The Trinket Seller's Daughter by Nicole Hurley-Moore
historical romance novella (approx 17,000 words)
Cover art by Winterheart Design
Lost in the forest, Emelin runs for her life after her traveling party is massacred by outlaws. Sir Allard de Gerril is in pursuit of the ruthless Archer and his band when he finds Emelin. Bound by vengeance the pair seek out Archer, but as they journey through the dark woods revenge gives way to passion. With each passing day, Emelin dares to dream that there is a place for a lowly trinket seller’s daughter by the knight’s side. Yet as Archer begins to hunt the couple, Emelin fears that she and Allard will not have a future together as they may never escape the tangled wood alive.
He was going to die.
Allard cursed as he fell. Around him swirled the chaos of battle. He could hear the clang of metal upon metal and the primordial cries of conquest and defeat rang in his ears. He inhaled and the air caught at the back of his throat, it was tainted with dust, sweat and blood. He felt helpless as he was tossed from his horse’s back, but beneath that feeling was a growing ball of anger. He was angry at his own stupidity for walking blindly into a trap. He was angry because wasn’t fighting alongside with his men. Angry because he knew that in a moment he would be lying broken at the bottom of the ravine and mad as hell that he was going to die when he just didn’t want to. Time appeared to slow and Allard felt as if he was suspended in mid-air, just as a spider hangs in its glistening web. He could see the hills beyond the river, the fields of young green crops in the valley and the sleek black raven that was perched a few feet away in an overhanging branch – eyeing him with curiosity. Allard reached towards the bird but his body rotated and he plunged head first into the yawning chasm.
~* * *~
Emelin felt every bump and jolt in the road as the crude wheels of the little covered carriage inched along. She glanced nervously at the dense green forest which lined the road. The oaks were twisted, tall and broad. Their branches met and plaited high above with that of their sisters on the other side. The sun had trouble penetrating the foliage and only a few shafts of golden light illuminated the wood. Emelin felt as if she was in the nave of a great cathedral. All was quiet except for the slow and rhythmic sound of Hebby’s hooves.
“Be at peace, child. There is nothing to fear.” A deep and lyrical voice comforted beside her.
“All is well, Father. I am not afraid. It is just that Brother Arnauf said that the forest was a place of evil and should be avoided. He said that it was wicked and wild and filled with all the unnatural things that walk the world.” She smoothed out an imaginary crease in her pale grey gown.
“Emelin, I think that Brother Arnauf is a good and learned man but do not put too much weight behind what he believes is in the forest.” Roger’s blue eyes shone with amusement as he turned and looked at his daughter, her eyes a mirror of his own. “Is this not the first time he has ventured out of the monastery in nearly twenty summers?”
Emelin laughed but quickly looked to see if Brother Arnauf was close enough to hear. To her relief she saw him walking quite a distance behind having an animated debate with his fellow monk, Brother Carwin. The Benedictine monks were from St. Neots Priory and were journeying to St. Benedict’s Church in Cambridge on Church business. Two days ago whilst riding on the road to Cambridge, Emelin and her father had come across this small group of travellers which included the three monks, a cloth merchant and his wife, their servants, three peddlers and a minstrel. Brother Arnauf had hailed Roger to stop the carriage and asked him where they were headed.
“To the fair at Reach, Brother.” He replied with a smile. “I sell amulets, jewels and trinkets.”
“But the fair is still many days away, is it not held on Rogationtide?”
“Aye Brother, but my daughter and I wish to arrive a little early and old Hebby here is not as fast as he once was.” Roger said as he indicated with a nod towards a small brown horse which was harnessed to the carriage. “He has a stout heart but age is creeping upon him as it does with all things.”
“Then if you are not pressed for time, come and join our party and we will be in fellowship until Cambridge. The road is a dangerous place, yet I believe there is safety in numbers.” The old monk said before turning his smile to Emelin. “Besides my son, I think you have a far greater treasure to protect than your amulets, jewels and trinkets.”
Hearing the wisdom in the old man’s words, Roger decided they would join the party of travellers.
Emelin, for her part, had spent the past two days observing the different members of the group. The monks were dressed in black robes which were indicative of the Benedictine order. Brother Carwin was old, his face was lined with deep crevices and his tall frame had begun to hunch over with age. Emelin had thought that if the good Brother Carwin was old then Brother Arnauf must truly be ancient. He was shorter and rounder than his friend, his faced resembled bark from a tree with lines so deep they almost appeared to be cracks. His eyes were barely blue and watery, the colour reminded her of the icicles which hang on the doorframes each winter. At first Emelin had been wary of the brothers but their hearts were kind, their voices gentle and their smiles bright, and she had found she had a fondness for them both.
The same could not be said for the cloth merchant, Master Baul and his wife Lia. He wore expensive clothes, a florid complexion and three ornate gold rings on his pudgy fingers. He sat on top of large grey stallion named Nicodemus, and had appointed himself the leader of the travelling party. In Emelin’s opinion, he was pompous, condescending and arrogant. Lia Baul mirrored her husband’s inflated opinion of self worth. Like her husband, she was resplendent in her gown of cream damask, and the jewels on her fingers and about her neck would have drawn a queen’s envy.
There was also a minstrel named Garriden, a young man of seventeen summers with golden hair and a lovely voice. Sometimes he would sing a pretty song, one about love and longing, as they travelled down the road, or play a melody on his lute. More often than not, he could be found walking next to the little covered carriage trying to talk to Emelin.
The other members of the party included another monk named Brother Silas who tended Carwin and Arnauf and three peddlers who were also travelling to Reach Fair. The peddlers kept to themselves and generally walked behind the rest of the group. Emelin believed it was because they wanted to put distance between themselves and the odious Master Baul.
Emelin leaned against her father’s shoulder and closed her eyes; she could hear the steady rhythm of Hebby’s hooves on the dirt road and the chorus of little birds singing in the trees. She felt safe and protected; she dismissed her foolish thoughts about the forest. Father was right, there was nothing evil creeping about the woods. The only things in the forest were trees.