Friday, May 29, 2015

A Destrier's Tale: Part V -- The Ethiopian

A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part V: The Ethiopian

I had landed in the hands of a horse trader. That meant we travelled from market-town to market-town, always staying at the worst inns and taverns, and anyone who wanted was allowed to ride me. I didn’t want anyone to ride me. I’d had enough. So when they tried, I reared and backed up and made a terrible fuss. Of course, the horse trader beat me for that. At first I fought back, but then he denied me food and water. I capitulated.

It was summer, and the heat was terrible during most of the day. The sun burned right through my hair and if we had to travel any distance I was soon drenched in sweat. I had lost all interest in my surroundings by now and remember nothing of what happened before he found me except I was standing in the middle of a cobbled market place with people milling about looking at us as usual. Some stupid boy was even throwing things and hooting to make me and the other horses shy. One of his missiles hit me on the haunch and I lashed out with my hind hooves, more in irritation than fear. I hated all humans!

A voice cut through the usual mutter of humans and a silence fell. The boy started to dart away, obviously frightened, and another human caught him by the arm and dragged him forward, shoving the now reluctant boy at a tall, elegant man with black skin.  There had been men with black skin among the Horse-Haters, so I tried to back away from him a bit, but he wasn’t dressed like a Horse-Hater. He wore a long, gently flowing surcoat that ended mid-calf and a leather belt, but no sash or turban. He also had a large cross made of metal hanging around his throat. After lecturing to the boy in a stern voice, he turned and approached me.

I tried to back away warily, but I was tied so when I got to the end of my rope all I could do was lean back on my haunches with my head raised as high as possible. He started muttering to me and reached out his hand. I was trembling all over for fear of a blow, but he started stroking me with the palm of his hand. Just stroking me. He didn’t pinch or poke or pull my lips apart. He just stroked me gently and talked to me in a low voice.

The horse trader came over and started to sing my praises. I was a great destrier. I’d been owned by great knight. Unfortunately, he lied, my knight had been killed at “Montgisard” — wherever that was supposed to be. Yes, yes, I’d lost a shoe in the battle, he said, and the tear wasn’t completely healed, but I wasn’t lame any more. To prove this, he took my lead and started trotting me up and down on the cobbles. The crowd was strangely still and everyone seemed to be watching.

After a bit, the black man signaled for him to bring me back, and he started stroking me again. Everything was fine, until he reached up toward my face. It’s stupid. I really knew at some level that he didn’t want to hurt me, but I was tied and those beatings by the Black Knight were still so vivid in my memory. I reacted instinctively, screaming and throwing my head back so violently that I found myself scrambling to get my feet back under me. Then one of my hind feet slipped completely out from under me and I landed on my haunches. By now the horse trader was shouting at me, and yanking on the lead to try to get me to stand up again. The black man shook his head and walked away.

That was the worst moment of my life. Worse than all the humiliations and the pain that had gone before because I had started to hope that this gentle man would buy me and take me away the hell I was in. But now, because of my own stupid reaction, he was disgusted with me and turned his back on me.

The trader saw it the same way and was furious with me. He hissed insults at me and slapped me a few times. Then he led me back to the stinking livery stable and shoved me into the stall, snarling. “No food or water for that behavior!”

I told myself I didn’t care, but it was so hot and soon I was so thirsty I was desperate. I whinnied and tried to tell the horse trader I was sorry. I begged him to give me just a drop to drink. OK, I’d go without food, but I needed the water. I was so distraught after a couple of hours, I pawing at the filthy straw and rocking back and forth, but, of course, I was tied in the standing stall so tightly I couldn’t turn my head.

I didn’t know what was happening until a hand touched my haunches and that lovely, soft voice was there beside me. I tried to turn my head, rolling my eyes as far back as possible, but I was tied too short. But it really was him, and he had a bucket full of cool, clean water. He loosened the tie, and I plunged my head down into that water and drank the bucket dry. Yet even as I was drinking he stroked my withers and talked to me in his own tongue.

When I’d finished drinking, I lifted my head and we looked at one another. He said clearly and distinctly, “I’m not going to hurt you, but you have to let me find out your age and injuries.”

I looked at him skeptically.

“I want to buy you for my lord, but he will want to know more about you.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. What if his lord was like the Black Knight? After all, the Black Knight’s squire hadn’t been so bad. Maybe things could get worse than this?

“Lord Balian is the best horseman I’ve ever seen. He taught the King to ride, even though he can’t use his hands. You have no reason to fear Lord Balian.”

I continued to look at him.

He started stroking my back, massaging it really. It felt so good I sighed unconsciously and he smiled at me. He worked his way down my spine, not pinching it like the horse trader did, just massaging it with his long, strong fingers. Eventually, he ran his fingers down the back of my legs too, and then he came back and faced me.

We looked at one another, and he slipped his hand under his surcoat and brought out a carrot. I wanted that carrot and I reached out my head a little to show him I wanted it, but then drew back afraid of him grabbing my head or hitting me. He held out the carrot to me on the palm of his hand and let me eat it unmolested. Then we looked at each other again. He brought out a second carrot. After the third one I let him touch my face and lift my lips to judge my age. He even slipped his fingers between my back and front teeth and tested now sensitive my jaw nerves were. But he did it very gently and respectfully.

When he was finished, he picked up the bucket, patted me on the withers and promised. “I’ll be back.”

That was the longest night of my life. The trader brought me no feed or water, but since I’d had that bucket and it was now cooler, I got through the night. In the morning, the trader came with water and food. Grumbling at me not to “muck up again,” he led me out to the market square. I looked everywhere for the black man. But he wasn’t there. The hours crawled by. The sun rose up the sky, getting hotter and hotter. The crowds of people came and went. My hope started to die. I let me head drop more and more.

The trader started toward me and he was smiling broadly. He had a halter in his hand and he fastened it around my neck before taking the halter holding me to the railing off. It was only when he started to lead me away in the new halter that I saw him. The black man was standing there smiling at me. He took the lead from the trader and led me away.

The protagonist of this story is also a character in my three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin, starting with:

A landless knight,
                       a leper king,                                                                                          and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Knight of Jerusalem: A Biographical Novel of Balian d'Ibelin, Book I, is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree and finalist for the 2014 Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction.

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Destrier's Tale: Part IV -- The Price of Freedom

A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part IV: The Price of Freedom

First I ran away from the Horse Haters. Then I ran from the sights, sound and smell of that slaughter house. Then I ran from my guilty conscience because I had left the Black Knight behind amidst all those evil men. Part of me said I ought to go back and find him, but I was afraid to go back. I knew he’d be so angry with him for “throwing him” (although I hadn’t; he’d fallen off) that he would beat me. He would tie me up and beat me with his belt again, but this time his father wouldn’t be there to stop him. I convinced myself that if I went back, he might beat me around the face until I went blind.  I just couldn’t face that. So I kept wandering, grazing on grass, bushes and leaves — trying everything and reveling in the variety.

Then the sun went down and the rain started, so I took shelter in a copse of trees. I was feeling pretty bad by now. All the bruises inflicted by the Black Knight were hurting, as were the cuts in my side caused by his spurs. Added to those injuries were scrapes on my fetlocks and hocks from going down the hill so fast, and I had bleeding nicks on my shoulders and thighs and even my belly. Nothing life threatening, but they stung nevertheless. Worst, of course, was that I still had the bridle and saddle on and no one to remove them. I tried to rub the bridle off on a branch of the tree and eventually succeeded, but I just couldn’t get rid of that saddle. I finally had to lie down with it still on and snatch a few hours’ sleep.

I woke terribly stiff in the morning. Everything ached, and I was thirsty too. I left the grove of trees and drank water collecting in puddles in a fallow field. A human came out of his cottage and shouted at me, however, so I ran away again. 

That pattern repeated itself for another day or two. I just kept moving, grazing and drinking wherever I was, but kept well away from humans. At some point the saddle slipped clean around so that it was hanging under my belly, and try as I might I couldn’t kick it free. I started to fantasize about finding my way back home to Andy, but I didn’t even know which direction to go. I was completely lost.

One evening I was attacked by dogs. It wouldn’t have been so bad if that saddle hadn’t been hanging under my belly, but as it was it was hard to buck or run away. I did eventually get away from them, but it shook me up. Next time, I thought, the dogs might be more vicious. I’ve seen dogs tear wild pigs apart. With their teeth, they would make mince-meat of me too.

And then one of my shoes came loose. It was terrible because it didn’t come clean off, just loose so the nails were working against the side of my hoof. I finally tore it off, but that hurt terribly and split my hoof too. After that, I could only limp.

By then rain was getting to me too. It was cold and I was completely covered with mud. In fact, things were so bad, I was beginning to remember the Black Knight’s horrible stables with affection. At least I had been dry there, and the Black Knight’s squire would have curried away the caked mud and then brushed off the dried dirt. He would have combed out my tail and mane too, both of which were now full of burrs and thorns. The Black Knight, even if he was mad at me, would have called a farrier to file my hoof down so it could start to heal.

When the first sleet storm came, I gave up and turned myself in. I walked to a farmhouse and just stood in the stinking farmyard until some humans came out. They didn’t seem to know what to do with me, at first. They walked around me, looking and pointing, and talking among themselves. Eventually, however, one of them went and got an old rope halter, and came toward me slowly holding it in front of him. I nickered at him to say “get it over with,” but he seemed afraid of me for some reason. Eventually, however, he put it over my head, and one of his fellows finally cut the girth to free me of the broken saddle. They led me to a shed where there were no horses, just an old mule (who made rude remarks about the way I looked) and left me there with a flake of hay.

These humans were obviously not used to horses. They brushed off the worst of the dirt and mud, but they didn’t even pick up my hooves, much less put oil on them to help my hoof heal. The hay was terrible too. I told myself I was lucky to be out of the sleet, but that shed was so shabby that the wind blew through the cracks and it was bitterly cold. The mule kept muttering about “think you’re something special don’t you!” Or “well, now you see how work animals live!”

Eventually, the humans brought a stranger who did know a thing or two about horses. He walked around me, pulled my lips apart to inspect my teeth, ran his hand down the back of my legs, inspected my hooves, pressing his thumb to my frog and made clucking noises as he saw the tear. He squeezed his strong fingers along my spine, scratched away the scabs left by the Black Knight’s spurs, and then stood back and stood with his hands on his hips considering me critically. I felt ashamed knowing how terrible I must look and remembering that once I had been the pride of a fine stud. The man talked to the humans who had taken me, then slipped a good, leather halter over my head and led me away.

He took me to a town and a stables crammed in a back courtyard; the kind of place even the Black Knight scorned. It stank and the stalls were narrow, and the other horses were all broken down nags. I can’t tell you why exactly, but I knew I had landed somewhere truly evil. Just when you think things can’t get worse, they do.

The Battle of Montgisard and its aftermath (described above by the grey destrier) is a major episode in Book I of my three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin. Buy now!

A landless knight,

                     a leper king,

                                 and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Book I of the three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree and finalist for the 2014 Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction.  Buy now on amazon or barnes and noble

Coming soon!

A divided kingdom,
                       a united enemy,                                                                               and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Defender of JerusalemA Biographical Novel of Balian d'IbelinBook II

Watch for it on and Barnes and Noble.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Destrier's Tale: Part III -- Slaughter House

A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part III: Slaughter House

The third time the rains came after the Black Knight had taken me away from home, a catastrophe struck. In that dusty manor, I had come to rejoice at the coming of the rains. They made grass sprout between the cobbles of the enclosure and along the side of the road. I could sometimes snatch something fresh and green if I was quick about it. But this year, smoke came with the rains. We were woken up in the middle of the night by the smell of it, and we whinnied and cried out to the humans, trying to warn them. The next thing I knew, the Black Knight was shouting at everyone and I was dragged from my stall although it was the middle of the night. The Black Knight’s other horse, Red, was hauled out too and saddled, while the Black Knight’s squire took two of the other horses, one for himself and the other he loaded with the Black Knight’s equipment. By the time the sun came up the four of us were on the road.

The wind was coming out of the south and laden with smoke. You could see it smudging the horizon, and humans were fleeing before it — whole families herding their animals and carrying their children. As we rode, other knights and their squires joined us until we were a little band of twenty or so. It was invigorating to find myself among horses that were well-groomed and sleek, beside stallions who pranced and arched their necks in pride. It reminded me of what I had once been, and I lifted my head a little.

We rode to a castle. It was the first castle I had ever seen up close, and I found it very intimidating. All of us crammed together to ride up a steep, winding road and then pass through a narrow gate. I was frightened and wanted to bolt, but there were so many of us there was no place to go, and the other horses were clearly content. Inside, there was a cobbled courtyard with a well and deep troughs, where we all got a chance to drink while the squires unsaddled the riding horses. We were housed that night is enormous stone stables. Although they were dark and crowded, you could see that they would have been pleasant under normal circumstances. They had sweet, moist hay too, and some oats with molasses pellets; the best meal I’d ever had at that point in my life.

The following day when we set off we were more than fifty knights. With destriers, squires, and pack-horses that made a good two hundred horses. The man leading wore armor so beautiful it fit him like the skin of a snake and it gleamed whenever the sun broke through the clouds. His surcoat was brightly colored and fluttered in the breeze. All the other knights were very deferential toward him, so he was clearly the leader among the humans. His palfrey was young and cocky, all swagger and nervous energy, but his destrier was going grey at the muzzle and he exuded calm confidence. I would have like to ride closer to him and learn more about his rider, but the Black Knight was relegated to the back of the long column. I got the feeling that none of the other humans took him very seriously.

In the course of the day we crossed barren countryside, good only for grazing goats, and then descended by a steep road beside a gorge onto a fertile plain. It was richer than the countryside around my home. The harvest had been taken in, of course, but the tilled fields stretched as far as the eye could see, dotted with peaceful villages, each clustered around a church and manor. Wherever there was a low hillock, there were vineyards or olive orchards.

We spent the second night at a castle nestled in a valley and surrounded by orchards. The stables were too small for all of us, so most of us were turned loose in a pasture for the night and could move freely and graze on that wonderful grass. Although it was drizzling and some of the horses complained about the lack of shelter, I couldn’t get enough of that grass. Some of the older horses warned me I could get a colic if I didn’t show more restraint, but they didn’t understand what it was like to go without fresh grass for more than two years.

The following day about noon we joined the largest host of horses I had ever seen. It was as if all the horses in the whole world were collected there. They were tethered or hobbled in a massive herd, while the humans milled about on foot or collected around cooking fires.

The Black Knight hobbled me and Red and just left us with the other horses. The mood was bad. Many of the horses were matted with sweat and dirt, and clearly hadn’t been groomed in days. Many complained of hunger too. Some horses had even lost shoes or been injured and yet no one was looking after them. Many of the horses were nervous, and the worst of it was that it was the older, experienced horses that were most unsettled. They kept lifting their heads and sniffing the air anxiously. “The Horse Haters” someone muttered in my ear. When I looked at him blankly he shook his head as if at the flies and snorted into the grass. “Stupid green horn.”

A band of men all wearing white or black surcoats with red crosses on them galloped up. One of the veterans whinnied at them: “Horse Haters?” Several horses from the returning troop confirmed. “Horse Haters! Thousands of them!” Now the alarm grew worse than ever, while the humans too were crowding together in a big knot, trying to hear what the leader of the red-crosses said. Before long, the humans started cheering — except for the red-crosses, who dismounted from their horses, knelt on the dirt and muttered together.

Meanwhile, the knights and squires came running towards us, including the Black Knight. Even before he pointed at me, I guessed what would happen. While he rode Red for travelling, he rode me for jousting, and he was carrying his helmet. With so many other knights around, all fastening their aventails and hauling their helmets on, there was clearly going to be some sort of huge joust. I was thoroughly frightened by now. First there were thousands of “Horse Haters” around, and now I was going to have to carry the Black Knight in a joust that might involve all these other horses. I was sure something would go wrong, and he would blame me for it. It didn’t help that he looked as agitated and nervous as I felt. He started jerking down on the reins to make me stand still, bruising my jaws terribly. Then he flung himself into the saddle and hauled me around like I was made of wood and felt nothing. His squire handed him a lance and the next thing I knew we were squeezed in among hundreds of other knights and horses, all jostling against one another as we trotted forward.

We trotted together for at least an hour, then halted. One of the stallions nudged me to point out that among all those stallions there was one castrate. He was a beautiful grey, rather like me, but they’d put the knife to him. I shuddered at the thought.  His rider, however, was a beautiful youth with bright yellow hair and his helmet was encircled with a gold ring adorned with crosses. His surcoat was very dusty, but you could see that it was embroidered with gold crosses as well and all the other humans bowed their heads or even went down on their knees when they approached him.

“The King,” the stallion muttered.
“On a castrate?” I couldn’t believe it.
“He’s a leper," he answered, but I didn't know what that meant.

Eventually the command came to form up into squadrons. The odd thing was we were still all facing the same direction, a rise ahead of us. The red-crosses moved in front of us, and the King was in the center of the squadron behind us. The Black Knight took up his position on the right flank of the largest squadron. There must have been 250 of us in that single block.

We trotted forward in the dust left by the red-crosses, crested the hill and suddenly I saw what the others had been talking about: the valley beside a narrow stream was crawling with thousands and thousands of men and horses — more than anyone could ever count. These humans were dressed differently from any human I had ever seen before. They wore cloths wrapped around their heads and their surcoats had long sleeves but short skirts that revealed boots. Most of the men were dismounted, and the horses were tethered or hobbled. There were camels too, and big, bright, billowing tents flying long thin banners. They looked like they had just settled down for an evening meal as big cauldrons were steaming over fires. Everyone was peacefully going about his business as I’d seen often, either before or after jousts. I thought we would now join them and joust tomorrow.

But the men around us started shouting, and the Black Knight gouged his spurs into my ribs without any warning. I sprang forward, despite being on the downward slope, and soon we were plunging downwards so fast we couldn’t have stopped ourselves even if we tried. I still didn’t understand what was going on because the men in the valley obviously weren’t ready for a joust, but then something much worse happened: they started firing long, sharp, pointed sticks at us. I latter learned they were called arrows. The arrows came with such force that they pierced clear through skin and muscle. All around me, horses were screaming in pain. Some, struck in some vital place, collapsed completely and their bodies rolled down the slope, knocking others down and crushing their riders. Blood was gushing and spurting from the wounds of those around me. I wanted to turn and run the other way, but I was in the middle of that mass of horseflesh and the Black Knight hauled so hard on the reins to keep me from swerving that I thought my jaw would break. Then he kicked me forward, drawing blood with his spurs.

As we crashed down the hill, the Black Knight was hammering my back with each stride as he was thrown out of the saddle and fell back on it. With his hands he was jerking me this way and that making it hard for me to find my footing. We splashed through the river at the foot of the hill, the arrows still raining down on us, and broke in among the men who had been peacefully preparing to camp there but were now firing arrows at us.

When we closed with them making their arrows worthless, I thought they would run away, but instead they attacked us with swords and knives, with maces and axes and spears. They tried to trip us with their spears, and sliced at our chests with their swords as we neared them or jabbed at our bellies with daggers if we rode past them. Our humans tried to protect us. From our backs they used first their lances and then their swords to kill the Horse Haters. Even the Black Knight was doing his part. It was the first time I’d ever felt any kindness toward him.

Meanwhile, some of the Horse Haters had mounted on slave-horses and came charging toward us. At the time I was outraged that fellow horses would help humans so intent on slaughtering us, but latter I came to realize they were slaves and had no choice — any more than I had a choice of not doing what the Black Knight wanted.

I was using my front hooves to trample down the men trying to kill me with their swords when suddenly we were attacked from the side by some mounted Horse Haters. I heard the Black Knight grunt and then his weight shifted abruptly to the right. The next thing I knew, he fell sideways so far that he nearly tore the saddle off my back. He'd let go of the reins too, so I sprang forward and felt him thump against my thigh. That terrified me into a new leap forward. Suddenly his weight was completely gone. Without him to protect me, however, the only chance of survival I had was in flight. I didn’t have time to think of anything else. In sheer panic I burst through the men attacking me, trampling down anything in my way, and I galloped away from the carnage with all the strength in my heart and body.

The Battle of Montgisard (described above by the grey destrier) is a major episode in Book I of my three-part biography of Balian d'Ibelin. Buy now!

A landless knight,

                     a leper king,

                                 and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Book I of the three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree and finalist for the 2014 Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction.  Buy now on amazon or barnes and noble

Coming soon!

A divided kingdom,
                       a united enemy,                                                                               and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Defender of JerusalemA Biographical Novel of Balian d'IbelinBook II

Watch for it on and Barnes and Noble.

Friday, May 8, 2015

A Destrier's Tale: Part II -- The Black Knight

A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part II: The Black Knight

After leaving the stables where I was born and backed, I don’t like remembering what happened next.

First, we travelled for two whole days leaving behind the fertile valley of my childhood and entering hilly country that was quite barren though not yet desert. Of course, at the time I had never seen a desert, so it was the driest place I had ever seen. When the wind blew it was hot rather than cool and laden with dust particles that settled everywhere — in my ears and nostrils and on my tongue as well. The flies were terrible to.

Eventually, we came to a small, dusty and rather shabby village. There was a well in the village and all the children and women gathered around it and watched as I was led into the enclosure beside the biggest and only stone building in village.  It was a two-storied, rectangular structure with a flat roof that abutted a single story building which by the smells coming from it housed the kitchens and bake-oven. The building had only very narrow windows on the second story facing the street, but larger windows and doors opening onto the enclosure. Soon people flooded out to greet the man who had taken me away from home. There was an old man and several women and the old man came over and walked around me very critically, but then he nodded and clapped the man who’d brought me on his back approvingly. It seemed that he was the father of the man who had taken me from home and he was always addressed as “Sir Robert.” He called the man who had brought me there “my boy” or “Tom” but the others called him “Sir Thomas,” so I gathered that Sir Robert was Sir Thomas' father.

I guess I should say something about Sir Thomas. He was not very old, hardly more than a colt, and he had dark hair and a black mustache. He had long limbs and a long neck, for a human, too. There was nothing about the look of him that warned me he was a bad human, but I soon learned differently. In my mind, I never thought of him as “Sir Thomas,” just as the Black Knight.

That first night I was taken into the stables of the manor and discovered just how lucky I had been up to then. This place was cramped, dark and dirty. They tied each horse in place — literally tied the lead to the feed box, so you couldn’t turn around or lie down at night. Not that the stalls were wide enough to lie down anyway. There were high wooden walls between the stalls so we could not see much less nuzzle our neighbors. You just had to stand there day in and day out in your own shit, hoping they wouldn’t forget to feed and water you.

The grooms were lazy and unfriendly too. They tried to get away with doing as little work as possible, which is why our stalls were always so dirty. They treated us like we were all idiots, who had to be slapped about to be made to do anything. To be fair, of the six of us there, three were so old and broken they didn’t have the energy to respond to anything less than prodding. It was terrible to see them, actually, their legs were deformed with bone and bog spavins and one had two bowed tendons. The only mare was so old that all she could do was doze, while the only half-way young and healthy horse was the one that Sir Thomas had been riding when he came and took me away. We’d become friendly on the journey, of course, and he’d warned me things weren’t good where we were going, only I hadn’t been able to imagine anything like this because I’d never seen anything like it before. But bad as things were in that cramped, dark, filthy stable, I came to long for it because the alternative was being ridden by Sir Thomas.

I don’t understand why, but the Black Knight never mastered the art of keeping his seat in the saddle at a canter. Whenever I cantered he would be thrown up out of the saddle and then come bashing back down again -- every single stride. That’s not comfortable, and if it goes on long enough, it becomes downright painful. I can’t tell you how many times I came home with bruises on my back and then I had to stand all night in that terrible stall with no way to lie down or get comfortable so that my muscles sometimes cramped terribly and the pain was even worse the next morning. Worse, his inability to sit properly made him unsteady in the saddle. That was bad enough for normal riding, but it meant he was terrible at jousting.

The jousting started only weeks after I arrived and I’d never done it before so my first reaction when I saw another horse charging straight at me with this long sharp object aimed at my eye was to jump sideways out of the way. Unfortunately, the Black Knight landed in the sand as a result and I got beaten. I mean really beaten. He captured me and tied me up in the corner of the enclosure then laid into me with his belt until his father came out and stopped him. By then I was covered with welts and was bleeding from scraping my hocks and knees against the stone wall as I tried to get away from the lashes.

After that I didn’t dare side-step but half the time he still fell off, and half the time he blamed me even if it hadn’t been my fault. When he was particularly angry, he tied my lead so short I couldn’t move my head at all and the whipped me in the face. I swear I would have been blinded if his father hadn’t caught him doing that once, and lit into him so badly that he stalked away and did not come near me for a week or so. His father untied me and washed the blood from my face, shaking his head in disapproval, but he still let his son ride me when he wanted to again.

That was my life for almost two years — living in filth alternated with terror of being ridden badly and then beaten for my rider’s incompetence. I soon lost all interest in life and just drifted from meal to meal and day to day, knowing I was going to end up like the other broken horses in that stables. I had no idea that things could get still worse.

The hero of "A Destrier's Tale" is a character in my biographical novel about Balian d'Ibelin (who is NOT "the Black Knight" of the above episode!)

A landless knight,

                     a leper king,

                                 and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Book I of the three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree and finalist for the 2014 Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction.  Buy now on amazon or barnes and noble

Coming soon!

A divided kingdom,
                       a united enemy,                                                                               and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Defender of JerusalemA Biographical Novel of Balian d'IbelinBook II

Watch for it on and Barnes and Noble.

Friday, May 1, 2015

A Destrier's Tale: Part I -- The Grey Colt

A Destrier’s Tale
Balian d’Ibelin’s Destrier “Centurion” Tells his Story
Part I: The Grey Colt

When I was little, I was just called “the grey colt.” That was because there weren’t any other grey colts at the stables. And, of course, being the only grey it was obvious who my father was. He was the tall, dark grey stallion that frightened half the grooms. They kept him in a special, reinforced stall and when he was let out, it was to go alone to a paddock with double fences. He took an interest in me though. Whenever he saw me following my mother out to the mare’s pasture, he would whinny and make a big fuss. He would run back and forth along the fence closest to us, shaking his head high and low, his tail raised. But my mother ignored him, of course. She had me to feed and look after. She was a lovely black mare with large, gentle eyes and I’m sure I was her favorite, although I had two older sisters and an older brother. She was very proud and protective of me, and wouldn’t let the other mares near me unless she was standing ready to bite them if they weren’t friendly. But they were always friendly and admiring, except for the snobby white mare who thought she was better than everyone anyway and always kept apart. The other mares all thought she got what she deserved when her foal was born brown and ugly.

There were lots of other colts and fillies to play with as I grew up. When we were weaned, we had a pasture to ourselves and we had a terrific time racing each other or just stampeding from one end of the pasture to the other. The pasture lay along the banks of a river, so we always had enough to drink, and on one side the pasture backed up against a sugar plantation. We tried all sorts of tricks to get at the sugar cane as it got ripe. One of my friends actually jumped the fence and got loose in the field, but he was chased out by the hoard of humans who looked after the sugar and was badly beaten when he was caught. I decided not to imitate him — though I’m sure I could have jumped the fence if I’d tried. After all, they brought us the left-over stocks after harvesting and as they harvested the fields successively, we had sugar cane half the year.

After the rains and cold had come three times, I was finally big and strong enough to be taken away from the stud and moved to the other side of the stables that was for the riding horses. There was one groom who took me in hand; the other humans called him Andronicus or “Andy” for short. He was small and slight with dark skin, black eyes and long, strong fingers. He cleaned me up, currying away the dirt and mud of the pasture, and combing out my tangled mane and tail very patiently. I loved it when he used the curry comb on my shoulders and thighs, it made the muscles fell good for hours afterwards, but it tickled when he cleaned my belly and I used to stamp at him irritably to let him know I didn’t like it. When the days got hot, he would lead me down to the river and let me walk all the way up to my belly in the brown waters. That was wonderfully cooling.

Later Andy stood by while I was fitted with my first set of shoes. I would have been frightened if Andy hadn’t been with me, patting my neck to re-assure me everything was going to be alright. It was hard to stand still for so long, especially on three legs, but the farrier was an elderly man, who knew his craft. He didn’t hurt me once, though I heard from some of the other horses that his son wasn’t as good and sometimes drove the nail too deep or at the wrong angle. But I was lucky and it was the master who did my shoes.

It took me a while to get used to the extra weight on my feet, but it was wonderful for walking on the stony path between the pastures. The shoes elevated me just enough so that almost none of the stones reached my frog and I could even gallop without getting any bruises. They were great in the mud too. We had one of those freak, early rains shortly after I was shod, and I remember stepping out cautiously only to discover I could trot and canter without any risk in my new shoes. They give you so much traction!

By then, of course, I had been lunged regularly, learning the commands for “halt, walk, trot, and canter,” so one day Andy went to the head groom and told him I was ready for backing. I knew this was coming because the other colts and fillies of my age cohort were all going through the same training and there were a handful, who were ahead of me. Still I was nervous, but Andy was with me and gentle as always. He started with a quilted saddle pad, which he laid across my back, and then he leaned over my back and bent his knees so his whole weight was on my back. I was surprised by how light he was. After that he added a saddle and made it fast under my belly. That was uncomfortable at first and I let him know it by flattening my ears and stamping. He wrapped a sheep-skin around the girth and then it didn’t feel so bad. After about a week of lunging with the saddle on, Andy called the head groom over and had him hold the off-stirrup while Andy mounted me. It didn’t like the wrenching feeling as the saddle was pulled to the left, but once Andy was in the saddle it was OK. The head groom led me around with Andy on my back and it was hardly any different from not having someone on my back.

After that, the training became more intense. After lunging me with Andy on my back for about a week, they fitted me with my first bridle. Except for the bit, it’s not that different from a halter, and the bit they used was thick and linked so it didn’t press down on my tongue. It wasn’t uncomfortable unless it was left in for too long, which Andy never did. Andy rarely rode more than an hour or two because he had three other colts he was looking after. As the weather worsened, however, the riding became more difficult. He made me ride in circles at both trot and canter, and then in serpentines. I had to learn my leads and to change them on command from the rider. I to learn lateral movements as well, crossing my legs as I moved in one direction or another and to move backwards too.

When I was really good in the ménage, Andy took me out of the stables for the first time in my life. I was so excited! And for good reason! We encountered so many strange things! Houses on wheels pulled by four or even six horses, and little boxes that people carried too! Then I had my first experience on paved streets and learned how shoes, that give traction on dirt, mud and gravel, slip and slide on polished stone. Oh, and I saw my first town with two storied buildings! People kept popping out of the windows frightening me to death. Not to mention that pack of dogs that came chasing out of a side street yapping like the devil was after them! Poor Andy had a hard time staying on my back as I jumped sideways to get away from first this and then that. When we returned home, I was drenched in sweat not from running hard but from being so scared, and Andy fell off my back in relief to have made it home without a broken bone.

The next time the head groom rode me. He was bigger and heavier than Andy and whenever I hesitated for any reason he urged me forward firmly. Even so, a loud noise suddenly erupted on my left, and I bolted to get away from whatever had caused it because obviously anything that made that kind of noise had to be dangerous and hostile! The head groom crashed down onto the street and that frightened me more, so I ran home as fast as I could. Andy wasn’t happy about that. He mounted and made me go back to town. We met the head groom on foot half-way there, and I had to carry both of them. People don’t like getting thrown!

Over the months that followed, however, I started to learn that most things aren’t threatening to horses. Even in the busy towns with lots of shops and houses, dogs, cats and children, we horses are bigger and stronger than most creatures and smarter than cattle and camels. The people in the houses might seem bigger at first because they are above you, but actually they have climbed up inside the houses (like cats climbing trees, I guess), and they’re really just as small as if they were on the ground. I learned that on the whole you can trust your rider to know if something is dangerous or not; if they stay calm, there’s probably no cause for alarm.

When the dry hot season started again, they started letting other people ride me. I don’t mean the other grooms. I wouldn’t have minded that so much, but these men were strangers. When they came, several of us from my age cohort would be taken out and trotted up and down. The strangers would point at one or another of us and then they got to ride us. They weren’t like the grooms. They would get on and then immediately want to canter or gallop, hauling us this way and that, jerking at our necks and mouths, and kicking us with their heels. Some of them even wore spurs and cut open our sides with their vicious kicks. And then they would go away again. It was horrible really. When one of my friends got angry and bucked one of these stupid riders off, he was cornered and lashed with whips. It took him weeks to recover. Another of my friends tried not moving at all when one rider had wrenched him around too much, but they beat him for that too.

I always tried to be good, no matter how bad these riders were, and that resulted in one of these riders deciding to keep me. I don’t know what he said to the head groom, but after a terrible ride with him pounding horribly on back as he threw me this way and that around the ring, he had them take the saddle and bridle off but attached a lead to my halter. He tied the lead to the back of the saddle of the horse he’d arrived on, and then turned and rode out of the stables. I had no choice but to follow, though I protested loudly, whinnying to Andy to come free me. I balked at the gate too, but Andy didn’t hear me or he didn’t care what was happening. Another groom whacked me on the buttocks to make me move forward and so I left the only home I had even known and entered hell.

The story of Centurion's master can be found here:

A landless knight,

                     a leper king,

                                 and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Book I of the three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin is a B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree and finalist for the 2014 Chaucer Award for Historical Fiction.  Buy now on amazon or barnes and noble

Coming soon!

A divided kingdom,
                       a united enemy,                                                                               and the struggle for Jerusalem!

Defender of JerusalemA Biographical Novel of Balian d'IbelinBook II

Watch for it on and Barnes and Noble.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Atrocities in Jerusalem -- through Arab eyes

Much has been made of the fact that the Christians took Jerusalem in 1099 by assault resulting in the slaughter of many (though by no means all) of the inhabitants. It is usual to contrast this with Salah ad-Din's more "civilized" agreement to let the inhabitants of Jerusalem buy their freedom.  

To put things in perspective, I'd like to share the following description written by Imad ad-Din, one of Salah ad-Din's intimates (his secretary and chancellor to be precise), of what happened after the surrender of Jerusalem in 1187.

Under the treaty, at the end of forty days whoever was unable to pay what he owed or refused to pay it was to become our slave by right and come into our possession.  The tax was ten dinars for each man, five for a woman and two for a boy or girl. Ibn Barzan (Balian d'Ibelin, son of Barisan) and the Patriarch and the Grand Masters of the Temple and the Hospital [sic. In fact, both Grand Masters had been slain and/or taken captive at before the surrender of Jerusalem; one presumes Imad ad-din means the senior officials of the respective orders in Jerusalem after the surrender in 1187] stood guarantee, and Ibn Barzan gave 30,000 dinar for the poor, fulfilling his word faithfully and without default.(1)

...There were more than 100,000 persons in the city, men, women and children. The gates were closed upon them all, and representatives appointed to make a census and demand the sum due. ... About 15,000 were unable to pay the tax, and slavery was their lot; there were about 7,000 men who had to accustom themselves to an unaccustomed humiliation, and whom slavery slip up and dispersed as their buyers scattered through the hills and valleys. Women and children together came to 8,000 and were quickly divided up among us, bringing a smile to Muslim faces at their lamentations. How many well-guarded women were profaned, how many queens were ruled, and nubile girls married, and noble women given away, and miserly women forced to yield themselves, and women who had been kept hidden stripped of their modesty, and serious women made ridiculous, and women kept in private now set in public, and free women occupied, and precious ones used for hard work and pretty things put to the test, and virgins dishonoured and proud women deflowered, and lovely women's red lips kissed and dark women prostrated, and untamed ones tamed, and happy ones made to weep! How many noblemen took them as concubines, how many ardent men blazed for one of them, and celibates were satisfied by them, and thirsty men sated by them, and turbulent men able to give vent to their passion. How many lovely women were the exclusive property of one man, how many great ladies were sold at low prices, and close ones set at a distance, and lofty ones abase, and savage ones captured, and those accustomed to thrones dragged down!

The length to which Imad ad-Din goes to describe the humiliations of the Christian women, and the stress he puts on their misery and Muslim joy and delight surely says all that needs to be said about Muslim attitudes to women.

These atrocities -- committed not in blood-lust after a successful assault on a city after three years of hard campaigning but in cold-blood after a comparatively easy victory -- are far more outrageous and repulse in my humble opinion.

The surrender of Jerusalem to Salah ad-Din in 1187 forms the climax of "Defender of Jerusalem," Book II in a three-part biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin. 

"Defender of Jerusalem" will be released in September, 2015.

Book I, "Knight of Jerusalem" is on sale now. Buy on amazon here!

                                                      Buy on Barnes and Noble here!

(1) No other action by Balian so exemplifies his chivalry and Christianity as this concern for the poor when Heraclius, the Patriarch, left Jerusalem with wagons loaded down with riches allegedly worth 200,000 dinar and so sufficient to buy the freedom of ALL who went into slavery. Balian did not have those resources, but he did want he could.

Friday, April 10, 2015

A New Novel about the Templars -- As They Really Were

Andrew Latham is the author of the recently released novel “Holy Lance.” Latham has built a great war-story similar in structure to “Saving Private Ryan” about a small band of men on a dangerous mission with a guide of uncertain trustworthiness and unexpected enemies in their own ranks. “Holy Lance” follows a single Templar troop on a fictional but completely plausible mission to try to recover from deep inside enemy-held territory a controversial relic found during the First Crusade, the “Holy Lance,” i.e the lance that pierced Christ’s side before the crucifixion. As I said in my review, Andrew Latham has with this comparatively short, action-packed book done the much-maligned Order of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem a worthy service by pulling them out of the realm of mystery and romance and putting back into a historical context and perspective.

Below is a brief interview with Andrew about Holy Lance.

Andrew, let’s start at the beginning. What inspired you to write this book?

Well to be honest, until about three years ago I never dreamed I’d write a work of historical fiction.  I’d always loved reading historical military adventures, but it simply never occurred to me that I might write one someday.  Scholarly books, yes – that’s what scholars do.  But a novel?  I have to confess that the thought never even crossed my mind.

All that changed, though, as I was nearing completion of my most recent non-fiction book Theorizing Medieval Geopolitics.  In preparation for writing that book, I’d been reading pretty widely about war and political violence in later medieval Europe and had just begun to get handle on the crusades.  Then one day I encountered the Templar knights.  Like most people, I thought I knew what these guys were all about: either odious religious fanatics or cynical secular thugs using religion to camouflage their all-too-worldly motives.  Like most people, though, I was wrong.  Turns out, there was much more to these warrior-monks than I had initially thought or than is commonly supposed.  The more I read, the more I became fascinated by these “new knights”, the Templars in particular – not by the caricature of them that is so prevalent in contemporary popular culture, but by the historical reality of them.

Being a scholar by both training and inclination, my first thought was to make sense of this weird phenomenon by writing a non-fiction book on the topic.  The more I thought about what I wanted to achieve, however, the more it seemed that non-fiction would not be the best tool.  I was interested in the Templars, not because of their supposed secrets or mysteries, or their fabulous wealth and influence, or even their marital exploits, but because of what they were: warrior-monks.  Think about it for a moment.  On the one hand, Templars, like all medieval knights, were warriors, bred to be brutal and merciless killers.  On the other, they were pious monks, committed to a life of prayer and works of charity.  How was that possible?  How did they reconcile these two personas? How, as it were, did they manage to sustain the hyphen between the words “warrior” and “monk”?  Answering these questions, it seemed to me, required reconstructing the imaginative world of these self-styled “knights of Christ”.  And the best medium for that sort of project, it seemed to me, has always been fiction.  Thus was born the idea of The Holy Lance.

That being said, however, this novel is not simply an academic work dressed up as fiction.  I grew up reading the classics in historical military adventure: series like C.S. Forester’s Hornblower, Alexander Kent’s Bolitho, and Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe.  And in more recent years I have enjoyed the novels of Ben Kane, Anthony Riches, Steven A. McKay, Angus Donald, Si Turney, and, of course, Helena Schrader.  These novels taught me what good historical fiction looks like.  My goal in writing The Holy Lance was to apply everything I learned from these great writers to provide an insightful yet entertaining account of the Templars and the Third Crusade. 

And where did you get the idea for the plot? I kept feeling like this was a medieval version of a number of books and movies I’ve read or seen that were set in WWII.

Once I’d committed myself to writing a work of fiction about the realities of Templar life, I asked myself what sort of plot-structure would provide the best vehicle for revealing those realities.  I did a bit of research (the scholar instinct kicking in again) and toyed with a number of ideas, but ultimately decided on that most enduring of plot devices – the quest.  Why a quest?  Two basic reasons, I suppose.  First, the quest format allowed me to tell an entertaining story. The typical quest involves travel, heroic exertions on the part of the protagonist, danger, battles, romance, and escapades of all sorts – in short, all the basic ingredients of an enjoyable read.  Second, and in some ways more importantly, the quest format allowed me to really probe the Templar ideal.  The key element of any quest story, of course, is neither the journey, nor the material object of the journey, nor even the exertions of the protagonist while on the journey.  Rather, it is the transformation of the protagonist into a true hero as a result of his or her  journey along a “trail of trials.”  Think The Odyssey and Le Morte d’Arthur, or, more recently, Lord of the Rings and Saving Private Ryan (this is the World War II angle you mentioned in your question).  In all of these stories, the challenges encountered while pursuing some valued object transform the protagonist into a more perfect version of an ideal.  What better way, I thought, to explore and highlight the true Templar ideal than to have my protagonist embark on a quest for a religious relic and along the way have him grow into a more perfect embodiment of the Templar ideal – that is, a more perfect synthesis of the ferocious warrior and pious monk?

There’s a lot of rubbish out there about the Templars — they are portrayed as secret Jews, secret atheists, as heretics of every shape, color and odor. You said in your first answer that you intentionally set out to counter some of that nonsense. Do you want to expand on that a little?  What have others gotten wrong and how do your Templar’s differ?

 A lot of rubbish, indeed!  As I see it, there are three basic types of “misrepresentation” of the Poor Knights of the Temple in film and literature: they are portrayed either as heretics, atheists or (my personal favorite) late modern secular-humanists; or they are depicted as cynical thugs concealing their all-too-worldly motives beneath a thin mantle of religiosity; or they are made out to be murderous religious fanatics, cut from the same cloth as ISIS fighters in the contemporary world, and every bit as evil and loathsome.  While these depictions might provide grist for interesting or entertaining stories, they are not accurate.  Indeed, I would argue that they belong in the realm of what I’ll call “historical fantasy” rather than historical fiction. 

So, yes, I did intentionally set out to counter some of the more “fantastic” portrayals of the Templars.  And the first step in this process was to take seriously the real, historical religious convictions and motivations of the typical Templar knight.  My point of departure was not to assume that these guys were all saints – they weren’t.  Rather, it was to accept that the people of this era understood the world in terms of religious (Christian, to be precise) categories and concepts.  For them, Christian religious belief was neither a form of mental illness nor a cynical ideology concealing their real material motives (the pursuit of power, wealth, glory or sensual pleasure).  Instead, rather like the laws of physics do for us, these beliefs provided the fundamental imaginative matrix through which they made sense of the world around them.  And if this was true of the average medieval person, it was true in spades for consecrated religious like the Templars.  As I see it, only by restoring orthodox medieval Christianity to the heart of the Templar story are we able to leave the realm of historical fantasy and reenter the realm of historical fiction proper.

What made you give Sergeants and Turcopoles such a prominent role? I love it, as I think they are given far too little attention in most fiction, but I’d like to know more about your reasoning?

In addition to wanting to get the spiritual dimension of the Templar story right, I also wanted to get the material dimension correct.  At one level, this involved some pretty obvious things like making sure the uniforms were correct and accurately depicting their weapons and battle tactics.  But it also involved getting their organizational structure right.  And that structure was stratified.  The order was dominated by a relatively small number of high-status knights (drawn from Europe’s warrior nobility), and these have become iconic of the order as a whole.  But below the knights were two other classes of Templar – classes that comprised the vast majority of the Order’s members.  These were the sergeants, whose job was to support the knights, both on the battlefield (as warriors) and off (as craftsmen and labourers) and the turcopoles – lightly armed auxiliaries recruited from among the non-noble Christian inhabitants of the Latin East.   Early on, I decided that if I really was going to accurately portray Templar life, I would have to find a way to build these two under-represented groups into my story.  Thus was born the roles of William Turcault, the commander of the turcopoles, and Brother Enyon, the Welsh sergeant with the extraordinary archery skills.

When doing research for this novel, were you able to visit the Holy Land and some of the places described?

Although I like to think that I have exhaustively researched this novel, I did not visit the region where it is set.  The reason for that is probably obvious: most of the places where my story unfolds are in Syria and Lebanon – not particularly safe places at the moment (the great Hospitaller fort Krak des Chevaliers, for example, has been badly damaged as a result of the conflict in Syria).  I will say, however, that once upon a time in the not-too-distant past I participated in a month-long tour of Canadian Army peacekeeping operations in the Middle East and so had the opportunity to travel to southern Lebanon, Israel, Gaza, and the Sinai.  As a result, I do have a pretty good first-hand feel for the climate, topography, military architecture (I visited Belvoir Fortress, among others), Jerusalem and its approaches, and so on.  Not quite the same as visiting with the purpose of writing historical fiction in mind, but not a bad second-best option, I think.

What were your most important sources for doing research on this novel? You seem particularly well versed in medieval weapons and armor. Do you recommend any particular sources here?

I read widely in preparation for writing this novel, but broadly speaking I’d say my research was organized into three files: the history of the Templars; the politics and geopolitics of the Third Crusade; and the military technology and techniques of the Latin East (and to a lesser extent of Saladin’s host).  Each of these files is filled with notes distilled from a great many academic and popular works, and it would be difficult to say which were most important (other than to say that anything written by Malcolm Barber is invaluable).  When it comes specifically to medieval weapons and armour, however, I would definitely recommend relevant works from Osprey Publishing’s Warrior and Men-at-Arms series.  Particularly helpful to me were Knight Templar, 1120-1312; Knight of Outremer, 1187-1344; and Saladin and the Saracens.  These three books were written by knowledgeable historians and illustrated by talented artists. They had a huge impact on my portrayal of the fighting men of the Third Crusade. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

As a reader, I had a sense that you really enjoyed writing this book, but there must have been challenges too. What was the most difficult aspect of writing this book?

I absolutely loved writing this novel.  Not every minute of every day, of course.  The writing process (or rather, my writing process) is just not like that.  But overall, it was a joyful experience –  the research, the   character development, the plotting,  the drafting, right through to the revising and editing (well, maybe not the final line-editing). Very different from academic writing, which can be very fulfilling and professionally satisfying, but seldom induces feelings of joy (for either writer or reader).

I suppose the most obvious challenge was finding the time to actually write.  Like many writers, I have a full-time day job and young kids and between the two of them every hour of every day seems to get chewed up.  On the other hand, the nature of my job as a university professor means that I have big chunks of time in January and over the summer when I can write full time, so maybe I shouldn’t complain too much.

Beyond that, the really big challenge for me was to shift gears from writing like a scholar to writing like a novelist.  I’ve been writing like an academic my whole adult life and it is really hard to resist the temptation to support every claim with a footnote or to explain every move in excruciating detail.  But perhaps even more challenging than switching off my inner scholar was switching on my inner novelist.  Before this novel, the last piece of fiction I can recall writing was a short story I did in elementary school.  So, in addition to all the historical research I did in preparation for the novel, I also had to research the craft of writing fiction.  Thankfully, most (though not all) of that research involved re-reading great works of historical fiction with an eye to reverse engineering them – that is, with an eye to seeing how the master’s worked their literary magic – so it wasn’t as painful or difficult as it might have been.

The only scene in the book that I really didn’t like was when Fitz Alan tortures the Arab slavers to confess to crimes Christian women have already attested to. I seemed completely gratuitous. I would expect Templars to take the word of a Christian Abbess as sufficient proof, and to then just dispatch the offenders. In short: kill them, yes, but why torture them first? Within 120 years the Templars themselves would be tortured mercilessly to confess crimes they did not commit. Were you in some why trying to establish that the torture they would later suffer was justified by crimes like these? If not, why doesn’t Fitz Alan suffer any pangs of conscience about this completely unnecessary torture? You seem to have missed an opportunity to build up to his later decision not to kill the hostages. Here he lets his blood-lust get the better of him, and so fails in his personal mission; later he successfully overcomes his blood-lust.

I think your last sentence quite effectively captures what I was trying to accomplish in this scene.  It is an important element his evolution into something more closely approximating the Templar ideal that Fitz Alan is periodically tested.  Sometimes he fails one of these tests by being too much the brutal knight; other times, by being too much the pious monk.  In the process, though, he learns to synthesize the two, to become the ideal Templar warrior-monk.  What I wanted to achieve in this scene was exactly what you have suggested at the end of your question: to portray an early failure to overcome his bloodlust in order to demonstrate his evolution when later on in the story he is better able to control his more brutal impulses.

In this book, your principal protagonist, Michael Fitz Alan, has a very poor opinion of Richard of England — but then he seems to have a poor opinion of just about everyone. You imply this is because of things he saw Richard do — or things they did together — in the past. Although I don’t mind you not revealing those things in this book, I’d be curious if you ever intend to tell us about them or if they will remain shrouded in secrecy to the very end of the series?

I chose the Third Crusade because I could see great possibilities in contrasting the world’s premier worldly knight, England’s Richard the Lionheart, with my Fitz Alan – a heroic figure who embodies Saint Bernard’s ideal of the “New Knighthood.”  Beyond that, though, there is also a backstory here.  I will reveal more in the next novel, but suffice it to say there is bad blood between Richard and Fitz Alan. Richard has used Fitz Alan before and, given the Templar’s martial prowess, is happy to do so again.  Fitz Alan, on the other hand, knows he has been burned by the king in the past and has vowed never again to get caught up in his schemes.  He only accepts the king’s commission to recover the Holy Lance in this novel because of the high stakes and the fact that the Templar Grand Master pretty much ordered him to do so.

How many books do you envisage in this series?  Do you know what the ending of the series will be? Or are you still searching for it?

Not quite sure.  This past January I was able to sketch out a pretty detailed outline for the next installment of what is currently conceived as a trilogy but which may evolve into a longer series.  And, once it’s officially summer break, I will begin drafting.  The goal is to complete the sequel to The Holy Lance before September and write the final installment in January/summer of 2016.  Whatever happens, I promise Michael Fitz Alan will definitely see the Third Crusade through to its bitter end.

After that, and providing people actually read what I write, I’ll continue writing historical fiction (can’t see myself venturing beyond that genre, but one never knows).  I may keep on with the English Templars – I already have many, many more stories half-developed for this “band of brothers” ready to go – but I may also branch out a bit.  The Hundred Years War appeals a very great deal, as does the First World War (I’ve written or taught about both in recent years).  We’ll just have to wait and see.

You’ll have one reader right here! I look forward to reading more about Fitz-Alan and his companions — particularly the Turcopoles and sergeants, while the Hundred Years War is also a period that fascinates me. In fact, a biographical novel of Edward of Woodstock (more commonly known as the Black Prince) is one of the tasks I have set myself before I depart this life.

For now, thank you for taking the time to answer these questions!