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

Reader Beware
Any audio edition of this book is a scam

  • 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.

Read More

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.’

Read More

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!

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

Published in Publications