Did you ever wonder how King Richard Coeur de Lion came to be released from captivity? England, helped by Robin Hood, gathered a heap of gold, and paid the ransom, right? Not according to Night Fires, a book that provides the creative suggestion that the solution was not a purely monetary one.
Queen Eleanor has granted Raimond de Bauzan land and a noble bride, Lady Alyce, in payment for his loyalty to the Plantagenet family. In return, he is expected to retrieve a treasure the Queen placed in Alyce’s mother’s keeping decades ago. On reaching Cornwall, Raimond finds the skittish Lady Alyce on his rather run-down estates. She initially resists marrying him, then capitulates, for good reasons.
While Alyce knows about the treasure, she doesn’t think the tiny casket she keeps hidden could possibly contain enough gold to free the king.
Alyce has a hard time trusting men in general, and nosy outsiders in particular. She has had to make do with very little for a long time, and has substantial reasons for her distrust. Raimond, who comes from a close and loving family, does his best, but he is a former warrior and crusader who wants nothing more than peace and quiet. A plain wife he anticipated; a troubled one was more than he counted on. It takes time and effort for Raimond and Alyce to grow closer and learn to trust each other, and their mutual brushes with violence impedes the process.
There are two mysteries in this read: the Queen’s treasure, and Alyce’s secrets. While the treasure remained a mystery to the very end, the cause of events became rather predestined once Raimond dug out the well at Marston Keep. My appreciation of a read always suffers when I spend most of the time anticipating the events of the next chapter – and I find am almost always right!
The setting is medieval but very lightly so. More efforts seem to have gone into making the political maneuvering of the time comprehensible, and the everyday details suffer as a consequence. It felt like the characters acted against a blurred backdrop of a medieval setting. However, praise to Ms. Cook for having the locals speak Cornish.
Night Fires is a nice little read, but would have been even better with Alyce’s secret either intensified or dropped altogether. A little more local color wouldn’t have been out of place, either. Even so, it was an acceptable read to while away an evening.