Since Tara, the original owner of this blog, is a huge fan of historical romance author Christina Courtenay, I (Shomeret) agreed to this guest post promoting her most recent novel,
The sensation intensified when he passed the
ruins of Raglan Castle, silhouetted against the bright morning sky. There was
something oddly familiar about the view and his gaze was drawn to the ragged
contours of its towers, which must once have been magnificent. A strange
mixture of emotions assailed him: longing, apprehension, anger, fear and …
attraction? He had to force himself to concentrate on the road, rather than
turn and look back.
What was the matter with him? He must be more
tired than he thought.
Following the satnav lady’s instructions, he
continued on towards Abergavenny and the further into Wales he travelled, the
stronger the sense of belonging became. He decided it had to be his grandpa’s
fault – his mother’s father had hailed from somewhere near here and he’d filled
Josh’s head with stories of this magical place.
‘You’ve Welsh blood in your veins, boy, don’t
forget,’ Grandpa used to say every time he told him about his homeland. Josh
wondered why the old man had stayed in New Zealand if he loved the country of
his birth so much, but he’d never dared to ask.
Arriving at his destination at last, Josh
climbed out of the rental car and stared up at the house he’d come to see. No,
not house – mansion. Or castle even? Although he’d entered the stable yard and
could only see the building side on, it was clear that it was a huge property.
He’d have to follow the road round to the front to see the rest, but he was
already impressed and not a little disconcerted.
‘Bloody hell!’ he muttered. This was not what
he’d expected at all.
‘Good morning! Can I help you?’
Josh turned to find a weather-beaten old man
coming towards him from the direction of the gardens. He was still so dazed by
the sight of Merrick Court – what he could see of it so far anyway – that he
hadn’t heard the man’s footsteps. ‘Morning. Yes, I’ve come to look at the
house,’ he said, closing his door and locking the car. It seemed easier to
leave it here and walk round to the front.
‘I’m sorry, but it’s not open to the public.
It’s private. The gardens too.’ The old man shrugged. ‘But I can offer you a
cup of tea if you like, seeing as you’ve had a wasted journey? Least I can do.’
Josh smiled. ‘That’s very kind, but I think you
misunderstand. I’m not a tourist.’
‘Sure sound like one, if you don’t mind me
saying.’ Deep-set blue eyes crinkled at the corners. ‘Australian?’
‘Nah, Kiwi.’ Josh swallowed a sigh. Why couldn’t
the Poms tell the difference?
‘Ah, right. Well, if you’d like to come this
way, please? I’ve got a kettle in the potting shed.’
‘But I … oh, all right then. Cheers.’ Josh
decided some tea would be nice after the long drive from London and he wasn’t
in any particular hurry. In fact, it would be great to have a bit of a breather
while he recovered from the shock of seeing the property for the first time.
He followed the
old guy into what looked more like a huge workshop than a shed. It was part of
the stable block, next door to a greenhouse, and filled with tools of all
kinds. The floor was made of old bricks laid in a herringbone pattern, swept
clean, and the walls were whitewashed with implements hanging in orderly rows.
Several workbenches lined the room and pieces of wood were stacked in one
‘Take a seat, please. I’m Bryn Jones, gardener
The old man’s melodic Welsh accent put Josh in
mind of his grandfather again. Bryn looked to be in his mid- to late-seventies
and age was beginning to take its toll, but there was still a twinkle in the
man’s eyes and his complexion was a healthy colour. As it should be in a man
who’d presumably worked outdoors for most of his life.
‘Josh Owens.’ He waited for Bryn’s reaction to
his name, but nothing happened, so he added, ‘I’m the new owner of the estate.’
‘Eh?’ Bryn swivelled round so fast he almost
dropped the mug he was holding. ‘You’re the new Lord Merrick?’
‘Seems like it.’
‘Well, I never! You should’ve said right off.’
Bryn was still standing with the mug in his hand, as if shocked into
Josh smiled. ‘You didn’t really give me a
chance. I did say I’d come to look at the house. I need to see what state it’s
in before I sell it.’
‘S-sell it?’ Bryn scowled. ‘But … there’ve
always been Merrick lords yere, ever since the Conquest, like!’
Josh shrugged. He
had no idea what conquest that might be and didn’t really care. ‘I wouldn’t
know. I only just found out I was related to them. Came as a bit of a surprise,
Bryn had recovered enough to continue with the
tea making, but he was still frowning. ‘You had no idea you was the heir?’
‘No. My father never mentioned it so the letter
from the solicitor arrived out of the blue. I didn’t even know what an entail
was.’ He’d had to look it up – the whole concept of something being inherited
only by males seemed outdated to him. Crazy. Only the Poms would cling to such
an old-fashioned rule. Not that he should be complaining since he was profiting
from it, but still … He’d bet there had to be a female somewhere who was
seriously pissed off.
‘It was a bit of a
shock to the people yere too, I can tell you,’ Bryn
muttered. ‘And it took them lawyers ages to find you.’
‘Ah, yeah well, that was my fault. I’ve been
travelling non-stop for the last six months. I wanted to see the world before I
got too old. I hadn’t left a forwarding address so didn’t get the letters until
I came back.’
‘Oh, right. So will you be going back to New
Zealand then?’ Bryn handed Josh his tea and offered him a biscuit from a
well-worn tin. They looked home-made so Josh didn’t hesitate to take one.
‘Cheers. As for going back, I wouldn’t have a
clue. Nothing to go back to, really.’ Josh had lived there his whole life, but
it didn’t feel like home any more. There were various, complicated, reasons for
that which Bryn didn’t need to know. ‘I might travel some more first.’
Bryn looked as though he wanted to ask further
questions, but either didn’t dare or was too polite – probably the latter. For
some reason that made Josh relent and tell the old man part of the story even
though it was a painful subject.
‘I inherited a sheep station from my father when
he died recently, but I didn’t want it because … well, we didn’t get on.’
That was the understatement of the year – he’d hated his father with a vengeance.
‘A sheep station?’
‘Yeah, kind of like a big farm or ranch just for
rearing sheep and cattle. Fifteen thousand square kilometres of grazing land
south-west of Christchurch, on the South Island.’ It sounded like a lot, but
there were bigger ones.
Bryn stared at him. ‘Goodness! Not that I know
how much a kilometre is, mind, but … you said no to that? Even though it
was your da’s?’
‘Well, not exactly – I’m not that stupid.’ Josh
smiled. ‘I accepted the inheritance but I didn’t want to keep anything that had
belonged to him so I sold it to a cousin on my grandmother’s side – my father’s
mother, that is. Made me feel slightly less guilty for letting the family
Not that there was anyone left to chastise him –
they were all dead – but he’d sensed the disapproval of the spirits roaming the
old farmstead and knew they weren’t happy about his decision. His family had
owned the land for over a hundred years. Fields, hills, valleys and streams,
with brooding snow-capped mountains in the distance – it was a beautiful place,
typical of New Zealand. But he couldn’t keep it. Despite the blood ties, he
didn’t belong there.
True, he was the only son and heir, it was his
responsibility to continue the line, but he didn’t care. That was just
old-school bollocks. He’d tried to settle there, he really had, but the
memories of a childhood filled with violence and rows wouldn’t leave him. And
the hatred for his father, the man he’d inherited the property from,
obliterated any feelings he might have had for the land.
‘I see,’ Bryn said, and Josh had the feeling the
old gardener really did understand. His keen eyes saw more than most people’s.
He didn’t voice the obvious – that it was ironic Josh had now inherited
something even bigger because of his father. But Josh much preferred to think
of this as coming from other ancestors further back.
He changed the subject. ‘So do you have the keys
to the house? The solicitor said they’d be here.’
‘Er, no. Lady Merrick keeps them but I
should think she’s still asleep.’
It was Josh’s turn to stare. ‘Come again?
The … what do you call her? Dowager? She’s still here? The lawyer didn’t
say anything about that. Only told me she’d inherited the contents of the house
and I get the rest.’ He hadn’t been bothered about that as he wasn’t planning
on living here anyway and it seemed only fair the poor woman should have
Bryn shook his head. ‘No, she’s living at the
Court. Hasn’t been asked to move out, so far as I know.’
‘Bugger.’ This was a complication he could do
without. And why hadn’t the lawyer told him? Although to be fair, Josh had been
in a bit of a hurry and hadn’t given the man much chance to speak. He’d more or
less just signed the documents and left with the directions on how to find
‘Uhm, I should perhaps tell you …’ Bryn
looked away. ‘The thing is, her ladyship is a bit fragile at the moment. She
took it hard, you know, losing her husband so suddenly, like. Maybe you
could … go easy on her?’
grieving, eh? Of course, I understand. But she can’t stay here forever.’ Josh
wasn’t unfeeling, but he needed to sell the house. Surely the woman would
appreciate that? He had no idea how old she was, but maybe she could go into a
home for the elderly or something, unless she owned property elsewhere. Either way,
it wasn’t his problem.
‘No, no, but if you could give her a little more
time? And I’ll need to find somewhere else to live too. My cottage comes with
the job and I don’t suppose any new owner would want to take on an old relic
‘Oh. Yeah. Right.’ Josh was taken aback. He
hadn’t thought about the fact that he’d be doing the old man out of a job and a
home. Not that Bryn ought to be working at his age … Something else
occurred to him. ‘Is there anyone else employed here?’ Was he turfing out a whole
load of staff by selling up? It was becoming clear he hadn’t thought this
‘No, just me.’
‘You look after this whole garden all by
yourself?’ From what Josh had seen, it was massive.
‘I do what I can. There’s no money for extra
help. Hasn’t been for years.’ Bryn gave a small smile. ‘And there’s a fair bit
to do, as you can imagine. In fact, I’d best be getting on with it.’
‘So you reckon I should wait a while before
going to see the house?’
Bryn checked his watch. ‘Like I said,
Lady M has been a bit delicate and I hardly ever see her until after
lunch, but she’s got visitors at the moment so she may be up earlier …’
The thought of disturbing a grieving widow and a
bunch of strangers dampened Josh’s desire to see his inheritance. Besides, it
was a beautiful spring day and here was an old man who very obviously needed
some help. He made up his mind. ‘Maybe I can lend a hand for a bit then? It’ll
be good to do some work for a change. I’ve been travelling for so long I’ve
forgotten what that’s like. I could do with some fresh air and a workout.’
‘I can’t let you do that!’ Confusion flitted
across Bryn’s face. ‘Although …’
Josh grinned. ‘Yeah – I can do what I want in my
own garden and right now I feel like a bit of digging. Give me a spade and
point me in the right direction.’ He guessed tasks like that were getting to be
too much for the old gardener.
An answering smile lit up Bryn’s features.
‘Well, if you insist. This way, my lord.’
‘Josh, please! We don’t do titles where I come
‘You might have to get used to it,’ Bryn
‘No way.’ But Josh was starting to realise there
were quite a few things he hadn’t reckoned with and being called a lord was
only one of them.
Raglan Castle, 22nd May 1646
‘My lord, I
regret to inform you that apart from Oxford there are only a handful of
strongholds still loyal to the king at this time – Pendennis Castle down in
Cornwall, Harlech up in north-west Wales and your own domain here at Raglan,
plus Goodrich Castle. Unless help arrives from foreign shores, the king’s cause
seems rather hopeless right now.’ Rhys tried not to sound too downhearted at
the news he brought, but it was difficult to desist. As far as he was
concerned, things weren’t just hopeless – all was lost. It was only a matter of
It was just after midnight and he had finally
been granted a meeting with Lord Worcester, after kicking his heels all evening
in the Long Gallery. Beautiful though this chamber was, with its huge windows
and intricately carved fireplace supported by sculptures at either end, he
would have preferred to get the interview over with. The information he had was
definitely not what the marquis would want to hear. Everyone was despondent and
the best course for any Royalist would be to gather what riches he could and
flee the country while it was still possible. Somehow he doubted Lord Worcester
would agree though. From what he’d heard, the old man was as stubborn as they
came and stuck to his family’s motto – ‘Mutare vel timere
sperno’ meaning ‘I scorn to change or to fear’.
As he’d gazed out the windows at the back of the
Gallery while waiting, Rhys had seen the Black Mountains looming in the
distance, a mere shadowy outline in the hazy light of the evening. A longing
for his own home, in a valley on the other side of those hills, tore through
him at the familiar sight but he suppressed it. He was never going back. His
brother owned everything now and he’d made it clear Rhys wasn’t welcome.
‘Anyone who goes off to fight for that useless
king is a fool,’ Gwilum had shouted four years ago. ‘What’s he ever done for us
Welshmen? He’s never been interested in this part of the country. No, anyone
with any sense will stay put yere.’
‘That’s not what Father would have said,’ Rhys
had pointed out. Their father had been an ardent Royalist and had brought up
his sons to honour their sovereign.
‘The old man was misguided, as are you,’ was
Gwilum’s reply. ‘So go if you want to, but don’t expect to be given houseroom
here when you return with your tail between your legs.’
Rhys had ignored his brother and followed a path
his father would have approved of, though much good it had done him so far. All
he had to show for it was a knighthood. There were no lands to go with it, no
riches. Hell, he could barely feed himself and his horse. Suppressing a sigh,
he steered his thoughts back to the matter at hand now.
‘Hopeless, you say? Nothing is ever hopeless
until the end,’ Lord Worcester was saying as he winced and moved one foot
slightly. Rhys had been told the old man suffered from gout, which wasn’t to be
wondered at. He was nearly three score and ten apparently, a great age. And if
age wasn’t the cause, then it was probably good living – his lordship was
definitely a bit too stout for his own good.
Rhys bowed to acknowledge that the marquis was
entitled to his opinion and he wasn’t going to argue with him. ‘You don’t think
perhaps the ladies of the castle ought to be sent away at this time? For their
safety, I mean.’ For some reason a particular lady’s face came into his mind,
as it had done at regular intervals ever since he’d first met her that
Mistress Dauncey – Arabella – was a rare beauty,
with big blue eyes and long brown lashes under fine brows, rich honey-coloured
hair and a tempting figure. It wasn’t just her outward attributes that had
attracted him though, but the intelligence he’d seen lurking in those
forget-me-not eyes. He’d enjoyed conversing with her; she caught on quickly and
didn’t simper or flirt. Very refreshing. Although he’d felt she was holding
something back, a secret concerning her background perhaps, but this only
intrigued him further. He wanted to find out what it was. Wanted to know
everything about her … He became aware that the marquis was speaking to
him again and tried to concentrate.
‘… and where would I send them? I can’t spare
any men for escort duty, they’re all needed here. No, the ladies will be safe
with us. I’ll make sure of it.’
Again Rhys didn’t protest. What could he say? It
wasn’t for him to point out that he doubted the marquis would have much choice
in the matter if the Parliamentarians had their way, which seemed all too
‘Will you permit me to stay here and give what
assistance I can then?’ Rhys found himself saying. When he’d arrived earlier,
he hadn’t made up his mind whether to remain or not. Reason told him to cut his
losses and try his luck in France or Holland as a mercenary, but somehow he
couldn’t bring himself to leave now. It seemed cowardly, even though the odds
were definitely against them.
‘Of course, we’d be
happy to have you, young man.’ Lord Worcester smiled for the first time. ‘Make
yourself at home. I’m sure the garrison could do with another officer. You’ve
been fighting with the Prince Palatine’s troops, you said?’
‘Yes, I’ve been with Prince Rupert’s cavalry since
’42. He’s still at Oxford, or he was the last I heard.’ Rhys knew the prince
had given up hope too so it was possible he’d already left the country. It made
no difference now and Rhys wasn’t going back. They’d said their goodbyes,
parting as friends since they’d got on very well throughout their time fighting
‘Good, good. We need all the experienced men we
can find. Report to my son, Lord Charles, in the morning. He’s in charge.’
‘Very well. Thank you, my lord.’
‘No, thank you. I
appreciate you bringing me news.’
Rhys believed him and he couldn’t help but like
the irascible old man. There was spirit in him and a sincere trust that what he
was doing was right. Rhys only wished he could be as certain, but he’d made his
choice. Now all he had to do was see it through to the end.
That might be sooner than the marquis thought.
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