Thursday, February 28, 2013

Strong is Sexy Heroine of the Week: Eleanor Elder

Book: Feud
Author: Derek Birks
Heroine: Eleanor Elder

She is a young, beautiful, strong willed redhead who regards herself as the equal of any man. For the later middle ages she is unconventional – even outrageous.

She has had a largely misspent youth but it is brought to an abrupt halt in 1459 as the Wars of the Roses begin. Eleanor’s family is attacked by the Radcliffes, a neighbouring family out to settle old scores. Her father and eldest brother are killed and the estates seized. Eleanor is captured and sent to a nunnery where the Prioress harbours a grudge against the Elder family and Eleanor, to say the least, finds life difficult. Eleanor’s struggle mirrors that of her brother, Ned, who is fighting for his life in the wars and her sister who is forced into a marriage with one of the Radcliffes.  

She is prepared to tough it out with anyone and use her body as a weapon if need be. She takes no prisoners. However, her strength lies in her sheer will to survive and her determination to overcome her enemies to be reunited with her brother and sister.

It would be a massive spoiler to include a description of her pivotal role in the denouement of the story – so I won’t! But the extract below I think gives an accurate impression of her inner strength.
FeudWhen Ned Elder’s father and brother are murdered and his sisters abducted by his brutal neighbours the Radcliffes, the young knight is forced to flee from his home. His sister Emma is torn from the quiet harmony of her household and forced into marriage. Eleanor, her wild and beautiful younger sister, is condemned to austere imprisonment in a remote nunnery. However, neither Ned nor his sisters are willing to concede all to the Radcliffes without a fight. And so the feud begins …

But in 1459 England stands on the brink of chaos as the most powerful nobleman in the land, Richard of York, and the weak king, Henry of Lancaster, prepare to settle their differences on the battlefield. 

The fate of Ned and those dear to him hangs upon more than just his skill with a sword, but on the courage and tenacity of his sisters and the small band who travel with him, as the feud of Elders and Radcliffes is played out amid the blood and misery of civil war.

The Nunnery in North Wales, November 1460
  A small bead of perspiration dropped from her forehead and splashed onto the stone floor; in the darkness Eleanor couldn’t see it but she knew the growing damp patch would be there. She flexed her arms, forcing her body up and then lowering it again; raising, lowering, raising again, relentlessly working her body as more sweat accumulated beneath her. Soon she could smell it, just as she could feel the sinews stretch and bend, for in the hours of the night she could indulge her senses: she could feel and she could dream.
  But during the day she conformed. She hated it but she conformed. She attended the procession of daily services and carried out her work, which was usually spinning and always tedious. The first months had depressed her: there was so much silence – she thought she might drown in the silence. If it wasn’t silence then it was listening to some turgid reading. Well, she didn’t exactly listen.
  In those early, angry days Edwina had kept her apart from the other inmates and put her in a tiny cell on her own. Yet it was not quite the penance the prioress had intended, for in time Eleanor filled her nights alone with everything the church condemned most. It started on a warm autumn night when she removed her woollen habit and wimple and in the darkness explored her naked body; she was distressed to discover that in only a month or so it had become soft and flaccid.  So at once she lay down on the cold stone by her bed and began to exercise her limbs. That night she carried on until she could no longer push herself up from the floor.
  Now, on this cool November night almost a year later, her body was trimmed to lean muscle: her jaw was tight, honing a hard edge to her face and her legs were as strong and supple as willow. She ceased her exertions and reached in the pitch black for the bowl of water. She cupped the water into her hands and poured it over her hair so that it trickled down cold onto her warm back and breasts. Then she wiped off the water and sweat with a linen cloth and lay down on her bed pulling a single blanket over her.
Her body was still tingling and she ached for Will. She had learned much from the Yoredale midwife about being with a man, but it turned out that the most useful thing the old woman had confided in her was how to do without a man: ‘my dear young lady, you’d be surprised what you can do with oil - a little oil can go a very long way.’ Indeed it could and when she went to the chapel for Matins in the small hours of the morning she was still glowing.

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