Title: North of the Azores
Author: Ruth Danes
Genre: Historical Fiction
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 4
A young princess is forced to choose a new life in an unfamiliar world where she finds adventure, friendship and love.
BLURB: North of the Azores
The year is 1780 and the Devil’s Isles, a group of islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, have recently been conquered by Britain after a brief war. The inhabitants of the Devil’s Isles practice magic and both human and animal sacrifice. Nebula, a young princess from the islands, struggles with this and is beginning to question what she has been taught.
Aware of a plot to kill everyone on the islands, Nebula defects to the British side where she takes on a new identity and a new life. Under the name Adeliza, she works in England as a maid for a Dr Moon. Only two men know her real identity; the kind-hearted doctor and the seemingly terrifying Mr Lastman.
EXCERPT: North of the Azores
I slept well and when I awoke I felt very weak but no longer ill. The doctor was present when I opened my eyes. He examined me, asked me some questions and gave me something to drink. Mr Lastman knocked and entered the room. Both men sat in front of me.
“Well, young lady, you are one of the lucky few who will be able to say you wore red lace and rubies and survived but we will have the truth now, if you please. Who are you?”
I looked at their solemn faces. There was no way I could lie anymore. I ran my tongue over my teeth to moisten my terror-dried mouth.
“My name is Nebula, I am a low princess from the Devil’s Isles and I am the last of the House of Beaumarch. I was given that name when the High Queen called me to her court when I was seven years old. I was born Adeliza and I turned thirteen in May.
“Every Islander knew about the plot to blow everything up on the night before the treaty was signed. I didn’t want to take part so I swam to the Mermaid and told all. I dressed as a boy, a boy from the streets of Arx, because I heard women are not well treated on ships and I needed to be disguised before I left land. I also recognised some of the men and knew they might have recognised me if I was dressed as a low princess.”
There was silence. I hung my head, my stomach churning and my palms sweating.
At last the doctor spoke. His voice was like granite.
“When you inhabited the Devil’s Isles, you and your ilk were responsible for the death and torture of many good, honest men and indeed, many good, honest women too. We all know the female royalty of that accursed race openly controlled everything that took place in that godforsaken land.
“As Gowther, you did indeed save many lives but your real motive was to save yourself, was it not? You could kill but you never had the courage to endure what you have inflicted on others. You also made an attempt to seriously injure Mr Lastman, and no, I do not want to hear it. You have repeated yourself many times stating you only wanted to escape and never meant to do any harm but you cannot be so stupid as to realise a face full of boiling soup is excruciatingly painful at best and deadly at worst. Besides, you should never have tried to escape in the first place. We all trusted you not to and you broke our trust.
“Finally, you wandered about the Mermaid when you knew you were ill, aye, maybe you did not know quite what ailed you, but you must have felt very ill for a good few hours before we saw your rash. The rash is never the first symptom of red lace and rubies. You knowingly spread that sickness and in doing so, you defied your captain, whose word is law on this ship, for a second time. It is impossible to know for sure but you can never clearly square the question with your conscience of would more men have been spared if you had obeyed your captain and reported your sickness immediately. Or was that part of your plan? A last attempt at causing mayhem and taking a few souls before being dispatched to Bristol and then to hell?”
Here he paused. I did not dare speak, I could only shake my head, trying desperately not to give way to the tears and the hysteria which were rising inside me.
The doctor resumed speaking in the same cold, hard voice.
“The orders that we received at Westmarnoch are clear. As soon as we dock at Bristol, you are to be handed over to the commissioners there, after which you are to be kept safe until you are hanged with as much pomp as possible in the heart of the city. We have docked at Bristol, with just over half of the men that set sail from here two years ago, and we will be released from quarantine tomorrow.
“Look at me, Adeliza.”
I forced myself to meet his gaze. His eyes were unforgiving but his voice had softened somewhat.
“That will not be your fate if you obey Mr Lastman and me.”
My heart seemed to stop and my face expressed the astonishment that my tongue could not. I scarcely dared believe my ears.
“Neither of us agree that anyone should be executed for who they are as opposed to what they have done. You have indeed committed many crimes but none that should be punished by death.
“Neither of us trust you, nor do we like you, but we are willing to save you.
“As you already know I am a doctor and a magistrate in a large village, a few days ride from Bristol, called Swanford. I am a bachelor but also a very busy man. On my return, I will take on two apprentice physicians and I will need a maid to help the man and woman who have been my servants for more than twenty years.
“If you swear to obey both Mr Lastman and me on anything and everything, I will take you back to Swanford with me to join my household as that maid. I will treat you as I have always treated my servants, with kindness but also with firmness. You will receive board and lodging along with anything else absolutely necessary until you are at least seventeen, at which point I mayconsider paying you wages. My word will be law and you will obey the upper servants, Mr and Mrs Dottey, as you will obey me. You will treat the apprentices with every respect and courtesy, as indeed you will treat everyone else with whom you come into contact.
“You will only ever speak, read and write English. You will make no attempt to escape your new life nor will you ever speak of your past life. We will think of some story and stick with it.
“You will stay within my household until you turn one-and-twenty. After this point you are free to leave my service ifI believe you to be harmless. If you give any reason to cause either of us any worry, you will regret it. Neither of us are disposed to be merciful twice and you might remember the order for your execution stands until you die.”
I fell to my knees in gratitude and disbelief.
“Sir, I don’t know what to say… Thank you, thank you very, very much. I will be your maid and I will do whatever you say.”
The doctor nodded, satisfied but not softened. Mr Lastman snorted.
“I’ll believe you if you keep your word for the next eight years. Here.” He handed me a comb. “You might as well tackle the knots in your hair before you start your new life.”
I thanked him inarticulately but from the depths of my heart for his kindness as I took the comb but his coldness soon stopped my tongue. With a heavy heart, I realised nothing I could then say or do would change either man’s opinion of me and it was on their opinion of me and my behaviour my life rested.
Ruth Danes has enjoyed history and fiction since childhood and has travelled widely within three continents. These interests and experiences were the inspiration for the Life on Another Islandseries which is set in a world where many characters unexpectedly start new lives in foreign, sometimes seemingly hostile, lands.
Ruth currently lives in the heart of England and works in administration. Writing novels forms her secret life.
Alternative history; historical thrillers; 18th century historical fiction; historical romances
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website/ blog https://www.ruthdanes.com/