Title: The Dragon and the Rose
Author: Gini Rifkin
Genre: Medieval Romance
He was the Dragon of Normandy. She was the Rose of Flanders. They met in the North of England and together they changed the course of hearts and history.
Sir Branoc Valtaigne, ordered to Northumbria by King William II, fights to keep peace along the Scottish border. He is a formidable battle-tested warrior, but as he honors his vows to God, king, and country, a young woman’s smile proves to be his undoing.
Martanzia Verheire, tricked into standing as good faith hostage for Flanders, seeks freedom from castle Bamburgh and love from Sir Branoc. As she clings to the Celtic dragon statue given to her by her mother, she leads them all to the brink of an era where true magic will be gone forever but where dreams can still come true.
The sound of people, as they congregated for today’s event, drifted upward. Still brooding and angry, Branoc stepped to the tower window to observe the guests below. Like a swirling sea of color, they ebbed and flowed across the courtyard. They chattered and laughed their gaiety profane in contrast to the anguish that surrounded his soul.
Hands clenched in frustration, he ground his fists against the rough edge of the window casement. The pain transformed his thoughts from despair to determination. There was no time to remedy his plight. The ritual would begin shortly, and he dare not arrive late. He would be among the first to pledge himself to King William II, even as his father had pledged his loyalty to King William I.
Standing tall, he turned his back to the window slit. His lot had been cast, if not by his own hand then certainly by that of Fate. And now, as before, he was left to gather together the crumbling pieces of his life. Now, as before, he was left to carry out in personal tragedy the promises uttered by others in good faith.
“Damn your eyes, Rathgar,” he swore. “A dark knight you have made me, and a dark knight I shall be. From now until Destiny decrees otherwise, I will wear the shade of doom and retribution that you have chosen for me.”
Crossing the room he touched the rim of the shield, and studied in more detail the fearsome image depicted upon the painted hide. He did not believe in the existence of dragons, yet he felt an odd sympathy for the hoary worm; a mythical beast both feared and admired. An invincible creature who’s memory survived only in the hearts of men and the minds of children. Sad to be only an illusion.
Or perhaps we were all mere illusions. Reflections of what we could be, or what we hoped to be. Truth and illusion. Opposite sides of the same coin. And ’twas the toss of that coin that determined a man’s future.
Grabbing up the somber attire, he dressed with pride and care, while visions of Rathgar still dogged his thoughts. “Before this game is through, old friend, you shall know the fury of the beast you have created, and you shall tremble before his might. I will champion this day,” Branoc vowed, “and conquer all of my tomorrows.”
“Neither God nor man shall deliver unto this earth a dragon more formidable than the one known as Valtaigne.”
The North Sea, July, 1100 A.D.
A monstrous wave tossed the tiny ship about with disinterested ease, and the windblown sea-spray added another layer of freezing mist to all that it touched.
With a hand pale as death, Martanzia Verheire drew her sodden cloak closer about her shivering body. Now she was cold as well as afraid.
Another breaker of grotesque proportions swept the listing craft upward, and for one breathless moment, the boat clung to the frothy crest. Then the unseen pelagic hand relinquished its grip, and the floundering craft careened downward at a riotous angle.
Clawing at the slippery surface, Martanzia fought to remain seated on the heaving deck. Her senses reeled and her stomach rebelled. Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined that sailing from Flanders to England would be such a dreadful ordeal.
Lightning fractured the sky, and thunder spilled through the cracks left behind. The rain could wait no longer. It poured down from above, blurring the dismal panorama, creating a perfect backdrop for the fiery images that blistered and burned in the back of her brain. She could still see Uncle Malbourne, smiling smugly and waving good-bye. ’Twas because of his trickery that she was here.
Anger boiled anew, sparring in her belly with the nausea already well entrenched there. She clutched at her stomach, and hunkered down lower on the deck of the small ship. Thoughts of Uncle only made her feel worse.
Another great paw of water tore at the boat. The craft nearly up-ended, flinging Martanzia backward. She slammed against the rough-hewn framework. Pain exploded in her shoulder and speared down her arm. A whimper escaped her lips, and a new and horrifying idea surfaced in her mind and gasped for breath. Would it aid Uncle Malbourne’s purpose if she died in the crossing? He was capable of murder...
She seized the knotted hemp that hung from the wooden hull, and braced her body against the strut. She must survive, if for no other reason than to spite him. Besides, she reasoned, even Uncle could not control the weather, and therefore he could not be assured of her demise at sea. If he had wanted her dead, he would have devised a method more certain of success.
But why allow her to live, and cart her off to an English nunnery? Surely, it was more than simply a punishment for her refusal to marry the odious Rathgar Relentes. Only time would reveal at what amusement Uncle played, and only then would she know her part in the game. One thing was most assuredly clear, he did not rescue her from Rathgar’s clutches out of pity, yet to be rescued at all must be considered a boon.
One day at a time, she reminded herself. That was how she would survive. There was no point in worrying about the future when none might exist.
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Escape to another time and place. Learn the legend of what really happened to the dragons and unicorns so often spoken of by ancient cultures. Follow a daring heroine brave enough to stand up to a hardened warrior who secretly wishes for peace and a chance at a better life amid the turmoil of a nation rife with changes.
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Gini Rifkin’s books follow characters who are courageous and passionate about life, and when they meet, sparks fly while danger often threatens. Her settings include the American West, Medieval and Victorian England, and Contemporary fantasy. When not writing, Gini has the privilege of caring for her menagerie of rescue animals including ducks, geese, goats, rabbits, donkeys, and cats. Her writing keeps her hungry to learn new things, and she considers family and friends her most treasured of gifts. So step back in time or into the future, where adventurous romance is waiting just for you.
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