we are a little different this year:
some contributions are exclusive stories, others are excerpts
from the authors' novels,
but all have our traditional format of...
Read the Story - Guess the Song
Here's a clue to the song title
|Photo by Kazuo ota on Unsplash|
Excerpt from Island of Gold by Amy Maroney.
Sophie gazed around the great hall in satisfaction. The holly and evergreen garlands draped along the walls gave off a festive scent. The musicians Papa had hired for the twelve days of Christmas played just as enthusiastically as they had on Christmas Eve, though the revelry had gone on for nearly a fortnight now. And today’s feast, to celebrate the Epiphany, had surpassed all the rest. Trout, veal, goose, suckling pig, even a peacock roasted in its feathers. Then some entremets—delicate nibbles glazed with layers of sugar and honey. She had eaten a few too many of those, but she had no intention of passing up the highlight of the meal—la fête des rois, in which whoever got the hidden bean in their slice of cake would be king or queen of the feast. Sophie had never won this game, but she also never lost heart. Tonight, she was sure God had heard her prayers. She would win.
Next to her, Cédric leaned closer.
“I have never seen sweets loaded with so much sugar,” he whispered to her, eyes twinkling.
“Well, I hope you’ve saved room for the galette des rois,” she replied, gracing him with her most dazzling smile.
“Believe me, I would never pass up the chance to be king.” He drained his cup of wine.
Sophie signaled to a servant. He scurried over and refilled the falconer’s cup.
“You’re taking good care of me,” Cédric said, a look of amusement on his face.
“It is my duty. You are our honored guest. Papa bade me be certain all your needs are met.”
He raised an eyebrow. Carefully, almost imperceptibly, she moved closer to him on the bench. Through the layers of her dress and underclothes, she felt the firm muscles of his thigh pressing against her own. He rested one hand on the table between them. She fiddled with her knife, grazing her little finger against his. The sensation of his skin on hers sent a thrill through her.
|Photo by Gioele Fazzeri on Unsplash|
“The galette des rois,” Papa boomed suddenly, standing with his arms spread wide.
Sophie looked at him, startled out of what had felt like a private moment. Her father’s eyes bored into her, making her squirm.
Servants dispersed around the table, placing slices before each guest.
“Whoever finds the bean is king or queen for the night. I wish you all good luck.” Papa raised his cup and saluted everyone, then settled back in his chair.
Shouts of disappointment and peals of laughter rang out as the revelers consumed their slices of cake.
Cédric ate his in a few quick bites and shook his head in dismay. “It’s not meant to be. I won’t be king tonight.”
Sophie tore off a piece of her own slice and examined it closely. Excitement flared within her. Holding up her find overhead, she let out a cry of triumph. “I’ve got the bean! I’m queen of you all!”
Papa roared his approval and clapped his hands. The rest of the diners followed suit.
At Papa’s signal, a troubadour performed a complicated series of trumpet blasts in Sophie’s direction. Then another servant carried out a silver platter bearing a red velvet crown trimmed with cloth-of-gold. He bowed low before Sophie.
She plucked the crown off the platter and fitted it over her silk head covering. Slowly, she rose to her feet.
Raising her chin, she sought the gaze of each family member and guest. Assuming what she imagined was a regal expression, she thrust her shoulders back. Papa had spared no expense on her blue silk dress, which matched the color of her eyes exactly. Surely, it was appropriate attire for a queen. All she lacked were jewels.
“Your Majesty!” they all shouted as one. More laughter rang out. Two servants appeared bearing pitchers of spiced wine.
“Why aren’t true queens as beautiful as false ones?” Grégoire called from across the table, a mocking grin on his face.
“Silence!” Sophie ordered him, suppressing a giggle. “I am a true queen, sir. And just to prove it, I demand that you refill my cup at once.”
Grégoire groaned. At a snail’s pace, he rose from his seat, plucked a pitcher of wine from a servant’s grasp, and trudged around the table. After filling her cup, he bent down in an exaggerated bow, inciting more laughter.
“What is your pleasure next, Queen Sophie?” Papa asked.
Next to him, Maman smiled, her cheeks rosy from the wine. “Do not delay,” she advised. “Your subjects will get restless otherwise.”
“I wish to play ‘The Queen Who Does Not Lie,’ ” Sophie announced.
Excited murmuring swept around the table. The tambourine shaker rattled his instrument with flair.
“My first question is directed to my dining companion, our honored guest, Monsieur de Montavon.” She turned to him and batted her eyelashes. “Sir. Answer truthfully, and you may ask a question in return. Who has stolen your heart?”
Silence fell. Her pulse thudded in her ears. It was audacious, reckless. But she was queen today. She would be forgiven for such boldness.
He stared at her for a moment without answering. Then he smiled a little. “Why, the queen, of course.”
Applause broke out.
She glanced at her father, who bore an inscrutable expression.
“I see the truth in your eyes and hear it in your voice, sir,” she replied, turning to the falconer. “Now you may ask a question of anyone you choose—and they must answer as truthfully as you have.”
He hesitated, glancing at the expectant faces around the table. Then his gaze returned to her. “I wish to know,” he said in a firm, clear voice, “who has stolen the queen’s heart.”
She felt an unaccustomed weakness in her knees. “It would not be seemly for the queen to share secrets of the heart.”
Hisses and boos broke out, and the drummer pounded on his goatskin drum.
“Truth! Truth!” the crowd chanted.
Sophie held up a hand. “Very well. I will describe him with all discretion, then, as befits my rank. He is a man of gentle birth, for I only surround myself with noble-born companions. And he is well-traveled.”
“And—let me guess—he’s not a bad falcon tamer either,” Grégoire shouted, his words blurred by wine.
Wild laughter rippled through the air.
Sophie glanced down at Cédric, who could not contain his own merriment. She raised her cup, pretending not to hear the hilarity.
“My lords and ladies,” she began.
“There are no lords and ladies here,” a cousin shouted from the far end of the table.
“Do you wish to lose your head?” she asked him icily. “I demand silence!”
The crowd quieted.
“My subjects, you are unruly. To show me your loyalty, you must obey me in this command: we shall all retire from the table and dance until the Yule log has burned to ash.”
With that, she walked away from the table, winking at Cédric as she did so.
With good-natured groans and complaints, the rest of the revelers followed suit. Sophie gestured at the musicians and they struck up a festive melody.
Papa got to her first. “May I have this dance, Queen Sophie?” he asked.
“It would be my honor, Monsieur Portier.” She lowered her head in a regal nod.
They began circling each other, dipping and swaying in time to the music. Others joined them until a group of paired dancers had formed.
“You are by far too bold for a girl,” Papa said, the smile fading from his face.
“But I am not a girl, I am queen.”
“Tomorrow you will simply be my daughter again. And my favorite, as you so clearly know. But even the favorite can forget herself.”
“Papa, I am only playing the game,” she insisted. “It is not my fault I found the bean.”
“Do you think that was just luck, my girl?” he asked softly.
They faced each other, palm to palm. He bowed; she curtsied. The music swelled and the dancers drew close together in a tight knot, then dispersed.
“What do you mean?” she asked him.
“I made sure you got the bean, Queen Sophie. Good fortune is not often a matter of luck. It is a matter of influence.”
Disappointment shot through her chest. “Oh.”
“You’ve made it plain since we met Monsieur de Montavon that he has captured your attention. Today, you told the entire household and all of our guests that he has captured your heart as well. Was that true?”
“Yes, Papa, I’ve told you so many times, have I not?”
“So be it. Your good fortune continues, thanks to me. The falconer has asked me for your hand, and I’ve accepted.”
She stared at Papa, stunned. “But he has said nothing to me.”
“It is not his place to do so, but mine.”
“And he will take his place alongside you in the cloth trade? He will make a fine addition—”
“No, Sophie. He won’t hear of it. If I were in his shoes, I wouldn’t trade the life of a falconer for the life of a cloth merchant either.”
“But, Papa, you often say there’s no man on earth you can’t convince to change his mind.” Sophie used her most honeyed voice, sweetening it further with a pleading smile. “Perhaps you need a little more time . . . ”
He pressed his lips together, his eyes darting to Maman and back again. “Your mother wanted you wed a year ago. I put her off. Said I wouldn’t make a match for reasons of commerce and trade, as I did for your elder sisters. No, I wanted my favorite daughter to have the love match she desires.”
A new refrain rose up from the musicians. Pulling her palm away from her father’s, Sophie wove an intricate pattern of steps around him. Papa stood stock-still, the sober expression on his face a stark contrast to the jocular smile he had worn most of the day.
“I know you’ve been stalking him in the corridors,” he hissed. “And twice the servants have seen you attempting to enter his chamber alone. Your behavior at the table with him verges on scandalous. You cannot flirt so openly with a man unless he is your betrothed. This is not a game, Sophie. I’ve indulged you to my detriment. But I won’t have you compromise your virtue. No, you have made your choice. You will wed Cédric de Montavon on the day I ordain. If you do not comply, I will not entertain any further ideas of a love match. Do you understand?”
Tears burned in Sophie’s eyes. She was queen, and yet her father shamed her on this day of all days when he should be granting her every wish. She forced down a sob. Caught Cédric’s gaze across the room. The desire in his eyes made her breath catch in her throat.
“You’re weeping!” her father said in alarm. “What is it?”
“I’m afraid, Papa,” she admitted. “Afraid of leaving you, afraid of becoming a wife and mother. There’s so much I do not know.”
His expression relaxed. “My dear, we all fear what we do not know. I will always look after you, even when you’re married and no longer by my side. But what matters to me is: Do you fear him? The falconer?”
She glanced at Cédric.
Again she felt that raw longing to be near him, to put her hands upon him. To press her body to his, to hear his heart pounding under her cheek.
The dance ended. Sophie lifted her chin and looked straight at her father.
“No, Papa,” she said with certainty. “I love him.”
Song: Dancing Queen
Island of Gold is available on Amazon at this link.
Amy Maroney lives in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. with her family, and spent many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction before turning her hand to historical fiction. When she’s not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, dancing, traveling, and reading. Amy is the author of The Miramonde Series—the story of a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern day scholar on her trail—and Island of Gold, the tale of a noble French falconer and a spirited merchant’s daughter who seek their fortunes on the Greek island of Rhodes.
images via: Pixabay unless otherwise stated
Note: it is illegal to copy lyrics but there is no © for ideas!
our stories or excerpts to enjoy
1st Deborah Swift - an excerpt from Pleasing Mr Pepys
2nd Graham Brack - The Clock Struck One
3rd Cindy Vallar - Rumble the Dragon
4th Barbara Gaskell Denvil - The Great Forest
5th Nicky Galliers - Two Stories
6th Annie Whitehead - excerpt from To Be A Queen
7th Judith Arnopp - an excerpt from The Winchester Goose
8th Paul Marriner - First Love
9th Loretta Livingstone - Labour of Love
10th Marian L. Thorpe - excerpt from Empire’s Heir
11th J G Harlond - excerpt from A Turning Wind
12th Amy Maroney - excerpt from Island of Gold
13th Richard Tearle - excerpt from the North Finchley Writer's Group
14th Inge H Borg - Excerpt from After the Cataclysm
15th Juhi Ray - the movie Jodha Akbar
16th Clare Flynn - Excerpt from The Green Ribbons
17th Anna Belfrage - A Light So Bright
18th Elizabeth St John - excerpt from Written in Their Stars
20th Erica Lainé - La Belle Russe
21st Anna Belfrage - Excerpt from A Rip In The Veil
22nd Kathryn Gauci - Excerpt from The Poseidon Network
23rd Cryssa Bazos - Excerpt from Rebel's Knot
24th Debbie Young - The Secret Ministry Of Frost
* * *
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Amazon Author Page: https://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick
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1066 Turned Upside Down -
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A post-Roman warlord and the story
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