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Her Perilous Game

Lee Swanson

978-1-7362436-0-2

About the Novel

Christina Kohl continues her struggle to carve out a place for herself in the male-dominated world of 14th century European trade. Posing as her dead brother, Frederick, she has achieved success as a London merchant, but also made powerful enemies along the way.

In Her Perilous Game, Christina is drawn increasingly into a political struggle among the English nobility that threatens the monarchy itself. Armed with a quick wit, a strong sense of justice, and a skilled sword arm, she must defend herself against those who threaten her business, her honor, and her very life.


Excerpt

Before she could say more, a pounding sounded at the door below. Cecily went to the southern window and opened the shutters, looking down to identify who it was wanting entrance to the tower. She turned about suddenly; a look of distress etched upon her face. Without speaking, she ran down the stairs as quickly as she could go.

Christina heard the doors open. Then a loud voice spoke; she could not discern the words but the anger of its tone was unmistakable. Within a few seconds, the young woman returned, followed closely by a large brute of a man nearly the size of Reiniken.

“So, are you running a brothel now when I’m away?” he said harshly to Cecily who cowered in the corner fearfully. “Well, speak, damn you!”

“No,” she replied in a small voice.

“Likely so,” he grunted, “Who’d be paying good coin for the likes of you anyway?” He noticed the remnants of the meal that had been served. “What, giving away my food as well? There better be enough to feed me and my men or there’ll be hell to pay! You’ll have to butcher out that wee one over there,” he said, gesturing toward the smaller of the two serving girls.

Lady Cecily held her arm out toward the frightened girl, who ran to her mistress and nestled closely under her arm for protection.

“Yes, husband, we will set it to cooking directly.”

“Good. Now, who might all of you be who enjoy the merry hospitality of a wife in her husband’s absence?”

Sir Giles introduced himself and his companions.

Sir Edgar did not seem much impressed, remarking, “I don’t care who you are, really. I guess I can’t just throw you out into the cold or you’d be complaining to the king. You can sleep in the barn, if you like. Mind you, if you’re feeding my hay to those nags of yours, I expect to be paid in good coin.”

Christina heard the doors below open once again and soon about a dozen rough looking men dressed in motley attire crowded into the space.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Sir Edgar sneered toward Sir Giles. “I told you where you can sleep. Or were you expecting to have my bed instead?”

“No,” Giles answered, although the struggle to control his temper was evident. “I was not. Thank you once more, Lady, for your kindness. We will trouble you no more.”

Christina had to bite her tongue to keep from upbraiding Cecily’s loutish husband. His behavior toward Sir Giles had been reprehensible, unworthy of a man who had also been knighted. In the end, she thought better of it, believing such a man would only take out his anger on his wife or the other innocent women in his household once they had departed.

They went down the stairs and gathered their belongs. Clad once more in their heavy cloaks, they passed through the entrance portal to find the ferocity of the storm had passed. Although snow continued to fall, the light of the waxing moon breaking through the clouds provided sufficient light to reveal the barn in detail. It was further illuminated by the glow of a fire that burned steadily at its rearmost point.

While the others stood momentarily stunned, Sir Giles burst back through the door, yelling for Sir Edgar, who half-tumbled down the steps with a look of ill-humor on his face. Giles ran back outside, beckoning for him to follow.

Sir Edgar’s eyes followed the direction of the other man’s gaze toward the barn. Discerning the threat for himself, he shouted, “If I find one of you to be responsible for this, I’ll kill you, king’s men or no!” before calling back inside the house for his own comrades to follow.

They all ran across the field that separated the barn from the tower as best they could, their speed greatly hampered by random, white drifts. By now, the blaze had grown to engulf the back corner of the  roof. The only saving grace was the fire was greatly slowed by the accumulation of snow upon the thick thatch.

Reaching the barn at last, some of the men went directly to the back of the structure to free the terrified cattle while others did the same for the horses in the front. A few of the men climbed upward, crawling along the roofline to try to extinguish the flames by pushing forward great sheets of snow onto the blaze.

Christina ran to where her mare fought frantically to free herself from her tether, attempting to rear onto her hindlegs before falling back down as she reached the limit of her restraint. The terrified horse’s eyes seemed enormous as they rolled upwards to appear almost totally milky white. As Christina moved toward her, she was knocked aside as the horse flailed about. Finally, she was able to free the reins. She attempted to lead her mount out of the barn, but the mare was too strong. She found herself running alongside, trying in vain to slow the horse. Her efforts were futile, however, as she lost her grip on the leather strap. She fell down into the snow as the horse galloped away into the darkness.

Sir Giles appeared at Christina’s side and helped her back to her feet. Before she could thank him, she noticed Lady Cecily at a second-floor window, gesturing frantically.

She must have heard the yelling downstairs and opened the window to see what the commotion was about,Christina thought, waving her own hand in response.

Without warning, she heard a slight sizzling sound at her side, followed by a sharp cry of pain. She turned to see Sir Giles collapsed beside her, the fletching of an arrow protruding from his shoulder. She took an instant to look up and saw a number of indistinct dark figures roughly three hundred yards from where she stood, moving cautiously her way. She now understood Cecily had been trying to warn them of their approach.

She grabbed Giles and helped him to his feet, shouting, “It’s the Scots! We’re being attacked!” before assisting him back into the relative safety of the barn.

Within a few seconds, both bands of men had joined them. All had drawn their swords which, luckily for them, they all still wore. Many looked anxious, others worried, but some displayed the calm assurance held only by those who were seasoned warriors.

Rising to his full height, Sir Edgar said, “There’s too many of the bastards! They’ll cut us down like sheaves of wheat. Our only chance of saving ourselves is to flee. Between the cattle, the horses, and the looting, they’ll be too distracted to try to track us down! Let’s go!”

Christina was dumbfounded.

“What of the women in the tower; what of your wife? Does your plan include them as well?”

Sir Edgar turned toward Christina, savagely retorting, “Who are you to question me, boy? I will not risk my sword’s service to my liege lord on such a foolhardy task. Bother me no more, else I will cut off your ballocks!”

“At least you would then have a pair of your own!” she replied contemptuously. “You have taken a knight’s oath to protect the innocent; now you desert three such to save your own skin! Coward!”

He ignored her words this time, gathering his followers and peering out the doorway.

Christina thought about the gentle young woman now the lone defender of the tower as well as of the two girls who were little more than children. She knew with certainty what would befall them should the door be breached. She remembered her own near-rape and the terror she had felt afterwards.

I will not desert these women to such a fate.

Christina shouted at Edgar’s back, “Go then, I would not want the battlefield sullied by the likes of you. I will not live in a world where the strong care not for those who are weak. Should I be killed, I will die a good death knowing I fought to do right. If I am alone, so be it. If others stand beside me, we may yet turn the day. Out of my way, base creature, for me I go to welcome the Scots!”

“See you in hell then, damn your soul!” Sir Edgar shouted back at her as he ran out the door and toward the wooded copse to the right. Most of his men followed him in flight, although three seemed to have been shamed by Christina’s words into remaining behind.

Reviews

Reviewed in the United States on April 6, 2022

I'm just impatiently waiting for book 3. :)

Dan
5.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling Read from start to finish. Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 8, 2021 Verified Purchase A fantastic Historical fiction! Once you start reading you can’t stop! Really looking forward to Christina’s next adventures! novel to have a merchant heroine to root for. Recommended.
Thrilling Read from start to finish.
Reviewed  by Dan in the United Kingdom on May 8, 2021

A fantastic Historical fiction! Once you start reading you can’t stop!

Really looking forward to Christina’s next adventures!

Review published in Historical Novel Society HRS 101 (August 2022)

14th century. Christina Kohl has inherited her father’s Hanseatic League trading business, and is posing as her dead brother Frederick to avoid the limited fate of women, marriage and family. After a successful trip to Bruges to sell wool fleeces, Christina is called to attend King Edward II, who wants to borrow money for his war against the Scots. Unsure of how to respond, she seeks the advice of Herr Revele, head of the London Hansa merchants. Since he’s ill, she instead must see his daughter Katharine, who bears a grudge: “Frederick” had turned down an offer of her hand in marriage, and Katharine increasingly sees Christina as an adversary rather than a fellow foreigner trading colleague.

In the previous volume, No Man’s Chattel, Christina had become friends with Piers Gaveston, the King’s favorite courtier, who knows her true gender. Now a plot arises that threatens Gaveston, and Christina is asked to use her ship to take a message to him near the Scottish border. Gaveston has many enemies who are jealous of his access to the King, and Christina and her men fall into a trap: she is imprisoned and threatened with torture.

Swanson is a European history scholar and incorporates interesting slices of 14th-century life, such as medieval personal hygiene, how sealing wax was used, and what it’s like to witness a bedding ceremony. In volume one, Christina trained in fighting techniques under a knight, so when danger threatens her in this one, she doesn’t have to wait for a man to rescue her. She is attracted to women rather than men, so her character provides a role model for today’s readers in search of gay heroes and heroines in history. I enjoyed learning about medieval trade, and it’s novel to have a merchant heroine to root for. Recommended.

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