How do you overcome the loathing, lust and bitterness threatening you and your family’s honour?
It’s 1363, and in Steyning Castle, Sussex, Dickon de Bohun is enjoying life as a squire in the household of Earl Raoul de Fougère. Or he would be, if it weren’t for Edwin de Courtenay, who’s making his life a misery with his bullying, threatening to expose the truth about Dickon’s birth.
At home in Meonbridge for Christmas, Dickon notices how grown-up his childhood playmate, Libby Fletcher, has become since he last saw her and feels the stirrings of desire. Libby, seeing how different he is too, falls instantly in love. But as a servant to Dickon’s grandmother, Lady Margaret de Bohun, she could never be his wife.
Margery Tyler, Libby’s aunt, meeting her niece by chance, learns of her passion for young Dickon. Their conversation rekindles Margery’s long-held rancour against the de Bohuns, whom she blames for all the ills that befell her family, including her own servitude. For years she’s hidden her hunger for retribution, but she can no longer keep her hostility in check.
As the future Lord of Meonbridge, Dickon knows he must rise above de Courtenay’s loathing and intimidation, and get the better of him. And, surely, he must master his lust for Libby, so his own mother’s shocking history is not repeated? Of Margery’s bitterness, however, he has yet to learn…
Beset by the hazards these powerful and dangerous emotions bring, can young Dickon summon up the courage and resolve to overcome them?
Secrets, hatred and betrayal, but also love and courage – Squire’s Hazard, the fifth MEONBRIDGE CHRONICLE.
EXCERPT From the Prologue
Edwin clapped a hand across his mouth, stifling a snigger. Nick and Alan, crouching beside him just behind the stables entrance, sniggered too. Their hiding place was out of sight of Sir Eustace Beneyt and his squire, but they had a good view of the unfolding skirmish.
Edwin held his breath, and he could sense his friends’ excitement too at what might happen next.
And, when it did, it was exactly what he had hoped for.
With a resounding slap, the knight struck the squire’s ear with an open-handed blow. The clout was hard and heavy, and the boy cried out. Tears burst from his astonished eyes. He bit down upon his lip, drawing blood. Pressing his hand to his assaulted ear, he looked up at Sir Eustace’s furious face, red and purple now, his bushy eyebrows merging.
Edwin nudged the others and snorted softly, and they snorted back but did not speak.
Sir Eustace had a reputation for ferocity on the battlefield, but here at Steyning he was known to be a man of modest temper, who rarely raised a hand against his squire. He would shout at him, yes, and damn him for his failings, but, as far as Edwin could remember, he had never struck him before.
But never before had the knight’s beloved mare, Morel, been harmed whilst in the squire’s supposed care.
Edwin punched the air, delighted with the way the prank had worked. It was the best so far, though the other tricks they had played upon Dickon de Bohun had been good too. Like when Alan stole one of Sir Eustace’s armoured gauntlets, and the matter of the missing piece of Morel’s bridle.
Both times, Sir Eustace had been so furious Edwin expected him to punish de Bohun severely. But his chastisements then were still not physical, which was frustrating. It was then Edwin decided to make Sir Eustace absolutely mad with anger at his squire, and he had known exactly what would do it.
And he was right. Of course, it was a shame poor Morel had to suffer too, but it was worth it for the sight of de Bohun’s humiliation.
It had been a clever plan.
Alan had called Dickon away when he was part way through preparing Morel for Sir Eustace to go out hunting. ‘Dick,’ he had said, coming over, ‘can you help me? I’ve got a problem with some harness.’
Dickon had hesitated. He was already behind with saddling Morel. But he followed Alan down the stable to a stall right at the far end. Of course, Alan had no real problem, but had tangled up the straps on purpose.
Anyway, whilst they were away from Morel’s stall, Edwin had crept in and hidden one small but especially spiny chestnut between the folds of the thick blanket Dickon had just thrown over the mare’s back. Naturally she whinnied when he placed it there, but he managed to soothe her and she was calm enough when Dickon returned, out of breath and agitated, now even more behindhand with his work.
Edwin had by then vanished, hunkering down in a nearby stall, where the others joined him. It was dark inside the stables and easy enough to keep out of sight.
Horses were often nervous in the moments before they took the saddle, and Dickon, who was, even Edwin would admit, good with horses, murmured to her as he lifted the fine leather saddle and lowered it with care over the blanket. Morel whinnied shrilly as soon as she felt it touch her, arching her back, and kicking out. Yet Dickon was now in such a hurry, he just continued buckling the girth and fixing the bridle, by turns whispering into Morel’s ear and stroking her on the muzzle.
When Sir Eustace came to mount her, he was puzzled by her skittishness. ‘What’s amiss with her?’ he said, as she pranced and whickered out on the bailey.
Dickon shuffled his feet. ‘Naught I know of, sir,’ though his face betrayed unease. Nonetheless, he brought the mounting block and, as Sir Eustace stepped up onto it, Edwin and his chums each held their breath.
The knight put his foot into the stirrup and, bouncing, swung his leg up and over the restless horse’s back. He lowered himself into the saddle and Morel screamed and bucked. Then, snorting, she took off across the bailey, her rider clinging to the pommel on the saddle, until at length she reared in fury and threw him off, to land with a heavy thud upon the dusty ground.
The conspirators had scuttled to the stable door to watch the ensuing spectacle. It took the knight a while to recover both himself and his mare and walk her back to the stables. As he approached, they retreated once more into the gloom.
‘De Bohun,’ Sir Eustace yelled, and Dickon, white and shaking, had run forward.
‘Take off the saddle,’ roared the knight and, with trembling fingers, Dickon had unbuckled the girth and lifted off the saddle, and the blanket. ‘Shake it,’ snarled Sir Eustace, and Dickon opened the blanket out and flapped it. And out dropped the sweet chestnut husk, falling to the ground.
The knight lunged forward and, snatching up the spiteful object, advanced upon Dickon, his face purple. ‘Your hand,’ he commanded and, when Dickon held it out, Sir Eustace pressed the chestnut into it. Then, wrapping his big fist over Dickon’s, he squeezed. Dickon had yelped like a whipped puppy, as the chestnut’s spines bit into his palm.
Then came the first blow to Dickon’s ear, then a second and a third. ‘You heedless dolt,’ Sir Eustace cried. ‘I’m done with all your carelessness. No longer will I have you as my squire. I shall tell the earl you are dismissed from my service.’
He turned back to the mare and rubbed his face against the side of hers, running his hand over her muzzle and cooing. Then he stood up straight and yelled ‘Alan’, and Edwin slapped his friend upon the back as he slunk out of the stables.
Eustace’s eyebrows knit. ‘Were you hiding?’
‘Of course not, sir, just tidying.’
The knight grunted. ‘Right, I shall tell Lord Raoul you are my squire now.’ He gestured to Morel with his head. ‘Take good care of her. I shall give hunting a miss today.’
When Alan led Morel back into the stable, Edwin slapped him again upon the shoulder. ‘Excellent. Puts de Bohun right back down where he belongs. And gives you a new knight to serve.’
Alan’s previous knight left Steyning two weeks ago, and he had not yet been allocated another. He smirked. ‘Couldn’t have worked out better.’
Edwin peeped once more out of the stables to gloat upon the sight of Dickon’s face, red and snot-covered, distraught with grief and shame. Then, remembering his own knight had also ordered up his rouncey, he hurried back inside.
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Meet Carolyn Hughes
CAROLYN HUGHES has lived much of her life in Hampshire. With a first degree in Classics and English, she started working life as a computer programmer, then a very new profession. But it was technical authoring that later proved her vocation, as she wrote and edited material, some fascinating, some dull, for an array of different clients, including banks, an international hotel group and medical instruments manufacturers.
Having written creatively for most of her adult life, it was not until her children flew the nest several years ago that writing historical fiction took centre stage, alongside gaining a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University and a PhD from the University of Southampton.
Squire’s Hazard is the fifth MEONBRIDGE CHRONICLE, and more stories about the folk of Meonbridge will follow.
Connect with Carolyn
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