Book Corner: The Pedlar’s Promise by Steven A. McKay

Medieval England, December

A pedlar has been sent to Wakefield with an unexpected and apparently quite valuable Christmas gift for John Little and his friend Will Scaflock. Unfortunately, the pedlar likes his ale a little too much and somehow gets lost and ends up in the wrong town. With no other work to do, or any strange mysteries to solve for a change, the pair of bored former outlaws decide to ride out and track down their gift. Of course, things don’t quite go as smoothly as hoped and they experience a series of hair-raising adventures on the snowy roads and villages of Yorkshire before their quest finally ends with a surprise…

Will our heroes ever find their quarry? What is the mysterious gift their friend Robert Stafford has sent to them from Brandesburton? And who the hell thought it was a good idea to go riding around northern England in the depths of winter searching for a drunk old pedlar?
Pour yourself a warm glass of wassail and settle in beside the fire to find out!

The Pedlar’s Promise continues the series of short winter stories including Friar Tuck and the Christmas Devil, Faces of Darkness, The House in the Marsh, and Sworn To God, and brings some much-needed cheer to the gloomy winter months.

It must be nearly Christmas because there’s a new novella out featuring Little John, Will Scarlet and Friar Tuck.

Steven A. McKay is becoming a master of the mystery thriller. The Pedlar’s Promise is yet another intriguing adventure involving the former outlaws Little John and Will Scarlet takes the reader on an entertaining, muddy journey through Yorkshire.

These novellas follow on from Steven’s The Forest Lord series, telling the story of Robin Hood. They provide a little insight into the adventures of Robin’s leading men – Little John, Tuck and Will – after their lives as outlaws come to an end. The three remain firm friends, reminisce about their time with Robin, and get into some interesting scrapes. The Pedlar’s Promise is one such mini-adventure, when Will and John go in search of an errant pedlar in the depths of winter.

Suddenly the door burst open, snow whirling into the room as a dark, hooded figure forced his way through the icy gale and into the ale house. Muttering, the newcomer shut out the gale, making sure the latch was firmly in place before stamping towards Alexander Gilbert, the purple-nosed owner of the alehouse, and demanding a drink.

Once furnished with an ale the stocky figure turned towards the hearth and grinned, seeing the two men framed by the flickering orange flames.

“Tuck!” John cried, and Will Scaflock laughed, gesturing for the friar to come and join them at their small circular table.

“God’s blood,” Tuck growled as he planted his hefty behind on the stool next to Little John. “It’s freezing out there.”

“Maybe,” the bailiff conceded. “But that just makes it all the more enjoyable to drink an ale or three in here, beside the fire and in the company of good friends, eh, Will?”

Scaflock hoisted his mug aloft, smiling, but Tuck just rolled his eyes and pulled the collar of his brown cassock tighter around his neck.

“Cheer up.” John laughed. “You’re just hungry.”

“How d’you know that?” Tuck demanded, wiping foam from his upper lip and eyeing the bailiff suspiciously.

“You’re always hungry,” John replied sardonically, gesturing for Alexander to bring them some of his fabled broth. That was always a favourite on a night such as this, even if the amount of actual meat and other ingredients in it varied depending on the year’s harvest. Providing ale and warm food was a sure way to cheer Friar Tuck, and the bailiff knew it.

The innkeeper soon bustled over, placing a bowl and some bread in front of Tuck, who happily accepted. “Thank you, Alexander,” he said, lifting the bread and dipping it into the thick, steaming liquid. “Did you get the gift I sent you from Brandesburton?” he asked, turning his attention back to his friends.

“What gift?” John asked with a frown.

As I say with every one of Steven A. McKay’s novellas, this book was too short. It’s not that the story was rushed or shallow. It’s just that, the story ends way too soon. I really do think Steven should write a full-length mystery with Will Scarlet and Little John. These novellas are tantalising but they always leave me wanting much, much more. (Are you listening Steven?)

Having said that, The Pedlar’s Promise is a perfect little read that you can get through in one or two sittings. The story is fast-flowing and draws the reader in from the very beginning, as I have come to expect from Steven A. McKay. His characters are consistent in their actions and it is like reading about the adventures of old friends. Where the previous two novellas, The House in the Marsh and Faces of Darkness were quite dark and broody, and had me hiding under the covers at various points, The Pedlar’s Promise has a different tone and can be quite light-hearted in places. And has a brilliant twist at the end!

I don’t want to tell you too much and ruin the experience, but The Pedlar’s Promise by Steven A. McKay is well worth a read!

I cannot recommend it highly enough!

To Buy the Book:

The Pedlar’s Promise is now available from Amazon.

From Steven A. McKay:

I was born in Scotland in 1977 and always enjoyed studying history – well, the interesting bits, not so much what they taught us in school. I decided to write my Forest Lord series after seeing a house called “Sherwood” when I was out at work one day. I’d been thinking about maybe writing a novel but couldn’t come up with a subject or a hero so, to see that house, well…It felt like a message from the gods and my rebooted Robin Hood was born.

My current Warrior Druid of Britain series was similarly inspired, although this time it was the 80’s TV show “Knightmare”, and their version of Merlin that got my ideas flowing. Of course, the bearded old wizard had been done to death in fiction, so I decided to make my hero a giant young warrior-druid living in post-Roman Britain and he’s been a great character to write.

In 2021 the Xbox/Playstation/PC game HOOD: Outlaws and Legends was released, featuring my writing. I did the character backstories and the lore for the maps and collectables and it was such a fantastic experience!

I was once in a heavy metal band although I tend to just play guitar in my study these days. I’m sure the neighbours absolutely love me.

Check out my website at stevenamckay.com and sign up for the email list – in return I’ll send you a FREE short story, as well as offering chances to win signed books, free audiobooks and other quite good things!

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My Books:

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword, AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

Alternate Endings: An anthology of historical fiction short stories including Long Live the King… which is my take what might have happened had King John not died in October 1216. Available in paperback and kindle from Amazon.

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©2020 Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS

Book Corner: The House in the Marsh by Steven A. McKay

For generations, stories have been told about the ruined old house in the marsh outside Wakefield. Stories of hidden treasure, sinister night-time cries, and ghostly figures doomed to haunt the lonely estate for all eternity as punishment for some terrible crime.
This winter, it seems the old tales might just turn out to be true…

England, AD 1330
John Little, a bailiff living in Yorkshire, has little interest in ghost stories, having seen enough horrors among the living to bother much about the dead. The strange accounts from his fellow villagers have everyone talking though, and it’s not long before he’s asked to accompany a group of curious locals on nocturnal visits to the house in the marsh.
There are more worrying concerns in northern England however, as autumn gives way to winter and rumours of rogue bailiffs attacking, and even murdering people in their own homes, begin to circulate.
Along with his friends – ill-tempered Will Scaflock and the renowned friar, Robert Stafford – John is drawn inexorably into a dangerous adventure that will leave yet more people dead and only add to the eerie legends which will pass into English folklore for centuries to come.
Can John and his companions uncover the truth about the house in the marsh and its terrible secrets? And will they be able to forever exorcise the ghost haunting Wakefield, or will this Christmas be anything but merry?

The House in the Marsh by Steven A. McKay is another novella chronicling the investigative adventures of 3 of Robin Hood’s Merry Men; Little John, Friar Tuck and Will Scarlet. In this outing of the intrepid ex-outlaws-turned-investigators the trio are investigating the spooky goings-on of an abandoned manor house and a pair of murderers who are impersonating bailiffs. That one of the miscreants is taken to be Little John makes identifying the killers all the more urgent.

The House in the Marsh by Steven A. McKay is a wonderful, creepy novella, combining a detective story with the ghostly and mysterious events that always seem to accompany abandoned, half-derelict buildings. Little John, Friar Tuck and Will Scarlet have to look to their own safety whilst calming the fears of villagers – both of the haunted house and the ruthless fake bailiffs. It makes for a story full of suspense, adventure and the threat of sudden, unrestrained violence.

The ex-outlaws, it seems have the skills, courage and intelligence between them to face down both the fear and the violence. The many twists and turns in the book leave the reader on the edge of their seat throughout.

Little John might be a lawman, but he was capable of extreme, deadly violence. There were enough stories and songs about him to back that up.

Desperation could make a man more dangerous, however, and, somehow – perhaps John was distracted by a movement in the crowd beside him – the butcher’s cleaver caught the bailiff’s arm. A bright-red, bloody line appeared on the white skin and John roared in pain.

Before Simon could decide what to do next, press his attack or, more probable, run for his life, John stepped forward and smashed the pommel of his sword into the butcher’s mouth.

Simon staggered back almost comically, spitting out bloody teeth, and then he fell onto his knees and pitched forward onto the ground. He didn’t move after that, and, for what felt like a long time, everyone just stared, from the butcher’s prone form to that of the grimacing bailiff whose arm was bleeding heavily.

“Fetch clean water,” a woman said to her son. “And linen.” He ran off towards their house which wasn’t far off, and she hurried to John’s side. “That’s a nasty wound,” she said, examining it expertly. “But you already know that, I’m sure. Sit down, before you fall down like that idiot.”

Despite his injury, John laughed and the sound seemed to take all the fear and alarm from the atmosphere. Others laughed, and chattered excitedly about what had just happened, while the lady knelt beside the bailiff and pushed aside his sleeve.

Her son returned quickly, and, when she used the water he’d brought to wash John’s cut she nodded in satisfaction. “It’s not as deep as I’d feared,” she said.

“I had a feeling he might want a fight,” John said. “So I wore leather bracers.” He shook his sleeve and the leather armour fell out onto the ground, sliced cleanly in half. There were whistles and gasps from teh crowd as they realised what would have happened had he not been wearing bracers.

“That probably saved your life,” said the woman, still washing away the blood before taking the linen her son handed her and using it to tightly bandage the wound. “Or at least your arm.”

The plot of The House in the Marsh by Steven A. McKay is perfectly crafted, with a number of twists and turns throwing the reader off the trail as the story unfolds. As ever, Steven A. McKays’ storytelling skills are first class as he draws the reader through the story. His impeccable research means that he recreates a highly plausible 14th century Yorkshire – you wouldn’t believe he doesn’t live near Wakefield himself!

Growing up in South Yorkshire myself, I have always had a soft spot for the Robin Hood legend. Of Course, Steven A. McKay sets it in Barnsdale Forest in Wakefield, instead of Sherwood, but he can be forgiven for that as his stories are such wonderful adventures. And his characters are much as I have always imagined them, loyal friends who rib each other but are there for each other when needed.

My only problem with The House in the Marsh by Steven A. McKay is that I wish it was longer. Steven A. McKay has created a wonderful side job for these three Merry Men and I do wish he would give them a full length story to get their teeth into.

For now, though, The House in the Marsh by Steven A. McKay is a perfect read for these cold, dark, winter nights.

To buy the book:

The House in the Marsh by Steven A. McKay is available in ebook and paperback on Amazon.

From the author:

I was born in Scotland in 1977 and always enjoyed studying history – well, the interesting bits, not so much what they taught us in school. I decided to write my Forest Lord series after seeing a house called “Sherwood” when I was out at work one day. I’d been thinking about maybe writing a novel but couldn’t come up with a subject or a hero so, to see that house, well…It felt like a message from the gods and my rebooted Robin Hood was born.

My current Warrior Druid of Britain series was similarly inspired, although this time it was the 80’s TV show “Knightmare”, and their version of Merlin that got my ideas flowing. Of course, the bearded old wizard had been done to death in fiction, so I decided to make my hero a giant young warrior-druid living in post-Roman Britain and he’s been a great character to write.

I was once in a heavy metal band although I tend to just play guitar in my study these days. I’m sure the neighbours absolutely love me.

Check out my website at stevenamckay.com and sign up for the email list – in return I’ll send you a FREE short story, as well as offering chances to win signed books, free audiobooks and other quite good things!

*

My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword,  AmazonBookshop.org and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Bookshop.org and Book Depository.

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You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly