Friday, December 19, 2014

A Victory Celebration

'Tis the season to be jolly...
so come and join some wonderful authors (and their characters)
for an On-Line Virtual Party!
Browse through a variety of blogs (hopping forward to the next one on the list)
for a veritable feast of entertainment!
And, just as with any good party,
you'll find a few give-away prizes along the way!

A Victory Celebration

An extract from my forthcoming novel, Bloodie Bones: A Dan Foster Mystery

In the eighteenth century, the war between keepers and poachers could be brutal. In autumn 1796, Bow Street Runner and amateur pugilist Dan Foster has been sent to Barcombe in Somerset to investigate the murder of Lord Oldfield's head gamekeeper. Dan's job is to infiltrate the poaching gang believed to be responsible for the killing and bring them to justice. But Dan has walked into a volatile situation. Lord Oldfield has enclosed Barcombe Wood and deprived the people of their ancient rights to gather food and fuel, sparking off violent protest. The latest raid in Barcombe Wood has ended in a battle between poachers and keepers and Dan only just managed to prevent another murder while keeping his cover intact. The next evening Dan and four members of the six-strong gang are in the Fox and Badger celebrating their victory...

Dan, Singleton, Abe and Travell were treated as if they had performed some marvellous feat fighting six against three and leaving one man so badly beaten he might be lame for the rest of his life. Ford's suffering did not soften the hearts of the people of Barcombe. As they saw it, it might easily be one of them lying injured, and there would be no comfortable bed, no physician, no pension from Lord Oldfield for their families.

In between pouring jugs of ale, tapping barrels and slamming tankards on tables, the landlord, Buller, reported that he had seen Doctor Russell earlier in the day and learned that Ed Ford had two broken ribs and a smashed kneecap, and there was no way of knowing what damage had been done to his insides.

"That's proud Ford - now peg-leg Ford!" yelled some wag, to gusts of laughter.

Travell called it striking a blow for English liberties. Everyone cheered and Jem Cox started to sing. Though an ugly, dirty man, he had a fine voice.

"When I was bound apprentice
In famous Somersetshire
I served my master truly
For nearly seven year,
Till I took up poaching
As you shall quickly hear
For 'twas my delight of a shiny night
In the season of the year."

They all took up the chorus and had belted out several more verses when the door opened and in stepped Caleb Witt.

Dan had seen the same thing in a score of London taverns. He would walk into a room and for a couple of heartbeats there would be dead silence. Then it would break with a noise that almost blew him back into the street, everyone talking and laughing, the smokers puffing on their pipes, the drinkers quaffing their ale, the whores wriggling in men's laps. They all knew who he was, though they all pretended not to. And either none of them had heard of the man he was after and his crimes, or they could all swear he was somewhere else at the time.

By the time Witt had fastened the door the villagers were engrossed in their cards and dominoes, their beer and baccy, their chat about dogs and horses. There was even a smattering of "Good evening, Caleb" as Witt pushed his way to the bar and placed one large, red fist on the counter. Dan doubted the gamekeeper had missed the momentary pause, or that he was fooled by the innocent bustle.

"And how," asked Buller, pouring out Witt's beer, "is poor Ford? That's a bad business, a very bad business."

Witt did not answer until he had slaked his first thirst with a long pull at his drink. "He's well enough."

He turned and surveyed the company.

"I'll join you, Singleton."

He strode over, dragged a stool from under the next table and straddled his thick legs over it. He was younger than Dan had realised, only in his late twenties. His face was ruddy, the skin coarse and crinkled around the eyes. He had a large, bulbous nose, a wide mouth, pale eyes set beneath a bony brow.

"Damp night," he remarked.

They all agreed on this. He looked at Dan. "I don't think I know you."

"Dan Fielding," said Singleton. "My new forge assistant."

"Ah, the boxing cove." Witt rubbed his jaw where Dan's knuckles had left a purple stain.

"Nought but a milling cove," said Dan.

Witt nodded slowly and switched his attention to the shopkeeper. "Well, Travell, how's business? Prospering?"

"Times are hard, Mr Witt, for us poor tradesmen," Travell answered, his voice a nervous whine. "Two bad harvests in a row. Money's tight."

"Yes, I dare say the best goods are those that cost you nothing to get but bring a high profit when you sell 'em," Witt replied. "Makes you wonder how poor labouring folk manage to put their dinners on the table, eh Abe?"

"I'm lucky I'm in regular employment," the lad answered, smart but not too jaunty. Witt was a tough man. It would not do to annoy him.

"I hear he's a good master, Farmer Dunnage. Good dog trainer too." Witt drained his glass. "Well then, I'd best be off. Me and Potter will be at the west warren all night."

Leaving them to digest the information that the west warren was precisely where the keepers would not be that night, he rose, wrapped his many-collared coat about him, and made for the door. It was an old game, Dan realised, this bantering between keeper and poacher, where much more was said than was spoken. But it was a grim game, when the stakes were so high on both sides. There was no more singing and the gathering broke up soon after.

Bloodie Bones: A Dan Foster Mystery will be published by SilverWood Books in spring 2015.

Thank you for joining our party.
Now follow on to the next entertainment...
 (Please note some of the links will not be live until 20 December.)

Helen Hollick You are Cordially Invited to a Ball (plus a give-away prize)
Alison Morton Saturnalia Surprise - A Winter Party Tale (plus a give-away prize)
Anna Belfrage All I Want for Christmas
Debbie Young Good Christmas Housekeeping (plus a give-away prize)
Fennella J Miller Christmas on the Home Front (plus a give-away prize)
J L Oakley Christmas Time in the Mountains 1907 (plus a give-away prize)
Julian Stockwin Join the Party
Juliet Greenwood Christmas 1914 on the Home Front (plus a give-away)
Nancy Bilyeau Christmas After the Priory (plus a give-away prize)
Nicola Moxey The Feast of the Epiphany 1182 (plus a give-away prize)
Peter St John Dummy's Birthday
Regina Jeffers Celebrating a Regency Christmas (plus a give-away prize)
Saralee Etter Christmas Pudding - Part of the Christmas Feast (plus a give-away prize)
Suzanne Adair The British Legion Parties Down for Yule 1780 (plus a give-away prize)
Lindsay Downs O Christmas Tree, O  Christmas Tree (plus a give-away prize)