Quince paste. Doesn’t it look like Turkish Delight?
My new book, the follow-up to A Knight’s Tale: Kenilworth, is now on preorder on Amazon.com for $2.99.
As it’s set in medieval France in the late thirteenth century, I have been enjoying the research… particularly into foods of the era. On one fascinating blog I read about how raw quinces are inedible, but when cooked they turn into a beautiful ruby-red jelly and were a favorite dish of the time (one that Joan of Arc was apparently partial to). This sweet jelly was considered medicinal, as were most jams, I learned. Not only that, the strained pulp was made into a quince paste called membrillo that was eaten with cheese.
Here is the blurb for A Knight’s Tale: Montargis; I’ve included an excerpt below!
France, 1266. Will and his lover, Stephen, are safely ensconced at Montargis Abbey, a Dominican convent two days’ ride south of Paris, where the widowed Lady Eleanor de Montfort has chosen to live out her days in peace and seclusion with her young daughter. Will and Stephen fall into a pleasant routine of chores, while Wilecok keeps the small household running with his work in the kitchen. It’s in many ways an idyllic life, one that Will could not have predicted. And when they hear that Kenilworth Castle has fallen after a long siege, it seems that the rebellion against the English Crown that the Montforts spearheaded has well and truly ended.
But the reappearance of Simon, as he and his younger brother Guy both drift back to France separately after escaping house arrest in England, brings a complexity to Will’s life, for he is still passionately attracted. Even as he and Stephen grow closer and more deeply attached, the shadow of Simon periodically falls over their relationship. A sudden, horrific act of murder in the year 1271, Will’s 25th year, shatters their calm. In the aftermath, Lady Eleanor commands a reluctant Will to journey to a castle in southern Tuscany to visit her mortally ill son. It’s here that he will learn the devastating truth about Simon’s misdeeds, a truth that Will has not wanted to face, and that changes everything.
This lusty, bittersweet sequel to A Knight’s Tale: Kenilworth spans another six years in Will and Stephen’s lives together, and ends in the South of France, where the mystery of Stephen’s tragic past is finally laid to rest. Yet the two still face an uncertain future together in a dangerous world.
Excerpt from A Knight’s Tale: Montargis
We were traveling northeast out of town along a country road. It was very beautiful that day, the stone walls and leafy hedgerows reminding me of England.
“Have you been this way, Wilecok?” I asked. Perhaps he had, since he seemed to know where it was. “And what are we doing?”
He looked concerned at my obliviousness. “You can’t guess?” he finally said.
“No, not at all.”
“I thought you might have had a letter.”
“No, nothing like that. From who?”
“Simon,” Wilecok said out of the corner of his mouth. He spat moodily into the road.
I gave a sudden start. “Why… why the secrecy?”
“Why do you think?” Wilecok said. “Doesn’t want the Countess to know he’s here. Just wants to meet with you. A rendezvous.”
He drawled the word in a sarcastic way, not looking at me. I was young enough still to blush, but old enough that I said nothing more to him about it at that moment. I kept my own counsel.
“We’ll be there within the hour,” Wilecok said after we had gone a little further. “’Tis odd you wore your sword today. You don’t usually.”
“I know.” I patted my sword belt. “Yes, for some reason I put it on this morning. I haven’t used it in ages, of course.”
“A knight should have his sword.” Wilecok had a strange smile on his face.
I said nothing. It was on the tip of my tongue to swear I wasn’t going to do anything wrong, but I reminded myself that I owed no reassurance to Wilecok. And anyway, I doubted he would believe me. He seemed to know what was going to happen better than I did.
It was deliciously quiet, the wind caressing my face.
“Simon must have been in England,” Wilecok murmured. “Guy is going to wait for him nearby and then they’re going to proceed back to Italy. It’s a journey they’ve done many times by now.”
“He might have been in Paris,” I said, for want of something else to say. “Have you ever been to Italy, Wilecok?”
He glanced over at me, his face a little more relaxed now.
“Nay, never gone that far. With the three boys over there, I wondered if the Countess would send me. But she’s not been cruel enough to do that! It’s a brutal journey at any time of year.”
Messengers had sometimes come from England or Italy or the Parisian court with letters for Lady Eleanor, I mused. But it was true, she had always sent messages back with them, but hadn’t sent out any of her own.
“I always thought, Will, that she’d end up using you for that job. But she hasn’t yet.”
“As a messenger?” It had never even occurred to me.
“Aye.” Wilecok’s speed had slowed to an amble. “Are you sure you want to go through with this?”
“Now you ask me!” I said with a laugh. The trees were getting taller and thicker, I did notice that, and we pulled up to where a small trail led into the wood.
“Clotilde tells me this forest is sacred to St. Hubert, the patron saint of hunters, who was also a bishop,” Wilecok rambled, taking a drink from his water skin. “I’ve never been fond of forests, myself. Too easy to get lost in ’em, killed by a wild boar…”
“Should I go in on foot?” I asked. I was nervous now, but I didn’t want to let him see it.
“No, ride in. But Will—”
He seemed about to say something embarrassing, but I was desperate not to hear it.
“I’ll stay here,” Wilecok said gloomily. “Young Guy might be waiting with me when you come out. Just preparing you.”
I chuckled slightly. “Lucky you, Wilecok, you get to entertain him!”
“Aye, while you entertain his brother,” Wilecok mumbled. He did not meet my eyes.
It was strange what heavy weather he was making of this! Being around the nuns must have affected him after all, I thought. Or it’s his age.
“It’s only Simon,” I said. “Do you remember your rather coarse advice to me once, in Oxford?”
“No,” he said swiftly. Then, “I’ve no doubt I said something stupid.”
“It was romantic advice. Cynical. Something about separating love and … and the physical act.”
“Ah, right, I see. I think I’d still say to you now: be careful.”
I glanced at him.
He gave a sigh. “No matter what you tell yourself, you’re prone to falling in love with him.”
That stung. I took this jab in as I spurred the horse away up the path without replying, a tight flush of anger suffusing my body. It wasn’t true… I wasn’t young and stupid anymore. I hadn’t had those thoughts about Simon for years! And the odd thing was, I really hadn’t, not for a long while. What had changed? I couldn’t tell, but the last year or two with Stephen had been placid and lovely. Once I’d understood that Charles of Anjou’s Italian campaign had ended successfully, I no longer wanted to join the brothers in whatever misadventures they were up to in Italy. I’d accepted that it wasn’t my fate. As Wilecok would say, it wasn’t in the cards for me.
The horse’s hoofs were silent, and I quietly entered the wood, the breeze making the leaves rustle slightly. These were ancient oaks. Shafts of sunlight hit the grassy floor at intervals. Rain wouldn’t penetrate much here, so it wasn’t muddy. I slid off the horse, the ground soft under my feet. I tied her loosely to a branch, giving her a pat and telling her to be good.
She munched contentedly, head bent. Hand on pommel, I walked further in. It felt so delicious to walk on the earth, to smell the moistness of rotting leaves, to be away from the paved gray stones of the Abbey.
Even if we just talked, it was enough, I thought. For once not to feel like a child, to make my own mind up about things! Of course it was true that I had been ordered here and it was not my idea, but I was secretly thrilled to be there nonetheless.
I walked to the end of the clearing and made my way even further in, cutting my hand on some brambles. But it was all right, because standing in a glade surrounded by a circle of tall beech trees was Simon, back turned to me, his body resting against his horse as if deeply weary. From behind he was just some knight, armored still, and I was glad he had not taken his mail off. It meant he was not quite sure of me, and I liked that, in a perverse way.
“Simon,” I called.
He turned, and I was shocked to see how much older he looked. There were lines on his face now; his once-supple skin was leathery and tanned. Though his blue eyes stood out rather more, and as he strode toward me, it was his eyes I watched, noticing how his own gaze dwelt on my lips.
“I told you it would be several years,” he said wryly. He’d stopped several paces away.
I nodded, swallowing my nervousness down. Trying to breathe.
“I wanted to see you.”
I still said nothing, waiting.
“I just came back from England. I went over there in secret. I rode all the way to Evesham Abbey to see Father’s grave. It was awful, Will.”
“I’m sorry,” I told him, putting my hand on his arm. This broke the spell, and he hugged me to him fiercely.
I will have more news soon about a couple of exciting promotions coming up in early February!