Today I welcome Tracy Warr to my blog, where I will be sharing an excusive extract from her new novel, Conquest: The Anarchy. Scroll down to read a passage from what promises to be an intriguing read!
Chapter 8 – Gisulf’s Box
Haith found Gisulf’s house on the edge of the city, close to a stinking and clogged ditch in the vicinity of Smithfield. Haith wondered at the choice of location. This place was as far away as it was possible to be from the royal palace and administrative offices at Westminster where Gisulf’s duties as royal clerk had lain when the king was in residence. From the outside, the house had an air of neglect. Haith banged on the door, which quivered on loose hinges beneath his fist. The person on the other side of the portal took their time opening up. Haith regarded the door with scepticism. It was so badly maintained and flimsy that a quick kick would have easily collapsed it, despite the barrage of locks that he could hear being unlocked and the bolts being slid back.
The door opened a crack and the hostile gaze of a very fat and slovenly looking woman scoured Haith from head to foot. Finally, she asked him his business.
‘I am on the king’s business, madam,’ Haith told her. She looked alarmed. ‘I am required to collect all papers belonging to Gisulf the clerk, who formerly lived here.’
‘We don’t want no Flemings here,’ she blurted, voicing the prejudice of many Londoners against the foreign traders and especially against the numerous Flemings. ‘Get away.’
She began to close the door and Haith inserted a boot in the gap. ‘I told you, madam, I am on the king’s business. I am one of his sheriffs.’ Haith neglected to mention that his shrievalty was far away in south-west Wales.
‘Master Gisulf told me that he held this soke from the archbishop of Canterbury himself and no writ, not even the king’s runs here. Get away or I’ll be calling the reeve on you.’ Her words were bold, but the fear in her face told a different story. She must have been holed up here for the last year, since report of Gisulf’s drowning would have reached her, just waiting for the day when an official of some sort would knock on the door and turf her into the street.
Gisulf’s burh was a defensible walled house, and during his lifetime it would have been staffed with guards and well-nigh impossible to breach but Haith had the impression that following her master’s death, this slatternly woman was the only person remaining. Gisulf’s other household staff would have long since left when the payment of wages abruptly dried up.
‘I know the law,’ she went on. ‘No one can be arrested in their house in a soke. It’s protected, private property. Only place you can arrest me is standing in the middle of the road.’
‘Well, perhaps you would care to step out and join me here, then,’ countered Haith in exasperation. ‘What are you defending woman?’ He tried another tack. ‘Your master is dead. I have been instructed to search his papers in case he has left bequests for his retainers that must be honoured before his affairs are wound up and this very soke is returned to the jurisdiction of the archbishop.’
She heard the twin hint of something in it for her and the threat of eviction and gaped at him for a long moment, perplexed. ‘Master Gisulf didn’t want anyone knowing he was secreted away here,’ she complained, ‘but, true enough, he’s dead now.’ She opened the door to allow Haith over the threshold.
‘Indeed,’ Haith said, impatient in his hope that this run-down residence might give him a crucial piece of the puzzle of The White Ship.
‘He kept his paperwork all upstairs,’ she said, ‘but there’s nothing there now.’
‘Lead the way, please.’
The woman turned her broad back upon him and led him up several flights of narrow, precipitous stairs to the attic room. ‘This was his writing room,’ she said, throwing her arm wide as if she had led him to a palatial chamber rather than the sorry little room he was looking at. ‘I haven’t touched anything.’ Haith raised an eyebrow at her. He strongly doubted that. ‘I didn’t take in any tenants in respect for poor Master Gisulf.’ Haith ignored the hint that she might like some remuneration for her delicacy.
‘Leave me, mistress. I will let you know when I am finished here.’
She humphed, turned on a heel, and eased herself back down the creaking stairs.
Haith looked around him. A narrow bed, a desk, and chair. A candlestick on the desk. If there had been a candle, the woman had taken that long ago. A sliver of light came in through a skylight. More low beams for Haith to avoid. And these beams were rough and splintered and of many differing widths and woods, as if they had been collected in the forest and leant against each other, temporarily, to hold up the roof, rather than being carefully dressed and knit in place by a master carpenter. That was probably exactly what had happened. It gave the room the appearance of a kind of treehouse. Haith wound his head carefully around the treacherous beams to look at the desk. There was nothing on or under it. He sat on the chair and regarded the empty room. The woman would have ransacked its contents long ago. He rose up again, gingerly, to avoid braining himself on the ‘treehouse’ structure. He moved slowly and quietly down the stairs in search of the woman’s quarters.
He heard her chopping vegetables at the board in the kitchen. She had her back to the open door to the kitchen. Haith moved past the doorway to the next room, which appeared to be her bedchamber. There were clothes strewn around the room. He dropped to all fours to look under the bed and fished out a small chest. He sat back on his heels regarding it. It was a good quality waxed canvas coffer strapped with leather. It did not look like the possession of the woman next door, but rather more like something Gisulf himself would have used to store parchments and carry about with him. It had a stout hasp and was locked. Haith tested the weight of the coffer. Whatever was inside was not heavy. He could carry it. Better to take it back to his own quarters and break it open there, rather than sit here hammering at the lock, and dealing with the woman’s resistance. He hefted the chest to his hip, draped his cloak about it and made for the door, calling out a cheery goodbye and thanks when he was clear of the threshold and closing the door behind him.
The Anarchy (Conquest, Book 3) By Tracey Warr
Unhappily married to Stephen de Marais, the Welsh princess, Nest, becomes increasingly embroiled in her countrymen’s resistance to the Norman occupation of her family lands. She plans to visit King Henry in the hope of securing a life away from her unwanted husband, but grieving for the loss of his son, the King is obsessed with relics and prophecies.
Meanwhile, Haith tries to avoid the reality that Nest is married to another man by distracting himself with the mystery of the shipwreck in which the King’s heir drowned. As Haith pieces together fragments of the tragedy, he discovers a chest full of secrets, but will the revelations bring a culprit to light and aid the grieving King?
Will the two lovers be united as Nest fights for independence and Haith struggles to protect King Henry?
Tracey Warr (1958- ) was born in London and lives in the UK and France. Her first historical novel, Almodis the Peaceweaver (Impress, 2011) is set in 11th century France and Spain and is a fictionalised account of the true story of the Occitan female lord, Almodis de la Marche, who was Countess of Toulouse and Barcelona. It was shortlisted for the Impress Prize for New Fiction and the Rome Film Festival Books Initiative and won a Santander Research Award. Her second novel, The Viking Hostage, set in 10th century France and Wales, was published by Impress Books in 2014 and topped the Amazon Australia charts. Her Conquest trilogy, Daughter of the Last King, The Drowned Court, and The Anarchy recount the story of a Welsh noblewoman caught up in the struggle between the Welsh and the Normans in the 12th century. She was awarded a Literature Wales Writers Bursary. Her writing is a weave of researched history and imagined stories in the gaps in history.
Tracey Warr studied English at University of Hull and Oxford University, gaining a BA (Hons) and MPhil. She worked at the Arts Council, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Chatto & Windus Publishers, and edited Poetry Review magazine with Mick Imlah. She also publishes art writing on contemporary artists, and in 2016 she published a future fiction novella, Meanda, in English and French, as part of the art project, Exoplanet Lot. She recently published a series of three books, The Water Age, which are future fiction and art and writing workshop books – one for adults and one for children – on the topic of water in the future. She gained a PhD in Art History in 2007 and was Guest Professor at Bauhaus University and Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and Dartington College of Arts. Her published books on contemporary art include The Artist’s Body (Phaidon, 2000), Remote Performances in Nature and Architecture (Routledge, 2015) and The Midden (Garret, 2018). She gained an MA in Creative Writing at University of Wales Trinity St David in 2011. She is Head of Research at Dartington Trust and teaches on MA Poetics of Imagination for Dartington Arts School.
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Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tracey-Warr/e/B0053YDVPE