Sometimes sampling something sells its worth and the taste is pure excellence.
A few days ago, we Americans celebrated our yearly Thanksgiving. It's a time of family gatherings, often meaning travel for a lot of people--include us. My husband and I make our yearly trip through the mountains of West Virginia to my mother-in-law's home in Kentucky. She is a connoisseur of down-home country cooking and when she cooks up a storm in her little kitchen, everybody is holding their breath, because of the feast we know is coming.
I'm not the best cook in the world, so I'm always relegated to slicing the turkey and ham. However, the job has benefits, because I never eat much on the morning of Thanksgiving Day, since I know what's in store. So while I cut through turkey wings, slice off pieces of breast and thigh, gently tug apart the spiral-cut ham, I get to nibble. Those tidbits are a pre-curser of what's to come--the first taste of the banquet--and they're ALL MINE!
That's how I feel about excerpts from books. It's the quintessential taste-test of a story or character that can lead a reader into a fabulous relationship with both book and author. This week, I invite you to sit back, imagine yourself in the Middle Ages, and sample an excerpt from Anna Belfrage's The Castilian Pomegranate.
The Castilian Pomegranate Excerpt
By Anna Belfrage
(Noor realizes a visit to the court of Aragon will bring her very close to the jewel Queen Eleanor wants them to bring back to England)
Some hours later, Noor reclined with a soft groan in the hot bath. She’d been washed, been subjected to a thorough removal of bodily hair and had her body kneaded by a woman who looked as small and shriveled as a raisin but had hands like steel clamps. Other than Yolande and the three washers, the large baths were empty, the room they were in lit from an aperture in the ceiling high above. A beautiful room, the octagonal walls consisting of recurring horseshoe-shaped arches that opened into the various other rooms of the private tiled baths, legacy of the Moors who had constructed the royal palace.
“Do the men have something similar?” Noor asked, listening with half an ear while Yolande explained how this part of the palace—and the baths they were presently in—used to be the harem, home to the emir’s wives and concubines.
“Yes,” Yolande said, “not that I have ever been there. My father—and my brothers—would likely burst a vein or two if they caught me sneaking in.”
Noor raised her brows. “They haven’t done so yet, I gather.”
Yolande giggled. “I did not enter. I just found an . . . um . . . a vantage point.”
In response, Yolande submerged herself in the water before gesturing for one of her attendants to wash her hair.
“We are leaving the day after tomorrow,” Yolande said, turning her head this way and that as her long hair was washed and rinsed. “You are to accompany me to Barcelona while the men ride to war.”
“I prefer riding with my husband.” Robert had returned in a grim mood after fruitless hours chasing the Navarra men.
“I imagine you do, but my brother has made his decision. War is no place for a lady, so instead you will attend my lady mother in between praying that God sees fit to keep our men and our realm safe.” She grimaced. “Unfortunately, it is not only my lady mother we’ll be attending. Aunt Violante is at court.”
“Not someone you like?”
“Like? If you enjoy sleeping on a bed of thistles, then aye, you may find pleasure in her company.” Yolande scowled. “She is always reminding us—well, mostly Mother—of the fact that she’s the dowager queen of Castile, a much larger and richer realm than Aragon.”
“Ah.” Noor closed her eyes as the attendant rinsed her hair, recalling that Queen Eleanor had not sounded overly fond of her sister-in-law. As she understood it, Violante had been very young when she arrived in Castile to marry Eleanor’s older brother, Alfonso. She frowned; Alfonso X of Castile had died some years back, his realm now in the capable hands of his second son, Sancho, this despite the fact that Sancho’s older brother had sired a son or two before his premature death.
According to Eleanor, Violante had sided with her young grandsons against her son, which was why she was now obliged to seek refuge in Aragon, the land of her birth. Likely not something that sat well with a lady as proud as Violante. Just as meeting her husband’s granddaughter, fruit of Alfonso’s bastard daughter, would probably not be to Violante’s liking.
“Now, of course, her income is much reduced,” Yolande said. “Mind you, she did not arrive empty-handed, having ensured she carried off a fortune in jewels and gold.” She leaned closer. “She even took the Castilian Pomegranate with her, and to hear it, King Sancho and his wife, Maria, were livid.”
“The what?” Noor managed to sound only mildly interested. This was the jewel Queen Eleanor coveted, the price—other than abandoning Lionel—for Noor’s return home.
“You’ve never heard of it? It’s the size of an egg, a blood-red stone in an intricate gold setting adorned with pearls. Tradition has it that holding the jewel makes the birthing easier for the mother and ensures a healthy child.” Yolande snickered as she got out of the bath, arms held high as the attendant wrapped her in a linen sheet. “Violante must have clasped that jewel frequently, what with all those children she gave Alfonso.”
Several healthy sons, Noor reflected. Not like Queen Eleanor, who, despite being brought to bed sixteen times, had but one son to show for all her efforts. Eleanor was convinced things would have been different had she had the Castilian Pomegranate in her keeping. She accused Violante of stealing it from her. Now it seemed Violante had stolen it—from the present queen of Castile. Water sluiced off Noor as she stood. She shivered. Somehow, she had to find a way to steal that infernal jewel to end their exile.
The Castilian Pomegranate Blurb
An enraged and grieving queen commands them to retrieve her exquisite jewel and abandon their foundling brat overseas—or never return.
Robert FitzStephan and his wife, Noor, have been temporarily exiled. Officially, they are to travel to the courts of Aragon and Castile as emissaries of Queen Eleanor of England. Unofficially, the queen demands two things: that they abandon Lionel, their foster son, in foreign lands and that they bring back a precious jewel – the Castilian Pomegranate.
Noor would rather chop off a foot than leave Lionel in a foreign land—especially as he’s been entrusted to her by his dead father, the last true prince of Wales. And as to the jewel, stealing it would mean immediate execution. . .
Spain in 1285 is a complicated place. France has launched a crusade against Aragon and soon enough Robert is embroiled in the conflict, standing side by side with their Aragonese hosts.
Once in Castile, it is the fearsome Moors that must be fought, with Robert facing weeks separated from his young wife, a wife who is enthralled by the Castilian court—and a particular Castilian gallant.
Jealousy, betrayal and a thirst for revenge plunge Noor and Robert into life-threatening danger.
Will they emerge unscathed or will savage but beautiful Castile leave them permanently scarred and damaged?
All About Anna
Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a time-traveler. As this was impossible, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests: history and writing. Anna has authored the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy which is set in 14th century England.
Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients.
The Castilian Pomegranate is the second in her “Castilian” series, a stand-alone sequel to her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk. Set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty, integrity—and love. In The Castilian Pomegranate, we travel with the protagonists to the complex political world of medieval Spain, a world of intrigue and back-stabbing.
Her most recent release prior to The Castilian Pomegranate is The Whirlpools of Time in which she returns to the world of time travel. Join Duncan and the somewhat reluctant time-traveller Erin on their adventures through the Scottish Highlands just as the first Jacobite rebellion is about to explode!
All of Anna’s books have been awarded the IndieBRAG Medallion, she has several Historical Novel Society Editor’s Choices, and one of her books won the HNS Indie Award in 2015. She is also the proud recipient of various Reader’s Favorite medals as well as having won various Gold, Silver and Bronze Coffee Pot Book Club awards.
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