Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sample Sunday - The Crown in the Heather

If you're on Twitter, there's a great way to discover new writers! Just search under #SampleSunday and add any other hash tags you'd like (#historicalfiction, #YA, etc.) to help you refine your search. This will take you to a sample of an author's writing. I'll be checking them out today, retweeting those that catch my eye.

So without further ado, here is my installment from The Crown in the Heather (The Bruce Trilogy: Book I). The year is 1296 and Robert the Bruce is at Lochmaben awaiting the birth of his first child with his wife Isabella of Mar. But as it was back in those days, childbirth was a precarious event. What should have been a joyous event was often bittersweet:

My eyes swept toward the great four-postered bed across the room. On the far side, the old midwife, Alice, wiped delicately at Isabella’s white brow with a cloth. And nearer to me, at the foot of her bed, Father Malachi . . . performing last rites.

“Dear God in heaven,” I uttered. “No, please, no.”

The priest daubed the soles of Isabella’s feet with holy oil as he blessed her soul to heaven’s keeping. I drifted past him, the iron tang of blood filling my nose and mouth. A great blotch of red-brown stained the sheets on which she lay. Over her bloated belly and bare legs someone had draped a blanket in modesty. Her shift, wet with the slickness of birth, clung to her full breasts in dark, sodden wrinkles.

Stunned, I knelt beside her and took her hand, still warm, in mine. Sweat glistened like a fine sheen of hoarfrost upon her cheeks. The only color in her face was a mask of red encircling closed eyes. Her waist-length hair, once fair and shining, lay across her pillow in twisted, lackluster strands. I stroked her fingers, even as I sensed them stiffening, and bent my head to my forearm.

My Isabella, she cannot be . . . No, no, it isn’t possible. This is not right. Did her eyelids not flutter just now? Her chest rise in the slightest of breaths? Was that twitch beneath my fingertips not the faint pulse of blood streaming through her veins?

A wail of lament ripped from my gut, but I clenched my jaw fiercely, trapping the knife of pain in my throat. My hands began to tremble, then my arms and shoulders, until soon my whole body shook uncontrollably.

“Marjorie,” came a hoarse whisper.

A long moment later, I swallowed back the hard knot in my throat and looked up through bleary eyes. “What?”

“Marjorie, my lord,” Alice murmured, a sorrowful smile on her thin lips. “Lady Isabella’s last wish was that you should name the child Marjorie—after your mother.”

With quivering fingers, I pushed away tears. But like a fresh cut doused with vinegar, their sting remained.

“If . . .” My voice cracked with grief. “If that was her wish.” I glanced at the tiny babe swaddled tightly in the curve of Ljot’s arms.

Father Malachi touched my shoulder. “The godparents should be summoned, my lord. If I remember, you chose your oldest brother, Edward. And your sister . . . Mary, was it? I will send to Lochmaben for them. We can perform the christening as soon as they arrive.”

Christening? How could I take joy in the baptism of a child in the same week I was to bury my wife? More often, it was the mother who lived and the child who died, as Ljot’s did. If only this babe had—

God forgive me. How can I even think such wickedness?

Then I heard the slurp and grunt of my daughter’s vigorous suckling and soon her bittersweet cries rent the air.

“Marjorie,” I repeated.

Until later,


Linda S. Prather said...

I tried to post last week, but it wouldn't let me. This is totally not my genre, but you may be converting me. A wonderful sample full of emotion. The bittersweet feelings of joy and pain. And a look into the strength of your character as he struggles to keep it bottled up inside. Thanks for sharing.

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Oh thank you so much, Linda. These past couple of years I've found myself wandering outside of HF to read in other genres (like YA and horror) and have found some fantastic authors. That's why I love things like #SampleSunday!

Huge apologies for the posting difficulties. I have it set for me to approve comments before they go up (alas, I've gotten a few doozies in the past), but I hate to think Blogger is somehow making it a pain for folks.

P.S. If anyone else has problems. just drop me a line at and I'll make sure the comment gets posted.

Edie Ramer said...

I really enjoyed this. Very good writing! As Linda said, full of emotion.

Thea Atkinson said...

well written. I used to read a lot of historical fiction and this is as good as anything I've seen