Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas! I hope this holiday season finds you well, and surrounded by those you love. It’s a time of year to count our blessings, and I have plenty this year – including all of you! Thank you for reading my books, for stopping by here to chat, and for having fun with me online. It’s been a wonderful year.

The Snow White Bride, third in the Jewels of Kinfairlie series of medieval romances by Claire DelacroixYesterday, Sharon shared a video from the CBC on Facebook of the Mummers’ Parade in Newfoundland. Mumming is a medieval holiday tradition, so I thought I’d share the mummer’s scene from The Snow White Bride with you today. It’s the current featured title in my #XmasAudio giveaway and a book set in medieval Scotland at Christmas. This scene ends with a bit of a hook – you’ll need to read the book to discover Alexander’s plan!

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Happy reading and happy holidays!

An excerpt from The Snow White Bride by Claire Delacroix.

Eleanor pushed the meat from her side of the trencher to Alan’s side. He ate it with undisguised enthusiasm, seemingly oblivious to her discontent.

But then, she had not expected any other response from him. He saw the prospect of wealth in her, a curve of breast that meant the task of getting a son upon her would not be so onerous, and little else.

No one had troubled to tempt her smile. No one in Tivotdale had even taken note of her unhappiness. No one cared what she thought, what she felt, whether she felt welcomed or at home. Five years ago, when she had sat at this same table at Ewen’s side, she had never felt the lack, but now Eleanor felt it keenly.

She missed Kinfairlie and its easy camaraderie, the affection between its people and its ruling family. She missed the Lammergeier sisters, their compassion for a stranger and their willingness to make her feel one of their family. And she missed Alexander with a painful vigor, his confidence, his laughter, his attention to her.

She was convinced she would never see the stars from Tivotdale, not in the eyes of any man, not in the gaze of any maiden, confident and merry, not even in the sky above.

There was singing suddenly, carrying from the short corridor outside the great hall. The sound was so delightful that Eleanor thought she imagined it, for such merriment could not belong at Tivotdale.

“With a rink tink tink,
For sup or drink,
we will make the old bell sound.
A merry Christmas to you all,
and may happiness abound.”

A bell sounded suddenly, drawing the attention of all, even the most drunken mercenary in the great hall. A man with a red turban, tall boots and a blackened face stepped confidently into the chamber. There were bells on the hem of his tabard, but they were not the source of the ringing sound. He stood with an expectant manner while his fellows—evidently still outside the chamber—sang the verse again.

There was something familiar in his cocksure stance, though Eleanor did not dare to name it.

The company gathered at Tivotdale began to nudge each other at this prospect of entertainment, and even Alan sat back with a cup of ale and smiled. He beckoned to the man, who bowed low with such grace that Eleanor’s heart skipped a beat.

It could not be Alexander, not truly. She bit her lip and fought to appear indifferent, even as she studied the man.

The new arrival brandished his broom with authority and began to sweep the hall as he sang his verse.
“Room, room, gentlemen, room do I obtain,
For after me steps Galgacus and all his royal train.
A battle you will soon see of fearsome might,
Between Galgacus and the Black Knight.
If you do not believe what I now say,
Step in, Galgacus, and clear the way.”

He stepped to one side, tucking his broom under his elbow with a jaunty gesture, and threw out his hand to indicate the portal. A man stepped through the doorway and looked from one side to the other with a fearsome scowl. His armor was wrought of kitchen pots tied together, their bottoms blacked with use, which made the company of mercenaries laugh. His face, too, was blackened, but Eleanor scarce breathed.

It was Malcolm. She knew it well.

She forced herself to appear only mildly interested in the proceedings, though her heart had begun to race. Alexander not only lived, but he had come for her! She could not guess his scheme, but there was a good chance of success given the drunken state of Alan’s mercenaries.

Why, though, did he attack within the Holy Days? It was forbidden, and though she was glad he had come, she feared for his immortal soul in making such a choice.

She picked at her meat, as if desultory.

“You should watch,” Alan chided. “This will cost me good coin, in the end.”

Eleanor shrugged. “I do not care for such follies.”

Alan shook his head and turned back to the pair on the floor, apparently fascinated.

The Black Knight then sang.
“In I come, I am the Black Knight,
Come to this land to wage a good fight.
I will fight Galgacus on this spot,
That valiant man of courage bold.
Let his blood be ever so hot,
I will shortly see it cold.”

Alexander then feigned surprise, and sang.
“Galgacus? Galgacus stands outside the door!
He will see this braggart dead on the floor.”

A man bounded through the portal, a pot on his head for a helmet but chain mail on his chest. He brandished a weapon which looked genuine enough to Eleanor’s eyes. She had to peer at his blackened face, but she was fairly certain that he was Kinfairlie’s miller.
“Galgacus am I, and in I stride,
A noble champion and bold.
With my loyal blade by my side,
I won three crowns of gold.
’Twas I that killed the infidels
And brought dozens of them to slaughter
’Tis I that by this fight
Mean to win the King’s own daughter.”

A familiar figure stepped into the room and fluttered his lashes. It was the ostler, Owen, those two loaves of bread in his chemise once more. He bowed and one leaped free, compelling him to crawl after it under the benches.

Alan’s men laughed heartily and Malcolm sang again.
“Galgacus calls himself a champion,
I think myself as good.
Before I surrender to him
I will lose my precious blood.”

He lifted his sword and the two would-be combatants sang in unison.
“Battle, battle, I will cry,
To see which on the ground shall lie!”

They lunged at each other and their blades clashed. Their swordplay took them back and forth across the hall, their every gesture exaggerated. Though the mercenaries laughed at their antics, Eleanor saw skill in their battle, particularly from Malcolm. He stumbled and rolled, he scrambled out of the way of the miller’s assault with the agility of a cat. He hid behind a serving wench and must have pinched her buttocks, for she squealed and struck him. His astonished expression made the mercenaries howl with laughter.

He fell then, before his opponent’s blade was even close to him and the miller froze. “You were not supposed to fall as yet,” he whispered, then spared a glance to the watchful company.

Malcolm sat up. “Just strike me dead now then,” he whispered, his words loud enough for all to hear. “No one will notice.”

“They cannot even show the competence to feign a fight,” Alan muttered with a shake of his head. He drained his cup.

The miller looked around in apparent despair, then bent low. “But where is the bladder? How will they know you to be dead if you do not bleed?”

Malcolm looked suddenly dismayed. He searched under the myriad pots of his armor, then held up a something that looked like a stuffed sausage. Both men’s faces lit with triumph.

Malcolm leaped to his feet and they battled again, apparently repeating the part that they had done incorrectly.

Galgacus stabbed his blade into the sausage, missed and his blade clanged on a pot. The Black Knight fell all the same, despite having no injury, then pointed insistently to the sausage perched on his chest. Galgacus stabbed again and this time pierced the sausage, which spurted something red all over the floor.

The company cheered, as much at the illusion of a genuine wound as the fact that they had gotten it right. Galgacus then bent his head beside his fallen opponent, apparently filled with remorse at his accomplishment.
“Gentlemen all, see what I have done,
I have cut the Black Knight down!
Is there a sorcerer that can be found?
To cure this noble knight on the ground?”

He turned and appealed to the hall, and every man there looked about himself. A cloaked figure stepped into the hall then and raised his hands. Even his blackened features could not disguise Father Malachy from Eleanor’s detection. He spun as he sang, his cloak swirling in a great arc as he crossed the floor.
“There is a sorcerer to be found
To cure this noble knight on the ground.”

He stopped beside the fallen Black Knight and looked upon him in apparent surprise. Alexander stepped forward.
“But what can you cure, oh sorcerer?”

Father Malachy nodded confidentially to the crowd.
“I can cure all diseases you hear about
I can cure the hitch, the stitch, the palsy and the gout.
Raging pain both inside and out.
If a devil is in a man, I can fetch him out.”

Alexander and the miller nodded appreciatively at this and Father Malachy sang on.
“Give me an old woman four score and ten
And I will make her young and plump again.”

“I have need of that talent!” a bold man in the company cried and the others laughed.

“Take my wife, then,” shouted another, to the amusement of all.

Alexander raised his voice again.
“But how will you cure him, sorcerer?”

 Father Malachy lifted a finger.
“I have a hundred potions,
And spells three times three.
But I shall confess to thee:
There is no better cure
Than potent
eau-de-vie,
Especially that from Sicily.”

He pulled out a wineskin with a triumphant gesture, tipped it and squirted a measure of it into his own mouth. He shook his head, as if impressed by its potency, then squirted it at the fallen knight. He missed that man’s mouth, which left the “dead” man groping for his cure like a fish cast out of water.

The company roared, no less when the Black Knight bounced to his feet hale again. Instead of that cured man singing his lines, the sorcerer sang his last verse again.
“I have a hundred potions,
And spells three times three.
But I shall confess to thee:
There is no better cure
Than potent
eau-de-vie,
Especially that from Sicily.”

And he squirted a measure of eau-de-vie at the mercenary at the closest table. That man caught the liquid in his mouth, then his face lit with pleasure.

“It is eau-de-vie in truth!” he bellowed, opening his mouth for more.

The sorcerer obliged and soon the hall was clamoring for the expensive and uncommon liquor.

“I have need of a cure!” shouted a man on the either side of the hall.

“As do I!”

The company of entertainers seemed prepared to share their rare libation. More characters with blackened faces strode into the hall, each singing a ditty of introduction which was lost in the noise of the hall.

Meanwhile, Alexander passed out wineskins to his companions and soon there were arches of potent liquor flying through the air in all directions. In moments, Alan’s mercenaries had eau-de-vie all over their faces and their tabards, but not a one of them cared. Alexander’s men had brought a lot of the liquor, which told Eleanor that her husband had a scheme.

Eleanor noticed that a great deal of the eau-de-vie was spilled on the linens upon the tables in the same moment she heard the bell in Tivotdale’s church striking the hour.

One, two, three, four.

“Enough!” Alan roared as chaos claimed his hall. Alexander pivoted and sent a long stream of liquor directly at Alan’s mouth, silencing any protest with a gurgle. Eleanor stifled her smile, for it was a poor move to laugh at the expense of this man, just as it had been to find amusement in his brother’s deeds.

Five, six, seven, eight.

There were nigh thirty performers in Tivotdale’s hall now, making a broad circle in the midst of the hall. At least half had moved around the perimeter of the hall unnoticed, for the attention of every man in the hall was focused on the unexpected bounty of liquor.

Nine, ten.

“Something is amiss,” Alan said abruptly, rising to his feet. Eleanor feared that any scheme was doomed, for he laid his hand upon the hilt of his blade.

Eleven, twelve. At the last ring, Eleanor realized the truth. The Holy Days were over. The injunction against warfare no long applied.

As the last strike sounded, Alexander stepped forward. He emptied his wineskin upon Alan, making no effort to aim for that man’s mouth. Alan sputtered in indignation to find himself sodden with liquor, but before he could speak, Alexander winked.

©2005, 2012, Claire Delacroix, Inc.

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