12 December 2017

Diamond Tales: Hearts, Home and a Precious Stone by Annie Whitehead

Saxon England - when the wars between the kingdoms were fierce, and the struggle to survive was even fiercer...
Hearts, Home, and a Precious Stone
by
Annie Whitehead

East Anglia – 616
She stared up at him. Her hands were wet from clutching the washing and for a moment she was only aware of the drip trickling through her fingers and the ragged breathing sounds. His, not hers. For it seemed like she had been holding her breath since he pulled up in front of her, his boots half-sinking as the sucking mud tried to claim them.
He had no war-gear, nor scars on his face, but he didn’t seem to be a trader either. His fingers were clenched and he was pumping his fist.
Why was he anxious? She was no threat. He wouldn’t know that she was a Mercian princess married to a Northumbrian prince, a guest here and paying her way by doing her share of the chores.
All he would see was a woman washing clothes in the estuary where traders came and went and the court of King Redwald welcomed strangers.
A shout rose from where the boats bobbed in gentle resistance against their moorings. The sails that usually billowed had been caught and tied; they looked naked, Carinna always thought, when they were thus subdued. A man came running along the bank, a rich man, she thought, for he had a belly which spoke of plentiful rations, and there were no shiny patches on his breeches. He shouted as he ran, spittle flecking across his beard as he voiced his anger.
“Come back you little shit! Thief! I’ll flay your skin from your back, slave-boy!
The youth glanced at his pursuer, and took two squelching steps towards Carinna. She woke from her torpor, dropped the washing, and stood up. The young man shrugged, as if deciding that he had nothing to lose, and planted a kiss on her lips. As he did so, he pressed something into her hand. He ran off, the older man in noisy pursuit. Carinna watched them go, their feet making boot-prints which instantly vanished as they filled back up with water.
She caught the shouts as they carried on the wind.
“Give it back! Without it, I’ll never get home.  And neither will you!”
“No, I won’t, but I’ll be free!”
The young man had not been nervously pumping his fingers; he’d been holding something. Now that object was in her hand. It was cold, hard, like a pebble. Was this what he had stolen? Why would this mean that they couldn’t go home?
Carinna knew the pain of that, what it felt like to be far from home. She glanced down at the object in her hand.
It was not a pebble, but a clear stone. When she held it up to look more closely, she could see right through it. It glittered when the sun’s rays caught it.
Carinna’s father was the King of Mercia. Her husband would one day be a king; he was sure of it, and so, then, she must believe it. But she was no more at liberty than this boy. Let him run, let him be free.
“Lady?” Aylsa had come to fetch Carinna to the hall. “You seem far away?”
I am far away, thought Carinna. Far from my homeland, at any rate. Just like that young man. She opened her fist again and looked at the shiny object.
Aylsa’s eyes grew wide. “Oh, that is so pretty!”
“Have it.” She didn’t want it. Whenever she looked at it, it would remind her of pebbles washed from lands far away to end up on distant shores.


The harvest was in and the East Anglians would not go hungry over the winter. Many of the women would, however, be spending those dark cold months on their own, newly widowed or bereaved. King Redwald’s army was huge, but there would inevitably be casualties. Aylsa knew that Armund could be one of them.
Last night they had crept from the feast. Away from the braziers keeping the enclosed yard lit and safe, there were dark corners where couples could go. This morning she could not get close for more than a moment. The men were gathering outside the hall, more were outside the gates, and she had to stick her elbows out to barge through the throng of warriors, their women, and skittering children.
In the dark night his flesh had burned upon hers, his kisses soft, breath warming her body in mists as he spoke gentle words of love.
This morning only a brief caress was possible, and in that moment, she took the deepest inhalation, stealing the scent of his skin, hoping it would see her through the winter, holding her cheek against the pulsing vein in his neck, praying the goddess would keep it beating, and that he would not, in a few days, be lying cold on the distant battleground. Down from her tiptoes, and preparing to let go, she said, “Take this. May it bring you safe through the fight.”
Last night he had loved her, today…Was it bravery in cold light, or had the promises in the dark been whispers on the wind, to carry, clear at first, but then vanish?
He took the transparent stone from her, and his brows drew together. For a moment it seemed he might refuse, but he smiled, and said, “If it brings you peace, I will take it.”
Aylsa waited, that long, cold winter. They won the battle, she heard. But Armund never returned.



Northumbria - 634
He was home. And he was King. Oswald had pursued and cornered his enemy, and slain him with no more thought than if he’d despatched a diseased hound. Now was the time to assess the damage to his army, to give orders for Christian burial, and send the wounded to the monks for care.
Where the fighting had been most intense, the ground was slimy. The grass had been churned to mud with the pushing of the shield wall, and now that mud was wet with blood. On his back, eyes open to the sky, a young thegn lay, one leg twisted underneath his body, arms spread as if in supplication, one fist closed. A wound split his head from temple to neck. The blood had ceased to pump, and the open gash was a garish blend of pink flesh and white bone.
Oswald’s steward, Manfrid, came to stand beside his lord. “Beric, son of Armund. A good man.”
“I don’t recall…”
“You did not know him, Lord. His father fought with your uncle’s hearth-troop and came north from East Anglia with King Redwald’s army. He settled here, and his son grew up thinking himself Northumbrian. He fought well for you this day.”
Oswald was humbled. So many good men had fought and died for him. “What was he holding; perhaps his foe’s hair?”
Manfrid uncurled the youth’s fingers to reveal a blood-smeared stone. “It’s naught, Lord.”
“Let me see?”
The stone, once wiped, revealed itself to be clear, like glass, yet more transparent. A talisman? If so, it had served the boy ill. God’s purpose was obviously greater.
“I heard tell,” said Manfrid, “That his father carried a stone which he said had brought him freedom because he lived through all his battles. He must have passed it to his son.”
“Don’t bury him with this. It’s a pagan thing.”
Oswald thought he might throw the stone away. But Manfrid began talking to him, they spoke of arrangements, and he found himself turning the stone over and over in his palm.

Mercia - 909
The Lady Æthelflæd looked across the gaming board table at Earl Alhelm. He marvelled that she and he were sitting together still, when the stories of their lives were all but written. Alhelm returned her wry smile as the monks walked solemnly across the hall. The moving of Saint Oswald’s bones had been both an expedient and a shrewd move, ensuring their safety, and the Lady’s reputation as protector of people, and of faith.
Brother Cenred came forward and bowed low. “My lady, we have translated the bones but there is something else. I am not sure…” He handed her a carved box.
She took the reliquary from him. “Should this not be in the minster also?” She lifted the lid and said, “Ah, I understand. What is this?” The leather pouch had a drawstring closure, and she loosened it. Upturning the pouch, she revealed not a relic, but a clear, shiny stone.
Alhelm let out a low, almost inaudible whistle. “A pretty thing, indeed.”
The monk cleared his throat. “It has been in Bardney Abbey since King Oswald’s remains were placed there, so the tale is told. Tradition holds that the saint kept it by his side from the moment of his triumph in battle, mayhap in the next too, when he was slain. But the abbot denounced it as pagan, and would not have it buried with the bones.”
The Lady seemed lost among her thoughts, stroking the stone with her thumb. She looked up at Alhelm and gave a little shake of her head. She pushed the stone towards him and said, “You have served me faithfully.”
“Not always in the way you wished.”
She shrugged. “Even so, take it.” Her smile was not broad, yet still it reached her eyes.

Elvira tried to slide into the shadows behind the wooden pillar, but he’d seen her, watching him. Watching them. Her jealousy would eat her soul, he thought.
Caught out, she snatched the stone from his grasp. “The Lady gave you this?” Her lips pinched shut, drawn together in anger, but also, perhaps, to guard against further pain.
He would never admire her more than in the moment she forced light to shine from her eyes and, swallowing all hurt, said, “She must have meant for me to have it. What a gift. I’ll keep it safe; perhaps one day our sons or daughters may pass it to theirs.”

Cheshire - 980
King Edward had been buried with full honours. Uncle Alvar had seen to that. The new king was crowned, Siferth’s baby was gurgling in his crib, and all was right with the world. That’s what he’d thought this morning.
Now, with approaching dark, Siferth was still waiting. How far inland had the Vikings come after they landed at Chester?
At dusk, he had his answer.
Beotric came running, smelling of smoke even though he’d been away all day and nowhere near a hearth. Panting, all he could say was, “They’re coming.”
Inside, Eadyth was standing over the cradle. She turned, and he saw that she knew.
“I’ll fight.” His words rang hollow. Why would they not? There was no substance to them. He had no men, beyond Beotric. He could not protect his family.
She stepped forward, reaching for his hand. Lifting it to her breast and closing her other hand around it, she said, “It was not your fault. You did an honourable thing, and no man could have foreseen what would happen. Your uncle thought he did right by having you hide out here, living quietly.”
He stared over her head to the crib. She followed his gaze. “Is your mother’s little boat still moored on the river?”
“Yes, but it’s not big enough for the open sea. And I don’t know how to…”
She released his hand and went to the corner of the room, opening a wooden chest. Showing him the shiny stone she said, “Alvar had this from his mother. He gave it to yours and she gave it to me. We’ll use it to pay a boatman.”

Guthred’s earliest memories were of leaning against his father’s chest, feeling the beating rise and fall, listening to Father’s tales of how he’d settled in Cheshire. Guthred was proud of his Danish heritage, and thought that was why he was drawn to making a living as a boatman. When this young couple came to him, desperate, and tried to pay him, he couldn’t believe their luck.
Holding the stone to the cloudy sky, nevertheless he watched as the sun’s rays poured through it and warmed his hand. He said to his female passenger, “How came you by this?”
“It was passed down by my husband’s kin. My mother-by-law told me the legend; that it would bring freedom to all who carried it, but there would always be a price to pay.”
Guthred nodded. “Aye, true, if it’s kept too long on land. ’Tis what my kinfolk call a Sunstone. With this, I can guide this boat across the wider sea, as far as you wish me to take you.”
The swell lifted the boat up and down and the birds swooped low before darting away, screeching. The wind slapped salty water against her cheeks, and Eadyth hugged the baby close to her breast.
Siferth said, “We will never get home now.”
“No,” she said, “but we’ll be free.”



Notes: Carinna, Oswald, Manfrid, Æthelflæd, Alhelm, Elvira, Siferth & Eadyth appear in my novels, and their circumstances here relate to certain events in the books. Of course, the Anglo-Saxons wouldn’t have known about diamonds, and we don’t know for sure when the ‘Vikings’ began using sunstones for navigation either, but fiction is a wonderful device for dealing with uncertainties!

© Annie Whitehead



About Annie Whitehead
Annie Whitehead is an author and historian, and a member of the Royal Historical Society. Her first two novels are set in tenth-century Mercia, chronicling the lives of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, who ruled a country in all but name, and Earl Alvar, who served King Edgar and his son Æthelred the Unready who were both embroiled in murderous scandals. Her third novel, also set in Mercia, tells the story of seventh-century King Penda and his feud with the Northumbrian kings. She is currently working on a history of Mercia for Amberley Publishing, to be released in 2018.

Find out more
Buy the books on Amazon



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Follow the Tales…and Discover some Diamonds

3rd December     Richard Tearle Diamonds

4th December     Helen Hollick  When ex-lovers have their uses

5th December    Antoine Vanner  Britannia’s Diamonds

6th December    Nicky Galliers  Diamond Windows

7th December    Denise Barnes  The Lost Diamond

8th December    Elizabeth Jane Corbett A Soul Above Diamonds

9th December    Lucienne Boyce Murder In Silks

10th December    Julia Brannan The Curious Case of the Disappearing Diamond

11th December    Pauline Barclay Sometimes It Happens

12th December    Annie Whitehead Hearts, Home and a Precious Stone

13th December    Inge H. Borg  Edward, Con Extraordinaire

14th December    J.G. Harlond The Empress Emerald

15th December    Charlene Newcomb Diamonds in the Desert

16th December     Susan Grossey  A Suitable  Gift

17th December     Alison  Morton Three Thousand Years to Saturnalia

18th December      Nancy Jardine   Illicit Familial Diamonds

19th December      Elizabeth St John The Stolen Diamonds

20th December      Barbara Gaskell Denvil Discovering the Diamond

21st December       Anna Belfrage   Diamonds in the Mud

22nd December       Cryssa Bazos    The Diamonds of Sint-Nicholaas

23rd December        Diamonds … In Sound & Song 

11 December 2017

Diamond Tales: Sometimes It Happens by Pauline Barclay


How many of us are tempted to buy a lottery ticket...?*

Sometimes It Happens
a story, based on the novel, especially written for Discovering Diamonds
by
Pauline Barclay

Doreen glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall and groaned, she was running late again and she still needed to pick up a packet of fags. No way could she face cleaning the office that was her employment without her tobacco fix. Just thinking about her job plunged Doreen’s, low spirits into free fall. She shrugged at the inevitable of having to work and reached over the counter top and turned off the radio.
‘Blimey,’ she cried as her neighbour’s TV filled her quiet flat with loud voices. With the palm of her hand, she banged on the wall.
‘Turn that volume down,’ she called. It was a waste of time, the noise continued.
She groaned, it didn’t matter right now, her girl was at school and she was off to work.
Heading towards the hall, she imagined the old boy next door slouched in his chair, a roll up dangling from his bottom lip and ash peppered over his threadbare cardigan. God only knows how old he is, she thought, and guessed he must be pushing eighty if a day. A soft giggle escaped her lips at how the dirty old devil liked to leer at her, not that she wore anything special, market bought jeans and tops, but it seemed to fuel his imagination. Despite his winkled old face, stooped walk and being almost toothless, she could see through the ravages of age and guessed he was probably a looker in his younger days. 
Age can be cruel, she thought and pulled her jacket from the peg on the hall wall and slipped it on. Turning, she checked her face in the wall mirror and scowled, ‘Blimey Dor you might only be in your mid-thirties, but today you look like poor old Jack next door, well past your prime!’ She tutted at her reflection and with more effort than necessary slipped her bag over her shoulder. 
Stepping out onto the landing, Jack’s TV could still be heard, ‘Deaf as a post these days,’ she grumbled and at the same time saw a blue balloon tied to his door handle. “Happy Birthday,” it read bobbing in the breeze on its flimsy ribbon. A card hung half way out of the letterbox. So old Jack's a birthday boy today, she thought and chuckled. He wasn’t a bad neighbour and he’d always seen her right when she’d done a bit of shopping for him, slipping her the odd quid for her trouble. The least she could do was get him a card, after all it was the end of the week and she’d be paid today. The thought of it being Friday lightened her step as she headed towards the stairs. 
With haste she ran down the litter-strewn steps and it occurred to her that she could bake the old boy a cake for his birthday. She knew he loved chocolate. If she used the cheap cake brand stuff then she’d be able to afford to cover it. She smiled at the idea of making his day a little special and then grimaced at what her daughter would have to say. 
‘What would an old man want with a cake?’ Trisha would cry with scorn and like all sixteen year olds, her daughter thought the planet revolved around her and her generation. Perhaps she’d make two to keep her gal happy? With this thought she quickened her step and headed towards Mr Greedy’s corner shop. 
Stepping into the dingy shop, the overhead bell tinkled announcing Doreen’s arrival. Instantly her nostrils filled with a stale acrid smell and she ran the back of her hand across her nose in an attempt to deflect the odour. She wondered what Mr Greedy had on the rickety shelves and worse, what their sell-by-dates were. She swallowed and recalled picking up a jar of marmalade and seeing 1066 printed on the lid, she hadn’t been sure if it was the sell-by-date or something to do with the seaside town on the south coast. Her Trisha had once told her, at length, during one of her homework sessions about some carry on there. Hastings, Trisha had said and she’d only remembered about it because as a kid she’d had a day at the seaside there - not that she’d seen any evidence of a battle or even a skirmish. She’d said something about this visit to Trisha who’d erupted into hysterical laughter.
‘Oh my God Mama you are just so unreal.’ 
Her daughter might laugh at her ignorance, but there was no doubt, as her mother, she was so proud of her. Her gal was the apple of her eye and very brainy, she’d even passed exams and now went to a posh school. How she’d given birth to such a clever gal never ceased to amaze her, but she loved her to bits.
Now as she looked around the shabby shop, and not for the first time, wished she could shop somewhere else, but Mr Greedy’s was the only store in the neighbourhood, and on the estate, that allowed her to have stuff on the slate. She’d never survive from one week to another without it. Gazing around at the mismatch of jars and packets, her revere broken as the shop owner appeared in front of her. 
“Morning Doreen, let me guess what I can do for you today,’ Mr Greedy said, a beaming smile filling his pointed, clean shaven, face.
Doreen glared at him and wondered if she would one day find the courage to tell him what he could do for her, instead she restrained herself and forced a giggle, ‘I’d like to win the lottery so I could shop in a posh place,’ she said loudly and as the words left her lips she imagined herself sashaying into stores like Fortnum and Mason and buying everything she fancied; no slate nor worrying about paying it back at the end of the week. For a brief moment she let herself dream. The sound of a heavy box landing on the floor a few feet away, brought her back to reality with a jolt and she realised she couldn’t even afford to look around the food hall in M & S.
‘And wouldn’t we all,’ Mr Greedy said leaving the box in the middle of the aisle and strolling over to the lottery till, ‘but like most of us, having the chance to win means you have to buy a ticket,’ he added, his white teeth flashed as he pointed to a pile of lottery tickets in a glass cabinet. Doreen stared at them and wondered if he got commission for the sales because he was always banging on about her buying one.
‘People like me don’t win, so I’m not throwing my money away, but I’ll have my usual packet of fags,’ she said and wished she’d kept her mouth shut about the lottery.
Mr Greedy tutted, ‘They’ll kill you in the end,’ he said placing a packet on the counter.
‘So will old age,’ she replied smirking and knowing she should cut back on her fags. Maybe next week she’d give it up, she told herself as she did every time she bought a packet. ‘Oh and I need a birthday card,’ she added turning to look for the shelf where they were displayed.
‘Over there,’ Mr Greedy pointed at a stack of cards on top of an unopened box.
Doreen strode over to the pile and rifled through them. She took a deep breath of exasperation it seemed there was every card you could think of, but nothing suitable for an old man’s birthday. About to give up she spied a card on the floor. Bending down she picked it up.
‘Blimey,’ she said and giggled, ‘perfect.’ 
Standing up she read the words out loud, ‘Happy Birthday to a Diamond Geezer,’ she chuckled and took the card over to the till. Feeling bolstered with her find, she decided she would buy a lottery ticket. Maybe it was her lucky day after all. ‘Go on then, you’ve talked me into it, I’ll have a lottery ticket, but if I don’t win, I’ll be back for me quid.’



Mr Greedy rolled his eyes and handed Doreen her ticket. ‘Just put your lucky numbers down,’ he said handing over a pen.
Taking the pen she couldn’t think of any numbers in her life that had been lucky, maybe she shouldn’t bother. About to save herself a pound, she looked up at Mr Greedy and seeing his smug expression she scribbled down the only numbers she could think off then handed the ticket back.
‘Good luck, Doreen,’ Mr Greedy purred taking her money.
‘Mmm,’ she said pushing the fags and ticket into her bag, what had she been thinking about, wasting her money on a lottery ticket, she just might as well as dropped the coin down the drain for all the good it would do.
Clutching the birthday card she opened it and read the words inside, she stifled a giggle. A miserable old sod he might be, but as neighbours go on her estate, he was as the card said, a Discovered Diamond.
She tucked the card into her bag and with a broad smile hurried off to work.

© Pauline Barclay

A HUGE special thank you Helen for having me here for this special Christmas Diamond Blog and a big thank you for stopping by and reading my Discovered Diamond, story.

Wishing you a very merry Christmas.
Pauline

You can find out all about Doreen and her daughter, and if her lottery ticket really did have lucky numbers, in the full story of Sometimes It Happens….  Click Here 



You can find out more about Pauline and her books at…






Find Pauline on Social Media…
Twitter: @paulinembarclay
Instagram: @paulinebarclay

Pauline is also the founder of Chill with a Book Awards





* Did you notice the asterisk at the top? I thought readers might like to know that it is possible to achieve your dream because of a lottery win - I did! My husband's winning lottery raffle ticket number came up on the opening night of the Olympics in London. As a consequence we escaped London and now live in an eighteenth century farmhouse, surrounded by thirteen acres of the North Devon countryside! So yes, Sometimes it does happen! 
Helen.

Follow the Tales…and Discover some Diamonds

3rd December     Richard Tearle Diamonds

4th December     Helen Hollick  When ex-lovers have their uses

5th December    Antoine Vanner  Britannia’s Diamonds

6th December    Nicky Galliers  Diamond Windows

7th December    Denise Barnes  The Lost Diamond

8th December    Elizabeth Jane Corbett A Soul Above Diamonds

9th December    Lucienne Boyce Murder In Silks

10th December    Julia Brannan The Curious Case of the Disappearing Diamond

11th December    Pauline Barclay Sometimes It Happens

12th December    Annie Whitehead Hearts, Home and a Precious Stone

13th December    Inge H. Borg  Edward, Con Extraordinaire

14th December    J.G. Harlond The Empress Emerald

15th December    Charlene Newcomb Diamonds in the Desert

16th December     Susan Grossey  A Suitable  Gift

17th December     Alison  Morton Three Thousand Years to Saturnalia

18th December      Nancy Jardine   Illicit Familial Diamonds

19th December      Elizabeth St John The Stolen Diamonds

20th December      Barbara Gaskell Denvil Discovering the Diamond

21st December       Anna Belfrage   Diamonds in the Mud

22nd December       Cryssa Bazos    The Diamonds of Sint-Nicholaas

23rd December        Diamonds … In Sound & Song 


10 December 2017

Diamond Tales: The Curious Case of the Disappearing Diamond by Julia Brannan



Julia Brannan is the author of the Jacobite Chronicles, a series of six novels which deal with the final Jacobite uprising, which took place in 1745-6, and was effectively the culmination of over fifty years of unrest.


The Jacobite cause began with the involuntary dethroning of King James II/VII in 1688, and his replacement, initially by William of Orange and James’ daughter Mary, and later, in 1715 by the Hanoverians, distant relations of the Stuart claimants. Over the years there were various attempts to restore the Stuarts to the throne, none of them successful.
The Jacobite Chronicles start in 1742, and tell the story of the final uprising and its aftermath through Elizabeth Cunningham, a young English Jacobite of noble birth, her Hanoverian family, the enigmatic but effeminate Sir Anthony Peters, and the Highland chieftain Alex MacGregor and his clansmen.
The story you’ll read here is not in the books, but chronologically would fit into the early part of book three of the series, The Gathering Storm. It features several of the characters who are found in the series. I hope you enjoy it!

The Curious Case of the
 Disappearing Diamond.
By
Julia Brannan
  
April 1744, London.

The party to celebrate the betrothal of Lord Stanley Redburn to Miss Anne Maynard was well under way when Sir Anthony Peters arrived, resplendent in violet satin, and fashionably late. He scanned the room. Everybody who was anybody was there; Lord and Lady Winter, Lord Edward Cunningham trailed by his three sisters and cousin Richard, Thomas and Lydia Fortesque along with several of her unmarried friends, all wearing identical expressions of relief that they could enjoy one of Lord Redburn’s extravagant soirees without being propositioned by the fat old drunkard at the end of it.  In one corner of the room a quartet of musicians were unpacking their instruments, readying themselves for the dancing, whilst in another corner card tables had been set up for the amusement of the non-dancers.
Having located his friends, Sir Anthony made his way over to them.
“Where on earth have you been, Anthony?” Edwin Harlow, MP asked. “We’d given up on you!”
“Good evening to you too, dear boy,” Sir Anthony trilled. “Please accept my profound apologies. I have just spent an hour in an agony of indecision as to whether to wear the amethyst or sapphire satin, as I was unassisted by my dear…ah! Here come the happy couple! Does the bride-to-be not look exquisite?”
Everyone looked to the doorway, where Lord Redburn was entering, his mousy fiancée hanging on his arm. Having heard Sir Anthony’s final sentence, she blushed furiously and looked at her feet, as though afraid that if she lost sight of them she would fall flat on her face.
Caroline Hawley deftly lifted a glass of wine from a passing tray and handed it to the baronet, who took it with gratitude and sipped delicately.
“So where is...?”
“She has gone out with Miss Browne,” he said absently, gaily waving a scrap of lace handkerchief at the couple. Anne started to make her way towards them. “She said she owed Miss Browne an evening at the opera, the last one being so rudely interrupted.”
 Both Caroline and Edwin turned to the card tables, where a frowning Lord Daniel, oblivious to the entrance of the betrothed pair, was deeply engaged with four companions in a high-stakes game of Loo. Lord Daniel seemed equally oblivious to the presence of his nemesis Sir Anthony, which was probably just as well.
Anne, having negotiated the throng of well-wishers, arrived, at which the baronet executed an elaborate bow before taking Anne’s hand in his lilac gloved one, intending to press a kiss to her fingers.
“Good God!” he exclaimed involuntarily, blinking in the sudden blaze of light emanating from the enormous cushion-cut diamond which obscured half her finger. Anne’s face fell.
“Oh, Sir Anthony, do you not like it?” she asked, crestfallen. “Stanley insisted I wear it tonight. It was his grandmother’s, you know.”



“Why, my dear lady, it’s quite…remarkable!” Sir Anthony gushed, recovering. “It is just the sort of thing I would wear myself, were I of the feminine persuasion!”
Caroline snorted in a most unladylike fashion, hastily covering her faux pas with a cough.
“It is very eye-catching,” she said with complete honesty. It was, indeed, eye-catching, in the way that Sir Anthony’s outfits were; exorbitantly expensive yet utterly tasteless.
The kiss bestowed, Anne removed her hand from the baronet’s, unconsciously casting rainbows round the room and causing several people to look her way. Even Lord Daniel looked up momentarily from his cards.
“I must confess, I’m not used to wearing jewellery,” Anne said, “And it is a little large. Stanley said he will have it adjusted for me, but I am so afraid I will lose it in the meantime.”
“Or that it will be stolen,” Lord Edward pronounced from behind her.
“Oh, do you really think so?” Anne exclaimed, the colour draining from her face. She looked fearfully around the room, as though expecting a masked man to leap from behind the curtain brandishing a pistol and shouting ‘Stand and deliver!’
“I do not think you are in any danger amongst such illustrious company as we have here, my dear,” the baronet countered, glaring at the tactless lord. Poor Anne looked miserable. “It is absolutely radiant, as are you! It complements your outfit beautifully. And you must grow accustomed to such extravagant gestures from your dear fiancé – he is clearly besotted with you. And who indeed would not be with such a delightful young lady?”
After Anne had left them, to continue her blushing circuit of the room, Caroline snorted again.
“God, Anthony, that was overblown, even for you,” she observed.
“The poor girl is ill-at-ease enough being the centre of attention, without having to worry that she will be robbed as well,” he replied. “She deserves to enjoy her evening. Anyway, if anyone tries to steal it, she only has to flash it in his face, and he would be blinded by its light.”
“And if she hit him with it, she’d take his eye out,” Edwin commented. “Please tell me you didn’t like it, Anthony. Even you can’t have found that tasteful.”
Sir Anthony bestowed a wounded look on his friends.
“Really, if I’d known my discernment was to be called into question twice within a minute, I would have gone to the opera with Elizabeth and Miss Browne,” he declared.
Sadly, hardly an hour had gone by before Miss Maynard and her diamond ring had parted company.  This was announced by that lady entering the room, supported by Isabella and Clarissa, sporting a distressed expression and a pallor matched only by Sir Anthony’s heavy white makeup.
In spite of Lord Redburn’s assurances that she not worry herself, and that it would no doubt be found by the servants when they cleaned in the morning, Anne was so inconsolable that the soiree was cut short. Some of the guests volunteered to stay and help to look for the ring, whilst others went home in a huff.  Anne could not recall losing it. She only knew that she had had it before she started dancing, and then when she went to get some refreshments she had noticed it was gone. So the volunteers, along with the servants, examined all the rooms that she had been in, to no avail.
“I confess I am disappointed that I did not have the opportunity to dance with you myself,” Sir Anthony said conversationally as he looked underneath the chaise longue on which Anne was lying, fanning herself. Even her lips were white, poor girl. “Who had the pleasure that I was denied?”
Anne looked confused.
“Who did you dance with?” he clarified.
“Oh! Well, Mr Fortesque, Mr Reynolds, Lord Daniel, Stanley, of course. I think that was all. Then I was a little warm, so I went to get a glass of punch, and…” She burst into tears, by which Sir Anthony understood that was when the loss had been discovered.
In spite of their best efforts, and another thorough search the following morning, the ring was not recovered.


“Sit down, Mr Abernathy,” the bull-necked heavy-set man said warmly. “Brandy?”
The tall handsome Scot nodded and sat down on the proffered wooden chair. Downstairs, in the main room of the Rose and Crown, some sort of drunken singing contest was under way. Good. They would not be overheard.
“Before I drink your good cognac, Gabriel,” Alex said, “I’m no’ here on my normal business. I’m here to call in a favour.”
Gabriel Foley pursed his lips, but continued to pour the amber liquid into two glasses. Then he pushed one across the table before sitting back.
“Let’s hear it then,” he said.
“An acquaintance of a friend of mine has lost something of great value to her,” Alex said.
“Sentimental or monetary?”
“Both. She thinks it lost, but I’m no’ so sure it wasna thieved from her, although I canna be certain. But if stolen, the thief will be looking to sell it, and that soon, I’m thinking.”
“Ah. And you want me to find out if such a thing happens?”
“I’d much prefer it if ye could find out before it’s sold, if possible.”
Gabriel’s eyes widened.
“Mr Abernathy, do you know how many people in London deal in stolen merchandise?”
“Hundreds, thousands, maybe. But no’ this kind of merchandise. There’ll be but a select few who’d touch this, and it’s my belief ye’ll ken them all, being as you’re the best smuggler in the south of England.”
Gabriel Foley didn’t blink at this piece of apparent flattery, knowing it to be merely a statement of fact.
“And what is this piece of select merchandise?” he asked.
“A twenty-carat cushion-cut diamond ring,” Alex said.
There was a moment’s silence while Gabriel absorbed this.
“And what’s to stop me, if I find this, appropriating it for myself?” the smuggler said.
Alex smiled.
“Nothing. Except ye tellt me you’re a man of honour, as am I. And it would wipe out me advising ye of the excise raid on your warehouse, which saved you more money than ye’d get from this ring, costly though it is. And your life,” he added.
“Which is more costly still, to me at any rate,” Gabriel said. That had been a big service Abernathy had done for him, and it was a fair exchange to clear the slate. “When was it taken?”
“Yesterday evening,” Alex said.
“If it’s stolen, as you think, and sold already, I’ll find it. If not sold, what do you want me to do?”
“Tell the buyer to delay the sale, to say he needs to get the money together, some such tale, and make an appointment to do the deal. After dark, if possible. If necessary my friend will recompense the dealer.”
“Through you,” Gabriel said.
“Through me,” Alex agreed. He smiled, but his slate-blue eyes were cold and hard. Gabriel took the hint. Ask no questions.
“We have a deal, Mr Abernathy. I’ll be in touch.”


The young man was soberly though expensively dressed, in dark grey velvet breeches and frock coat, white silk stockings, and grey leather shoes. He was clearly a gentleman, and in an area of town that, though not affluent, was not one in which he would normally look out of place.
Nevertheless, he did look out of place. This was because he was clearly on edge, and every minute or so would look around apprehensively, his hand straying to the hilt of his sword, which swung in its scabbard at his side. At the entrance to the narrow street down which he had to go to reach his destination, he looked round again, then listened intently.
Silence.
Reassured, he made his way down the alley, and was mere feet away from the building he was aiming for when a tall figure materialised as if from thin air in front of him.
Startled, the young gentleman stepped backwards, colliding with an equally tall figure behind him. The gentleman reached for his sword, but before he could draw it, a large hand seized both sword hilt and hand in a powerful grip, while an equally brawny arm wrapped round the man’s body, trapping him.
The grey-clad man did not need to see his assailant to know that here was a formidable and no doubt ruthless footpad, and as if to reinforce that impression the tall man in front of him, who wore a black scarf over the lower part of his face, and a wide-brimmed hat shadowing the upper part, produced a pistol, which he pointed at the victim’s chest.
“Now, Sir,” said the man who was holding him, in a rough London accent, “if you’ll just be giving my friend here all your money and jewellery, we’ll be grateful, and no harm’ll come to you.”
“You can’t shoot me!” the young man exclaimed, struggling against his captor’s grip, to no avail. “Help!” he shouted.
The masked man in front of him sighed and swung the pistol almost casually, striking the young man on the side of the head with the barrel. He gave a low moan, and slumped in the arms of his captor.
Briskly the two footpads relieved their victim of the items they required, namely a sword, a small velvet bag and a pair of dark grey velvet breeches. Then they propped him gently up against the wall of the building he’d been heading for, which had previously been lit, but was now shrouded in darkness. The second assailant, also masked, examined the man carefully, feeling for his pulse, and then gently slapped his cheek, which elicited another low moan. He nodded to himself, then stood up.
The two robbers carried on walking, past the dark shop and round the corner, after which they removed the scarves. Then they continued on their way, pausing only to throw the sword and breeches into the river.
 “Sorry I hit him, Alex. I ken ye tellt me no’ to, but I did it gently,” the younger of the two men said, his fair hair gleaming in the moonlight. “I canna understand why ye didna want him hurt though.  Nae doubt he expected a servant would get the blame. Lord Daniel. Is he no’ the bastard who--”
“Aye, he is,” Alex interrupted. “Ye did well. There’s no lasting damage done. Hopefully the wee gomerel will think twice before playing Loo again, though I doubt it. Now,” he said, patting his coat pocket, in which the small velvet bag sat, “let’s reunite this with its owner.”



“Oh, Sir Anthony!” Anne exclaimed, beaming and holding her hand up for him to slip the hideous ring back onto her finger. “How can I ever thank you?”
“There’s no need to thank me at all, my dear Anne,” the baronet simpered. “Seeing your radiant face is thanks enough.”
“I cannot imagine how it could have fallen into the garden, though,” Anne said. “I didn’t go outside at all that evening.”
“Well, it was underneath the balcony, you know, and the doors were open. Maybe it fell from your finger when you were dancing, and one of the other dancers accidentally kicked it through the doors. I blame the gavotte, my dear. All that leaping about. It exhausts me even to think about it!”
“I will take it to my jewellers today and have it adjusted to fit your slender finger, my sweet,” Lord Redburn said. “I am sure you will have it back in time for our card party this Saturday.”
“Oh, Sir Anthony, do say you will be able to come!” Anne cried.
“I would be delighted to! You know I do not play well, but I will be happy to observe.”
“No, Sir, I am afraid you will have to play,” Lord Redburn put in. “Highbury’s son was taking a short cut to his club last night when he was attacked by a large band of robbers, and took a blow to the head. So we are short a player for one of the quadrille tables.”
“Lord Daniel? How dreadful!” the baronet cried. “I trust he is not badly hurt?”
“I believe not.”
“Excellent. And hopefully he will think twice in future before attempting a short cut to achieve his aims. I would be happy to play,” Sir Anthony said pleasantly.

© Julia Brannan


About the Author

Julia has been a voracious reader since childhood, using books to escape the miseries of a turbulent adolescence. After leaving university with a degree in English Language and Literature, she spent her twenties trying to be a sensible and responsible person, even going so far as to work for the Civil Service for six years.
Then she gave up trying to conform, resigned her well-paid but boring job and resolved to spend the rest of her life living as she wanted to, not as others would like her to. She has since had a variety of jobs, including, telesales, Post Office clerk, primary school teacher, and painter and gilder.
In her spare time and between jobs, she is still a voracious reader, and enjoys keeping fit, exploring the beautiful Welsh countryside around her home, and travelling the world. Life hasn’t always been good, but it has rarely been boring.
A few years ago she decided that rather than just escape into other people’s books, she would quite like to create some of her own and so combined her passion for history and literature to write the Jacobite Chronicles.

People seem to enjoy reading them as much as she enjoys writing them, so now, apart from a tiny amount of transcribing and editing work, she is a full-time writer. She has recently plunged into the contemporary genre too, but her first love will always be historical fiction.




Follow the Tales…and Discover some Diamonds

3rd December     Richard Tearle Diamonds

4th December     Helen Hollick  When ex-lovers have their uses

5th December    Antoine Vanner  Britannia’s Diamonds

6th December    Nicky Galliers  Diamond Windows

7th December    Denise Barnes  The Lost Diamond

8th December    Elizabeth Jane Corbett A Soul Above Diamonds

9th December    Lucienne Boyce Murder In Silks

10th December    Julia Brannan The Curious Case of the Disappearing Diamond

11th December    Pauline Barclay Sometimes It Happens

12th December    Annie Whitehead Hearts, Home and a Precious Stone

13th December    Inge H. Borg  Edward, Con Extraordinaire

14th December    J.G. Harlond The Empress Emerald

15th December    Charlene Newcomb Diamonds in the Desert

16th December     Susan Grossey  A Suitable  Gift

17th December     Alison  Morton Three Thousand Years to Saturnalia

18th December      Nancy Jardine   Illicit Familial Diamonds

19th December      Elizabeth St John The Stolen Diamonds

20th December      Barbara Gaskell Denvil Discovering the Diamond

21st December       Anna Belfrage   Diamonds in the Mud

22nd December       Cryssa Bazos    The Diamonds of Sint-Nicholaas

23rd December        Diamonds … In Sound & Song