Thursday, 3 November 2011

Nights of mischief

In Yorkshire, where I live, Nov 4th has always been known as Mischief Night, when local youngsters traditionally attempt all kinds of mayhem. Favourites are knocking on doors and running away, lifting garden gates off their hinges and hiding them and tapping on windows with a twig while hiding in the bushes. Unlit bonfires may be set deliberately alight, or 'raided' for their workwood.

Reading this list through I'm horrified, but I do remember taking part in bonfire 'raids' and really enjoying it.

Now I write romance I prefer more elegant mischief - that of a man and woman testing and teasing each other. Below is a teasing, mischievous excerpt from my medieval historical romance, To Touch The Knight. In it the hero and heroine are sparring, 'making mischief' for each other:

Excerpt.

Ranulf recognized the jutting gray beard. "Well met, Sir Tancred."

"Sir Dew of the Moon, if you please." The older man turned on the spot, showing off a costume of loose white and silver robes smothered in pearls and silver coins. He had a cap on, too, that looked very much like a nightcap, but one that trailed more ropes of coins.

"Have you a troop of seamstresses with you?" Ranulf asked, grinning to show he meant no ill-will.

"Nay, but my lady guessed it would be unknown knights. It is a popular theme."

"Indeed." A dormant streak of mischief, long banished since he had been a squire, stirred in Ranulf. He knew very well who Sir Tancred's lady was. "Would you swap masks and costumes with me?"

There was a rustle of cloth and coins as the older knight shook his head. "I have promised to escort my lady."

"May I escort her also? We could stroll on either side: Sir Dew and Sir Jade."

"I do not think my lady would like this..."

"If you allow it, I will joust in your amour and you keep the prizes."

"Agreed!"

As they shook hands, a rattle of drums sounded and a woman robed in yellow, scarlet and blue came down the castle steps, arm in arm with a short, burly man, wearing a mask of tall, sweeping peacock feathers and a feather cloak.

"Lady Rainbow and Lord Phoenix!" roared an iron-throated herald, to a pattering of applause.

Behind these came the other ladies, gaudy in tight, long sleeved gowns of blue and scarlet, purple and gold. Ranulf saw Giles, whom he recognized by his cocksure air and costume of long blue robe and black mask - the role of sea knight, which Giles had played at other jousts - rush to escort a lady who seemed to be a sparkle of gold.

"Beauty needs no foil," he murmured. He wagered that once the ladies unmasked, Giles would be disappointed.

"And are you beautiful, sir knight?" asked a new voice behind him.

"My lady!" Sir Tancred bowed so low that a rope of coins and the tip of his headdress touched the dirt. "We looked for you, Sir Jade and myself. We did not see you come with the other damsels. Where, too, are your attendants?"

"I chose another way, my lord, a way less crowded," came the calm response. "Sir Jade?"

His heart hammering as it never did when he was about to tilt, Ranulf determined to be equally reserved. "You will know jade, my lady, being as you are from far away." He patted his moss-strewn chest. "I am the English kind. But I see you disapprove of me."

He looked down, straight into a veiled face dominated by a pair of brilliant eyes, as large as a falcon's, and as piercing.

"Sir Jade, you are mistaken." Turning away from him without more ado, the lady threaded a narrow hand deftly through Sir Tancred's waiting arm. "I congratulate you on the elegance and wit of your mask and costume, Sir Dew. This fore-noon you will dazzle us all."

She had not answered his question on her lack of servants, but the older man straightened and stroked his white robes as if they were the finest ermine. “It is because of you, my lady. You were my inspiration.”

"What do you think of mine?" Ranulf interrupted. Usually he had no time for such folly; play like this reminded him of Olwen, of what he had lost. Yet this cool veiled green damsel piqued him: perversely he wanted her to think well of him.

The cool bright eyes studied him. "I find you apt, sir. Today I am the lady of jade." She offered him her free hand. "What do you think of me?"

She stepped closer as if daring him to touch. A sweet, rich perfume rose from her as she moved.

"You are as green as Roman glass, my lady," he remarked.

"And as slippery?" she countered.

"As green as jade," Sir Dew/Tancred put in, keen not to be left out of this encounter.

"I did not say that," Ranulf answered, disliking to have thoughts assumed of him, even if they were right. "Are you always veiled?"

"It is the custom of my people. Women go veiled. Some men, too."

"The old and ugly," said Tancred, but Ranulf ignored him.

"Are such loose clothes also the custom?" he asked. She was a pale green shimmer, clad head to toe in a filmy, billowing sheet of something - whether robe, tunic or gown, he could not say.

"These are the clothes I wear and how I wear them when I am walking," she said. "When I am watching the joust, I will be so," and she twisted her arms.

At once the sheet about her settled snugly over her hips and became a single slender rope across her left shoulder, running cross-wise over her narrow waist and surprisingly full breasts. Beside him and around him Ranulf heard the gasps and sensed the stares - he would be gawping, too, he wagered. Beneath the green shimmer, which he could not honestly call a cloak, but then he had no other words to describe it, the lady was all but naked.

She hides her face but still wears less than a tavern wench, was his astonished thought.

Truly, she wore a tiny golden bodice or jerkin over her bosom, cut to show the tops of her arms and breasts, and stopping before the last of her ribs, so that her upper arms and her middle were bare, naked and bare. Ranulf found himself leaning in to her, almost reaching for her slender waist and copper-colored, smooth-as-silk skin. He was reminded now, crudely and starkly, that he had not lain with any woman for months. The blood thumping in his ears and more painfully elsewhere, his mind flashed to the little modest maid of the morning, who had darted off. Two different kinds of challenges.

"You are the very season for lilies, princess, "he said, making a play of breathing in slowly and commenting on her perfume because she expected him to scold or praise her costume.

"Today I am the Lady Jade," she reminded him anew, nodding to a belt of green beads wound about her hips and several bracelets of green bangles. One of the nearby knights started to say something in French, but Ranulf stared at him and the man instantly went quiet. He clasped the hand she offered, amazed that she should be wearing gloves up to her elbows.

"Have you a favor in that costume for me?" he asked, while the knights about hitched their eyebrows at her strange attire and the ladies in masks made a point of not glancing her way.

"Alas, Sir Jade! My favors are all given out."

“Your face-veil is green and we shall soon be unmasking. ‘Tis considered unmannerly to remain masked when the lord and lady are not.”

"Thank you for pointing out that custom, Sir Jade. To be sure, I did not know it."

"To be sure you did, princess." Ranulf squeezed her fingers, tempted to shake her until her bracelets and beads rattled.

"I will remove that veil when we reach the place of tourney," she replied, not in the least discomforted by his outright denial.

They were moving by this time, strolling to the jousting ground, the princess in her fantastic costume floating like a low green cloud between him and Sir Tancred.

"May I claim it?" he asked. "I am jade, as you."

"Huurph!" grunted Sir Tancred.

"Forgive me, sir, but I cannot grant your request. To do so would be to break faith with others."

"I understand completely," Ranulf replied, looking over the princess's veiled head at Sir Tancred. "We must honor our agreements."

To see the cover, blurb and buy links, please visit my blog:
http://www.lindsaytownsend.net/2008/04/to-touch-knight.html

Best wishes, Lindsay.

[Pieter Breughel's 'Children's Games (1560) sourced from Wikimedia Commons.]

5 comments:

Jane Richardson said...

Oh, Lindsay, I love the idea of mischief night - and that excerpt is just perfect, you can really feel the tingle between them. Wonderful! Gorgeous choice of illustration, too. :)

Jane x

Savanna Kougar said...

Nothing like a woman who can and will truly challenge a man, and a man who takes up the challenge with a gentle ferocity.

Loved your excerpt, Lindsay!

Maggi Andersen said...

It must be lovely to live in a town with such an interesting history. I enjoyed the excerpt, Lindsay!

Lindsay Townsend said...

Thanks, ladies!
I relaly enjoyed writing the banter between these two, it just seemed to match their characters and flow...

Linda Banche said...

I love the building anticipation. And I love the language!