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Gwendolyn's Sword by E.A Haltom
Cornwall, England, 1193. Eleanor of Aquitaine, the indomitable dowager queen, has ordered all of England onto a war footing while her son King Richard languishes in a German dungeon.
Gwendolyn de Cardinham, the defiant wife of an absent crusader, protects and defends her estate, Penhallam, with her sword and the garrison of men she commands. While travelling to deliver a captured mercenary of would-be usurper Prince John to a nearby gaol, her constable takes her on a detour to the local prior, who gravely informs her that King Arthur’s mythical sword, Caliburn, is destined to be hers. When Gwendolyn discovers that Prince John has been hunting for Caliburn, she realizes she is in a unique position to end the wayward prince’s rebellion.
Determined to protect Penhallam and its tenants at any cost, Gwendolyn travels to London to present herself to the dowager queen, placing herself in the middle of the brothers’ duel for the throne. But Gwendolyn has kept a secret from even her constable that could put all of Penhallam–and herself–at risk if the queen discovers it.
Here's a sneak peek into Gwendolyn's Sword!
Chapter One Excerpt
THE END OF SOLITUDE
Cornwall, England August,
The Fourth Year of King Richard’s Reign
A broadsword was a difficult thing to hide in a dress. Gwendolyn wore a long cloak to conceal her weapon where it hung against her hip. She was as accustomed to the weight of it as she was to her own skin. But she had donned the cloak to conceal more than her sword. Years of training with the manor guard had added lines of muscle and scars across her forearms. Hers was a body formed for combat, her temperament more inclined to exercising command. These traits, she had learned, were not generally praised in women, and until her marriage she had tried to cloak them, as well, with mixed results. Here in the forest where she sought a few moments of solitude, she dressed herself in the ordinary garb of a lady of the manor, the wife of a landed knight who had taken up the cross and traveled to Outremer to join the king’s crusade. Standing tall, with shoulders as broad as those of any of the men in Penhallam’s manor guard, her bearing drew enough attention as it was. But walking through the woods without her weapon was unthinkable; outlaws took refuge here.
Beneath the leaves and ferns and fallen trees, a welcoming coolness persisted in the forest floor throughout all of the seasons. Long branches arched gracefully over her like a cathedral vault and shivered with a gentle breeze as she passed beneath them. She granted herself these moments of calm, accompanied only by two of her maids, as her sole respite from the constant work of managing a growing estate. She paused in the still air and turned to mark the progress of Anne and Martha behind her, the two friends happily absorbed in their conversation. Her constable had warned her sternly about the dangers she flirted with by taking these walks, and she conceded that he had a point. But so have I, she thought to herself, her hand resting casually against the hilt of her blade beneath her cloak.
From daybreak to nightfall, Gwendolyn occupied herself with the business of the manor and its lands. Some nights she sat at the trestle table in the hall, scratching out the manor’s accounts on the wooden surface with charcoal while the rest of the house’s residents slept in the straw around her. Her men sometimes woke to find her there in the morning, fast asleep, a night’s worth of calculations spread across the table around her. The coming winter would mark four years since Robert had taken up the cross. She had been a new wife of sixteen when he left; since then she had managed the estate alone. She had succeeded in earning the respect of her trade partners, sometimes exploiting her decidedly unfeminine demeanor toward that end—dressing as a man, sporting cuts and bruises from training with the manor garrison, and keeping up with her men-at-arms cup for cup when the ale flowed.
Gwendolyn paused for a moment to study the canopy above her, full and green. By its lush shade, she estimated that the harvest of the grain was at least a month away still, maybe more. She smiled to herself, thinking of the days and nights of hard work that lie ahead, and the months of relative leisure that would follow through the winter.
She had grown up in Restormel Castle, the jewel of the de Cardinham family’s holdings, as an orphaned ward. The baron’s wife had passed soon after Gwendolyn arrived, and with no other daughters, the household had lacked any feminine influence. To Gwendolyn’s great pleasure, no one had attempted to instruct her in needlepoint or song or any other of the finer skills expected of well-heeled ladies. Left to her own devices, Gwendolyn had helped herself to the library of books and manuscripts accumulated by the intellectual baron over decades of travel and war. As soon as a large compilation of the works of Plato was available in Latin translation, a copy had arrived at Restormel. Gwendolyn had wept the first time that she read the text, with its clear logic and methodical application of reason in all things. War, she had concluded, was the worst of all evils; nothing brought more waste and destruction than its capricious appetite. She had decided at a young age that she would put her size and strength to good use and learn to fight so that war, when it came, would find its match and slink away like the cur that it was.
When the baron discovered the breadth of her learning, he had accused her, scarlet-faced and shouting, of deliberately rendering herself unmarriageable. But then his own son Robert had surprised him by asking for her hand, and the baron had shrugged and given his consent. The baron’s title and the grand estate of Bodardel, including Restormel Castle, had gone to Robert’s older brother, Walter. Robert was allowed the smaller estate of Penhallam, at that time a dilapidated timber house used for seasonal hunts. Shortly after her wedding, the baron, a man who had spent most of his life with a sword in his hand, had died quietly in his sleep. With Gwendolyn’s promise to keep Penhallam safe until he returned, Robert had departed for Outremer as soon as he received his knight’s belt. He had fulfilled her request for a sword and ordered his constable to see to her instruction in its use. Gwendolyn and the constable had both kept their promises, and she had the tough, scarred hands of a soldier to show for it.