Set in Medieval Wales, this trilogy by Romantic Times Award–winning author Rexanne Becnel introduces the FitzHughs, a clan contending with traitorous enemies, political strife, and their own warring hearts in the name of honor, duty, and love.
The Bride of Rosecliffe: Invincible in battle, Randulf FitzHugh journeys to a remote corner of northern Wales to create an English stronghold in the name of King Henry I. But his most formidable adversary is Josselyn ap Carreg Du, a woman ready to marry a barbaric Welsh warlord in order to unite her people against the English invaders—until she’s taken prisoner.
The Knight of Rosecliffe: Vengeance-seeking Welsh beauty Rhonwen ap Tomas must choose between her homeland and her heart when she falls in love with Jasper FitzHugh, an English knight whose life she saved—but whom she’s now sworn to kill.
The Mistress of Rosecliffe: Rogue knight Rhys ap Owain has waited twenty years to avenge his father’s murder and reclaim his stolen birthright. Isolde FitzHugh, the ravishing eldest daughter of his enemy, will be the instrument of his retribution. But hate is no match for the love that forces them to confront a destiny greater than they could imagine . . .
About the Author
Rexanne Becnel is the author of more than twenty historical romance and contemporary mainstream novels, many of which appeared on the USA Today bestseller list. With the publication of her first novel, My Gallant Enemy, Becnel won the Waldenbooks Award for Best First-Time Romance Author and the Romantic Times Award for Best Medieval Romance by a New Author. While growing up, Becnel lived for a time in Germany and England, where she became fascinated by medieval history. After studying architecture at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, she worked as a building inspector for the Vieux Carré Commission, the agency of the City of New Orleans charged with protecting and preserving the distinct architectural and historic character of the French Quarter. Becnel lives in New Orleans with her husband and two children.
Read an Excerpt
Carreg Du, Wales March A.D. 1134
"'Winter's end is ... is nigh.'" Josselyn glanced at Newlin, and when he did not respond, she repeated the translation. "'Winter's end is nigh.' That is correct, is it not?"
The misshapen little man looked up at her. It was clear his thoughts had wandered away from today's lesson. Josselyn's brow creased with worry. During the long weeks of this bitterest of winters he'd often become preoccupied. Was he unwell? Or did the ageless bard sense some disturbing change in the air?
"Winter's end is indeed nigh," he echoed, but in their native Welsh. "And with its end will come an end to these lessons," he added, looking at her with his peculiar mismatched gaze.
Josselyn shrugged. "Perhaps for a while. There will be much to do once spring is truly upon us. But summer will bring me more time."
"Summer may see you wed and tending to your husband."
"And who will that husband be?" she asked in the French language of the Normans. "Anyone I know?" she finished, in the rougher Saxon tongue of the English.
He smiled at her, though only the left side of his mouth turned up. The right side of his face remained in its perpetually down-drawn expression. Indeed, the entire right side of his body was thus: arm shriveled, leg twisted. He walked with a pronounced limp and had only his left arm with which to perform his daily tasks.
But the blessings that God had withheld from his body, He'd made up for by gifting the man with an astonishing mind. Newlin was widely acknowledged as the wisest and most intelligent man in Rhofoniog. From the English border in the east, to the wide sea far west of the wildwood surrounding the village of Carreg Du, he had no match. He spoke four languages fluently, their own Cymraeg, both the French and English he'd taught her, and the Latin tongue known primarily to the priests.
He knew the stars, how to cipher, could foretell the weather, and understood the animals as well. He forgot nothing he'd ever heard, and throughout the long dark winters enthralled the people of Carreg Du with his tales of old and predictions of times yet to come.
He had no age and no one was certain whence he'd come. He'd always lived in the domen near the meadow, and though no one else would dare seek shelter under those burial stones beside the hill laced with climbing roses, no one argued his right to do so.
The two of them sat now, perched on a rocky outcropping halfway up the slope of that hill. Josselyn stared below them to the rough meadow, not yet showing any signs of spring save the spongy ground, soaked with the winter thaw. Newlin's gaze, however, turned toward the crest of the hill, toward the cliffs. After a moment he began to clamber upward.
"Wait. Where are you going?" "To the sea."
"The sea? What of my lesson?" she called out as he scuttled away with his strange sideways gait.
"Winter's end is nigh," he called back in English. "And spring shall give birth to a future we cannot escape," he added, though this time in their mother tongue.
Josselyn knew better than to press him regarding the meaning of that. Newlin revealed what he wanted, when he wanted to. His predictions, when they came, were frighteningly accurate. What this future was that they could not escape, Josselyn did not begin to know. But she scrambled up after him, hoping for an explanation.
They reached the crest of the great stone outcropping together. The wind was bitter across the dark churning sea. Bitter with the cold. Bitter with the damp. Josselyn stood up against it, though, ignoring the icy fingers of wind that tore at her wool kirtle and cloak, and whipped her soot-black hair around her face. This was the pinnacle overlooking the lands of her people. Though not the highest point, it nonetheless was imbued with an essence that defined the wild freedom of northern Wales.
The great stone outcropping was known as Carreg Du, the Black Stone. Many, like herself, had adopted it as part of their name. She was Josselyn ap Carreg Du, just as her father had called himself Howell ap Carreg Du.
Their family had been a part of this land since before recorded time, since before the oldest tales of the early kings, and their struggles to survive. She loved everything about this green fold of wildwood between the mountains and the sea. That's what had driven her out of her uncle's snug house this third Sunday of the Lenten season, the need to be out on their lands. Now she looked down the cliffs to the sea, and marveled as she had so many times before that roses should grow in so inhospitable a place.
She breathed deeply of the salty air, then shivered at the cold. But that was all right. She could bear the cold a little longer. After all, winter's end was nigh. She looked around for Newlin and found him staring off to the east, rocking forward and back as he so often did when his thoughts delved deep. Forward and back. Forward and back.
Her gaze followed his out to sea, to where the sun pierced the heavy clouds and cast diamond glints against the waves. But it was not only the sun glinting off the sea in brilliant flashes of white. There was something else. A sail. A ship. Josselyn squinted, trying to make it out.
"The future we cannot escape," Newlin stated. Each word came out in a frigid puff, immediately dispersed by the north wind.
"Is it a good future, or a bad one?" Josselyn asked, feeling even colder now than before.
The odd little man shrugged his one good shoulder. "Like all futures, 'tis good for some, and not so for others. Still," he added with his familiar twisted grin. "You must agree that any future is better than no future."
True. But as they made their way back down from the rose cliffs, then parted ways — she for her village, he for his mean abode beneath the domen — Josselyn was filled with a nameless foreboding. She'd lived these past nine years with her aunt and uncle. They had no children of their own and they'd been happy to take her in when her parents had died. She'd been safe with them with no need to look to the future.
But change was in the air. She knew it and so did Newlin. And she didn't like it at all.
"They've erected tents on Rosecliffe. And they continue to remove an endless stream of supplies from their ship."
Josselyn listened to Dewey's report as did the rest of the villagers gathered in her uncle's hall. Uncle Clyde sat without moving, pondering his scout's disturbing news in that silent manner he had. As the moments stretched out, Josselyn had to restrain herself from prodding a response from him. She loved her uncle dearly, but he was most certainly not a man given to impulsive action.
"Post a watch on them," he finally ordered. "We need to know numbers of men, amounts of materials." He paused. "Send for the scribe. Madoc ap Lloyd will want to know of this as well."
He ignored the murmurings generated by that remark. The lands of the Lloyd family lay just west of Carreg Du, but the fact that they were neighbors did not mean the two families were friendly. The Lloyds were as greedy as the English king, albeit on a different scale. A sheep gone missing. An ox. They hunted on Carreg Du lands and pilfered from Carreg Du's fields whenever they could get away with it. Everyone knew they were not to be trusted. Still, all the Welsh shared a common enemy in the English. And with the English setting up an encampment at Rosecliffe, Uncle Clyde was right to put aside his differences with the Lloyds.
Unfortunately, Josselyn did not believe it merely an encampment. "What if they're here to stay?"
Everyone turned to stare at her. A faint flush rose in her cheeks, but she ignored it and stared earnestly at her uncle. "The group that came last winter was smaller, and they stayed only a few days. But this group is larger. And at least two men from the previous group are here again."
Uncle Clyde frowned and for a moment Josselyn feared he meant to reprimand her before the entire village, first for speaking out on a matter that was, strictly speaking, a men's issue, and second for venturing near the English encampment. After a nerve-racking silence he said, "You recognized two of them from last winter?"
Josselyn nodded. There were not many men as tall and broad-shouldered as the younger of the two. Everything about his looks and bearing proclaimed him a warrior. If he did not lead the English, he was at least central to their nefarious plans. She was certain of it.
The other man sported a heavy red beard and had more the air of a scholar. It had been he whom she'd been the most curious about. At least that was what she'd told herself. The tall man had been comely in the hard way some fighting men had. It was the attractiveness that came with absolute confidence. But that sort of confidence more often than not carried with it the unattractive specter of arrogance. So she'd turned her eyes away from him and concentrated on the smaller, portly fellow.
Was he a bard like Newlin? she'd wondered. Last winter he'd walked the length and breadth of the lands at the top of Rosecliffe, marking down his observations on a roll of parchment. How that parchment had intrigued her. Now he was back with more parchments under his arm.
Though it was only a suspicion, she felt compelled to share it. "You know how the English are — how greedy their king is. He wants our lands joined to his. Hasn't he built one of his fortresses two days' travel south of here, on land that once was Daffyd land? I think he plans to do the same thing here. I think he means to construct a castle at Rosecliffe."
"A castle? Not here —"
"Damn the godforsaken English!"
"They wouldn't dare try such a thing —"
"Yes they would," Josselyn vowed, fired up by the heated emotions rocketing around the smoky hall. "That king of theirs — Henry of Normandy — believes God has granted him the rights to our lands —"
She broke off under her uncle's dark scowl. Everyone else did the same. Only when silence once more reigned did Clyde speak. "More reason than ever to inform Madoc ap Lloyd." He stood and everyone else did the same. "Arrange for a messenger, Dewey. Now leave me to think." To his wife, Nesta, he added, "Send in the scribe when he gets here."
Josselyn filed out of the main hall along with the others. But her blood had been roused by the storm warnings of imminent warfare, and she could not simply go off to the kitchens as if nothing of consequence had taken place today. She ran to fetch parchment, ink, quill, and sand, then returned and slipped into the hall.
Her uncle stood before a painting of his brother, her father, and Josselyn knew what he was thinking. Howell ap Carreg Du had died fighting the English nearly ten years ago. His grief-stricken wife had died giving birth not a month later, along with an infant son, both deaths also attributable to the wretched king of England. In the ensuing years the English had abandoned their efforts in northern Wales. But their successes in the south had clearly encouraged them anew, for it appeared they now had returned.
How many Welsh lives would be sacrificed to stop them this time?
She beat back a shiver of apprehension. "I have the parchment, Uncle. If you will dictate your message, I will write it down."
Slowly he turned to face her. "You have other duties. I can wait for the scribe."
She lifted her chin a notch. "I would rather write your message to Madoc ap Lloyd. My hand is as neat as any scribe's."
Clyde stared at his niece, his only brother's only heir — and his as well. She was a brave lass — that no one could dispute, least of all him. And she was smart, with an education far surpassing his own. Newlin was to be thanked for that — or blamed. Clyde often worried that the thirst for learning the bard had fired in her would lead to her unhappiness. Such knowledge made a dreamer of the most practical soul. But dreamer or no, the times would force her dreams aside. She must be practical now — as must he.
He agreed to her request with a nod. She gave him a pleased smile, but he knew it would not last.
"I bid you greeting, Madoc ap Lloyd," he began, pausing periodically as the scratching of the quill pen caught his words forever on the rare parchment. She was right, her hand was straight and true, with no ink splotches to mar its progress.
"... time to unite against our common enemy. To ensure the peace between us endures, I would discuss a matter we have put aside in the past."
When he did not continue, Josselyn looked up. The light cast by the single oil lamp limned her face with gold. She was as beautiful as her mother had been, he thought, not for the first time. Rich black hair. The glowing skin of robust youth. But for all her feminine beauty, she also possessed her father's soul, his daring and his impulsiveness. If any woman could tame Madoc's hot-tempered son — or at least redirect his energies — it was Josselyn.
Still, he did not relish what he must do.
"What is this matter you have put aside?" she asked, staring at him with the clear blue eyes of his brother.
"It is the matter of peace between us and the family of Lloyd."
"Yes, but how do you propose to maintain it? You know what will happen. Once the English are routed, the Lloyds will become the same thieving troublemakers they've always been. They are not to be trusted."
"I plan to marry our family to theirs," he said without elaborating.
She met his stare without blinking, and he knew to the second when she understood his meaning. Though her breathing came a little faster she showed no other emotion. "To Owain?" she said at last.
He nodded his head. "If you will agree. His time of mourning is done. He will want another wife for his son. And more children, as well."
She took a slow breath, then dipped the quill in the ink and frowned down at the neatly lettered parchment. "Do you wish to add anything?" "No."
Josselyn watched as her uncle signed the message. Then she dated it and melted the wax so he could seal it with his signet ring. She refused to let herself react to the devastating news he'd just delivered. She refused to succumb to her fears, for she knew them to be unimportant in the greater scheme of things. But still, those fears would not go away.
Owain ap Madoc was a cruel thug, who'd been the bane of existence for the people of Carreg Du for as long as she could recall. He was recently widowed, though, and so this should come as no surprise to her. The fact that no one would force her to wed him was beside the point. She had the freedom to turn him down. No Welsh woman could be forced to wed a man loathsome to her.
And Owain was loathsome to her. She knew him mainly by reputation, for she'd only laid eyes on him four times in her life. But that had sufficed. The first time had been at a harvest celebration in Carreg Du. She had been but a child and he a gangling youth, brawling with other boys. Playing cruel tricks on those younger and weaker than he. Bullying them.
The next time she'd been twelve and he'd come upon her while she was picking blueberries in Saint Cedric's Vale. She'd not understood everything he'd said, nor comprehended his innuendos. But she'd been terrified all the same.
He'd chased her like a wolf cub chases a rabbit. Not to catch her, just to see her run.
She'd never told anyone about that day. Maybe she should have. Now she understood what he'd said — about her wanting it. It. Josselyn shuddered in revulsion, just to remember. He'd been a disgusting youth and had become an even worse man.
She'd seen him next at the annual horse market in Holywell. By then he'd been married, and Josselyn had pitied the unfortunate girl. But the last time she'd seen him had been the worst. Six months ago he and a band of his henchmen had returned the body of Tomas, saying they'd found him along the narrow shore at the base of Rosecliffe, thrown to his death by the English said to be in the area. They'd behaved as if it were a goodwill gesture on their part to return the mangled, bloodied corpse.
Dewey had pretended that it was too, for there had been few men in Carreg Du that day and he had not wanted to provoke a fight with Owain's heavily armed band. But he'd suspected another scenario. Josselyn had overheard him saying as much to Uncle Clyde. Owain and his thugs had most likely come across Tomas on their lands, and though by law Tomas was wrong to hunt there, they'd had no cause to kill him. To murder him.
No, she need not know him personally to know he was loathsome.
But what about her duty to her family? She was her uncle's only heir. If she did not wed while he was still strong, when he died, chaos would ensue and the Lloyds would be quick to take advantage. Added to that was the pressure of this new English threat. Her family might not be able to turn so great a force away this time.
There was the increased chance of her uncle's death in the battles sure to come. She didn't like to think about it, but she knew he would want to plan for his successor in advance.
But Owain ap Madoc!
She'd as lief marry an Englishman as marry such a cutthroat!
Excerpted from "The Rosecliffe Trilogy"
Copyright © 2000 Rexanne Becnel.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Bride of Rosecliffe,
The Knight of Rosecliffe,
The Mistress of Rosecliffe,
About the Author,