When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in South Africa’s brutal Robben Prison, he tirelessly turned to the poem Invicitus. The inspirational verse was by the Victorian William Ernest Henley, penned on the occasion of the amputation of his leg. Still I Rise takes its title from a work by Maya Angelou and it resonates with the same spirit of an unconquerable soul, a woman who is captain of her fate. Just as Invicitus brought solace to generations so does the contemporary classic. It embodies the strength of character of the women profiled. Each chapter will outline the fall and rise of great ladies who smashed all obstacles, rather than let all obstacles smash them. The book offers hope to those undergoing their own Sisyphean struggles. The intrepid women are the antithesis of the traditional damsels in distress; rather than waiting for the prince they took salvation into their own hands.
Women celebrated in the book include Madame C. J. Walker-first female American millionaire, Aung San Suu Kyi-Burma’s first lady of freedom, Betty Shabazz-civil rights activist, Nellie Sachs-Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize recipient, Selma Lagerlof-first woman Nobel Laureate, Fannie Lou Hamer-American voting rights activist, Bessie Coleman-first African-American female pilot, Wilma Randolph-first woman to win three gold medals, Sonia Sotomayor-first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, Wangari Maathai-Nobel Prize winner, Winnifred Mandela-freedom fighter, Lois Wilson-founder of Al-Anon, Roxanne Quimby-co-founder of Burt’s Bees.
From the Book:
"Still I Rise
Maya Angelou, 1928 - 2014
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Other books in this genre:
1560. One chronicle; two stories; three cities; four journeys. This is the second volume in the Borderer Chronicles series.
Four men of dedication, motivated by their own devotion, take different journeys to the same city. A steadfast man, by way of siege; a noble man, by way of melancholia put aside for dalliance and duty; a godly man, by way of loss and self-discovery; and a vain and sinful man by way of guile. All travel to deal with a master of prominence; a devil within a guild of secrets.
All four men will face the Devil, but who will be the man to defeat him, the steadfast man, the noble man, the godly man, or the sinful man? Who best could play the Devil’s game and win?
A sweeping adventure and mystery novel set against one of the trials of the Scottish Reformation, the Siege of Leith, and the intrigues within the commercial heart of Sixteenth Century Europe, Antwerp.
Set on the Anglo/Scottish border in the sixteenth century, a child’s dream of war is shattered, a boy is interned and the man travels a dangerous path not of his own design. This is the first volume of the Borderer Chronicles. Where life leads, someone always suffers.
Three Hills is a core of one man's story; poignancy, adventure and wit. Opening with the Battle of Solway Moss, it covers three periods of a life born out of the troubled English and Scottish Marches, where hardship and strife mold the local people. When English and Scottish sovereigns could only pick at each other, only to make their subjects bleed to satisfy their own royal vanity. It is a story that is the commencement of a sweeping saga of mystery, romance and adventure set against the backdrop of Sixteenth Century Europe and the terrible conflicts born out of man's ambition.
14A Nobfiddler's Lane
Thursday, August 22nd 1889
Bill Sikes to Doctor J. Watson:
Hand-delivered by Urchin
Deer Docter Watsen
I am sure yule forgiv this intrushon inter your privat life, but I have come upon a situashon what you might be abel ter help with (or indeed, your pal Mister Holmes). As you knowe, I have lately been on the strayt and narrow after being a bit of a robber fer most of my lyfe, so have been involvd in doin some cleanin fer the gover ment. In fact, I have been cleanin the basement in the monument what is knowne as Big Ben. An while doin so I have come inter contact with a gentleman by the name of Mister Hannay.
Anyway, I will get to the point of this letter: Mister Hannay is a writer what is interested in writin crim books and books about villins an that, an he was arskin me what I thought about stuff. Well, whil we was talkin, he arsked how many steps there was up to the tower, so I said there were about four undred.
He was a bit upset at this and said 'So, not thirty-nine, then?'
'No,' said I.
'Bugger,' said he.
Anyway, then he said he would have ter go and I watched him goin off down the streete. Then I appened ter notice that two surly-lookin fellers was followin him, so I hurried on down and catched up with him and took him inter a nearby pub.
The long and the short and the tall of it, Docter, is that Mister Hannay needs your help. I have enclosed the address at where he is stayin and have told him to expect you shortly.
I ope this were alright.
Saturday, August 24th 1889
To Sherlock Holmes Esq. from Doctor Watson
As you appear to be ignoring my messages, I have taken it upon myself to investigate the matter I brought to your attention the other day. Since our old pal Bill Sikes is unwilling to inveigle himself any further in the affair, I sent a telegram to 'The Uphill Gardener' (a public house of dubious repute) arranging to meet with Mr Hannay and attempt some sort of intervention.
When I arrived at the aforementioned hostelry last evening, I alighted from my Hansom in a flurry of excitement. I hasten to say the excitement was not of my doing, but created by a group of young apprentices in the midst of a series of strange tasks: some bigwig by the name of Lord Shagger had demanded they ascertain the cost of performing an appendectomy on the cheap. Identifying me as a physician by my Gladstone bag, the rabble pinned me to the wall and fired a barrage of questions regarding surgical cuts etc. I whipped out my trusty revolver, prompting the youths to back off, at which point they spotted that old fiend Dr Knox across the road (still on the run concerning that body-snatching business), and set off after him.
Finally free of the fray, I scurried into the public house and located the property owner. He glanced around nervously and bade me make haste to an upstairs room where I found our client, Richard Hannay.
'Where's Sherlock Holmes?' said he, with what I deduced to be an unhelpful degree of resentment.
I explained how Mr Holmes was engaged on another matter, but that I would do all I could to help. At this, he crumpled in a heap on the fireside rug and began to sob loudly. Feeling somewhat embarrassed at this show of unmanliness, I determined to explore my feminine side and knelt down beside him. Slipping an arm around his shoulder I must admit I found the experience of human contact rather comforting (as you know, Mrs Watson has been somewhat distant lately, following her fling with that Italian ice cream seller).
It transpires that Hannay cannot return to his own flat as one of his admirers is tormenting him with threats of libel etc. (I use this term loosely, since his melodramatic plots are completely ridiculous and unlikely to provoke anything other than utter boredom). However, I persuaded him that it was foolish to stay away from his own home and we should go there at once to face whoever (or whatever) awaits us.
In the end, I only managed to convince the man after showing him my trusty weapon. His eyes lit up on seeing it, and he begged me to let him touch it. I agreed to this, since I didn't see any harm in letting him feel its solid shaft and hair trigger, so long as the damn thing didn't go off in his hand!
Thus empowered, he became considerably animated and minutes later, we hailed a cab and set off for his apartment. Had I known what lurked in the shadows of that deadly spot, I might have taken more notice of Hannay's concerns.
To be continued
Diary of Doctor J. Watson
Flat 14, Windemere Mansions
Later the same day...
It was dark when Hannay and I arrived at his apartment. My companion’s initial enthusiasm (spurred by the knowledge of the gun in my pocket), had by this time dissipated somewhat. He began to display signs of anxiety; sweating profusely from every pore, an inability to get his key in the lock, visibly starting at the click of the light switch etc. I made myself useful by making a pot of tea while he hurried to the window and drew the curtains.
I busied myself in the kitchen and was a little disappointed to discover there were no Custard Creams. When I returned, Hannay had not moved from his position by the window.
'Here we are, old bean,' I said, handing him a mug of Darjeeling. 'This’ll perk you up.'
Holding the edge of the curtain open, he took the cup and stared at me for a moment, then his gaze moved back to the street outside. 'They’re back again, see?' He turned to me, a look of utter fright in his eyes. 'What the devil can they want?'
I shrugged and peered over his shoulder. In the street below, two rather iffy-looking men were standing by a telephone box, gazing up at the flat. I determined to put a brave face on it: 'Looks perfectly innocent to me – just a couple of chaps having a quiet smoke.'
Hannay shook his head. 'No, they’re after my plot.'
I blinked. 'Your what?'
'My plot,' said he. 'They want to steal The 39 Steps.'
I considered this for a long moment, debating the consequences of such a proposition. 'Sorry, what?'
He uttered a low moaning sound that hinted at his current mental state. 'Watson! Don’t you get it? It’s all about my book – The 39 Steps. They want to steal the plot.'
I began to experience a growing sensation of annoyance. 'What, you mean this isn’t about some international spy ring?'
'Spy ring? God no, it’s much, much worse.'
My blood ran cold. 'You mean - they’re writers?'
'Of course they’re bloody writers, damn it. Ever since I came up with a cracking good idea for my new novel, everyone’s been after it.'
I sighed. 'You’re an idiot. Sorry Hannay, but I’m going home.' I began to put on my socks and string vest. However, a knock at the door startled us both. 'Who the fuck’s that?'
'It’s them!' screamed Hannay, 'they’re going to kill me.'
I pulled on my trousers. 'Don’t be ridiculous. It’s probably just someone who’s lost their way and seeking directions.' I hastened to the door and pulled it open.
Standing before us was a moustachioed man wearing a frock coat. He leaned forward slightly and muttered, 'Ostovich.'
'What?' I said. But our visitor spake no more. He pitched forward and fell in a heap on the floor. And that’s when I noticed the knife in his back.
There was little need to check the man’s vital signs, but I went through the motions nevertheless. Given my companion’s somewhat heightened sense of terror, I decided to break the news to him as gently as possible:
'He’s snuffed it.'
'My God! I’m next!' Hannay’s hands flew to his face, cupping those rosy cheeks in a girlish manner that put me in mind of my own dear wife and the ‘swooning maiden’ act she sometimes adopts whenever I ask her to iron my longjohns.
'We must fetch Sherlock Holmes,' he cried, tugging at my lapel. 'Only he can save us.'
I brushed him aside. 'Don’t be such a nancy-boy, Hannay. Pull yourself together.' I checked through the dead man’s pockets and found two items: a picture postcard of some obscure Scottish village and a small white card displaying a silhouette of a man and the slogan ‘Scudder’s Marital Aids’. Slipping both articles into my pocket, I stood up. 'His name’s Scudder and judging from his business card I don’t believe him to be involved in creative writing. Now, Hannay, this is very important – the word he uttered before he fell…'
Hannay clenched his hands. 'I thought he was asking for the Post Office.'
I shook my head. 'No, that’s meaningless. I'm certain the word was ‘Ostovich’, which is obviously Russian. This man is a secret agent.'
'But what’s that got to do with me?'
I walked over to the window and retrieved my cup of tea. 'I think this has something to do with your writing, Hannay, but it’s also got something to do with spies.'
'But I don’t know anything about spying,' he wailed.
'Ah,' said I. 'And yet, in your recent novel ‘The Forger and the Gin-Juggler' you went into great detail about the process of creating false passports.'
'Oh, you read my books?' His manner changed abruptly and he began pawing at my chest like a lovesick pig.
'Indeed,' I muttered. I turned my face away lest he perceive my lying eyes. 'I didn’t like to say so before, but I’m rather fond of a good story and the depth of research that goes into your work might easily prompt a less intelligent casual reader to think you were involved in spying yourself.'
He shrugged. 'Actually, I make it all up, but I suppose it’s possible…'
'Not only possible, but highly likely. You said yourself someone was trying to steal your new novel.' I rubbed my chin the way I’ve seen Holmes do in such situations. 'I believe that the men who've been following you are enemy agents. Scudder here was obviously involved – perhaps he was a double agent. A triple agent, even.' I peeked through the curtains and noted with a grim nod that the two men at the phone box were still there. 'We have to leave.'
'And go where?'
At that precise moment in time I had no idea, but then a thought occurred to me. Pulling the postcard out of my pocket I studied the picture closely – it depicted a traditional Scottish village and the slogan ‘Frae Bonnie Scotland’. 'We need time to consider our next move,' I said, waving the card. 'We’ll catch the next train to Edinburgh and head for Newton Stewart – no-one will think of looking for us there.'
A Novel of Murder. Mystery. Faith. Hope. Redemption
Bestselling Religious Mystery recommended for readers of Dan Brown.
The Lazarus Succession is a modern-day thriller with a medieval mystery attached to it. The discovery of which could change mankind forever.
According to legend, Annas Zevi, an artist who witnessed the raising of Lazarus, was told by Christ to paint what he saw. Over the centuries, his completed works has vanished, along with every other painting depicting Lazarus' resurrection. They were rumoured to be sacred icons with miraculous powers.
Broderick Ladro and Ulla Stuart are hired by a disgraced High Court judge, Sir Maxwell Throgmorton, to locate a long lost medieval painting by Spanish artist Francisco Cortez. Like Zevi, his work is said to be divinely inspired.
Throgmorton's client, a wealthy Spanish Condesa, is terminally ill and the icon is her last hope. She will pay and do whatever it takes to find the missing work of Cortez. Unbeknown to the Condesa, Throgmorton seeks to make a vast personal fortune from the discovery of the paintings, and plans to use it to reclaim his place in society.
When Ladro and Stuart learns of Throgmorton's deceit, they begin a battle to stop his plans. In the process, they discover a secret that changes their lives forever. Just as it changed the lives of everyone it touched across the centuries.
“Everybody came to the stable not only to celebrate our marriage, but the end of the terrible years of war. In my excitement I wasn’t hungry enough to do the meal justice but my eyes feasted on the spread. I couldn’t remember when I had last seen such an amount of dishes: plates of ham, preserves of walnuts, zucchini, aubergines and mushrooms, wild salad leaves from the meadows, sprinkled with grated truffles, roasted pigeons, pork, chickens and a whole boar. The wine flowed, faces grew redder, jokes became bawdier and then the music started. My father lifted his accordion onto his shoulder and after a rusty start, the music sang into the air. The planks that had served as tables were cleared from their supports, the leftovers tidied away into baskets to be carried home by our guests and the dancing started.
‘You’ll have to show me the steps,’ my husband whispered to me as we moved into the empty circle of smiling faces. ‘The dances are different from the ones I know.’
He clutched onto me as if he was about to fall and our first waltz wasn’t as smooth as it could have been, but it didn’t matter as the floor soon filled up with other dancers and we were swept round the room.
‘Thirsty work, this dancing,’ Norman stopped and a couple bumped into us. ‘And my leg is hurting.’ He led me from the dance floor to the corner of the stable where most of the men were congregated round barrels of wine. Some of them were already unsteady on their feet and they clapped him on the shoulders, congratulating him and pumping his hand up and down again. I watched him knock back a couple of beakers and then I joined Mamma. Just for today she had changed out of her black mourning clothes, worn since Davide’s death, but her best Sunday frock of blue polka dot hung off her and her face was sad. As I went over, she patted the empty chair beside her and I took her hand in mine. The music was too loud for talk but we both understood what lay in our hearts.”
Norman and I were escorted to our bedroom with songs and laughter. The bed was strewn with flowers and my mother had laid out her best nightdress for me on the pillow.
‘Carry her in, Norman, carry her in,’ our guests shouted.
Norman was embarrassed too and whispered that he couldn’t wait for them to leave, to be alone with me. But when we were on our own, I was suddenly afraid, remembering my mother’s words by the river.
‘I’ll leave you for a few minutes, Ines,’ Norman said.
He closed the door and I undressed, shivering a little in the cooler night air. I lowered the flame on the lamp and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. There had been no mirror in the bedroom I had shared with Nonna and I had never seen my naked reflection. My breast were full and the triangle of hair between my legs was obvious in the gloomy light.”
Daring to lift her eyes, she glanced around. The kinder amongst those twelve good men would describe her glance as furtive, the less kind would say shifty. Had she been asked she would have said fearful; but no one did enquire. The judge asked his question a second time; this time with impatience.
‘Have you anything to say on your behalf?’
What should she say to a judge? It was beyond her experience, so she replied with the only words she could conjure.
‘Please sir, I am a housemaid and my family don’t know where I am.’
She shivered uncontrollably, although the afternoon warmth made her stained, woollen dress stick damply to her skin. The huge courtroom overawed her. It was a room bigger and grander than she had ever seen or imagined was possible. The jury to her right stared intently at her, but she avoided their stare as she would avoid the look of any man. Instead, she hung her head and stared unseeing at her tight, entwined hands, making her look both sullen and guilty. It was of no consequence to them that she was young and pretty for she was just another girl down on her luck. There were a thousand others, no ten thousand, others like her. Something must be done about it.
Nora felt unrehearsed for these legal proceedings. She had no money for a lawyer and found this whole experience terrifying. The stern appearance of the judge, in his scarlet robes and long horsehair wig, made her want to crawl into a hole somewhere. But here in this large courtroom, there was nowhere to hide, nowhere to escape. She was the main exhibit.
The horrors of the morning still tormented her. Chained to other prisoners at the ankle, she shuffled from Millbank to the Old Bailey. The journey took a good hour, as they tried to avoid the rotting fruit thrown by ragamuffins, gleeful that there were some worse off than themselves. The shame of it sickened her. She felt tired and sore where the iron had bruised her ankle and. longing for home and her sisters to comfort her, Nora’s mind began to wander again.
But now the judge was speaking and she forced herself to try and take in what he was saying.
‘Eleanora Nolan, you have been found guilty of grand larceny and will be transported beyond the seas for the term of seven years. Next case.’
A smirk of triumph appeared on Mrs Pocket’s face, satisfaction on the constable’s and boredom on the judge’s. Nora listened to the judge but without understanding because the words made no sense to her.
‘Please sir’ she tried again ‘when may I go back to my family?’
‘Take her down,’ was the terse instruction and the court official hastened to comply.
It was nearing dark, and the servants were lighting the torches while Godwine played chess with the King. They sat in Canute's favorite room—perfect for entertaining the early arrivals of the Yuletide celebration. Already, Earl Eric of Northumbria was present, tasting some of the breads at the sideboard. Tovi was in his usual place behind the King speaking quietly with two other Danes, and a musician was in the corner, plucking on a harp.
The door opened and Godwine, whose back was to the newcomer, concluded who it was from Canute's grimace. The sleek voice of Eadric Streona confirmed his guess. "Good even’, your grace. I hope you are well." All other voices in the room stopped.
Canute moved a piece, nodding an answer.
Two servants followed Eadric into the room, carrying a batch of firewood. For a moment, the sound of wood being stacked filled the silence. Then the servants left the room, bowing.
"And yourself, my Lord Eric?"
The Northumbrian Earl moved closer to the King, bending over the chess-board. "Considering the rare quiet within my earldom, I am content. And yourself, Eadric?"
Godwine heard the newcomer striding back and forth behind him. His concentration broken, the Saxon quickly turned around, watching Eadric rub his arms as though he needed more warmth. Godwine turned back to the board, but not before he noticed Eadric's mouth twitch.
"I could be better." Eadric’s tone brought Canute's head up questioningly. Godwine straightened in his seat but Canute caught his eye, nodding at the board. Eadric took a stick and poked the fire.
Taking a closer look at the Earl, Godwine noticed that his hair was unbrushed, his fingernails were cracked, his clothing wrinkled. He began pacing again, adjusting his belt.
“How is that Christmas pie?” Canute asked Eric, holding out a hand for a taste. The Dane cut a piece for him, holding it out on the edge of his knife. Taking a long time to sample it, Canute leaned back, evidently enjoying the taste. He licked all five fingers and wiped his hand on his tunic, then reached for another chess piece. Eadric stopped pacing and faced Canute, his arms crossed over his chest.
"And what might be the problem?" The King's voice sounded appropriately concerned.
"My earldom is restive,” he started slowly. "The populace has not yet recovered, the revenues are poor, and the people are hungry."
"That is a pity."
"More the pity that the King does not concern himself with their troubles."
"I see," said Canute, interested. "And what of the exemption I gave them from this year's taxes?"
Closing his eyes, the other gestured as if it were nothing.
"Eadric, this is not what is bothering you."
Stopping, the Earl glared at the King, unable to hide his antipathy. He came to the table, leaned over it. Godwine could smell alcohol on his breath.
"All right. I believe that I deserve better than this. You have given me the most devastated, the poorest earldom in the kingdom. You exclude me from your council. You treat me like a stranger. After all I have done for you."
"And what is it that you have done for me?"
Eadric straightened up, crossing his arms again. He took a deep breath. "You know damned well.”
Intrigued, Canute gave Eadric his full attention. "I know damned well,” he repeated softly.
The tension between them was so strong it felt as though there were only two people in the room. Everyone knew Canute was at his most dangerous when he was totally quiet. But Eadric seemed beyond caring.
“Ask Edmund Ironside, if you could."
Godwine gasped aloud, more in amazement at the man's blatant admission of the deed than its actuality. Even Canute had paled. Getting slowly to his feet, he faced Eadric so fiercely that the other stepped back.
"Then you shall get everything you deserve. You killed your own lord! My sworn brother! Your own mouth has pronounced you a traitor; let the blood be on your head.
"Eric, dispatch this man, lest he live to betray me as well."
The Earl of Northumbria was not loth to obey. Pulling an axe from his belt, the man moved purposefully toward his enemy, narrowed eyes reflecting his satisfaction with Canute's command.
For a moment, Eadric froze, unbelieving. Then his instinct for survival gained sway, and he pushed the table over, making a dash for the door.
But Godwine blocked the way—Godwine, this nonentity, who had barely rated his acknowledgment. The Saxon was standing with legs apart and drawn sword, opposing his exit.
Preferring to die under the blade of an equal, Eadric whirled, pulling his sword. But he was already too late. Eric's axe head was making its deadly arc, and Eadric's blade came up uncertainly, not even delaying the impact of the edge as it cleanly severed his head from his body.
Canute had been watching from the fireplace. "Throw the wretch's carcass from the window, into the Thames."
Eric was glad to do so. He had hated the Earl, and saw this as a fitting end to a despicable career. Seizing one of the convulsing legs, he dragged the body across the floor, oblivious to the gushing blood. Stooping, he hoisted the corpse onto the sill and dumped it unceremoniously into the river.
Godwine stared at the disembodied face, as it gawked back at him. Then he grabbed the hair and came up behind Eric, flinging the head through the window and far out over the water.
As he listened for the inevitable splash, Godwine felt an eerie satisfaction; at least this once, he had done his part in wreaking revenge on the betrayer of Edmund Ironside, and possibly his own father way back in 1009.
Both bloodied Earls turned to Canute, who had observed the scene dispassionately. "Thank you. You have done me a great service."
Godwine controlled his trembling with an effort. "You drove him to it, didn't you?"
"You might say that. Although I was expecting his demands in a more rational form...and at a better time." He glanced at the horrified servants, who were huddled at the newly opened door. "Yes, come in, come in. As you can see, it is time we met the queen in the great hall and started our celebrations in earnest. Send for some water and buckets and take care of this mess.
"Oh, and come, my friends. Let me arrange for some clean tunics before you present yourselves."
Not long after we were comfortably housed in Flanders, Judith and I attended church with Matilda, Baldwin's only surviving daughter, and her ladies. Matilda was a tiny thing, but a spirited little bundle of energy nonetheless, and very pretty. She would have fit under Judith's chin. But she was the pride and joy of her parents, well-educated and very conscious of her lineage; her mother was the king of France's sister, and Baldwin's ancestors have ruled Flanders since the ninth century.
It had been raining that day and the sun was just peeking from the clouds as we finished the services in the church of St. Donation, which stood only about 400 meters from the castle. As we were leaving, Matilda led her little procession; I was far back in the crowd when the commotion began. Women were screaming, arms were waving, and people were pushing into each other trying to fall back. By the time I elbowed my way through the door, craning my neck to see over all the heads, Matilda was lying face-down in a puddle of mud. She was sobbing for all the world like she had just taken a beating. The poor girl was covered from head to toe with muck, and her beautiful dress was ruined. As she pushed herself up by the arms, I shook the girl next to me.
"It was him," she sobbed, pointing. Looking up, I saw a somewhat disheveled man riding away. There was no time to catch up with him—not with poor Matilda in need of assistance. I ran to her side and rolled her into my arms, picking the unresisting girl up like she was a child. She put her arms around my neck, smearing mud and tears all over my tunic.
"Take...take me home," she coughed between sobs. She didn't need to tell me that!
By now we had drawn a crowd, but they all parted respectfully as I carried Bruges' favorite daughter back to her father's castle. I heard the murmurs as we passed by.
"William the Bastard," said somebody.
"The Duke," said another. "He must be punished."
"Poor girl," said a third. "He just grabbed her by the back of the neck and threw her in the mud."
"He beat her!"
"No, he kicked her!"
"He rolled her in the mud then got on his horse."
I was shocked. That was the Duke of Normandy?
Murmuring words of encouragement, I carried Matilda up the hill to the castle. We passed between rows of soldiers and into the citadel where her ladies ran ahead of me to prepare her chamber. I laid Matilda on a pile of covers and she rolled on her side, hiding her face. Her father rushed in the door and knelt by her bedside.
"Oh my poor child. What happened?"
At that, she sat up and threw her arms around Baldwin's neck, covering him with mud, too. After a few moments of sobbing, she pulled herself together.
"Oh father. It was Duke William. He was waiting for me at the church. When I came out, he accused me of humiliating him! I told him I would not lower myself to marry a mere bastard, when he grabbed me and threw me into the mud. He pushed me back and forth until I was totally covered then got on his horse and rode away."
She took a cloth from one of her ladies and blew her nose in it.
"Outrageous!" spit the Count. "I will have his head for this!"
Turning Matilda over to her women, he rose and tried to look dignified. But he was all bespattered like myself, and decided to leave the room, taking the witnesses with him. He put an arm around my shoulder.
"Thank you, Tostig. Poor girl." He tried to straighten out his tunic then gave up. "Right before you came to Flanders, Duke William sent an embassy asking for Matilda's hand in marriage. You can imagine how quickly she sent them packing. William was beneath her station, and a bastard on top of everything else. She is not shy, my little Matilda!" He laughed briefly. "But we weren't expecting this!"
The more he thought about it, his face became redder and redder.
"How dare he shame my little girl! Come, Tostig. We cannot let this go unavenged!"
There is one thing I can say about Count Baldwin; he is a very decisive man. He wasted no time in calling together his scribes and composing letters to his knights and captains. He summoned his household steward and demanded an accounting of all supplies. He called for his banker so he could determine how many funds he could raise. He worked long into the night.
The following day, as Baldwin was busily giving orders, Matilda walked into the great hall, trailing her women. There were no signs of the previous afternoon's dishevelment; in fact, she had regained her proud bearing. Everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at her.
"Father, I have made a decision," she said evenly. "You may stop preparations for war. I have decided I will marry Duke William of Normandy."
You could have heard a feather drop in the room. We were all stunned into silence.
"You what?" her father finally muttered.
"I will have no one else."
Apparently used to Matilda's strange behavior, her father leaned back and put the quill down.
"And what has brought about this change of mind?" He crossed his arms over his chest.
She appeared to think for a moment. "It must be a brave and powerful man who would dare do such a thing, right in the middle of your territory." A brief smile flicked across her face. "I understand him better, now."
Baldwin looked around at his courtiers. "There you have it. Cancel our preparations." I detected a bit of sarcasm in his voice, but he was quickly obeyed. He held out a hand to Matilda.
"Come, my child. Sit beside me."
Someone brought a chair and Matilda obliged, taking her father's hand.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" he said gently. "He may prove to be a dangerous husband."
"I will manage him. After all, he really didn't hurt me."
Baldwin didn't even try to reason with her. Given time, he told me later, she might change her mind again.
Her fingers touched the pages and held the quill
Lightly they pressed; a panoply of enumerations
Not mere whimsy, but tethered in grit
Fingers and palms held fast the measure of them,
The weight, infinite, She balanced these:
Her virtue, reputation, and devotion to the Divine
Juxtaposed to the demands,
Could she follow them?
Did she dare?
Her nib grazed the page
Ink blotting and boring through porous threads
Seeping down the fluted mahogany leg.
If Mark Wilkerson had to listen to any more of that morbid organ music, he was going to throw up. A migraine beat against his temples and tears rolled down his cheeks as he stood propped against his crutches, his dislocated shoulder aching. Through bleary eyes, he viewed the three closed coffins at the front of the viewing parlor. Gold glitter on white satin ribbons across the caskets read, “Devoted Father,” “Loving Mother,” and “Baby Sister – Sabrina.” She was only six.
Ornate floral arrangements surrounded the closed caskets, their florist shop fragrance adding to Mark’s migraine. He ran his hand across the smooth surface of his mother’s coffin; fingered the satin ribbon. She was in there, at least what was left of her, but he would never see her again. Never again would he feel the warm touch of her lips on his cheek when she kissed him good night.
His weepy eyes abruptly gushed with tears. What happened? He still wondered, shaking his head. Even though he’d somehow survived the accident, he still didn’t know anything about it. All he knew was what the County Sheriff’s deputy and the doctor at the hospital had told him; that he and his family had been in a tragic, fiery accident on the Carquinez Bridge on Christmas Eve.
The doctor also told him his memory would probably return, but it could take some time. He’d called it “dissociative amnesia," whatever that was. He said it was often caused by severe emotional trauma.
Mark’s grandmother, Emily Wilkerson, told him he’d performed with the family at a rest home earlier that night, but he couldn’t remember that either. He felt, more than remembered his father had been angry about something. Then there was Amanda Bonfili. What happened on their date? Or did they have a date? He just couldn’t remember.
Mark moved to his father’s casket. How could he live without him? His dad had been his greatest inspiration, his best friend. He looked down at the casket as his tears rolled. How could he live with the guilt of knowing their last words may have been spoken in anger? He’d never even had a chance to say I’m sorry, if he’d done something wrong or even good-bye. Somehow, he felt he might have been at least partly responsible for the accident. “Forgive me, dad.” His cries escaped his lips in a whisper, “for whatever I did. I’m sorry.” Tears stung his eyes and he wiped them on his sports jacket sleeve.
He wished he could see his family just one last time, but the undertaker had told him their bodies were too charred. The thought horrified him and Mark agreed it would be better to remember them as he’d last seen them alive.
At least his sister, Amy, was being spared the funeral ordeal. But she was still in a coma and her condition was serious. The doctors said she could have brain damage if she survived. That sounded worse than his amnesia.
The accident had only been three days ago and tomorrow, after the funeral, the coffins would be lowered into the cold ground. Is that all there is to life? Mark wondered, To live your life then be discarded like some trash. Hanging his head, he wished he could have died in their place, or at least with them. How Amy and he had survived was a mystery.
Moving to Sabrina’s casket, he laid his forehead against her tiny coffin. “Dear God! Please make this go away. Make them come back.” But even as he prayed, he knew God couldn’t make that happen, assuming He was even real. After all, why would an all-powerful, loving God take away the people he loved most; his parents and his six-year-old sister who had so much to live for, the family Amy and he needed?
Why? The question kept repeating over in his mind, as he wiped his eyes again. Why did his parents have to die and of all people little Sabrina?
SABRINA! Mark wanted to shout, as if it would bring her back.
He missed his baby sister every bit as much as he missed his mother and father.
“Sabrina,” he whispered.
He would never see her again. Tears rolled down his cheeks as Mark thought of her charred little body inside the tiny coffin and the pain she must have endured in the fire. She didn’t deserve to die.
Mark felt a warm hand on his shoulder. Straightening with his crutches, he leaned into his grandmother’s arms. “Go ahead and cry,” she said. “It’s good to let it out.”
Mark leaned down and laid his cheek in the hollow of her neck. He could smell her sweet, old ladies perfume. “Why?” he asked. “Why didn’t God protect them? Why did He let Sabrina die and not me? She didn’t even get a chance to live her life.” He turned away and tightened his fists on the crutch’s handgrip.
He felt his grandmother’s warm fingers turn his chin. “Mark, I know this is hard for you. It’s hard for me too and it will be hard on Amy when she comes home.” His grandmother choked on her words then blotted her eyes with her hankie, “if she does. Son, we don’t always understand why He allows things like this to happen, but my mother always told me, ‘what we see today as a tragedy, we may look back at tomorrow as a blessing.’” Emily hugged him tighter and stroked his hair.
“A blessing? How can losing almost my entire family ever be a blessing?” Mark huffed and pulled away. His head throbbed even more. Then looking back at his grandmother, he said, “If I ever find out who caused the accident, I swear… I’ll… I’ll kill him…. I promise that.”
“No, Mark. Don’t think like that. It was just that, an accident. You need to forgive them.”
“I can’t, Grandma. I just can’t.”
Chat with Authors
I have a very active imagination and I always read a lot. I would always be looking around bookstores and libraries for stories similar to...
My inspiration came from a laboratory accident. My daytime job is as a chemist working for a small company. In November of 2012, I mishandled...
I have been writing since I was a young teenager. I have always enjoyed expressing myself through written words. The writing assignments in high school...
I was amazed at the experiences of T.E. Lawrence, more famously known as Lawrence of Arabia. I couldn't believe how someone was able to become...
I started writing on a dare from a friend. A NANOWRIMO supporter who challenged me to write a novel. When I went to the first...
Hop on Lenka's List Bandwagon
Nesie's Place Want to increase followers/traffic on your Facebook page? Authors and bloggers are bringing a spooky good time to Facebook for Halloween! JOIN US!
Relic Tech (Crax War Chronicles) by Terry W. Ervin II Narrator: James Conlan Series: Crax War Chronicles #1 Published by Gryphonwood Press on 03-03-14 Genres: