The Velvet Cloak of Moonlight by Christina Courtenay
Extremely delighted to be part of this wonderful blog tour to share exclusive extracts from this stunning new story by Christina Courtenay – thank you Choc Lit for asking me to be involved!!
Have just finished reading this book myself and it was a captivating read! A time slip romance set in stunning scenery and featuring some fascinating characters in the past and present! Found it very difficult to put down once I’d started reading as it is a fabulous mix of history, romance and the supernatural!
Enjoy the following excerpt and hope you’ll be following the rest of the blog tour, and following Choc Lit via Twitter for more of this enchanting story!
Chapter Three from The Velvet Cloak of Moonlight by Christina Courtenay
Another exclusive extract from Christina Courtenay’s new novel, The Velvet Cloak of Moonlight today! Choc Lit are going to be sharing an excerpt every couple of days until next Tuesday so make sure you keep an eye on their Twitter feed to find out where each extract has landed. Enjoy!! You can read the Prologue, Chapter One and Chapter Two HERE (http://www.choc-lit.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/The-Velvet-Cloak-of-Moonlight-by-Christina-Courtenay-Excerpt-.pdf).
Raglan Castle, 21st May 1646
The castle gates were closed during mealtimes, with dinner strictly at eleven o’clock in the morning and supper at five in the afternoon. Arabella was at risk of being late for supper, having stayed outside for too long, and hurried to her room to wash her hands and tidy her clothes and hair.
Meals were rather formal affairs in Lord Worcester’s household and everyone was allocated a specific place to sit, in accordance with their rank and duties. With around a hundred and fifty people to feed normally on a daily basis, this was necessary, and now that Raglan housed a huge garrison of officers and soldiers as well, it had become even more imperative to keep order.
His lordship, together with his daughter-in-law, Lady Glamorgan – usually called Lady Margaret by everyone in the castle – and the rest of their family and any visiting aristocrats, ate in a private dining room, while almost everyone else had a seat somewhere in the Great Hall. Arabella, although distantly related to the marquis on her mother’s side, was merely one of Lady Margaret’s ladies, so her place was in the housekeeper’s, Mrs Watson’s, rooms, where all the gentlewomen ate together with the chaplain and any temporary guests.
She made her way across the Fountain Court, afraid she’d be the last person to arrive. Just as she reached her chair, however, another latecomer slipped through the door and was ushered to the place next to her – Rhys Cadell, the man she’d met outside. Just her luck. She sincerely hoped he wouldn’t mention anything about her loitering by the lake. There were probably other things she should have been doing instead.
‘We meet again,’ he whispered as soon as the chaplain had said grace and they all sat down.
‘So it seems,’ she replied, keeping her voice to a mere breath. ‘But we’re not supposed to talk during meals.’ That wasn’t strictly true, but it was mostly the housekeeper and senior ladies who made small talk.
The man by her side waited until the chaplain started to speak in a loud voice, then murmured, ‘Are you certain that’s not just an excuse to avoid talking to me?’ He sounded offended, but when she risked a glance, his eyes were dancing with merriment. He was roasting her.
‘No, of course not.’ She was used to the men in the castle trying to court her, but they were usually scrupulously polite and rather serious. They were well aware they could be in trouble if they overstepped the mark with one of her ladyship’s gentlewomen. This Rhys obviously didn’t.
Arabella concentrated on her meal, a simple repast of cold meats, bread and cheese, washed down with cider. Dinner was always more elaborate, with numerous cooked dishes to choose from, but it was considered better not to go to bed with a full stomach so supper was lighter. Now there were so many people crammed into the castle – an additional eight hundred men if what she’d been told was correct – they needed to be more frugal with the supplies as well. Arabella couldn’t imagine having to cook for that many. The poor cooks must be tearing their hair out.
‘Did you hear what happened in the village last night?’ the chaplain asked Mrs Watson, although everyone else at the table was clearly listening as well.
‘No, but I was told musket fire was heard. And I saw houses burning this afternoon. Have you any news?’
‘Yes, it would appear some Roundheads came after dark and killed at least five men, while taking others prisoner. The villagers tried to fight back, of course, and I believe some of the enemy were killed too, but not as many. And the scoundrels then had the temerity to steal some of his lordship’s horses.’
‘No – outrageous!’
‘Indeed. His lordship has ordered that almost all the buildings in the village should be burned and even the church pulled down so that the Parliamentarians can’t surprise us like that again. I believe his men were carrying out his wishes this afternoon.’ The chaplain crossed himself and shook his head. ‘These are evil times we live in, Mrs Watson, evil.’
Arabella felt a tendril of fear coil in her stomach. The English king and his parliament had been fighting for almost four years now, although the rift between them went back much further. Neither could see the other’s point of view and neither would back down. What had happened in Raglan village was merely the latest in a long line of atrocities and conflict. Although the castle itself had so far been left in peace, only the previous month a group of about a hundred men from Raglan had been beaten in a skirmish with Sir Trevor Williams and his Parliamentarians. Many had been killed and about half the men taken prisoner. There were those among the castle inhabitants who had fled upon hearing that piece of news as things were looking grim for the Royalists.
They’d since heard rumours of fighting all around the Monmouthshire and Hereford area. Apparently only Raglan and Usk were still loyal to their sovereign. So far as anyone could tell, most other places in the country had capitulated, except Oxford, the king’s headquarters throughout the war. But the king himself had left for Scotland and it was rumoured he had sneaked away in the night dressed as a servant.
‘Any more news of His Majesty?’ Mrs Watson asked, looking round the table to see if anyone was better informed than herself.
To Arabella’s surprise, Rhys spoke up. ‘I’ve but recently come from Oxford, mistress, and it is not looking good for our cause, I’m afraid.’
‘Why? What’s happened?’ It was clear from the way her mouth was pursed that Mrs Watson didn’t approve of anyone giving negative views unless they could back them up with proof.
Rhys appeared not to be fazed and answered in a calm manner. ‘General Fairfax was heading that way and all the king’s plans appear to have come to naught. There’s no news from anyone on the Continent – no French, Dutch or even Danish troops on their way to help – and not a word from the Irish either.’ He shrugged. ‘And His Majesty is himself a prisoner of the Scots now.’
‘Aye, a sorry business that,’ the chaplain agreed.
Sympathy welled up inside Arabella. The poor king; he’d believed the Scots to be his allies and instead they had captured him, having made some sort of pact with Parliament. What whoresons. Surely they would see reason? The king was their sovereign.
‘Well, we must hope our own Lord Glamorgan manages to bring the Irish over soon. If anyone can do it, he can,’ Mrs Watson said stoutly, and no one dared gainsay her even if they privately thought it unlikely.
Lord Glamorgan was the Marquis of Worcester’s eldest son. He’d fought tirelessly for the king’s cause throughout the war and the previous autumn he had been sent to Ireland to raise more troops. Somehow things had gone very wrong. He had been taken prisoner over there and was, as far as they knew, still held captive. And the king had denied ever having sent Lord Glamorgan as an envoy after some of his private correspondence came to light. He’d lied in order to save his own skin, which had made the marquis extremely angry.
‘It will be a mite difficult for him to bring anyone over if he’s still incarcerated,’ someone muttered, but Mrs Watson sent a quelling glance down the table. The king may have made an error of judgement, but everyone at Raglan was still committed to his cause. He was the rightful ruler of the country, no matter what.
‘Formidable lady,’ Rhys murmured to Arabella as fierce whispering broke out along the table.
‘Yes, don’t ever get on the wrong side of her,’ she whispered back. She shouldn’t encourage him to talk, but somehow she was drawn in by his charming manner.
‘That sounds like someone who’s learned from experience.’
She heard the smile in his voice and couldn’t resist a glance at him. Those green eyes were sparkling with amusement and she had to drag her own gaze away. ‘And how!’ she said, speaking as quietly as she could. ‘I once spilled red wine on one of his lordship’s best linen tablecloths. Mrs Watson didn’t speak to me for weeks.’
Rhys spluttered into his tankard of cider and turned the sound into a cough. Arabella helpfully slapped him on the back. ‘Are you all right, sir? Did your drink go down the wrong way?’
‘Thank you, I’m fine.’
The chaplain was complaining about something to the housekeeper so Arabella took the chance to ask Rhys a question.
‘Have you really come from Oxford? Is that why you were so secretive earlier?’
‘Yes and no.’ He sent her a teasing smile when she bristled. ‘Now don’t be offended. I meant only that, yes, I did escape from Oxford before Fairfax arrived, but that’s not where I’ve come from today. I’m here to report to Lord Worcester.’
‘Oh, so you’ll be leaving soon then.’ Arabella berated herself for the instant surge of disappointment that flooded her. And for asking. It shouldn’t make any difference to her. She shouldn’t be taken in by a practised charmer like him, even if his smiles did make her innards flutter.
‘Perhaps I’ll stay for a while. There aren’t many places of refuge left to people like us, after all.’
‘You mean Catholics?’ The Marquis of Worcester was proud of his faith and others like him had flocked to Raglan. Although she belonged to the Anglican Church herself, Arabella didn’t mind anyone else’s beliefs being different. They’d taken her in and given her help when she needed it so their religious views were unimportant to her.
Rhys shook his head. ‘No, Royalists. I’m not a Papist.’
‘You do know there are very few places still loyal to the king, don’t you?’
He sounded serious now and another tendril of fear snaked through her. The marquis never showed that he was afraid and seemed to have no intention of giving in. But if what Rhys said was true, then surely Raglan was doomed even before it was attacked?
‘We’re fighting a losing battle, aren’t we?’ she muttered.
To her surprise, he took her hand under the table and gave it a reassuring squeeze. ‘All isn’t lost yet,’ he whispered. ‘And even if Raglan falls, there are other places to go.’
‘Overseas?’ she guessed.
He nodded. ‘Indeed. Let’s talk about something else. Tell me about yourself. Have you always lived here?’
Arabella checked to make sure Mrs Watson and the chaplain were still chattering and hadn’t noticed that everyone else was doing the same, albeit in hushed voices. They seemed to be having some sort of mild argument, so it was safe to continue her conversation with Rhys. Although why she was thinking of him by his Christian name, she had no idea. She really shouldn’t.
‘No, I’ve only been here for five years. The marquis very kindly offered me shelter when … when my mother died.’ That wasn’t the whole story, but she didn’t want to go into further details. Rhys was a stranger after all and she knew nothing about him. He might even be a Roundhead spy. Or a friend of her uncle Huw … She suppressed a shudder. She didn’t want to think about him.
‘He’s a good man, obviously.’
‘The marquis? Yes, very. Have you known him long?’
Rhys smiled. ‘Never met him. I’m waiting to be called in to see his lordship. Probably after supper, I was told.’
‘Oh, well I’m sure he’ll receive you graciously. He always does.’ Arabella lowered her voice even further. ‘He was even kind to the king when he came last year and practically helped himself to Lord Worcester’s wealth. Or what remained of it.’
Rhys’s mouth twitched. ‘Yes, I heard about that little episode. Tried to get the keys to the treasure room from a steward or something? Or so the gossips have it.’
‘It was Dr Bayly he asked, actually, the marquis’s friend and confidant. Of course he went straight to his lordship, who then went to offer the king the keys himself. Not how His Majesty ought to have behaved, according to some.’
‘And you, what do you think?’ Rhys looked as though he was really interested in her views, which surprised Arabella.
‘Me? I don’t have an opinion on such things. I’m merely here to serve my lady Margaret.’
‘Hmm.’ His eyes appraised her and appeared to like what they saw if the warmth in their moss-green depths was anything to go by. ‘If you ask me, I think you have a great deal of opinions, but you are too clever to voice them. That’s good.’
The meal was over and silence fell on the table as the chaplain bent his head to thank God for what they had received. When he had finished, Arabella heard Rhys whisper, ‘I hope to see you again soon, Mistress Dauncey. In the meantime, I brought you this as an apology if I offended you by the lake. I obviously had the wrong impression of your intentions.’
From inside his jerkin, he pulled something out and put it in her lap under cover of the tablecloth. Arabella felt a stem and a flower and when she peeked there was a white rose, hardly damaged at all from its incarceration inside Rhys’s clothing. Her eyes flew to his, but he didn’t give her the chance to reply or even thank him. Which was probably just as well because what would she have said?
The truth – that she would look forward to seeing him too – was not an option.
Merrick Court, 21st May 2016
Tess sat up abruptly, splashing water over the sides of the bath in the process. She blinked into the darkness, having forgotten to turn the lights on. That would explain why she’d dozed off. She had been asleep, hadn’t she? The hallucinations had returned; not quite as vivid this time, just a sequence of unclear impressions. It had been almost like viewing a film through an aquarium, the images and sounds muffled. Very odd.
Rhys. She remembered him. He’d spoken to her, flirted with her, those extraordinary eyes sparkling.
No, she was fantasising. The man she’d met, whose name probably wasn’t Rhys at all, didn’t exist. Or if he did, she’d imagined him in the strange clothing. He was surely just another visitor to Raglan Castle, who’d thought she was about to throw herself into the moat. The sun, her agitation, the medicine she was taking, it all combined to scramble her brain. He had been very handsome and he’d obviously wormed his way into her mind, even though she hadn’t been interested in men since … well, since Giles. Surely it was a healthy sign, an indication that she was returning to normal if she could feel attracted to someone? And who wouldn’t have been dazzled by a man like him?
‘Yes, a good sign,’ she told herself, while getting out of the now cool water.
She stared into the bathroom mirror and wondered what he had seen when he met her. A nervous, defensive woman who must have looked sad or upset. Why else would he have assumed she was suicidal? A pale face stared back at her, but she was surprised to see that her eyes were more alive than they’d been in weeks, months. It was as though she was actually looking at herself properly for the first time in ages. Not through a pill-induced haze. She decided then and there to stop taking the antidepressants altogether.
‘I don’t need them.’
She was already on the lowest possible dose, but it was an unnecessary crutch. She was over the shock of Giles’s death and no longer feeling depressed. Just a bit apprehensive about what the future would hold, but then who wouldn’t be when they were starting on a new chapter in their life?
As she entered her bedroom, a different sort of apprehension washed over her for no discernible reason. She glanced around the room while trying to suppress a shiver. Someone was watching her, she was convinced of it, but there wasn’t anyone here. Or was there?
She shouldn’t have made that joke to Louis about ghosts. She’d spooked herself, literally.
‘Giles?’ she whispered, hearing the tremor in her voice. Oh, God, what if he really is haunting me? She hadn’t thought he would actually do so, only through all the memories he’d left behind in the house. And it had been six months since he’d passed away. Why now?
She scanned the room again and her eyes were drawn to one of the two windows. It had a deep recess in the thick walls of this the oldest part of the house and she didn’t normally keep anything on it as she didn’t want to block the light. She jumped as she thought she saw a shadow flitting across the aperture, cutting off the moonbeams currently shining through the panes of glass.
‘Go away, please,’ she hissed. ‘It wasn’t my fault you drove like that. I never wanted you … d-dead.’ She trembled all over, the horrible word making this so much worse. Giles had told her there were ghosts at Merrick Court, but she’d never seen one and thought it was just a joke. Now she wasn’t so sure.
A draught stirred the air near her right cheek as if someone had caressed her and she twisted round, backing up towards her bed. But with the soft touch, a feeling of well-being flowed through her and for some reason her heartbeat calmed in an instant. ‘Cariad.’ She thought she heard the Welsh endearment, a whisper so faint it could have been a trick of her imagination. Then the voice – one she vaguely recognised although she had no idea where from – flowed into her mind, stronger, repeating the word. ‘Cariad.’ She sank down onto the bed and strained her ears for further sounds.
That couldn’t be Giles. He hadn’t spoken a word of Welsh and never called her ‘cariad’ – ‘darling’ was more his style. But who then? A former inhabitant of this part of Merrick Court, perhaps?
‘Who’s there?’ There was a faint shimmering over by the window, almost like a heat haze but more phosphorescent. Although she stared intently, she couldn’t make out a specific shape, but she definitely wasn’t alone and it would appear someone was trying to comfort her.
Tess just sat there for a while, until the feeling of being watched subsided and she was sure the ghost or spirit had left. Then she lay down, falling instantly asleep, sure that whoever had been there meant her no harm. She was safe.
The Velvet Cloak of Moonlight is by Christina Courtenay and published by Choc Lit. It is available to purchase in paperback and eBook format from all good suppliers. Please click here for buying options: www.choc-lit.com/dd-product/the-velvet-cloak-of-moonlight/
For more information on the author, you can follow her on Twitter @PiaCCourtenay
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