Excerpt from A Black Matter for the King by Matthew Willis & J.A. Ironside {With Giveaway!}

A Black Matter for the King by Matthew Willis & J.A. Ironside

Publication Date: September 7, 2018
Penmore Press LLC
Paperback & eBook; 302 Pages

Series: Oath and Crown #2
Genre: Historical Fiction/War


Now a political hostage in Falaise, Ælfgifa forms an unlikely friendship with William, Duke of Normandy. William has been swift to recognize her skills and exploit them to his advantage. However, unbeknownst to the duke, Gifa is acting as a spy for her brother, Harold Godwinson, a possible rival for the English throne currently in the failing grip of Edward the Confessor. Homesick and alienated by the Norman court, Gifa is torn between the Duke's trust and the duty she owes her family.

William has subdued his dissenting nobles, and a united Normandy is within his grasp. But the tides of power and influence are rarely still. As William’s stature grows, the circle of those he can trust shrinks. Beyond the English Channel, William has received news of Edward's astonishing decree regarding the succession. Ælfgifa returns to an England where an undercurrent of discontent bubbles beneath the surface. An England that may soon erupt in conflict as one king dies and another is chosen.

The ambitions of two powerful men will decide the fates of rival cultures in a single battle at Hastings that will change England, Europe, and the world in this compelling conclusion to the Oath & Crown series on the life and battles of William the Conqueror.

"There is little which is quite so exciting for me as discovering afresh, new talent in historical writing. In Willis and Ironside I feel I've found two writers who can carry me back to the past and can show me a time when, amid the brutality and irrationality of politics, there were still great characters, men of vision and daring, and women of intelligence and foresight. In fact these stories are a lot more than a short war series. They are a rich, extraordinarily well-researched, and meticulously told history of love, jealousy, honour, betrayal, deceit and death. It gives one version - convincingly told - of the curious oath sworn by Harold to William, but it is also the story of different nations, different cultures, and the clash when two warlords desire the same thing. In case I hadn't made it obvious, I loved these books. Sweeping history, battles galore, treachery, a cast of glorious, well-depicted characters - all in all, a fabulous story told brilliantly." - Author Michael Jecks

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“...I have apprehended some trespassers on my territory, if that's what you mean,” Gui replied. “Saxon dogs. Brigands, raiding the coastline, no doubt, harrying my people.”
If anyone had been raiding and harrying it was Gui. William was rarely free from complaints that Gui had been encroaching on the land of his neighbors, robbing, pillaging, interfering with passing shipping, and occasionally outright piracy. He always denied it and there was little enough proof. Until now.
“One of those brigands is one of the most powerful men in England,” William spat, “a man you would do well not to make an enemy of.” He leaned forward until his face was uncomfortably close to that of Gui. “And a man you would do well not to make into an enemy of mine, either.”
Gui moved his head back a touch, swiveling his eyes uncomfortably. It would be well for him if he was beginning to realize how much he had bitten off. “Perhaps. But the fact remains they were trespassing...”
“They were shipwrecked in a storm, you had no business detaining them.” William slapped the table. “Your duty as a nobleman was to give them succor and help them on their way.”
“We couldn't understand them,” Gui said, looking anywhere but at William. “How was I supposed to know who they were? And anyway, if one of them is noble I'm entitled to a ransom... a reward for ensuring their safe return.”
William just narrowed his eyes, and Gui did not push the point. He was clearly lying about knowing who the men in his dungeons were. “Safe? I want to see the Jarl of Wessex. To ensure his good treatment.”
Now a flash of panic crossed Gui's eyes. “But of course, Lord. I will send for him to be brought to us. In the meantime, are you sure you wouldn't like some food or wine after your journey?”
Stalling for time so Harold can be cleaned up and made presentable, no doubt. “That won't be necessary. I'll see him where he is. Don't trouble yourself. Have a guard lead me there.”
Gui paused for a moment, probably considering whether to try to deflect William, but one look should have told him the Duke was not in any mood for games. Even more downcast than before, he called for a guard and instructed him to lead William. Not surprising, William thought, that Gui suddenly knew exactly which cell Harold was in, despite moments ago claiming not to know who any of the men were.
Blinking to accustom his eyes to the almost total lack of light, William waited while the guard opened the door and stepped through. It was a small cell, the kind a petty knight might be held in while awaiting ransom, not a great magnate and brother-in-law of a king. Saint Spirus' innards! Gui was a barbarian, and William began to wish he'd never pushed him into paying homage.
The only furniture was a wooden bench, and as William's eyes adjusted, he saw there was a man lying on it, dozing, perhaps. At any rate, he had not been disturbed by the clattering of the key and screeching of the door hinges. William cleared his throat, at which the other looked up, startled, and jumped to his feet. His bare feet. William realized with horror that Harold must still be wearing the clothes in which he had been shipwrecked. His hair hung loose about his face, flashing reddish wherever it caught the light of the torch outside.
William realized he barely spoke a word of Anglish. “You are Harold of Wessex, yes?” he said in Latin. “I am William. Duke of Normandy. I am here to release you.” He prepared himself for a tirade on the shortcomings of Norman hospitality.
Instead, the other smiled broadly. “My Lord of Normandy!” He bowed, stiffly. “Well met, if rather unexpected. I have long desired to make your acquaintance. My sister Ælfgifa spoke well of your lordship. May I ask what brings you to Ponthieu? Your man Gui will have a face like a smacked guppy if you mean to make off with his prize catch.”
William stared for a moment. Here was a man who had been shipwrecked then thrown into a cell, and they were exchanging greetings as if they were preparing for a May morning hunt. There may have even been a mocking note in Harold's voice, but whether it was directed at himself or William, or just the Saxon accent to his Latin, the Duke could not be sure. “Jarl Harold... forgive me, I'm not sure of the form of address.” There was no point in talking around the issue, even if Harold had so far proved a model of courtesy. Gui had put him at a disadvantage, and that had to be rectified. “Allow me to apologize for the behavior of my vassal. This is not how I would have wished us to meet. I'm relieved to find you whole and in good spirits. I trust you have not been excessively mistreated? And,” he growled, “I assure you, Gui will be lucky to have a face with all its features intact if he complains.”
Harold laughed, an open, hearty chuckle. “A man after my own heart too, it seems. Nay, Ponthieu did not treat me ill although the man might look into hiring a better cook. The food was atrocious.” They both laughed at that.
William could not help but be impressed at Harold's sangfroid. “No, it's a little more than the food he serves that offends me about Gui, if the truth be known. I hope we can provide better for you at Falaise.”
There did not even seem to be anything false or showy about Harold’s manner. Here was a man who could make the best of any situation he found himself in. “I imagine more does offend you about Gui – I believe I was meant to be a dainty tidbit and you have ruined his sport. The man will look like he's been chewing dandelion root for a month when you tell him you intend to offer me better lodgings.”
William smiled grimly. “Don't worry about Gui. It's not so long since he was enjoying my hospitality at Falaise himself, though his room was rather small and the door rarely open. He may find himself spending a summer in his old accommodation if he continues to act more like a pirate than a Count.”
Harold grinned, then his comradely smile faded, just a touch. “So Lord, I am here – where I should not be – and while that is more at God's convenience than mine, I will beg your pardon for my intrusion. Is there anything I might do for you, Duke William? You will excuse me if I ask after my sister – she was uncommonly long about delivering my missive. A full year now I think on it. Is she well? How does my young brother and nephew?”
William could not blame Harold for asking so many questions. While William was at a disadvantage in terms of social niceties, Harold was at a disadvantage in every other respect. Nevertheless, William could not help but be impressed that the Saxon was thinking of his family when his own circumstances were so poor. And mentioning Ælfgifa first? Any thought that Harold had sent Ælfgifa away because she lacked value evaporated. Harold clearly loved his sister. And perhaps knew her capabilities just as well as William did. If not better. “Your sister? She does the things she wants, when she wants, I find, though she has been of great service to me, for which I would thank you if I didn't think she would take offense.” They laughed again, politely. “She's well enough,” William continued. “You can ask her yourself, she came with me here.” The Saxon was about to speak again when William interrupted him. “Your offer of help is actually somewhat timely,” he said, quickly. There was an advantage to be had, and he was not about to lose it. “I'm currently engaged in a bit of fighting with my Western neighbors. Since I've heard only good things about your military skills, it would be helpful to me if you would come along with your men, perhaps. I hear the Bretons have a bit in common with the Wealas you've been in action with.”
“The Bretons?” Harold went on, looking thoughtful. “Yes their tongue is similar to that of the Wealas though I imagine they don't cling to the old ways so much. I don't speak it so well as my sister, of course, but I have the measure of them. Let me see... their current commander would be Duke Conan of Brittany, second of his name, would it not?” He looked William square in the eye. “You may count on me, Duke William. I have never shied away from honest battle at the side of one I would wish to name as a friend.” 

About the Authors

J.A. Ironside (Jules) grew up in rural Dorset, surrounded by books - which pretty much set he up for life as a complete bibliophile. She loves speculative fiction of all stripes, especially fantasy and science fiction, although when it comes to the written word, she's not choosy and will read almost anything. Actually it would be fair to say she starts to go a bit peculiar if she doesn’t get through at least three books a week. She writes across various genres, both adult and YA fiction, and it’s a rare story if there isn’t a fantastical or speculative element in there somewhere.

Jules has had several short stories published in magazines and anthologies, as well as recorded for literature podcasts. Books 1 and 2 of her popular Unveiled series are currently available with the 3rd and 4th books due for release Autumn/ Winter 2017.

She also co-authored the sweeping epic historical Oath and Crown Duology with Matthew Willis, released June 2017 from Penmore Press.

Jules now lives on the edge of the Cotswold way with her boyfriend creature and a small black and white cat, both of whom share a god-complex.

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Matthew Willis is an author of historical fiction, SF, fantasy and non-fiction. In June 2017 An Argument of Blood, the first of two historical novels about the Norman Conquest co-written with J.A. Ironside, was published. In 2015 his story Energy was shortlisted for the Bridport short story award.

Matthew studied Literature and History of Science at the University of Kent, where he wrote an MA thesis on Joseph Conrad and sailed for the University in national competitions. He subsequently worked as a journalist for Autosport and F1 Racing magazines, before switching to a career with the National Health Service.

His first non-fiction book, a history of the Blackburn Skua WW2 naval dive bomber, was published in 2007. He now has four non fiction books published with a fifth, a biography of test pilot Duncan Menzies, due later in 2017. He currently lives in Southampton and writes both fiction and non-fiction for a living.

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Blog Tour Schedule

Wednesday, September 5
Excerpt at Passages to the Past

Friday, September 7
Feature at The Writing Desk

Monday, September 10
Review at Pursuing Stacie

Friday, September 14
Interview at Passages to the Past

Thursday, September 20
Review at Hoover Book Reviews

Friday, September 21
Review at Locks, Hooks and Books

Saturday, September 22
Review at Svetlana's Reads and Views

Sunday, September 23
Review at Bookramblings
Review at Donna's Book Blog


During the Blog Tour we will be giving away a signed copy of A Black Matter for the King to one lucky reader! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.

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A Black Matter for the King

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