Coffee Pot Book Club Spotlight | New Medieval Historical Fiction

Squire’s Hazard
Carolyn Hughes

How do you overcome the loathing, lust and bitterness threatening you and your family’s honour?
It’s 1363, and in Steyning Castle, Sussex, Dickon de Bohun is enjoying life as a squire in the household of Earl Raoul de Fougère. Or he would be, if it weren’t for Edwin de Courtenay, who’s making his life a misery with his bullying, threatening to expose the truth about Dickon’s birth.
At home in Meonbridge for Christmas, Dickon notices how grown-up his childhood playmate, Libby Fletcher, has become since he last saw her and feels the stirrings of desire. Libby, seeing how different he is too, falls instantly in love. But as a servant to Dickon’s grandmother, Lady Margaret de Bohun, she could never be his wife.
Margery Tyler, Libby’s aunt, meeting her niece by chance, learns of her passion for young Dickon. Their conversation rekindles Margery’s long-held rancour against the de Bohuns, whom she blames for all the ills that befell her family, including her own servitude. For years she’s hidden her hunger for retribution, but she can no longer keep her hostility in check.
As the future Lord of Meonbridge, Dickon knows he must rise above de Courtenay’s loathing and intimidation, and get the better of him. And, surely, he must master his lust for Libby, so his own mother’s shocking history is not repeated? Of Margery’s bitterness, however, he has yet to learn…
Beset by the hazards these powerful and dangerous emotions bring, can young Dickon summon up the courage and resolve to overcome them?
Secrets, hatred and betrayal, but also love and courage – Squire’s Hazard, the fifth MEONBRIDGE CHRONICLE.
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Margery stood at the door of Martin Webber’s cloth mill, her arms clasped around the bolt of bright blue woollen fabric her mistress had demanded she collect. The linen-wrapped bundle was so cumbersome and heavy, she wondered if she could get it all the way back to the Browghtons’ farmstead without it slipping to the ground.
She grunted. It was typical of Philippa Browghton to give no thought to the practicalities of carrying the fabric. She wished now she had thought of it herself, although she had not imagined the “length of fine wool” ordered especially from Master Webber would be quite so hefty. But, if she took it slowly and stopped every so often for a rest…
She stepped across the threshold, and turned onto the narrow path that led back up to Meonbridge’s main thoroughfare. She waited, as a young woman was walking down the path towards the mill, pulling a small, wheeled barrow behind her. As the girl came closer, Margery gasped. She looked exactly like her sister Matilda, with her pretty face and thick dark hair. Was this Matilda’s daughter, Elizabeth? She was a babe the last, and only, time she saw her.
When the girl was a few steps distant, Margery hailed her. ‘You seem to have a similar errand to my own,’ she said. ‘Though you are better equipped for carrying your purchase home.’ She pointed to the barrow.
The girl looked startled, then noticed Margery’s bundle. ‘Yes, her ladyship’s ordered two bolts of cloth for new spring gowns, and said I should bring the barrow to fetch them home.’
So, it was her niece, and she was still serving Lady Margaret de Bohun.
‘You must be Elizabeth. I am Margery Tyler, your mother’s sister.’
The girl’s mouth fell open. ‘Ma’s sister? I knew I had an aunt… But how odd we’ve never met before. I thought you must no longer live in Meonbridge, as her ladyship’s never spoken of you.’
‘She wouldn’t have.’ Margery was aware her tone was sour. ‘I live a distance down the road to Middle Brooking. I rarely come to Meonbridge, just to run the occasional errand for my mis––’. She stopped. Need she explain the depth of her disgrace, if the girl did not already know?
But then, why not? She might as well admit the truth, or a version of it, anyway. For the child was herself a servant, and must surely know her mother was banished by her ladyship, sent miles from Meonbridge, to another county, to be a maid to some decrepit knight.
‘The occasional errand for my mistress,’ she continued. ‘She does not care to visit Meonbridge herself. She sends her orders courtesy of her husband then gets her servants to collect them. Thinks herself too grand for shopping.’ She sneered.
‘You’re a servant too?’ Elizabeth said. ‘I didn’t know.’
‘I had no choice, after Father died. Your mother was taken in by Lady de Bohun, but there was no place for me. Our family was unjustly stripped of all our wealth and standing, so I lost my home and livelihood…’ She hesitated again. Did Elizabeth even know what had happened to her grandfather?
But the girl did not query what she had said, so she carried on. ‘I took a position with the Browghtons, newly come to Meonbridge. They were prosperous, with a large household, and it seemed a fitting enough situation…’ She could not help another sneer twisting her mouth, but she would say no more. No need to explain how unfitting the situation had turned out to be. ‘How do you like working for Lady de Bohun, Elizabeth?’
‘It’s Libby, actually,’ the girl said, flushing. ‘Ma always called me Libby.’
Margery rolled her eyes. Matilda gave the girl a graceful name then chose to demean it. How like her. ‘Very well, Libby,’ she said, more tersely than was necessary.
‘Anyway, I don’t mind it,’ said her niece, not noticing. ‘The work’s not hard and her ladyship’s quite kind.’ She indicated the barrow. ‘I could help you if you like.’
Margery hefted her bundle and repositioned it in her arms. ‘It would be too far out of your way. Your mistress will be expecting you.’
‘Oh, she’ll probably not notice if I’m not back for a while.’
Margery glowered. Not notice? Philippa Browghton was heedful of every move her servants made: none of them could leave the farm without her permission, nor for any reason she deemed unwarranted. Maybe Lady de Bohun was kinder. It would scarcely take much effort to be more so than Mistress Browghton.
‘A little of the way, perhaps,’ she said. ‘We can talk some more.’
‘I’ll just pick up her ladyship’s order.’ Libby darted into the mill, leaving her barrow at the door.

CAROLYN HUGHES has lived much of her life in Hampshire. With a first degree in Classics and English, she started working life as a computer programmer, then a very new profession. But it was technical authoring that later proved her vocation, as she wrote and edited material, some fascinating, some dull, for an array of different clients, including banks, an international hotel group and medical instruments manufacturers.
Having written creatively for most of her adult life, it was not until her children flew the nest several years ago that writing historical fiction took centre stage, alongside gaining a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University and a PhD from the University of Southampton.
Squire’s Hazard is the fifth MEONBRIDGE CHRONICLE, and more stories about the folk of Meonbridge will follow.
You can connect with Carolyn through her website and on social media.
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