Welcome to the candlelit courts of Europe!
Uninvited guests at a secret wedding.
A frozen River Thames.
May Day celebrations to remember.
The young Henry VIII, with the aid of his chief advisor, Thomas Wolsey, and against the counsel of Thomas Howard, the Earl of Surrey, is hellbent on a so-called holy war with France. This puts him at odds with his Scottish brother-in-law, James IV of Scotland, and his older sister, Margaret.
Both Tristan and Nicolas know that time is running out for them before they have to…enter the Church – and into an arranged marriage, respectively. In the meantime, they remain at loggerheads over pretty Ysabeau de Sapincourt, the spoilt young wife of the hapless Robert.
At La Colombe, near Ardres, in Picardy, spirited little Valentine is still making mischief as she sees fit.
Across the Narrow Sea, Cecily is perfectly content in her beloved Zennor Castle, in Cornwall.
None of them know what Dame Fortune has in store for them. Will she allow them to follow their own paths…or has she got other ideas?
The following excerpt is the first time Nicolas de La Barre, ward of Guy d’Ardres, the Governor of Picardy, comes face to face with his bitter rival, Tristan d’Ardres, the Count’s younger son who is destined for a career in the Church. Tristan is stubbornly refusing to accept his fate as a future Bishop of Ardres, and is ably supported by his best friend, Jean de Lorraine. On the evening of Twelfth Night a few hours before, Tristan managed to win the attentions of the fair Ysabeau de Sapincourt, the spoilt young wife of the ageing Robert. Nicolas realizes that Tristan did it as a provocation, knowing of Nicolas’s infatuation with Ysabeau.
January 7th, 1513.
The great hall, Ardres Castle.
As the only occupant at the high table so far, Nicolas was relishing the opportunity to break his fast in pleasant solitude. As he reached over for some more anchovies, he felt a pang of disappointment when the brass handle of the heavy oak door, at the far end of the hall, slowly started to turn. Disappointment swiftly gave way to disgust when he saw who it was bursting through the doorway jostling and jesting as usual, like a pair of eight-year-olds: Tristan and that earth-vexing friend of his, Jean de Lorraine. Still licking his wounds from last night’s humiliating débâcle of his planned wooing of Ysabeau de Sapincourt, not to mention his very public defeat to Tristan, Nicolas glared at them as they approached with all the swagger of a couple of street ruffians seeking out a brawl. Thinly disguised hostility towards himself was evident in every insufferably nonchalant step. His only consolation was that they weren’t accompanied by Guillaume Gouffier; that one had left the great hall last night with a pert young woman hanging onto his arm who definitely wasn’t his wife, Bonaventure. With his expression of a cat that’s got the cream, Gascon (as he knew him better) had put Nicolas in an even worse mood than before.
The pain of losing Ysabeau to Tristan hurt as much as salt being rubbed into an open wound. The realization that the scurvy-valiant, younger son of Monsieur Guy might prove a very real threat to him in the joust of love, had hit Nicolas with all the force of a thunderbolt from the heavens. Gone was his erstwhile notion of Tristan as a mewling jolthead, snivelling in protest all the way to the door of Anderne Abbey.
Destined for a wretched existence…devoid of the pleasures of the flesh.
Nicolas couldn’t even bring himself to entertain the thought that the future devil-monk might well succeed in luring Nicolas’s precious prize to his bedchamber.
As the two of them reached Nicolas, the cullionly Jean put one hand to his mouth in mock horror, his eyes – a pair of radiant forget-me-nots – wide with faux concern. ‘What ails you this morning, Nicolas? I think the frozen plains of Siberia would offer us a warmer welcome.’
Perhaps he had unpleasant dreams,’ smirked Tristan. ‘The kind where you’re pursued by a bear, or find yourself in the Castle courtyard as naked as the day you were born. Without even a horse in the stables upon which you’re able to flee. Or a fair maid nearby to kiss your cares away. Just a pot of linseed oil to keep you company while you polish the mud-crusted saddles.’
Although Nicolas wanted nothing more than to put out a boot to send his toad-spotted rival flying back from whence he’d come, he knew he couldn’t simply ignore this insult. ‘I can see you’re trying to make hay while the sun shines, Tristan. After all, the Church will soon be your only mistress.’
There was a momentary flash of anger on his adversary’s face that disappeared as quickly as it had come, in the manner of a cloud passing in front of the sun. Even so, Nicolas was gratified to see it. Served Tristan right for daring to steal Ysabeau right from under his nose.
‘Don’t be so sure of that!’ was the only weak parry of the sword Tristan managed.
Unable to resist going in for the kill, Nicolas shrugged, feigning indifference. ‘Wars and women. Who in their right mind would desire either? But if we’re forced to become involved, we should take heed of the old saying: “All’s fair in love and war”.’
Jean threw himself into a chair right next to Nicolas and rudely leaned across him to spear a sliver of Maroilles cheese, thereby releasing its pungent smell. Biting into it, he put his head to one side. ‘Mm, délicieux! I was just wondering what Dame de Sapincourt’s doing at this very moment. Whether she’s—’
‘Preparing a potion to relieve her husband’s megrim?’ suggested a female voice from behind them.
Nicolas’s chair made a loud scraping noise as he rose to his feet to greet Grace d’Ardres who’d arrived through a side door, accompanied by Gilles. A waft of violets assailed Nicolas’s nostrils, sweet and warm.
‘I think he’ll need several potions to relieve it,’ smiled Gilles. Pleased he was no longer alone with the two errant Jack-a-napes, Nicolas shot Gilles a grateful look. Taking after his father in appearance, Tristan’s older brother possessed an Italian gaiety he’d obviously inherited from his mother, punctuating many of his sentences with a ready laugh. Turning back to Tristan and his friend, Nicolas was pleased to see a satisfying stain of scarlet on Jean’s cheeks. Making unseemly remarks about one of your hostess’s other guests was not the wisest course of action. Even though Nicolas knew Dame Grace to be exceptionally amiable, he couldn’t help wishing she wouldn’t accept the kiss the wastrel quickly planted on her hand, with quite such equanimity.
Meet Vivienne Brereton
Born between historic Winchester and Southampton in the UK, Vivienne has been passionate about the Tudors for as long as she can remember. This led to a degree in Medieval History at university, and the growing desire to write a novel.
However, life took over somewhat and only after stays, short and long, in six countries she called home did she finally settle down to finish her novel.
Words have always played an important part in her life, whether it’s been writing, editing, teaching English, or just picking up a good book.
Having three sons came in very handy when she had to write about squabbles between the male characters in her novel. Not so handy when she took her boys to Hampton Court and one of them got lost in the maze!
Seeing ‘A Phoenix Rising’, the first book in the series ‘The House of the Red Duke’ in print for the first time was a moment of great joy for her. She very much hopes that anyone reading ‘Beware the Lizard Lurking’, the second book in the series, will enjoy the end result as much as she enjoyed writing it.