The Troubadour

The first book in the Sir Thomas Archer series, to be released shortly…

A sneak preview of “The Troubadour”

January, 1195

Somewhere in the south of France…

There was once a man, in a tavern, drinking ale.  He was surprised to find it was exceptionally good.

Nothing else was.  The central hearth belched smoke every time a strong gust of wind howled across the roof, which was often.  The serving women were the innkeeper’s wife and daughters, and an unspoken hands-off rule ensured the absence of fun to be had there.  The food, a few stale vegetables in a greasy broth simmering over the meagre fire, was best avoided.

But Tom wasn’t there for a woman or food.

He was there to listen.

Fulk had sent him, God rot his evil black soul, to this cesspit of an inn in the middle of nowhere.  Count Fulk, as he insisted you call him, was not the sort of person you argued with.  Not if you wanted to continue breathing.

Fulk ruled half the valley, a region called Betizac.  The ruler of the other half, known as Freycinet, had been an old man, long sick.  He’d died a few days ago.  His older son was already dead, the other a member of the Church.

The Count didn’t usually encourage fraternization with the people of Freycinet, but a need for news was his priority.

The funeral had been this afternoon.  Every able-bodied individual for miles around had been there, Tom heard, plus a few who weren’t able-bodied but had climbed out of their cots and gone anyway.

Nothing beats a good funeral, he thought.

Of course she’d been there too: Berenice, the Lady of the Vale of Freycinet, the eastern end of the valley, and  the purpose behind Fulk’s mission to him.

“I love her, we all do, but it makes no difference. She can’t rule.”  The speaker, a black-bearded giant of a man, pounded the table.  “She’s a woman!”  Going by his size and strength he was bound to be the Freycinet blacksmith.

The innkeeper glared at him across the room.

“Please excuse me.” The big man ducked his head in apology. “I forget myself.”

“Women can govern,” announced another, his voice quieter than his companion’s, his demeanor calm.  Broad in shoulders and chest but with ample grey in his dark beard, he was a knight perhaps. He’d definitely been a soldier.

“Tell me when,” demanded the smith, leaning over the table until his face was inches from the soldier’s, “Tell me when it’s not against the laws of the land and of God.”

“Convents are run by women,” stated the soldier, calmly sipping his ale.

“But we are not nuns!”

The others laughed and pounded the smith’s back.

“Regardless,” answered the greybeard, “We all know the Lady would rule if she’d been born a boy, and so her husband is the heir, the new Lord of Freycinet.  She must rule until his return, whenever that is. She has no choice.  You all heard her say so today.

She needs your support, not your questions and condemnation.”

The smith grunted his agreement.  The others nodded.

Tom knew the Lady had another option.  He noticed none of the men even considered it.

But he’d heard all he came for. His loyalties – such as they were – lay with his Lord. Say what you would, Fulk paid him well.  Wrapping his thick, woolen cloak around himself he headed for the door.

To be continued…

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