The wonderful Louisa Cornell’s novel, Between Duty and the Devil’s Desires, is based on the legend of Tristan and Iseult. Those who know the legend usually associate it with Wagner’s opera, but the legend is not a German story. The heartbreaking tale made popular in the 12th century was derived from a Celtic legend. There is even a Drustanus Stone in Cornwall with an engraving referring to Drustan, the archetype for Tristan. The story appears in the Welsh triads and in the Mabinogion—11th century compendiums of early Welsh legends and poetry. It is believed the fatal love triangle between King Arthur, Queen Guinevere, and Sir Lancelot is based on these legends.
After defeating the Irish knight Morholt, Tristan travels to Ireland to bring back the fair Iseult for his uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, to marry. Along the way, Tristan and Iseult accidentally ingest a love potion and fall in love with each other. (In some versions no love potion is needed, they simply fall in love.) Upon arrival at his uncle’s castle, Tristan is honor-bound to leave his beloved Iseult so she may marry the king. In some versions, King Mark discovers their betrayal and, in a violent rage, mortally wounds Tristan. In other versions, Tristan sails away and eventually marries another woman, even as he continues to love Iseult. Whilst saving a young damsel from six knights, Tristan is struck with a poison lance. He asks his squire to send for Iseult, who is known far and wide for her healing powers. He tells the squire to sail back flying white sails if Iseult has agreed to come to his aid, but to fly black sails should she refuse. As Tristan lays dying, his jealous wife tells him the sails on the horizon are black. Heartbroken, Tristan dies. When Iseult arrives and finds him dead, she drinks poison to join him in eternity.
Louisa flips her story a bit. Here’s the blurb and a tease of an excerpt.
A determined governess, a reluctant bridegroom, and a winter’s journey from London to Cheshire…
Reputed to be the most exacting governess in England, Miss Elegy Perkins has cared for Lady Margaret, the spoiled daughter of the Marquess of Braemar, for twelve interminable years. Then she receives a life-changing offer that would bring her a prize of 5000 pounds and the chance at financial freedom. All she must do is find and escort Lady Margaret’s reluctant bridegroom to his wedding. A simple enough task, until she meets the bridegroom in question.
Major Lord Devlin St. George has very little control of his life. For the past sixteen months he has done his utmost to avoid contracts, signed when he was a child, to leg-shackle him to the daughter of a wealthy marquess. Evading the efforts of his betrothed’s brothers to drag him to the altar, Devlin has successfully missed three wedding dates so far. The only thing that stands between him and missing a fourth is a pistol-wielding, strait-laced governess. A lady who is far more woman than she dares reveal.
Hair black and silky as a starless night hung well past his shoulders. With an equally dark beard and mustache and eyes the clear blue of sapphires, even if a bit blurred and bloodshot, Lord Hadley resembled nothing so much as a pirate or, if she were kinder, the subject of a Renaissance painting. Elegy drew herself up and squared her shoulders. She had no time for silly feminine frailty. Especially not where this man was concerned. She had a task to perform.
“I find I hear better when wearing drawers,” the gentleman said with a sly grin. He leaned back onto the bed and propped himself on his elbows. “If you’re not wearing any perhaps you should borrow mine.”
“Borrow… What on earth are you— I most certainly do not wear drawers.” What had possibly possessed her to give him that piece of information?
“Ah! Well then feel free to don mine if it will help you to hear and answer my question.”
“Don yours? Lord Hadley, I assure you, I have no interest in your drawers or your questions,” Elegy declared. Earl or not, the man was the outside of enough.
“Then why are you clutching them to your bosom like a spinster’s last prayers?”
She glanced down at the item in her hands. And promptly tossed it towards the bed, where it landed on the threadbare rug at his feet.
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Louisa Cornell is a retired opera singer who lives in the wilds of LA (Lower Alabama). She shares her home with a chihuahua so disagreeable he has been banned from vet clinics in two counties. She also has a cat who thinks she is a Great Dane, who terminates vermin with extreme prejudice, in addition to several very nice relatively normal dogs.
When she is not lounging about living the high life of an author, she can found at these places on the web: