The brilliant retelling of the Wars of the Roses continues with Margaret of Anjou, the second gripping novel in the new series from historical fiction master Conn Iggulden.
As Traitors Advance...A Queen Defends
It is 1454 and for over a year King Henry VI has remained all but exiled in Windsor Castle, struck down by his illness, his eyes vacant, his mind a blank. His fiercely loyal wife and Queen, Margaret of Anjou, safeguards her husband’s interests, hoping that her son Edward will one day come to know his father.
With each month that Henry is all but absent as king, Richard, the Duke of York, Protector of the Realm, extends his influence throughout the kingdom. The Trinity—Richard and the earls of Salisbury and Warwick—are a formidable trio, and together they seek to break the support of those who would raise their colors and their armies in the name of Henry and his Queen.
But when the king unexpectedly recovers his senses and returns to London to reclaim his throne, the balance of power is once again plunged into turmoil. The clash of the Houses of Lancaster and York may be the beginning of a war that can tear England apart . . .
Following on from Stormbird, Margaret of Anjou is the second epic installment in master storyteller Conn Iggulden’s new Wars of the Roses series. Fans of Game of Thrones and The Tudors will be gripped from the word “go.”
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Conn Iggulden is one of the most successful authors of historical fiction writing today. Following Stormbird, Margaret of Anjou is the second book in his superb new series set during the Wars of the Roses, a remarkable period of British history. His previous two series, on Julius Caesar and on the Mongol Khans of Central Asia, describe the founding of the greatest empires of their day and were number-one bestsellers. Iggulden lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and children.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
LATE SUMMER 1454
People crushed by law have no hopes but from power. If laws are their enemies, they will be enemies to laws.
With the light still cold and gray, the castle came alive. Horses were brought from their stalls and rubbed down; dogs barked and fought with each other, kicked out of the way by those who found them in their path. Hundreds of young men were busy gathering tack and weapons, rushing around the main yard with armfuls of equipment.
In the great tower, Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, stared out of the window to the bustling sward all around his fortress. The castle stones were warm in the August heat, but the old man wore a cloak and mantle of fur around his shoulders even so, clutched tight to his chest. He was still both tall and broad, though age had bowed him down. His sixth decade had brought aches and creaking joints that made all movement painful and his temper short.
The earl glowered through the leaded glass. The town was waking. The world was rising with the sun and he was ready to act, after so long biding his time. He watched as armored knights assembled, their servants passing out shields that had been painted black, or covered in sackcloth bound with twine. The Percy colors of blue and yellow were nowhere in evidence, hidden from view so that the soldiers waiting for his order had a somber look. For a time, they would be gray men, hedge knights without house or family. Men without honor, when honor was a chain to bind them.
The old man sniffed, rubbing hard at his nose. The ruse would fool no one, but when the killing was over, he would still be able to claim no Percy knight or archer had been part of it. Most importantly of all, those who might have cried out against him would be cold in the ground.
As he stood there, deep in thought, he heard his son approach, the young man’s spurred heels clicking and rattling on the wooden floor. The earl looked around, feeling his old heart thump with anticipation.
“God give you good day,” Thomas Percy said, bowing. He too allowed his gaze to stray through the window, down to the bustle of the castle grounds below. Thomas raised an eyebrow in silent question and his father grunted, irritated at the footsteps of servants all around.
“Come with me.” Without waiting for a reply, the earl swept along the corridor, the force of his authority pulling Thomas along behind him. He reached a doorway to his private chambers and almost dragged his son inside, slamming the door behind them. As Thomas stood and watched, the old man strode jerkily through the rooms, banging doors back and forth as he went. His suspicion showed in the deepening purple of his face, the skin made darker still by a stain of broken veins that stretched right across his cheeks and nose. The earl could never be pale, with that marbling. If it had been earned in strong spirits from over the Scottish border, it suited his mood well enough. Age had not mellowed the old man, though it had dried and hardened him.
Satisfied they were alone, the earl came back to his son, still waiting patiently with his back to the door. Thomas Percy, Baron Egremont, stood no taller than his father once had, though without the stoop of age he could see over the old man’s head. At thirty-two, Thomas was in the prime of his manhood, his hair black and his forearms thick with sinew and muscle earned over six thousand days of training. As he stood there, he seemed almost to glow with health and strength, his ruddy skin unmarked by scar or disease. Despite the years between them, both men bore the Percy nose, that great wedge that could be seen in dozens of crofts and villages all around Alnwick.
“There, we are private,” the earl said at last. “She has her ears everywhere, your mother. I cannot even talk to my own son without her people reporting every word.”
“What news, then?” his son replied. “I saw the men, gathering swords and bows. Is it the border?”
“Not today. Those damned Scots are quiet, though I don’t doubt the Douglas is forever sniffing round my lands. They’ll come in winter when they starve, to try and steal my cows. And we’ll send them running when they do.”
His son hid his impatience, knowing well that his father could rant about the “cunning Douglas” for an hour if he was given the chance.
“The men though, father. They have covered the colors. Who threatens us who must be taken by hedge knights?”
His father stood close to him, reaching out and hooking a bony hand over the lip of the leather breastplate to draw him in.
“Your mother’s Nevilles, boy, always and forever the Nevilles. Wherever I turn in my distress, there they are, in my path!” Earl Percy raised his other hand as he spoke, holding it up with the fingers joined like a beak. He jabbed the air with it, close by his son’s face. “Standing in such numbers they can never be counted. Married into every noble line! Into every house! I have the damned Scots clawing away at my flank, raiding England, burning villages in my own land. If I did not stand against them, if I let but one season pass without killing the young men they send to test me, they would come south like a dam bursting. Where would England be then, without Percy arms to serve her? But the Nevilles care nothing for all that. No, they throw their weight and wealth to York, that pup. He rises, held aloft by Neville hands, while titles and estates of ours are stolen away.”
“Warden of the West March,” his son muttered wearily. He had heard his father’s complaints many times before.
Earl Percy’s glare intensified.
“One of many. A title that should have been your brother’s, with fifteen hundred pounds a year, until that Neville, Salisbury, was given it. I have swallowed that, boy. I have swallowed him being made chancellor while my king dreams and sleeps and France was lost. I have swallowed so much from them that I find I am stuffed full.”
The old man had drawn his son so close their faces almost touched. He kissed Thomas brief ly on the cheek, letting him go. From long habit, he checked the room around them once more, though they were alone.
“You have good Percy blood in you, Thomas. It will drive your mother’s out in time, as I will drive out the Nevilles upon the land. They have been given to me, Thomas, do you understand? By the grace of God, I have been handed a chance to take back all they have stolen. If I were twenty years younger, I would take Windstrike and ride them down myself, but . . . those days are behind.” The old man’s eyes were almost feverish as he stared up at his son. “You must be my right arm in this, Thomas. You must be my sword and flail.”
“You honor me,” Thomas murmured, his voice breaking. As a mere second son, he had grown to his prime with little of the old man’s affection. His elder brother, Henry, was away with a thousand men across the border of Scotland, there to raid and burn and weaken the savage clans. Thomas thought of him and knew Henry’s absence was the true reason his father had taken him aside. There was no one else to send. Though the knowledge made him bitter, he could not resist the chance to show his worth to the one man he allowed to judge him.
“Henry has the best of our fighting cocks,” his father said, echoing his thoughts. “And I must keep some strong hands at Alnwick, in case the cunning Douglas slips your brother and comes south to rape and steal. That little man knows no greater pleasure than in taking what is mine. I swear he—”
“Father, I will not fail,” Thomas said. “How many will you send with me?”
His father paused in irritation at being interrupted, his eyes sharp with rebuke. At last, he nodded, letting it go.
“Seven hundred, or thereabouts. Two hundred men-at-arms, though the rest are brickmakers and smiths and common men with bows. You will have Trunning and if you have wit, you will let him advise you—and listen well to him. He knows the land around York and he knows the men. Perhaps if you had not spent so much of your youth on drink and whores, I would not doubt you. Whisht! Don’t take it hard, boy. There must be a son of mine in this, to give the men heart. But they are my men, not yours. Follow Trunning. He will not lead you wrong.”
Thomas flushed, his own anger rising. The thought of the two old men planning out some scheme together brought a tension to his frame that his father noted.
“You understand?” Earl Percy snapped. “Heed Trunning. That is my order to you.”
“I understand,” Thomas said, striving hard to conceal his disappointment. For one moment, he’d thought his father might trust him in command, rather than raising his brother, or some other man, over him. He felt the loss of something he’d never had.
“Will you tell me then where I must ride for you, or should I ask Trunning for that as well?” Thomas said.
His voice was strained, and his father’s mouth quirked in response, amused and scornful.
“I said not to take it hard, boy. You’ve a good right arm and you are my son, but you’ve not led, not beyond a few skirmishes. The men do not respect you, as they do Trunning. How could they? He’s fought for twenty years, in France and England both. He’ll see you safe.”
The earl waited for some sign that his son had accepted the point, but Thomas glowered, wounded and angry. Earl Percy shook his head, going on.
“There is a Neville marriage tomorrow, Thomas, down at Tattershall. Your mother’s clan has reached out to bring yet another into their grasp. That preening cockerel, Salisbury, will be there, to see his son wed. They will be at peace, content to take a new bride back to their holding at the manor of Sheriff Hutton. My man told me all, risking his bones to reach me in time. I paid him well for it, mind. Now listen. They will be on horses and on foot, a merry wedding party traipsing back to feast on a fine summer day. And you will be there, Thomas. You will ride them down, leaving no one alive. That is my order to you. Do you understand it?”
Thomas swallowed hard as his father watched him. Earl Salisbury was his mother’s brother, the man’s sons his own cousins. Thomas had been thinking he would ride out after some weaker branch of the Neville tree, not the root itself and the head of the clan. If he did as he was told, he would make more blood-enemies in a day than in his entire life to that point. Even so, he nodded, unable to trust his voice. His father’s mouth twisted sourly, seeing once again his son’s weakness and indecision.
“Salisbury’s boy is marrying Maud Cromwell. You know her uncle holds Percy manors, refusing my claim to them. It seems he thinks he can give my estates in dowry to the Nevilles, that they are now so strong I will be forced to drop my suits and cases against him. I am sending you to show them justice. To show them the authority Cromwell f louts as he seeks a greater shadow to hide beneath! Listen to me now. Take my seven hundred and kill them all, Thomas. Be sure Cromwell’s niece is among the dead, that I may invoke her name when next I meet her weeping uncle in the king’s court. Do you understand?”
“Of course I understand!” Thomas said, his voice hardening. He felt his hands tremble as he glared at his father, but he would not suffer the old man’s scorn by refusing. He set his jaw, the decision made.
A knock sounded on the door at Thomas’s back, making both men start like guilty conspirators. Thomas stood away to let it swing open, blanching at the sight of his mother standing there.
His father drew himself up, his chest puffing out.
“Go now, Thomas. Bring honor to your family and your name.” “Stay, Thomas,” his mother said quickly, her expression cold. Thomas hesitated, then dipped his head, slipping past her and
striding away. Alone, Countess Eleanor Percy turned sharply to her husband.
“I see your guards and soldiers arming themselves, covering Percy colors. Now my son rushes from me like a whipped cur. Will you have me ask, then? What foul plan have you been whispering into his ears this time, Henry? What have you done?”
Earl Percy took a deep breath, his triumph showing clearly.
“Were you not listening at the door like a maid, then? I am surprised,” he said. “What I havedone is no business of yours.” As he spoke, he moved to go past her into the corridor outside. Eleanor stepped into his path to stop him, raising her hand against his chest.
In response, the earl gripped it cruelly, crushing her fingers so that she cried out. He twisted further, controlling her with a hand on her elbow.
“Please, Henry. My arm . . .” she said, gasping.
He twisted harder at that, making her shriek. In the corridor, he caught a glimpse of a servant hurrying closer and kicked savagely at the door so that it slammed shut. As his wife whimpered, the old man bent her forward, almost doubled over, with his grip tight on her hand and arm.
“I have done no more than your Nevilles would do to me, if I were ever at their mercy,” he said into her ear. “Did you think I would allow your brother to rise above the Percy name? Chancellor to the Duke of York now, he threatens everything I am, everything I must protect. Do you understand? I took you on to give me sons, a fertile Neville bride. Well, you have done that. Now do not dare ask me the business of my house.”
“You are hurting me,” she said, her face crumpling in anger and pain. “You see enemies where there are none. And if you seek my brother, he will see you dead, Henry. Richard will kill you.”
With a grunt of outrage, her husband heaved her across the room, sending her sprawling across the bed. He was on her before she could rise to her feet, tearing her dress and bawling at her in red-faced rage as he wrenched at the cloth and bared her skin. She sobbed and struggled, but he was infernally strong in his anger, ignoring her nails as she left red lines on his face and arms. He held her down with one hand, exposing the long pale line of her back as he drew his belt from his trousers and doubled it over into a short whip.
“You will not speak to me in such a way, in my own house.” He landed blow after blow with the snapping sounds as loud as her desperate cries. No one came, though he went on and on until she was still, no longer struggling. Long red welts seeped blood to stain the fine cloth as he gasped and panted, fat beads of sweat dropping from his nose and brow onto her skin. With grim satisfaction, the earl replaced his belt and left his wife to sob into the coverlet.
Servants opened the door to the marshaling yard beyond as Thomas Percy, Baron Egremont, walked out. The noise of hundreds of...
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