Daughters of the Dagger Series
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Amethyst is sent by the archbishop to assist her uncle, the Master Mason, building a castle for the infamous border lord, Earl Marcus Montclair.
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Excerpt of Amethyst:
Northumberland, England, 1357
Amethyst de Burgh felt like she’d died and gone to Heaven. There before her was the most beautiful site she’d ever seen. A castle being built. A glorious fortress rising up into the sky, and under construction right in front of her.
She sat tall upon her horse and just gasped at the amazing site. Many workers scurried about busily. Some pushed wheelbarrows filled with mortar up ramps that led to high scaffolds attached to the stone walls, all the way up to the tops of the towers at each outer corner. Other workers were atop the battlements using hoists and pulleys to lift the woven baskets filled with supplies that the peasant women attached from below.
The clinking sound of the masons’ chisels splitting the stones, and hammering noise of the carpenters, echoed through the crisp autumn air. Piles of rocks and rubble were everywhere. Men with two-handled saws were cutting fallen trees, preparing the boards that would be used for some of the roofs as well as the floors within the castle.
The village lay outside the castle’s walls, where the little huts of wattle and daub were being used as temporary residences for the workers. An open area that she knew would eventually be the site of a barbican or gatehouse, was surrounded by partially built walls of the castle’s outer curtain. She rode forward, surveying the situation.
Just beyond the outer ward was an area for a second gatehouse, and also a drawbridge over a dry ditch leading up to the main gate of the castle. There was no water in the moat yet, and she knew sometimes moats were left dry and instead, pointed spears were inserted and used to fend off attackers.
The dirt from the moat had been used to form a hill on which the keep of the castle was built, and she could see that the stone from the ditch was being mined and mortared together to construct the thick and sturdy fortress walls.
She rode over the drawbridge and through the castle gate. It opened into a bailey, or courtyard of the castle. Buildings were being constructed for the blacksmith, the stables, the kennels and also the mews, among others. And in an alcove with a partial wall of protection being erected around it, was the very important well.
The borderlands of Northumberland were rustic and rural. There was nothing but rolling hills and dots of forests for as far as the eye could see. She’d traveled for many days with her escorts over the uninhabited lands, after leaving the wedding of her twin sister, Amber, in Canterbury. And now, by the orders of the archbishop of Canterbury, she had in her pouch a missive stamped with the archbishop’s own seal in wax, that stated she would be involved in this wonderful project.
“Amethyst? Is that you?”
Her head whipped around to see her uncle, Clement, the master mason in charge of building the castle, standing in the distance. He had a group of men gathered around him as he instructed them, and a piece of parchment with plans for the castle unrolled and held up in front of him for the workers to see. He was her late mother’s only sibling, and she remembered him well from the year she’d spent traveling with him four years ago watching him at his trade. She’d been enthusiastic to learn all she could of castle building then, and even more so now at her age of eight and ten years. Her uncle took a special liking to her, out of the four sisters, and always wrote her, telling her everything he was doing where building was concerned. And Amethyst always wrote back, asking many questions and learning as much as she could.
“Uncle Clement!” She jumped from her horse before the guards could even help her dismount, and picked up her skirts and ran over the dusty ground, making her way to her uncle. She threw herself into his arms and they hugged.
“What are you doing here, Amethyst? Is your father here too?”
“Nay. I am here only with my escort of two guards from Canterbury, and the servant driving the cart carrying my things. The rest of my family is still there, as we have just celebrated Amber’s wedding.”
“Shy little Amber is married,” he said with a smile and shake of his head. “I know you sent me a missive and invited me, but I couldn’t get away from my work. The earl is very strict and determined to get the stonework of the castle finished by Christmas before it is too cold to use wet mortar. I’m sorry to have missed the weddings of your other sisters as well, but I’ve been working on this project furiously for nearly the last four years.”
“Amber is not little anymore, uncle, nor is she shy. You have missed much and I cannot believe the man you work for is so mean that he would not let you leave even for your own family’s weddings.”
“He’s worse than you think, Amethyst.” He rolled up the parchment and put it in under his arm, then gave the men orders and dismissed them before he turned back to her. “He hired me after the last master mason was driven into the ground and no longer able to adhere to his wishes.” He looked up at the work in progress. “This castle was nearly two years in the making before I even took the position. It takes at least a decade or longer to build such an elaborate castle, but the earl seems to think it can be done in half the time.” He looked to the ground and shook his head. “I’ve already disappointed him, as he wanted it finished a year ago.”
“You look tired, uncle,” she told him, putting her hand on his arm. His graying hair was thinning and his eyes no longer held the vibrancy and excitement of life that they’d once had. His face was weathered and wrinkled and he looked very gaunt. “You’ve been working too hard, now please, come and sit and talk with me for awhile. I’ve brought a flask of wine we can share.”
“Amethyst, I am happy you came to visit, but this is a dangerous place with all the construction. You shouldn’t be here.”
“Nonsense! I’ve traveled with you for a year when you’ve built castles before, so I am used to this.” She walked back to the horse and took the wineskin that was tied to the side, then looked up to her two guards who served as her escort. “You can just leave the rest of my things here by my horse and you can head back to Canterbury right away. My father will pay you for your services.”
“Thank you, Lady Amethyst,” said one, and the other nodded as well. They did as she ordered and were on their way.
“Who are you here with, Amethyst?” Her uncle came to her side. “And why are your escorts leaving? And what are those trunks they’ve left behind?”
“I’m here by myself, and they are leaving because I’ve dismissed them. They’re no longer needed. And in the trunks are my clothes and things I’ll need while I’m here.”
“With the size of those trunks, you almost look as if you’re planning to stay for awhile,” he said with a laugh. “Just like a woman, I suppose. But tell me, how will you get back? The roads are too dangerous to travel by yourself, unescorted. Is someone else coming to meet you to travel back to Blackpool?”
She laughed and handed the wine to her uncle. “I am not leaving, Uncle Clement. I’m here to stay for a long while.”
He looked at her with confusion on his brow. “What do you mean?”
“I’m here to help you. As your assistant.”
“Amethyst, I appreciate the offer, but I’ve sent word to the archbishop of Canterbury, and he is finding me an assistant to replace mine who died last week when he fell from the scaffold and broke his neck. The man he sends should be here any day now.”
“He’s here now. It’s me!”
“You make no sense.” Clement took a swig of wine and handed the flask back to her.
“I told the archbishop how much this would mean to me,” she explained excitedly, “and that I’ve worked with you before. I told him I wanted to come here. So he sent me for now, until he can find you a proper replacement.”
“That’s impossible, sweetheart. He would never send a woman – not for this position and not to work for Earl Marcus Montclair.”
“But it’s true, I tell you.” She dug into her pouch at her waist and found the missive with the archbishop’s seal and handed it to him. “See for yourself.”
Her uncle took the missive and inspected the seal, running a weary finger over the wax. “This is the archbishop’s seal all right. But I can’t open this. If what you say is true, the earl will need to open it, because he will never believe it. And if the seal is broken, you will have no chance in hell of staying.”
“What do you mean?” she asked with a giggle. “Won’t the earl believe you?”
“I don’t want to scare you, Amethyst, but the earl is a border lord.”
“I know that.”
“He is tough and demanding and has no patience for incompetence and holds no pity for anyone, even if it was his own mother.”
“Oh, now no one can be that hardened,” said Amethyst with a shake of her head.
“You don’t understand. He is unforgiving. He is ruthless and takes pleasure in protecting the borders for the king.”
“I know. The archbishop told me. He is skilled at his position and that’s why the king has rewarded him with the title of earl and also granted him the opportunity to build his own castle. I understand all this.”
“Well obviously if the archbishop sent you, he must know what he’s doing. But I am afraid he didn’t tell you everything you need to know about the man you’ll be working for, Amethyst.”
“Well what else could there possibly be? I already know he is more or less a slave driver by the way he works you, and that he is merciless and cruel. But that doesn’t scare me. You know I don’t scare easily. I’m a hard and determined worker. I also try to see the good in everyone and turn a negative situation into something positive.”
“I know that, Amethyst. But even your optimism isn’t going to change this. Lord Montclair will never let you work as my assistant. You can weave baskets for the workers or cook their food or mend their wounds, but those are the only jobs here held by women.”
“And why is that?” she asked.
“Because Lord Marcus will treat his hounds better than he will you, darling. You see, he has no respect for women. And he would never let a woman be in a position of authority. Unless, perhaps she were his wife. But he’s never been married, nor do I believe he ever will.”
“Really?” She took the missive back from her uncle. “Well, mayhap I can do something to change his mind about respecting women.”
“Master Mason!” came a loud bellow from behind them. Her uncle turned quickly and then looked back to her and shook his head.
“Well, this is your big chance,” he told her, “as here comes the earl now. And by the sound of his bellow, I can assure you he is not happy.”