Squire’s Hazard: Coffee Pot Bookclub Blog tour.
How do you overcome the loathing, lust and bitterness threatening you and your family’s honour?
It’s 1363, and in Steyning Castle, Sussex, Dickon de Bohun is enjoying life as a squire in the household of Earl Raoul de Fougère. Or he would be, if it weren’t for Edwin de Courtenay, who’s making his life a misery with his bullying, threatening to expose the truth about Dickon’s birth.
At home in Meonbridge for Christmas, Dickon notices how grown-up his childhood playmate, Libby Fletcher, has become since he last saw her and feels the stirrings of desire. Libby, seeing how different he is too, falls instantly in love. But as a servant to Dickon’s grandmother, Lady Margaret de Bohun, she could never be his wife.
Margery Tyler, Libby’s aunt, meeting her niece by chance, learns of her passion for young Dickon. Their conversation rekindles Margery’s long-held rancour against the de Bohuns, whom she blames for all the ills that befell her family, including her own servitude. For years she’s hidden her hunger for retribution, but she can no longer keep her hostility in check.
As the future Lord of Meonbridge, Dickon knows he must rise above de Courtenay’s loathing and intimidation, and get the better of him. And, surely, he must master his lust for Libby, so his own mother’s shocking history is not repeated? Of Margery’s bitterness, however, he has yet to learn…
Beset by the hazards these powerful and dangerous emotions bring, can young Dickon summon up the courage and resolve to overcome them?
Secrets, hatred and betrayal, but also love and courage – Squire’s Hazard, the fifth MEONBRIDGE CHRONICLE.
From Chapter 1
Glad to escape his grandmother’s probing, if just for now, Dickon ran out through the hall door and across the bailey towards the fine new stables that had been built earlier in the year.
A groom met him at the door. ‘Mornin’, milord, you looking for Bayard?’
At Dickon’s nod, the lad led him past the long line of stalls to the far end, where Bayard’s head was jutting out from his stall, looking his way, as if he was waiting for him.
‘You wan’ ’im saddled, milord?’ said the groom, as Bayard whinnied.
‘No thanks. I’ve done enough riding for a few days. I’ve just come to see him.’
Left alone with the horse, he pushed open the stall door and stepped inside. Bayard backed away a little, snickering softly, and Dickon held his hand out flat for him to snuffle. Going closer, he stroked the horse’s muzzle, murmuring all the while. He laid his face against the warm dark hair on Bayard’s neck, and closed his eyes.
Tears oozed from beneath his eyelids. It wasn’t only the journey that had exhausted him. He’d been shocked by the increasing violence of Edwin’s bullying, ending with the dreadful incident with poor Morel. How good it’d be just to stay here and ride Bayard every day. He could practise his combat skills with Piers, and learn more about his estates, in preparation for the day when––
Jerking his head back from the comfort of Bayard’s quivering neck, he spun around and thumped his fist against the sturdy timber of the stall. His knuckles swiftly stung with pain, and the blow’s thud made Bayard start back and whinny. At once regretting his outburst, he turned and soothed the horse’s muzzle once again.
Dickon hadn’t moved from Bayard’s side when he heard Piers calling out his name. He sighed. Much as he liked Piers, he was fearful the squire might, like his grandmother, ask him questions he didn’t want to answer. But he could hardly pretend not to be in the stall, when the groom knew well where he was. Giving Bayard a final pat, he stepped out into the aisle and called to Piers.
‘You planning a ride?’ said Piers.
He shook his head. ‘Tomorrow, maybe. I’m still too stiff from the journey.’
‘Me too. It’s keeping alert that’s so hard in winter: your back and shoulders tense, your eyes peeled for hazards underfoot.’
He agreed, though, in fact, this time he’d let Bayard take most of the strain.
‘Though I must say,’ Piers went on, ‘I thought you seemed more distracted yesterday than alert…’ He raked his fingers through his hair. ‘Is something wrong?’
Dickon was affronted for a moment. Yet Piers only ever had his best interests at heart. He stared down at his feet and lifted a shoulder in a fleeting shrug.
‘So, is anything wrong, Dick?’
He shook his head, and Piers frowned. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘but it doesn’t look that way to me. Since you’ve been back, you’ve seemed far away. Her ladyship’s noticed too. She asked me to find out.’
Dickon flinched, and Piers must have read it as alarm. He put up his hands. ‘Don’t fret, I’ll not tell her anything you don’t want me to. But I’ll need to tell her something to stop her worrying.’
He quelled a groan. Of course, Piers knew what training to be a squire was like. Years ago, when he was helping him prepare for going away to Courtenay Castle, Piers had told him tales of his own life as a young squire. He’d made it sound fun and exciting, but Dickon suspected he understood well enough how it really was.
If he was going to tell anyone what was happening in Steyning, it would be Piers. He longed to share the burden of it but hesitated, nonetheless.
Piers drew him away, down the aisle to an empty stall, and they flopped down onto the freshly strewn hay. ‘So, what is it?’ he said. ‘Are you mooning over a girl?’
Dickon snorted. ‘Hardly. There aren’t any girls at Steyning Castle.’
‘That can’t be quite true. There must be at least one or two serving girls.’
‘Well, yes, but I never talk to them. Anyway, I wouldn’t…’ He looked away a moment and cleared his throat. ‘The other squires talk about them sometimes, but not in a chivalrous way. You know, it’s all about their––’ His neck felt hot. ‘And what it might be like to squeeze them––’ His ears were surely flaming. ‘Did you ever talk about girls like that?’
‘I suppose so, though I’d never have laid hand on a servant when I was in training, for fear of being caught.’
‘What about since then?’
‘Well, yes, but only if they’re willing. And there aren’t many of those in Meonbridge.’ He grinned.
Dickon didn’t speak again for several moments, thinking this talk of girls might divert Piers for a while. ‘Libby Fletcher’s pretty, isn’t she?’ he said at length.
Piers smirked. ‘Growing up now too…’
‘I’d noticed.’ He flushed again. ‘You know we were playmates for years?’
‘Since you were five or so, you told me.’
‘I grew very fond of her. And I think maybe I still am.’
‘That’s understandable…’ Piers cleared his throat. ‘But, if you’re thinking your fondness could become something more…?’ Dickon’s eyes widened, and Piers shook his head. ‘She’s your grandmother’s servant, Dick. You mustn’t take advantage…’
What Piers said was true. He shouldn’t be thinking of Libby that way. Next time he saw her, he’d make it clear they couldn’t continue to be friends.
‘Anyway,’ Piers went on, ‘somehow I don’t think that’s what’s troubling you.’
Dickon pouted and plucked at the hay, like he used to pick at his straw pallet when he was a boy. Damn Piers! He always somehow knew… He stayed silent a little longer, but sharing it would surely be better than keeping it bottled up inside. ‘If I tell you, you mustn’t tell my grandmother.’
He then described all that had happened to him since Edwin de Courtenay came to Steyning, the teasing, then the bullying, and the final incident with Morel.
As he came to the end of his sorry tale, Piers was scowling. ‘Why haven’t you told the earl?’
He winced. ‘I’m not likely to do that, am I? It’d make me look even more a fool. A blab.’
‘What are you going to do?’
He looked away. ‘I can handle it.’
‘Can you? It seems to be troubling you a great deal…’
‘I’m just trying to work out what to do. How to get back at him. I’ll think of something.’ He stared at Piers, whose brow was furrowed, evidently unconvinced by his bravado.
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CAROLYN HUGHES has lived much of her life in Hampshire. With a first degree in Classics and English, she started working life as a computer programmer, then a very new profession. But it was technical authoring that later proved her vocation, as she wrote and edited material, some fascinating, some dull, for an array of different clients, including banks, an international hotel group and medical instruments manufacturers.
Having written creatively for most of her adult life, it was not until her children flew the nest several years ago that writing historical fiction took centre stage, alongside gaining a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University and a PhD from the University of Southampton.
Squire’s Hazard is the fifth MEONBRIDGE CHRONICLE, and more stories about the folk of Meonbridge will follow.
You can connect with Carolyn through her website www.carolynhughesauthor.com and on social media.
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Amazon Author Page UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Carolyn-Hughes/e/B01MG5TWH1/Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16048212.Carolyn_Hughes