Book Title: The Merchant’s Dilemma, a Meonbridge Chronicles Companion Novel
Series: The Meonbridge Chronicles
Author: Carolyn Hughes
Publication Date: 20th September 2023
Publisher: Riverdown Books
Page Length: 232
Genre: Historical Fiction
Winchester. Seven months ago, accused of bringing plague and death from Winchester, Bea Ward was hounded out of Meonbridge by her former friends and neighbours. Finding food and shelter where she could, she struggled to make her way back to Winchester again.
Yet, once she arrived, she wondered why she’d come.
For her former lover – the love of her life – Riccardo Marchaunt, had married a year ago. And she no longer had the strength to go back to her old life on the streets. Frail, destitute and homeless, she was reduced to begging. Then, in January, during a tumultuous and destructive storm, she found herself on Riccardo’s doorstep. She had no plan, beyond hoping he might help her, or at least provide a final resting place for her poor body.
When Bea awakes to find she’s lying in Riccardo’s bed once more, she’s thankful, thrilled, but mystified. But she soon learns that his wife died four months ago, along with their newborn son, and finds too that Riccardo loves her now as much as he ever did, and wants to make her his wife. But can he? And, even if he can, could she ever really be a proper merchant’s wife?
Riccardo could not have been more relieved to find Bea still alive, when he thought he had lost her forever. She had been close to death, but is now recovering her health. He adores her and wants her to be his wife. But how? His father would forbid such an “unfitting” match, on pain of denying him his inheritance. And what would his fellow merchants think of it? And their haughty wives?
Yet Riccardo is determined that Bea will be his wife. He has to find a solution to his dilemma… With the help of his beloved mother, Emilia, and her close friend, Cecily, he hatches a plan to make it happen.
But even the best laid plans sometimes go awry. And the path of love never did run smooth…
The Merchant’s Dilemma is a companion novel to the main series of Meonbridge Chronicles, and continues the story of Bea and Riccardo after the end of the fourth Chronicle, Children’s Fate. It is a little more romantic and light-hearted than the other Chronicles but, if you’ve enjoyed reading about the lives of the characters of Meonbridge, you will almost certainly enjoy reading The Merchant’s Dilemma too!
From Chapter 1
Bea’s eyes flickered open and she peered over the edge of the coverlet. She was warm and comfortable between the mattress and the cover, but her mouth was dry. Tweaking the cover down, she lifted her head up a little and glanced about her, taking in her surroundings.
Moments later, her anxiety was relieved. Her head might still be dizzy, but she knew exactly where she was. That large window overlooked the long garden at the back of the house. The bright hangings on the walls depicted scenes of hunting. The painted chest that stood behind the door held shirts and braies.
Most familiar of all was this great bed, with its deep mattress and heavy curtains, the soft pillows beneath her head and the warm blanket and woven coverlet that topped smooth linen sheets. The bed embraced her, comforting her weary, feeble limbs.
She tried to lift her head a little more, but her vision swam and she fell back again. Yet, in that instant, she’d seen she was not alone: an old woman was sitting on a chair to one side of the window, dozing, a stump of candle on the small table at her side gone out. The sunlight filtering through the shutter was weak, scarcely sufficient for Mistress Collyton’s ancient eyes to be able to see across the room. But she was there, Bea assumed, waiting for her to wake. And, then, she’d surely go to fetch Riccardo.
Bea sighed, so softly Mistress Collyton wouldn’t have heard, even if she’d not been sleeping. Her heart beat a little faster, as she understood that what she’d hoped might happen – almost beyond reason – had. Riccardo had found her, and had taken her in. She was alive, and lying in his bed. The bed she knew so well but hadn’t imagined she’d ever lie in again.
Her heart turned over. Why was she lying in this bed? Where was Riccardo’s wife? Had she agreed to Riccardo bringing her up here, usurping the place reserved for her and her husband?
Nervous and confused now by what she didn’t know, Bea wriggled slightly further down the bed, pulling the sheet and coverlet up over her eyes. She was more comfortable than she’d been for months. She felt safe, but was she truly? Or was Riccardo’s wife downstairs, waiting for her to wake, so she could be turned out of the house once more?
Bea closed her eyes again. The longer she was asleep, the longer it would be before any such dismissal came. Or perhaps it would be better if she never woke? Then she’d never have to face again the life of vagrancy she’d lived since being abandoned by Riccardo and driven out of Meonbridge.
She’d no idea how long she’d been here, though the chamber’s chilly air told her it must still be winter. It was last summer she’d run away from Meonbridge, after the villagers – once her friends and neighbours – had attacked and threatened her, blaming her for bringing the pestilence from Winchester. Fleeing for her life, she’d lived for months out in the open, sleeping in barns, eating what she could find – or steal – eventually finding her way to Winchester. She didn’t know what she expected: to ask Riccardo for help, perhaps, or to return to her old life as a whore? Though, as her health deteriorated, and her body weakened into the frailty of a child’s, neither seemed a possibility.
When the storm hit – in the middle of January she thought it was – she was living on the city streets, finding shelter where she could. She was so thin, exhausted and perpetually cold, she was sure she would soon die. That evening, finding herself close to where Riccardo lived, she decided to throw herself upon his mercy: surely, he’d either help her live, or give her a decent burial? But, when she arrived at his house, he wasn’t there. Incapable of walking any further, she’d collapsed outside his door.
Crumpled on the ground, she’d drifted in and out of awareness, yet thought it wasn’t much longer before Riccardo did return. At least she’d imagined it was him. She’d thought she heard the sound of his voice, breathless with emotion, and the feel of his strong arms about her as he lifted her up and carried her indoors. The last moment she could recall was the touch of his lips upon her hand, before she slipped into unconsciousness.
This title is available to read on #KindleUnlimited.
Universal Link: https://books2read.com/u/3RY7Yj
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Merchants-Dilemma-Meonbridge-Chronicles-Companion-ebook/dp/B0CJJKJFT6/
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Review by Adriana Kraft
Having read and enjoyed the Meonbridge Chronicles series, I was delighted to receive a review copy of The Merchant’s Dilemma, a companion piece that follows up on characters introduced in the fourth Chronicle, Children’s Fate. I always appreciate historical fiction that’s well researched and gives a realistic picture of life in the era of its focus.
In her series, Carolyn Hughes has succeeded in highlighting the many consequences of the plague that ravaged England during the reign of Edward III, in the middle 1300s. Across two waves of the pestilence, it is estimated that half the population of England died. Peasant families lost many members – often their chief laborers, their means of earning an income. Noble estates suddenly didn’t have enough workers to bring in the harvest – or to plant the next year’s crops. Parents lost children. Wives lost husbands.
What I hadn’t thought of, though perhaps I should have, is brought to life in The Merchant’s Dilemma. Prostitution may be the world’s “oldest profession,” but in any era, it carries great stigma and is viewed with vast disrespect by most. But what if it wasn’t the woman’s fault? If she had no choice? What if she was forced into selling her body by a ruse, by what looked like an offer to be taught a useful trade, such as embroidery? Is there any route out for such a woman?
Both main characters in this novel are constrained by the strict rules and expectations of the fourteenth century’s social order. A respected merchant can certainly have a mistress on the side – but a former prostitute? And then to marry her? Unthinkable.
Without giving away spoilers, I think readers will be cheering for Bea as she encounters one insurmountable obstacle after another. She’ll need all the help she can get.
A satisfying read. Four Stars.
Carolyn Hughes has lived much of her life in Hampshire. With a first degree in Classics and English, she started working life as a computer programmer, then a very new profession. But it was technical authoring that later proved her vocation, word-smithing for many different clients, including banks, an international hotel group and medical instruments manufacturers.
Although she wrote creatively on and off for most of her adult life, it was not until her children flew the nest that writing historical fiction took centre stage. But why historical fiction? Serendipity!
Seeking inspiration for what to write for her Creative Writing Masters, she discovered the handwritten draft, begun in her twenties, of a novel, set in 14th century rural England… Intrigued by the period and setting, she realised that, by writing a novel set in the period, she’d be able to both learn more about the medieval past and interpret it, which seemed like a thrilling thing to do. A few days later, the first Meonbridge Chronicle, Fortune’s Wheel, was under way.
Six published books later (with more to come), Carolyn does now think of herself as an Historical Novelist. And she wouldn’t have it any other way…
Carolyn has a Master’s in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University and a PhD from the University of Southampton.
You can connect with Carolyn through her website and social media.
Book Bub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/carolyn-hughes
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Carolyn-Hughes/e/B01MG5TWH1