Their Castilian Orphan: Coffee Pot Book Club Blog Tour.

It is 1294 and Eustace de Lamont is back in England after five years in exile. He will stop at nothing to ruin Robert FitzStephan and his wife, Noor d’Outremer.Robert’s half brother, Eustace de Lamont, has not mellowed during his absence. He is more ruthless than ever, and this time he targets Robert’s and Noor’s foster son, Lionel. Lionel is serving King Edward as a page when Eustace appears at court. Not only does Lionel become the horrified witness to Eustace’s violent streak, Eustace also starts voicing his suspicions about Lionel’s parentage. The truth about Lionel’s heritage is explosive—should King Edward find out, all would be lost for Robert and Noor. In October of 1294, Wales rises in rebellion. Robert must leave his family unprotected to fight the Welsh rebels on the king’s behalf, comforted only by the fact that Eustace too is called to fight. Except that Eustace has no intention of allowing his duty to his king—or a mere rebellion—come between him and his desire to destroy Robert FitzStephan . . . 

In which Lionel becomes a horrified witness to evil deeds

There were still moments when Lionel preferred the company of his horse to his fellow pages. Aye, Peter was proving a loyal and constant companion, but when the talk turned to lands and bloodlines, Lionel had little to contribute, which was why he’d spent most of the sunny June afternoon taking Estrella through her paces, even managing to get the temperamental mare to bow her head docilely and back on his command. 

Once he’d watered her, he led Estrella back to her stall and was presently examining her foreleg when he heard someone enter. At first, he thought it might be the grooms, but there was something furtive about the movements. He peeked through a narrow gap in the stall wall. A man in a dark tunic and a heavy beard was standing in the shadows mere yards away. Despite the fine weather, he was sporting a cloak and hood, and from his belt hung an evil-looking dagger. 

More footsteps. Lionel shrank into a corner when he recognised the newcomer.

“Is it done?” Eustace de Lamont asked, moving to stand in front of the hooded man. Behind him came a clerk, dark robes belted tightly round a thin frame. The sparse hair that circled his head was mostly grey, his fingers liberally stained with ink. 

“It is, my lord.” The hooded man bowed obsequiously. “The little runt squeals no more.” 

“I need proof,” de Lamont said.

“Of course you do.” The man dug into his cloak and produced something wrapped in linen. Lionel had his eye against the crack, watching in horror as the man unwound the bloodied linen to reveal a little hand, fingers softly curled. 

Eustace de Lamont took a step back when the hooded man tried to give him the hand. It dropped to the straw-strewn floor. 

“Told you I’d get it done,” the hooded man said. 

“And I promised you a heavy pouch if you did.” De Lamont snapped his fingers at the clerk. “Humphrey, give the man what he is owed.” 

“Yes, m’lord.” The clerk produced a leather purse and lobbed it to the man. 

The hooded man weighed it, nodded and muttered a farewell, turning towards the door. That was when Eustace struck, sinking his dagger into the other man’s back.

“Oi!” The man fell to his knees, managed to turn, his eyes wide.

Eustace stabbed him again, this time right in the heart. 

Lionel did not dare to breathe. He pressed himself as close to the wall as he could, digging his nails into the skin of his palms in an effort to keep entirely still. The horses closest to the dead man were becoming restless, shuffling back and forth in their stalls, and Estrella lifted her head, ears pricked. Lionel hid behind her legs, incapable of tearing his gaze away from where Eustace was standing over the dead man. Moments later, he straightened up, holding the purse. 

“Take care of it,” he ordered the clerk, pointing at the body.

“Yes, m’lord.” The clerk bowed obsequiously a couple of times before sticking two fingers in his mouth and emitting a shrill whistle. Two men hurried in and busied themselves while Eustace leaned against one of the stalls, looking bored. 

Some time later, there was no bloodied straw, no dead man. There was only Eustace, humming to himself as he gingerly picked up the little hand and made for the narrow door leading to the dung heap. 

At long last, the stable was empty again. Lionel remained where he was, his heart thundering in his chest. That little hand . . . He twisted to the side and vomited, all of him covered in cold sweat. 

Somehow, he staggered to his feet. He cleaned up Estrella’s stall and made for the dung heap, arms full of stinking straw. That hand. He had to find the hand. 

The dung heap was vast. And Eustace de Lamont was no fool. He’d not just thrown the hand out there, no, he’d obviously taken the time to hide it. Lionel slid down to sit on his heels, his back against the stable wall. What was he to do?

Soaking Sally did not say a word. She just listened in grim silence as Lionel described what he’d seen. 

“I should tell the king,” Lionel finished.

“Tell him what, laddie?” Sally shook her head. “That you saw him kill someone? If aye, where is the body? And I’d wager everything I have that Eustace will have someone vouching he was elsewhere all afternoon.” She grimaced. “Likely that haughty wife of his.”

They shared a quick look. De Lamont’s lady was quite the harpy—unless the king was present. That tongue of hers was barbed, her words dripping with venom as she complained about everything from the state of the recently laundered linens to the weather. But she was comely and quick to blush and simper whenever any of the powerful men who frequented the king’s court were nearby. 

“I tried to find the hand.” Lionel sipped at the honeyed ale Sally had offered him. He couldn’t stop shivering. “A hand, Sally! First, they killed him, then they chopped off his hand!”

Sally leaned forward and clasped his shoulder. “You cannot tell anyone. If it reaches de Lamont that you saw all that, he’ll kill you.”

Lionel swallowed. And swallowed. 

“I wonder who the boy was,” he said in a whisper. Sally leaned back, crossing her impressive arms over her equally impressive bosom. 

“I reckon it’s his brother.”

“His brother?” Lionel squeaked. “Who kills his own brother?” But then he recalled that Eustace de Lamont had been more than willing to kill Papa, who was also his brother. 

“Greedy evil men do that all the time,” Sally said with a dismissive gesture. “Mind you, greedy and evil women are likely as prone to kill, but normally they use poison. Ah yes, I recall . . .” Off she went, telling him a long, convoluted story featuring a beautiful lady who’d murdered her own husband. It soothed him to sit in Sally’s little room and listen. But as he was about to leave, she fixed him with a firm look. “Not a word,” she told him. “Promise me.”

And he did, no matter that his stomach roiled. 

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Author Bio:

Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveller. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with three absorbing interests: history, romance and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England. Anna has just released the final instalment, Their Castilian Orphan, in her other medieval series, The Castilian Saga ,which is set against the conquest of Wales. She has recently released Times of Turmoil, a sequel to her time travel romance, The Whirlpools of Timeand is now considering just how to wiggle out of setting the next book in that series in Peter the Great’s Russia, as her characters are demanding. . .

All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of various Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards.

“A master storyteller” 

“This is what all historical fiction should be like. Superb.”

Find out more about Anna, her books and enjoy her eclectic historical blog on her website,  

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