The Beaufort Woman

51edeut2dml-_uy250_Title of Book: The Beaufort Woman: Book Two of The Beaufort Chronicles

By: Judith Arnopp

Genre: Historical Fiction


Book Excerpt:

March 1461 – Margaret’s husband, Henry Stafford prepares to ride out to fight for the King.

“You cannot go, Harry. You are too sick.”

“I have to go. There is no …”

He sways on his feet, closes his eyes and grips the bedpost.

“There, you see. Just as I said. Now, lie back down and let me tend you. A sick man will only be a hindrance to the cause, not a help.”

As easily as if he were a child, I push him down and try to tug the blankets to his chin. He pushes my hand away. His face is as white as the linen he lies upon, but he hauls himself up again.

“Bring me something to stop the dizziness.”

“No, I won’t; and the king wouldn’t ask me to.”

By all accounts, the king is too far gone in madness to care one way or the other who rides with him into battle. It is the queen we heed now.
Despite London and most of England having turned against her in support of the Yorkist king, she refuses to surrender her cause. It is for her son, of course, and if I were in her position, I would do the same. But by all accounts, many of my fellow Lancastrian supporters are wary of young Edward of Lancaster. They whisper of cruelty and the mistreatment and bullying of his servants. He is also accused of hiding behind his mother’s skirts, manipulating her love for him.

After the battle at St Albans, when his father the king was discovered in the company of two Yorkist knights, Margaret let Edward decide how the men, who had done no more than follow York’s orders, should die. The boy could have chosen to show them mercy, yet instead, he chose beheading. I suppose battle hardens the best of us, and in his short life, Edward of Lancaster has known nothing but war. Yet I would hope that in similar circumstances, my own son would show mercy.

Now, refusing to give up the fight, the queen is summoning supporters for yet another battle. Everyone is sick of war. Our men are depleted and sickening, our women have been tested to the utmost. We live on a knife’s edge, afraid that each day will bring new disasters. More than anything, England needs peace. Sometimes, I think, for the sake of peace, perhaps it might be better if York wore the crown. But I do not speak that thought aloud; it is a brief and fleeting thing.

I close my eyes, send up an earnest prayer to atone for even contemplating such treason, and turn back to my husband, who is trying to struggle out of his nightshirt.

“No, no, no! Harry, you are sick. Let me at least fetch you a remedy to bring down the fever. Perhaps you will be fit to ride out by morning.”

“It will be too late by then.”

“Then you will have to ride harder and faster to make up for it. You will not set one foot from this house until you are fit enough to do so.”

His capitulation illustrates just how ill he really feels. He crawls back into bed.

“Very well, Margaret. I am beaten. Do your worst.”

I spin on my heel and hurry to the still-room to prepare a posset. Sending my serving girl away, I take down an old book of recipes, drawing the candle closer so that I can read the close-written text. I run my index finger down the page, carefully noting the correct ingredient. It will not do to give him too much.

With great care, I pour an infusion of cherry bark and coriander to treat his recurrent fevers, but after some hesitation and soul searching, I add three drops of poppy juice. I stare for a long moment at the innocuous looking cup before hastily crossing myself and hurrying back with it to his chamber.
He tips it back, drains the cup and hands it to me. I kiss his brow.
He slides down the bed, turns onto his side and hauls the covers over his shoulder.

“See they make my horse ready. I will leave at dawn. Tell them to … wake me …”

Harry will not wake at dawn. If my calculations are correct, he will not wake until the battle is done and the fate of York and Lancaster decided.

“Harry, NO!” I break out of the daydream. He pauses, the cup half way to his mouth. I snatch it away.

“I am sorry. I made a mistake. I will mix you another.”

“Margaret.” He struggles from the bed, his voice halting me in my tracks. I pause and wait for him to confront me at the hearth. He narrows his eyes, twitches his head, silently questioning.

“What do you mean … a mistake? You never make mistakes. I have seen you myself, double checking, making sure before you even dose the dogs for worms. What are you up to?”

“Nothing.” I make to move away, but his hand snakes out and pinions me. He takes the cup, waves it beneath his nose.

“What is in it?”

I swallow, turn my face away.

“Cherry bark, coriander, and something to sweeten it.”

“What else? Have you tried to poison me?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. As if I would ever dream of doing such a thing.”

I am facing him now, hating the suspicion, the disappointment in his eye.

“What then? Tell me.”

He forces me back to the bed, grabs my wrists and makes me sit.

In my mind, I invent a hundred reasons for wanting to prevent him leaving. To me, each one is a viable excuse but I know he will hate me for it. I have spoiled our perfect marriage, possibly forever. A sob is bottled up in my chest; suddenly it releases, an ugly noise marking an ugly deed.

The mattress dips as he sits beside me. Gentle now, he picks up my hand.

“What was in it?”

I sniff and wipe a tear away. “A little poppy juice to make you sleep.”

The hammer of his condemnation hovers just above my head. His voice when it comes is thick with suppressed anger.

“So I would be spared the battle? You think I am not man enough?”

Shame floods me. I let my head fall backward and look upon the smoke-blackened timbers of the roof. They are stark and threatening, hanging over us like a curse.

“No, don’t be silly. You are ill, Harry. My instinct was to protect you.”

“At whatever cost?”

“At whatever cost.”

A long silence. Only the rapid sound of my breath, the rasp of Harry’s congested chest. I feel I am waiting on God’s judgement. I probably am. At last, Harry emits a long breath.

“You are headstrong and … and … devious, Margaret. I feel I hardly know you, as if I have lived these last years with a stranger. How could you do that to me? Have you no care for the king, for the country?”

I sit ramrod straight, enveloped in shame, my hands clenched in my lap. I know my expression is mulish. I know I have done a terrible thing. I wish I could say I am sorry, but I am not. I am only sorry I lacked the courage to carry it through. I will never make him understand.

How can I describe the terror of my last weeks with Edmund, my fear of reliving them? His face blurs beneath my tears. He gets up and strides about the room. I have never seen him lose his temper before. He has always been calm and mild – mistakenly, I also thought him meek … and manageable. Perhaps he is right and we have never really known each other.

“Well? Explain yourself. Why did you do it?”

“You were sick, Harry. I was afraid …”

“Afraid I would die? What of all the men, our friends, our allies, who also risk their lives for our king? Did you think of them?”

I shake my head, remorse and misery washing over me.

“I am sorry, Harry. I thought only of you … of myself. I cannot bear the thought of losing you. I didn’t think, until the last moment. Can you not forgive an action I did not carry through?”

“What hour is it?”

“It must be a little after three.”

“Call for my horse to be made ready.”

“Yes, Harry.”

Miserably, I get up and cross the room to do my husband’s bidding. This battle will be a test. If Harry comes safely home and Lancaster has the victory, I will know God forgives me, but if we lose, I will know that I am by Heaven condemned.

Author Bio:

When Judith Arnopp began to write professionally there was no question as to which genre to choose. A lifelong history enthusiast and avid reader, Judith holds an honours degree in English and Creative writing, and a Masters in Medieval Studies, both from the University of Wales, Lampeter. Judith writes both fiction and non-fiction, working full-time from her home overlooking Cardigan Bay in Wales where she crafts novels based in the Medieval and Tudor period. Her main focus is on the perspective of historical women from all roles of life, prostitutes to queens.
Her novels include: The Beaufort Bride, The Beaufort Woman (Book One and Two of The Beaufort Chronicles); A Song of Sixpence; Intractable Heart; The Kiss of the Concubine; The Winchester Goose; The Song of Heledd; The Forest Dwellers, and Peaceweaver. She is currently working on Book Three of The Beaufort Chronicles: The King’s Mother.
Her non-fiction articles feature in various historical anthologies and magazines.

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