Three kingdoms. Two friends. Only one way to survive.
For fans of Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden comes the tale of Olaf Tryggvason and his adventures in the battle-scarred kingdom of Wagria.
It is AD 972. Olaf Tryggvason and his oath-sworn protector, Torgil, are once again on the move. They have left the Rus kingdom and now travel the Baltic Sea in search of plunder and fame. But a fateful storm lands them on the Vendish coastline in a kingdom called Wagria.
There, they find themselves caught between the aggression of the Danes, the political aspirations of the Wagrian lords, and the shifting politics in Saxland. Can they survive or will they become just one more casualty of kingly ambitions?
Find out in this harrowing sequel to the best-selling Forged by Iron and Sigurd’s Swords.
This book is available to read on #KindleUnlimited.
Eric Schumacher discovered his love for writing and medieval European history at a very early age, as well as authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Bernard Cornwell, Jack Whyte, and Wilbur Smith. Those discoveries fueled his imagination and continue to influence the stories he tells. His first novel, God’s Hammer, was published in 2005.
What if you knew what happened to the Princes in the Tower. Would you tell? Or would you forever keep the secret?
November, 1470: Westminster Abbey. Lady Elysabeth Scrope faces a perilous royal duty when ordered into sanctuary with Elizabeth Woodville–witness the birth of Edward IV’s Yorkist son. Margaret Beaufort, Elysabeth’s sister, is desperately seeking a pardon for her exiled son Henry Tudor. Strategically, she coerces Lancastrian Elysabeth to be appointed godmother to Prince Edward, embedding her in the heart of the Plantagenets and uniting them in a destiny of impossible choices and heartbreaking conflict.
Bound by blood and torn by honour, when the king dies and Elysabeth delivers her young godson into the Tower of London to prepare for his coronation, she is engulfed in political turmoil. Within months, the prince and his brother have disappeared, Richard III is declared king, and Margaret conspires with Henry Tudor to invade England and claim the throne. Desperate to protect her godson, Elysabeth battles the intrigue, betrayal and power of the last medieval court, defying her husband and her sister under her godmother’s sacred oath to keep Prince Edward safe.
Were the princes murdered by their uncle, Richard III? Was the rebel Duke of Buckingham to blame? Or did Margaret Beaufort mastermind their disappearance to usher in the Tudor dynasty? Of anyone at the royal court, Elysabeth has the most to lose–and the most to gain–by keeping secret the fate of the Princes in the Tower.
Inspired by England’s most enduring historical mystery, Elizabeth St.John, best-selling author of The Lydiard Chronicles, blends her own family history with known facts and centuries of speculation to create an intriguing alternative story illuminating the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower.
A tantalizing tale of the two Princes in the Tower, and while the boy King, Edward V, is the historical focus, it is the story of Elysabeth, Lady Scrope which steals the show. An emotional rollercoaster, Lady Scrope is caught between her fealty to the Royal House, and her blood relations. A difficult path is laid before her; one that changes with every turn of events in the struggle for dominance and the kingship. The author has given the reader little opportunity to relax ,or to to put the book down. A thoroughly entertaining look at the political chicanery of Plantagenet versus Tudor, and the strength of one woman to fulfill the seemingly impossible oaths thrust upon her. 5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Elizabeth St.John spends her time between California, England, and the past. An acclaimed author, historian, and genealogist, she has tracked down family papers and residences from Lydiard Park and Nottingham Castle to Richmond Palace and the Tower of London to inspire her novels. Although the family sold a few country homes along the way (it’s hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth’s family still occupy them— in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their legacy. And the occasional ghost. But that’s a different story.
Having spent a significant part of her life with her seventeenth-century family while writing The Lydiard Chronicles trilogy and Counterpoint series, Elizabeth St.John is now discovering new family stories with her fifteenth-century namesake Elysabeth St.John Scrope, and her half-sister, Margaret Beaufort.
A historical adventure chronicling the exploits of the Special Boat Squadron, the seaborne raiders who, by strength and guile, carried out World War Two’s most daring covert operations.
From this moment on, you and your men, you don’t exist.
Formed in the darkest hours of the Second World War, as nation after nation fell before the unstoppable Axis advance, the task of the SBS was to strike back at an enemy no army could meet in the field. Trained in sabotage and surveillance, the Special Boat Squadron raided deep behind enemy lines, sowing chaos and capturing much-needed intelligence. Soldiers, adventurers and rogues, their methods were unorthodox, their success rate unprecedented.
Operation Anglo, 31 August 1942.
Beneath the waves of the Mediterranean, HMS Traveller closes in on the coast of Rhodes. Aboard, eight SBS commandos check their weapons as they prepare to infiltrate and sabotage two Axis bomber fields. Only two of the eight commandos will make it back to alive. Ex-Black Watch Sgt Jim Hunter will be one of the lucky ones, but what he will face next will make Operation Anglo look like a cakewalk.
About the author
Iain Gale, art critic, journalist and author, comes from a military family and has always been fascinated by military history. He is an active member of the Scottish Committee of the Society of Authors and the Friends of Waterloo Committee. He is the Editor of Scotland in Trust, the magazine for the National Trust of Scotland, and founded the Caledonian magazine. He lives in Edinburgh. Follow Iain on @Quatrebras1815
The third day took them five more miles into the island. The ‘job’ had been set for the fourth night and by the time the sun rose on the fourth day Hunter too had tired of the Greek. As they moved, the man had cussed at every twist and turn of the path. By night he sat alone and grew increasingly morose. It was unsettling. Almost as if he was waiting for something to happen. It occurred to Hunter, as it had to Woods, that Zombanakis might have betrayed them, but then why would the enemy have waited so long? Perhaps his family was being held hostage. Who knew? Hunter prayed for the fourth night to come and eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, it did.
The airfield at Calato was their objective and they had spent the day hiding out in the mountainside, which overlooked the valley where it lay. Tree-lined slopes framed the area, although close to the airfield itself, the enemy troops who had first occupied the area had cut down swathes of cypress and olive trees to give a better view around the perimeter. Nevertheless, the valley still held its age-old appearance of bucolic charm, as vineyards crawled up the lower slopes, dotted with a few, now abandoned, whitewashed farmhouses.
Throughout the day Jenkins, Woods and Hunter had gazed intently at the target from their hidden vantage point, noting again and again the positions of all the buildings and, importantly, those of the bombers themselves, until both were imprinted on their minds. They had also noted the frequency of the movements of the perimeter guards, perhaps two dozen of them, although local knowledge had already given them the details. Thankfully these seemed to be correct.
At around five o’clock in the afternoon, much to the relief of the two others, Woods ordered Zombanakis to make himself scarce. His original instruction had been to send the Greek back to the RV with any spare stores, but in view of the man’s behaviour, Woods had decided to let him do what he pleased. The man thanked him and without a word to the other two men, sped off, faster than he had moved on any day on their march, back over the way they had gone. A couple of hours after he had gone and as night was falling, the rest of them edged down the hillside towards a dried-up riverbed, whose crusted banks were high enough to ensure that they would be concealed from the view of the aerodrome. The night came in very fast and as it did the rain began. Very soon it was pelting down, soaking them to the skin. Bloody unpleasant, thought Hunter, but a real help to their not being detected.
After about an hour, Woods crept towards the far side of the riverbed and peered over the top, through the grass towards the airfield. He signalled to Hunter who joined him. There, around two hundred yards away from them, in the dim yellow light of one of the camp’s tall streetlamps, stood a Savoia-Marchetti bomber and beside it stood an Italian sentry. To its right stood two more bombers, but thankfully no more guards. Woods motioned to Hunter with his hand indicating that in fifteen minutes the man was due to move off. Sure enough, as Hunter’s watch read midnight, the soldier walked away towards the guardroom, on his regular round.
Woods crept up and out of the ditch then at a crouch, ran – head down – towards the aircraft. Hunter followed five yards behind and behind him at the same distance came Jenkins. Reaching the first bomber, Woods slipped the heavy haversack from around his neck and pulled out two of the precious bombs. He laid one on the wing and attached the other to the front of the aircraft, close to the engine. Hunter, reaching the second plane, did exactly the same, as they had rehearsed time and again back in Egypt, and then moved on to his second target. With Woods to his left and Jenkins on the right, he crossed an anti-tank ditch and slipped over a strip of low barbed wire, emerging on to a rough stone pathway that ran between several wooden accommodation buildings and the main area of the landing strip.
Suddenly, directly in front of him, an Italian sentry walked out from between two buildings, buttoning up his trouser flies. That hadn’t been in the script. Not wanting trouble, Hunter dodged into the shadows beneath the eaves of a building and flattened himself against it, holding his breath. The man paused for a moment and then took his time to extract a packet of cigarettes from his breast pocket and lit it before taking a long drag. Hunter prayed for silence and the sentry looked straight in his direction. And then he was gone.
Hunter let out his breath and, after waiting for a few seconds, padded on again, down the path. Veering off to his right, as he remembered from Woods’s sketch map, he found the officer. He had located the petrol dump and, wearing a beaming smile, was dotting it with the remaining bombs from his haversack. Hunter followed suit, but kept a couple of the bombs back. Then, moving as carefully as they had come, the two men made their way back towards the riverbed. As they reached the bombers, Hunter headed quickly left, much to Woods’s alarm. Quickly, he placed the two bombs on the wheels of one of the Savoia-Marchettis and ran back towards the officer who hissed at him as they ran on: ‘You bloody fool. You’ll get us all killed.’
Hunter grinned, panting: ‘Just making sure of it, sir.’
Ahead of them they saw Jenkins, his head down, heading for the same place.
Reaching the edge, they hurled themselves into the ditch and just as they did so, the first bomb exploded. The night sky was suddenly lit by an intense red-yellow glow. Two more bombs went off, followed by the cacophony of the others laid on the planes by Hunter. He grinned at Woods. ‘Bloody hell, sir. We did it.’
Woods smiled back and then looked back to the airfield. It was a scene of blind panic as the guards ran in all directions, some towards the fires; others, in terror, away from them.
More bombs were exploding now in a glorious symphony of destruction. The ones in the fuel dump, Hunter reckoned. And as the fires began to spread to other parts of the camp, so they took hold in ammo dumps and petrol lorries and most impressively among the bombs destined for the planes, one of which exploded with a huge roar, obliterating a neighbouring barrack hut and sending wood and debris and huge chunks of burning metal high into the night sky. The more courageous of the Italian guards were manning searchlights now, sweeping their yellow-white beams across the surrounding hillsides, searching in vain for the saboteurs.
The three men crouched in their riverbed until, giving silent signal, Woods indicated that they should move. They crept from the rear lip of the trench and crawling, disappeared into the undergrowth of the hillside. After they had gone a hundred yards, Woods raised himself into a crouch and began to run. The searchlights were arcing across another area as he did so and, followed by the others, he was soon lost behind another fold in the landscape.
With the crump of the last explosions growing quieter as they moved away from the airfield, they heard a new noise cut through the night. The distinct sound of automatic weapon fire came from the north-west, answered quickly by the unmistakable rattle of a Thompson submachine gun. Again they heard it. And then silence. Hunter looked at his watch. It was approaching three in the morning. He stared at Woods and found a mirror of his own ashen gaze. Both men knew that it could mean one of two things. Either B Party had been taken prisoner, or they were now all dead.
They said nothing and carried on moving as fast as they could over the difficult terrain, in the direction of the rendezvous. But when they reached it, as both had predicted, they found no one. Jenkins spoke for them all. ‘Bugger it.’
Woods spoke: ‘That’s it then. We’re done for.’
‘They won’t talk, sir.’
Woods shook his head. ‘I’m not so sure. The Greek might and I’m not certain of Zombanakis. Not with the SS on hand.’
‘Let’s just hope they’re dead then, sir.’
Woods looked at him. Christ, he thought, Hunter really was a strange one. Wished them dead? Nobody wanted that. It was true though he supposed. It wasn’t that Hunter was callous exactly, just matter-of-fact. He paused. ‘Yes. You’re right. Let’s hope they are. For our own sakes.’
Although their instinct now was to make as fast as they could for the coast and the hope of deliverance, they had one more task. At first light, leaving Jenkins at the RV, Woods and Hunter climbed back across the hills to a pre-marked vantage point high above the airfield. Woods took a pair of field glasses from his sack and scoured the area below them. Across the airstrip the wreckage of the burnt-out planes lay like so many dead birds. So many black, useless piles of steel. Around the site he could make out the ruins of the ammo and petrol dumps. Smiling, he handed the glasses to Hunter. ‘Well, what d’you make of that?’
Hunter scanned the charred camp. ‘Yes, I would say we’d done our job, sir. Wouldn’t you?’
As he watched, a transport aircraft came into land on a runway that had been cleared of debris. As they watched an Italian officer emerged, a general judging from the amount of brass on his uniform.
Woods spoke. ‘Come to tally up his losses. Poor bugger.’
‘Il Duce’s not going to like this at all.’
Woods took back the field glass and swung his gaze away from the airfield, further along the plain where more activity caught his eye. He swore to himself. He could see lorries, transports, moving with some speed along one of the major roads. He passed them back to Hunter.
‘Now we’re in trouble. Look at that lot.’
Hunter took the glasses and, focusing them once more, looked towards Woods’s pointing finger. He saw the trucks. And knew that they would be filled with Italian troops. And perhaps Germans too. He counted twelve, sixteen, maybe more.
‘Christ, sir. We’d better get weaving.’
Moving swiftly away from their vantage point and down the hill, they reached the RV and collected Jenkins before making for the coast and the point that had been chosen with some care, from which they would be able to look out for their means of escape.
Woods spoke softly: ‘We know they know we’re here somewhere. God knows what happened to Roy’s lot, but if any of them are still alive, and not POWs, we can’t have them running into the enemy. They’ll have to come through the pass that runs into that valley.’ He shook his head. ‘We’ve got to warn Percival.’
Hunter looked at him, momentarily incredulous. ‘What do you suggest, sir? We can’t go back and we can’t move down the valley. We’d just be captured ourselves.’
Woods mulled it over. The man had a point. ‘You’re right. Like you said, Hunter, let’s just hope they didn’t make it.’
They moved off again, away from the enemy and away from whatever might be left of B Party and by early the following day had reached the lying-up area, from where they could observe the beach below.
Jenkins was on point, leading the way, moving cautiously through the undergrowth. Suddenly he stopped and dropped flat to the ground. The others followed suit. Jenkins waved an arm, urging them to stay down.
Peering through the long grass, breathing deeply the scent of the wild grasses and rich earthy soil, Hunter managed to catch sight of what had startled Jenkins. Up ahead of them, perhaps six hundred yards away, advancing steadily through the scrub, right in the direction of their objective, were two dozen Italian soldiers, their arms levelled and at the ready. And more worryingly, they were accompanied by five Greek civilians. Woods crept forward to Jenkins and tapped him on the ankle, making him turn round, then indicated that they should move off up the hillside to their left.
They ran at a crouch, as fast as they could, and eventually stopped higher up the mountain, on a sort of ledge cut into the hillside, behind which lay what appeared to be an ancient well. They lay there for some time, not daring to peer down at the enemy moving below, but all the time hearing voices and becoming increasingly aware of the danger.
They heard a command being given in Italian and then another, more staccato, and – this time – in German.
A second party had appeared now; Germans in their distinctive feldgrau uniforms, Schmeisser machine-pistols slung over their shoulders. They were moving in what was clearly a pincer movement, intended to take anyone who might be hiding in the exact position of their lying-up area.
At once it became clear to Hunter what had happened. One of B Party, or more likely one of the guides, must have spoken. Perhaps Zombanakis’s fears had been right. Perhaps he had returned to find his family held hostage. Perhaps he had been tortured. They would probably never know. And right now, lying here, awaiting at any moment the bullet or the bayonet, it was of no importance.
For what seemed like much more than the two hours it actually was, they lay as still as they possibly could, acutely aware that the slightest movement might alert either of the two search parties to their presence. No more than ten or eleven feet below their ledge, the Italian party was now combing the undergrowth, their keenness to succeed and impress their German masters all too evident from the growing noise and urgency of their shouts. Luckily, however, they confined their searching to the slopes below the three men. Perhaps, thought Hunter, they could not conceive that their prey might have managed to climb so high and so fast. Never, ever, he smiled, underestimate your enemy. It had been one of the first tenets drummed into him by the instructors at special training school.
From time to time they took it in turns to peer over the lip of the ledge and report back. As Hunter took his turn, his eye was drawn away from their pursuers towards the sea beyond and a small boat making its way along the coast from the direction of Lindos. Unable to use field glasses, for fear of reflection, he peered at it and eventually decided that it was an Italian motor torpedo boat. He could just discern a group of men gathered on deck and surmised that they might be about to make landfall. He shinned back from the edge and whispered to Woods, ‘Italian MTB, sir. Looks like they’re landing. Reckon that’s our Carley boats in the bag.’
Together the two men moved up to the lip. The boat had disappeared, but after a few minutes, as they watched, she came into view again, this time towing the distinct black shapes of their three landing craft.
Woods swore: ‘Damn.’
Quick-witted, Woods was able to grasp their situation in a moment. And it was not good. Their rations had almost run out. And now they were effectively cut off from any submarine that might be sent to collect them. They were surrounded by the enemy, who in all probability were also in possession of any stretch of beach that might have allowed them to be picked up. Their friends in B Party were either dead or POWs and they were running dangerously low on ammunition. All that they had, apart from what they carried, were the life jackets and signal torches that they’d had the foresight to conceal in a cave on the beach. Although it occurred to him that even these might have been discovered by the enemy. Hunter, he knew, would also have summed up the severity of their position.
To both men there was now only one option open. They would have to resume the initiative.
Hunter turned to Woods. ‘Sir, do you think we might be best to try to make our way down to the beach?’
The officer nodded. ‘Yes, my thoughts too. It’s the only way now. Otherwise we’re just waiting here till they find us. And I don’t want to think about what happens next. We’ll go at nightfall.’
As the dusk came down, they made ready for the journey down to the beach. Anything that might hamper them was left behind, including their haversacks. Hunter put a grenade into each of his breast pockets and his last few clips of ammunition into the pockets of his shorts. He made sure that his water bottle and pistol in holster were secured to his belt and his fighting knife in its scabbard, strapped to his left leg.
When it had become sufficiently dark, they began to edge down the slope. Small dots of light, either from campfires or cigarettes, alerted them to the positions of the enemy sentries and, moving slowly, they were able to weave a path to avoid them. It was hard going and certainly not the path that any of them would have chosen, even if it had still been daylight. But there was no alternative if they were to avoid the sentries. Their route took them deep into an ancient olive grove where the ground became rocky, with small anthills and dozens of unseen tree roots. Their progress was agonisingly slow and it took them a good four hours to cover ground that in daylight would have taken half the time.
They had made it to perhaps halfway to the beach when there was a stifled cry from Jenkins, who had been bringing up the rear. Spinning round, Hunter saw the man lying on the ground, writhing in agony. His first reaction was that he had been shot, but he had heard no riddle crack. Crouching, he and Woods moved back towards him.
‘My leg, sir. My bloody ankle. Went over on that mound.’
He was gripping the limb tightly and only released his hands when Woods went to look.
His foot was lying at an unusual angle to the leg and it was clear at once that he had broken his ankle. Woods shook his head. ‘Christ. I don’t bloody believe it. Can you stand?’
‘Don’t know, sir. I’ll try.’
Jenkins, helped by the others, attempted to get to his feet, but the moment he attempted to put any weight on the injured leg, he winced in pain. ‘Sorry, sir. It’s useless. I’m done.’
They laid him back down in the grass.
As Jenkins stared at his ruined ankle, Woods drew Hunter to one side. ‘He’s right, Sarn’t – it is useless. He can’t come with us.’
Hunter nodded. ‘Yes, sir. I know that.’
There was a pause, then Woods spoke, quiet and expressionless: ‘We’ll just have to leave him here.’
‘They’ll get him, sir. You know what that’ll mean.’
‘And so does he, Sarn’t. We’ll leave him a pistol and two rounds. He can take the decision as to how he does it. That’s the decent thing to do, wouldn’t you say? He can either use them both on the enemy, or save one for himself. He knows the drill.’
Hunter nodded. Woods was right. It was the only thing to do, aside from shooting Jenkins themselves. And both men knew that neither of them was going to volunteer to do that.
Woods went over and briefed Jenkins, although there was no need. All of them had always been well aware of the potential dangers. Jenkins nodded and took the pistol from the officer. Hunter went over to him. ‘Cheerio, Jenkins. See you in Cairo I expect.’
‘Yes. Sure of it. I’ll stand you a beer at Groppi’s.’
‘Not if I can help it. I’m paying.’
Jenkins smiled. ‘Righto, Hunter. I’ll hold you to it.’
They moved off fast and quickly put thoughts of Jenkins behind them.
The route down the hillside to the beach grew increasingly steep and perilous as they went but at last they were close enough to hear the sea. Cautiously, they slipped down the final few feet to the beach and found the cave where on arrival they had hidden lifebelts and a signal torch. Grabbing this and two of the belts they began to climb back up the hill in search of cover.
In their desperation to get to the cave, they had lost track of time and the dawn was now coming up fast. They were perhaps halfway back to Jenkins’ position when they heard voices from above. Shouts in Italian. They froze and dropped to the ground.
Clearly one of the search parties had got between them and their helpless comrade. Perhaps, thought Hunter, they were still looking for members of the other landing party.
The chattering continued. Evidently their pursuers had decided to halt where they were.
Woods looked at Hunter and raised his eyes heavenwards. Their safe area had just shrunk from small to almost non-existent. The two men lay down in the long grass and pressed their forms against the earth in an attempt to camouflage the outline of their bodies. They had been there for around three hours when the Italians moved off. Woods looked up slowly and then dropped down. Whispered: ‘There’s an overhang about forty yards up the hill. If we can get in there we stand a much better chance of not being seen. We won’t move down to the beach till dusk.’
Hunter nodded. He too had noticed the overhanging rock. The morning sunlight was now upon them and it was their only hope.
After waiting for the Italian voices to die away, the two men crawled slowly up the hillside, their lifebelts strapped to their belts. At length they reached the shelter of the rock and tucked themselves inside the small gap with seconds to spare before the Italians appeared again below them. Hunter counted fifty of them, moving methodically across the brush and rocks. Ten minutes later he watched as one of them peeled away to relieve himself, close to their position, before sitting down on a rock to light a cigarette. He was no more than twenty yards away. Clearly his absence had not been noticed by his commanding officer, for the man sat on his rock for a good twenty minutes, smoking another cigarette, before moving off. After he had gone the two men sat very still in their hideout for, Hunter guessed, around another three hours.
It was almost midday now and the sun was at its hottest. Hunter’s mouth was parched. His limbs too were beginning to seize up, contorted as they were in their cramped quarters.
Suddenly, there was a series of shots from above them, followed by furious shouting. Then silence. The searchers had found Jenkins.
The two men looked away from each other into nothingness and Hunter took the opportunity of the noise to stretch his painful limbs and manoeuvre himself into a slightly more comfortable position.
And so they waited. Two, three, five, seven hours passed with excruciating slowness. Hunter licked his lips, dry and cracked from lack of water, and squeezed the final tiny drops from his long-empty bottle, allowing each one to linger for a moment on his swollen tongue.
Finally, as dusk enveloped the hillside, Woods raised his hand to signal the ‘off’.
Slowly, being conscious that to move too fast might bring on a cramp in their limbs that could mean disaster, each man slowly stretched out legs and arms before crawling out of the little cave.
The night was unexpectedly cold and Hunter shivered as they began to make their way downhill towards the beach. Both men now knew that they had a narrow window of opportunity before the sentries on night patrol would take their posts. As they neared the sea again there was no sign of the enemy and Hunter scarcely dared to breathe lest the slightest noise might bring down a hail of bullets from an unseen observer.
After half an hour they set foot upon the sand and quickly made for the cave where the torch and belts had been hidden. The rest of the kit was still there, undiscovered, which was surely a good sign. Woods looked at his watch and signed to Hunter with his hand. Fifteen. He would have a go at signalling to any rescue vessel in fifteen minutes.
It seemed like forever, but at length Woods moved to the mouth of the cave, switched on the torch and flashed it up and down and on and off in the prearranged signal pattern.
Hunter went after him and strained his eyes for any sign of a reply from the water. Woods flashed the sign a second time and Hunter froze. Surely, that had been a light. He spoke in a whisper: ‘Sir, over there. One o’clock. D’you see it?’
‘Where? Are you sure?’
‘Not certain, but… Look. There.’
He pointed and both men looked hard in the direction of his finger.
But there was nothing. Hunter looked away. ‘Sorry, sir. I could have sworn.’
Woods said nothing. Perhaps Hunter was right. He flashed the torch again.
But another twenty minutes passed, with no sign of any reply.
Half an hour. Woods flashed again. Surely, thought Hunter. Surely now they must see them? There had to be a boat out there, waiting for them. Didn’t there? If not then…
Suddenly Woods gasped. ‘There, Hunter. Did you see that. There. At two o’clock. Look, man. D’you see?’
Hunter looked intently towards the horizon and, through the darkness saw what might just have been the glimmer of a light.
‘Yes, sir. A light. It’s a light. Just there.’
Woods was sure of it now. He flashed the signal again, and then a third time. And now both men could see the light being flashed back at them. Hope at last.
Woods began to signal a message. ‘Folboats gone. Swimming to you. Come in.’
Both men reached for their Mae West life jackets and, after putting them over their heads, began to inflate them. Then, taking with them just the essentials, they left the cave.
Hunter glanced back up the hillside, expecting to see a search party waiting for them. But there was no one to be seen. They padded across the sand towards the sea and waded in until they were neck-deep in the surprisingly cold water and the waves began to pull them out to sea. After a while they began to swim, in the general direction of the light. Woods had kept his signal torch, fastening it around his wrist with a cord, and whenever they made out a flash from the rescue ship, he flashed out their call sign in return.
The sea was dead calm, but for some reason, Hunter found that swimming was almost impossible. Wondering why, he realised that they were simply exhausted. They had not eaten for the past day and no water had passed their lips for over twenty-four hours.
Woods too was shivering now and his hands had started to go numb. He prayed that neither of them would pass out before the ship reached them. He had no idea how far they had swum or rather floated, but turning to look back at the beach, he realised that it was some distance. Perhaps a mile or more.
Suddenly there was a rumble, like thunder. Hunter tried to shout to Woods, ‘Engines, sir.’
But he wasn’t sure whether the officer had heard. Or indeed, if he was still conscious, for the signal torch had stopped flashing.
He tried to paddle over to Woods and found him semi-comatose. He shook his shoulder. ‘Sir, engines.’
Woods started awake. ‘What? Engines. Are you sure?’
They could both hear it now. A ship. But then, as quickly as it had come, the noise went. Hunter was instantly overwhelmed by disappointment and despair.
Woods yelled, ‘Christ almighty!’
Hunter grasped him. ‘Come on, sir. They’re just circling. Coming about. They haven’t gone. They know we’re here. We know that.’
‘Yes. You’re right. Just circling. That’s it. Coming about. That’s right.’
For minutes that seemed like an hour, in which Woods drifted in and out of consciousness, they waited. And waited.
And then, with a huge roar of water, like some God-given miracle monster rising from the deep, as Hunter watched, the periscope, conning tower and black metal hull of HMS Traveller broke the surface of the water to their left.
Within minutes they were aboard the submarine, pulled up the hull by the strong, gentle hands of men with English voices.
“You should have trusted me. You should have given me a choice.”
AD 370, Roman frontier province of Noricum. Neither wholly married nor wholly divorced, Julia Bacausa is trapped in the power struggle between the Christian church and her pagan ruler father.
Tribune Lucius Apulius’s career is blighted by his determination to stay faithful to the Roman gods in a Christian empire. Stripped of his command in Britannia, he’s demoted to the backwater of Noricum – and encounters Julia.
Unwittingly, he takes her for a whore. When confronted by who she is, he is overcome with remorse and fear. Despite this disaster, Julia and Lucius are drawn to one another by an irresistible attraction.
But their intensifying bond is broken when Lucius is banished to Rome. Distraught, Julia gambles everything to join him. But a vengeful presence from the past overshadows her perilous journey. Following her heart’s desire brings danger she could never have envisaged…
Having followed the Roma Nova series from the beginning, I was hoping that the author would go back to the roots of the portentous move away from Rome. Julia Prima is just what I hoped for; a tale that takes us to the very beginning. Oh, and not just any old tale, my fellow readers. Tightly wound, and full of tense action from another one of the author’s trademark female character who defies the status quo. A tale of survival and searching, of a love that cannot be denied, of the progeny who will bring in the new age. It is also one of those page turners that keeps the reader guessing as to what’s going to happen next. I’m certainly looking forward to the next episode. 5⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Alison Morton writes award-winning thrillers featuring tough but compassionate heroines. Her nine-book Roma Nova series is set in an imaginary European country where a remnant of the ancient Roman Empire has survived into the 21st century and is ruled by women who face conspiracy, revolution and heartache but with a sharp line in dialogue.
She blends her fascination for Ancient Rome with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, historical and thriller fiction. On the way, she collected a BA in modern languages and an MA in history.
Alison now lives in Poitou in France, the home of Mélisende, the heroine of her latest two contemporary thrillers, Double Identity and Double Pursuit. Oh, and she’s writing the next Roma Nova story.
WWII and the mid-seventeenth century are entwined in this fourth dual timeline novel about Nazi art theft, bravery, friendship, and romance.
April 1945. Art historian Soli Hansen and her friend Heddy arrive at an excavation site only to find Soli’s old archeology professor deeply engrossed in an extraordinary find in a marsh. The remains of a man have lain undisturbed for three centuries, but there’s more to this discovery…
As Soli tries to understand who the baroque man was and discovers what he carried in a sealed wooden tube, problems arise. A leak reveals the finds to the notorious Lieutenant Colonel Heinz Walter, and soon, both Nazi elite and the Gestapo are after the treasure. When Heddy and the professor disappear along with the artwork, Soli and her resistance group must find them before it’s too late.
1641. In Amsterdam, French musketeer Claude Beaulieu has had his portrait done by his close friend and artist Rembrandt van Rijn. When a band of thieves steal the precious painting, Claude and his wife Annarosa Ruber pick up their swords and a few belongings and go after the culprits.
Set in Norway during the tumultuous last days of the second world war, as well as the peak of the glorious baroque art period, these two stories are a must for readers who love historical fiction with adventure, suspense, and true love that conquers all.
Perfect for fans of Kate Morton, Lucinda Riley, Kathleen McGurl, Rhys Bowen, and Katherine Neville.
Brushstrokes from the Past
HER WORRIES FROM the day before undiminished, Soli walked about the shop, dusting frames on the wall and arranging the art history books on the table in the corner. She replaced a painting on the window display with a spring scene of mountains, a small cottage, and some cows. If Walter showed up, he’d probably find the nationalistic scenery perfect. She shuddered just thinking about him. Trying to please him was not her intent, but a rendition like that sold well during wartime.
Her thoughts returned to Heddy and the professor. Had they seen Walter coming? Had they gotten away, or had the lieutenant colonel taken them somewhere? And if the German officer had the painting now, would he take it back to Germany or give it as a gift to Minister President Quisling or Adolf Hitler?
As she was deep in thought, the notorious Lieutenant Colonel Heinz Walter entered the shop. As always, he had two of his men accompanying him.
Oh, yes, Walter was striking in his immaculate uniform decorated with ribbon bars and aiguillettes. He still carried a dagger on his hip. Had he ever used it, or was it for show? Walter removed his visor cap as he strutted across the floor toward Soli. He propped the cap under his arm. The mane of dark hair was grayer at the temples than the last time she’d seen him, making him look all the more distinguished. Any woman would find him attractive, and he seemed to know it. His reputation as a flirtatious but demanding, high-ranking officer was firmly established. Unfortunately, she’d experienced his wolfish behavior the year before.
With a sharp click of his heels, Walter came to a halt in front of her.
“Good day, Miss Hansen. Or I suppose I should call you Soli. After all, we have been out together before, haven’t we?”
How could she forget? The evening with him at a Nazi soirée at the Grand Hotel in Oslo had been far from comfortable. Fortunately, Soli had no problems understanding his distinct German dialect. After five years of having to work alongside their occupants and studying their language in school, she’d become quite confident conversing. She curtsied.
“Good day. Welcome back.”
She cringed as she said the words. Hopefully, he didn’t notice her disgust with his presence in her store…in her home. In no way was he welcome. Not ever.
“I heard the previous owner died. Mr. Holm, was it?”
“Yes, he passed away last year. I take care of the shop now.”
“You clever girl. I hope you have some male colleagues to lean on and speak to when you have questions. I’m sure you are overwhelmed by the responsibility.”
She played along, smiling, nodding, pretending to be a naïve, young woman who couldn’t think for herself. After his monologue about how difficult it must be to run a business as a single female, she eased in a question as he was drawing for breath.
“What can I help you with today? We have a beautiful painting on display in the window.”
He grinned. “Yes, I noticed. Absolutely splendid. Not the stupidity of some of your modern artists like Munch.” He strutted some more, stroking his finger along frames, and picking up a glass figurine on a pedestal, only to put it back in place. “I must say, my favorite pieces of art were painted by Flemish and Dutch masters centuries ago.”
He had such a smug look on his face. He has the Rembrandt. Soli was certain of it. It was hard to concentrate. And what about Heddy and the professor? Had he interrogated them and forced them to reveal their secrets? Did he know about the other paintings in the Ruber collection by now?
Before she could ask him which of the master painters he enjoyed the most, the bell above the door jingled again. A man entered and waved one of Walter’s men toward the door. They spoke low, then the man conveyed the message to Walter, speaking quietly into his ear.
Walter positioned his visor cap back on his head. “Well, Soli. I must run, but I’ll come back another time. I have a personal matter I’d like to discuss with you.”
He clicked his heels again then turned and left, his men following in his footsteps.
Soli sank into the soft chair in the corner. Why did he want to talk with her? Was he still interested in her as a woman? Did he need advice about art or perhaps want to talk about the Rembrandt she’d lost? Had her life been anywhere near normal she would have yelled no. No, she didn’t want to see him again. No, she didn’t want Walter or his men in her shop or anywhere near her…ever.
Soli rubbed her tightened fists in circles on her temples. Oh, what to do? She had absolutely no choice in the matter. If Walter knew where Heddy, the professor, and the musketeer painting were, Soli had to cooperate and spend more time with the lieutenant colonel.
Heidi Eljarbo is the bestselling author of historical fiction and mysteries filled with courageous and good characters that are easy to love and others you don’t want to go near.
Heidi grew up in a home filled with books and artwork and she never truly imagined she would do anything other than write and paint. She studied art, languages, and history, all of which have come in handy when working as an author, magazine journalist, and painter.
After living in Canada, six US states, Japan, Switzerland, and Austria, Heidi now calls Norway home. She and her husband have a total of nine children, thirteen grandchildren—so far—in addition to a bouncy Wheaten Terrier.
Their favorite retreat is a mountain cabin, where they hike in the summertime and ski the vast, white terrain during winter.
Heidi’s favorites are family, God’s beautiful nature, and the word whimsical.
Christmas morning, 1901: Sherlock Holmes discovers that the wine in a bottle of French Beaune (intended as a gift for Dr. Watson) has been switched with sand, and he suspects it means threat to the newly crowned King of England. Or does it? With Dr. Watson’s help, he soon finds out…
After reading the author’s previous Holmesian tale, One Must Tell the Bees, I jumped at the chance to read this entertaining tale. Without giving away anything, the author has created a mystery that brings out the best of Holmes’ quirky behavior and temperament, while also keeping the reader guessing as to who perpetrated the crime. A fast-paced narrative, often at the breakneck speed of a Hansom carrying our hero and Dr. Watson in pursuit of the answers. An enjoyable, quick read. 5 stars.
Lady Merryweather has had a shocking year. Apprehended for the murder of her husband the year before, and only recently released, she hopes a trip away from London will allow her to grieve. The isolated, but much loved, Cragside Estate in North Northumberland, home of her friends, Lord and Lady Bradbury, holds special memories for her.
But, no sooner has she arrived than the body of one of the guests is found on the estate, and suspicion immediately turns on her. Perhaps, there are no friendships to be found here, after all.
Released, due to a lack of evidence, Lady Ella returns to Cragside only to discover a second murder has taken place in her absence, and one she can’t possibly have committed.
Quickly realising that these new murders must be related to that of her beloved husband, Lady Merryweather sets out to solve the crime, once and for all. But there are many who don’t want her to succeed, and as the number of murder victims increases, the possibility that she might well be the next victim, can’t be ignored.
Journey to the 1930s Cragside Estate, to a period house-party where no one is truly safe, and the estate is just as deadly as the people.
Description of murder scenes and bodies
Excerpt 3 – Our suspects begin to doubt one another
I consider who’ll speak first.
I’m unsurprised when it’s the rotund Mr Hector Alwinton.
“Well, it can’t be me, as you all know,” he pleads with the other members of our party from his place in front of the fire.
“And why is that?” Miss Rebecca Barlow surprises me by asking. She’s sitting as close to the fire as it’s possible to be, warming her knees and her hands. She doesn’t even look at Hector when she replies, although he’s so close to her. Miss Amelia Clarke seems unaware that anyone has spoken.
Hector’s mouth opens and then snaps shut, only to open again. He leans forward, or as far as he can over his protruding belly, and then takes a deep breath. I watch it fill his chest, the buttons on his evening shirt, straining at this extra pressure on them.
“I, of course, would be unable to overpower anyone in my pitiful state.” He motions down to his large stomach as he speaks. “And even if I could, I was with Lord and Lady Bradbury at the time of this second murder.”
“And what time did the second murder take place?” Rebecca Barlow probes. There’s no malice to her voice, but her intent is pointed. Perhaps the detective inspector should have asked her to assist him instead of me.
“I, well. Of course, it was sometime this afternoon. Since luncheon, when I last saw poor Mr Harrington-Featherington.”
“When did everyone else last see Mr Harrington-Featherington?” Rebecca doesn’t raise her head but asks the room in general. Her words sound almost bored.
“When did you last see Mr Harrington-Featherington?”
It’s Lady Bradbury who spits the question at Rebecca. The two are like cats circling one another before pouncing. Now, this I might like to see.
“I last saw him after luncheon. I was, here, in the library, with Miss Amelia Clarke and Hugh Bradbury. And you?”
“Well,” Margot splutters. “I really don’t recall, but I was with my husband and Mr Hector Alwinton immediately after luncheon and until we were once more brought together and told of Mr Harrington-Featherington’s death.” How Margot speaks of the dead man assures me that my assumptions about her feelings towards him are correct. She didn’t like him, and he didn’t like her. Watching them share meals, sat next to one another in my home nearly a year ago was a sight to see.
“So, you were with Mr Hector Alwinton and Lord Edmund Bradbury, and I was with Miss Amelia Clarke and Mr Hugh Bradbury. And, of course, Lady Ella Merryweather was at the police station. So who does that leave?”
Unknowingly, my eyes slide towards Lilian and Olive.
Lilian sits very neatly, one thin leg crossed over another. She seems insubstantial and entirely unable to kill another. Yet, I know better than to allow someone’s appearance to influence me. The kindest looking people can be the roughest: the roughest, the kindest. If I hadn’t known that before, then my incarceration at Holloway has reinforced the knowledge.
“I was out for a walk in the rain,” Miss Lilian Braithwaite announces. “I like to walk in the rain. The house felt quite stuffy and hot.”
“And you were alone?” I can’t get a word in edgeways to ask the questions. I’m secretly relieved. Sooner they think I’m angry with the Detective Inspector than attempting to help him, the more likely they are not to watch their words as carefully as they should.
“I wasn’t. I had the dogs with me.”
“Then you were alone other than with two canines?” Rebecca retorts.
“I was, yes.” Lilian confirms softly.
“And where did you walk?”
“To the old quarry, Cragend. It’s a tricky walk in the wet. I fell and scuffed my hands.” As though to prove the point, Lilian shows both of her hands. They have small cuts on the palm of them, where the implication must be pieces of gravel have pierced her skin.
“And you were gone all that time?”
“Yes. I returned when the Detective Inspector had already arrived.”
“And you, Miss Olive Mabel?” Rebecca lifts her head from the perusal of the fire, and her eyes alight on Olive, who has moved back to the heat of the fire, now that Aldcroft has left the room.
“I was resting, in my bed-chamber,” Olive states, her words ringing with finality.
“And you, Lord and Lady Sunderland? Where were you this afternoon?”
The two look affronted to be called to account by someone so beneath their notice. They share a look and then glower at Rebecca.
Rebecca ticks off on her fingers what she knows. “You weren’t in the library, as I was in there with Hugh Bradbury and Amelia Clarke, and you weren’t with Lord and Lady Bradbury and Hector Alwinton in the drawing-room, and you weren’t with Olive Mabel or Lilian Braithwaite.”
“No, we were in our bed-chamber as well. It was a late night and looked to be another one this evening.” “I thought it better to catch up on my sleep.” It’s Reginald who speaks.
“And did you sleep?”
“I did, yes.”
“Yes. Why?” and his forehead furrows, eyes disappearing beneath his eyebrows.
“So you don’t know what your wife was doing then? She might have slept, or she might not have done.”
“Now,” and Lord Sunderland looks bristly, like a hedgehog in his rage. I’m surprised he can show such anger. He’s such a calm soul, usually.
“Calm down, dear,” his wife consoles him. “I can assure you that I slept all afternoon as well. We’re not used to drinking heavily and staying up so late talking with much loved friends about such shocking events. We had another dear friend to mourn, and we believed justice was going to be achieved for poor Lady Carver.”
hose words make me doubt Lady Sunderland, although Rebecca seems to accept them quickly enough. I grimace, realising what Gwendoline implies with her statement. They were up all night talking about the fact I’d been led away in handcuffs. Again.
MJ Porter is the author of many historical novels set predominantly in Seventh to Eleventh-Century England, as well as three twentieth-century mysteries. Raised in the shadow of a building that was believed to house the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia, meant that the author’s writing destiny was set.
The time will come, as all times must, when the world will shake, and fall to dust…
1237 BC: It is an age of panic. The great empires are in disarray – ravaged by endless drought, shaken by ferocious earthquakes and starved of precious tin. Some say the Gods have abandoned mankind. When Tudha ascends the Hittite throne, the burden of stabilising the realm falls upon his shoulders. Despite his valiant endeavours, things continue to disintegrate; allies become foes, lethal plots arise, and enemy battle horns echo across Hittite lands.
Yet this is nothing compared to the colossal, insidious shadow emerging from the west. Crawling unseen towards Tudha’s collapsing Hittite world comes a force unlike any ever witnessed; an immeasurable swarm of outlanders, driven by the cruel whip of nature, spreading fire and destruction: the Sea Peoples.
Every age must end. The measure of a man is how he chooses to face it.
The Dark Earth, my fellow peeps and fellow readers is, in my own personal dictionary, the definition of how to end an already mind-blowing series. A slew of cataclysmic events in the historical record, have been masterfully researched and turned into an engrossing look at the fall of the Hittite Empire. The reader isn’t allowed a moments respite from the turmoil brought about by forces Tudha could not avoid, nor conquer. Be prepared for an amazing tale; be prepared to be surprised all the way to the end.
A wild land. A lethal fanatic. A violent revolt. Northumbria, AD 794. Those who rule the seas, rule the land. None know the truth of this more than the Vikings. To compete with the sea-faring, violent raiders, the king of Northumbria orders the construction of his own longships under the command of oath-sworn Norseman, Runolf.
When the Northern sea wolves attack for the second year, the king sends cleric turned warrior, Hunlaf, on a mission across the Whale Road to persuade the king of Rogaland into an alliance. But Runolf and Hunlaf have other plans; old scores to settle, kin to seek out, and a heretical tome to find in the wild lands of the Norse.
Their voyage takes them into the centre of a violent uprising. A slave has broken free of his captors, and, with religious fervour, he is leading his fanatical followers on a rampage – burning all in his path.
Hunlaf must brave the Norse wilderness, and overcome deadly foes to stop this madman. To fail would see too many die…
A resounding sequel, my peeps and fellow readers. Chock full of action, drama, loss, victory, and the full spectrum of human emotion, A Night of Flames is one stunning tale. It didn’t take long for me to become a fan of the Beobrand series; and this one has me hooked as well. 5 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
What happens when a king loses his prowess? The day Henry IV could finally declare he had vanquished his enemies, he threw it all away with an infamous deed. No English king had executed an archbishop before. And divine judgment was quick to follow. Many thought he was struck with leprosy—God’s greatest punishment for sinners. From that point on, Henry’s health was cursed and he fought doggedly on as his body continued to betray him—reducing this once great warrior to an invalid. Fortunately for England, his heir was ready and eager to take over. But Henry wasn’t willing to relinquish what he had worked so hard to preserve. No one was going to take away his royal prerogative—not even Prince Hal. But Henry didn’t count on Hal’s dauntless nature, which threatened to tear the royal family apart.
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Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history, and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. Her first four books cover eleventh-century Britain and events surrounding the Norman Conquest of England. The next series is called The Plantagenet Legacy about the struggles and abdication of Richard II, leading to the troubled reigns of the Lancastrian Kings. She also writes a blog: HistoricalBritainBlog.com to explore the history behind the story. Born in St. Louis, MO, she received by BA in Literature at the Univ. of Missouri St.Louis in 1979 then moved to New York in 1982 while in her mid-20s to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended! Today she lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.