The House of Lanyon [The Exmoor Saga] [Secure]
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by Valerie Anand
Category: Historical Fiction/Romance
Description: Medieval. When two ambitious families occupy the same patch of English soil, rivalry is sure to take root and flourish. A glimmer of initiative swells into blind desire, and minor hurts, nursed with jealousy, fester into a malignant hatred. When a bitter feud is born the price for this wild and beautiful piece of ground will take more than three generations to settle. Richard Lanyon answers to no one save the aristocratic Sweetwater family, owners of the land he farms. His bitter resentment is legend within the bounds of their tiny Exmoor community, but as their tenant, Richard Lanyon must do their bidding. Still, even noblemen do not have the power to contain ruthless ambition, and the Sweetwaters are no exception. Driven to succeed, Richard is prepared to take what is not his, and to forfeit the happiness of his family to claim the entitlements he lusts for. But no family can grow and succeed without the nurturing hand of a woman, and even Richard Lanyon knows this. Better still if the woman is clever and hardworking and can bear many sons, and with this in mind Richard arranges a marriage for his only son, Peter. But matches based on pragmatism often hide a multitude of sins, and so it is within the house of Lanyon. Although Peter and his bride, Liza Weaver, settle into marriage, each harbors a broken heart, lost dreams and unspoken secrets. And should their secrets ever be revealed, all that Richard has worked for will be destroyed. Surviving the betrayals of the past means keeping one foot in the present, and an eye to the future. For it is the next generation that holds the power to achieve in one moment what eluded Richard Lanyon for a lifetime. In this epic story Valerie Anand creates a vivid portrait of fifteenth-century English life that resonates with the age-old themes of ambition, power, desire, and greed.
eBook Publisher: Harlequin/MIRA,
eBookwise Release Date: November 2007
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Available eBook Formats [Secure - What's this?]: OEBFF Format (IMP) [905 KB]
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QUIET AND DIGNIFIED
Allerbrook House is a manor house with charm. Three attractive gables look out from its slate roof, echoed by the smaller, matching gable over its porch, and two wings, with a secluded courtyard between them, stretch back toward the moorland hillside which shelters the house from northeast winds. In front the land drops away gently, but to the right the slope plunges steeply into the wooded, green-shadowed combe where the Allerbrook River purls over its pebbly bed, flowing down from its moorland source toward the village of Clicket in the valley.
Allerbrook is far from being a great house such as Chatsworth or Hatfield, but its charm apart, it has unusual features of its own, such as a mysterious stained glass window in its chapel—no one is sure of its significance—and the Tudor roses, which nowadays are painted red-and-white as when they were first made, which are carved into the hall panelling and the window seats.
The place is a rarity, standing as it does out on Exmoor, between the towns of Withypool and Dulverton. There is no other house of its type on the moor. It is also unique because of its origins. The truth—as its creator Richard Lanyon once admitted—is that it probably wouldn't be there at all, if one autumn day in 1458 Sir Humphrey Sweetwater and his twin sons, Reginald and Walter, had not ridden out to hunt a stag and had a most distressing encounter with a funeral.
* * *
There was no manor house there when, in the fourteenth century, the Lanyons came from Cornwall and took over Allerbrook farm. Then, the only dwelling was a farmhouse, so ancient even at that time that no one knew how long it had stood there.
Sturdily built of pinkish-grey local stone and roofed with shaggy thatch, it looked more like a natural outcrop than a construction. Around it spread a haphazard collection of fields and pastures, and its farmyard was encircled by a clutter of barns, byres, stables and assorted sheds. Inside, the main rooms were the kitchen and the big all-purpose living room. There was an impressive oak front door, but it was never used except for wedding and funeral processions and the hinges were regrettably rusty. It was a workaday place.
On a fine late September evening, though, with a golden haze softening the heathery heights of the moors and gilding the Bristol Channel to the north, there was a mellowness. That mellowness seemed even to have entered the soul of the man whose life was now drawing to a close in one of the upper bedchambers.
This was remarkable, because George Lanyon's sixty-one years of life had scarcely been serene. He had been an aggressive child, apt to bully his two older sisters and his younger brother, for as long as they were there to bully. The Lanyons had never, for some reason, been good at raising healthy families. All George's siblings had ailed and died before they were twenty. Only George flourished, as though he possessed all the vitality that should have been shared equally among the four of them.
As an adult, he had quarrelled with his parents, dominated his wife, Alice, and shouted at his fragile younger son, Stephen, until the boy died of lung-rot at the age of eleven. The grieving Alice, in her one solitary fit of rebellion, accused him of driving Stephen into his grave, and she herself faded out of life the following year.
Only Richard, his elder son, had been strong enough to survive and at times to stand up to him or, if necessary, stand by him. George also quarrelled with their landlord, Sir Humphrey Sweetwater, when he raised their rent. George had refused to see that this was dangerous.
"The Sweetwaters won't throw us off our land. They know we look after it. They were glad enough to have us take it on when Granddad Petroc came here, looking for a place, back in the days of the plague when everyone who'd lived here before was dead."
"That was then. This is now, and I don't trust them," said Richard. He was well aware that the Sweetwaters, although only minor gentry, were on social if not intimate terms with Thomas Courtenay, Earl of Devon, which was a double-edged blade. On the one hand, they considered themselves so far above their tenants that they could scarcely even see them. But on the other hand, if the said tenants tilled the land badly or wrangled over a rise in the rent, they were as capable of throwing the offenders out as they were capable of drowning unwanted kittens. You never knew. Richard loathed the Sweetwaters as much as George, but he was also wary.
The quarrel passed over. George gave in and paid the increase, and the Sweetwaters continued to regard the Lanyon family with disdain. Quietly the Lanyons began to prosper, though Richard considered that they could have done better still if only his father hadn't in so many ways been so pigheaded.
Extraordinary, Richard thought as he stood looking down at his father's sunken face and half-shut eyes. Extraordinary. All his life he had fought this man, argued with him and usually given in to him. And now, would you believe it, George was making a good Christian end.
Betsy and Kat, the two middle-aged sisters who cooked and cleaned and looked after the dairy and were so alike in their fair plumpness that people often mixed them up, were on their knees on the other side of the bed, praying quietly. At the foot stood Father Bernard, the elderly parish priest. "He's safe enough," Father Bernard said with some acidity. He knew George well. "He's had the last rites. Luckily you fetched me while he was still conscious. Lucky you had that horse of yours, too, whatever your father thought!"
Copyright © 2007 by Valerie Anand.