Today I am submitting the first few pages of my historical romance, Fatal Fortune. This award-winning story is about Valentina, a Roma (Gypsy) woman in 1508 England, and the nobleman she meets.

Hope you enjoy it! Stay tuned for more.

Joanne




“Si khohaimo may patshivalo sar o tshatshim.”
“There are lies more believable than the truth.”
-Old Romany saying





Chapter One

England 1508

“Bury me standing, for I have been on my knees all my life.”
Valentina Rupa bowed her head lower to hear her beloved mother’s last words. She searched the depths of her mother’s tired eyes and saw only the grief from her own heart.
Her mother’s breath faded, already settling into the night air, already gone.
“Daj, Mother . . . do not stop speaking,” Valentina cried. What good did it do to be a drabardi, a powerful fortuneteller and healer, if she could not save her own mother? Valentina focused on her mother’s lips, willing her to speak once more, and massaged her thin hands, growing cold, growing limp, refusing to let them go.

Her younger sister, Yolanda, stood beside her and gazed into their mother’s peaceful face. “Please, daj, ’tis not your time.” Her voice dropped to a whisper, “Her lips, she is breathing . . .”
“Nay, ’tis the wind.” Valentina peered up and stared straight ahead at the supple pine branches bending against a biting gust of air, threatening to collapse on top of their makeshift canopy. Wagon wheels creaked, groaning into the dirt, familiar sounds, yet so distant. Her mother had lived her entire life in the caravan, traveling from village to village. There was no other way for her. Only the way of the Roma.

The air reeked thick and heavy, warning of a hailstorm, stinging Valentina’s damp cheeks. She did not care, did not even bother to wipe them. Dear spirits, she hated the weakness of crying.
With shaking fingers, she tucked the threadbare blankets around her mother’s limp body, smoothed the wrinkled fabric and folded the ends back. Neatly, the way her mother liked it done.

Tucked, smoothed, folded. Tucked, smoothed, folded. Her hands moved deliberately. The continuous rhythm soothed her innate restlessness.
“Daj, you did not have to refuse to eat because of Yolanda and I,” she whispered. “We are young and strong. We would have found the food we needed somehow.”

Yolanda grabbed her arm. “Cease. We could not convince mother of doing otherwise.”
“She has suffered all these weeks—because of the English. Why do they treat us as if we are animals?” Valentina choked on her words and jostled the gleaming silver bracelets on her wrists, then brushed Yolanda’s hand away. “I am tired of this life, I am tired of their cruelty. Te lel len o beng. May the devil take them.”

“We shall be able to eat, at least for a while longer,” Yolanda said. “This is the land of the English. They own everything. Even the devil is afraid of them.”

“Then the sweating sickness shall curse all of England. All their precious food shall be of little use unless a Roma finds a cure . . . and we just shall not bother.” In a single, deliberate breath, Valentina blew out the long shivers that rippled through her body.
The friends who had been discreetly staying out of the way melted in now, coming from their wagons to gather close around the deathbed. The sad cries of the caravan penetrated the twilight and the last light of day faded. Purple lipped, the elderly, ragged tribe huddled together, stamping their feet to keep away the chill.

With the hem of her scarlet gown, Valentina wiped her eyes. Salt stung the corners, tiny crystals from the sea lashing the Ipswich coast. She had used the water to bathe her mother earlier, an ironic Roma custom that relied on her mother’s willingness to go to her death. It mixed with the tears she licked off her lips.

Yolanda helped her gather their mother’s personal belongings and carried them to the campfire.

Without moving, Valentina watched the flames rise against the night sky and consume the bits and pieces of her mother’s life. It was hard to follow these endless traditions, but her people burned most of the possessions of the dead, believing they were unclean and defiled the living.
She skimmed her index finger across the razor-sharp tip of her mother’s small dagger and accidentally drew blood. She did not have the heart to destroy the weapon, so she thrust the dagger into her gown’s deep folds.
Then Valentina glided her fingers across the last treasure, her mother’s yellow scarf, her diklo. Bringing it up to her face, she closed her eyes and inhaled. A whiff of oak and jasmine, green and mysterious, flooded her thoughts. She remembered her mother jauntily tying the diklo around her hair each morning. She was only supposed to take one small token, but she would take two.
Glancing at her faded gown, she folded the scarf into a perfect triangle and tied it loosely
around her throat. It did not match, and it did not matter.

Yolanda’s pretty, round face contorted in grief as she placed small, multi-colored stones around their mother’s body.

As the eldest daughter, almost twenty, Valentina assumed the responsibility of inserting pearls in her mother’s nose to keep out all wickedness. Her hands trembled, and she avoided touching her mother’s body for fear of contamination, another Roma superstition. Inhaling a drop of frankincense, she smoothed the spicy, golden oil along her arms to protect herself against the evil spirits.

Mayhap spirits did not exist at all. They certainly demanded endless rituals, and in return granted . . . nothing. A shadow of doubt, and her hands stopped. Glancing around at the silhouettes dancing in the firelight, she dabbed an extra ounce of oil on her wrists, just in case.
The men of their tribe sat in the grassy clearing on the forest’s edge, the scent of sweet brandy filling the brisk autumn air. Several grizzled dogs lay listless at their feet. Luca Boldor, the caravan’s tall, sinewy leader, mourned in a deep and plaintive voice and guided the old men in solemn chants. When all the other young men had gone off in search of food, Luca had not deserted the tribe.

“We need more hot water for tea, Yolanda, before we prepare for mother’s burial. This shan’t be enough.” Valentina’s voice quavered with fatigue. She picked up the pot to make her way past the wailing lamenters to the small tent the women shared, stepping carefully. A recent rain had washed soggy leaves over the ground.
One of the dogs sniffed, its furred neck bristled. A sharp crackle—somewhere a tree branch snapped.

Tonight, her senses sharpened. The last few nights she had dozed while nursing her mother and had dreamt about a man. A rich man. A powerful man.
Scanning the dense woods, she sensed that someone was watching. She had the gift of second sight, her mother always said. But Valentina shook it away. Her tribe was far too secluded to be found.

“Shall I retrieve your cloak?” She turned and called out to Yolanda, who had gone to tend the fire. With her free hand, Valentina brushed a strand of oily hair behind her ear, longing for a warm bath. But strict custom prevented her from washing until after her mother’s burial.
As Yolanda opened her mouth to reply, a man sprang through the trees and wrapped his large hand around her slender throat. Terror filled Valentina and for a moment she stood still. Stifling Yolanda’s shriek, the bulky man dragged her clear of the startled group. The aged mourners scurried in different directions, their faces etched in terror, while several hid in the undergrowth of the ancient forest surrounding the camp.

“Stop! Leave her!” Valentina clutched the teapot using the edge of her long gown and chased the invader into the dense brush. Panic welled in her stomach. For a brief beat her steps faltered, her feet numbed with terror.

1 comments

  1. Helen Scott Taylor // September 22, 2007 at 12:29 PM  

    Hi Joanne,

    I enjoyed reading this again. Feels like forever since I first read it! Time flys by way too fast.

    Helen