Their Castilian Orphan, Excerpt by Anna Belfrage

It is 1294 and Eustace de Lamont is back in England after five years in exile. He will stop at nothing to ruin Robert FitzStephan and his wife, Noor d’Outremer.

Robert’s half brother, Eustace de Lamont, has not mellowed during his absence. He is more ruthless than ever, and this time he targets Robert’s and Noor’s foster son, Lionel.

Lionel is serving King Edward as a page when Eustace appears at court. Not only does Lionel become the horrified witness to Eustace’s violent streak, Eustace also starts voicing his suspicions about Lionel’s parentage. The truth about Lionel’s heritage is explosive—should King Edward find out, all would be lost for Robert and Noor.

In October of 1294, Wales rises in rebellion. Robert must leave his family unprotected to fight the Welsh rebels on the king’s behalf, comforted only by the fact that Eustace too is called to fight.

Except that Eustace has no intention of allowing his duty to his king—or a mere rebellion—come between him and his desire to destroy Robert FitzStephan . . .

In which Lionel encounters Eustace de Lamont whose comments about Lionel’s parentage stirs old memories to life

The midday meal had been an extended matter, the king surrounded by his closest counsellors. With so many men arriving to attend parliament, Lionel and his fellow pages scurried like mice in their efforts to ensure the highborn were offered hot water and towels and a constant supply of wine with their meal.

Lionel had just replenished the goblet of the Earl of Cornwall and was about to hasten out of the hall to find a new pitcher of wine when he crashed into the solid frame of a man.

“My apologies,” he said, backing away. “I was just . . .”

“Ah. FitzStephan’s Welsh foundling.”

Lionel peered up at Eustace de Lamont, his mind inundated with images of a small hand dangling from de Lamont’s fingers. A rush of bile filled his mouth. For an instant, he feared he would forever humiliate himself by voiding his guts in the king’s presence, but with an effort he drew himself up as tall as he could while taking a few shuffling steps backwards. He swallowed a couple of times in a futile attempt to rid his mouth of the bitter taste. “I am not Welsh,” he said. “I am from Castile, like our late queen was.”

De Lamont sneered. “You’re no more Castilian than I am. You’re a Welsh bastard whelp who should have been drowned at birth—as should your precious foster father.”

“De Lamont!” the king’s voice carried through the hall. “Come away from the lad. Now.”

De Lamont took a deep breath and somehow rearranged his contorted features into a bland mask before giving Lionel his back. “I was just—”

“Well, don’t! He is FitzStephan’s foster son, and if you as much as tweak his hair, I’ll have you punished. God knows Robert loves that lad as if he were his own.”

De Lamont spluttered. “Forgive me, my sire, but I cannot help but wonder what lies you’ve been told to have offered the little bastard a place at your court.”

“Lies?” the king asked in an icy voice.

“Aye, lies. That lad is Welsh, my liege. And yet he struts about boasting of a Castilian heritage.”

“Lionel never boasts,” the king said calmy, studying Lionel, as did all the people presently in the hall. He squirmed under the weight of their gazes.

“He’s as lowborn as his foster father and does not deserve to be at court!” Eustace exclaimed.

“Careful, man,” the king said. “Be very, very careful. After all, not a man here does not know how utterly you dishonoured yourself some years ago. You are here on sufferance, de Lamont. Best keep that in mind.”

“But it’s not right! They fed you a pack of lies,” Eustace said. He stabbed a finger at Lionel. “That lad is the same lad we saw as a babe in Orton Manor. I’d wager my life on it!”

Lionel stilled, fragmented memories flooding his mind. Of Mama lifting him straight up and swirling him round her head, of Amalia wagging a finger at him while telling him he had to be careful with the little babe because Isabel was too young to play . . . no, that must have been Hugh, not Isabel. But there was that persistent image of Papa, pale and shivering while cradling his bleeding maimed hand to his chest, and he shook his head because that had happened before. Before Castile, before Queen Maria asking them to take in a homeless orphan. 

Over at the high table, the king had risen to his feet, effectively forcing everyone else to do the same. “My wife did not lie,” he said in an icy tone. “And my wife entrusted Lionel here to me, begging that I give him an opportunity he could not find in his homeland, Castile.”

“But . . .” Eustace blustered.

“Furthermore, the queen of Castile herself has set her seal on the documents naming Lionel here as her distant relative, Fadrique Enriquez. Would you accuse yet another queen of lying?”

“No, my liege,” Eustace muttered.

“Good. Then you will apologise to the lad for humiliating him thus before my entire court.”

“What?” Eustace took a step back.

“Now.” The king crossed his arms.

Eustace turned to Lionel, his mouth curled in a sneer. “My apologies,” he said, sounding utterly insincere. He made a deep reverence to the king and made for the door.

“And de Lamont,” the king called out, forcing the man to stop and turn to face the king.

“My liege?” he said through gritted teeth, his face an unhealthy shade of red. Lionel pressed himself against the wall at his back.

“Do not forget the conditions of my mercy. You are here today because you have sworn an oath to never again raise your hand against Robert FitzStephan or anyone he holds dear. Anyone.”

Eustace’s previously florid face paled.

The king nodded a couple of times. “Aye, I see you understand what that would mean.” He sat down again. “Stay away from the lad,” he finished. “Lionel, fetch me more wine.”

And just like that, things were back to normal. Eustace de Lamont left the hall, ignored by everyone. Conversations resumed, servers carried in dishes with more food, and Lionel stood by the king’s elbow to fill up his goblet.

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Meet Anna Belfrage

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with three absorbing interests: history, romance and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England. Anna has just released the final instalment, Their Castilian Orphan, in her other medieval series, The Castilian Saga ,which is set against the conquest of Wales. She has recently released Times of Turmoil, a sequel to her time travel romance, The Whirlpools of Time, and is now considering just how to wiggle out of setting the next book in that series in Peter the Great’s Russia, as her characters are demanding. . .

All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of various Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards.

“A master storyteller”

“This is what all historical fiction should be like. Superb.”

Find out more about Anna, her books and enjoy her eclectic historical blog on her website, 

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