#ExcerptWeek – JASPER – Book Two of The Tudor Trilogy by Tony Riches @tonyriches

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 Following the best-selling historical fiction novel OWEN – Book One of The Tudor Trilogy, this is the story, based on actual events, of Owen’s son Jasper Tudor, who changes the history of England forever.

England 1461: The young King Edward of York takes the country by force from King Henry VI of Lancaster. Sir Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, flees the massacre of his Welsh army at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross and plans a rebellion to return his half-brother King Henry to the throne.

When King Henry is imprisoned by Edward in the Tower of London and murdered, Jasper escapes to Brittany with his young nephew, Henry Tudor. After the sudden death of King Edward and the mysterious disappearance of his sons, a new king, Edward’s brother Richard III takes the English Throne. With nothing but his wits and charm, Jasper sees his chance to make young Henry Tudor king with a daring and reckless invasion of England.

Set in the often brutal world of fifteenth century England, Wales, Scotland, France, Burgundy and Brittany, during the Wars of the Roses, this fast-paced story is one of courage and adventure, love and belief in the destiny of the Tudors. 

~~~

Chapter One
February 1461

He held his breath and shivered as he strained to listen. Sound travelled well in the frosty woodland. The rustle of a blackbird foraging for worms in fallen leaves and the sudden, wooden creak of an old branch, bending in the cold air. He heard the noise again, the heavy scrape of hooves on the stony track, coming his way, hunting him. Too tired to run, he would not be taken prisoner by the men of Edward of York.

Jasper remembered his father’s warning. Their proud Welsh army marched over a hundred miles from Pembroke, stopping only at night and starting again each day at dawn, when his outrider returned with grave news. They had sighted York’s army camped near Mortimer’s Cross, on the old Roman road near the crossing of the River Lugg, directly in their path.

‘We should avoid them, head north under cover of darkness,’ his father suggested, his voice kept low so the men wouldn’t overhear. He had looked his age from their long, cold march across Wales. Too old to fight, his father insisted on riding with them. ‘I owe my life to King Henry,’ he argued, ‘and I owe it to your mother to support him now.’

Jasper recalled his terse reply. ‘It’s too late.’ He saw the pleading in his father’s eyes and softened his tone. ‘They know we are here, Father. I will try to negotiate terms if we are given the chance, but we must be ready to fight.’ In truth he doubted York would be in any mood for talking, since his own father, Richard, Duke of York, was beheaded by over-zealous Lancastrians the previous December.

Then came the news that Sir Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, and York’s right-hand man, had captured King Henry, Jasper’s half-brother. He had thought York’s soldiers were no match for the men of Wales and the battle-hardened mercenaries who rode with them, but he could not have been more wrong. Their enemy outnumbered them more than two to one and proved to be experienced and well-prepared fighting men.

The salvo of arrows descended without warning in a black cloud of death. One struck deep into the neck of Jasper’s horse, which reared with a demented whinny of pain, throwing him from his saddle. He barely managed to scramble to his feet and draw his sword before York’s men-at-arms charged, hacking with axes, maces and swords, slashing and killing without mercy.

‘Hold firm, men! Stand your ground!’ Jasper yelled out as he fought. For a moment he sensed their attackers wavering as men at the front fell dead and wounded. Then the mounted mercenaries behind him turned and galloped away. One after the other, Welshmen threw down their weapons and ran for the safety of the trees, pursued by merciless York soldiers. Their enemy took no prisoners and cut the fleeing men down, flinging their bodies into the slow-flowing, red-running River Lugg.

A knight in gleaming armour, a head taller than those around him, fought with such ferocity he cut a swathe through the Welsh line. Jasper recognised Edward, Earl of March. The new Duke of York could have stayed on his horse and watched the battle from a safe distance. Instead, he had been determined to avenge the death of his father and chose his ground well, driving the Welshmen back towards the river.

Jasper experienced the brutal, savage terror of hand-to-hand fighting when he stormed the castle at Denbigh the year before. Then he had been the attacker, with surprise on his side. Now his own men died around him in the ferocious onslaught by York’s trained killers. He drew on every ounce of strength and years of practice as he battled for his life.

Tiring, he parried a scything swipe from a sword and sank to his knees, struck over the head with a murderous blow from a poleaxe. His helmet saved him, but blood flowed into his eyes. Dazed, he staggered to his feet and thrust his sword into the body of one of his attackers. The treasured weapon wrenched from his grip as the man fell writhing in agony.

Jasper cursed with shame at the memory of what he did next. Heads turned at the sound of thundering hooves as York’s cavalry, hidden until now, charged around the left flank to surround the Welsh army. He had seen his chance to escape and taken it. He ran like a scared rabbit, sprinting until his lungs strained as if they would burst, abandoning his men and his father to their fate.

Now he must pay the price. His hand fell by habit to his empty scabbard, then to the handle of his dagger, a gift from his father, the cold comfort of the sharp blade now all he carried to protect himself. His helmet and armour lay abandoned in thick undergrowth, together with the bright red, blue and gold quartered royal surcoat he had worn so proudly on their ride through Wales.

Peering from his hiding place Jasper saw the first of the riders and wished for better cover. The man hunched in his saddle, tracking him as he would a wild boar. The horse lowered its head to graze the sparse grasses lining the path, yet the rider made no effort to urge his mount onwards. As Jasper watched, the man slid heavily to the ground, his curse as he hit the hard earth echoing in the silence of the forest.

Like him, the rider had probably fled the battle. He looked badly wounded, but at least he owned a horse. After waiting a moment to be certain they were alone, Jasper cautiously stepped from behind the trees and grabbed the horse’s bridle. He saw the man’s dark eyes flick from the drying blood on his face to the empty scabbard at his belt, making a judgement but with no sign of recognition.

‘Are you for Lancaster or York?’ Jasper’s grip on his dagger tightened. If he must kill or be killed, he would end the man’s life, as he needed the horse.

‘I rode with the Earl of Wiltshire.’ The man coughed blood.

Jasper knelt closer and studied the wounded man’s face. His Irish accent meant he could be one of Wiltshire’s mercenaries, paid to strengthen the Welsh army. He guessed the man to be about thirty, his own age. Well built, with the rugged, tanned look of someone who spent his life on the road, a leather cord tied his long dark hair.

Jasper saw the broken stub of the shaft protruding from the blood-soaked cloth of the man’s shirt. The arrow had struck deep into his unprotected shoulder, close to the collar bone. There was nothing he could do for him, so he took the dying man’s sword. The handle shone from regular use, and the weight of the blade felt well-balanced in his hand.

‘I’ll be needing my sword.’ The man’s voice rasped and he took breaths in gasps.

‘I’m sorry, but my need is greater.’ Jasper wondered if they could both ride the horse then dismissed the idea. ‘Can you still ride?’

The man gave a weak smile. ‘If you’ll help me get a foot in a stirrup?’

He grimaced with pain and swore as Jasper hefted him astride the horse. ‘I’ll take you to Llanthony Priory, where the monks will tend to your wound.’ Jasper peered down the forest track. ‘York’s men will probably expect us to head for Brecon.’

The man tried to sit upright in the saddle and nodded in agreement. ‘I need to lay low for a while.’ He gritted his teeth in pain but clung to life with grim determination. Jasper felt a duty to do what he could for him and handed him the reins.

‘What name do you go by?’

‘Gabriel, after the archangel.’ He managed a wry grin. ‘I’ve been a disappointment to my poor late mother, God rest her.’

Jasper decided not to introduce himself. The Irishman hadn’t recognised him, and the fewer people who knew his true identity the better. He needed to return to the safety of Pembroke Castle and rebuild his army, yet felt responsible for the dying man.

They set off with Jasper leading at a brisk pace. His throat felt as dry as parchment and his lungs ached from the freezing air, but they must reach the sanctuary of the priory before night fell. His head ached with dull pain from the poleaxe blow and he sensed again the deep, cold shock of shame as he thought how he had failed his men.

If he had listened to his father’s counsel they would be riding to join Queen Margaret’s army. Instead, he led his loyal followers into York’s trap and hundreds, perhaps thousands, died as a consequence of his actions. Worse still, he left his father in command of the left flank, charged by the cavalry. Jasper said a silent prayer for his father, although even the vengeful Edward of York would spare the life of the king’s stepfather.

‘How much further?’

Jolted from his reverie by the question, Jasper slowed his pace to answer. ‘The priory is in the Vale of Ewyas, this side of the Black Mountains,’ he glanced up at Gabriel, ‘some ten, perhaps fifteen miles from here.’ He saw the Irishman nod in understanding. His spirit seemed to be ebbing like the tide and his life now depended on the healing skills of the monks, if he lived long enough to make the journey.

The winter sun, well past its height, threw long, menacing shadows across their path, and the temperature fell sharply. Jasper shivered with the chill seeping through to his bones, despite the exertion of keeping a fast pace. Gabriel rode in silence, and at one point nearly fell from the saddle. Jasper steadied him and realised he must keep him talking, as if he fell from the saddle again, it could be the end of him.

‘Where are you from?’

Gabriel continued to ride in determined silence, staring straight ahead, but seemed to be considering the question. Jasper wondered if he should ask again, when at last he spoke, a far away look in his eyes.

‘Born and raised in Waterford. God’s own country.’

‘I’ve never been there,’ Jasper admitted, ‘but I’ve heard Waterford has a fine harbour?’

Gabriel managed a smile. ‘Surely does,’ he sounded wistful, ‘as a boy I’d sit on the harbour wall and watch the ships sail in.’ He glanced down at Jasper. ‘I wanted to be a sailor, see something of the world.’ He lapsed into silence again and closed his eyes as he fought against the pain.

Jasper knew he must keep the man talking. ‘How did you end up here as a mercenary?’

‘I’m a soldier of fortune not a mercenary.’ Gabriel tried to sit straighter in his saddle. ‘Worked my passage on a ship bound for Normandy. Ended up helping the English fight the French.’

‘You said you rode with Sir James Butler, Earl of Wiltshire?’

He nodded. ‘When I found my way home I needed work, so I signed up with Sir James,’ he leaned to one side and spat blood on the ground, ‘Lord Deputy of Ireland.’

Jasper heard the contempt in Gabriel’s voice at the mention of his second-in-command. Handsome and charming, Butler became a favourite of Queen Margaret but remained unpopular with the people. Jasper recalled the ill-fated Battle of St Albans, where he barely escaped with his own life and suffered a wound, defending the king. They said Sir James Butler fled the battlefield, disguised as a monk.

Jasper could never forgive Butler for stealing Lady Eleanor Beaufort from him. He first met Eleanor at a banquet in Windsor Castle and fell deeply in love with her. Born in the same year, they shared much in common. Eleanor’s father, Sir Edmund Beaufort, once loved Jasper’s mother and almost married her. Jasper never asked his father if she named his brother Edmund after him, although he had heard the gossip.

Lady Eleanor captivated him, like no woman he had ever met. Strikingly beautiful, and fluent in several languages, she had inherited more than a dash of her father’s adventurous spirit. A good match, he had hoped to marry her, but after his brother’s untimely death he had been obliged to care for Edmund’s widow, Eleanor’s young cousin Margaret Beaufort, in Pembroke, and act as guardian to his little nephew Henry.

Jasper scowled as he remembered his last meeting with Eleanor. He still longed to know why she had not waited for him, and why she agreed to marry a man like James Butler. He had wanted to hear her say the betrothal had been arranged against her will, although that was not what people told him.

At first she ignored his plea to meet in secret, but the queen allowed him his own tower in Westminster Palace and he persuaded Eleanor to visit him there. He remembered how she kept him waiting for more than an hour past their appointed time. She had seemed unusually reserved when she arrived, and Jasper sensed she felt anxious about their being discovered, so decided to be direct with her.

‘Why did you do it, Eleanor?’

‘Surely you know?’

‘You must forgive me, but the news came as a complete shock. You know I’d hoped…’

‘What about my feelings, when everyone talks of how you’ve fallen for your poor brother’s widow?’

He had been aware of talk he had fallen in love with Margaret Beaufort, and thought such rumours the work of his political enemies, making mischief, yet even his father believed the stories and tried to see them wed. Jasper had admired Margaret’s faith and courage after all she had suffered, and they spent every moment they could together, so he understood how such rumours started.

‘She has remarried, to Sir Henry Stafford.’

‘I know she still lives with you, Jasper.’

‘As my ward. Lady Margaret is a good, devout woman. I love her as a sister, Eleanor. I give you my word it has never been otherwise.’ He had sensed the anger rising in his voice.

She studied him with large, tearful eyes. ‘What have I done?’

‘The fault is mine, Eleanor.’ He had almost choked on the words. ‘I should have paid more attention to you, explained why I remained in Wales for so long.’

He remembered the silken feel of her dress, the warmth of her body against his, the sadness on her face, the powerful sense of lost opportunity. The two years since that last meeting passed without him seeing her again, although she had often been in his thoughts. He had to welcome Wiltshire when he arrived at Pembroke Castle with his Breton and Irish mercenaries, yet felt reluctant to appoint him as his second-in-command.

‘We need every man we can get, Jasper.’ His father was insistent. ‘These mercenaries aren’t loyal to you, but they’ll follow Wiltshire, so you must give him command.’

His father spoke the truth, although not in the way either of them expected. Jasper fought back a surge of anger and a bitter taste in his mouth at Butler’s betrayal. He glanced up at Gabriel, who stared stoically ahead.

‘You don’t like Sir James Butler?’

Gabriel shook his head. ‘The man’s a coward. He fled, at the first sign of trouble, without a thought for us.’

Again, Jasper flinched at the unfamiliar pang of shame. He fought for as long as he could, but in the end he had run like a coward, just like James Butler, as to stay would have meant capture or death. He consoled himself with the knowledge neither outcome would have been any use to Queen Margaret, or King Henry. At the same time there would be questions about how he had escaped the battle.

A thought occurred to him. ‘You chose not to follow him?’

Gabriel looked at his bloodstained shoulder and the stub of the arrow. ‘When I couldn’t use my sword there seemed no point staying.’ His voice sounded weak and he coughed and spat blood on the ground again. ‘They chased me for a while but she’s a good horse,’ he patted his horse’s mane, ‘saved my life.’

Jasper stopped to rub the red stain from the earth with his boot. ‘No point in making it easy for them to track us.’

‘You think they’ll bother, this far out?’ Gabriel stared back over his shoulder as if expecting to see York men-at-arms following.

‘I do.’ They would search the dead for him, and someone might have seen his escape. ‘Our best hope is they don’t expect us to head south.’

‘When we reach the priory, will you be taking my horse?’ His voice sounded weaker.

‘I have to.’ Jasper waited while Gabriel considered this. The horse and his sword were probably the only things the man owned of value but he had to take them both. Still some eighty miles from Carmarthen, it was too far to travel on foot and foolish to do so unarmed.

Gabriel made a decision. ‘I owe you my life, so you’re welcome to her.’

‘I will see the monks tend to your wounds, then I must ride west.’ Jasper studied the Irishman, making a judgement. ‘I will also need your sword.’

‘I told you, I’ll need to be keeping my sword.’ The Irishman sounded uncompromising.

‘You’re in no shape to use it, and I will see it’s returned, you have my word.’

Gabriel eyed him questioningly. ‘And what would your word be worth, now?’

Jasper ignored the slur, although it shocked him to realise others would soon be saying the same. He’d had no choice, but his reputation would suffer as a consequence of his escape. ‘I’ll send a man, in two weeks, with your sword and your horse. In the meantime I must ask you not to tell anyone what happened.’

‘Bad news travels fast enough without help from me.’ Gabriel winced at the pain from his wound.

Jasper answered softly, thinking aloud. ‘There are people who will take advantage when they learn of our defeat.’

‘How do I explain my injury?’

‘We shall say bandits attacked us, which is true enough, for they took my horse and my sword. Bands of outlaws haunt the roads through the Black Mountains, so no one will be surprised to learn we’ve been robbed.’

At last the distinctive silhouette of Llanthony Priory appeared through the trees. Once one of the grandest priories in Wales, its treasures were now lost, pillaged by both sides in the fighting between the followers of Owain Glyndŵr and the English. Most of the Augustinian monks left for the relative safety of Hereford, but Jasper sheltered from a storm there the previous winter and recalled a warm welcome.

Jasper helped Gabriel dismount before tethering his horse close to a water filled trough. He pushed the stout oak side-door of the priory, which opened onto a square cloister. An elderly friar, dressed in a hooded brown robe, appeared concerned as he saw Gabriel’s wounds and the dried blood on Jasper’s face and neck. He muttered something Jasper couldn’t hear before calling for the others to come and help.

The infirmary was dark and cold, the fastened shutters blocking the light and the empty hearth offering no comfort. Two of the younger monks helped Gabriel lie on a rickety wooden cot while others began lighting tallow candles, filling an iron cauldron with water and preparing a fire in the hearth. The elderly friar answered Jasper’s unspoken question.

‘We will be late for Vespers but there are few enough of us here now, and your friend needs urgent care.’ He turned to Gabriel. ‘I shall find our apothecary, who will tend to you.’

‘We are grateful for your kindness—and God’s providence.’

Jasper shivered in the chill evening air as one of the monks examined the cut on his head. He recalled the shock of the blow, the closest he’d been to death, as once on his knees he made an easy target. He thanked God the blow was deflected by the curved steel of his helmet, long since lost in the woods. He never even saw the man who did it.

‘Should have been stitched but you’ll survive.’ The monk cleaned Jasper’s wound, using a damp linen cloth to wipe dried blood from his face and neck. He asked no questions about how it happened and seemed satisfied with the result.

‘Thank you.’ Jasper lowered his voice. ‘What about my companion?’

The monk looked across at Gabriel, patiently watching as two younger monks cut Gabriel’s shirt from around his wound. ‘He is in God’s hands now, and those of our apothecary.’

The flames of the fire were taking hold, brightening the room and already offering their smoky warmth, when the apothecary arrived. A studious, quietly spoken man, he began laying out a row of instruments to remove the arrowhead. He handed one of the monks a long-handled poker to heat in the fire, and Jasper flinched as he realised they intended to cauterise the wound.

At last he spoke. ‘He has been lucky, my lord. The arrow has a bodkin head, still not easy to remove, but a better chance of saving him.’

Jasper nodded. ‘I wasn’t certain he would make it here.’

‘Much longer and it would be too late for my modest skills.’

Before he could reply the friar who first welcomed them caught Jasper’s attention. ‘You must be hungry after your journey, my lord. Come with me and I’ll serve you bread and beer.’

Jasper realised he hadn’t eaten a thing all day. He had planned to ride through the night and reach Carmarthen Castle as soon as he could, but after a meal of rye bread and a generous slice of cured ham, washed down with a tankard of weak ale, he closed his eyes to rest.

He dreamed of his father, trying to rally his men as York’s cavalry overwhelmed them. As if in slow-motion, he saw the figure of Edward, grinning as he hacked down the Welshmen with his deadly sword. Again, he glimpsed the descending poleaxe at the edge of his vision yet could not see the face of the man who nearly killed him before he surrendered to the blackness,

He woke to the shrill cry of a cockerel to find he had been so exhausted he’d slept well past dawn. He immediately went in search of Gabriel, who he found sleeping in the infirmary, a clean linen bandage bound tightly around his wound. At least he had survived the night. Jasper turned to leave when Gabriel spoke.

‘Good morning to you, my lord.’

‘You know who I am?’

Gabriel smiled. ‘I heard the monks call you that. They told me you are Sir Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke.’ He winced in pain but his eyes met Jasper’s with gratitude. ‘I’m truly in your debt, sir, for saving my life.’

‘We live to fight another day, Gabriel—and I will keep good my promise to return your horse and sword.’

‘I thank you, sir, as I’ll need them if I’m to be in your service?’

Jasper smiled at the hope in Gabriel’s voice. ‘For now, you must rest, and I must return home, as many lives could depend on it.’

‘I wish you well, my lord.’ Gabriel raised a hand in farewell.

As Jasper rode through the wintry dawn towards the Black Mountains and home, he allowed himself a smile at the memory of Gabriel’s discovery of his true identity. He felt great relief that the Irishman had survived. Helping him cost a lot of time and put them both at risk of discovery, yet at least he had been able to rest. Now he thanked God to be alive, and could begin to plan how to deal with the usurper, Edward, Duke of York.

About the Author

Tony Riches

Tony Riches is a full time author of best-selling fiction and non-fiction books. He lives by the sea in Pembrokeshire, West Wales with his wife and enjoys sailing and kayaking in his spare time.

For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his popular blog, The Writing Desk and his WordPress website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.

Jasper: New on Amazon UK  Amazon US and Amazon AU

 

5 thoughts on “#ExcerptWeek – JASPER – Book Two of The Tudor Trilogy by Tony Riches @tonyriches

  1. Thank you so much, Tony, for sharing another excerpt from your Tudor trilogy. You are making me want to read historical fiction again! I’m really happy you took part in #ExcerptWeek, helping making it more successful than ever!

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