The Coffee Pot Book Club Blog tour: The Year We Lived
It is 1074, 8 years after the fateful Battle of Hastings. Lord Henry De Bois is determined to find the secret community of Robert, an Anglo-Saxon thane. Despite his fervour, all his attempts are met with failure.
When he captures Robert’s young sister, Edith, events are set in motion, affecting everyone involved. Edith is forced into a terrible world of cruelty and deceit, but finds friendship there too.
Will Robert ever learn why Henry hates him so much? Will Edith’s new-found friendships be enough to save her from De Bois? And who is the mysterious stranger in the reedbed who can disappear at will?
A gripping historical fiction with an astonishing twist!
Edith passed without challenge into the countryside which was wooded and boggy. The road followed the high ground, twisting and turning like a writhing eel, while on either side trees drank from the marshy pools. A short way along there was a road to the right. It was not well-trodden, but she knew it would take her out to the reed beds. The ground gave beneath her feet as she walked along it and she felt as though each step became harder than the one before. Finally, the trees lessened and gave way to vast marshes. The pools shrank to become deep waterways and the heavens stretched away before her. It was always cold here, and she pulled the deerskin tighter around her as she carefully picked her way down to the water’s edge. Drawing out a small knife Robert had given her two years ago for her twelfth birthday, she struck the blade through the stalk of the damp reeds, collecting them on a pile behind her.
The sun must have been shining somewhere beyond the clouds, but she never saw it until it was preparing to set. She berated herself for losing track of time and looked at the cluster of damp reeds she had harvested. Only now did she consider the question of how to return with them, frowning thoughtfully as she sheathed her knife. A moment later the blade was firmly clenched in her hand, this time as a weapon, not a tool.
Someone was watching her.
Edith did not know how she knew, but she was certain she was no longer alone. Perhaps she had seen a shadow moving, or heard a heavier rustle in the reeds than the wind or a bird would make. Whatever the reason, she was certain someone had their eyes on her, and equally certain it was someone she did not know. Robert had taught her how to use the tool as a defence, how to hold it lightly and move it with slight, delicate movements. But, as the frightening sensation of being watched by an unseen observer continued, Edith only gripped the handle all the more tightly.
“Who are you?” she demanded, but her gentle voice quivered like the tall reeds. “Where are you?”
“Not in the direction you’re looking,” laughed a voice from behind her. “But I live here. I should be asking who you are.”
She spun around to face the intruder, who only laughed again as her knife flew from her hand. Still she could not see him, and now she was unarmed. Her knife appeared before her, offered by an outreached hand which parted the dense reeds around it. She took the handle uncertainly and drew back the reeds to find the hand’s owner. He was kneeling in the tall plants, almost camouflaged in a pale shirt which, far from being a winter garment, hung loosely from his shoulders. His eyes were dark and set so far into his skull that no amount of the dying sun’s light could reach them. But it was his smile which caught her imagination and gave her cause to lower the small blade. True, it was mischievous, but it made him look like a child rather than a villain.
“You live here?” she whispered, sheathing the knife. “But I often come here, and I’ve never seen you. Have you seen me?”
“Not until today.” He drew the rushes further back and looked at the reeds she had collected. “You can’t carry all those back to the lea by yourself.”
“How did you know I was from the lea?” she whispered, turning the knife in her hand.
“Well, you’re not from the marsh, and the lea is the only settlement hereabouts.” He held up his hands in a surrendering gesture as he noticed her grip on the knife handle tighten. “I can help you carry them back.”
“Thank you,” she muttered, rising to her feet and hugging the damp reeds to her stained coat. “Do you live in the marsh?”
He gathered the rest of the reeds. “Hereabouts.” There was a mysterious twinkle in his eye as he answered, so Edith was unsure whether he was being truthful or trying to tease her.
“There aren’t many houses,” she pointed out. “And I thought I knew everyone who lived in each of them, right the way down to the miller at the end of the river.” She waited for him to follow her. “Where do you live?”
“Not in a house.”
“Are you from the garrison?” she asked, spilling her reeds to point the knife at him once more. His dark eyes glistened as they narrowed.
“You must really hate them.” He bent down to gather the reeds she had dropped, never taking his gaze from the point of the knife. “Have they harmed you? Or do you hate them for their accents?”
“Hate?” She sounded shocked by his choice of words. “I don’t hate them, but they hate us.”
“You are lucky, then, that I’m not one of them. And they do speak strangely.” He watched as she returned the knife to its sheath and began walking forward. “Why does Lord de Bois hate you?”
“He hates my brother,” she returned. “Robert has done nothing to deserve it, but last year alone he had to repel three attacks from the Normans.”
“Robert?” the young man asked. “The master of the lea?”
“Yes,” Edith returned, watching as her new companion paled before flushing a deep crimson, a change visible even in the dying sunset. “He is my brother, and those reeds are for his hearth.”
“I’d heard he had a sister. I didn’t expect to find her alone in the marshes collecting fuel. But these reeds won’t burn well.”
“They’re not meant to,” she answered, slightly affronted. “They’re to slow the burning of the yule block.”
She led him towards the road, at which point he looked anxiously around him, as though he expected the attack she had accused him of. In the twilight the spreading limbs of the tree might have hidden anything, their twig tendrils forming a tight hedgerow along the pathway. Edith continued ahead of him, never speaking a word. Similar thoughts were passing through her own head and she began to imagine the hands of the trees reaching out to take her. The Normans were feared throughout this corner of the land for their devious and underhand attacks on the people of the fens. They sought to conquer each corner of their new kingdom without any consideration for the people who knew and understood its landscapes. They would think nothing of striking down a young woman on the road, for it would be no different to slaughtering sheep or cattle. This feeling did not subside until she heard a familiar voice calling out to her.
“Liebling? Liebling Edith?”
“Alan?” she called back, her heart racing and, as she saw the tall flame of a torch approaching from further up the road, she felt all her fears slip from her. Alan rushed forward and looked down at her, a mixture of emotions visible on his face, culminating in one of extreme relief.
“You’re soaked, Liebling,” he began, looking down at her muddy coat and marked hem. “Your brother has sent twenty men out to find you. Where have you been?”
“At the marshes,” she replied, feeling suddenly confident in the appearance of this man. “I was collecting reeds.”
“Where are they?” Alan asked gently.
“He has them,” Edith returned, turning to look at the young man who carried her gathered fuel. She frowned to find she and Alan stood alone on the road. There was no sign of the dark eyed man, not even footprints. The only trace was the large bundle of reeds he had carried for her which were placed on the side of the path. She moved over to them, almost expecting to find him hiding behind them, but he was gone. “There was a young man,” she whispered, more as a reassurance to herself than an explanation to the guard. “He carried them for me. Where did he go, Alan?”
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Virginia grew up in Orkney, using the breath-taking scenery to fuel her imagination and the writing fire within her. Her favourite genres to write are fantasy and historical fiction, sometimes mixing the two together such as her newly-published book “Caledon”. She enjoys swashbuckling stories such as the Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas and is still waiting for a screen adaption that lives up to the book!
When she’s not writing, Virginia is usually to be found teaching music, and obtained her MLitt in “History of the Highlands and Islands” last year. She believes wholeheartedly in the power of music, especially as a tool of inspiration. She also helps out with the John O’Groats Book Festival which is celebrating its 3rd year this April.
She now lives in the far flung corner of Scotland, soaking in inspiration from the rugged cliffs and miles of sandy beaches. She loves cheese, music and films, but hates mushrooms.
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