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
A light so bright
She stirred awake slowly. Through the heavy shutters, an insistent beam of sunlight struck her full in the face, a beacon to rise and shine she had no desire to respond to. No. She turned her back on the light and drew up the thin blanket, trying desperately to burrow back into the dreams, into a place where there was someone sharing her bed, a warm body pressed to hers, a dark voice wishing her a good morning.
Someone banged on her door. She pretended not to hear, clinging desperately to the dissipating images of a smiling Thomas, his hands stretched out to her as she carefully set foot on the shimmering, golden bridge that extended between them. A pathway to heaven, she thought, and she muffled a sob in her pillow. Surely he was in heaven? Only a cruel, cruel God would let a good soul like Thomas linger in Purgatory.
Yet another bang on the door, a voice yelling at her to get up. She did not want to, but already her limbs were moving, years and years of ingrained discipline having her roll out of bed. She shivered in the cold air. The water in the basin was icy enough to have her gasping for breath as she dipped her face into it. She did not bother with a comb, twisting the greying, messy night braid into a coil before pulling on her coif. An enervating strand of hair danced round one temple, bouncing gently into a curl. Thomas had loved her curls. He had loved all of her, whispering tender words as he lay with her. All gone. He was gone, and anger and grief clogged her lungs.
She drew her eating knife and sawed off the tendril of hair, dropping it on the floor. No more curls for her. Once dressed, she made her way over the bailey to the kitchens. The winter day was dawning bright and cold, the water puddles rimmed with ice, the cobbles treacherously slippery. Over by the herb garden, a flock of sparrows were chattering in the bramble rose. When she moved closer, they rose into a protesting cloud of whirring wings before returning to break their fast on what hips remained.
By the time she shoved the door to the kitchen open, her fingers ached with the cold. Not that she cared. No, these days all she cared about was this constant pressure in her chest, a heavy, clogging weight that had her knocking repeatedly at her sternum in a futile attempt to dislodge it. At times, she had to come to a halt and inhale deeply, hands knotting with rage and grief. Her Thomas had not deserved to die. She knew, in her heart, that he had not done what they accused him of. She knew, because he’d told her so, and because he had never, ever lied to her.
Besides, if he had stolen all those coins, where were they? They’d turned their little room upside down searching for them, but they’d found nothing but the single coin they’d found under their pillow. Proof of his guilt, they’d yelled, but it wasn’t—not one single coin when the stolen purse contained dozens! No, her Thomas was not a thief, and yet they’d hauled him up the ladder to the gallows, him screaming that he was innocent. She closed her eyes. The fear on his face, the way he called for someone to help him, how he begged God to intercede, and she’d tried to fight free, first to get at him, then to cover her eyes, but one of the men-at-arms had held her in place, forcing her to watch as the man she’d loved since the day she turned sixteen was strung up in a noose and hanged.
“Cabbage,” Gerald the head cook said, gesturing at a huge pile of cabbage heads. She nodded without meeting his eyes. She never met anyone’s eyes anymore. She did not speak unless spoken to, nor did she smile or eat with them. She hated all of them—for believing the lies about Thomas, for whispering behind her back.
She concentrated on her work—not that shredding cabbage required much effort. Instead, she fled back to the memories of her dream, to the image of Thomas, all of him shining in that bright, bright light. A sharp elbow to her midriff brought her tumbling back to the busy kitchen. She glowered at Janet, one of the kitchen maids.
“The master says there’s a new smith coming tomorrow,” Janet said, and there was something sour and pleased about her tone. “He’ll be wanting the room over the forge.”
“That’s my room!” she said.
“Not anymore.” Janet chewed industriously on a piece of raw cabbage. “You’ll have to bed down in the hall with the rest of us.” She cackled. “Best get used to it. An old hag like you, you should be grateful they’ve let you stay. After all, with your man being a miserable thi—”
Janet did not finish. Instead, Janet squealed, ducking to avoid another slap.
“Stop it!” Gerald had hold of her, shook her like a dog. “I’ll not have you behaving like an urchin in my kitchens.”
“And I’ll not have it, that she spews lies about my Thomas!” She tore free. “He was innocent, and all of you know it. All of you know him for the good and honest man he was!” She glared at them all. “And you,” she added, directing herself at Gerald, “you did not speak one word—not one!—in defence of the brother who raised you and fed you, kept you safe and clothed.” She tore free from his hold. “How on earth you can live with that guilt, I do not know.”
Gerald’s bristled cheeks paled. At times, he looked so much like her Thomas, but over the last few weeks, he’d shrunk into a gaunt ghost of his previously so ruddy self.
“Get back to work,” was all he said. “All of you!” he roared, and every single soul in the kitchen threw themselves into their tasks.
She finished shredding the cabbages. She scrubbed tables, chopped onions, sliced parsnips and winter apples and then she was free to go. With a thick slice of warm bread and a bowl of cabbage soup she escaped outside. She ate in the herb garden. No one came here this time of the year, but she liked the silence, found comfort in the stands of withered herbs, in the odd undeveloped rose bud. Here, life was as frozen as she felt.
Six weeks since Thomas had died, and every day was a chore, the effort required to function close to unbearable. At first, she’d turned to God, hours and hours kneeling on the cold tile floor of the little chapel, but God was as silent as ever, and the Holy Virgin had never smiled her way, how else to explain that not once had she quickened with life?
She drowned in dark thoughts, struggling with the growing desire to make someone pay for the injustice exacted on Thomas. Only when she slept, did the heavy burden that crushed her throughout her waking hours lift. There was no darkness, no grief in her dreams , there was only her Thomas, big and warm and smiling as he stood, just out of reach, bathed in golden light. He beckoned her to come closer, to come to him. She sighed: of late, her every dream had been of her husband and that shimmering bridge expanding over a dark and tumbling river, a pathway to the other side, to where Thomas was waiting for her.
“Forgive me Father, for I sin daily,” she muttered, crossing herself. She knew what the dream meant—she was no fool, not after close to three score years on God’s earth. And aye, there were morrows when going through the motions required so much effort it would be easier to throw a sheet over one of the rafters and shape it into a makeshift noose. She shivered.
“Forgive me,” she repeated.
The bench she was sitting on was almost hidden behind yet another of those huge rose brambles Lady Judith so loved. It was quiet, a few sparrows hopping round her feet to pick at the crumbs she threw them. The gate to the herb garden creaked, and she stilled, sinking further into her little nook. She had no desire to talk to anyone. She scared them with her silence, with her evident grief, but they deserved it, because there was not a person in this household who did not know—should know—that her Thomas was innocent.
She peeked through the thorny branches of the rose bush. Gerald was kneeling in a corner, and at first she supposed he was here to find what little herbs were to be found this late in the year, but then she saw the wooden trowel in his hand. Quickly, he dug, his hand disappearing into the hole. He was back on his feet hiding something against his chest, and at that moment, she knew. Oh, aye, she knew! He had not seen her, and she remained where she was until he closed the low gate behind him. She hurried after him, and in her head there was a building roar, her blood heating with her rage.
Gerald ducked into the chapel. She followed. He was kneeling on the floor, carefully working a tile loose when she entered.
“You!” she said. “It was you!”
“Me?” He hid whatever he was holding against his chest. “No, no, I didn’t…”
He dared lie to her? Even now, with proof of his guilt in that soiled purse he was clutching? She grabbed hold of the closest candle holder and struck Gerald over the head. He toppled over, still holding that purse. Blood stained his coif and trickled down his cheek. He stared up at her.
“I..” he began, but she tore the purse out of his hold, scattering coins all over the floor.
“Like Judas,” she said. “May you be rot in hell, brother-in-law.” She raised her voice. “A thief, I have caught the thief!”
“I am sorry,” the steward said much later. “So, so sorry.”
She gave him a stony look. Did he think that would help? “I told you he was innocent,” she said, and the steward squirmed, muttering something about evidence pointing to the contrary.
“One coin,” she told him. “One.”
She stood. Already, the people of the household were assembling in the bailey. A new noose dangled from the gallows, but she felt none of the satisfaction she’d expected to feel at seeing the guilty bastard hang. No: she felt numb and empty and as fragile as an eggshell. Tears clogged her eyes, her throat. They made it difficult to breathe, because no matter what happened to Gerald, Thomas was still gone. She’d never hold his hand again, she’d never lie in the warm summer grasses with him, laughing when he told her she was as beautiful now as when they’d first met. Silly man. She smiled through her tears, and there he was, a gilded contour moving away from the assembled people and out through the postern gate.
She ducked and wove her way across the bailey, pushed through the gate and hurried down the narrow path, stopping at the shore of the dark and roiling river. Dried reeds rattled along the shore, but on the opposite side a beam of sunlight danced across the meadows. And there stood her Thomas.
She did not hesitate. He held out his hand and she took that first step out on the glittering bridge of light that floated above the water.
Someone yelled her name.
Another step, and the water dragged at her feet and calves. She did not care, keeping her eyes affixed on her Thomas, on the host of angels standing just behind him.
Yet another step, and the icy water reached her waist. The light beckoned and at her next step, the bottom disappeared, the drenched cloth of her kirtle dragging her under.
Water over her head, water all around and it was so, so cold, but she could still see the bridge of light, still see her Thomas.
She opened her mouth to say his name one final time.
Bubbles rose towards the surface. Dark water enveloped her, and she could no longer feel her hands or feet. But the crushing weight in her chest was gone, and she smiled herself to death, her gaze never wavering from that pinprick of golden light that called her home.
Song: A Bridge over Troubled Waters
by: Annie and Lola Lennox
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 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. (Medieval knight was also high on Anna’s list of potential professions. Yet another disappointment…) She has also written The Wanderer, a romantic suspense trilogy featuring fated lovers Jason and Helle.
Her most recent release, The Castilian Pomegranate is the second in her Castilian Saga, medieval historical fiction set in Wales and Castile. Earlier in 2021 she returned to her first love, time travel, and released the first book in a new series called The Whirlpools of Time.
Find out more about Anna by visiting her website, www.annabelfrage.com or her Amazon page, http://Author.to/ABG
Sign up to Anna’s newsletter to keep up with new releases, give-ways and other fun stuff: http://eepurl.com/cjgatT
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The Castilian Pomegranate
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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
19th Nicky Galliers - Duty
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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