The Tudor Throne Series, Book 2: The Welsh Gambit

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Lady Anwen cannot forget, nor her brother forgive.

Since she killed Lord Meuric’s son in self-defense on a lonely Welsh road, and spent several months imprisoned and mistreated in his castle, Anwen has fought her nightmares. Alone and unable to bear a man’s touch, she unites with a local ‘witch’ to learn how to heal.

As Edward Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham, prepares for the autumn joust, he fears escalating tension between the locals and Lord Meuric’s brutal overseer, Beynon. His mood worsens when Sir Thomas Lovell, the king’s ruthless enforcer, arrives unannounced in search of a traitor.

As thousands flock to the tourney, death, superstition, denial, and treason come to a brutal conflict, as a child searches the castle for the bones of a lost maiden and uncovers a terrible secret…

Author's Notes:

This was one of those novels that "found itself" amid a muddle of ideas. I must have rewritten it twenty times and each time, several characters and themes emerged with great strength -- the "witch" Winifred, Lady Anwen's struggle to overcome her traumatic past, and the marriage of Margaret and Richard Pole, which seems strong enough to outlast any storm. I had a wonderful time researching jousts and tourneys, thrusting the Staffords into the middle of events, and honoring Prince Arthur's memory with a rousing good story set in a time of deep national unrest and mourning for a lost prince.

I hope you enjoy reading it half as much as I labored in love to write it.

Excerpt:

Anne Tyrell stares out the window, lost in the beauty of the Welsh Marches. She spent her first year of marriage in its green foothills. The carriage winds through silver birch and blackthorn trees, each mile closer to her children. Anne dreads their reunion. She bears the shame of their father’s execution closer to them with each turn of the wheels.

A stallion pulls level with her view, its rider leading a dozen men. She peers at the tall, angular man astride its back. His hair grays at the temples, his narrow face severe. Once, she adored Sir Thomas Lovell. She awaited news from him with breathless excitement. Now, many years later, her stomach tightens whenever they meet. He came to Guînes under a pretext, persuaded her husband to return to London, and imprisoned him on board ship. He then sent men to disarm their son and threw them both in the Tower.

She wonders how they ever loved each other, yearning to forget their stolen kisses and amorous whispers. He escorts her into the Welsh Marches to attainder her estate in the king’s name. He and Lord Dudley will cram her valuables onto carts and keep them in the royal treasury until King Henry decides otherwise.

The castle appears in a maple grove, its gatehouse covered in roses and honeysuckle. Her children wait in the courtyard, James the tallest at eighteen, William three years younger, and Pet twelve. Anne twists the door handle before the coach halts to embrace her daughter, bewildered by her height. Pet shares her height. Anne sweeps the hair back from her face, gasping, “You have grown!”

“I gained two inches last summer. I may outgrow you, Mother.” Pet’s amber eyes flit to Lovell, her tone guarded. “I missed you.”

She approaches her sons, aware of their audience. The boys hug her, their expressions glum. Lovell scans the castle with scorn and removes his gloves. Dudley dismounts and shakes out his mantle. Anne steers Pet into the house. “We are together now.”

“I wish it were under different circumstances,” Pet whispers.

Anne catches her breath in the foyer, moved by its sameness. The servants have altered nothing in her absence. Familiar colorful tapestries line the walls, the small staff assembled to greet her. She scans their faces, noting the steward’s absence with concern. Anne looks at her son, tension in her words. “Where is Hywel?”

James glances at his brother. “He fled after our father’s arrest.”

Her heart plummets. Anne prayed on the journey none of their staff schemed with her husband, knowing it would arouse further scrutiny of their finances. She considers how to handle this and turns with forced politeness when Lovell and Dudley enter. “My lords, you will find our records upstairs. The maid can show you. I trust you do not need me.”

The girl guides them upstairs, Anne relieved in their absence. “Come,” she tells her family, “we must discuss our future.”

They follow her into the parlor where she shuts the door and joins Pet in a window seat. It overlooks the garden, the fountain dry and a rook’s nest in the crook of its statue. After a deep breath Anne asks, “Why did you not warn me of Hywel’s escape?”

James sinks onto a bench and runs his fingers through his curls. “I dared not write to you. I feared Lovell might read our letters.”

“Well, we can do nothing about it now,” his mother says.

William shifts a stack of books from a chair. “How is Tom? We have not heard from our brother. Is he in the Tower?”

“Yes. I have visited him twice. I believe him secure for now. Lovell could not incriminate him at your father’s trial.” Anne rubs her forehead. “I expect his release after the attainder.”

A bee buzzes the roses outside the window, its wings deafening in the sullen silence. Pet studies her palms, her voice small. “Nan Browne wrote us of the ordeal. Was it dreadful, Mother?”

Anne cannot speak around the lump in her throat. She saw her husband walk to the scaffold, mount the stairs, utter a speech, and lay his neck on the block. The ax severed it with a single stroke.

“How could it not be?” James asks. “They cut off his head.”

She cringes at his bluntness. “Do not dwell on it. Remember him as you saw him last. We had a fine Christmas together.”

Pet tries to smile but raises only one side of her mouth. Quiet fills the pause while Anne strokes her daughter’s hair. William fumbles with a piece of ribbon. “Must we go before the tourney?”

She nods.

Prince Arthur planned to lead the festivities, but now lies dead in a crypt. Reluctant to rob the public of their entertainment, the king appointed the Duke of Buckingham to hold it in his honor.

Her eyes tearful, Pet says, “James has trained for months!”

Pained by their distress but unable to ease it, Anne squeezes her hand. “Our lives have changed. We can no longer do as we please. We must defer to the king’s wishes to live in London.”

“How much is our income?” William stares at her with anxiety, his feet pulled under him. “Enough to support our tutor?”

She scoured the accounts when Lovell announced her living, but had to choose between a tutor and a servant. Their faces fall at her pause. Anne forces confidence into her words. “Our situation will be painful and difficult, but we can survive. We have each other.”

“But not Father,” William whispers.

Anne blinks away her tears. “Never doubt he loved you.”

“If he had, he would not have chosen Suffolk,” James snaps.

She expects the others to defend him but they study the floor instead. Shocked, Anne scans their forlorn expressions. “Your father pursued his ideals. Do not deplore him for his mistakes.”

“My contempt is for the fiend who imprisoned him,” James says.

She reaches out to pull him near, reminded of his father in his unspoken anger. “Never let Sir Thomas know how you feel.”

Voices draw her attention to the courtyard where a monk parts from a maid to enter the side door. Pet’s long sleeve brushes the sill when she leans forward, her tone soft. “That’s Brother Elfric.”

“What befell your other confessor?” Anne asks, distressed.

James kicks at the hearth. “Abbot Ifan recalled him to the abbey after his strength declined. Elfric has tended us these last months.”

“I adore him,” Pet says with radiant eyes.

Anne estimates him at twenty-years-old, struck by his handsome face and gentle air. She chews her lip, concerned by her daughter’s infatuation. “Send him in to me. I want to meet him. Then we can walk in the garden. Meet me outside in ten minutes.”

Once her children retreat, Anne crosses to the sideboard to pour a drink. The monk enters after a knock, his bow graceful. Anne corks the bottle and scans the amiable face and intent brown eyes. “Brother Elfric, my family speaks well of you.”

“I serve them as best I can under the circumstances, milady.”

Anne drinks the rich, flavorful pear wine from their orchard, her husband’s pride and joy. “I’m grateful you could comfort them in my absence. I know not how to heal their broken hearts.”

“Lavish love upon them. Trust God to manage their sorrow.”

She sinks onto the cushioned bench. “How are they?”

“Pet has not confessed since her father’s downfall.” The monk stares into the honeysuckle. Anne notices a long scar on his neck. “William spends most of his time with his falcons. James mourns more than just his father. Lady Anwen no longer writes him.”

Anne moans, this the result of a feud between Anwen’s brother Lord Neirin and a local landowner, Meuric. After a felled bridge barred their return at Christmas, Meuric’s son caught them on his land. When he tried to molest her maid, Anwen cut his throat. The infuriated Meuric imprisoned her in his garret until Lovell offered him a place on the Welsh Council for her freedom.

“Has she shared the details of her ordeal?” she asks.

Elfric shakes his head, plucking a loose thread from his cowl. “She speaks not of her tribulation. Lady Anwen hasn’t left her castle. Unless a sympathetic soul reaches out to her, she may never recover. She might welcome a visit from you, Lady Tyrell.”

Voices float on the wind, her children waiting in the inner bailey. “Do you try to divert me from my torments with hers, Brother?”

The confessor shrugs, a twinkle in his amber eyes. “Busy hands are the best cure for a broken heart… unless you want to listen to Lord Dudley and Sir Thomas assess the house?”

Aware of their footsteps upstairs, Anne shudders. 

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