Here’s what this marvellous book is all about-
When Elizabeth Gharsia’s headstrong nephew, Gabriel, joins Samuel Champlain’s 1608 expedition to establish a settlement at Quebec, he soon becomes embroiled in a complicated tribal conflict. As months turn into years, Gabriel appears lost to his family.
Meanwhile at home in France the death of her father, Luis, adds to Elizabeth’s anguish. Devastated by her loss, she struggles to make sense of his final words. Could her mother’s journals, found hidden among Luis’s possessions, provide the key to the mystery?
The arrival of Pedro Torres disrupts Elizabeth’s world even further. Rescued from starvation on the streets of Marseille by her brother, Pedro is a victim of the brutal expulsion of his people from Spain. Initially antagonistic, will Elizabeth come to appreciate Pedro’s qualities and to understand the complexity of her family?
Here is an enticing excerpt-
The sun, ablaze with orange light, slipped towards the horizon but the heat, fierce for early summer, continued to linger in the narrow streets and crowded houses of the city. Feeling stifled by the heavy air, Elizabeth made her way across the courtyard, her soft leather shoes making little sound on the beaten earth. The gate creaked as she pushed it open, disturbing the small rodents who rustled among the undergrowth at the side of the track. A few steps took her to the riverbank where she paused. Leaning forward and inhaling deeply, she filled her lungs with the verdant dampness, so characteristic of the Olt, hoping for some respite from the heat. Although the water level was low, the river was still navigable and a late barge, its lanterns casting an eerie glow, sailed sedately past her.
Loath to return to the house, Elizabeth watched the vessel until it was out of sight. She wrapped her arms around herself, not for warmth on such a hot night but for comfort. Her father was dying; of that, she was sure. He had suddenly become less interested in the process of living: he had appeared to have given up all hope of seeing Gabriel again, and the death of the king had affected him badly. The last couple of weeks had seen him keeping to his bed more often, which was so out of character. The thought of losing him tightened her chest, threatened to suffocate her, and consumed her so completely that the horsemen were upon her without her realising.
One of the horses shied, as startled by Elizabeth as she was by him. She glanced up to be greeted by an achingly familiar silhouette. Her elder brother, Thomas, towered above her, etched against the night sky, while behind him, a smaller horse and rider almost hid in the shadows. Thomas spoke sharply. “What are you doing skulking around outside? You frightened the horses.”
Elizabeth bit back her retort and moved to see her brother’s companion more easily. As she did so, the man seemed to sink further into the saddle. She returned her attention to Thomas. “It is a long time since we last saw you.”
Thomas acknowledged her comment with a slight movement of his head. She waited for him to speak but she could not elicit an apology for his lengthy absence. It seemed that they would remain on the riverside with only the sigh of the water, and the breathing of the horses, to break the silence when Elizabeth capitulated first. “You had better come in.”
As Thomas strode across the hall, after he had stabled the horses, Elizabeth had the uncanny feeling that she was a small child once more and that the man before her was her father. She could see the same height and broad shoulders, although Thomas’s complexion was not so dark. His eyes lighted on the food she had hastily brought from the kitchen and then shifted to his companion.
“Are all the shutters closed?”
“It is a simple enough question, Bess.”
Elizabeth ignored his use of the hated derivative. “Yes, of course,” she replied tartly. “How else would we keep the house cool?”
Thomas appraised her, a glimmer of a smile playing around his lips. He admitted, “I had forgotten how forthright you can be.”
In the blink of an eye, Elizabeth responded, “I have not forgotten how rude you can be.”
Thomas’s expression hardened, all trace of amusement gone. “We do not want the neighbours to see.” He turned to his companion, who appeared to be lurking on the dark edge of the cavernous room. “Pedro, come and meet my little sister, who has spent all her life in comfort and warmth, hiding behind the popish religion.”
Elizabeth, refusing to be riled and with a benign expression planted on her face, stepped forward to greet the stranger. He remained where he was, anxious about his welcome, his hands firmly clasped together. Nobody moved. Elizabeth spoke softly. “Please come into the light. You must eat and then rest.”
Thomas’s loud voice echoed up to the rafters. “This is Pedro Torres. A man without a country.”
Elizabeth ignored him and addressed Pedro Torres. “Come, eat some bread and cheese.”
The man walked towards the large table set along one side of the wall. The family usually ate in the parlour but Elizabeth felt the cosy room to be inappropriate for two men who had obviously been on the road for some time. The acrid odour of unwashed bodies caught at the back of Elizabeth’s throat and she had the great urge to pinch her nose but instead she pointed to the bowl of water, and the towel, next to the food. “Please, wash your hands.”
The stranger spoke for the first time, his French thickened by a strong Spanish accent. “Thank you.”
She watched as he carefully soaped his hands, noting his slight frame, bordering on emaciation, and his profile, which possessed the haunted, hungry look of a man who had survived on too little food for too long. Thomas, as contrary as ever, grabbed the nearest chunk of bread with a large, dirty hand and bit down heartily. “You will find, Pedro, that the occupants of this house are very good at washing.”
The silence was dragging out but Elizabeth lacked the energy to keep trying to be civil. Her eyes wandered to the far end of the hall where the stranger had immediately fallen asleep on a bed of rushes and blankets. She almost envied him. Thomas followed her glance.
“Not the guest chamber for this traveller?”
Experiencing a touch of guilt, Elizabeth defended her decision. “I will make up the guest bed tomorrow. He could not sleep there as he is.”
“What about me?” challenged Thomas.
“What stink you take into your own room is up to you.”
He studied her for a while, then he shrugged. “I will swim in the morning so that no stench offends your delicate nostrils.”
“It is only as it should be.”
Thomas was about to retaliate but changed his mind. “How is the old man? Is he abed?”
Elizabeth stiffened, always saddened and annoyed, in equal measure, when he spoke of their father in such a way. She moved on quickly to more neutral ground.
“What is his story?” she asked, nodding towards the recumbent figure breathing steadily on the other side of the room.
“He is a Morisco.”
“I gathered as much.” To Elizabeth, the stranger’s ancestry was clear in his features and colouring.
“Where did you meet him?”
“In Marsilha. Pedro was destitute. Did you know that within two weeks of King Henri’s assassination, the Moriscos, who had taken refuge in that port, were no longer welcome? Suddenly they were spies for Spain and the authorities confiscated their money!”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened in surprise. “Spies for Spain, that is ridiculous. I thought they might be safe in France.”
“No, most of the Moriscos who came to the Mediterranean coast are now sailing to Algiers, following the thousands already expelled from Spain last year.”
“Why does Pedro not want to go with them?”
“He has no family, no ties. He wants to make his way to the Netherlands but he is in no state to do so.”
“You are helping him?”
“It is the least I can do.” Thomas’s gaze was intent. “I do have some awareness of my heritage.”
Elizabeth smiled at him with genuine warmth. “You will stay here awhile? Father will be pleased.”
He did not return her smile. “I plan to leave Pedro here to recover but I must go to Montauban immediately. Storm clouds are gathering now that we Huguenots have lost our protector.”
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