Read The cross and the dragon Online

Authors: Rendfeld, Kim

The cross and the dragon

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The Cross and the Dragon- Copyright © 2012 by Kim Rendfeld

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotation embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 

Publishers Weeklyis an independent organization. The review cited on the book cover was written based on a manuscript version of the book and not the published version.

 

ISBN-13: 978-1-61179-227-0 (paperback)

   978-1-61179-228-7 (e-book)

 

BISAC Subject Headings:

FIC014000 / FICTION / Historical

FIC027050 / FICTION / Romance / Historical

FIC000000 / FICTION / General

 

Cover design by Christine Horner

 

Cover art:Enid and Geraint, 1907, by Rowland Wheelwright (1870-1955)

 

Address all correspondence to:

Fireship Press, LLC

P.O. Box 68412

Tucson, AZ 85737

Or visit our website at:

www.FireshipPress.com

1.0e

Table of Contents

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Historical Note

A Conversation with the Author

Questions for Discussion

About the Author

 

 

 

 

 

 

For my husband, Randy.

 

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgments

 

 

I could not have re-created life in eighth-century Europe without the work of scholars who translated primary sources from medieval Latin and analyzed them. My library includes Einhard’sThe Life of Charlemagnetranslated by Evelyn Scherabon Firchow and Edwin H. Zeydel;Carolingian Chronicles, which includes the Royal Frankish Annals and Nithard’s Histories, translated by Bernard Walter Scholz with Barbara Rogers; P.D. King’sCharlemagne: Translated Sources, and Pierre Riché’sDaily Life in the World of Charlemagne. (Historical novelist’s disclaimer: any mistakes are mine and mine alone.)

But there is more to writing a novel than research. The Lafayette (Indiana) Novel Group assisted me with storytelling through their insightful critiques. I owe Mary Ellen Freel, Roberta Gellis, Laura Havran, Robin Morehouse, and Mary Ann Nester more than I can ever say.

I would also like to thank the crew at Fireship Press for investing and believing inThe Cross and the Dragon. Special thanks go to my editor, Jessica Knauss, for her enthusiasm and helpful suggestions in giving this novel its final polish. I wish her all the best in her new venture.

I could not have done this project without my family’s steadfast support of my creative endeavors, especially my husband, Randy. He has been unfailing as I spent hours holed up in my office, staring at the computer screen, my mind miles and centuries away. He even made sure I got fed as I worked on revisions.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

Late August 773

King Charles’s assembly in Geneva

 

Alda wished she did not loathe the man her brother wanted her to marry.

She glanced at Count Ganelon of Dormagen, sitting to her left at dinner. When she had met him two months before at Drachenhaus, her home many leagues to the north, she had thought him the handsomest man in Francia. Muscular, with broad shoulders and well-formed legs, he had a face that could have been chiseled from marble, topped by a cap of pale blond hair. In the castle’s great hall, his silver medallions gleamed in the light from the walnut-oil lamps and midday sun.

A movement caught Alda’s eye. A cupbearer, head down and shoulders hunched, shuffled toward Ganelon. No older than ten winters, the boy was stick thin and clothed in rags.

How can anyone so mistreat his servants?she thought, wincing.

His face a mosaic of bruises, the boy sipped from the cup and placed it in front of Ganelon. Alda looked away, disgusted with Ganelon and still seething over this morning’s argument with her brother, Count Alfihar of Drachenhaus. Alfihar had ignored her protests, insisting that she did not need to like Ganelon to marry him. No, she didn’t, she admitted to herself, but she wanted to be able to suffer her husband’s company.

She turned her head toward the roasted venison, steaming in front of her on the slab of stale bread that served as a plate. Enticed by the aroma, she tore into the meat with her eating knife.

Ganelon sneered. “I never would have guessed a frail-looking girl like you would have such an appetite.”

Alda’s pale cheeks flushed. She wished she could think of a cutting reply. Any mention of her weight vexed her. She had tried to make herself plump, but no matter how much she ate, she could not add to her hips or breasts. Finally, her words came out in a grumble. “Obviously, I am not frail.”

“You are lucky anyone would wish to marry you. You are so thin you look like a peasant in disguise. Even that servant beside you has more flesh than you.”

The heat of a blush spread over Alda’s face and down her neck. Veronica, her servant and companion, had a fuller figure, but no man with manners would point it out. Why would Ganelon insult her? Baring her teeth, Alda stabbed the meat, wishing it could be Ganelon’s face.

To her right, Veronica nudged Alda. “A pity God blessed Count Ganelon with good looks instead of a good brain,” she whispered. “Most men flatter women they want to marry.”

Alda covered her mouth to suppress a giggle.

“Why do you allow your servants to eat with you?” Ganelon asked contemptuously.

“Her name is Veronica.” Alda’s forest green eyes flashed. “She is my foster sister and my dearest friend.”

Laying aside her knife, Alda squeezed Veronica’s hand under the table. How could Ganelon say such a thing about the young woman whose mother had nursed both of them?

“My servants stay away from the table,” Ganelon said. “I cannot bear to watch them eat like beasts.”

“Perhaps you should give them more food,” Alda snapped. Her gaze fell to the jeweled hilt of his eating knife. “My brother says you can afford it.”

“That is not your concern,” he retorted.

Alda’s nostrils flared. She did not know how she was going to endure Ganelon through dinner, let alone the rest of her life. She gazed to her right. Alfihar was dining five paces away with their uncles and the man she wanted, Prince Hruodland, heir to the March of Brittany and King Charles’s kinsman.

Hruodland’s features were plainer than Ganelon’s but still pleasing. At perhaps twenty-one winters, slightly older than Alfihar, Hruodland was a tall man with the warrior’s build that came from wearing armor and wielding a sword. He had dark brown, almost black, piercing eyes, a long nose, a square jaw, and dark hair that fell to his shoulders. She smiled as she remembered meeting him in the castle’s courtyard yesterday morning and later talking with him long into the night.

Veronica’s whisper broke into her thoughts. “Stop gawking at Hruodland! It will provoke Count Ganelon.”

Alda’s lips drew into a thin line, but she followed Veronica’s advice and turned her head. This meal was difficult enough without Ganelon’s jealousy. Glancing at Ganelon, she shuddered. His icy blue eyes were full of malice.

Other guests chatted and laughed, while the musicians played and sang. But dinner continued in silence between Alda and Ganelon. Alda was glad when the meal was finished and guests started to rise from the benches. As Alda got up and stepped over the bench, she saw Alfihar and their uncles from Bonn, Bishop Leonhard and Count Beringar, stand. In animated conversation, they walked to the stone hearth and sat on a bench, their backs to her. Watching Hruodland leave the table, Alda heard a cough and looked down.

Ganelon’s scrawny servant was staring at the slab of bread upon which her meat and vegetables had rested. Now it was empty save for the gristle and bone. The child gazed up at Alda. He had the look of a dog begging for food.

“Poor child,” Alda murmured. She reached toward the table and handed the servant the bread.

A meaty hand grabbed her right arm and yanked her a half turn, causing her to stumble. Ganelon was standing over her. Alda struggled to pull away, but his grip was like a hunter’s snare.

“That is my servant!” he shouted, his breath a hot blast reeking of wine. “You have no right to defy me.”

“Release me!” Alda cried.

Ganelon raised his right hand, preparing already to claim his marital right to beat her.

Mother of God, save me. Alda clutched her dragon amulet with her free hand.

A shadow fell across Ganelon. Hruodland rushed forward, seized Ganelon’s raised arm and shoved him away. Ganelon let go of Alda’s arm and staggered back a few steps. Hruodland placed his tall frame between them.

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