The Outlaw’s Ransom: Mathilda of Twyford
First of all, I must thank my lovely friend Laura for allowing me to visit her site as part of my first blog tour as Jennifer Ash (I have loitered here once or twice before under the guise of Jenny Kane.)
It’s always a treat to have you over, whether you’re Jenny or ‘newbie’ Jennifer!
Within The Outlaw’s Ransom, my fourteenth century protagonist is a nineteen year old woman called, Mathilda of Twyford. In the medieval period, nineteen was the age of a full grown woman. Most would be married and have children by that age. Mathilda however, is single, as she’s been looking after her father and brothers, running the home and the family pottery business since the death of her mother. That situation however, changes abruptly when she is forced to get to know the notorious Folville family rather better than she would have liked.
Suddenly, Mathilda finds herself surrounded by criminals and under a very frightening type of suspicion…
The first in an exciting new series by acclaimed author Jenny Kane writing as Jennifer Ash.
When craftsman’s daughter Mathilda is kidnapped by the notorious Folville brothers, as punishment for her father’s debts, she fears for her life. Although of noble birth, the Folvilles are infamous throughout the county for disregarding the law – and for using any means necessary to deliver their brand of ‘justice’.
Mathilda must prove her worth to the Folvilles in order to win her freedom. To do so she must go against her instincts and, disguised as the paramour of the enigmatic Robert de Folville, undertake a mission that will take her far from home and put her life in the hands of a dangerous brigand – and that’s just the start of things…
A thrilling tale of medieval mystery and romance – and with a nod to the tales of Robin Hood – The Outlaw’s Ransom is perfect for fans of C.J. Sansom and Jean Plaidy.
Put aside any images of women being weak in the middle ages to one side- they may well have been put upon, forgotten, and taken for granted maybe, but weak? Never. Or at least, not for long.
Women in the fourteenth century had to be strong-willed, as well as physically strong, or they’d never have survived. Even putting aside the obvious pressures and problems of childbirth, they ran family businesses alongside their men folk, kept the house, dealt with all the food, and raised the children. In fact, it all sounds fairly familiar!
I’ve never been keen on the idea of writing weak characters; be they male or female. Such characters frequently fail to hold the interest of a reader, often frustrating you into wishing they’d just grasp the metaphorical nettle and get on with it- whatever, ‘it’ is!
In the case of The Outlaw’s Ransom, it was particularly important for me to have a determined, capable and intelligent female in the driving seat. I wanted Mathilda to not just survive within her enforced hostile environment, but to hold her own, and show the Folville brothers that they were dealing with a feisty, clever, woman who could give as good as she got!
Here’s a little taster from the very start of the story, where you meet Mathilda at her most disadvantaged. A position from which she grows determined to kick some serious medieval butt….
Mathilda thought she was used to the dark, but the night-time gloom of the small room she shared with her brothers at home was nothing like this. The sheer density of this darkness enveloped her, physically gliding over her clammy skin. It made her breathless, as if it was trying to squeeze the life from her.
As moisture oozed between her naked toes, she presumed that the suspiciously soft surface she crouched on was moss, which had grown to form a damp cushion on the stone floor. It was a theory backed up by the smell of mould and general filthiness which hung in the air.
Trying not to think about how long she was going to be left in this windowless cell, Mathilda stretched her arms out to either side, and bravely felt for the extent of the walls, hoping she wasn’t about to touch something other than cold stone. The child’s voice that lingered at the back of her mind, even though she was a woman of nineteen, was telling her – screaming at her – that there might be bodies in here, secured in rusted irons, abandoned and rotting. She battled the voice down. Thinking like that would do her no good at all. Her father had always congratulated his only daughter on her level-headedness, and now it was being so thoroughly put to the test, she was determined not to let him down.
Stretching her fingers into the blackness, Mathilda placed the tips of her fingers against the wall behind her. It was wet. Trickles of water had found a way in from somewhere, giving the walls the same slimy covering as the floor.
Continuing to trace the outline of the rough stone wall, Mathilda kept her feet exactly where they were. In seconds her fingertips came to a corner, and by twisting at the waist, she quickly managed to plot her prison from one side of the heavy wooden door to the other. The dungeon could be no more than five feet square, although it must be about six feet tall. Her own five-foot frame had stumbled down a step when she’d been pushed into the cell, and her head was at least a foot clear of the ceiling. The bleak eerie silence was eating away at Mathilda’s determination to be brave, and the cold brought her suppressed fear to the fore. Suddenly the shivering she had stoically ignored overtook her, and there was nothing she could do but let it invade her.
Wrapping her thin arms around her chest, Mathilda pulled up her hood, hugged her grey woollen surcoat tighter about her shoulders, and sent an unspoken prayer of thanks to Our Lady for the fact that her legs were covered.
She’d been helping her two brothers, Matthew and Oswin, to catch fish in the deeper water beyond the second of Twyford’s fords when the men had come. Mathilda had been wearing an old pair of Matthew’s hose, rolled up past her knees, but no stockings or shoes. She thought longingly of her warm footwear, discarded earlier with such merry abandon. She’d thrown haphazardly beneath a tree in her eagerness to join the boys in their work. It was one of the only jobs their father gave them that could have been considered fun.
Mathilda closed her eyes, angry as the tears she’d forbidden herself to shed defied her and fell anyway. With them came weariness. It consumed her, forcing her to sink lower onto the rotten floor. Water dripped into her lank red hair. The tussle of her capture had loosened Mathilda’s neatly woven plait and now it hung awkwardly, half in and half out of its bindings, like a badly strapped sheaf of straw.
She tried not to start blaming her father, but it was difficult not to. Why hadn’t he told her he’d borrowed money from the Folvilles? It was an insane thing to do. Only the most desperate …
Mathilda stopped her thoughts in their tracks. They were disloyal and pointless.
They’d been relatively well-off when Mathilda was younger. They’d owned four horses, chickens, a cow and a goat, and three furlongs for planting vegetables and a small amount of wheat. There was also the pottery shed and kiln where her father made his tableware and cooking pots, and a small orchard which backed onto the two-roomed house. Slowly, over the past few years, it had almost all been sold off. Only the workhouse, orchard, one horse and cart, and a single furlong remained.
Now she had nothing to do but think, Mathilda realised that her father had been that desperate. . He’d been a tall man once, but since his forty-fifth year he’d dwindled, his beard dappled with more grey by the day. It was as if he’d become disillusioned; fed up with the routine of daily existence without her mother. Until now, Mathilda had been so busy making the best of things, she hadn’t had time to see their situation for what it was.
Since her mother had died four years ago, the cooler weather, and the disastrous crop failure a few harvests back, combined with the decline in the demand for locally made pottery had taken their tool. Ceramic tableware from the south, Wales, and even France flooded the market, and her father hadn’t been able to compete. Each time he travelled the ten miles to the weekly market at Leicester to sell his pots, he came home more dejected than the trip before, and with more and more unsold stock.
Last time her father had travelled into Leicester he’d returned home early, a desolate figure, with a cartload of broken pottery shards. A thief had struck in the market place, and in their unthinking eagerness to apprehend the villain the bailiff’s men had run roughshod through the stalls, toppling her father’s table as they went, leaving him with broken stock and an increasingly broken faith.
‘Our Lady,’ Mathilda muttered in the gloom, her voiced hushed in fear, ‘please deliver me from this place.’ Then, guilty at having asked for something so boldly from someone she’d begun to neglect of late, Mathilda added, ‘I’m sorry, Our Lady, forgive me. I’m frightened, that’s all. Perhaps, though, you could take care of my brothers and my father.’
Mathilda didn’t even know if any of her kin were still alive. The Folvilles’ reputation made it more than possible that they’d all been killed.
The men had taken her so easily; lifting her bodily from the water as if she was as light as air. Bundled into a covered wagon, Mathilda had been transported to the manor at Ashby Folville in the company of a large man who stank of fish. He’d tied her hands behind her back and sat over her, shoving a filthy rag between her lips to fend off the protests that failed to escape from her mouth.
The journey, although bumpy and bruising, couldn’t have been further than two miles. On arrival Mathilda had been untied and un-gagged and, having been thoroughly stared at from top to bottom by her impertinent guardian, who seemed to have the ability to see through her clothes to the flesh beneath, then wordlessly bundled below stairs to her current lonely location. Her stomach growled, complaining pointlessly at its emptiness. Mathilda was cross with herself. How could she even consider food when her family was in danger?
‘Just as well I don’t want to eat,’ she told herself sternly, ‘as I probably won’t ever see food again.’ Then she collapsed to the cold damp ground, the terror and shock of the morning abruptly washing over her in a wave of misery.
Mathilda had no idea how long she’d been in the cell when a large hand gripped her shoulder and shook her awake. Fear crept back over her like a heavy blanket as the light from the adjoining room illuminated the mocking face of her gaoler.
‘You’re wanted, girl.’ Dragging her by the arm, he took no notice of the fact he was bumping her legs against the stone steps as he removed her from her prison.
‘Where are you talking me?’ Mathilda’s voice wavered as she tried not to trip over her own feet.
‘You’ll see.’ Increasing the squeeze of her upper arm, he propelled Mathilda along a corridor, before pushing her before him into a large open hall, shouting ahead, ‘You want me to tie her up?’
Mathilda didn’t hear anyone answer. The hall was foggy from a poorly set fire, and it took her a few moments to take in her surroundings as she was pushed towards a long table. The smoke stung her eyes, and she blinked against the light.
Her arms and feet hadn’t been tied, but as a precaution against Mathilda’s potential escape, the surly man stood uncomfortably close to her. Now her senses were slowly coming back under her control, Mathilda recognised him as the person who’d stolen here from her home. The unpleasant odour of ale, sweat and fish made his identity as her original kidnapper unmistakable.
As the fishy aroma assaulted Mathilda’s nostrils once more, her thoughts flew to her brothers. Desperate for news of her family, she opened her mouth to speak, but another man raised his hand, warning for her to remain silent, before the words had chance to form.
Mathilda stared at the shape of this new figure came properly into focus through the smoke. He was finely dressed in a peacock blue cloak, with a green and brown tunic and matching hose. Despite the fine braiding around his collar, she could tell this was not a man of high birth, nor was he the sheriff or bailiff. This probably made him one of the lesser nobility or a public servant.
Swallowing nervously, Mathilda lowered her gaze to the floor in a natural response to before her betters – even if ‘betters’ was entirely the wrong description in this case. This man had to be a Folville. Mathilda began to shake with increased fear as a million possibilities of what might happen to her next flew around her brain. None of them were pleasant.
I hope that perked your interest!
Thanks again for letting me pop by Laura!
You can buy The Outlaw’s Ransom for your Kindle here –
Happy reading everyone,
Jennifer (aka Jenny!!) xx
You can find detail’s of Jennifer’s stories at www.jenniferash.co.uk
Jennifer also writes as Jenny Kane
Jenny Kane is the author the contemporary romance Another Glass of Champagne, (Accent Press, 2016), Christmas at the Castle (Accent Press, 2015), the bestselling novel Abi’s House (Accent Press, 2015), the modern/medieval time slip novel Romancing Robin Hood (Accent Press, 2014), the bestselling novel Another Cup of Coffee (Accent Press, 2013), and its novella length sequels Another Cup of Christmas (Accent Press, 2013), and Christmas in the Cotswolds (Accent, 2014).
Jenny’s fifth full length romance novel, Abi’s Neighbour, will be published in June 2017.
Jenny is also the author of quirky children’s picture books There’s a Cow in the Flat (Hushpuppy, 2014) and Ben’s Biscuit Tin (Hushpuppy, 2015)
Keep your eye on Jenny’s blog at www.jennykane.co.uk for more details.