… and then suddenly it wasn’t.
So what happened was, 1520 Main was a very difficult book to write for many reasons. It wore me out. I already had two titles on the table awaiting my tender hacksaw that I did not want to work on. I had had, in the back of my mind, since The Proviso, the idea of a Scottish historical featuring Bryce Kenard’s ancestors.
Because Bryce Kenard … le sigh.
All I knew was that it would start with a cliché: Interrupt a wedding to snatch the bride. That’s all. I published 1520 Main on May 31. I started this book on June 19. It’s July 29, and I have part I finished: 160,000 good words. (My snippets file has 110,000 discarded words.) Of course, it’s a self-contained romance novel as it is. A little polishing, I could throw it out there.
But you know me better than that.
I have no title. I have no cover. I have no publication date. I don’t have anything but a summary and a rough draft I’m pretty proud of. And below you will find the summary and the first chapter.
• • •
In 1420, England and France are at war, with Scotland allied with France. Newly made English earl Grimme Kyneward must take a Scots noblewoman to wife to keep his lands and his life, but those are in short supply, and the one he needs is not available. What does a knight do when he cannot have the woman he wants? He snatches her, of course.
Never mind that Lady Brìghde Fàileach is the wrong bride; she has her own reasons for wanting to marry the first earl who plucks her out of her wedding just before being forced to say “I do.” That the earl has a deep and abiding aversion to brunettes is convenient for her, and the fact that he is also in need of a castellain to run his household, which is in shambles, is even better.
She is fully aware that a man in need of a noble wife will also be in need of legitimate heirs, but she readily agrees to it, freeing her from her father and fiancé forever, and giving her a chance to practice the trade her mother had taught her: How to rule a fortress with an iron fist, which includes any and all mistresses and the four bastards amongst them that Grimme has collected on his way through the battlefield and the lists.
Grimme has no desire to bed Brìghde, but he must, to keep his lands and life. Brìghde has no desire to bed Grimme, but that was the bargain and it will be no hardship at all. And on the journey back to his lands, Grimme and Brìghde forge a friendship Grimme is certain will last forever …
… but for the ravenous duke who covets everything Grimme loves and will do anything to get it.
• • •
“ … day of binding, if any man do allege and declare any impediment—”
The cathedral shook from the force of the narthex’s massive doors blowing open such that they bounced off the stone walls.
Lady Brìghde Fàileach and her groom whipped around whilst an hundred people leapt to their feet, the men’s swords drawn from sheer habit.
A giant mail-clad intruder stood in the doorway, one big gauntleted hand resting on the pommel of his broadsword.
“I object.” He said it calmly, in English, almost as if he were bored, but his voice was deep and it resonated in the nave all the way up to the apse where Brìghde and her groom stood gaping.
“What ho!” bellowed Brìghde’s father as he scrambled around the end of the pew, his sword already drawn as he strode down the choir toward the nave and the stranger. “Who are ye an’ by what authority do ye object?”
“My own.” His accent was Sassenach with a hint of French. “I need that bride.”
Brìghde’s father gasped. “Ye canna burst into weddings and appropriate brides as if this were a merchant’s faire tent!”
“Watch me,” the giant said wryly and lifted a finger, whereupon three more well-armed mail-and-leather-clad soldiers erupted from behind him and ran down the nave to the apse. The intruder engaged in swords with Brìghde’s father, and quite handily defeated him, for her father, once a famed swordsman, was forced to fight with his left hand. His left shoulder was not much better than his right.
The second soldier engaged the groom’s father, who had never been much of a swordsman at all.
The third soldier engaged the best man, which was somewhat of a struggle.
The last soldier picked Brìghde up, threw her over his shoulder, and sprinted right back out of the cathedral, trampling her fallen wimple and bouncing her all the way, her long black hair falling out of its coif and nearly dragging along the ground.
It was a most unpleasant experience, and even had she a mind to scream or fight, she was too out of breath to scream, pounding on the soldier’s well-armored back would be painful and futile, and her legs were clasped so tightly against the soldier’s chest, she could not kick.
Thus, she did not protest as the men ran for their horses. She did not protest when she was thrown over the lap of one already mounted. She did not protest until they were well away from the kirk and she gathered her remaining bits of breath to yell over the wind and thundering hooves, “May I please sit up?!”
“Nay, my lady!” the soldier yelled back, and pushed his horse to go faster. “’Twill have to wait until we are clear.”
Brìghde sighed and braced herself. She would have many bruises upon her belly and ribs tomorrow, as she was wedged in the tiny space between the pommel and knit metal.
No one could follow: It was five miles from her home to the kirk. The whole family had traversed it by carriage without a mounted guard. Brìghde’s menfolk would have to return to her home to fetch horses that could catch the knights. Even if they managed to do that in a timely fashion, they would not know where they went once they rounded the turn in the road and plunged sharply into the woods.
It was darker here and it would be darker still in an hour or two as the sun set and the fog rolled in. She did not know how they would go in the dark or even if they would. Stopping and lighting a fire might not give them away through the dense forest and fog, but she was quite sure these men would take no chance of being found.
She was shocked she had not yet been bound and gagged.
Thus, with nothing to do but bear the offenses against her body and wait for an opportunity to answer nature’s call, Brìghde determined that she was going to chastise her mother heavily for not thinking to supply her a horse.
Soon the woods grew black and the soldiers slowed their horses to a walk. After some time passed, they stopped. Three men dismounted and one wrangled Brìghde from her soldier’s lap, clearly expecting her to fight, but even if she wanted to, she was too tired and sore and stiff to fight. He put her on her feet. Her head spun, her legs buckled, and she fell over. Her soldier dismounted and gently assisted her to rise and held her whilst she gained her feet.
“Well!” she croaked, still holding on to his armored arm. “That was an adventure.”
“Mea culpa, my lady,” he said, “but we are in a rush.”
“Hoooo,” she breathed and plopped on her arse. Then she flopped on her back and clasped her fingers over her belly.
“My lady,” the man said solicitously. “We need to go.”
“I’ll not go anywhere until my head stops spinning. Didn’t my family tell you to get me my own horse?”
Silence. “What … are you talking about, my lady?”
“When my mother or brothers hired you to abduct me, didn’t they tell you to get me my own horse? I’m quite sure you would have been paid enough.”
More silence. “Uh … ” he finally drawled, surprise in his voice. “No one hired us to abduct you.”
Brìghde lay there on the forest floor and opened her eyes to see all four men looming over her and looking down at her. She thought for a moment. “You just … happened … to be out abducting brides today?”
Now she was furious. “Of course! Because that level of planning is just beyond their ken!”
The four men exchanged glances, then one said, “Why would you think your family had anything to do with it?”
“I don’t want to discuss it. I’m too angry. Not at you.”
“Are you saying,” one of the men began carefully, “that you wanted to be abducted?”
“If you saw my groom, you’d want to be abducted too!” she snapped.
There was a minute pause and then they all started to laugh.
“Good Lord,” one of them wheezed.
“Who are you, then?” Brìghde demanded. “And where are you taking me?”
“I am Earl Grim Kenard. I’m taking you home with me.”
An earl? “I have never heard of you,” she said matter-of-factly, “and I know who all our neighbors are on both sides of the border.”
“Aye, well, you missed one. My earldom is small and only five years old, the northeast corner cut out of Sheffield that marches to the west of Tavendish lands, along the border. The king granted it to me for my loyal service at Agincourt five years ago.”
“Hrmph. Very well. All I ask is that you not ravish me.”
“We have no intention of it, my lady.”
“Well then!” She held her hands up so that the gentlemen could pull her to her feet. “Let’s be upon our way. Do we plan to walk through the night, good sir?”
“Oh, no,” she said. “Nobles who lower themselves to do their own abducting don’t get obeisance.”
He snorted. “I’m a warrior and, since I am not in France with Henry, I was itching for a battle. Sadly, your people disappointed.”
“They disappoint me every day.”
“Apparently. We will walk. You may ride, although we do not have a sidesaddle.”
“No need,” she replied. “I am able to ride astride, prefer it in fact, so long as no one need see my bare legs.”
“’Tis pitch black, my lady,” he answered dryly. “As well, we have business to tend.”
“Speaking of business to tend, I have need of a bit of privacy.”
The earl took her hand and began to pick his way carefully to a nearby tree, then released her. “Stay close, my lady,” he warned.
“Where would I go?” she asked with irritation. “’Tis dark, ’tis in a forest, I have my wedding slippers on, I have no provisions, and I think I’d go with you even if you did want to ravish me.”
“That bad, eh?” a different man asked.
“You could not imagine.”
“I have no imagination,” said the earl.
“Yes, it was that bad.” Once she was finished and back at the horse’s side, he began to wrap a cloth ’round her head and between her teeth. “’Tis really not necessary. I did not cry out all this time.”
“Because you thought your family hired us,” he said dryly.
With a series of jostles and grunts, Brìghde was soon astride a very tall, very broad horse. The four conferred among themselves whilst she arranged herself, tucking her skirts around her legs to protect them from the chafing of the leather.
“Show your hands, my lady,” the earl said, after which a rope was wound ’round her wrists tightly enough so that she could not escape and loosely enough that she could hold onto the pommel.
They set out again though now very slowly and impossibly quietly. The earl led the way for what must have been the better portion of two hours. Brìghde’s eyes had gradually accustomed themselves to the dark enough to see shadows, trees and such, downed logs they must traverse, a stream at which they stopped for a long drink and to replenish their flasks. Brìghde’s gag was removed and she was given to drink, of which she did, for a long while and requested more.
“Need you answer nature’s call again?” the earl asked, and again she wondered at his consideration, within the rules (she presumed there were rules) of abduction.
“No, but I might as well, whilst we’re here.”
He took the ropes off her wrists, then lifted her down from the horse. Once again, she stumbled, even more sore than before and starting to feel all her bruises. She grimaced and groaned with every footstep around a big tree. Once she had finished, she emerged to find all four with their heads together and murmuring. She was only a few feet away from them and still could barely hear their voices at all.
She tilted her ear back the way they had come and heard nothing but faint rustles she assumed were night rodents.
“We camp tonight, my lady,” whispered the earl in her ear.
She jumped, startled out of her wits, as she had not heard him approach even though she was listening to her surroundings.
“’Twill go very badly for you should you run.”
“I just told you I needed to be rescued,” she muttered bitterly.
“And it could be you are cooperating and telling tales so as to effect your escape, in which case, I commend your quick thinking.”
“Fair,” she said approvingly, “and thank you for the compliment. However, I am drained and I hurt. I am also hungry. As you have promised not to ravish me, I shall seek the better part of valor.”
“We do not ravish you, you do not run or cry out? Is that our bargain then?”
“Also feed and water me, don’t bind or gag me, and don’t make me walk.”
With that, he lifted her back onto the horse without replacing her gag and bonds, and led it across the swift-running stream. The horse’s hoof slipped on the moss on the bank and it was all Brìghde could do to hold her seat whilst the four men and their beasts navigated into the stream.
Brìghde knew where they were. She had played here endlessly with her brothers during her childhood and adolescence and was fairly certain of the terrain. Ever being one to turn a situation to her own advantage, she did not doubt her ability to do so now. The question was if she could think of it quickly enough.
“If I told you where we are and how to get to the nearest town away from the kirk, would you believe me?”
“No,” all four men said at once.
“Fair,” she said again. “But for my own comfort, I am compelled to suggest we ford this stream for a generous mile. There is a good area to make camp on this side of the stream, and ’twill not leave tracks, although I do not think anyone saw us go into the woods, nor would they think to look there, nor do they know who you are. Besides, they would all have had to spend time running to Fàileach to fetch their horses and armor, which is a good five miles away from the kirk. The other way.”
No one moved or spoke for a good two or three minutes. When the silence lengthened, she said, “I know you don’t want to trust me, but I would really like to go to sleep.”
“As it happens,” the earl said slowly, “that was our exact plan.”
“Oh!” she chirped. “Now you have proof I am willing to fall in with you.”
“Do not make me regret trusting you, my lady,” he warned.
When she escaped, it wouldn’t be back to her father, for a certainty. She needed to plan.
They set off down the stream. Once they arrived, Brìghde said softly, “There is a ledge some two hundred feet away from here under which you may light a fire.”
“How do you know these things, my lady?” one of the knights growled as the earl lifted her off his horse.
“My brothers and I played in these woods for years.”
No one said anything, but presently she heard a flint and saw a spark in the darkness. She waited patiently whilst the earl and his men divested themselves of their mail, leaving them clad in leather. By the meager light, they silently retrieved small crosses from their packs and stuck them in the ground to hang their mail on, then loosened the girths on their horses’ saddles. They led the beasts to the stream from which they drank greedily. ’Twas a cool night and Brìghde’s wedding dress was heavy, but her slippers weren’t, and the moisture from the moss seeped through. She sighed. Cold, wet feet were the bane of her existence.
“My lady,” the earl said quietly as he led Brìghde to the fire and gallantly seated her on a coarse blanket, “you may sleep next to me and trust I will not ravish you, or you can sleep on your feet tied to a tree.”
“With you,” Brìghde said immediately.
“I cannot believe your groom was that undesirable.”
“The entire circumstance was untenable.”
The men chuckled low in their chests, then sat around the fire with their packs, digging in. She took her slippers off and set them by the fire to dry, then she made to warm her feet. The earl threw a pack in her lap before sitting beside her with his own.
“You came well prepared,” she muttered as she explored her pack to find a goodly amount of bread and cheese, as well as several pears. There was also a full bladder. She uncorked it, but the earl snatched it from her.
“Careful, my lady. ’Tis a fine vintage of wine I enjoy, but do not suck it down as if ’tis a cheap ale or fresh spring water.”
“Oh. Thank you,” she said as he gave it back to her. She sipped and savored it. “Good Lord, that is excellent.”
“I told you.”
Then Brìghde fell silent as she ate—the first meal she’d had since breakfast, after which the day had been taken up with wedding business. The bread was hearty. The cheese was of a quality to match the wine. The pears were crisp and sweet and perfectly complemented the cheese. “’Tis likely the most delicious meal I’ve ever had,” she muttered to herself around her bite. She might be a lady, but she had been brought up with boys and these men were warriors. They should have no reason to take offense at her lack of propriety.
“Hunger is the best sauce.”
“Indeed. May I fetch more water?”
“Nay,” he said as one of his men arose and went to the stream to fill a bladder. Whilst he was there, he settled the horses for the night. When he returned he handed the water to Brìghde without a word.
Brìghde had no idea what time it was, but now that she was a little rested, fed, watered, and her feet warm and dry, she was beginning to grow sleepy. It had been a very long day, and she was far more pleased with this ending than the one she was fated to endure. Fortunately, this tiny, sheltered glade almost felt like home, she had spent so many a night sleeping here, this brother or that brother scattered about. She had a favored sleeping spot, but she wasn’t sure she would be … able to … make …