An Unbound & Free Novella
Barely even a wife before she became a widow, Briallen feels like she’s lost everything – and now she has to stand by while a group of strangers moves in to the house she once called home. As hard as that it is to face, it’s made even more difficult by a man she feels drawn to, and two children she can’t help but love.
Elisud’s world is changing. Homeless and wandering, with a grieving nephew on his hands, he has no choice but to live on the farm – even when he feels the constant call of the sea. Determined to make things right for his nephew and daughter, he can’t help but notice Briallen and the bruised look in her eyes.
Both battered by grief and woes, can these two wounded people ever see past their own pain and accept the love that’s kindled between them? Or will their own self-doubts hold them back?
Set in the British Iron Age, this romantic novella deals with an age-old tale of loss, grief, healing and love, with a little help from family.
Be With Me in Brief
What’s in it?: A 50,000 word novella, and the first chapter of Demero’s story, Unbound and Free.
When is it set?: 256 AD
Where is it set?: Roman/Iron Age Britain
What kind of story is it?: A second-chance romance
What’s the genre?: Historical Romance
I haven’t read Unbound and Free, will I get lost?: Although this novella takes place right in the middle of U&F, it’s not vital to that story, so no. I’ve tried to keep spoilers to a minimum too.
Any age restrictions?: Not really. There’s some kissing, but the sex stops before anything really happens. Mild language in places.
Read on for a small sample…
Dumnonia ~ 256 AD
SOMEONE WAS IN her house. Walking back from the river with the other women, Briallen couldn’t help the instinctive tightening across her shoulders as she saw Dama Wynn leading the strange man into Briallen’s home. Not that it belonged to her, not now. Widowed daughters-by-marriage did not live in roundhouses by themselves, especially when they’d done nothing to earn the highly-coveted space.
Still, Briallen couldn’t help staring at the dark portal of her old front door, hating that someone was in her house, someone she didn’t know. Who was this stranger? Why was he here? What right had he to enter her old home, even with Dama Wynn as his guide?
“Come on, Briallen. We’ve no time to stand around dreaming. Certain sure, there’s washing to be dried before the rains come.”
Briallen turned and frowned at Ia. Like Briallen she’d married into this family, unlike Briallen her husband was still alive – and the oldest son of Dama and Sira Wynn. That gave her a certain status amongst the other women, and much though she hated being ordered around, Briallen bowed her head and moved along.
When Mewan had been alive she’d had proper standing at the farm, her own place, her own levels of respect. If the other women had pushed her too far, tried to dominate her too much she could push back, stand her ground, make her own opinions known. Now she had nothing, so she obeyed orders and kept her mouth shut. She couldn’t afford to make enemies anymore, not without a husband to support her. Not that Mewan had been much, third and youngest son as he’d been, and often absent too.
Sighing, Briallen put her basket down with all the others and set about spreading the wet clothes over the hazel bushes to dry. It would be easier on the arms to do such things closer to the river, but the overhanging trees made for little sun and less breeze to help the clothes dry. Besides, with rain in the air it would take too long to run down and fetch them in, so Briallen vied with the other women to find the best places to hang her washing.
Not that much of it was hers. No, the tiny undershirts and dresses did not belong to her, or any blood of hers. Her marriage to Mewan had lasted barely a year before he was taken from her, almost two moons ago now. So short a time, yet she felt so weary, as if each passing moon had been a year to age her so.
Still… Briallen’s hand stole down to her belly, as it did several times a day. There was a definite curve there now, a hardening mass that had nothing to do with the fine food the farm produced. No, it was hope and heartache rolled into one, and Briallen had no idea what her future would hold.
“Well now, and who might that be?”
“Pretty child, but such dark curls.”
“Wasn’t your Lowena married to a dark-haired foreigner, from some place up north?”
The flurry of chatter broke Briallen’s tangled thoughts and she looked up, frowning. The stranger was standing outside her house, listening intently to something Dama Wynn was telling him. A little girl sat on his hip, too large really to be carried in such a way, but yes, the other women were right, she was pretty.
Another child, a skinny boy, stood beside the man, staring at the ground with such terrible stillness. While the girl snuggled into the man’s arms, resting her head on his shoulder so their dark curls mixed together, the boy seemed remote, as if he wasn’t entirely there.
Gods and ancestors, didn’t Briallen know how that felt? It was like carrying around her own cloud day and night. Her mind empty and yet at the same time full of so many unanswerable questions that they melded into one long despairing scream of why, why, why?
Why had this happened to her? Why had Mewan died? Why had he left her? Why had he been so stupid? Why had she been left alone? Why had she had to leave her home? Why couldn’t she return to her own family? Why did she have to stay here, a burden and a drudge for people who didn’t even like her? Why was she pregnant? Why now, when she was alone? Why not when her husband had been here, alive and vital, when they’d so desperately wanted to share this wonder? Why? Why? Why?
The boy looked up, as if he could hear the scream in her head calling out to the cry inside his own. Pale eyes locked with hers like a blow to the heart. Such emptiness. Such loss. Briallen took a step forward before she even realised she was moving. The boy just stared at her, then through her, as if even her understanding couldn’t reach him.
A weathered hand pressed against the boy’s shoulder and he looked up at the man beside him. The stranger was smiling, but it was sad and small, while the girl in his arms chattered happily to Dama Wynn. Then the strange little family turned and vanished back inside Briallen’s house, and she knew it wasn’t hers anymore. When it had been empty she’d still hoped that one day she would live there again, that one day the family would relent and let her back.
Now, as she watched another man walk through the door with the children she hadn’t been able to provide her husband with, Briallen turned her back. It wasn’t her house anymore, would never be her home again. She had been given one true task in her marriage, and she’d failed and failed at it until it was too late. Her hand pressed against her belly again; such a gift but at such a price. This child meant the world to her, but with its father already gone, it had no place here.
What was she going to do?
“Hurry up, Briallen.” It was Rosen, Dama Wynn’s oldest remaining daughter on the farm, and as prickly as her name suggested. “Rain’s on its way, and I’ve no room to hang all my girls’ things up to dry inside. Hurry up.”
Briallen bit her tongue against a retort or three, especially where Rosen’s spoiled, mean-tempered daughters were concerned, and bent down to pick up another linen underdress.
Satisfied that she’d proved her dominance once again, Rosen turned away to talk to Ia. “It’s true, Lowena did marry a northerner, and there’s something about this man that does remind me of Dewydd, but surely he’s too young. Dewydd must be five years older at least, maybe more. Besides, I don’t remember hearing that Lowena ever had a daughter. A son, yes, but that boy looks too small. Her child should be around eight now. He was born a little bit before my Tekka, but that poor scrap looks closer to your Mihal’s size.”
“I remember,” Ia murmured in agreement. “I already had my Talwynn then. Lowena used to sing her to sleep whenever she was fretful. I missed that when she ran off with that man.”
“But can you blame her?” laughed Sewena, Dama Wynn’s youngest daughter. “Dama worked her like a slave. Oldest but unmarried, and with a face like hers, there was no hope for her here. Who could blame her for running off as she did? Dewydd was a handsome man, I remember him chasing her something fierce.” She gave a wistful sigh. “I wish my Ruan had been half as persistent.”
Rosen gave a dismissive snort. “Lowena had a place here. She was needed. She should have respected that and remembered what she owed this family for keeping her around so long, what with all the trouble that face brought. But no, she had to run off, leaving us short-handed. She always was a selfish, lazy, care-for-naught.”
Briallen had to duck her head and bite her tongue against the hard laugh that wanted to escape. She’d never met Lowena, but she’d heard the stories. Even now, all these years after Lowena had left to marry a foreigner against her mother’s wishes, they still talked about the way she’d done things. How Lowena had been so much better at this or that, and how unfavourably Briallen compared.
Since the comparisons arose whenever Briallen attempted to do anything around the farm, she highly doubted Lowena had been lazy. If anything, Briallen had begun to believe the woman was a myth. Surely it couldn’t have been possible for one woman to do so much work on her own, nor be so good at it all?
Then again, if Dama Wynn had worked her oldest daughter half as hard as Briallen worked under Ia and Rosen’s critical eyes, perhaps she really had been that busy. Regardless of whatever else this Lowena had been, Briallen knew she’d have had no chance to be lazy. If they were talking about Rosen, however…
“I remember her singing,” Sewena murmured, her grey eyes turning dreamy as she tugged on her pale gold plait, wrapping it around her wrist in a girlish gesture. “In the winter, when I was sick, she’d bring her spinning next to my bed and sing to me when I was too feverish to sleep. Her voice –”
“Never made up for that great ugly scar on her cheek,” Rosen interrupted, proving that pettiness and jealousy never truly died. “She was lucky Dama and Sira kept her around so long, when everyone else in the area said she was cursed bad luck and an affront to the ancestors. In times before she’d have been handed to the druids, and no amount of singing would have saved her then.”
“Lowena is still you sister, Rosen.” For once the bitter woman’s bad temper had gone too far. Where normally Ia ignored her sister-by-marriage’s mean-hearted views, since it meant that she herself remained more popular amongst the women and therefore firmly in charge, today she frowned. “She weaves beautiful things for all of us. Finer than anyone else around here can produce. True, she shouldn’t have run off as she did, but surely you wouldn’t wish to deny your sister the joy of motherhood? What chance had she here of getting married and achieving everything that we have been able to?”
Unused to receiving chastisement from any quarter, Rosen said nothing. Briallen watched the older woman as Ia turned away, recognising the nasty scowl on her face. Not for the first time Briallen mused on mild Pedar and the amount of time he spent away from his bitter wife.
How Rosen and Pedar had managed to conceive four daughters would forever remain a mystery to Briallen, but then perhaps Rosen hadn’t always been as she was. Perhaps it had been Pedar’s travelling ways that had turned her so sour. Would Briallen have turned out the same if Mewan had kept wandering like he did? Did she have death to thank for saving her from Rosen’s fate?
“Get back to work, Briallen! How many times do I have to warn about the rain?”
Or perhaps not. Maybe poor Pedar had been duped into marrying the ill-tempered stoat and found his own ways of coping with his unhappy marriage. Maybe Mewan would have changed in time, stayed home more and helped raise their family.
Not that it mattered either way, Briallen thought with a sigh, spreading a linen undershirt across the hazel branches to dry. All that mattered was that she was stuck here, under Rosen’s barbed lash of a tongue, and likely fated to remain so until her child was born and the family decided what was to be done with her.
Gods and ancestors, how she envied Lowena, who despite being old and scarred had found a handsome stranger to whisk her away from all of this. Not that Briallen wanted another man in her life – not now, not so soon after Mewan, perhaps not ever again – but an escape would be nice. A chance, a choice, a hint of freedom.
Her hand pressed against her bump again and she shook her head. No, not now, not so soon, perhaps not ever. She was stuck here on this farm, at least for the time being, and there was nothing she, nor anyone else, could do about it.
The thought weighed on her like the tiredness she couldn’t shake since she’d learned the fatal news. So she hung up her washing, looked up at the bleak clouds riding above and followed the rest of the women inside to get on with the next round of chores. As she walked she glanced back at the house she could no longer call home, catching a glimpse of a pale face with pale eyes staring back. She blinked and the vision was gone, like so much else in her life.
“Come along, Briallen, this bread won’t bake itself.”
“Coming, Ia. I’m coming.”