1483 and Edward IV wears England’s crown, but no king rules unchallenged. Often it is those closest to him who are the unexpected danger. When the king dies suddenly, rumour replaces fact, and Andrew Cobham is already working behind the scenes.
Tyballis was forced into marriage, when she escapes, she meets Andrew and an uneasy alliance forms. Their friendship will take them in unusual directions as Tyballis becomes not only embroiled in Andrew’s work but also in the danger which surrounds him.
A motley gathering of thieves, informers, prostitutes and children eventually join the game, helping to uncover the underlying mystery and treason, as the country is brought to the brink of war.
Heroes are meant to be handsome. But I saw the photograph of an unknown man who was not at all good looking. Yet it haunted me and entered my dreams. The strength and honour shone out of his heavy boned face and I thought I could see true love in his eyes. The face gradually faded in my memory but a similar face took its place. So Andrew Cobham was born.
As my hero metamorphosed in my mind, I moved onto the main plot. Having some understanding of domestic abuse, I wanted to explore the complicated transformation a woman experiences as she moves away from the abusive situation and very slowly begins to regain her confidence and her sense of self. Therefore I had both my hero and my heroine. Following that the inspiration flooded in.
I have a great love of the late medieval period, and the misunderstood events throughout King Richard III’s reign. Much is undocumented and remains unknown, but some suspicions have been satisfactorily disproved, yet are still persistently and wrongly believed. One particular event is still a mystery and I wanted to put forward a possibility and a twist to that situation. This was the strange and barely understood execution of William Lord Hastings for treason. It has been a mystery for too long. Mysteries, puzzles, twists and hints, they all intrigue me and my inspiration is a direct result.
Put them all together, and my novel is born.
He reached out from the shadows and grabbed her. His torn fingernails splayed across her nose and cheeks as his thumb pinched up beneath her chin, dragging her towards him. Her eyes watered, blurring his snarl. His hand was scabby and smelled of shit where he’d scratched his arse, and of sour lard where he’d wiped his platter, of bile where he’d spat, and of snot where he’d snuffled onto his cuff.
She allowed his grip without struggle, obedient to her husband’s demands. Then he shoved, sending her back against the wall. She huddled and waited, watching him, silent as he undid his belt. He gripped the long leather tongue, flexing it across his knee. Quickly he spun it out. The buckled end slashed across her mouth. Then she ran.
It was raining, a fine mist of drizzle that wove soft through the twilight. The last words, drunken slurred, faded as the door slammed back in his face, ‘You whore. Come—’
Knowing he would follow, she gathered up her skirts and ran towards the river, keeping to the side lanes and across the shadowed churchyards. She made for the bridge, which he would not expect for she was frightened of the high tide; had good reason, and he knew it. Borin would try every other direction before he guessed right, and by then he would have snorted, cursed and trudged back into the warm.
Beneath the overhang down by the river’s edge, the old stone dripped condensation and the bridge’s first soaring pillar was wet against her back, drenching the shoulders of her gown. The usual bustle and traffic was quiet, London’s gates long locked and the houses along the bridge’s length were quiet. A cold night, a wet night; London’s citizens slept. The rain was swollen with ice and the long grey angle of uninterrupted sleet now closed in the sky. Although the Thames ran turgid, a muffled silence rested patiently behind the insistent sounds of the weather. She hoped her own frantic breathing and the pound of her heartbeat would be heard only by herself. Crouching down, she became part of the gloom.
For a long time the rain fell and the river waters rose, the sky darkened and the night crept into the spaces the evening had left behind.
She was almost asleep when a voice said, ‘You are in my way, little one.’
Tyballis felt nausea first and fear afterwards. But it was not Borin’s voice. She peered up and tried to answer. Her knees, squeezed into the little crannies where she had pushed them hours before, were now stiff and would not unfold. She dug her fingers into the cracks between the stones and hauled herself upwards. Her voice, when she discovered it, was only a whisper. ‘Your way, sir?’ She looked back at the heaving riverbank to her left. ‘My apologies. Are you a boatman, sir?’
Seemingly part of the starless night, he was huge and shapeless as though he carried something so large it rearranged his silhouette. She thought she heard him chuckle but it might have been the gurgle of the tide. ‘Neither a sir nor a gentleman. And not a wherryman, no, child. But stay where you are. I’ll find another way and another place.’
‘I – I’m sorry.’ Dizzy and chilled, Tyballis stumbled, steadying herself against the great pillar. ‘I shall leave at once, if you’ll give me a moment, sir.’
The hand came out of the darkness. Accustomed to the dangers of an unexpected fist, she backed until the stone blocked her retreat. But it wasn’t Borin’s hand any more than it had been his voice, and she was not knocked down but held up. ‘Steady, steady.’ The hand was long-fingered, unclean and surprisingly strong. ‘You’ve a face more tear-streaked and bruised than any child should be wearing. You’re hiding, then.’
‘I was. I am.’ She still couldn’t see the man who spoke, although it seemed he could see her. She mumbled, ‘But I can’t hide from him forever.’
The dark voice said, ‘Do you dream, child?’ though gave her no time to answer. ‘Better not,’ he continued. ‘It’s a grand gallantry of the human soul to dream, and believe in hope. But experience is a grim teacher. Go home, little one, and deal with your bastard father. Or is he your husband? A father’s hand is said to be any child’s destiny, but a husband is more easily avoided. He could be left. Or something – perhaps – more permanent.’
She was shivering and could barely stand. It was too wet and too cold and too late. ‘I’d like to leave him. I’d run away, but I don’t know where to run to.’
Something bumped down by her feet, long, narrow and rolled in oilcloth; the parcel as indistinct as its bearer. It was so heavy that in falling, it shook the ground. Tyballis again lurched backwards. Now more clearly recognisable as a man, without his burden his breath became gentler and the voice lighter. ‘Never run. Keep your pride and walk,’ he said, leaning towards her. ‘It’s your husband is the danger, then? And sons?’
‘No children yet,’ she whispered. It was an odd intimacy with a stranger she could not see and would never recognise again. The river was shrinking as the tide slunk low, but Tyballis knew her small cracked shoes and the hem of her gown were already sodden. Then she felt the blissful warmth of something wrapped around her shoulders. The smell of sweat and grime was momentarily pungent, then fading into the general riverside stench. ‘I can’t take this,’ she said.
‘Don’t be a fool, girl. You’ll freeze otherwise. I can get another. Go home and light a fire if your miserable wretch of a husband hasn’t one waiting for you.’ The man’s shadow was receding. ‘Kick the bastard in the balls if he tries to hit you. If he does it again, leave him. But don’t expect happiness, child. That’s not an option in this life. Nor, I doubt, in the next. Forget hope. Just fight to live, as long as living’s what you prize. And if you don’t want to risk being seen in a man’s cloak, then sell it or leave it in a gutter for some other pauper to find. But it’ll help keep you alive till you choose to throw it off.’ He bent, his shadow flaring suddenly as he hauled up the great parcel he had dropped. He swung it across his shoulder and balanced it carelessly with both hands. The thing bent at its middle, quivered, then settled, hanging large over both sides. The man nodded, gruff-voiced again. ‘Goodnight to you, child.’ He was gone at once.
Tyballis trudged the long cold streets back home. It was well past curfew and the streets were almost empty but she kept to the back lanes, avoiding the Watch. The front door of her house was locked against her but from the doorstep she could hear Borin’s snores. She hurried around to the back, where the latch was broken and the door wedged only with old threshing. She pushed her way in. As cold inside as out, the ashes scattered across the hearth were drifting black whispers. Tyballis cuddled the stranger’s cape tightly around her and lay down on the floor to sleep.