The fifth in Sharan Newman's highly authentic and richly praised series, Cursed in the Blood finds Catherine LeVendeur venturing to the cold and tumultuous homeland of her husband--only to realize that vast differences between Edgar's family and her own.
After making the pilgrimage to Compostela and giving birth to a son, Catherine LeVendeur is looking forward to an idyllic life at home in Paris. Yet her contentment is shattered when she and Edgar receive news from his family: Edgar's two oldest brothers have been ambushed and murdered, and he must return to Scotland to help avenge their deaths. At first, Edgar refuses to go, knowing what may await them in his war torn homeland. But Catherine believes in family loyalty and insists upon accompanying him with their baby.
Once in Scotland, Catherine is surprised to learn that Edger's family is not what she imagined: His father, Waldeve, is a cold tyrant, and his remaining siblings are distant and secretive. Separated from Edgar during their efforts to uncover the truth, Catherine is expelled from his family's care. She becomes a stranger in a strange land, searching for refuge in a country ravaged by civil war at the same time she searches for her husband. Yet she knows that any haven she finds will only be temporary until she answers this question: Who among Waldeve's enemies hates his passionately enough to destroy his whole family--including, she fears, his infant grandson?
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About the Author
Sharan Newman won Romantic Times magazine's Career Achievement Award for Historical Mystery in 1999. She lives in Oregon.
Sharan Newman is a medieval historian and author. She took her Master’s degree in Medieval Literature at Michigan State University and then did her doctoral work at the University of California at Santa Barbara in Medieval Studies, specializing in twelfth-century France. She is a member of the Medieval Academy and the Medieval Association of the Pacific.
Rather than teach, Newman chose to use her education to write novels set in the Middle Ages, including three Arthurian fantasies and ten mysteries set in twelfth-century France, featuring Catherine LeVendeur, a one-time student of Heloise at the Paraclete; her husband, Edgar, an Anglo-Scot; and Solomon, a Jewish merchant of Paris. The books focus on the life of the bourgeoisie and minor nobility and also the uneasy relations between Christians and Jews at that time. They also incorporate events of the twelfth-century such as the Second Crusade and the rise of the Cathars.
The Catherine Levendeur mysteries have been nominated for many awards. Sharan won the Macavity Award for best first mystery for Death Comes As Epiphany and the Herodotus Award for best historical mystery of 1998 for Cursed in the Blood. The most recent book in the series The Witch in the Well won the Bruce Alexander award for best Historical mystery of 2004.
Just for a change, her next mystery, The Shanghai Tunnel, is set in Portland in 1868.
Newman has also written non-fiction books, including The Real History Behind the Da Vince Code (Berkley 2005) and the upcoming Real History Behind the Templars.
Newman lives on a mountainside in Oregon.
Read an Excerpt
Cursed in the Blood
A Catherine LeVendeur Mystery
By Sharan Newman
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2000 Sharan Newman
All rights reserved.
CURSED IN THE BLOOD
OneA ditch on the north side of Hadrian's Wall, Scotland. AscensionThursday, 3 ides of May (May 13), 1143.
aðwear afeallen thaes folces ealdor, Æðelredes eorl; ealle gesawonheorðgeneatas that hyro heorra lœg. Tha ðœr wenden forð wlancethegenas, unearge men efston georne: hi wolden tha ealle ðœr twega.lif forlœtan oððe leofne gewrecan.
Then fell in battle the people's lord, Æthelræd's earl; everyone saw, all his hearthsharers, that their leader lay slain. Then went forth the proud thanes, fearless men, hastened there gladly. They all wished only one or the other, to lay down their lives or avenge their loved one.
--The Battle of Maldon, lines 203--209
"This way, Lords!" The old man panted with exertion and fear. "You'll see. We touched nothing; I swear, by Saint Cuddy's cow! They're just as my boy found them.""Stop mewling and get on with it!" the rider, Urric, shouted at the pair running before him. He muttered to himself as he watched them stumbling to keep ahead of the horses, "Stupid neyfs!""What's that?" His friend Algar guided his horse closer to better hear him."I said, they've not touched it? Those two must be cracked if they haven't taken anything. Insane to have come to us at all. Do they expect old Waldeve to reward them? He'll just as likely have them hanged from the portcullis for bringing him such news."Algar nodded agreement, then his face changed as a sudden thought struck him."What do you suppose he'll do to us, then?"Urric only grunted. It was too late to worry about that. The peasants had stopped, the older of them bent over breathless from the run across the hilly countryside. The younger pointed to a pile of branches and brush torn from the sides of the ditch."Under here, Lords," he told them. "Nothing has been moved. I covered them again as best I could, but it looks like the birds have been at that leg, already."He paused, staring at the ravaged limb above the leather boot.Urric's expression didn't change. "Get on with it," he ordered. "Show me."The men on horseback waited while the peasants pulled back the branches covering what was left of the bodies. When the job was finished, they dismounted and examined the remains."It's them, for certain," Urric said after a moment. "Both of them. No doubt of it. The faces aren't that much marred.""And the boy, as well," Algar added sadly. "Poor lad. His first time out with a sword. You can tell that they all went down fighting, though. Not that it'll be much comfort to the old man. His two eldest sons and his grandson, all slaughtered. This'll kill him."Urric snorted, then gagged at the rising stench."Not that old bastard," he said. "I know him too well. Their deaths won't kill him. If anything, this will make him fiercer; it's hate that's kept him alive this long. No, we're the ones who'll die in the war this tragedy will cause."Algar nodded, but not bitterly. It was right that murder should be avenged. As Lord Waldeve's man, it was Algar's duty to see that those who had slain his kin paid the price for their crime. If Algar died in the pursuit of that justice, he trusted his lord would see his own killer punished, as well.Urric agreed in principle, but he was older and had seen more battle than Algar. Occasionally he wondered if the honor involved in blood feuds was worth the loss of so many good men. He had always firmly quashed such uncertainties. They stank of cowardice and the preaching of Norman priests.He looked at the bodies again. The sight was enough to erase all doubt. These men hadn't just been his lords, but his friends. Those who had slaughtered them deserved not only to die, but first to feel the pain that Urric felt now."You!" he pointed at the older peasant. "Tell me again. How did you find them?""It was my nephew, here, that did." The man gestured toward the youth, who wiped his runny nose and looked up at them with a sullen expression. "He went to look for a ewe that escaped from the lambing pen. Thought she might have gone off somewhere private to drop it. They do that sometimes.""I don't care about the habits of sheep," Urric warned him."Ah, yes ... no, of course not." The man glanced nervously at the sword and knife Urric carried. "He saw the birds circling and thought it might be the lamb stillborn. When he saw what it really was, he pulled the brush back over them and ran for me. I sent for you at once, Sir.""And it's just as he left it?" Urric asked. "Nothing touched since then?"The boy shook his head vigorously. His uncle answered for him."What was here then is here now," he insisted. "Saving what the birds got."Urric nodded. He bent over one of the bodies and motioned for Algar to do the same. Algar's eyes widened and his stomach contracted abruptly. He gripped Urric's arm in anger and disbelief. At the end of each right arm was only a ragged stump."Their right hands have been cut off!" he gasped. He looked around wildly for the missing parts."You won't find them," Urric said. "It was done after they died. See? No bleeding to speak of.""Taken for trophies?" Algar asked. "But why hands? I'd have thought it would be their heads."Urric shook his head in worry. "So would I. Worthy adversaries lose their heads. What reason could they have for cutting a man's hand off?"The peasant assumed it was a general question."If they be thieves, Lord," he said. "Thieves and poachers, and oath-breakers of course."Urric gave him a look that made the man wish he had kept his own counsel. He stepped back, away from the bodies. Perhaps he and his nephew could just slip away now.Algar saw them edging off."Stop at once!" he shouted.They froze."Help us wrap the bodies of the lords Alexander, Egbert and Edgar in those blankets," he ordered. "Algar, can your horse carry them all? You can ride behind me."Reluctantly, the peasants complied. Urric watched them closely as they set each body on a blanket and bound it with rope. Death as such didn't bother him, neither did ambush and murder. He'd done plenty of that, himself. The Peace of God hadn't reached the North, and there were no roads safe from brigands. Or from one's enemies. And every man had enemies. But there was something wrong about this. Robbers stole everything, down to woolen hose and shifts. Enemies at least took weapons and jewelry as honest booty. Urric shook his head. Nothing had been taken from Waldeve's sons, not even their swords, now lying next to the bodies. The only things missing were their horses and their hands.He shuddered, then quickly crossed himself, muttering a prayer of protection.With much effort, the four men managed to get the bodies onto Algar's horse and tie them securely. The peasants turned back to Urric, looking at him with a mixture of hope and terror."You can see we took nothing," the older one pointed out. "Sent word to the reeve right away."Urric had mounted and reached down to pull Algar up behind him. Algar paused. He gestured toward the peasants."They're harmless, Urric," he whispered. "They could have looted the bodies and hid them again. And, as you said, they'll get no thanks from Waldeve."Grudgingly, Urric agreed. He reached behind his saddle for his pack. Rumaging through it for a moment, he brought out a square of linen. He balled it up and tossed it to the man."Here," he said. "It's to wear next to your skin. Softer than wool."The man felt the material with a look of delight, stuffed it in his belt and with much bowing, backed away from the horseman until he judged he was far enough to turn and make a dash for home. His nephew was already well ahead of him.As the men rode off, Algar nudged Urric. "Linen? What's he going to do with that?""If he's smart, give it to a pretty girl in exchange for her favors," Urric answered. "But it's just as likely that anyone so dutiful that he reports a body without stealing so much as a pair of boots will probably give his reward to the parish priest for the good of his soul. Idiot, I say!"He spat against the wind. Behind him, Algar wiped the spittle off his cheek.
The peasants ran until they were sure they were out of sight of the horsemen. Then they stopped and leaned together to catch their breath."Do you think they believed us, Uncle?" the youth asked."Of course they did." The old man held up the linen with a laugh. "They think we're too much in awe of them to lie.""Stupid bastards," his nephew said.
Waldeve, thane of the shire of Wedderlie, which consisted of three villages, woods, a good fishing stream and not much else, sat alonein his bed chamber. He knew before Urric and Algar had returned that the bodies found had been those of his sons and grandson. He'd known his boys were dead three days ago when they hadn't come back. His wife had tried to convince him that they had simply been overtaken by the dark and taken refuge in a village or a priory. But he'd have none of it. He was as sure of their deaths as if he'd heard the final screams and felt their souls flit through his body, hunting for a way around Purgatory.He wanted to grieve for them, but he couldn't make himself feel anything, not even for Edgar, his eldest grandchild. A promising boy, almost as bright as the uncle he'd been named for. Waldeve swallowed the bile that rose with the memory. His fifth son, also Edgar, had been intended for the church. He could have been bishop of Saint-Andrews, or Glasgow, or even the new see at Carlisle. Instead the boy had gone mad while studying in France and married a nun, or something like that. He'd only seen Edgar once in the last twelve years, and that hadn't been a good meeting. The boy had come home only to announce that he was giving up his family and selling the land his mother had left him, all for a woman with no title whom he hadn't even slept with yet.The old anger stirred Waldeve more than the immediate grief."My lord, Urric and Algar have returned."The voice was soft and expressionless. Waldeve sighed. The fact that his wife had come to tell him instead of sending a servant sealed his certainty. He looked up. Adalisa stood just outside the curtain, her hand gripping the thick material so tightly her knuckles were white. Her face was blotched with tears."What do you have to grieve about?" he snapped. "They were none of yours."Adalisa took the blow with little more than a flicker of an eyelash. He'd said crueler things."Your sons have been laid out in the Hall," she answered, the emphasis barely noticeable. "Do you wish to see them?"He glared at her in response and stood up. He took a step, then stopped, his eyes closed. He swayed a moment. Adalisa put a hand out to support him, then drew it back. The old man took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders and raised his chin proudly. She held the curtain aside as he passed through, not touching her.
Urric and Algar stood well back as Waldeve examined the bodies. The others in the hall were silent in horror. The only sound was the rustle of mice in the straw on the floor.Finally Waldeve turned and faced his household."Someone's going to Hell for this," he said in a voice all the more terrifying for being so low and steady. "And I intend to send them there one piece at a time."In the upper regions of the keep a woman began to scream. The noise was soon accompanied by wails and lamentations from the others. Lord Waldeve closed his eyes. He recognized the loudest. It was Sibilla, Alexander's wife. She had lost both husband and son. It was right now for her to mourn. He wouldn't rob her of it. He only wished she'd do it somewhere else."My lord, shall I call the priest?"Waldeve started. He had forgotten his wife was still there. "Adalisa, I have work to do. We don't need that noise now. Can't you quiet them?""Of course not," she told him. "It's only proper that they should shriek their loss to heaven. I would rather you joined them than hold your cold silence, keeping these good men standing when they are no doubt tired, hungry, thirsty and heartsore themselves."She gestured at the two soldiers.Algar stood stiffly and tried to appear impervious to human needs. Urric's left eye twitched in what might have been a wink. Quickly, Adalisa turned back to her husband, who sighed and waved them away."Go." he said. "Wash, eat. Then sharpen your swords."Gratefully, the men left. Adalisa let her shoulders droop. She knelt by Waldeve's chair and tried to put her arms around him. He pushed her away."Why are you weeping?" he demanded. "What has this to do with you?"Adalisa stood."I was their stepmother. I arranged their weddings and took in their wives. I was the first after the midwife to hold baby Edgar. Nearly twenty years they've been part of my life. And you can't imagine why I should weep.""They weren't your blood," he said, dismissing her and her grief with a gesture. "Now, go quiet those women. And, yes, send for thepriest. Tell him I want Masses said for them without ceasing for the next month.""And the burial?" she asked.He swallowed. "At once."Adalisa nodded and left. The bodies had to be washed and wrapped. It was the job of the women of the family to do it. But after three days in the open, the task might be more than Alexander's and Egbert's wives could endure. Adalisa stopped and leaned against the cold stone wall. Of course she would do it; there was no way it could be avoided. She was the lady of the keep. Her job was to see that everything ran smoothly, that there was food on the table, beds enough for guests. She held the keys to the larder and the storerooms, to everything except the iron-bound box that lay beneath their bed. She was the mistress of Wedderlie and its slave.So there was no time for weeping. And why should she grieve for her husband's sons? After all, as he had sneered, they had been nothing to her.Nothing at all, she told herself as her tears began again.
The kitchen was full of people and clatter when Urric and Algar entered. The pot boy saw them first and stopped scrubbing. The silence spread out from him until the room was still enough to hear the roast sizzling. The soldiers saw the curiosity in twenty pairs of eyes as they came down the steps."Ale," Urric said. "And soup. We're frozen clean through with the wind and rain."A space was cleared at the long table, between the chopped roots and the half-plucked birds. The men sat. No one said a word until each had drained a bowl of ale and made good headway into the trencher of soup."When do we ride?" The abrupt question was not unexpected. Everyone had been waiting for the order since word had come that the bodies had been found.Urric shrugged. "The old man hasn't said.""Who did it?" That was not as important.Algar shook his head."No one saw." He poured another bowl of ale. "It wasn't for booty. It had to be retribution."Everyone was silent again, trying to think which of the great families Waldeve or his sons could have offended."We're at war with no one now," the cook said finally. "At least, not that I've heard."His tone indicated that he expected to be the first one told."There's plenty who'd like to pay back old wounds." The voice came from someone at the back. They all nodded. Memories of ancient insults were long as winter nights in the north. And tales told by the fire fanned resentment for years until only a spark was needed for it to explode into fury."Someone will know." Urric sighed and tried to straighten a kink in his back. "And they'll get drunk and tell someone else, or brag to some woman and she'll pass it on. No ..." He stopped, wincing as his spine fell into place. "That's not right. Why should it be a secret? Whoever did this, they must want us to know. Why else kill them and take nothing but ... ?""Their hands," the cook finished. "You don't need to be delicate. We all heard."He rubbed his wrist as if to assure himself that his own hand was still connected. He wasn't the only one.Algar finished his soup and got up. He'd just remembered something."With the lords Alexander and Egbert dead, that means Duncan's the oldest son."He shivered. There was something about Waldeve's third son that made him want cold iron and holy water near him at all times, just to be safe, either way.In the smoky kitchen more than one hand moved in the ancient sign to ward off evil.Urric snorted. "That doesn't make him thane of Wedderlie," he said. "Alexander's got another son who could inherit, and there's always Robert."The cook wasn't about to let this reassure anyone. "Alexander's son is a child still, and as for Robert, well, it seems to me Waldeve picked the wrong boy to make into a priest."Everyone nodded.The gloom in the kitchen was thicker than the smoke. A vision of life under Duncan of Wedderlie was terrifying to contemplate. When Duncan had gone off to Durham to cast his lot with the king's chancellor, William Cumin, in his fight for the bishopric, the household had cheered his going and prayed that he would never return.Finally a spatter from the roast that was no longer being turned brought the cook back to the present."No point in borrowing trouble," he said. "There's enough here now. Lord Waldeve's got plenty of good years left. By the time he goes, young Ædmer will be old enough to take over. You! Gille-crist! Who told you to stop working? That meat'll be raw on one side and burnt on the other."The servant hurriedly grabbed the spit and began turning it, wincing as the heat of the metal came through the cloth wrapped around his hand. The others made a show of getting back to their duties as well. But the air of disquiet remained. The horror of the loss was bad enough, but the fear of what it might lead to was worse.
Adalisa made her way slowly up to the women's rooms. She had consulted with the priest, overseen the preparing of the bodies, ordered food for the funeral and sent messengers to various kin, including Waldeve's cousin and lord, the earl of Dunbar. Now she had to go face the wives of her stepsons and their children, console them in their grief and calm their fear about the future.She wished there were one place in this whole bailiwick where she could hide.Reaching the top of the stairs, Adalisa drew back the curtain, steeling herself to endure Sibilla's wailing.The widows sat in chairs by the window. Egbert's wife, Anna, held their new son. Her other boy was only four. He sat by the side of her chair, sucking his thumb. Anna knew that she would be given little time to mourn. She was heiress to a castle and five villages. Suitors would be arriving before grass sprouted on her husband's grave.Sibilla was staring at the dust that was dancing in the afternoon sunlight. She had only one child left now, and he had been sent for fostering at the earl's court. Adalisa could only imagine the depth of her devastation.Sitting between the women, cross-legged on the floor, the sunlight catching the gold in her red hair, was Margaret. She greeted Adalisa with a tremulous smile."Mama, I'm so glad you're back," she said. "No one will tell me anything."The girl rose with a fluid grace and Adalisa realized as they hugged that her daughter was growing again. She could rest her chinon Margaret's head now. Nearly eleven. It didn't seem possible. She hugged the child more tightly."There's nothing to tell, sweeting," Adalisa told her. "The preparations have been made for the burial tomorrow. We shall keep vigil and pray tonight."She stopped as Sibilla gave a low moan and covered her face with her scarf."I'm sorry, Sibilla," she added. "Margaret, there's something you can do for me. Run down and get some water. Then bring me my herb box. We all need something to ease the pain."When the child had gone, Adalisa went over to the two women. She had no idea what to say to them. Sibilla looked up, her eyes red in her pale face."What's to become of me?" she asked. "Whatever shall I do now?""I don't know," Adalisa answered. "This isn't the time to think of it.""And what else shall I dwell on? My poor child's body, perhaps?" Sibilla was well over the edge of hysteria."His soul, waiting for you in Heaven?"Sibilla's response to that was less than devout. Anna looked up from the baby, shocked."Of course young Edgar is in Heaven!" she said. "Or will be soon. What had he to repent of? And we'll have the nuns pray for him night and day, just to be sure.""Well, don't think I'll be joining them in the convent," Sibilla answered. "I've no intention of spending the rest of my days surrounded by women. Oh, dear holy Mother, what's to become of me?"Adalisa sighed with relief as Margaret returned, carrying a pail of water in one hand and balancing the herb box against the opposite hip."Thank goodness," she said. "Here, give me the box. Pour some of the water into the long-handled pot and the rest into the bowl next to the brazier. Heat them both. Now, what do I need?"She took out borage, vervain and wood betony, putting them into a linen square, which she then tied with string. When the pot boiled, she dipped the sachet in it until it soaked enough to sink. While she waited for the herbs to steep, she took out a small vial and dripped a bit of oil onto the steaming water in the bowl."Tincture of roses," she told the women. "Lean over it and breath. It will ease your minds."While they were doing that, she brought a pitcher of strong Gascon wine. She mixed the herbal potion with it."Drink this, all in a draught," she ordered. "You need it. You must sleep tonight. Tomorrow will be long."They obeyed. Adalisa gave some to Margaret as well, diluting the wine considerably for her."Will you stay with your sisters-in-law?" she asked her daughter. "I must see to your father."Margaret nodded. Adalisa kissed her."I'll send one of the other women up soon. They're washing now.Washing off the smell of death. Adalisa didn't add it, but something in Margaret's eyes said that she knew.
Waldeve had put on his riding boots. He paced back and forth across the hall, raising clouds of chaff. His men stood near the hearth, trying not to cough. They were desperate for action. All Waldeve had to do was give the order."Urric!" Waldeve shouted.Urric sprang to attention. "Yes, my lord!""Has Robert been sent for?"Urric sagged a bit. "Yes, my lord.""Where is he, then?"Urric looked over at Algar, who answered all in a rush, as if hoping to distance himself from the words as quickly as possible."Lord Robert said that he had something to finish, but he would be here by nightfall."The men waited for the eruption, but Waldeve only tightened his lips and continued his pacing."Bring him to me as soon as he arrives," he told them. "Now, Algar, you'll need to go find my brother."Algar stared. "Your brother, Lord?""Yes, you remember him." Waldeve stopped long enough to give Algar the full force of his sneer. "Tall man, red hair, beak like a puffin. Totally mad.""Yes, Lord." Algar hesitated. "Where should I start looking?"Waldeve considered. "Edinburgh," he said finally. "He's often there. If not, you'll have to search farther north.""Yes, Lord," Algar answered. "I'll leave at first light."Algar stepped back relieved. Urric closed his eyes. He knew what the next order would be."Urric!""Yes, Lord.""You and Swein ride at once for Durham." Waldeve ignored the wince both men gave. "Tell my son Duncan that he doesn't need to fight for that Norman upstart anymore. He's just become my heir."Satisfied that things were finally being accomplished, Waldeve stopped his circumnambulation of the room, sat down and called for wine. He had just finished the first cup when his fourth son, Robert, came in, a sleek hunting dog at his heels."Father!" he cried. "How did it happen? Who did it?"Waldeve gazed at his son with contempt."If you'd been with them, you'd know," he answered.Robert was brought up short. "If I'd been with them, I'd be dead, too. Did you send for me to tell me I should have been slaughtered?"Waldeve held out his cup to be refilled."No, I sent for you to tell you that you're going to France." He waited for the shocked response, then smiled. "Edgar may have abandoned his family for his French whore, but his blood is still ours and it's his duty to come home and fight with us to avenge his brothers.""He won't come, Father," Robert answered."You make him come," Waldeve said quietly. "Or don't bother returning."Robert opened his mouth to protest, noticed Adalisa in the doorway gesturing for him to agree. He turned away angrily, but then gave in."Very well," he said. "I'll leave as soon as I can arrange for someone to oversee the spring shearing.""You'll leave at once," Waldeve told him. "And return by the kalends of July."Robert managed to get out of the hall before he gave way to his anger. Adalisa followed him. She put her hand on his arm, stopping him from pounding his fist against the stone wall."Please, Robert," she said. "Do as he asks. And come back quickly, as quickly as you can. Remember that until you and Edgar return, there will be no one to stand between your father and Duncan.And no one to stand between Duncan and the rest of us. Tell Edgar he must come. We need you both; all of us need you to protect us from him."Robert shivered. She was right. Finding and punishing murderers was no more than usual summer activity here in Lothian. The real test would be to stand up to his brother Duncan. For that, Robert wanted all the support he could get."If I go, will you see to it that Lufen here is taken care of?" he asked Adalisa.He bent over to rub the dog's flank lovingly. His stepmother smiled."I'll send her scraps from my own dinner, if you like," she promised. "And she may sleep here in the hall. I know how much you care for her.""There's no one in the world that matters more to me," Robert answered. "She's the only one, besides you, whom I can trust.""I know," she said. "So come back to us soon.""By the kalends of July," he promised. "And Edgar will be with me."Copyright © 1998 by Sharan Newman
Excerpted from Cursed in the Blood by Sharan Newman. Copyright © 2000 Sharan Newman. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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