I am thrilled to be part of the Valentine Blog Hop, organized by Maria Grace and David Pilling! I do hope that once you’ve finished reading my little piece plus taken the time to enter the giveaway contest you will rush off to visit all the other participants – you find the complete list right at the bottom.
Before we go on, please be advised that brevity is not one of my finer qualities, ergo my post is more of a short story than an anecdote. All the same, I hope you’ll enjoy it!
With the exception of our present Queen, only once has a crowned Swedish King married a commoner, and that as far back as the sixteenth century. The king in question was the troubled, mentally unstable Erik XIV, the girl was Karin Månsdotter, daughter to a guardsman. She was 15, he was 32. He was extremely bright and well-educated, she was illiterate. She was all light and bubbly air, he had moments of deepest, darkest depression. And yet … some things are fated, they say, so maybe neither Erik nor Karin had a choice.
She was tall, she was blonde, she was young and radiant. Eyes the colour of summer skies, cheeks that blushed a delicious red in the November cold, and hair that was the colour of ripening rye fields – thick, thick hair that hung in a heavy braid down her back. Erik came to a halt, studying the young girl. She was peddling nuts – most apt, he reflected as he watched her hands caress the heaped walnuts – her eyes dancing with laughter as she teased her present customer, a man in a yellow fur-trimmed tunic who was more interested in her bosom than in her wares.
“Who’s that?” he asked his Secretary.
“Who?” Jöran Persson peered in the girl’s direction. “A wench, Sire, a lowborn peasant, however comely.”
“Ah yes, comely she most certainly is.” Erik pursed his mouth, irritated by the fact that the man in the yellow tunic was still loitering by the girl’s stall. “Fetch her to court,” he commanded, wheeling on his toes.
“To court?” Jöran squeaked. “But Sire, how?”
“Use your imagination. Take her on as a scullery maid, a serving wench. Just make sure she’s in my service by tomorrow.”
“But what if …”
“No buts.” Erik shook his head. “If she isn’t at court tomorrow, I’ll throw you out of the Council and send you off to rot somewhere in northern Finland – permanently.”
Karin had never worn linen this fine, never seen a skirt this shade of blue. Her hair hung unbound to her waist, and she pinched her cheeks a couple of times before entering the king’s presence. He was alone, and for a moment her nerve failed her. She was no innocent, and that rude and overbearing Jöran Persson had made it very clear her position in the castle depended on her ability to entertain the king.
“Sing for him?” she’d asked, flustered.
“Sing? I think not. The king has other pastimes in mind.” An explicit gesture supplied whatever further clarification she might have needed.
Karin swallowed, looking at the man sitting in the window bench. This was her chance for a better life, a life that contained warm food and clean clothes, maybe an occasional night in a feather bed. The king beckoned. She rose on her toes and walked towards him.
She’d only seen him at a distance before, but now she had ample opportunity to study him from under lowered lashes. Long, muscled legs in purple hose, elegant silver embroidered garters decorating each calf. He’d undone his doublet, the black velvet framing white linen, the neckline unlaced to reveal a reddish fuzz on a white chest. For all that he was old, he was handsome enough, and the look in his eyes made her straighten her spine and smile. He smiled back, holding out his hand, and Karin danced towards him, her beautiful new skirts swirling round her.
Karin Månsdotter quickly became the official royal mistress. Despite her youth – or maybe because of it – she was tolerated by the members of the king’s household, especially as it was only Karin who could sooth and calm the king when he sank into his bouts of black depression.
Georg von Rosen: Erik XIV, Karin and Jöran Persson – note how the loyal Secretary is cast in the role of the villain
“To wake beside you is a joy,” Erik murmured, tweaking her hair. The May dawn was chilly and he pulled the fur pelt higher.
“Hmm,” she yawned, stretching like a cat beside him. He caressed her flank and she near on purred, arching herself under his touch. He’d never had a woman this … this … wanton and innocent before. It made for a heady combination, and Karin’s undisguised pleasure at spending time with him – any time, whether it was sewing in a corner while he was discussing matters of state with his councillors, or sitting with his head in her lap as she exorcised his damned demons, quieting the constant noise in his head – made him feel more content than he’d ever felt before in his life.
She dragged her finger down his front.
“E” she said, drawing the letter on his skin.
“Well done,” he laughed.
“I know.” She was inordinately proud of her new-found writing and reading skills. He delighted in helping her, ignoring the muttered comments from his councillors along the lines that he was making too much of this upstart wench, no matter her evident physical attributes. Besides, he couldn’t be bothered to explain that it wasn’t her body he craved, it was the soft touch of her hands on his aching temples, her low, soothing voice singing him to sleep when his nights were an endless sequence of horrid nightmares. He shivered and pulled her close enough that he could feel her rounded belly pressing into him.
“I love you,” he murmured, pressing his lips to her hair. Two blue eyes burnt into his.
“I know,” she said, “and it gladdens my heart.”
He tightened his hold on her. “And do you love me?”
“Stupid man! Of course I do!” She struggled up to sit. “All I want is you, Erik Gustavson. Only you.”
“What? No ring on your finger, no crown on your head?”
She shook her head. “Only you.”
Erik closed his eyes. He couldn’t remember ever having been loved for his own sake before.
Over three years Erik and Karin had two children, and as Karin’s influence at court grew, so did the grumblings regarding the king’s mental state. Repeatedly he’d sink into severe melancholia, he saw conspiracies behind every corner and in a fit of demented fury Erik himself murdered several imprisoned noblemen in 1567. In his distressed mental state it was only Karin who could reach him, and the young woman, still not eighteen, spent months cooped up with her royal lover, trying to bring him back from the compact darkness of his imaginations to the light of reality. Late in 1567 Erik recovered his sanity, and one of his first acts was to marry Karin – in secret. Six months later they were officially married, and the day after Karin was crowned queen of Sweden.
She had never aspired to this. Her legs shook, no matter how much she swallowed her mouth remained dry as a tinder box, and she had to clasp her hands together to stop herself from wiping her sweaty palms down the heavy brocade of her skirts. A queen … Karin glided down the aisle, staring straight ahead. She knew what they thought of her, the ladies of the court, she could see it in their eyes how they resented her. An upstart, they’d whisper, laughing behind their hands when Karin committed a faux-pas. A witch of sorts, they’d add viciously, how else to explain how a chit of a girl could keep a man like the king entranced. And now the erstwhile mistress was the king’s wife, and Karin wanted to laugh at the pursed mouths, the ice-cold eyes that stared at her, but she couldn’t, because all that ill will had her heart thumping uncomfortably in her chest.
Her eyes flew to her husband, standing halfway down the aisle. She had tried to tell him this was too much, like rubbing a puppy’s nose in its excrement, but Erik had just shrugged, and now here she was, forced to walk alone down the church when all that she wanted was to be with him and their babies, far away from these people who regarded them both with about as much warmth as they would a flea-infested rat. It made her nervous, as did the constant whisperings at court, the none too hushed discussions about the king’s mental health. Karin threw a look at Johan and Karl, Erik’s half brothers. Behold the royal gossip mongers, she reflected bitterly, returning Johan’s insincere smile with the slightest of nods.
As she approached the king the sun came out, and the previously so dark church lit up when sunlight streamed through the eastern window. The air around her husband glowed with glittering dust, for an instant she could see the faintest outline of a halo round his head and she bit back on a bubble of laughter, for whatever else her Erik was he was definitely not a saint. When she reached him she locked eyes with him and sank down into a deep, reverential curtsey. Erik inclined his head, she rose and proceeded towards the waiting bishops and the crown she didn’t want.
In 1568, Erik was deposed by his brother Johan. His wife and their children were imprisoned with him, and for five years Karin and Erik were shunted from one castle to the other. And then one day …
“No, please …” Karin clung to Erik, fingers sinking into his linen shirt.
“Karin?” Erik blinked, not quite understanding. These last few months had further undermined his mental health, and there were days when Karin feared her husband had gone permanently insane.
”He needs me,” she said, turning to face their jailer. “Please don’t do this!”
“Karin?” Erik’s arms tightened round her waist. “Why are you weeping?”
“Erik, I …” A hand on her arm wrenched her out of his hold. ”No!” she cried. “Erik!”
“Karin? What …” he stumbled towards her but was brought up short by one of the guards. “Karin!” he screamed. “Karin!” He tried to wrest himself free, but was easily detained. The man struggling with his guards bore but a passing resemblance to the man she had fallen in love with, his body gone soft after years of confinement, his clothes hanging too big on his shrunken frame. His beard was unkempt, his hair stood messily around his head and she had never loved him as much as she did in this precise moment when he was screaming her name, his eyes wild and dark with fear.
“Erik,” she sobbed, fighting the hands that were dragging her towards the door. “I love you, Erik Gustavson, I love you so much.”
“Karin!” The shriek was cut short by the slamming door.
Karin sank to her knees and raised her hands in supplication to Bengt Bengtsson. “Don’t take me away,” she begged. “Don’t you see? He needs me!” And I need him, she screamed inside, I will wither without him!
Bengt Bengtsson leaned towards her, smirking. “You’ll not see him again – not in this life.”
“If you do this, may you rot in hell,” she spat. He looked at her for a long time. “Please …” she said, hoping that this long silence meant he was reconsidering. “Let me stay with him.”
Bengt Bengtsson looked at one of his men. “Take her away.”
Karin never saw her husband again. Erik died in 1577 – poisoned by his gaoler. Karin was destined to outlive her husband by 35 years and died in Finland in 1612. She never re-married. Not, perhaps, the happiest of love stories, but love each other they most certainly did, and as we all know there are times when love burns more than it soothes, right? And I do believe they had moments of utter joy and contentment, moments when it was just Erik and Karin, the bed hangings shielding them from the world outside.
And now to the giveaway …
My books are also about love – okay, so there’s a lot of other stuff going on, but ultimately the Graham Saga is about a man and his woman and the love that carries them through a life that at times is a tad too adventurous and dangerous.
This week, in celebration of my participation on this Valentine Blog Hop and love, I am giving away two copies – one Kindle and one paperback (Europe only) of Like Chaff in the Wind, the second book in the series, officially out on March 1.
“Matthew Graham committed the mistake of his life when he cut off his brother’s nose. In revenge, Matthew is abducted and transported to the Colony of Virginia, there to be sold as indentured labour – a death sentence more or less. Fortunately, Matthew has a remarkable wife who has no intention of letting her husband suffer and die, and so Alex Graham sets off on a perilous journey to bring him home.”
For the full blurb click here
For more info re my books, visit http://www.annabelfrage.com
If the above sounds like your cup of tea & you want to enter the competition please leave a comment here telling me why you feel you need a free copy of my book and/or giving me feedback on my post above. Please don’t forget to leave your e-mail address!
Now don’t forget to visit all the other blog hop participants!
Blog Hop Participants
- Random Bits of Fascination (Maria Grace)
- Pillings Writing Corner (David Pilling)
- Sally Smith O’Rourke
- Darcyholic Diversions (Barbara Tiller Cole)
- Faith, Hope and Cherry Tea
- Rosanne Lortz
- Sharon Lathan
- Debra Brown
- Heyerwood (Lauren Gilbert)
- Regina Jeffers
- Ginger Myrick
- Anna Belfrage
- Fall in love with history (Grace Elliot)
- Nancy Bilyeau
- Wendy Dunn
- E.M. Powell
- Georgie Lee
- The Riddle of Writing (Deborah Swift)
- Outtakes from a Historical Novelist (Kim Rendfeld)
- The heart of romance (Sherry Gloag)
- A day in the life of patootie (Lori Crane)
- Karen Aminadra
- Dunhaven Place (Heidi Ashworth)
- Stephanie Renee dos Santos
LATE EDIT: Today, on Feb 20, I am pleased to announce that Stephanie Renee dos Santos is the winner of the e-book give away, while the pb copy goes to Marianne K. I hope you’ll enjoy the read, ladies!