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Authors: Anna Markland

Conquering Passion

CONQUERING PASSION

 

 

The Montbryce Legacy ~

Book One

 

by

Anna Markland

 

Kindle Edition

 

What are readers saying?

 

“Wow, loved this book. It kept me reading until 2am. I had to force myself to put it down to go to bed. The history and setting is so well done that I was transported back to the time, the clothes, food and the battles. This author certainly knows her history.”
Helen Scott Taylor, author of
Oceans Between Us
“...a sweeping Norman epic. Markland has done her research and it shows. The author uses a good economy of words to paint vivid descriptions of the time. The plot moves at a nice pace, never lingering. The characters are interesting and likable. The supporting cast of characters helps to round out the story and give the novel its epic effect."
Stephanie Burkhart, author of
A Polish Heart
“...enjoyed every page because it seemed that something continuously happened to keep me involved. And the romance the author wove into each page? Well it was beautiful!”
Mimi Barbour, author of
His Devious Angel

 

Map of the Norman Invasion 1066
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Dedication
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“The ruling passion, be it what it will,

The ruling passion conquers reason still.”

Alexander Pope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Don, my Conqueror

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

Arques, Normandie,

January 2
nd
, 1066 A.D.

 

With a weary sigh, Lady Mabelle de Valtesse removed her grease-spattered apron, rolled it up, and gathered a meagre blanket around her shoulders. She sank down in exhaustion onto the stale rushes on the hard stone floor, tucking the apron under her drooping head. Her snoring father, the exiled lord of Alensonne, sprawled in the space allotted for them both in the Great Hall. As usual, she had to prod him to move over.

She’d been careful not to step on the slumbering forms—human and animal—in the communal sleeping area of the castle at Arques, a task rendered more difficult by the utter darkness of the early morning hour. A pall of blue smoke from the long dead fire in the hearth hung in the air, making her eyes water. Awakened by her attempts to find comfort, her father elbowed her and asked loudly, “Why are you so late to bed?”

Mabelle gritted her teeth, feeling her shoulders tense. Waking her unpredictable father was the last thing she’d wanted to do. “I wasn’t allowed to leave the kitchens until all was tidy. The banquet for the New Year was larger than usual. I’m tired to the bone.”

“It’s intolerable,” he replied, making no effort to whisper. “The only daughter of Guillaume de Valtesse, lord of Alensonne, working like a peasant in the kitchens.”

“Papa, please, not now,” she whispered. “The castle steward made it plain we must contribute if we want to avail ourselves of their hospitality.”

It irritated her that her father never contributed anything.

“Hospitality!” he sneered. “Where is the chamber I should have, as befits my rank?”

“Hush there!” someone called. “It’s the middle of the night.”

Valtesse bristled and shouted back, “Don’t tell me to hush.
I am Guillaume de Valtesse, the
Seigneur
d’Alensonne.”

“We don’t care if you’re the King of the English,” came the reply. This sentiment was quickly supported by the complaints of others awakened after a day spent toiling for their master. Dogs yapped. Startled cats scurried away, screeching displeasure at having their nightly foraging disturbed.

Mabelle well knew the potential for the argument to escalate. In their wanderings, she’d seen her father thrown out of many a Hall because of his inability to control his tongue and his temper. This was the reason for their exile. It was during an argument over land, six years ago, that he had lashed out and blinded and mutilated the
Seigneur
de Giroux. In revenge, Giroux’s family had captured the Valtesse castle at Alensonne and cast them out. Mabelle’s half-brother, the bastard Arnulf, had aided the attackers.

“I will not sleep with ignorant serfs,” her father began, reaching for the sword at his side.

“Papa, hush, please. I must sleep. You never cease complaining.”

Her father sat up. “You are too impertinent, daughter. Young noblewomen don’t speak to their fathers so rudely.”

Mabelle rolled her eyes, itching to point out that her impertinence and resourcefulness had saved his miserable skin many times. She’d told him often enough she believed the only person with the power to end their banishment was their overlord, the
Comte
de Montbryce.

Muttering, Guillaume gathered his blanket over him, turned over and seemed about to fall back to sleep, but suddenly rasped, “Be ready at first light. We leave for Montbryce.”


Oui
, Papa,” she murmured, trying not to sound surprised. In the beginning of their exile, when she was three and ten, she’d followed her father without question. She’d learned quickly which servants to befriend. If she couldn’t coax leftover food from a kitchen wench when a lord’s hospitality was meagre, she filched it. She shared food with hungry stable boys and was rewarded with oats for their horses. Aiding laundresses in their tasks provided her with clean clothing. She listened to gossip, and used what she learned to her advantage.

Living by her wits had been easier when she was a young girl. There was always something to trade. Now, six years later, it was more difficult. The ugly peasant garb she wore concealed the body of a woman, despite her efforts to hide it. Men now wanted something in return that she had no intention of trading. In a constant game of cat and mouse, Mabelle rarely felt like the cat any more.

For all his faults, her father had shown he was aware of the growing dangers and was quick to protect her, but his volatile temper often led to confrontations and a curtailing of some of her freedom. She appreciated his protection, but was afraid of his inability to control his temper. She’d tried repeatedly for the past year to set her father on the path to his liege lord, but he always made some excuse. She sometimes thought he was happier in his misery.

Now he’d agreed to go. What had made him change his mind? Perhaps the rumours concerning the imminent death of Edward, King of the English, had prompted him to take note of the winds of change blowing in Normandie. Every Norman knew their Duke William had been promised Edward’s throne. The
Comte
de Montbryce might be willing to be the instrument to help regain her dowry, lands lost to Arnulf, and now of strategic importance to the Duke.

Her father’s loud snores told her he wasn’t lying awake worrying. She wrinkled her nose, pressing a finger and thumb over her nostrils, shutting out the odours of rotting food and sweat emanating from the rushes. Tucking her knees to her belly, she hoped sleep would come quickly and that on this night she would be too tired to dream of fine clothes, rich food and the comfortable bedchamber that had been hers at Alensonne—before Arnulf had usurped the castle.

Despite her exhaustion, sleep proved elusive as her restless mind thought of the journey to Montbryce. Would this be the means to at last regain the life of respected nobility to which she’d been born? She pushed away the insistent notion that if her dowry couldn’t be won back, then marriage to a nobleman would be the only solution. How to accomplish such a thing? Did she truly want to exchange one overbearing noble for another? Perhaps the Year of Our Lord One Thousand and Sixty-Six would bring a change of fortunes for her as well as their Duke.

Mabelle curled into a tighter ball and covered her ears against the grunts of a peasant who’d taken advantage of his unexpected awakening to rut with his bedmate.

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

 

St. Germain de Montbryce, Normandie, March 1066

 

Rambaud de Montbryce stood in the stirrups and rubbed his hard saddle muscles. He complained to his brothers, riding alongside him, “After the years I’ve spent on horseback in command of our knights, my backside shouldn’t ache as it does.”

Antoine and Hugh had ridden out from their father’s castle to welcome him back as he approached with a large contingent of Montbryce men-at-arms.

Ram smiled, always happy to see his brothers. “When did you two arrive home with your brigades? You must have been more anxious to get home than I am.”

“Yesterday,” Antoine replied. “But we didn’t have as far to come. We were in Caen.”

Ram wiped the dust from his lips with the back of his hand. “I hope you have a tall tankard of ale ready. It’s been a long ride from Rouen.”

Hugh smiled. “Father has it in hand.”

Ram’s heart lifted as the welcoming walls of his father’s castle at Saint Germain de Montbryce came into view. Surrounded by fertile meadows which stretched as far as the eye could see, the imposing edifice sat atop a strategically important promontory at the junction of two river valleys. It watched over the
demesne,
which
had its own extensive apple orchards. The serfs brewed for their lord a fine apple brandy, famous throughout the Calvados region, as was the golden honey and
fromage cremeux
they produced.

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