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Excerpt: The King's Heart by Rowena Sudbury

The King's Heart by Rowena Sudbury
Paperback: 220 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press (June 11, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1613725450
ISBN-13: 978-1613725450
Amazon: The King's Heart
Amazon Kindle: The King's Heart

Sequel to The King's Tale In thirteenth century Cornwall, a fierce king must have a strong partner, and that is what King Christopher of Lysnowydh has in his handfasted mate. Or had before rival King Warin kidnapped and tortured Dafydd to the point that, months later, he is still afraid to leave the castle. Christopher longs for Dafydd to accompany him to the other strongholds in his kingdom and to London to pay tribute to Henry III, but Dafydd is not ready. Christopher begins to wonder if Dafydd will ever recover. Dafydd hates to disappoint his lover, but he is not sure what to do. Since he will not leave the keep, he renounces his position as king's marshal, vowing to focus on the healing arts instead. Though Christopher continues to pressure him to travel, Dafydd staunchly stays at home-until his second sight shows him he could lose Christopher if he cannot face his fears. Determinedly, Dafydd sets out to prove he can master them. When Christopher returns home to find Dafydd gone, he knows exactly what Dafydd must have seen. As he once promised he would, he follows his heart across his kingdom-but even if he finds Dafydd, he may not be able to heal the rift between them.

Excerpt:

from Chapter Three -- Dark Memories. Thanks so much!!!

The bulk of Strasnedh keep loomed up out of the mists like a derelict shipping vessel on a ghostly sea. The mighty front gate stood open, the doors hanging on broken hinges. Weeds choked the outer bailey, and the outbuildings stood blackened by the fires that had been set once Dafydd was rescued.

Christopher's party rode silently through the destruction, disturbing the occasional stray chicken or scrawny ox as the men passed from outer bailey to inner bailey. The place was clearly still deserted, peopled by the ghosts of those who had once made the place vital. Patrick and Simon sat in somber silence as they waited for Christopher and Richard to reach their position. The soldiers who had accompanied the party hung back to let Christopher confer with his nobles.

"The buildings stand," Christopher said, still mounted on his warhorse. "'Tis only the thatched roofs that must needs be replaced."

"Aye," Richard said. "And yet the outer buildings must be examined to see if they still hold true, else they need to be razed and begun afresh."

"'Tis my hope that the buildings still hold. 'Twould cut the renovations by half," said Patrick.

Christopher cast his gaze about the inner courtyard. "Though you be eager to begin this new life, 'tis my desire the buildings be strong to protect my heir." He smiled to soften his words as he swung from the back of his horse.

"Aye, your majesty," Patrick said as he bowed his head. "'Tis not my desire to be overeager where young Anwyll is concerned."

"'Tis well," Christopher said as he handed the reins to a waiting squire.

One by one the others dismounted, lost in their own thoughts as they gazed at the walls they had last seen in battle. Patrick and Simon moved off toward the stairs leading into the keep while Richard hung back to watch the shifting emotions on Christopher's face.

With Richard trailing in his wake, Christopher circled around to the side of the main building. Here was a smaller, less grand entrance, and Christopher knew that via this entry, the dungeons were accessed. A light breeze ruffled through the narrow passage, stirring the dead stalks of herbs in the neglected kitchen garden. Christopher stood in quiet contemplation for many moments, then turned and found Richard watching from the corner of the building.

"I would see the dungeon," Christopher said.

At this moment, Patrick and Simon rounded the corner and heard the tail end of Christopher's request. Their faces white, they turned to face Richard, deferring to him as the elder.

"'Tis not wise," Richard said. "Naught can come of it; naught can change the course of events."

"Aye," Christopher said with a voice cold enough to match the day and a scowl upon his face. "And yet, I would see it."

"Your majesty," Patrick said, his voice hushed, "I would agree with Sir Richard in this." He paused, uncertain, and then cleared his throat. "There is naught to see save a cold and barren room. In truth—" He faltered, then took a deep breath and continued boldly, "You are better served by having not seen it the way we did that morn."

A sound emanated from deep in Christopher's chest, an angry growl tinged by the deepest sorrow. "If you will not show it to me, then I will find it on my own. I am not unfamiliar with the way Strasnedh is set inside."

"Your majesty." Simon sidled forward. "I would escort you."

There was a moment of shocked silence as Richard and Patrick turned to face Simon, but Simon kept his eyes fixed only on the king. He trembled slightly, yet was unwavering in his fervor.

Christopher moved toward the small entrance, then turned and raised his hand. "Come."

Holding their tongues, Patrick and Richard watched as Simon strode forward and preceded the king through the small door. Although each shared similar thoughts, they did not speak them as they turned and rounded the building. The inspection must continue.

The air within the narrow passageway was close and smelled of neglect. Stopping long enough to light a torch, Simon turned and raised an eyebrow at Christopher.

"I shall follow," Christopher said tersely.

"Aye, your majesty," Simon said. With the torch held before him, he turned and began the descent down the narrow and ofttimes slippery stairway.

As Christopher followed, he shuddered inwardly at the rustling of unseen creatures in the shadows. In his peripheral vision he noted the differences between this dungeon and the one in his own castle at Lysnowydh. Here the passage was narrow and showed signs that, even in better times, the filth was never removed. Echoed in the stone walls were countless cries of pain and grief.

When Simon stopped, Christopher paused well behind him. The solid wooden door in front of them looked no different from the others they had passed, and yet Christopher felt some affinity with the barrier, as though he would have correctly deduced that this was the room.

Simon set his shoulder against the door, pushed it open, and then fitted his torch within the ring just inside. He turned in the wan light, head bowed, and allowed Christopher to enter the room alone.

Shoulders squared, Christopher stepped through the narrow doorway. With halting steps, he advanced until he gained the center of the room, then stopped and let the feelings evoked by the space eddy around him. In time they overwhelmed him, and he sank to his knees, enveloped in a rush of despair. Unbidden tears welled in his eyes, and a moan escaped his lips. Images flashed upon his mind, and in that one crystallizing moment, he felt the terror and pain that had been meted out upon these very stones. The pain knifed across his heart, and he swayed with its intensity.

Sunk as he was in the overwhelming vortex, Christopher did not hear Simon creep into the room, and was unaware that he knelt just behind him until he spoke. "Have you ever seen a flogging before, your majesty?"

As though he had been stabbed, Christopher flinched. Rather than bite off his answer, as was his wont, he murmured, almost as if sharing with an equal. "As king, I have flogged many miscreants. 'Tis not as much I have seen them as I have meted them out."

"Aye," Simon said, and he continued in a dead voice that forwent the formalities necessary for speaking to his king. "And yet 'tis not the same as watching someone you love and cherish take a beating as was given by that monster."

Christopher sat back on his haunches, his hands clenched into fists as Simon continued with his recital.

"Sir Dafydd was strong, stronger than any man I have ever seen. Each time, when King Warin came upon him, he refused to kneel and give way before him. Silent he was, and defiant as he struggled to his feet, intent upon standing in the face of orders." There was a silence, and then in a voice that cracked with emotion, Simon continued. "He struggled the first time they tried to lead him to the manacles, fought for all he was worth until they clubbed the back of his legs and dragged him across the stones. And he was proud, even though they had taken his clothes the first night they brought him to this hole. The rings bit into his wrists, and they strung him up just enough that only his toes still touched the ground."

After another pause Christopher grated, "Go on."

"The tips of King Warin's whip were studded with steel barbs. Not meant to tear the skin, as the leather did enough of that, but to add increased pain. Most men would cry out and beg for mercy after one lash, but not Sir Dafydd. He leaned in against the wall, clenched his hands around the chains, and swallowed whatever cries of agony built within him. The first time King Warin struck him, the whip split open a mighty weal across his back, painted half his flesh crimson. As he continued, the skin purpled and knotted as the flesh was torn again and again."

The tears that welled in Christopher's eyes spilled one by one, and he was unashamed at their spilling as the awful tale continued.

"Even after the first ten lashes, Sir Dafydd continued to refuse to kneel when his tormentor came into the room. He struggled up, spread his feet wide, and kept his mouth closed. It seemed—" Simon paused to swallow the anger that clogged his throat. "—it seemed that King Warin took perverse pleasure in the floggings. Each time was only ten lashes, but each time some new horror was visited after he was done. Most I did not see, as he did them in private, yet the ones I did see turned my innards so that I lost whatever I had in my belly."

In the silence that followed, both men struggled, Christopher with the images of torment Simon hinted at, and Simon with the knowledge of what he had seen.

"'Twas then, your majesty," Simon said at last, "that I realized I was wrong, and I knew beyond a shadow of doubt that Sir Dafydd was a great man. Evil words said to me by Sir Robert when he was seneschal at Lysnowydh were all lies and jealousy and ignorance. I began to regret any part I had in his torture, I only stayed so as to see if there were any chances to offer him succor or aid. Otherwise I would have abandoned this dark place." Simon drew in a deep breath. "I know no man who could take what he took, your majesty, and that's the God's honest truth. He is that strong and that straight of purpose."

In that final silence, Simon crept out again, leaving Christopher alone in the dark and smoky room. The tears had stopped, replaced by a bitter rage that collected in the pit of his belly. In his mind's eye he could see it, Dafydd chained against the wall, silent in his suffering, proud and defiant until the end.

After creeping along the passage, feeling his way without the torch, Simon came up from the dungeon and stood a moment at the top of the stairway to regain his equilibrium. He wiped at his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt and then stepped out to find the others through the narrow passage that led to the main hall. King Christopher was every bit as tough as Sir Dafydd, and Simon knew that the king would internalize the retelling, and that it would lend to the very fiber of his being.

All were unprepared for the cry of anguish that drifted up through the keep, and they stood rooted to their positions when Christopher emerged into the hall, his eyes blazing with demonic inner light.

"Destroy it," he roared. "The whole of the dungeons must be destroyed." He seemed swollen with the anger and revulsion that coursed through him.

"Aye," Patrick said, as he knew there would be no discussion. "It will be so."

With eyes that still burned, Christopher half ran across the hall, then down the stairs into the courtyard, bellowing for his horse. Richard and Patrick hastened after him and watched as he swung into the saddle and wheeled around.

"Mayhap I should go along of him," Patrick said.

"Nay," Richard said, holding out his arm. "The demons that plague him now will only be settled by Dafydd. Let him go."
Tags: author: rowena sudbury, excerpt
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