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Authors: Louisa Trent

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The Devil of Nettlewood (The Anarchy Tales)

BOOK: The Devil of Nettlewood (The Anarchy Tales)
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The Anarchy Tales 1:

The Devil of Nettlewood

 

 

Louisa Trent

 

 

 

www.loose-id.com

 

The Anarchy Tales 1: The Devil of Nettlewood

Copyright © January 2011 by Louisa Trent

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eISBN 978-1-60737-933-1

Editor: Crystal Esau

Cover Artist: Christine M. Griffin

Printed in the United States of America

Published by

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This e-book is a work of fiction. While reference might be made to actual historical events or existing locations, the names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

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Prologue

 

The year 1138, England, during the tumultuous reign of King Stephen

Lord Spur reined in his galloping steed, raised an
oliphant
horn to his lips, and blew three short blasts into the ivory tusk. The thrice trumpeting would alert his hunting party of their quarry’s location and advise them to make haste lest the wild boar they tracked escape farther into the reserve, a forbidding place of gnarled oak and thorny briars, a place altogether unwelcoming.

A place, by all accounts, that resembled its cruel overlord.

Spur smiled tightly. Who was he to disagree?

Point of fact, he sanctioned the innuendos, the insinuations—the outright lies—circulating about him. Verily, he courted the speculation as he would a strumpet, his aim to pry her thighs apart until the rosebud showed. He did so favor rosebuds. When behind his broad back, his populace said the uncivilized territory bore a striking similarity to their callous liege, how he equaled if not surpassed the land’s harsh and uncompromising nature, and so on and so forth, Spur could only nod his head in enthusiastic approval. The day he overheard himself referred to at the royal palace—the calumny committed behind a raised hand, naturally—as “the Devil of Nettlewood,” he actually applauded the gossip’s astuteness.

Though not easily swayed, he was not above such flattery. After all, the endearment had rather a nice
sting
to it. And a good thing he thought so too for the pet name had stuck.

If tales of his kicking sweet puppy dogs and gobbling up cooing newborns and raping pious novices as they prayed in their cloistered nunneries saved his arse and the collective posteriors of the people he served, where was the harm in the slander?

So what if he were not nearly as diabolical as he would have others believe. The truth was, no saint in the making was he, no wayward angel looking to find a way back to heaven, no penitent sinner seeking forgiveness on his knees. Any kneeing to be done fell under the auspices of those who toadied to him.

And to women, naturally. He had never been one to look a carnal opportunity in the mouth and refuse.

Christ’s prick, but he did have his manly urges. Dark urges. Shamefully dark, carnal urges no paramour had ever fully appeased. He wallowed in his excesses, celebrated his wickedness, and encouraged his people to think the worst of him. Indeed he worked damnably hard to give his serfdom no reason to change their lowly estimation of him. Let those vassals who owed him their allegiance call him unyielding. Let those subjects he governed name him as inhospitable as the lands he oversaw. Let those lovers once fucked, then scorned, vilify him. So long as, pray God, the tittle-tattle kept enemies away from his fortress gates, he would continue to substantiate the vilest of rumors about himself with suitable misbehavior.

In the heat of battle, only a witless fool tampers with a winning military strategy.

And this was no ordinary skirmish. Keeping himself and his people alive under the reign of King Stephen amounted to naught less than outright war.

Golden sunlight strained through a sieve of heavy green foliage. Beneath a canopy of twisted vines, Spur returned his horn to his destrier’s saddle and then took up his spear. Narrowing his gaze on the rough terrain, he scanned the area for any betraying signs of the animal’s presence.

No easy feat given the overgrowth of brambles. The bristled beast might attack any moment, felling him sight unseen.

Ha! As if he would allow such a calamity to befall him. As he had no son, no successor in line, his demise would toll the death knell for those who depended upon his rule. For that reason alone, he intended to live well and long.

Despite the fondest wishes of his people. Silly idiots. Sniveling sheep, the lot of them.

Done with waiting for his hunting party to arrive, Spur jumped to the ground, his lance in hand. Patience had never been his strong suit; its snug fit chafed his bones. Up ahead, his
alaunt
—the most powerful and muscular of all his hunting dogs—sniffed the ground, an indication the hound had picked up the scent of wild boar. Cornered in a rocky canyon, his quarry would have but one way out.

Through him.

’Twas mating season, when the dominant male of the breed was at its most ferocious, and a boar on the prowl was not to be underestimated. In the pursuit of romance, a love-stricken pig could take down a horse, its rider, and then finish the bloody kill with a dog or two. Naught stood in the way of a rutting boar.

The same might be said of Spur’s older brother.

Talon was the finest wencher in all the land, a single-minded devotee of bed sport. All the ladies in the realm did love him. Blessed with near-perfect timing, he never failed to shout his satisfaction in unison with his partner’s screech of bliss.

And here was his brother now, as usual,
coming
not a trice too soon. The boar looked a mite tetchy.

Talon sidled to a stand beside Spur. Shoulder to shoulder, they eyed their peevish quarry.

“A tremendously ugly creature you have there,” Talon said by way of greeting. “At least fifteen stone, with upper tusks as long and hard as our cocks.”

Spur sent his brother a fraternal jeer. “Speak for yourself. My length measures more by half again. And ’tis not nearly as curved. Also—when properly motivated, my tusk is twice as hard as yonder boar’s.”

Talon scoffed. “Braggart. Prone to gross exaggeration on top of it.”

“Which I always am—with the wenches.”

“Whose numbers are legion, you will no doubt boast next.”

“An amount greater than you have lain with, I wager.”

“That may well be, as you are far less discerning than myself.
I
discriminate in
my
choice of bed companions.” Talon sighed a gusty sigh. “At times I question how well you do see.”

Spur raised an arm overhead, ready to throw his lance. The snorting boar had lowered its massive head, stamped its short legs, and dug its hooves into the ground.

The beast was ready to charge.

Still Spur could hardly allow Talon’s snide remark to go uncontested. “I will have you know, my sight rivals that of the hawk.”

“I suppose ’tis true. You do tend to aggrandize, much like a hawk. A grain of sand appears the size of a boulder, the insignificant stub between your legs takes on unmerited proportions.”

“A pox on you, whoreson—”

Talon clucked his tongue. “Tut-tut. Our lady-mother was far too refined for whoring. If she is to be believed, she coupled but twice in all the years of her marriage. Once to conceive me, her finest accomplishment, followed soon after by an encore performance, a mediocre production at best, that yielded you, Spare.”

Spare.

Spur grimaced. Talon was the heir, he the extra…just in case. Though he held the title of earl, a position of esteem in England and the same rank as his brother, Spur had considered himself an afterthought all his life.

Talon groaned in mock chagrin. “Egad! Did I say ‘Spare’? Well, pardon my tongue slip. I meant Spur, of course.” Talon gestured to the boar, racing in their direction. “On the ready, before both our masculine prides are gored.”

Their lances flew through the air. Spur tagged their quarry’s side a blink after Talon’s swifter weapon pierced the beast’s heart.

Merde
! Second place again.

Spur turned to his straggling vassals, newly arrived on foot to the canyon. “Men, tether the carcass to the poles. Carrion-eating birds have started to circle.”

To a resounding chorus of “Aye, milord, aye, milord, aye,” the Devil of Nettlewood returned to his keep, Talon at his side.

Later in the Great Hall, the two brothers celebrated their successful hunt at a sumptuous banquet. Deep in his tankard of brew, Spur grew pensive.

Despite their constant bickering, he had always enjoyed Talon’s companionship over and above all others. Take today, for instance. After soaking away the grime of the hunt in the communal bath, fed by hot springs that ran beneath the castle’s foundation, they had only separated long enough to adjourn to their respective bedchambers to change their garb from filthy to clean before meeting up again.

And that was how most visits with one another went.

Whilst he enjoyed playing host to his guests, noble-born lords from neighboring holdings, only with his brother was Spur completely at his ease. Though proximity in age—less than a twelvemonth separated them in birth—made them highly competitive, their robust good fellowship mitigated their quarrelsome rivalry.

Talon was the only person Spur had ever allowed himself to trust. The reverse held equally true. Sharing the same bedmate—a habit acquired when they were young bucks—only strengthened their fraternal bond. Confident of the other’s unquestioning loyalty, they kept no secrets from one another. In warfare, they watched the other’s back.

Corrosive outside influence bounced off the protective wall they had erected around themselves. They knew one another’s strengths and weaknesses—and shared most opinions too—without either having to speak them. And so Spur well understood that Talon had an itch to leave the public celebration and begin their own private festivities.

His elder brother patted his rock-hard belly. “Too much roasted wild boar and parsnips. And my bladder is fit to burst with ale.” He climbed out of his seat. “’Tis the trough for me.”

“A righteous sentiment.” Spur swung his leg over the wooden bench too.

Rather than climb to the third-floor garderobe, located between the upstairs bedchambers, they stumbled drunkenly out the ground-level portal to the latrine in the courtyard.

Talon’s stream hit the side of the shallow receptacle and splashed.

Spur yelped. “Malicious sod! You did that intentionally. Now everyone will think I wet myself.”

Always merry, Talon guffawed. “You will not have to put up with my pissing on you much longer. On the morrow, I leave.”

Finished relieving himself, Spur put his cock away. “Why so soon, Tal?”

His brother shook his rig dry, then stowed his most valuable possession inside his wool
braies
for safekeeping. “Thus far, recent events have left Ironguard unscathed. Whilst others less fortunate starve on the streets, thankful for a bowl of stone pottage and a week-old crust of wormy rye bread, my peasants dine on hare stew and
maslin
, warm from my keep’s oven. By Christ’s crucifix, I mean to keep it that way. And so I must return to my earldom.”

“You suspect the anarchy will reach your gates?”

“Trouble is afoot in this land.” Talon shrugged. “Why would it not encroach upon my fortress? A veritable cesspool of treason and backstabbing embroils King Stephen’s court at Winchester. Groundless imprisonment, needless torture, sentences to death without good cause…the list of injustices goes on and on at the royal castle. And do not get me started on the happenings in London.”

“Damn those two contentious cousins,” Spur exploded. “When will the Empress Matilda and King Stephen quit their battling over who has the greater right to wear the English crown?”

Talon dropped his voice to a whisper. “I have heard stories.”

Spur stepped closer. “What sorts of stories?”

“Rebelling royals who support Empress Matilda are said to have hired mercenaries to destroy the property of any nobles in favor of the present monarchy. If these stories are true, those of us who uphold His Majesty’s claim to the throne may soon have reprisal visited upon our heads. We may find ourselves attacked from within by those we once thought of as allies and friends.”

Spur frowned. “Thus far, this present strife has stayed away from Nettlewood.”

“Your Devil’s reputation has stood you in good stead.”

Spur nodded. “Word of mouth best tells the make of a man, and that same authorship most handily spreads the rumors around.”

Talon threw back his head and roared. “’Twas you who authored and spread those rumors.”

“The finest of testimonials. Who knows me better than I know myself?”

“Your outrageously handsome elder brother, of course, but I concede you the argument.”

Weaving drunkenly on his feet, Spur raised a finger skyward. “He who seeks to unlawfully enter my fiefdom of thorns will exit with an arseful of pricks.”

“You depraved wretch! This place is a regular Sodom and Gomorrah! And here I thought you confined your amorous escapades to the ladies. Buggering now too, are you?”

Spur ignored the jest. “Bloodletting keeps the thorns surrounding my fortress well fed. The vines here are as wide around as tree trunks, making these walls nearly impenetrable. As a second barrier of defense, my army soon dispenses with any foe foolish enough to break through the nettles.”

“Without question—a well-trained contingent you have here, brother.”

“My troops might not particularly like me, but they certainly respect the far-reaching whip of my authority. To a man, my soldiers would lay down their lives for me.” He smirked. “’Tis either that or be killed by my hand.”

“I shall keep that in mind should we ever have a falling out.”

“Tal—in all seriousness, you know I am here for you, now and always. Send a messenger if your gates go under siege.”

Talon took a deep breath. “My thanks. And you the same. Now, no more talk of warring or politics. This is my last night here, and I intend to enjoy it. To that end, I propose we return to the Hall.”

Talon’s defeated tone was not at all usual. He was never down at the mouth. This trouble with the embattled sovereignty had even dented the armor of his tenacious older brother. Fortunately Spur knew the very thing to brighten Talon’s mood, and he would suggest it too.

All in due course.

First Spur would make Talon suffer.

“Aye, we should go back inside the Hall,” Spur said, drawing out his brother’s agony. “Who would wish to miss all those oft-repeated accounts of long-ago hunts told by reminiscing elders? Or all those ribald tales of female conquests, as retold—and retold again, ad infinitum—by their long-winded sons?”

BOOK: The Devil of Nettlewood (The Anarchy Tales)
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