Authors: Carol McGrath
The Betrothed Sister
It is September 1068. Thea, also known as Gytha, the elder daughter of King Harold II, travels with her brothers and grandmother into exile, carrying revenge in her heart. She is soon betrothed to a prince of Kiev. Will her betrothal and marriage bring her happiness as she confronts enemies from inside and outside Russian territories. Will she prove herself the courageous princess she surely is, win her princely husband's respect and establish her independence in a society protective towards its women.
The Betrothed Sister
is the third in Carol McGrath's Daughters of Hastings series.
WHISKEY CREEK PRESS
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Printed in the United States of America
If the bones remain the flesh will come again
A Russian proverb and a meditation on historical fiction
This book is dedicated to my son, Tyrone, and Veronica, his partner.
The first of these goes to my fabulous editor Jay Dixon, and, Jay, I appreciate how hard you have worked on editing all three manuscripts with me. Thank you to Rod Fine for suggesting the title
The Betrothed Sister
. A very special thank you to the Neohori Writing Group in Greece where I wrote much of the actual manuscript, having researched the background in primary and secondary sources in England, often in The Bodleian Library, Oxford. Brenda, Mel and Theresa â your input in the manuscript's early stages was invaluable. Thank you, Tim Matthews, for the map and family tree you have designed to illustrate Thea's journeys. Thank you, Rebecca Hazell, for your notes and advice on Medieval Russia. Thank you to the RNA for their support of my writing throughout the years. Thank you, Patrick, my darling husband, for your trusty and steadfast support and for believing in me. Thank you, Accent Press, especially to Hazel, Stephanie, Beth and Greg for all your hard work to bring my novels to readers. Finally, thank you, dear readers, for reviews and for reading these novels, sometimes more than once. They could not happen without you.
The Offices of the Russian Church
The First Hour
The Third Hour
Noon and the Sixth Hour
Between 2.00 and 3.00, the Ninth Hour
Before 7.00, early night.
My needle slides through the convent's silence as I draw it in and out of my tapestry for the last times. When I stitch the edges with this golden thread it will be finished.
I have sought a life of contemplation in my final years but as happens with the old, my memory flits beyond this cloth where my story is laid out in embroidery silks. I remember the past, but these days I lose sight of the present. A Danish cunning woman once predicted that the land of the Rus would bring me a noble husband and beautiful children. And so it has come to pass because you, my children, have been my joy and Vladimir a truly beloved husband.
Study my embroidery after I am returned to the earth, children mine. My betrothal, my wedding and in those tiny blue and red crosses you can see your name days. Come closer and examine the margins; for if you do, you will discover the story of your mother's adventurous life. Here you can discern fleeing ships, snow-topped trees, pine forests inhabited by bears and wolves, fortress towers and the great cities where we have dwelled. And you will find me, too, amongst the orchards and meadows â my soul a thing of air, a bird, a bee or a moth that draws towards a bright candle. And there are rose gardens, which enclose secrets that only you, my children, who know my heart so well, can interpret.
Yet, this is not only my story. It possesses the voices of others. Look, there is Padar, the Godwin poet, holding Gabriel, his magical Frankish sword. He will speak to you of his part in my tale. See Gytha, your great-grandmother, whom I loved with all my heart, hidden amongst the dragon ships that carried us from England to the land of the Danes. Gudrun, too, my dearest friend, will speak of her love for the poet. See her seated by her loom.
Let me explain. I must point you to the beginning of that journey that brought me as a betrothed exile into the land of the Rus and to your father's bed.
And here Gytha, mother of Harold, travelled away to the island of Flatholm, and the wives of many good people with her, and lived there for a certain time, and so went from there across the sea to St Omer.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, The Worcester Manuscript, 1067
, translated and edited by Michael Swanton, 1996.
And in the middle of this year  Harold's sons came by surprise from Ireland into the mouth of the Avon with a raiding ship-army, and straightway raided across all that region; then went to Bristol and wanted to break down the town but the townsfolk fought hard against them; and when they could not gain anything from the town, they went to the ships with what they had plundered, and thus they went to Somerset.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, The Worcester Manuscript, 1068,
translated and edited by Michael Swanton, 1996.
Flatholm, September 1068
A pale moon was reflected in the still water that lay along the island's shoreline.
Thea took a step closer to the water's edge and for a moment glanced up at the night sky. She stared down at the reflection of the moon that lay on the surface of the sea. For a moment all was silent. It was as if the world had paused to take a breath.
Edmund touched her hand. âHurry,' he said. âGrandmother is waiting in the boat for us.'
Accepting her brother's help, his hand guiding her elbow, Thea ventured into the shallows. She lifted her skirts high in the hope that the water would not drench her gown and allowed Edmund to lift her into the skiff. Taking a place in the stern beside her grandmother, Countess Gytha, she leaned back against the last chest of Godwin treasure. A sense of relief swept through her. They were finally setting out.
Thea's grandmother sat stiff-backed and silent waiting for the boat to cast off, her stony gaze reaching forwards towards the two dragon-shaped vessels that had remained out in the bay as the women made ready to leave their island sanctuary. All that day Countess Gytha had not spoken, not since her grandsons had sailed to them in the shadowy morning light, and had told her about their defeat in Somerset and of her youngest grandson Magnus's death in his first battle.
Godwin and Edmund told her they must leave immediately. Thea had watched the broken-hearted but stoical Gytha staring out to sea from the monastery cliff-side, leaning on her eagle-headed stick as the boys and their Danish oarsmen had worked hard all day long, sweat running in ribbons down their bared backs, shifting chest after chest out to the anchored ships. They must catch the evening tide and sail away into exile in Flanders before the Normans changed their minds about allowing them safe passage out and, instead, attacked their ships and seized their treasure. Now, as well as one sturdy oak chest on their skiff, other coffers containing valuable items were already stowed on board the
, the second of the two great ships that would carry the band of noblewomen and their children and maids to Flanders.
Later, Gytha turned around and left the cliff path. She entered the monastery and took up a position by the north window, looking out to sea.
To Thea's relief, Countess Gytha, once the task had been completed, left off her watching from the monastery's north window, attempted to eat a good dinner and at last she, too, made ready for her departure. Embracing the abbot who had cared for them since winter, the countess had smiled sadly as she presented him with a valuable relic, a fragile snip of the Virgin's veil. This holy object was contained inside a small crystal-and-gold reliquary box which she had smuggled from Exeter after the siege, when she and her daughter Hilda, Thea and their women and children had been banished to Flatholm to await exile.