Sunday, February 6, 2011

#SampleSunday - Isabeau, Ch. 6

When I began to write about Queen Isabella, the wife of King Edward II of England, the story at first was solely in her voice. But there were gaps in it - huge holes in time and plot. The only way to bridge those gaps and give the story the dimension it needed was to allow Roger Mortimer to have his own voice. So Isabeau became as much Isabella's story as it was Roger's. I'll admit, by today's standards he's a bit of a chauvinist, but he also felt strong connections to certain people in his life, one of them being his uncle, Roger of Chirk.

Here's part of a scene from Ch. 6 of Isabeau, A Novel of Queen Isabella and Sir Roger Mortimer. Roger, his son Edmund and his uncle have submitted to King Edward II and been taken prisoner. They arrive at the Tower of London to await their fate:


I was not spoken to again until we reached the inner bailey of the Tower of London. There, they snatched the blanket away and pitched me sideways from the wagon. My elbow and chest slammed against the cobbles. Air was sucked from my lungs. Before I could draw breath, Edmund landed across my legs, tumbled over, and banged his head on the stones. He gritted his teeth to keep from crying out, but a long hiss of pain escaped his mouth. I choked and sputtered as I fought to breathe. Then I saw another shadow wobbling above me. There was an irascible grunt, followed by a spit and a curse.

They hurled my uncle from the wagon. My torso broke his fall; only he did not land with the lithe reactions of my son, but the dead weight of an old man stiff in the joints. I tried to inhale, but his weight crushed me. My lungs would not expand. Down low my ribs burned with pain, as though someone had plunged a flaming poker into me.

“Get . . . off,” I gasped.

They hoisted him to his feet and began to drag him away.

I tucked my right elbow beneath me to roll over, but the pain burst through me again. With my hands still bound, I could not push myself up with either of them. The scrape of fading footsteps urged me to try again. I lifted my other shoulder and turned my head enough to see, in the silver etchings of a winter night, my uncle being escorted toward one of the tower doors. A virulent sneer tore from his lips.

“May you rot in hell!” he shouted at me. His crackling voice echoed off the high walls like the shattering of glass. They shoved him headlong through the doorway. He cursed again. The door slammed shut. Then . . . the sound of a beating. His profane oaths were muffled by fist blows, until at last they faded to heavy sobs and drawn-out whimpers.

On his knees, Edmund shook his head. Slowly, he turned his face toward me. A trickle of blood traced its way from the indent of his temple to the ridge of his cheekbone. “He did not mean it,” he said barely above a whisper.

At that, one of the guards seized him by the back of his shirt, yanked him to his feet and slammed a fist into his belly. “Keep your mouth shut, you hear?”

Edmund crumpled against the wagon, his eyes squeezed tight in pain. Before he could recover, they hooked their hands beneath each of his arms and were taking him away, too. Had I any breath to spare, I would have called after him. With stoic courage, Edmund lifted his head, picked up his feet, and kept silent so they would not give him the same pummeling they had given his great uncle. He was escorted to the same door, but when it was opened there was neither sight nor sound of my uncle. Edmund dodged to the side to avoid being slammed into the doorway as they jostled him through.

Vaguely, I was aware of the clop of hooves, the wagon rattling away over the stones, a barking of orders, the groaning of a gate, and the slow murmur of deep voices from behind me.

“—the Lanthorn Tower. There is a room for him there. Mind you, no one is to speak to him.”

Measured footsteps approached me from behind. I felt a pair of hands lift me carefully up until I was sitting. I winced involuntarily.

A man in full mail and wearing the king’s red and gold stepped around me and sank to his haunches. His balding head, bare of coif or helmet, was fringed with close shorn chestnut locks and streaked with the first white hairs of middle age. “A bit bruised, aren’t you?” He began to probe about my head with lightly jabbing fingers and worked his way down my neck and shoulders. When he came to my last two ribs on the right, I clenched my jaw, but there was a little groan deep inside my throat he must have heard, for he drew his hands away and stood. “Take him away. And see to his injuries. ‘Tis the king who says whether he lives or dies, and when, not us.”

Silently, I thanked him for that grace, however morbid.

Meanwhile, I'm the Guest Writer over at the web site of historical fiction author Fred Nath. Fred's book, The Cyclist, is a poignant tale of World War II France and is the first in a trilogy. It was an Editor's Choice selection in the February 2011 issue of the Historical Novel Society's Historical Novels Review and reveals a different (and very human) side of war. Check out Fred's web site for more information!

Happy reading,

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