“Anna Markland weaves a fantastic tale of love, passion, raw emotions and inner conflict. The characters become real people and I was transported back to 11th century England, with all their trials and tribulations. Caedmon’s experiences and realizations while on the Crusade are both raw and enlightening. The historic detail wound into the love story is simply brilliant! A fantastic read!”
– Lorrie A. – Amazon Reviewer
Everything he’d ever believed about himself had been a lie. Caedmon’s discovery of his bastardy threatens to destroy him and his marriage to Agneta Kirkthwaite. He seeks redemption by going off on the First Crusade. Agneta harbours hatreds of her own over the massacre of her family and the destruction of her home–a crime Caedmon unwittingly participated in. Can love help them overcome hatred and forge a powerful dynasty of their own? A love story that encompasses all kinds of love – romantic, familial and friendship.
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Bolton, Northumbria, March 1093,
Sixth Year of the Reign of William Rufus
Agneta Kirkthwaite crouched in terror in the abandoned hayloft, shivering, despite the warmth of her mother’s arms clasped tightly around her. Her father, Sir Eidwyn, had hurried them into hiding as soon as the outriders had raised the alarm.
“Make sure you have your dagger, Ragna,” Eidwyn told his wife, his voice strained.
The barbaric Scots had been increasing their murderous raids on Norman holdings in Northumbria, and though the Kirkthwaites weren’t Normans, their manor in the tiny village of Bolton, more prosperous than most, might tempt raiders. Over the years since the Conquest, their isolation, and alliances with the Normans, had spared them many of the ravages experienced by other Northumbrians. Now, in defense of their home, Eidwyn and his sons, Aidan and Branton, had armed themselves and the villagers and were ready for an attack.
Unholy battle cries heralded the arrival of the marauders, raising the hairs on the back of Agneta’s neck. Ragna Kirkthwaite pressed her eye to a crack between the old planking of their hiding place.
“God save us,” she breathed, making the Sign of the Cross. “They’re naked!” She looked away, and dragged Agneta across the rough floorboards, further from the wall.
“Who are they, Mamma?” Agneta whimpered. “Why are they attacking us?”
“Barbarian Scots,” her mother spat. “Will they never give up their claim to Northumbria? Stay here.”
Ragna crawled back to the chink, and peered out again. She gasped, and scurried back to Agneta, who grasped her mother’s sleeve. “What is it?”
“There are Saxons with them.”
“But father is a Saxon. Why would Saxons attack us?”
Ragna took a deep breath. “I don’t know, but your father and brothers will fight them off, with the help of the villagers.”
The mayhem below continued for a long while. Agneta winced at the harsh sounds of metal on metal, screams of pain, and shouts of triumph. Then suddenly—nothing. She clung to her mother for long anxious minutes, until the faint smell of smoke wafted up to them.
Ragna inched closer to the crack. She choked back a whimper and her forehead slumped against the wood.
“What’s wrong? What is it?” Agneta whispered frantically.
When her mother didn’t reply, Agneta crawled over to the crack and looked.
The house is on fire.
She was about to look away when new shouts came to her ears, and she caught sight of her father. Sword drawn, he fought with two naked raiders whose bodies shone eerily. Were they covered in grease?
“Papa looks tired,” she whispered. She turned to look at her mother, and saw a tear roll down her cheek. She looked back through the crack. No one!
Suddenly, Aidan, her beloved seventeen year old brother, one year older than she, staggered into view and fell to the ground, clutching his chest. A shrieking marauder appeared, leapt onto Aidan, and plunged a dagger into his back.
“Aidan,” she rasped, her throat dry as dust. She furrowed her brow in anguished disbelief, and rocked to and fro, hugging her knees. “They’ve stabbed Aidan.”
Her mother crawled away from the wall, and curled up, whimpering.
Where are Papa, and Branton, and the villagers?
Agneta couldn’t help it. She was drawn to look back at the slaughter. Before long, she’d witnessed the murders of Branton, and her father. Bloodied, broken bodies lay all over the courtyard. The only sounds were the crackling of the burning timbers, and the victorious laughter of the barbarians who’d perpetrated this horror.
Fear gripped her and she couldn’t stop the tears streaming down her face. Her mother had gone strangely quiet. Agneta sniffled, wiped her runny nose with her sleeve, and looked through the crack again. Her stomach clenched and she blinked rapidly. A man in chain mail was crouched beside Aidan. He turned the boy over, and dragged him into a sitting position, cradling Aidan’s shoulders with his arm. Agneta fisted her hands against the wall, her fingernails biting into her palms.
Please don’t hurt him.
The warrior smoothed the hair off the boy’s face then lay Aidan down again. Agneta flattened her palms against the wall and clawed at the splintering wood. Everything seemed to have tilted and she was afraid she might swoon.
Unexpectedly, the man rocked back on his heels and slowly stood, brushing the dirt from his leggings with his gauntlets. With the back of her fist she strangled a cry that threatened to burst from her throat. Even seen from her high perch, he was a giant.
Oh God! He’s looking up.
Her insides pitched and rolled, but she willed her body to be still. The man removed his helmet and wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. Black hair fell to his shoulders. She couldn’t look away. Soon another man came to stand beside him, similarly clad.
These are the treacherous Saxons.
The two men conversed together quietly, still looking up. She couldn’t move, transfixed with fear and fascination. The man with black hair shook his head when the other put his hand on his comrade’s shoulder. Both seemed troubled. They put their helmets back on, turned and walked away.
She swooned against the wooden wall.
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