Sold for Endless Rue

Sold for Endless Rue

by Madeleine E. Robins

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Overview

After a blighted childhood, young Laura finds peace and purpose in the home of a midwife and healer. Later, she enrolls in Salerno's famed medical school-the first in the world to admit women. Laura and her adoptive mother hope that Laura can build a bridge between women's herbal healing and the new science of medicine developing in thirteenth century medieval Italy.

The hardest lessons are those of love; Laura falls hard for a fellow student who abandons her for a wealthy wife. Worse, her mother rejects her as "impure." Shattered, Laura devotes herself to her work, becoming a respected medico. But her heart is still bitter, and when she sees a chance for revenge, she grabs it-and takes for her own Bieta, the newborn daughter of a woman whose husband regularly raided the physician's garden for bitter herbs to satisfy his pregnant wife's cravings.

Determined to protect her adored daughter from the ravages of the world, Laura isolates the young woman in a tower. Bieta, as determined as her mother, escapes, and finds adventure-and love-on the streets of Salerno.

Bieta's betrayal of her mother's love comes at a terrible price as lives are ruined and families are torn apart. Laura's medical knowledge cannot heal her broken heart; only a great act of love can bring everyone forgiveness and peace, in Madeleine E. Robins's imaginative novel set during the Middle Ages, Sold for Endless Rue,

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765303998
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 05/14/2013
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.86(w) x 8.38(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

MADELEINE E. ROBINS is the author of the New York Times Notable Book The Stone War and other novels. Her short fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and various anthologies, including Lace and Blade. A graduate of Clarion, she is a founding member of Book View Cafe, where she blogs regularly. Robins, who is an excellent decorator of cakes, lives in San Francisco with her husband, their younger daughter, and a very energetic dog.

Read an Excerpt

Sold for Endless Rue


By Madeleine E. Robins

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2013 Madeleine E. Robins
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7653-0399-8



CHAPTER 1

Salerno, Kingdom of Sicily

Anno Domini 1204


The world was all sound: the crack of brush underfoot, her own harsh panting, the whip of the branches as she pushed her way through them, and behind her somewhere a man's guttural cursing. The girl tasted salty blood from a cut below her eye. There would be more blood if Urbo caught her. That thought gave her a burst of strength as she climbed the rocky hill, pushing aside the brush. Then, at the crest, she stopped, stunned. She had never imagined the vista below her. Houses spilled down steeply to a city, thence to a broad bay. She had never seen the ocean before; had she not seen the white curl of waves breaking on the rocks at the harbor's edge, she would not have believed the flat plane of gray to be water. Above, the leaden sky, bleak and still, frayed to mist where it met the water.

Then at the farthest horizon the clouds broke and a shaft of light like a finger touched the sea and made it gold-lined silver. The girl forgot that she was under sentence of death and stood, heedless of runlets of blood on her ankles and feet where thorns had torn at them. Her fisted hands uncurled and her breath quieted.

Then there was a rattle of dirt and pebbles from behind her, and not far behind. The moment was gone. The girl began to clamber down the rocks as fast as she dared, making for what might be a path. If she could reach a cottage, people, someone, might help her. If she could find a church she could beg for sanctuary. If she could reach the sea, she could throw herself in and drown.

The path she found was only a beating-down of scrub grass that threaded among the rocks and wind-shaped trees. Some of the rocks were large enough for a scrawny child to hide behind; others were small enough to cut her feet and send her skidding and sliding down the hill. She barely looked ahead, concentrating on keeping her feet until she reached a boulder that nestled in the curve of the hill. Rounding it, she crouched down and peered back up the way she had come. Despite the cuts on her feet and legs, she saw no blood on the path. Perhaps she had left no trail, but her panting and the drumming of her heart felt loud enough to call any pursuer down upon her. She looked farther, drew back, looked again, weak with terror. Up near the crest of the bluff where she had first broken out of the brush, a man was crouched against the gray sky: Urbo.

Of course. He had promised to deal with her himself if ever she dared run from him. If he caught her there was no chance she could fight him: she was eleven years old, half-starved, nearly at her strength's end. She would have to hide. She turned, began to run and slide, keeping behind the trees and rocks where she could. Twice she almost fell. She came down a steep path in a rush and very nearly slammed into a wall.

The wall was made of white stones, half-again as tall as the girl herself. She could just see the roof of the house within. Crying out, she ran the wall's length, turned the corner, and ran again, looking for a gate or doorway, hoping someone would hear her and come out, even to chase her away. The gate she found at last, but it was barred against entry, and all within seemed ghostly quiet. She turned and ran on.

Next was a stone cottage; a pair of short-nosed brindle dogs was tied to the gate, and they bayed and snapped at her, drowning out her calls. She went on, expecting at any moment to see Urbo behind her, rounding the corner. There was one more cottage ahead, then a stand of cypress trees. She said a prayer to Saint Margaret as she ran. Here there were no dogs and no gate to speak of. The wall was low enough that she could see into the garden by the door. The first house she had passed looked prosperous but empty. The second, well-tended and well-guarded. This one was small, shabby but neat. The girl went to the door.

A woman's voice called out before she could speak, a voice thick, full of rales. "Carolina? Is that you?"

The girl looked in the door and spoke as loud as she dared. "Help me. Please. I beg you in the name of Christ and all his saints, please please —"

"Who? What?" Although the day was overcast it was a moment before the girl's eyes adjusted to the dim light in the cottage. Past the firepit, where only a few coals glowed, there was a wooden bedstead tucked against the wall, its covers thrown everywhere. From it a woman spoke.

"Who is that?" The old-woman voice again, but the woman was young.

"Auntie, I beg you, don't rise if you're ill — but please, I need a place to hide. A man is chasing me. He's sworn he'll kill me. Please, I'm afraid." Face to face with another human being she could think of no better persuasion than her fear. But this woman was very sick; the cottage stank of illness. "Auntie, you're sick. I don't want to bring trouble to you. Is there a priest who would give me sanctuary? Anyone? He will kill me."

"But you're only a child." The woman's voice was a little stronger now. "Not from Salerno, either. Who would hurt you?" She sank back into the pillows again, breathing hard. She was pale as thin new milk and her dark hair was plastered against her head with sweat. "Carolina!" she called again. Then, "No, she hasn't the sense to keep a secret. Here, girl." She hunched her body toward the bed's edge. "You swear that you're not running from the law, your father, or the church?"

The child nodded mutely.

"Well, if you fear your pursuer more than you fear my fever, hide here." She raised up the sheets and made a place for the girl on her far side, by the wall. The girl did not hesitate. Dying from a fever or flux seemed a kinder death than what Urbo had promised her. As carefully as she could, the girl climbed over the sick woman and burrowed down among the damp, rank sheets. The woman pulled the covers over the girl's head and lay back, coughing. "Lie still," she said at last. "You should be safe here, for a time."

The girl lay still. The woman's body gave off heat like a bake-oven through her shift. It was the first time the girl had lain in a bed of any sort for over a year, and for a moment she imagined herself at home, cuddled beside her mother after a terrible dream. Despite the heat in the bed she began to shiver.

"Shhh," the woman murmured. "When my daughter comes, say nothing. Lie still."

The girl did her best. "Aunt, may I pray for you?" she asked. "For whom should I ask a blessing?"

The woman coughed again. The cough was deep and liquid and released a cloud of foul air. "I will be grateful for your prayers if you can say them silently. My name is Sofia. Now hush. Perhaps we both may sleep." Sofia rocked onto her hip to face the door, and the girl curled as close to her as she could, thinking a string of Aves for her savior until the prayers lulled her into a doze.

Voices wakened her. There was a child, younger than herself, calling, "Mama! Mama!" Sofia stirred in her sleep, stiffened as she felt the girl tucked against her back, then raised herself up on one elbow.

"Carolina, where have you been?"

"Playing at the fountain, Mama. I met a man."

A man. The girl longed to look, but knew she dared not.

"Did you?" Sofia's voice was weak but calm. She coughed again. "Who, little one?"

Another voice, and the scuff of boots on the hard-packed earth floor. "A traveler, sister."

The girl's heart clutched: she thought surely the room must ring with her fear. It was Urbo, speaking with expansive geniality.

Sofia lifted herself higher, perhaps to mask the way the girl had started behind her. "What do you want, brother? You see I'm not well. My daughter should know better than to bring a stranger home when I'm in this state."

"He's lost his little girl, Mama," the child said.

"I have, sister. A girl of about ten years, red hair, brown eyes. She's likely to be filthy after the chase she's led me." He sounded reasonable. Had the girl not known otherwise she would have trusted him herself. "Ran off to spare herself a hiding."

"Why would you think to find her here?" Sofia coughed again. Pressed against her, the girl could feel Sofia, propped upon her elbow, tremble with effort. "You see that the only child here is my own, brother. I can't ask you to —"

"She has been here, though, hasn't she? Did you send her on?" Urbo wheedled, the voice he used before he raised his fist. He was still across the room: he feared sickness. "She might have slipped in while you were sleeping."

Sofia dropped back onto the bed, breathing rapidly. Her heart beat fast against the girl's cheek. Please let her not die, the girl prayed, and pressed herself again her, making herself as small as she could.

"Brother, if you wish to look in this house you're welcome to do it, but then go; I have no strength for talking." Sofia coughed again. "Carolina!"

There was a bump and a shift in the bed as the little girl came to sit beside her mother. Under the sheets the girl could not tell if Urbo was looking about, was deciding to leave, or had left already.

Then a new voice. A man's, deeper than Urbo's, demanding to know what a stranger was doing in his house. The girl could see nothing but knew Urbo must be gauging the newcomer, judging how much of an opponent he would be. If he thought the man not worth fighting, he would become more dangerous, as if he meant to throw his opponent's weakness in his face. She had seen him do it. She tensed in her hiding place.

"You can see there is no child here," the other man was saying. He sounded young, vigorous, and careless, as if he counted Urbo as little threat. "My wife is sick. Look elsewhere for your child."

"Where else would she go?" Urbo challenged.

"All of Salerno lies just down the hill."

Now a third voice broke in. "Nicolo, take this outside, unless you wish to bury Sofia tomorrow. And you, man, can you not see there's sickness here? Do you wish to bring it back to wherever it is you come from?" This was a woman, not young, but forceful and used to being obeyed. "You two men go bristle and preen yourselves in the yard. Leave me to my business. Carolina, I need more water than this. I've come to make physic for your mama."

"All right, grannie. I'll go," Urbo said. "But have you seen a child —"

"I'm a midwife, brother. I've seen hundreds of children, but none today. Now: go."

Urbo went. His boots scuffed on the doorstep, and the girl heard the rumbling of male voices outside the house, still wary but civil. The little girl, Carolina, left her mother's side and ran off to fetch water. The old woman began to move around the room, rummaging and muttering. Sofia began to cough again.

"Hush, shhhh," the old woman murmured. Sofia rolled onto her back, squashing the girl into the straw pallet. The sheets rustled, there was a pressure of hands as the old woman smoothed them across Sofia's body. The girl braced herself, waiting for discovery.

"Well," the old woman said briskly. "You have a guest. No —" The girl had stiffened and started to rise, but the old woman pushed her back. "If you have not taken the fever by now, an hour more won't hurt you. Lie still, girl. Is that man truly your father?"

"No, grannie," the girl whispered. "He's an evil, evil man, he swore —"

"He's gone now. Lie quiet. Sofia, I'll talk to Nicolo."

The girl lay still, listening to the homely sounds of water poured into a kettle and set on the fire. When little Carolina returned, the nurse woman set her to grinding herbs, and for a time the hidden girl drowsed, confusing the tapping of the mortar and pestle with the beating of Sofia's heart. She woke again when the nurse sat on the bed and raised Sofia up to drink her physic.

"It smells foul," Sofia protested.

The nurse laughed. "If you can care for how it smells, dear one, Death doesn't hold you in his hand. Carolina, is there any honey in the house? No? Then run to Anna's house and borrow some. Quickly!" There was the sound of footfall as the child ran out. "Now you, girl. I told Nico to take the stranger down to the city, so we've some time. Sit up and tell me what's what." The girl sat up, blinking in the light. The healer had lit a lamp and set it near the bed. It smoked, and with the smoke from the fire as well, the cottage was hazy. When the girl saw the nurse's face she understood at once why Urbo had left so easily. He was superstitious, and the old woman had the face of a witch: wrinkles, bony nose, small dark eyes.

"No, I'm no beauty." The old woman laughed.

The girl blushed. "You're beautifully kind to me. Thank you, grandmother."

The healer clicked her tongue, but was clearly pleased. "You were going to tell me how you come to be tucked into Sofia's bed in this fashion. First, get out and —" She pulled a cloth from her belt, or perhaps it was a scarf. "Wrap your head up in this; that red hair is too remarkable. If anyone asks you, you're my new apprentice. What's your name, girl?"

"Fil-Filipa." It had been more than a year since anyone had used it. "Filipa." She climbed out of the bed, careful not to disturb Sofia, and took the cloth to wrap up her hair. Sofia lay quiet, watching Filipa and the nurse.

"Fetch the mortar where that foolish child has left it." The nurse pointed a long finger toward the hearth. Unlike her fierce features, her hands were well shaped. "Now, Filipa. Why is that foreign brute chasing you through the outskirts of Salerno?"

"He swore he'd kill me," the girl said. She brought the wooden mortar over, but, rather than take it, the nurse pushed it back to her and handed her the pestle, gesturing that she was to grind the gray-green herbs in the bowl.

"Why would a man like that bother to kill a child like you?"

"I ran away. He said if I ran —"

"And how did you come to be with such a man in the first place?" the old woman asked. "Is he some kin to you?"

Filipa scowled. "He's no kin to any human man. He's a brigand, and he killed all my family and destroyed my town."

The old woman looked down her nose. "One man alone destroyed your town?"

Filipa shook her head. The hand holding the pestle shook. "There were many of them, a dozen, then. They fell on our village like dogs, surprised us. Killed all the men —" Her voice was high.

"A dozen men." The old woman looked at Sofia. "Are they with him now?"

"Most of them are gone — some left to join with another band, another one died from a poisoned wound. There were four, and Urbo, when I ran."

"Are they near enough for yon Urbo to bring them back here? When did you escape them?"

"Three days ago." Filipa steadied the mortar in her hand.

"So his mates are some days away. Keep working, girl. Carolina will be back in a moment, and I want to make more of this for us to leave for Sofia."

"Leave?" The girl looked at the woman on the bed; Filipa did not want to leave her, even for the old woman who seemed so matter-of-fact in taking her in. "Can't I stay here?"

"And do what? If your enemy comes back, can Sofia fight him off? If Nicolo tried, well, he's no fighter. No, you'll be safer with me. We shall give you a craft name and say you've been bound to me as an apprentice; if you show some skill, perhaps it will be true. Now." She took the girl's chin in her strong, reddened hand. "What shall I call you? Zenzera, for that hair? No. Artemisia? Too grand for such a scrap as you." She laughed, but her eyes bored deep, as if she were divining in a pool of water. "Laura," she said at last. "For the laurel, which has much magic but a plain appearance. I am Crescia, but you'll call me mistress, is that clear?"

"I will call you saint —"

The old woman gave her chin a final squeeze. "Don't blaspheme, girl. God doesn't laugh at such jests." She turned back to Sofia. "Well, my dear. This is my new apprentice, Laura. She's going to finish grinding the feverfew and mix in some —" She produced a pouch from a basket by her feet. "Some ground betulla, and when Carolina returns we shall add water and honey. You're to drink a cupful every hour until your fever breaks."

Sofia made a face. "And if the fever doesn't break?"

"What a baby you are!" But Nonna Crescia stroked Sofia's forehead. "The fever will break, daughter. You'll be up and chasing after that scatterwit child of yours in a few days. For now, you sleep." She made a pass with her hand over the sick woman's eyes.

Sofia smiled and closed her eyes. Smiling, she slept.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Sold for Endless Rue by Madeleine E. Robins. Copyright © 2013 Madeleine E. Robins. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Dedication,
Part I: The Witch,
Part II: The Wife,
Part III: The Child,
Coda,
Also by Madeleine E. Robins,
About the Author,
Copyright,

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