Book Title: The Anarchy
Series: Conquest, Book 3
Author: Tracey Warr
Publication Date: 2nd June 2020
Publisher: Impress Books
Page Length: 218 Pages
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Unhappily married to Stephen de Marais, the Welsh princess, Nest, becomes increasingly embroiled in her countrymen’s resistance to the Norman occupation of her family lands. She plans to visit King Henry in the hope of securing a life away from her unwanted husband, but grieving for the loss of his son, the King is obsessed with relics and prophecies. Meanwhile, Haith tries to avoid the reality that Nest is married to another man by distracting himself with the mystery of the shipwreck in which the King’s heir drowned. As Haith pieces together fragments of the tragedy, he discovers a chest full of secrets, but will the revelations bring a culprit to light and aid the grieving King? Will the two lovers be united as Nest fights for independence and Haith struggles to protect King Henry?
Unrest and skirmishes were everywhere. Rumours flew that my brother was returning towards Cardigan at the head of a great Welsh army, together with Owain and Cadwaladr, the princes of Gwynedd, and they were intent on avenging the deaths of Gruffudd’s wife and sons. A messenger had just come from Pembroke to warn us that the Welsh and Norman armies were likely to join battle today, somewhere near Cardigan.
The weather had turned chill and Amelina ordered the servants to stoke up the fire in the hall. I sat near the hearth, hoping that this game of tables could distract me from my anxiety. I moved my skirts aside for the servants to carry the logs in and place them close to the fire. Amelina sighed, sat down beside me and took my hand. She knew what I suffered with this waiting. She had been there at the births of all my sons who were now, almost all, in mortal danger. Henry, William, and Maurice had all gone to join the Norman forces preparing to defend Cardigan, and FitzStephen was in the castle too, though I hoped too young for fighting. Ranged against my sons, were my brother and their older cousins, Anarawd and Cadell. I would surely lose someone this day and perhaps all.
‘Stop thinking about it,’ Amelina said.
‘How can I stop?’
She bent to the small table beside her and poured one of her medicines into a beaker of wine. ‘Drink this.’
‘No!’ I pushed the beaker away. ‘I want none of your tinctures. If I am to lose a son, a brother, a nephew this day, I want to feel it.’ It was my lot to wait at home in anguish whilst my kin fought each other in bitter and bloody battles. I had already lost Gwenllian, Morgan and Maelgwyn. ‘Must I look on the young faces of my sons and nephews, pushing a shroud from their foreheads to give them my last kiss?’ I sobbed.
‘Stop it, Nest. You’re frightening Maredudd and Rhys,’ Amelina hissed in my ear.
She was right and I tried to get a grip on myself. ‘Icannot bear the waiting,’ I said in a low voice, fighting for calm after my outburst.
My steward pushed the doors open a sliver, ducked his head in briefly to call to me: ‘Norman warriors in the bailey, my lady.’ My heart plummeted. ‘Keep Maredudd and Rhys out of sight in my chamber. Quickly!’ I hissed to Amelina, bundling Rhys into her arms. She moved swiftly towards the stairs, with Maredudd trotting at her heels. I wiped my cheeks with the sleeve of my gown. My thoughts flashed to another troop of Norman warriors here. A troop who had burned Llansteffan to the ground and beheaded my teenage brother Goronwy on the beach, maimed my brother Hywel soon after he was born. I rose and walked to the door where I recognised Alice of Chester, the widow of Richard de Clare, dismounting. She was surrounded by the big destriers of her escort. They must have come from Cardigan Castle.
‘Oh Nest!’ She flew to embrace me. ‘Will you give us shelter to rest our horses for a short while!’ Her distressed face was streaked with soot. Her usually immaculate dress was hastily thrown on and wrongly laced. She had no maid or female companion with her.
‘Of course. What has happened, sir?’ I asked a tall, broad man who shouldered his way through the others to head the group.
‘This is Miles of Gloucester. Nest ferch Rhys, wife of de Marais,’ Alice said with an emphatically meaningful tone aimed at him.
‘Ah, yes, I recall you, sir,’ I said. ‘We were married alongside each other in Cardigan many years ago, were we not?’
He nodded. ‘Indeed, we were. My lady,’ he gave me a bow.
‘Please come and take refreshment.’ I gestured to my steward who busied himself with giving orders to look to the needs of my guests and their mounts. The horses’ sides and mouths frothed with the sweat of extreme exertion.
‘We have suffered a defeat, Nest!’ Alice exclaimed before we had got far past the threshold.
I suppressed my urge to scream questions concerning my kin at them and, instead, led them to the trestle on the dais where my servants provided fresh water and towels to wash their hands, a beaker of strong wine and a hunk of new baked bread. ‘I would know what has happened to all my kin,’ I said to Miles in as sedate a voice as I could find.
‘Your brother, my lady, has driven a Norman army from the battlefield at CrugMawr.’
I tried to keep the joy from my face at his words, yet my joy also did war with my anxiety.
‘This news had not yet reached us here,’ I said slowly, as if my own slow speech might fend off hearing who had died.
‘Ceredigeon was invaded by the Princes of Gwynedd—Owain and Cadwaladr—and by your brother Gruffudd ap Rhys,’ Gloucester reported. ‘They took five castles including Aberystwyth and attacked Cardigan Castle, where I rescued this lady.’
‘The Welsh warriors yell, “vengeance for Gwenllian!” as they run at the walls,’ Alice told me, her eyes wide. ‘Oh, it was so terrible, Nest! The town has been burnt to cinders. We had to wade the river because the bridge collapsed with the weight of so many fleeing. The bodies of horses and men clogged the Teifi that ran red with gore. I saw skulls cleft with battle axes. Heads kicked and thrown, as if in a game of Shrovetide ball!’ She turned white with nausea at her own description.
‘Please, sir,’ I begged, despairing that I would get much sense from Alice, ‘I have many loved ones on either side of this conflict. Will you tell me what you know and quickly.’
He nodded. ‘I understand. I am very sorry to tell you that your husband, Stephen de Marais, died in the conflict. He fought most bravely.’
‘And my son Robert FitzStephen who was with my husband?’
‘He’s fine,’ Alice burst out. ‘The boy is safe inside the castle. Your husband would not allow him to go outside the walls. Don’t worry. I saw him quite safe, Nest.’
But left him there, I thought. I tightly smiled my thanks to her. ‘Can you tell me more, of the others?’ I tried to keep my voice level as I addressed Miles of Gloucester.
‘The Norman forces were led by Baldwin de Clare and Robert FitzHarold of Ewas. I arrived too late for the battle but rescued Lady de Clare instead and will take her to safety in England.’
‘My sons?’ I whispered.
‘They were all there, Nest! You would have been proud to see them sallying against those Welsh savages.’
Gloucester was eyeing Alice, astonished that she showed no awareness that I was myself a Welsh savage. ‘They all live,’ he told me quickly. ‘Henry de Normandy, William and Maurice FitzGerald? These are your sons, I believe?’
‘They fought bravely at the battle and have retired to Carew. I believe William took a small wound on his arm, but it did not look serious.’
I swallowed. I could hardly believe it. ‘Thank you. I am grateful for your information. And my brother and nephews?’
‘This Gruffudd, the leader of the attackers, is her brother you know,’ Alice inserted, giving Gloucester needless information. ‘We can hardly be expected to give you news of the enemy, Nest! You are not safe here. You must flee with us.’
I looked at her with exasperation. I needed to have speech with Gloucester alone. ‘Countess, you look in need of the attentions of a maid. Might I arrange that for you?’
She looked down at her dress and reddened. ‘I had to get up in the middle of the night, in the dark. My maid was nowhere to be found.’
‘Was she Welsh?’ I asked quietly and I noticed that Gloucester smirked on the side of his face that was not visible to her.
‘Yes, she was,’ Alice said, knitting her brow.
I gestured to one of my maids and whispered in her ear in Welsh. ‘Take Lady Alice to the back chamber,’ I said with emphasis, not wanting my visitors anywhere near Maredudd and Rhys. She nodded her understanding to me. ‘Susanna will assist you, Alice.’ Susanna dipped a curtesy and led Alice from the hall. We watched them go and Gloucester turned back to me. I had deduced that he was a man of intelligence who had the measure of the situation and realised, therefore, that I could not be entirely trusted.
‘Your brother and his two sons were not injured in the battle or the assault on Cardigan Castle. To my knowledge they are well.’
I breathed a deep sigh of relief and made no attempt to conceal it from Gloucester. ‘I thank you for this information.’
‘You have a hard job of it, my lady, with warriors ranged on either side. I cannot envy you that.’
I nodded my agreement with his words. ‘Has the castle fallen?’ I felt anxiety again for FitzStephen.
‘No, my lady. Robert FitzMartin defended the castle, and it has held against the … against the Welsh army.’
‘Will you and Lady Alice stay overnight and rest before you journey on?
‘You are kind and I thank you, but no. I will get the lady to safety and have no way of knowing what is upon my heels. Do you wish to accompany us?’
‘No.’ I did not bother to elaborate on or soften my refusal and he accepted it in the same vein.
‘This castle is Norman garrisoned, I believe.’
‘Yes. My son, Maurice, commands here.’
‘He will, no doubt, return soon.’
I nodded my agreement. ‘I have one more question I would ask you, sir.’
He raised his eyebrows.
‘The sheriff of Pembroke is a good friend of mine, Haith de Bruges. Do you know if he fought? How he fares?’
The Daughter of the Last King (Book 1) - https://geni.us/LPF1
The Drowned Court (Book 2) - https://geni.us/ddAFsas
The Anarchy (Book 3) - https://geni.us/274ZX
Tracey Warr (1958- ) was born in London and lives in the UK and France. Her first historical novel, Almodis the Peaceweaver (Impress, 2011) is set in 11th century France and Spain and is a fictionalised account of the true story of the Occitan female lord, Almodis de la Marche, who was Countess of Toulouse and Barcelona. It was shortlisted for the Impress Prize for New Fiction and the Rome Film Festival Books Initiative and won a Santander Research Award. Her second novel, The Viking Hostage, set in 10th century France and Wales, was published by Impress Books in 2014 and topped the Amazon Australia charts. Her Conquest trilogy, Daughter of the Last King, The Drowned Court, and The Anarchy recount the story of a Welsh noblewoman caught up in the struggle between the Welsh and the Normans in the 12th century. She was awarded a Literature Wales Writers Bursary. Her writing is a weave of researched history and imagined stories in the gaps in history. Tracey Warr studied English at University of Hull and Oxford University, gaining a BA (Hons) and MPhil. She worked at the Arts Council, Institute of Contemporary Arts, Chatto&Windus Publishers, and edited Poetry Review magazine with Mick Imlah. She also publishes art writing on contemporary artists, and in 2016 she published a future fiction novella, Meanda, in English and French, as part of the art project, Exoplanet Lot. She recently published a series of three books, The Water Age, which are future fiction and art and writing workshop books - one for adults and one for children - on the topic of water in the future. She gained a PhD in Art History in 2007 and was Guest Professor at Bauhaus University and Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and Dartington College of Arts. Her published books on contemporary art include The Artist’s Body (Phaidon, 2000), Remote Performances in Nature and Architecture (Routledge, 2015) and The Midden (Garret, 2018). She gained an MA in Creative Writing at University of Wales Trinity St David in 2011. She is Head of Research at Dartington Trust and teaches on MA Poetics of Imagination for Dartington Arts School.
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Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tracey-Warr/e/B0053YDVPE