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Freely Given by Jan Scarbrough is a Love and Romance Festival pick #medievalromance #giveaway
Title: Freely Given
Author: Jan Scarbrough
Genre: Medieval Romance
Four Short Medieval Romances
Take a step back in time when marriage choices were nearly non-existent for women. Noble marriages were arranged by king and family, not for love. What happened if the woman’s consent was not freely given?
Courtly love, as sung by troubadours, was often a refuge for Medieval wives. Yet, its basis was fantasy, a far cry from the harsh realities of everyday life. Will an unwilling bride find courtly love and satisfy the longings of her romantic heart?
Can a Medieval woman who doubts her vocation to the Church find true love in an arranged marriage?
Marriage based on love was foreign to the Medieval mind. Yet consent had to be freely given for a marriage to be valid. Can a reluctant bride dare refuse her betrothed without suffering the consequences?
A trip to the British museum in London catapults a modern exchange student back in time to a tragic life shrouded in secrecy, lust, and true love.
The Great Hall
I will not marry Robert Fitz Geoffrey, minister of the king’s council—he with the beak-like nose, the beady eyes, and breath like a farmer’s pig sty. I will not marry him. No matter the sharp looks my father gives. No matter the sighs from my mother. I will not marry such a man, when my heart belongs to another.
Robert, my betrothed, sits beside me at the head table during our midday meal, and we share a trencher. He takes my hand in his clammy one, leans over, and pinches my cheek with the other. I stiffen at the affront and grit my teeth.
Be nice to the servant of the king, my mother has warned, for we need his influence at court. We need the connection and power he can bring to our family. But they think nothing of me. What I want. What I need.
Men prefer younger women, my mother says. At eighteen they think me too old to make a better match. This is the best they can do for me, even though I have begged for another, lesser knight. They turned down John, Baron of Dunstan, when he asked for my hand. Not wealthy enough. Not powerful enough. They mock my folly. Yet I love him.
What does love matter in the game of matrimony? Marriage decisions are too important to entrust to the participants alone. I understand the way of the world. That does not mean I like it.
When the midday meal ends, the after-dinner delights continue—servants bringing plates filled with rich pastries topped by white sugar, marzipan frosted cakes with almonds, plus a variety of costly figs, pomegranates, and dates from foreign lands. Robert plucks a sugar-coated date from the plate and offers it to me. If I decline, I will insult him. Yet the intimate act of eating from his fingertips nauseates me. I do it anyway. What choice do I have? The date is sweet and chewy. I eat it slowly so not to gag.
“Bring out the troubadour!” My father barks the order. Sated by drink, his belly full, my father is ready for entertainment. He casts a lewd glance at a serving wench, and I can read his mind for it is not far from the expression of lust on his face.
Adultery is not accepted in a wife but expected of high-ranking men. I glance at my betrothed and see his shameless eyes wander as well. So much for his devotion to me. All fake. All phony. I glance at my long-suffering mother. She sits with stony face and clasped hands. My heart sighs for I know what my destiny portends.
Unless I change it.
The troubadour is a young man, clean shaven and lean. His eyes twinkle with merriment. He winks at me. I feel he understands what is happening.
Plucking the strings of his gittern, the young man sings in Norman French: “When I glimpsed her breasts / I wanted to cup them in my hands / Play with each nipple in turn. / Thus I fantasized our lovemaking / My cheeks flushed red with shame. / Desire urged me to kiss her mouth, / To kiss her, kiss her, to kiss her / Delighting to mark her as my own.”
I cannot shift my gaze from the eyes of the singing youth. In his clear voice, he expresses the desire I feel for my beloved. Although pent up—hidden—that desire burns brightly in my heart.
My nipples harden and my face sizzles. I long for John, Baron of Dunstan.
Robert and my father laugh at the troubadour’s bawdy words. Robert leans against my shoulder, goblet in hand, and drinks again. He places his cup on the table and kisses me full on my mouth, wine dribbling down his chin. I hate the taste of him. The smell of him. I hate his sharp fingers as they clutch at the bodice of my gown. To think, in a week I must legally accept this man’s hands upon my breasts, his fingers touching the most intimate parts of my body. It kills my soul. I cringe, not knowing how I am expected to suffer it.
Drawing away, Robert takes another drink. I sit back and try to wipe the grimace from my mouth. Chin high, I twist the gold ring set with a cut sapphire that I wear on the little finger of my left hand. John, Baron of Dunstan, gave it to me as pledge of his love. I hide the stone on the inside of my hand. No one knows of our pledge.
The troubadour winks again at me as a plan forms in my mind. I will escape Barbrooke Castle and my certain destiny. Yon troubadour will be my way out.
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The author of two popular Bluegrass romance series, Jan Scarbrough writes heartwarming contemporary stories about home and family, single moms, and children. Living in the horse country of Kentucky makes it easy for Jan to add small town, Southern charm to her books and the excitement of a Bluegrass horse race or a competitive horse show.
The Ghost Mountain Ranch series is a contemporary western series with a good blend of mystery and happily-ever-after romance. The Dawsons of Montana is another four-book contemporary western series.
Jan leaves her contemporary voice behind with two paranormal gothic romances, Timeless and Tangled Memories, a Romance Writers of America (RWA) Golden Heart finalist. Her historical romance, My Lord Raven, is a medieval story of honor and betrayal.
A member of Novelist, Inc., Jan self-publishes her books with her husband’s help.
Jan lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with one rescued dog, one rescued cat, and a husband she rescued twenty-three years ago.
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