Extract: The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick
  • An Extract from The Summer Queen

    The start of a magnificent new trilogy

    Less than a month to go until The Summer Queen, the brand new novel from New York Times bestseller and queen of epic historical romance, Elizabeth Chadwick, hits the bookshelves!

    The exhilarating start to a magnificent new trilogy, The Summer Queen unveils the iconic, fascinating and misunderstood young queen Eleanor of Aquitaine – one of the most notable women of the twelfth century – as never before.

    The Summer Queen is overflowing with scandal, politics, sex, triumph and tragedies, and based on the most up-to-date historical research. So whether you are an existing Elizabeth Chadwick fan, a Phillipa Gregory reader, fascinated by tales of royalty or are just looking for a captivating summer read, it is a must. Read on for the first chapter of the book.

    The Summer Queen is published in hardback and ebook on 20th June 2013 and will be followed by The Winter Crown and The Autumn Throne.

    Pre-order The Summer Queen | Read the full blurb

     

    1

    Palace of Poitiers, January 1137


    Alienor woke at dawn. The tall candle that had been left to burn all night was almost a stub, and even through the closed shutters she could hear the cockerels on roosts, walls and dung heaps, crowing the city of Poitiers awake. Mounded under the bedclothes, Petronella slumbered, dark hair spread on the pillow. Alienor crept from the bed, careful not to wake her little sister who was always grumpy when disturbed too early. Besides, Alienor wanted these moments to herself. This was no ordinary day, and once the noise and bustle began, it would not cease.

    She donned the gown folded over her coffer, pushed her feet into soft kidskin shoes and unlatched a small door in the shutters to lean out and inhale the new morning. A mild, moist breeze carried up to her the familiar scents of smoke, musty stone and freshly baked bread. Braiding her hair with nimble fingers, she admired the alternating ribbons of charcoal, oyster and gold striating the eastern skyline before drawing back with a pensive sigh.

    Stealthily she lifted her cloak from its peg and tiptoed from the chamber. In the adjoining room, yawning, bleary-eyed maids were stirring from sleep. . Alienor slipped past them like a sleek young vixen and, on light and silent feet, wound her way down the stairs of the great Maubergeonne Tower that housed the domestic quarters of the ducal palace.

    A drowsy youth was setting out baskets of bread and jugs of wine on a trestle in the great hall. Alienor purloined a small loaf, warm from the oven, and went outside. Lanterns still shone in some huts and outbuildings. She heard the clatter of potsfrom the kitchens and a cook berating someone for spilling the milk. Familiar sounds that said all was well with the world, even
    on the cusp of change.

    At the stables the grooms were preparing the horses for the journey. Ginnet, her dappled palfrey, and Morello, her sister’s glossy black pony, still waited in their stalls, but the packhorses were harnessed and carts stood ready in the yard to carry the baggage the 150 miles south from Poitiers to Bordeaux where she and Petronella were to spend the spring and summer at the Ombrière Palace overlooking the River Garonne.

    Alienor offered Ginnet a piece of new bread on the flat of her hand, and rubbed the mare’s warm grey neck. ‘Papa doesn’t have to go all the way to Compostela,’ she told the horse. ‘Why can’t he stay at home with us and pray? I hate it when he goes away.’

    ‘Alienor.’

    She jumped and, hot with guilt, faced her father, seeing immediately from his expression that he had overheard her.

    He was tall and long-limbed, his brown hair patched with grey at ears and temples. Deep creases fanned from his eye corners and gaunt hollows shadowed his well-defined cheekbones.
    ‘A pilgrimage is a serious commitment to God,’ he said gravely. ‘This is no foolish jaunt made on a whim.’

    ‘Yes, Papa.’ She knew the pilgrimage was important to him, indeed necessary for the good of his soul, but she still did not want him to go. He had been different of late; reserved and more obviously burdened, and she did not understand why.

    He tilted her chin on his forefinger. ‘You are my heir, Alienor; you must behave as befits the daughter of the Duke of Aquitaine, not a sulky child.’

    Feeling indignant, she pulled away. She was thirteen, a year past the age of consent, and considered herself grown up, even while she still craved the security of her father’s love and
    presence.

    ‘I see you understand me.’ His brow creased. ‘While I am gone, you are the ruler of Aquitaine. Our vassals have sworn to uphold you as my successor and you must honour their faith.’

    Alienor bit her lip. ‘I am afraid you will not come back . . .’ Her voice shook. ‘That I shall not see you again.’

    ‘Oh, child! If God wills it, of course I shall come back.’ He kissed her forehead tenderly. ‘You have me for a little while yet. Where is Petronella?’

    ‘Still abed, Papa. I left her to sleep.’

    A groom arrived to see to Ginnet and Morello. Alienor’s father drew her into the courtyard where the pale grey of first light was yielding to warmer tints and colours. He gently tugged her thick braid of honey-gold hair. ‘Go now and wake her then. It will be a fine thing to say you have walked part of the way along the pilgrim route of Saint James.’

    ‘Yes, Papa.’ She gave him a long, steady look before walking away, her back straight and her step measured.

    Duke William sighed. His eldest daughter was swiftly becoming a woman. She had grown tall in the past year, and developed light curves at breast and hip. She was exquisite; just looking at her intensified his pain. She was too young for what was coming. God help them all.


    Petronella was awake when Alienor returned to their chamber and was busily putting her favourite trinkets into a soft cloth bag ready for the journey. Floreta, their nurse and chaperone, had braided Petronella’s lustrous brown hair with blue ribbons and tied it back from her face, revealing the downy curve of her cheek in profile.

    ‘Where did you go?’ Petronella demanded.

    ‘Nowhere – just a walk. You were still asleep.’

    Petronella closed the drawstring on the bag and waggled the tassels at the ends of the ties. ‘Papa says he will bring us blessed crosses from the shrine of Saint James.’

    As if blessed crosses were any sort of compensation for their father’s forthcoming absence, Alienor thought, but held her tongue. Petronella was eleven, but still so much the child. Despite their closeness, the two years between them was often a gulf. Alienor fulfilled the role of their deceased mother to Petronella as often as she did that of sister.

    ‘And when he comes back after Easter, we’ll have a big celebration, won’t we?’ Petronella’s wide brown gaze sought reassurance. ‘Won’t we?’

    ‘Of course we will,’ Alienor said and hugged Petronella, taking comfort in their mutual embrace.


    It was mid-morning by the time the ducal party set out for Bordeaux following a mass celebrated in the pilgrim church of Saint-Hilaire, its walls blazoned with the eagle device of the lords of Aquitaine.

    Ragged scraps of pale blue patched the clouds and sudden swift spangles of sunlight flashed on horse harnesses and belt fittings. The entourage unravelled along the road like a fine thread,  rainbow-woven with the silver of armour, the rich hues of expensive gowns, crimson, violet and gold, and the contrasting muted blends of tawny and grey belonging to servants and carters.  Everyone set out on foot, not just Duke William. This first day, all would walk the twenty miles to the overnight stop at Saint-Sauvant.

    Alienor paced out, holding Petronella’s hand one side, and lifting her gown the other so that it would not trail in the dirt. Now and again, Petronella gave a hop and a skip. A jongleur started to sing to the accompaniment of a small harp and Alienor recognised the words of her grandfather, William the ninth Duke of Aquitaine, who had revelled in a notorious reputation. Many of his songs were sexual in content, unsettling in their rawness and unfit for the bower, but this particular one was plangent and haunting, and sent a shiver down Alienor’s spine.

    ‘I know not when I am asleep or awake
    Unless someone tells me.
    My heart is nearly bursting with a deep sorrow,
    But I care not a fig about it,
    By Saint Martial!’

    Her father kept company with her and Petronella for a while, but his stride was longer than theirs, and gradually he drew ahead, leaving them in the company of the household women. Alienor watched him walk away, and fixed her gaze on his hand where it gripped his pilgrim staff. The sapphire ring of his ducal authority glittered at her like a dark blue eye. She willed him to turn and look at her, but his focus remained on the road ahead. She felt as if he were deliberately distancing himself, and that in a while he would be gone completely, leaving only the dusty imprint of his footsteps in which to set her own.

    She was not even cheered when her father’s seneschal Geoffrey de Rancon, lord of Gençay and Taillebourg, joined her and Petronella. He was in his late twenties with rich brown hair, deep-set eyes of dark hazel and a ready smile that made her feel bright inside . . She had known him since her birth because he was one of her father’s chief vassals and military commanders. His wife had died two years ago, but as yet he had not remarried. Two daughters and a son from the match meant that his need for heirs was not pressing. ‘Why so glum?’ He peered round into her face. ‘You will darken the clouds scowling like that.’

    Petronella giggled and Geoffrey winked at her.

    ‘Don’t be foolish.’ Alienor lifted her chin and strode out.

    Geoffrey matched her pace. ‘Then tell me what is wrong.’

    ‘Nothing,’ she said. ‘Nothing is wrong. ‘Why should there be?’

    He gave her a considering look. ‘Perhaps because your father is going to Compostela and leaving you in Bordeaux?’

    Alienor’s throat tightened. ‘Of course not,’ she snapped.

    He shook his head. ‘You are right, I am foolish, but will you forgive me and let me walk with you a while?’

    Alienor shrugged but eventually gave a grudging nod.

    After a while and almost without her knowing, Alienor ceased frowning. Geoffrey was no substitute for her father, but his presence lifted her mood and she was able to go forward with
    renewed spirit.