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The Merchant’s Dilemma

Author Carolyn Hughes brings medieval England to thrilling life

Today I’m happy to welcome British historical novelist Carolyn Hughes to the blog. Carolyn’s lifelong interest in medieval history inspired her to write The Meonbridge Chronicles, an immersive series set in 14th century England. Her captivating new novel, The Merchant’s Dilemma, is the tale of Bea Ward, a 14th century woman who returns to her hometown of Meonbridge after a traumatic period of exile—only to discover that the love of her life, the merchant Riccardo Marchaunt, has married another woman.

Read on for more details about the story, along with a fabulous excerpt.

The Merchant’s Dilemma

1362. 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

The door to the chamber opened and then closed softly.

‘Mistress Collyton?’ said a man’s voice, very low but loud enough for Bea to know exactly whose it was. ‘Is she still asleep?’

Bea heard the old woman huff, perhaps as she started awake, then the scrape of the chair.

‘No, no,’ said Riccardo, gently, ‘there is no need to stand.’

‘Thank you, sir,’ said Mistress Collyton. ‘She comes and goes, I think, but never awake long enough for me to speak to her.’

‘It has been so many days. I wonder if she will ever fully wake? How much I wish to look into my sweet Bea’s eyes and hear her laugh.’

Bea’s heart fluttered. “Sweet Bea”? Was that truly what he said? If so, where was his wife? Surely, he’d not refer to her as his sweet if he had a wife? Well, not in his servant’s hearing…

‘It may be yet a while afore she laughs, sir,’ said Mistress Collyton, ‘even when she do come back to us.’

‘Just seeing her eyes open would do for now, when I thought I would never see my lovely girl again.’

‘Indeed, sir.’ Bea heard the old woman grunt a little and the creaking of the chair. ‘Will you stay wi’ her a moment whilst I fetch her gruel?’ 

‘Glad to,’ he said. The door opened and shut again, then he came over to the bed. He sat down upon it and leaned forward to touch the edge of the bedding covering most of Bea’s face.

Her heart thudded. She had only a moment to decide: was she still asleep, or should she greet the man she loved? And who still, it seemed, loved her.

As the coverlet and sheet were drawn gently back, she let her eyes flick open.

Riccardo gasped, and jerked upright. ‘You are awake.’

She smiled.

‘How do you feel?’

‘Comfortable,’ she murmured.

‘And rested? Stronger?’ His eyes were bright but also brimming with anxiety.

Her shoulders twitched in a little shrug. ‘I still hurt all over, and my head is giddy. I doubt I’d be able to walk far, but maybe I could get up before too long?’

Riccardo’s eyes crinkled. ‘Oh, Bea, I am so pleased to hear it. Of course, I am sorry you are still in pain but, with continued rest and care from Mistress Collyton, God will soon surely grant you a full recovery.’

‘Thank you for taking me in,’ she whispered.

He leaned forward again and stroked her cheek lightly with his fingers. ‘Surely you knew I would. That was why you came.’

‘I hoped you might, or that, if I died, you’d take care of my poor corpse.’

‘Thank God that was not asked of me.’ He held his hand lightly against her cheek. ‘Many weeks and months may still lie ahead of us before you are fully well, but we shall succeed.’ 

Tears were hovering in his eyes. ‘You must know, darling girl, how very relieved I am you have come back to me.’

She could scarce believe what he was saying. Of course, she’d hoped he’d not abandon her in her frailty. That he’d take her in; maybe even help her to recover. But what he was saying now was much more than that. It sounded as if he was expecting her to stay here, in this house – for months, maybe. And he was saying that he loved her.

‘I can see it in your eyes. How glad I am that dreadful storm drove me to your door.’ She bit her lip. ‘But I have to ask, Riccardo, where is your wife?’

A shadow passed across his face. ‘Ah, of course, you do not know. How could you? Poor Katherine died, as did our little Oliver.’

‘Oh, Riccardo, I’m so sorry––’

He held up his hand. ‘The loss of my little boy was awful.’ He looked up, his eyes moist. ‘He was perfect, you know. But Katherine struggled in the birthing of him, and the midwife said it had simply taken much too long. How I railed at the cruelty of his death…’

‘And your wife?’

He shrugged. ‘Of course, I would never have wished her dead but, in truth, Katherine was not much of a wife to me.’ He spoke it quietly. ‘I regret to say I do not miss her…’ He hung his head.

‘When was this?’ she whispered.

‘September. Not so long ago.’

‘When I came here,’ she said, ‘and found you gone, I remember thinking maybe you’d taken your wife and child out for a visit and had been caught out by the weather, unable to return. I thought I’d likely die here on your doorstep before you reached home again.’

‘In truth, Bea, I was pacing the streets of Winchester, searching for you.’ He gave her a wry grin. ‘You see, I thought I had seen you some weeks before, although the girl I saw then had looked frail and wretched. Then, that night, I was out of my wits with worry that it was you I saw, and you might be out in all that terrible wind and rain, unable to find shelter… Well, I just had to go out and look for you. I searched for hours, and was distraught when I was forced to return home without you. But then there you were, lying on my doorstep…’ He swallowed. ‘At first, I thought that I had come too late. That you were already dead. When I found you were still living, oh, Bea, you cannot imagine how thankful and relieved I was.’

His face lit up again, and her heart turned over. She surely didn’t deserve his love, yet how grateful she was to have it. 

Where to buy the book:

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About the author:

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.

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  1. Cathie Dunn says:

    Thanks so much for hosting Carolyn Hughes on your lovely blog today.

    Cathie xo
    The Coffee Pot Book Club

    1. Amy Maroney says:

      It was a pleasure!

  2. Carolyn Hughes says:

    Thank you so much for giving The Merchant’s Dilemma a boost this week. I really do appreciate your support! And I very much like the photo you have chosen to illustrate the post 🙂

    1. Amy Maroney says:

      You’re very welcome, Carolyn! I like that photo, too.

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