We have a winner in our drawing for a copy of Priscilla Royal’s new medieval mystery, The Proud Sinner.  In fact, because of Priscilla’s generosity, we have two winners—Pat K. and Margaret Skea.  Pat and Margaret, congratulations.  I am sure you’ll really enjoy The Proud Sinner; I know I did.  You can contact Priscilla via her Facebook page or website or me via the Contact Sharon option on my website.  Margaret is a writer, too, author of two novels set in sixteenth century Scotland, Turn of the Tide and A House Divided.  She is also the recipient of a grant by Creative Scotland, and is currently in Germany researching her next book, a novel about Katharina Luther.  Here is a link to her website.
Priscilla’s publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, has just brought out a new edition of her first medieval mystery, Wine of Violence.   I was very pleased when they asked me to write a new forward for it, as this gave me an opportunity to explain why I think this is such an excellent series.   I have gotten permission from Poisoned Pen Press to post the first chapter of Wine of Violence on my blog.   If you have not read Wine yet, I am sure you’ll want to do so after reading this chapter.  Enjoy!

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Chapter One

During the dark morning hours of a winter day in the year 1270, an aged prioress realized she was dying.
To her surprise the dying was much easier than she had ever imagined. The crushing pain in her chest was gone and she felt herself drifting upward with an extraordinary lightness. She was floating above the rush-covered floor, over which a dusting of sweet scented petals had been scattered, and away from that narrow convent cot where her earthly remains lay so still. Indeed, she wasn’t frightened. She was very much at peace.
Below her, a semi-circle of nuns continued to chant with haunting harmony, their warm breath circling around her in the bitterly cold air. Many had tears in their eyes at her death, she noted, especially Sister Christina, whose grief meant the most to the old prioress. She could not have loved the nun more if she had been a child of her own body, but Christina had become the child of her soul instead, and, knowing the young woman would remain in the world, the old prioress could leave it with an easier spirit. She smiled.
Still sitting by the convent bed was Sister Anne. The sub-infirmarian to the priory was pale with fatigue and her shoulders hunched as she bent over the hollow body that the prioress had just quitted. The old prioress shook her head. No, good sister, she thought, now is the time for prayer, not your concoctions. How often had she told the nun that when God wanted a soul, all those earthly herbs and potions would be useless? Yet the kind sister had been able to ease the mortal pain of her passing. For that I am grateful, the old prioress thought, and as she watched the nun lean over, testing for breath from the quiet body, she hoped Sister Anne would, as she should, find a comfort in giving that relief.
Against the wall stood Brother Rupert in front of her favorite tapestry of St. Mary Magdalene sitting at the feet of Our Lord. The good brother’s eyes were red from weeping, his head bowed in grief. How she wished to comfort him! He looked so frail to her now, his monk’s habit far too big for his diminished frame. Maybe he would join her soon?
She mustn’t hope. Earthly associations should have no place in Heaven, but she was insufficiently distanced from the world not to believe Heaven would be a happier place with Brother Rupert by her side, as he had been for more years than either could truly remember.
Heaven? Was she really going to Heaven, she wondered. A cold gust of doubt cut through the warm breath of the nuns and chilled her. Was that invisible hand lifting her young soul from her age-ravaged body really the hand of an angel of God?
She shivered. She had always tried to be worthy of God’s grace, serving Him to the best of her ability. She had tried to be humble, dutiful, and she thought she had confessed all her sins to Brother Rupert just before falling into the strange sleep that had preceded this freeing of her soul.
An icy uncertainty nipped at her. Had she remembered all her sins? Might the Prince of Darkness have blinded her, making her forget some critical imperfection? Some sin of omission perhaps? Was her soul truly cleansed or was there some small rotting spot that would fling her into a purgatorial pit where pain was as sharp as the agonies of hell?
An unformed impression, a memory, something nagged at her.
It wasn’t too late, she thought. Brother Rupert was standing near. Surely she could still reach him if she could just think of…
Then it came to her. Oh, but the mercy of God was indeed great! He had granted her the understanding to see the tragic error both she and Brother Rupert had made. Now she must get the message to the good priest. She must!
She struggled to reach her confessor, willing her soul toward the weeping man.
“Brother! Brother!” she cried. “I must tell you one thing more!”
She stretched out her hand, struggling to grasp him, reaching for the crude wooden cross he wore on a thin leather strap around his neck.
But something seemed to hold her back; some black force scrabbled to keep her soul from deliverance.
The priest had not heard her cry. He did not see her fighting to reach him.
She must tell him. She must! After all her years devoted to God, Satan should not win her soul over such a misunderstanding, a judgement she’d made with imperfect knowledge and mortal blindness. An innocent person would be hurt, even die, if she did not. She could not have that fouling her conscience.
She fought harder to reach her confessor, twisting, crying, moaning for help.
Suddenly a hand materialized from the tapestry. It grasped the old prioress firmly and pulled her back to the ground. It was a woman’s hand, and the touch was warm.
The old prioress looked up and saw St. Mary Magdalene smiling.
“Tell me, my child,” the saintly voice said. “I will tell Our Lord.” She gestured to the glowing man at whose feet she sat. “And He will forgive all as He always has.”
The old prioress wanted to weep for joy.
“Please tell him that I accused wrongly. It was not the one we feared, but rather the other!” she gasped.
And with that, the world turned black.

His heart pounded. His lungs hurt as he gulped cold ocean air through his open and toothless mouth. Stinging sweat trickled down his reddened, unevenly shaven face, and Brother Rupert rubbed the sleeve of his rough robe across his age-dulled eyes.
Once he could have walked the familiar path between town and priory with ease. Now his legs ached with the effort of climbing and he had to will himself to the top of the sandy, scrub-grass covered hill.
“I’m getting old. I am getting old,” he muttered, as the moist wind stabbed each one of his joints.
At the hilltop, he stopped to rest and looked back into the distance. The morning sun of early spring had burned off the thickest fog, but the walls of Tyndal Priory, a double house of priests and nuns in the French Order of Fontevraud, were mere shadows in the drifting haze.
It didn’t matter. He could have shut his eyes and seen each stone of every building clearly. Since the winter of 1236, when Eleanor of Provence had come to England as the now aging King Henry’s wife, Brother Rupert had been chaplain, scribe, and administrating secretary to the recently deceased Felicia, Prioress of Tyndal. He had lived at the priory long before that, however, indeed from a day in his thirteenth summer when his rich merchant father proudly dedicated him to this woman-ruled Order so favored by kings, queens, and other elite of the realm. His father might have given him to the religious life as an oblate, but the boy came as a willing and eager offering. The monastic walls provided a secure refuge from a world he found frightening, a world filled with violence and lust.
Suddenly his eyes overflowed with tears, and he wiped his gnarled fingers across them hurriedly. “Ah, but I loved you, I did, and I miss you,” he said, watching as a swirling gust of mist seemed to lift his words into the sky and scatter them. “And for the sake of all our souls I will put the matter right, my lady. I promise you that.”
His words were fervent with an almost prayerful intensity.
Then he sighed, stretched the stiffness from his legs and started down the hill, tentatively at first, unsure in his footing. Once protected from the sea breeze, he could feel the warmth of the sun and his steps quickened.
His mood improved and he smiled. Indeed, in the warmth he now felt he could almost sense that the eyes of God were upon him.
They were not. They were human.
*     *      *     *      *
April 2, 2017


  1. Judi Abbott Says:

    I have this on my to be purchased list. Sooner rather than later!!! Thank you for introducing me to this wonderful author!

  2. Margaret Skea Says:

    Thank you to Priscilla and to Sharon - I’m excited to be one of the winners and looking forward to reading the book once I’ve met my deadline ‘dragon’ - my first of two books on Katharina Luther needs to be finished by the end of this month - a Slightly daunting task as I always find the last couple of chapters challenging.

  3. skpenman Says:

    All who visit my Facebook pages know that I am a fan of P.F. Chisholm’s marvelous mysteries, set in 16th century England and Scotland and revolving around Sir Robert Carey, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth Tudor. Diana Gabaldon shares my enthusiasm for Chisholm’s writing and she has written an eloquent essay about the latest Chisholm mystery, A Clash of Spheres, which will be published on Tuesday, April 4th. I was fortunate enough to be able to read an ARC (advance reading copy) and I can echo Diana’s every word. Real life screeched to a halt while I was ensconced in Robert Carey’s world, so be prepared to disappear for a few days while you read the book. Here is the link to Poison Pen Press, and below is Diana’s commentary.
    The following essay is by New York Times best-selling author of the Outlander series, Diana Gabaldon.
    This is one of the most entertaining, elegant and deeply emotional books I’ve read in years. (I’m tempted just to write “EEEEEEEEE!” to sum up my response to it, but that seems inadequate, if heartfelt.)
    I’ve loved the Robert Carey series since the first book (A Famine of Horses), and every one thereafter has had all the elements that made the first so engaging: a fascinating look at little-known parts of Elizabethan history, wonderfully immersive details, hilarious dialogue, adventurous situations, and—above all—characters drawn with a deftness that catches the essence of a soul in a few words.
    Sir Robert is the center of it all, of course, but the story certainly doesn’t stop with him. He’s surrounded by a constantly evolving (and revolving) constellation of courtiers, reivers, Borderers (often synonymous with reivers), Sergeant Dodd (his surly, dour, stubborn, honorable sidekick), scholars, assassins, spies, royalty, and (to be sure) women. One woman in particular; the unattainable Elizabeth Widdrington, unhappily married to a cruel older husband and much too honorable to take Robert Carey as her lover, much as she wants to.
    This one’s not an ordinary historical novel
    All of this would be more than enough for your ordinary historical novel…but this one’s not an ordinary historical novel: it’s an orrery—you’ve doubtless seen one, even if you didn’t know what it’s called—it’s a mechanical model of the solar system. And those you’ve seen have undoubtedly been designed to fit the Copernican theory of astronomy: to wit, with the sun in the center and the various planets orbiting it at varying distances. But it was not always thus…
    Back in Sir Robert’s day—i.e., the late sixteenth century—there were competing views of the stars and their movements, and scholars who espoused the Ptolemaic system, in which the planets and the Sun all (naturally) circled the Earth, were more popular than the upstart (and obviously deluded) Copernicans. Only in a P.F. Chisholm novel will you have a delayed-fuse plot that centers (you should pardon the expression) on a formal scientific disputation regarding the position of the Sun in the solar system, held at the Royal Court of Scotland, between the King and an itinerant Jewish healer.
    Not that there aren’t plenty of other plots orbiting that one: religious persecution, murder in several shades, rejected lovers of all stripes and persuasions, and the head-butting politics of the constantly feuding Border surnames.
    Passing without touching
    The novel is an orrery, though; the underlying structure of the book reflects all the intricacies with which people orbit each other, mostly passing without touching, turning a light face or a dark as they travel through their personal space, their orbits influenced by love, jealousy, ambition, greed, insecurity, fear, revenge, longing, frustration, friendship and its loss—and the soul-wrenching effects of being responsible for other people.
    And at the center of it all is a tenderly human compassion that sheds its light through this system of moving bodies, for everyone from the King of Scotland to Sergeant Dodd’s horse.
    I finished reading the book, and immediately read it again. Been a long time since that’s happened.
    — Diana Gabaldon (2017)
    To learn more, read an excerpt, or to purchase, visit: A Clash of Spheres

  4. skpenman Says:

    I would like to wish a belated Happy Easter and Happy Passover to my readers and friends. I am so sorry for my long absence, but it was not by choice. Because of a recent flare-up of back pain, I’ve had to severely limit my time at the computer and yes, the Deadline Dragon is downright gleeful about this, the rotten reptile.
    April is one of the most prolific months when it comes to significant medieval happenings and I’ve already missed so many that it will probably take me into the summer to catch up. But I shall try, beginning with this post about the death of the Lionheart on April 6, 1199, since it gives me a chance to write about Eleanor, too, which is one of my favorite things to do. This had to have been one of the most tragic events of her long and turbulent life. I was watching a 60 Minutes show last night that included a heartbreaking interview with the parents of children slain at Newtown, and something was said that really resonated with me. I’d never realized it but there is no word for a parent who has lost a child. We become orphans when our parents die, a widow or widower when we lose a spouse. But it is as if we recognize that this is a grief for which there are no words. Here is my post, which includes passages from A King’s Ransom.
    On April 6, 1199 at 7 PM, Richard I of England, AKA the Lionheart, died at the age of forty-one eleven days after he’d been shot by a crossbow at the siege of Chalus, a wound brought about by his own carelessness, for he’d neglected to wear his hauberk and his legendary luck finally ran out. It was not an easy death, for gangrene is a painful way to die. Eleanor was with him as he drew his last breath, having raced from Fontevrault Abbey to Chalus after getting word of hi fatal injury. His queen, Berengaria, was not.
    A King’s Ransom, pages 597-599
    * * *
    Richard’s eyes opened when she took his hand in hers. He’d been sure she’d get there in time, for she’d never let him down, never. “So sorry, Maman….” So many regrets. That he’d not made peace with his father. That he’d not been able to free the Holy City from the Saracens. That Philip could not have been Berenguela’s. That the French king had not drowned in the Epte. That he’d taken the time to put on his hauberk. That his mother must now watch him die.
    She held his hand against her cheek. “You’ve been shriven, Richard?”
    “Yes….So many sins….Took half a day….”
    He was dying as he lived, and that made it so much harder for those who loved him. But then she remembered what she’d been told about his father’s wretched last hours. After learning that John had betrayed him, he’d turned his face to the wall and had not spoken again. Only as his fever burned higher had he cried out, “Shame upon a conquered king.” An anguished epitaph for a life that had once held such bright promise. No, better that Richard laugh at Death than die as Harry had. His body was wracked with pain, but at least he was not suffering Harry’s agony of spirit. She could not have borne that.
    Time had no meaning any longer. She assumed hours were passing, but she refused all offers of food or drink. How long would God torment him like this? Leaning over, she kissed his forehead. “You can stop fighting now, my dearest. Your race is done.”
    He’d not spoken for some time and she was not sure he could hear her, but then he said, “Did….I….win?”
    “Yes, Richard, you did. You kept the faith.” She did not remember the rest of the scriptural verse. She would later wonder how she could have sounded so calm, so composed. But it was the last gift she could give him. “Go to God, my beloved son.”
    After that, he was still. They could hear church bells chiming in the distance. Somewhere Vespers was being rung, people were at Mass, life was going on. Andre had not thought there was a need for words of farewell, not between them. But now he found himself approaching the bed, suddenly afraid that he’d waited too long. “Richard.” He held his breath, then, until the other man opened his eyes. “Listen to me,” he said hoarsely. “You will not be forgotten. A hundred years from now, men will be sitting around campfires and telling the legends of the Lionheart.”
    The corner of Richard’s mouth twitched. “Only….a hundred years?” he whispered, and Andre and Eleanor saw his last smile through a haze of hot tears.
    * * *

  5. skpenman Says:

    A few random thoughts. First of all, I want to thank all of you for your very kind expressions of sympathy about my on-going back sabotage. You guys are the best! And I have some good news. I’ve been told that in May Netflix will begin broadcasting the second season of The Last Kingdom, based upon the Bernard Cornwell series that we so love. Also, I wanted to express my admiration to Prince Harry for being so candid about his grieving for the loss of his mother and for encouraging people to consider therapy when they are struggling. Princess Diana had a positive impact on public opinion when she was photographed cuddling a baby with AIDS, and her sons are following in her footsteps. We live in an age in which celebrities wield considerable influence and it is encouraging when they choose to use that clout for good. Lastly, I am about to besiege Kerak Castle, which was once in Outremer and today is in Jordan. Wish me luck; hopefully, I’ll not need it.

  6. skpenman Says:

    April 23rd is World Book Day. How many of you knew that? I confess I didn’t. I am guessing that it was not coincidental that this date was chosen to celebrate books, for it is the traditional birthdate and death date of England’s greatest playwright, William Shakespeare. For medieval events, Adeliza of Louvain, the widow of Henry I of England, died on this date in 1151. She is a major character in Elizabeth Chadwick’s Lady of the English, which I highly recommend.
    I hope you all are having an enjoyable weekend. Mine is looking up, for I am about to launch an attack upon one of the de Lusignans. As my readers know, they usually deserve all the grief they get, but in this case, Amaury is lucky and the d’Ibelin brothers ride to his rescue. I’ll have more fun in the next chapter, when I can besiege the great crusader castle at Kerak.

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