The Medieval period wasn’t a nice time to live. The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge is my darkest book as this review mentions.
For a taste of what’s inside here is an excerpt from chapter one.
Aelric has unsuccessfully tried to prevent the execution of his father. Only Constance’s intervention has stopped him receiving the same fate at the hands of her brother in law, Sir Robert, however she cannot prevent him receiving a public flogging. This scene takes place at night after Aelric has been left in the town square and Constance has borne the brunt of Robert’s anger.
She made her way to the marketplace. There was no light other than from the sliver of moon and the square was empty, everyone having returned home before the curfew. Although a soldier patrolled the boundary of the square, no one stood guard over the figure still bound by the wrists to the gallows. Presumably Robert believed no one would dare approach him after the afternoon’s display of authority.
The iron scent of blood hit her as she neared Aelric, turning her stomach. He was leaning the full weight of his body against the frame. He groaned and turned his head at the sound of Constance’s stick tapping.
His voice was a hoarse whisper of surprise. His hair flopped across his face. Constance smoothed it back, unable to tear her eyes from the bloody scab that was his mutilated ear.
She held a flask of wine to his lips and he drank greedily.
‘You’ll get into trouble,’ Aelric said.
‘I won’t be missed.’ Constance hoped it would be true.
She tipped water on to the cloths she’d brought and began to clean the crusted blood from his back. He stiffened his shoulders and gave a sharp intake of breath. She blushed as her fingers traced the contours of his shoulder blades and muscles. She was glad of the darkness.
‘Does it hurt a lot?’ she asked.
‘I can endure the pain,’ Aelric said bitterly. ‘You should have let them hang me.’
‘You don’t mean that!’
He twisted his head and gazed at her, his brow knotted. ‘At least I’d have died with honour. You’ve condemned me to live and die a slave knowing I failed to avenge my family.’
She’d come hoping to ease his suffering, but his tone was harsher than she’d ever heard. His words cut into her deeper than the rope that had split his back open. She couldn’t have watched him die, but how could she let him live the life he described?
‘You don’t have to,’ she whispered. She looked around cautiously and drew out her dagger, one of a pair that had been the legacy from her father. The blue stone in the hilt caught the light. Aelric’s eyes fell on it.
‘Make it swift,’ he said, his lips twisting downwards.
‘I’m not going to kill you!’ she exclaimed in shock. ‘I’m not a savage! What do you take me for?’
‘A Norman,’ he said bitterly, ignoring the implied insult.
‘Your friend,’ Constance said, biting back the hurt his words caused. ‘I came to free you. You can run away.’
Aelric’s eyes flickered. ‘It’s revenge I want. Where is the honour in running?’
Constance stepped back and threw her cloth to the ground in irritation. ‘Nowhere, probably. But why throw away your freedom for the sake of pride?’
‘Pride is all I have left,’ Aelric growled. ‘And vengeance.’
Constance picked up her stick and turned to walk away.
‘Wait!’ Aelric’s voice was urgent.
‘Why? I would free you because you aren’t a killer, not so you could become one. I’m not risking myself for that!’
‘You would put yourself in danger to help me? Why? Because I brought back your horse?’ Aelric asked. ‘Is that the only thing you will remember me for?’
‘You know it isn’t,’ Constance said quietly. She refused to let the memories out.
‘I don’t want you to come to harm,’ Aelric said, holding her gaze.
Constance felt again the sharp pain from Robert’s slaps, thought of Jeanne crying in the night and dead-eyed by day. If someone were to kill Robert she would not grieve, but Aelric would never succeed.
‘I’m being sent to a convent tomorrow, I’ll be safe. If I cut you down you have to swear to leave tonight and not to try to harm Robert.’
Aelric tugged at the bonds on his wrists. ‘If it will make you happy I won’t attempt to kill him.’
‘Swear,’ Constance said. ‘On something that matters.’
He looked furious, but she held his gaze until he sighed.
‘I swear by my honour, and on the name and soul of my father, Brunwulf, that I will not raise arms against Robert.’
She nodded, satisfied. Keeping her eyes from Aelric’s, she quickly cut the ropes binding him. Aelric sagged to the ground, massaging his wrists. Constance helped him to stand, warmth spreading along her fingers from his hands that were so cold.
‘Now I am in your debt,’ he said. He lifted her hand to his lips, then put his hand to her cheek, drew her close and planted a soft kiss on her forehead. Constance raised her head and brushed her lips against the edge of his mouth. She felt his lips twist into a smile.
‘I won’t forget what you’ve done for me,’ Aelric whispered.
The enormity of what she had done crashed over Constance. She did not want to think what Robert might do when he discovered the boy had disappeared in the night.
‘Take me with you,’ she asked impulsively.
‘You don’t mean that,’ Aelric said. ‘I don’t know where I’ll go, but it won’t be suitable for a girl used to the life you lead.’
‘I don’t care how hard it might be,’ Constance whispered.
‘I do,’ Aelric said firmly.
‘Please,’ she begged. ‘I have nothing to keep me here. We could be together.’
Her eyes filled with tears. She gazed into Aelric’s eyes and put a hand on his arm. He closed his hand over it.
‘I’ll wait by the old cowshed at the fork in the Bollin until dawn,’ he said. He gave a slight smile. ‘You know where I mean.’
Constance blushed and looked away, knowing very well where Aelric meant.
‘Take this,’ she said. She handed him the dagger. His hand tightened over hers then he slipped away.
She watched until he became a shadow and disappeared from view, then picked up her stick and returned to the house. She wouldn’t need much. She didn’t have much to take anyway. She made it back as far as the bedchamber and had pulled the dagger’s twin and her spare kirtle from the chest when a hand seized her hair roughly from behind. Robert hauled her to her feet.
‘Where have you been?’
‘Nowhere,’ Constance whimpered.
‘Liar! You were seen leaving the house,’ Robert bellowed. ‘Tell me the truth or I’ll beat it out of you.’
Robert slapped her without warning, the palm of his hand setting her cheek ablaze.
‘Nowhere,’ she repeated. If she told him now then Aelric would never escape.
Another slap. This time backhanded and with force that left her reeling. Robert unbuckled his belt.
‘I’ve tolerated your waywardness for too long,’ he said.
Constance tried to duck past him, but he pulled at the neck of her gown and swung her around. She landed heavily across the table face first, the stab of pain in her belly making her retch. Robert brought the leather strap down upon her, buckle end swinging free. Lights burst in Constance’s head as it caught the bare flesh of her shoulder and she screamed.
She knew then she would never meet Aelric.