Authors: Sharan Newman
Tags: #Historical Romance
Praise for Guinevere
“A fascinating and exciting first novel ... elegantly done.”
“A superb story, superbly told.”
Sharan Newman reprints from Bella Rosa Books
The Guinevere Trilogy
THE CHESSBOARD QUEEN
Catherine LeVendeur Mysteries
STRONG AS DEATH
CURSED IN THE BLOOD
TO WEAR THE WHITE CLOAK
THE DIFFICULT SAINT
Also available from Bella Rosa Books in Trade paperback:
Library of Congress Control Number: 2014935713
Copyright © 1981 by Sharan Newman
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For more information contact Bella Rosa Books, P.O. Box 4251 CRS, Rock Hill, SC 29732. Or online at
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
The lines from Ovid’s
(Book I, lines 102-112) were translated by Rolfe Humphries and originally published by the Indiana University Press, 1955. All rights reserved.
Previously Published in the U.S.A. by St. Martin’s Press.
First hardback edition: 1981, ISBN 0312353189.
Tor Books mass market edition: 1997, ISBN 0312862334.
Cover illustration by Stanley Martucci.
BellaRosaBooks and logo are trademarks of Bella Rosa Books
Who has golden hair
There was a sound in the night. The child woke suddenly, clutching the blankets. Someone was calling her, she was sure. Was it coming, then, the time they never mentioned? Were the Saxon invaders even now crashing down the gates, crushing her mother’s flowers with their ugly, studded boots? Why else would anyone wake her in the middle of the night? She held her breath, straining to hear. The still moonlight poured between the slats in her shuttered window. A shadow passed, blocking the light for an instant. She bit the rough blanket to keep from crying out. It was only the guard, steadily pacing his watch from house to wall and back. Slowly her body relaxed. If the guard were still on duty she had no cause for alarm. There were no screams, no clashing of sword and shield. Nothing but the moonlight and the muted slap of the guard’s sandals as he passed the window. There was no surprise attack, no invasion. But then who had called her? It had been so insistent, so urgent.
Fear had made her thirsty. She slid from her bed and tiptoed over to the pitcher on her dressing table across the room. Her bare feet caught a little on the tiles of the mosaic on the floor. In the semi-dark the pattern was only a series of blobs, but by daylight it was a great floral wreath with animals playing in the center around a giant tree. She loved it and stopped to pat with her toe the blob she knew was a fat baby rabbit. The picture was somewhat childish for her now, since she was past twelve, but she had slept in that room since babyhood and the mosaic was as familiar and comforting to her as the face of her nurse. Though the spring night was chilly, the floor was warm from the hot water pipes that ran beneath it. She reached the table and fumbled about for her cup. Her hand brushed against a pot of herbs and it crashed to the floor. In the midnight quiet the sound of the breaking pot seemed to echo through the house. Before the child had time to recover, a shape appeared at the door, an old woman, wrapped in a blanket.
“Lady Guinevere!” The girl jumped guiltily. “What are you doing out of bed, startling the entire household from their sleep?”
“I woke up, Flora, and wanted some water.”
“And look at this mess!” Flora stooped and gathered up the shards of the pot. “Dirt everywhere, and my poor rosemary plant!”
“I’m sorry.” Guinevere felt on the floor for the pieces. She stepped on the plant and a pungent aroma filled the room. “I didn’t see it in the dark.”
“That’s why you should stay in bed in the dark, instead of roaming around. There, we’ll clean up the rest in the morning. Here’s your water. Now hop! Right back to bed. I don’t want to hear a peep out of you until well after sunrise.”
So Guinevere sipped her water and climbed back into bed. Flora bustled about, pulling up the blanket and tucking it in with the strange soothing noises people make to quiet sleepy children. Then she slipped out and down the hallway to her own room. Guinevere lay awake for a while. Now she had two mysteries: Who had wakened her, and why, under her blanket, was Flora dressed in gold and scarlet robes?
There were no answers. She listened for a time, but heard nothing more. Finally, she rolled on to her side, her hands crossed under her chin, fast asleep.
When she next awoke, the sun was sending bright ribbons of light into the room. Motes were dancing through them settling on her bed. She had only a vague memory of waking in the night, a subtle feeling of disquiet. The sense that someone had called her was still strong. Who or what could it have been? She lay in bed a few minutes, considering. The clatter of the household preparing for the day’s work intruded on her thoughts and cleared away her uneasy feeling. It must have been only a dream. The morning was bright and she suddenly remembered that her father had promised her a special treat today—to take her riding, just the two of them. She got up quickly, the last vestige of her worry gone.
Guinevere’s mother, Guenlian, sat at her dressing table. She was watching her husband, Leodegrance, put on his riding clothes. She shook her head with disapproval.
“You are spoiling the child, my dear,” she told him. “You have too many other duties to waste an entire morning out riding with your daughter.”
Leodegrance grimaced as he pulled the lacings more tightly on his boots. “I promised her we would go riding today. She is bored here, now that her brothers are gone. She needs the exercise and so do I.”
are bored now that her brothers are gone,” she retorted. “You won’t admit how much you miss them. They say the Saxons have sent over a hundred boats this spring to bolster their forces here. And the Irish raids on the west are getting more frequent.”
She wasn’t thinking of Guinevere then, but of her three sons all fighting together against the Saxon incursions in the north.
“My cousin Cador is a fine general, Guenlian. We could not have entrusted our boys to anyone better. Would you rather we had run away like the others?”
“Don’t taunt me with that,” Guenlian said, annoyed. “I have never been one to counsel flight. We have stayed and built and rebuilt our home when everyone else fled. Did I ever suggest that we would be happier or safer in Armorica? Britain is our home and I will live to see it Roman again. What else have we fought all these years for? Why else have we raised our sons to be warriors? Can’t you allow me at least the luxury of worrying like a mother? I fear for them, and Guinevere, too. But I am not a coward any more than you!”
Leodegrance came to her, laughing at her indignation. “If only we could set you against the Saxons, my love. I’m sure they would abandon their huts and return to their own land in terror.”
She relaxed and smiled ruefully. “After all these years, you still enjoy teasing me.”
“After all these years, you still respond so quickly to teasing.” He kissed her, still laughing. “Now I am going to spoil our daughter.”
They were interrupted by a maid with the information that a messenger had come with news from Lord Cador. They both forgot the quarrel and hurried out to meet him.
Guinevere had finished washing and was dressed by the time Flora came for her. The older woman looked tired as she laid out the brushes and combs to arrange Guinevere’s hair. Guinevere was making a point these days of showing Flora that she no longer needed a nurse to supervise her washing and dressing. But her mother said that a lady always needed a maid to attend to her hair, so she submitted to having it brushed and scented and braided into two long, golden chains.
“Some might say that this is Saxon hair,” Flora would often croon. “But don’t you believe them, my love. Their color is like old straw, left too long in the sun; but yours is true gold, burnished like a shield, red in the firelight. I could weave you a crown of it and you could find no better.”
Guinevere hardly listened. She was accustomed to her hair being a source of wonder to those around her. She rarely thought about it, except when she had to have it washed or when it came undone and caught on branches while she was riding. She never even wondered why she should look so different from her family. Her parents and brothers were all dark of hair and eyes. To them she seemed a sort of changeling, a radiant gift. She didn’t even have the Roman nose they were all so proud of, although there was still time for one to develop. But Guinevere wasn’t of an age to care. She knew only that she was safe and loved and that was as it should be.
Even though she had gone with her family to the mountain refuges, she had never felt danger. Her existence was protected and she was kept apart from the rest of the society. Only occasionally did rumors of Saxons or tales of great battles and warriors enter her life, and then only as stories, told and sung by wandering scholars. She didn’t know that their quiet, ordered, civilized way of life was already an anachronism. For a hundred years no true Roman citizen had lived in Britain, but her parents and their few remaining friends and relatives behaved as if the emperor would return any day, leading fresh legions to reinstate Roman rule.
These were not important concerns to Guinevere. Caesar and Saxon were equally distant to her. Already she had forgotten her fear in the night. It was high May, a glorious morning, and she was going riding with her father. Her joy at this rare treat was only slightly dimmed by the fact that she would first have to spend an hour in the chapel for prayers and then two more with her tutor. There was always a lot to look at during prayers and she had finally talked old Tenuantius into closing Cicero for the summer and letting her read Ovid. The
was almost as full of spring as the day outside. She hummed happily as she crossed the garden to the little family chapel. At the door, she carefully smoothed her robe and arranged her veil so that it covered her hair and fell across her forehead.
The stone building was far older than the others in the complex. It had been there when the Romans came. Guinevere’s great-great-grandfather had found it, and the hot spring hidden in a cavern nearby. He had painted over the crude drawings of horses and men on the building’s walls and tiled the floors with a mosaic of Apollo. Later, when the family had converted to Christianity, some of the tiles were removed and fish and the Greek letters Chi Rho added, as well as a nimbus about the god’s head, making him into the image of Christ. The hot spring was farther inside the hill now, but it still provided the water for the heating pipes and the baths.
The rest of the household had already gathered around the altar. Leodegrance and Guenlian insisted that all the house and stable servants attend morning and evening prayers. There were also some young men and women who were being fostered in the house, and Guinevere’s parents were very serious about their religious training.
Flora always stood between the family and the rest of the servants. Guinevere thought it was her way of telling them that she was almost a member of the family. But today she noticed that Flora didn’t exactly face the altar but turned more to the west as if she were worshiping at some other shrine. Guenlian gently nudged her and she returned to her prayers.