Lady Margaret’s Escape
by Victoria Sportelli
Publication Date: September 24, 2020
Paperback & eBook; 376 pages
Series: Henry’s Spare Queen, Book One
Genre: Historical Fiction
A Desperate Midwife Bargains with a King
After suffering the loss of her first pregnancy, a son and heir to the English throne, Queen Matilda is once again with child. Overjoyed but cautious of another loss, King Henry seeks a skilled midwife to assist his wife throughout her pregnancy and labor. His search leads him to Margaret.
Margaret, once a woman of rank and leisure, has been betrayed by her father and made a common slave. The king’s dire need for a midwife provides her with an enticing opportunity to escape a life of servitude and return to her previous station, but first she must prove her worth and make a bargain with the devil.
King Henry is reluctant to haggle with the midwife, but when Margaret reveals her suspicions of foul play being the cause of the queen’s previous loss, his mind is made up. Not only will Margaret attend the queen, her fate with be tied to the queen’s – and that of their unborn babe. Deliver a healthy heir and King Henry will reward Margaret with the return of her rank, social status and wealth. Fail, and her life will be forfeit.
The two women are sent to a secret forest retreat to wait out Queen Matilda’s confinement away from the conspiracies and dangers of court life. Meanwhile, Henry’s brother Robert invades England to seize Henry’s crown and Margaret begins to fear she has allied herself with the wrong ruler.
Will Margaret earn her freedom…or a severed head?
Pick up Lady Margaret’s Escape today and experience the perils of living in medieval England.
Note: This novel includes the death of an infant which may be a trigger for some readers.
Lady Margaret’s Escape
Chapter 9 Excerpt
Copyright 2020 Victoria Sportelli 750 Words
After a time, the king’s head appeared in the stairwell. He was looking at and bending toward one behind him. Margaret made a deep curtsey and remained there with her eyes on the floor even as she burned to look up.
“My Queen, I present the Lady Margaret.”
“Your Royal Highness, if you will but permit me to serve you, I—”
“Rise, Lady Margaret. What are those smells?”
“Mutton stew and fresh bread, Your Royal Highness.”
Margaret stood and looked at the woman she was trying to save. Shaken by the queen’s hard stare, Margaret looked down and then up only as far as the queen’s chin. Margaret saw rich green and creme fabrics beneath a sable-trimmed mantle, which was held together at her shoulder with a many-jeweled brooch that looked like a circle of stones in a stained-glass window. The queen’s necklace was three gold chains of differing lengths, each heavily braided. She is measuring me. I am not good enough. I know it.
“May Dena take your mantle?”
The queen undid the brooch, removed the garment and held it from her, all without looking away from Margaret. Dena sidled to the group, silently took it and disappeared.
“If you please, I have mugs of cool, watered wine.”
“We will take them in the chairs,” said the king.
Margaret waited for the royals to seat themselves before she turned for the tray Dena was already holding for her. At the king’s wave, she approached the royals and curtseyed exactly halfway between each of them.
“Well done,” the queen sneered.
Margaret’s spine curved down as she shrink at the insult. She waited for the couple to pick up their drinks then lowered the tray to her side. Margaret backed well down the hall and out of the royals’ lines of sight before she turned and silently stepped to the fireplace to hand Dena the tray. While the couple sipped, they held an unspoken conversation, eyes glancing, tiny shrugs, slight waves of a hand. A file of Saxons stepped out of the stairwell and set down pieces of a bed frame, ropes, chests, chairs, rolled tapestries, and five chests. Two waited by the pile as the rest disappeared. At the queen’s hand wave, Margaret approached and curtsied.
The queen sighed. “Once a day will do unless it is a formal occasion or guests are present.”
Margaret stood and stared at her clasped hands.
“Only this room?”
“No, Your Royal Highness. May I show you a sleeping space behind the fireplace?”
The queen rose and arched her back to release journey-stiffened muscles. Margaret motioned to the archway. The queen walked toward it. “Your Royal Highness, may I?” asked Margaret as she gestured toward the mantle and the lit candle she had left for just this purpose. At the king’s nod, she stood tiptoe and reached for the holder. Before she could move away, the king touched her free hand. Margaret froze.
“Remember my command. If you must choose, save my son. For now, you had best step softly. She is not happy.”
Margaret nodded at him. When she looked up, she saw the queen watching them. She ducked her head, hid her free hand behind her and stepped away from the king’s chair. The queen pointed to the hole in the floor.
“The well is in the donjon below, Your Royal Highness.”
At the queen’s curt gesture, Margaret stepped through the archway and raised the candle high. The queen brushed past her. Even though she only looked at the floor, Margaret felt the queen’s hard stare.
We may never be alone again. Say it now. Be honest.
“The king said you are not happy.”
“What else did he say?”
“He told me to step softly.”
“How long have you known His Royal Highness?”
Margaret thought for a moment as she counted the days. She saw the queen noticed how she counted on her fingers. “Eleven or twelve days, Your Royal Highness. He came to Sir Charles’ estate, Royal Oaks, looking for my mother to aid you. When he learned she had trained me before her death, he asked me to come in her stead.”
Margaret waited for a response but got none. What does she think of me? Of this place? I have no more authority here. I am but a servant again, a servant still. He said he needed me, but she is in charge.
About the Author
Ms. Sportelli, who loves to share her knowledge of English history, has concluded that Henry I was an under-rated king who struggled to keep his throne amid conflicts between Normans and Saxons. She writes of the era in novels featuring Lady Margaret, King Henry and Queen Matilda.
A life-long Anglophile, Ms. Sportelli loves British manners, folklore, customs, history, and humor; she watches every British film, television, show and documentary she can find.
Ms Sportelli has both children and grandchildren. She has taken seven trips to eight western European countries and loves England and Italy the most.
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