive his knife into that smirking, canvas mouth. Raoul dragged his stare away with an iron will and, pulling his neckerchief up over his mouth and nose, let himself into the vestibule. David's painting did not hang there either. Time was running out. The tick-tock of the grandfather clock echoed up the great staircase and he could hear raised voices in the common room.

Could the painting be in one of the bedchambers? The sound of breaking glass drove him to take the quickest way – up the backstairs – to Montbulliou's dressing-room. A startled footman collided with him in the hall and thrusting the man roughly aside with a warning to save himself, he hurtled up the stairs to the duke's apartments. Glad of the scant lighting, he edged cautiously forward. The upper floor was chill and silent. The family was not in evidence. Just as well. It would have been a unique pleasure to scar the duke's face; anunwise pleasure that might send him to the galleys or the Bastille.

Orangeflower water and pomade! The dressing room stank of the duke, but there above the shining, polished sidetable hung his quarry – David's masterpiece, a greater work than any of the artist's more heroic paintings. Or so Raoul thought. He stared at it for a moment, reabsorbing its magnificent sensual power. Gauzy, lascivious and heartless, the duke's three oldest daughters –the goddesses, Venus, Minerva and Juno – watched from their frame as he came closer.

The fourth daughter in the painting was not looking at him. She had been nine years old and too fat to play a beauteous goddess. Instead, she had been coerced to model as the chubby Cupid offering a golden apple as a prize. A fruit so real and luscious that Raoul could have snatched it from the canvas; the apple that the youth Paris was to award to the goddess he judged to be the loveliest. But Paris was not in the painting; David had made the beholder of the painting Paris. No , you judge, he had said to the world.

The sound of splintering wood and shouting jolted Raoul back to reality. Swiftly, he dragged a Louis Quinze chair across to the wall, laughing softly as he sprang with mudded soles onto its fine brocade. Then he drew his knife from its sheaf.

‘Get down!’

A young girl stood in the inner doorway, pointing a pair of duelling pistols at him. The weapons wobbled but there was determination in the plump young face. Cupid! He had no trouble in recognising her. Long brown hair, loose, save for a band that held it free of her forehead, tumbled down to an undiscernible waist clad in tawny velvet. About fifteen now, but still round as an English pudding!

‘Shoot me then.’ He challenged, and turned his back to her.

Copyright Isolde Martyn
Excerpt by permission of Pan Macmillan Australia. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Read More

A novel of survival, courage and love in a world turned upside down.

When Fleur, the hunted daughter of a hated duke, interrupts a murderous attack on an elderly traveller, she doesn't expect the dying man to generously offer her marriage and the chance of a new identity. Famished and weary of hiding from her enemies, she accepts, even if it means risking the dangers of revolutionary Paris to claim her new property – Le Chat Rouge, a theatre-café in the Marais.

Intrigued by the lovely new widow and suspicious that he has encountered her before, Raoul de Villaret, a deputy and member of the Committee for General Security, becomes Fleur's greatest danger. Is he determined to destroy every member of her family or will he compromise his loyalty to the Revolution for her sake?

As political unrest plunges Paris yet more deeply into chaos, Fleur discovers even those she trust have secrets. In a glittering, dangerous world where anything can happen, can love survive?

Read More

I 've always wanted to set a novel in Paris during the French Revolution without the usual cliche of aristocrats tumbriled to the guillotine.

Why did things go wrong, I wondered? After all, when the Bastille prison fell, it must have been a time of great hope (just like when the Berlin Wall came down). So I began the story in 1793 a year before Robespierre's 'reign of terror'.

For my heroine, I chose a young aristocrat in hiding, a resourceful young woman who had acted in lots of plays in her father's chateau. For my hero, I created Raoul, a young man who has become a deputy in the new republic – a man who sees things starting to go wrong. In the supporting cast is Charlotte Corday (Marie-Anne as she called herself back then) and the infamous Marat, a clever doctor who has learned how to manipulate the mob and turn it on the inexperienced government. Then there's a python called Machiavelli and a very strange lodger!

Read More
  • About the book
  • Read an excerpt
  • Author's notes

A novel of survival, courage and love in a world turned upside down.

When Fleur, the hunted daughter of a hated duke, interrupts a murderous attack on an elderly traveller, she doesn't expect the dying man to generously offer her marriage and the chance of a new identity. Famished and weary of hiding from her enemies, she accepts, even if it means risking the dangers of revolutionary Paris to claim her new property – Le Chat Rouge, a theatre-café in the Marais.

Intrigued by the lovely new widow and suspicious that he has encountered her before, Raoul de Villaret, a deputy and member of the Committee for General Security, becomes Fleur's greatest danger. Is he determined to destroy every member of her family or will he compromise his loyalty to the Revolution for her sake?

As political unrest plunges Paris yet more deeply into chaos, Fleur discovers even those she trust have secrets. In a glittering, dangerous world where anything can happen, can love survive?

Read More

January 1789

Since the stable behind the Clef d'Or was where he had been initiated into making love some seven years earlier, Raoul de Villaret rode into the town of Clerville in the January twilight, wondering whether he should just pass through, or halt and revisit the generous ‘magdalene’ who had provided such a delightful tutorial. Not for an anniversary encore, of course – Bibi must be prodding forty by now, and at twenty-two, he had become choosy – but perhaps to say a thank you for the only decent memory he had of the place.

His stomach complained of hunger and he frowned against the knife-edged wind as he rode towards the town square, knowing he would be unlikely to find a decent supper before he reached Rennes. The rivers were frozen over, the grindstones of the watermills were locked in ice and there was little flour. He had seen desperate hunger in the haggard faces of the migrating workers he had passed on the road. He doubted they would find labour in Clerville or anywhere else in the region; he doubted also that the King's call for every parish to submit a written list of grievances would make much difference. The incidents were growing and it looked as though he was encountering one now.

The place Saint-Denis was still crammed with the poorer people who had come in for market day and there was great deal of angry shouting going on. They had snared a grain transport. The carters, pulled from the running board, were struggling within the crowd, and the four-dragoon escort had foolishly let themselves be isolated in front of the market cross. Astride on top of the grain sacks, defying the soldiers' muskets, a gaunt workman was addressing the crowd.

‘The King does not wish our children to starve, patriots!’ he exclaimed, his dialect proclaiming him a local man. ‘It is his evil counsellors and that Austrian bitch who are trying to squeeze every last sou from us. Take the grain to feed your children, mes braves, and you,’ he snarled at the dragoons, ‘shoot us if you dare!’

Another man sprang up onto the cart and jabbed a finger in the air. ‘Go and observe the fine English lawns, mes amis , the strutting peacocks, the mulberry trees. Why should we labour while the Duc de Montbuillou leads a life of idleness? We're not even allowed to shoot his doves for eating our peas. Has he done anything to keep us from starvation? No! Break open his barns, I say! Allons! Let us seize the grain and feed our children!’

‘To the chateau!’ a woman bawled. ‘Burn it down!’

‘And be broken on the wheel?’ scoffed someone.

‘Starve then!’ The second orator exclaimed. ‘The only difference between us and the noblesse is in the ledgers! I say burn the records which make slaves of us! To arms!’

One of the dragoons fired above the head of the speaker, merely to frighten him, but the crowd erupted in bitter fury.

Raoul reined his horse Nostradamus round. The chateau ? For years, he had tried to forget the Chateau de Clerville, vowing never to set foot within its detestable proximity, but the painting was there. Jacques-Louis David's painting! He could not let David's work be destroyed, even though he loathed every oiled pore of the canvas; even though to see its brilliance again would make him remember that humiliating month at Clerville when he had been David's apprentice.

With hatred burning anew, he circumnavigated the square through the back streets and spurred out of the town ahead of the mob to that loveless chateau. It was not just David's impatient snarl Raoul recalled, but the sting of the Duc de Montbulliou's horsewhip across his shoulders and the sniggers of the duke's daughters. Their hateful laughter whirled around his temples as he rode, so infecting his senses that he grew hot with shame beneath his greatcoat, remembering the ripe, pointing breasts flaunted to torment him.

He drew rein at the gates of the chateau, smiting his riding crop against the ironwork, gratified that the old gatekeeper hobbled forward in his sabots with a respectful touch of forelock. Thank God for that! So no ghost of a thin gauche, sixteen-year-old was recognisable any more.

‘There is a mob on the way,’ Raoul exclaimed, but the ancient cupped his ear and grinned. ‘Open the gate, damn you! Holà, you!’ Raoul snatched off his tricorne hat and gestured frantically to a boy loitering in the doorway of the gatekeeper's cottage. ‘Run to the servants' quarters as quick as you can and warn them. There's a rabble coming to burn the chateau. And you, man, for Christ's sake, let me through!'

He swung the horse round impatiently. The torches flaring behind him on the road were distant enough. The old fellow, fumbling now with sudden fear, unlocked the gates to let him in. Instead of following the carriage drive, Raoul turned into the basse-cour. His memory served him well; beyond the clipped hedges that hemmed in the lawns and en broderie flowerbeds was a copse sheltering an English grotto. Little had changed in six years. The old, artificial cave was as he remembered it, large enough to tether Nostradamus out of sight. He listened again but the winter dusk was quiet. Even on foot, the rioters would not take long to reach the chateau, for it lay but one mile from the outskirts of the dirty, impoverished town like a pendant jewel around a beggar's neck.

Jamming his hat firmly down and with his neckerchief back to front so he might draw it up to hide his face, Raoul made stealthily for the rear terrace and tested the second window of the billiard room. The frame slid up easily as it always had. He adroitly climbed over the sill into the cold gloom of the unlit room, and skirting the billiard table, he softly opened the door to the grande salon. Despite the heavy odour of lavender polish, the faint hint of mustiness spoiled the elegant room like the whiff of sweat from beneath a nobleman's expensive waistcoat.

Only the candelabra on the harpsichord had been lit. Raoul's gaze slid round the walls and halted at the artwork which hung beside the opposite door. Not David's, but a more recent portrait of Montbulliou and his son. Both faces mocked Raoul with their supercilious expressions just as they had done in real life. The duke's eyes bore smugly into his, forcing him to remember the shame and the violence, the raised whip beating him painfully to his knees. Merde , it was tempting to drive his knife into that smirking, canvas mouth. Raoul dragged his stare away with an iron will and, pulling his neckerchief up over his mouth and nose, let himself into the vestibule. David's painting did not hang there either. Time was running out. The tick-tock of the grandfather clock echoed up the great staircase and he could hear raised voices in the common room.

Could the painting be in one of the bedchambers? The sound of breaking glass drove him to take the quickest way – up the backstairs – to Montbulliou's dressing-room. A startled footman collided with him in the hall and thrusting the man roughly aside with a warning to save himself, he hurtled up the stairs to the duke's apartments. Glad of the scant lighting, he edged cautiously forward. The upper floor was chill and silent. The family was not in evidence. Just as well. It would have been a unique pleasure to scar the duke's face; anunwise pleasure that might send him to the galleys or the Bastille.

Orangeflower water and pomade! The dressing room stank of the duke, but there above the shining, polished sidetable hung his quarry – David's masterpiece, a greater work than any of the artist's more heroic paintings. Or so Raoul thought. He stared at it for a moment, reabsorbing its magnificent sensual power. Gauzy, lascivious and heartless, the duke's three oldest daughters –the goddesses, Venus, Minerva and Juno – watched from their frame as he came closer.

The fourth daughter in the painting was not looking at him. She had been nine years old and too fat to play a beauteous goddess. Instead, she had been coerced to model as the chubby Cupid offering a golden apple as a prize. A fruit so real and luscious that Raoul could have snatched it from the canvas; the apple that the youth Paris was to award to the goddess he judged to be the loveliest. But Paris was not in the painting; David had made the beholder of the painting Paris. No , you judge, he had said to the world.

The sound of splintering wood and shouting jolted Raoul back to reality. Swiftly, he dragged a Louis Quinze chair across to the wall, laughing softly as he sprang with mudded soles onto its fine brocade. Then he drew his knife from its sheaf.

‘Get down!’

A young girl stood in the inner doorway, pointing a pair of duelling pistols at him. The weapons wobbled but there was determination in the plump young face. Cupid! He had no trouble in recognising her. Long brown hair, loose, save for a band that held it free of her forehead, tumbled down to an undiscernible waist clad in tawny velvet. About fifteen now, but still round as an English pudding!

‘Shoot me then.’ He challenged, and turned his back to her.

Copyright Isolde Martyn
Excerpt by permission of Pan Macmillan Australia. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Read More

I 've always wanted to set a novel in Paris during the French Revolution without the usual cliche of aristocrats tumbriled to the guillotine.

Why did things go wrong, I wondered? After all, when the Bastille prison fell, it must have been a time of great hope (just like when the Berlin Wall came down). So I began the story in 1793 a year before Robespierre's 'reign of terror'.

For my heroine, I chose a young aristocrat in hiding, a resourceful young woman who had acted in lots of plays in her father's chateau. For my hero, I created Raoul, a young man who has become a deputy in the new republic – a man who sees things starting to go wrong. In the supporting cast is Charlotte Corday (Marie-Anne as she called herself back then) and the infamous Marat, a clever doctor who has learned how to manipulate the mob and turn it on the inexperienced government. Then there's a python called Machiavelli and a very strange lodger!

Read More

Published in Publications