Friday, April 18, 2014

Meet My Main (Female) Character

Welcome to today's installment of the "Meet My Main Character" Blog-Hop! 

Last week I introduced the main character of my recently released novel, St. Louis' Knight, Sir Geoffrey de PreuthuneThis week I want to introduce the the female lead, who is as much a "main" character as Geoffrey, even if she didn't make it into the title.

Now to the introductions!

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she a fictional or historical person?
Eleanor de Najac is a fictional character, born from holidays in "Cathar Country" (the Languedoc) and particularly visits to the spectacular village and castle of Najac.

2) When and where is the story set?
The novel is set in the Seventh Crusade, 1250 AD, in the Holy Land. The Seventh Crusade was led by King Louis IX of France and ended in a terrible debacle, with the King of France and virtually all of his nobles, knights and troops captured.  While the common troops were slaughtered if they refused to convert to Islam, and enslaved if they did, King Louis and his knights and nobles were held for ransom. It is also just six years after the final erradication of the last Cathar stronghold at Montsegur.

3) What should I know about him/her?
Eleanor is the last child of the Sire de Najac, born late in his life.  After his death, her mother joins the Cathar faith and one of her brothers joins the struggle of the independence of Toulouse against the French crown. When the forces of the French King finally seize Montsegur, her mother chooses to be burned at the stake rather than abjure her Cathar faith, and one brother is executed while the other is arrested -- along with Eleanor. Although only 14 years old, as the daughter of a heretic, she is turned over to the Inquisition.  After her brother's death in prison, however, she becomes the hieress to Najac.  Her feudal overlord, the Count of Poitiers and Toulouse, does not want to see her convicted of heresy since then her property would fall to the Church.  He therefore sends for her to join his wife's household as she follows him on crusade.  Her ship wrecks on the coast of Cyprus and her leg shattered when fisherman take her off the wreck. She is left lame and alone on a strange island among strangers.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes her life up.
Eleanor's life has been shattered three-fold, first by the brutal repression of Toulousan independence that has cost her the lives of her mother and brothers, by the hounding of the Inquisition after her own arrest, and by the ship-wreck that has left her a semi-cripple. At the start of the novel she is physically alive, but only her hatred of the Inquisition and the King of France spark her spirit.

5) What is the personal goal of the character?
Eleanor has survived by her wits and an inner strength that defies reason. Her determination to outwit her tormentors, not hope for a better a future is what has enabled her to escape the Inquisition.  At the opening of the novel, it is joy at the defeat of her worst enemy, the King of France, that gives her new spirit and courage. She ventures out of her defensive, emotional cacoon and starts to tentatively spread her wings.

6) Is there a working title? Where can I find out more?
The title is final: St. Louis' Knight. It is the first of a three part series titled The Templar Tales. You can find out more on this blog, or on my website: http://talesofchivalry.com.

7) When will the book be published?
The book was released March 31, 2014 and can be purchased on amazon.com here.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Meet My Main Character

Welcome to today's installment of the "Meet My Main Character" Blog-Hop! I'm delighted to be in such distinguished company!

It's my pleasure to introduce to the main character of my recently released novel, St. Louis' Knight. To find out more about St. Louis' Knight you only need to scroll down to the previous three entries on this blog which includ excerpts and a little background about the book. To buy the book, just click on the link in the add to your right.

Now to the introductions!

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she a fictional or historical person?
Geoffrey de Preuthune. He's a fictional character but based on a family legend.

2) When and where is the story set?
The novel is set in the Seventh Crusade, 1250 AD, in the Holy Land. The Seventh Crusade was led by King Louis IX of France and ended in a terrible debacle, with the King of France and virtually all of his nobles, knights and troops captured.  While the common troops were slaughtered if they refused to convert to Islam, and enslaved if they did, King Louis and his knights and nobles were held for ransom.

3) What should I know about him/her?
Geoffrey is the younger son of minor Cypriot nobleman. As a younger son, Geoffrey is destined for the Church, but at age 14 his feeble father is killed by robbers because he is unable to defend him (not having any training at arms). This trauma makes him determined to join the Knights Templar, so he can be both a monk and a fighting man. The local commander agrees to take him on as a squire with the understanding that if he can learn the skills of knighthood to meet Templar standards, he will be knighted and accepted into the Order.  As a squire he accompanies a troop of Templars on the Seventh Crusade, only to watch all his brothers slaughtered at the Battle of Mansourah. In the aftermath of this defeat, the wounded Grand Master wants to knight the squire Geoffrey and take him into the Order, but Geoffrey knows that the initiation ceremony requires him to say the Lord's Pray. Only he can't say "Thy Will be Done" after what he has just witnessed. 

4) What is the main conflict? 
Geoffrey has lost his faith in God and by denying the divinity of Christ to the Grand Master of the Temple in a fit of outrage, he has abruptly ended his own chosen career. He now has to find a new place for himself in the world that he no longer understands.

5) What is the personal goal of the character?
At the start of the novel, his goal is to understand God's Will so he can re-apply for admission to the Knight's Templar, but, of course, life isn't that simple. His quest takes him to an Orthodox prophet in the mountains of Cyprus, to the Old Man of the Mountain (leader of the Assassins) in Syria and to the court of King Louis of France in Acre, where the King is trying to raise the ransom for his knights still in captivity. In a chance encounter, he also meets the Damsel Eleanor de Najac, the daughter of a condemned Cathar heretic, and now a ward of the King of France. 

6) Is there a working title? Where can I find out more?
The title is final: St. Louis' Knight. It is the first of a three part series titled The Templar Tales. You can find out more on this blog, or on my website: http://talesofchivalry.com.

7) When will the book be published?
The book was released March 31, 2014 and can be purchased on amazon.com here.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Grand Master's Squire: Excerpt from "St Louis' Knight" 3

Geoffrey was seeing it again in his head. The confusion in a darkness lit only by the unsteady light of smoking torches. Wounded men and horses seemed to be staggering about everywhere, and the moans and cries of man and beast punctuated the night. Other men wandered about asking after one friend or another. Abandoned Saracen equipment, clothing, and weapons still littered the ground, tripping the unwary, while those with the strength left in them were trying to erect tents. The stench of open latrines and foul water combined in Geoffrey’s mind with the constant beating of the enemy drums as they shouted “Allah is Great!” from the ramparts of Mansourah. They must have lit huge bonfires, because the city appeared aglow from the inside; the men on the walls shaking their swords and bows triumphantly were silhouetted against that orange light.
Geoffrey had been dazed, unable to grasp what had happened in such a short space of time. All his brothers from Limassol ― knights, squires, and sergeants ― were dead. They had been one hundred strong when they sailed for Egypt, a significant contingent of the Templar force, and they were no more. Geoffrey had lost the one man who gave him a chance when all others spoke against accepting him into the Temple. He’d lost the men who’d taught him fighting and the ethos of the Temple. He’d lost his best friends ― and there would not even be a Mass for their souls, because their bodies were all in the hands of the heathens shouting “Allah is Great!”
Suddenly someone was tugging at his sleeve and saying he must come to the surgeon’s tent. The Grand Master had regained consciousness. He had followed numbly, without a will of his own. Sonnac, a bandage covering the gaping hole in the right side of his face where his eye had been, was struggling to sit up. “Geoff!” he called out in a rasping, ruined voice at the sight of the young man. “Geoff, come kneel and put your hands in mine that I may take you into the Order at last.”
Sonnac knew how much that meant to his squire. Sonnac knew that, unlike other squires, Geoffrey wanted to be a Templar. He understood that Geoffrey wanted to be knighted, not for itself, but because it was the prerequisite for joining the Order.
That night in the camp before Mansourah, Geoffrey knew that Master de Sonnac wanted to reward him with that which meant most to him, but he also knew that the vows involved saying the Lord’s Prayer. He knew that the Knights Templar said the Lord’s Prayer in place of Mass when circumstances made it impossible to hear Mass. The Lord’s Prayer was central to their devotion. But what had, until that day, seemed self-evident, had abruptly been transformed into a demon standing between Geoffrey and what he wanted most in the world.
As Geoffrey stood in the tent staring at the wounded Grand Master, he became conscious of the blood drying on the links of his chain mail, his surcoat shredded and soiled, but between him and the Master crowded the ghastly ghosts of his dead brothers: some headless, some limbless, some gushing blood from wounds to their heads, others clutching their gutted stomachs or clinging to their disemboweled intestines.
Suddenly Geoffrey thought: if this is God’s Will, then I cannot say “Thy Will be done!” I cannot say it!
Sonnac, seeing him hesitate, tried to smile encouragingly. “Come, Geoff. If this is the last thing I do, let me make you a Templar.”
“No!” Geoffrey screamed back at him. “No! I don’t want to be servant to a senseless God! If this is God’s Will, than he is a monster! And Christ ― Christ died on a cross in Jerusalem, but he was not God’s son, and was not our Savior!”
Still full of fury, Geoffrey had spun about and fled, leaving the astonished Grand Master struggling to rise. He heard the exclamation of horrified priests and surgeons, and he was shocked by his own words as much as anyone. But there was no place to go in the crusader camp. There was no escape except out into the desert to be killed by the Bedouins.
Geoffrey could not remember what he’d done next. He’d stumbled about in the dark until he’d found himself at the horse lines. There he sank down in misery beside the remnants of a once-great cavalry, and begged forgiveness from his stallion. The tall, dark gray had not only carried him and his armor all the way here, to the middle of nowhere; he had today taken the burden of two fully armored knights, and with the strength of an angel, he had jumped over a barricade to bring both Geoffrey and the wounded Grand Master to safety. But now he stood with hanging head and swollen fetlocks, covered in cuts and probably bruises, too. We can’t even give you a decent meal, Geoffrey thought. What right have we, he asked himself, to take these gentle, loyal creatures into so much misery and almost certain death?

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Friday, March 28, 2014

A Fateful Encounter

At an agonizing pace, they had at last emerged from the gorge to find themselves on the coastal road. To the left the shore reared up in steep white cliffs to form a headland several miles to the east, and straight ahead the rocks had broken off from the cliffs already and spilled out into the little cove at the foot of the gorge. The sight was spectacularly beautiful at one level, but the sound of the waves and the wind reminded Eleanor all too sharply of the wreck, and to make matters worse, clouds seemed to have come out of nowhere to scud across the sky, low and ominous. The sea was an iron gray, except for a tiny sliver of silver far out to sea and fast retreating. The sound of breakers hammering the beach was so reminiscent of the wreck that Eleanor had to stop herself from holding her hands over her ears.
Even without her hands on her ears, fear deafened her. The archer had to shout at her to move out of the way of riders approaching from behind at a fast pace. Only then did Eleanor look over her shoulder and register two men in armor with a packhorse on a lead, approaching at a purposeful canter. Their chain mail chinked in rhythm with the canter, and their kit banged against the flanks of their horses. The shod hooves pounded the hard-packed surface of the road.
She tried to guide her mare to the side of the road, but the lame horse balked, as if this were one demand too many. Eleanor kicked her heels into the mare’s sides to no avail, humiliated by being reduced to such undignified methods. A lady shouldn’t have to ride a horse as insensitive as this, she thought to herself, tears in her eyes.
A dark horse loomed beside her. The smell of horse sweat and leather was overpowering, and she glanced left, keeping her eyes down out of embarrassment and modesty. What she saw were black suede over-the-knee boots with golden spurs studded with blue enamel fleurs-de-lis.
The King of France!
But it couldn’t be! He was a prisoner in Egypt. As were his brothers. But who else would dare wear spurs like these? She raised her eyes sharply and found herself staring at a young man with a neatly clipped brown beard and short hair ― something long since out of fashion in France. Next she took in his plain, unbleached, shabby linen surcoat. The surcoat was more suited to a common archer or a man-at-arms and completely out of place over the gold and enamel spurs. No knight in her experience ever dressed like this, but no one but a knight was entitled to golden spurs ― much less ones with the lilies of France.
The knight seemed hardly less astonished by the sight of Eleanor than she was surprised by him. He drew up sharply, his massive and heavy-boned European stallion flattening his ears and flinging up his head in protest. “My Lady! What are you ― May I be of service in some way?”
The question couldn’t have been more chivalrous, but the man’s tone was harsh and his expression forbidding. He certainly knew nothing of courtesy, Eleanor concluded, lumping him instantly with all the other brutes from France who had plundered her homeland and spoke the langue d ’oil as he did.
“My horse stumbled and came up lame, but my man will ride for a remount as soon as we reach the next village,” Eleanor told him haughtily.
This answer so astonished the knight that he was silenced for a moment. He turned and looked at the archer, who shrugged and whined, “I advised against it, sir. I told her we must turn back, but my lady wouldn’t hear of it.”
“And where are you bound?” the knight asked the archer rather than Eleanor.
“The Lady Eleanor de Najac is on pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. George to pray for the safe return of her guardian, the Comte de Poitiers.”
“I see.” The knight twisted in his saddle and ordered his squire to off-load the packhorse and transfer Eleanor’s saddle to it.
Only then did the knight turn back to Eleanor and announce, “We will bring you to Paphos, My Lady. We should be able to reach it before nightfall ― if not before the rain breaks.” He glanced grimly at the gathering clouds. “You are with the King’s court in Nicosia?”
“No, I am temporarily in the household of the Dowager Queen. And just who are you, sir?”
“Sir Geoffrey de Preuthune, Mademoiselle,” he answered absently, not even looking at her as he spoke because he was already turning to her archer, ordering: “Take the lame horse back to Her Grace the Queen. I will see your lady safe to Paphos, where I’m sure Lord Tancred will be able to provide her with a suitable remount and an escort to Agios Georgios.” (He gave the shrine it’s Greek name, Eleanor noted.)
This solution clearly suited the Queen’s archer, who nodded and agreed with alacrity, “Very good, sir.”
Eleanor, however, felt like a child or a prisoner again. No one was even asking what she wanted, and that angered her. Besides, even if his name meant nothing to her, his spurs suggested he was closely associated with her enemy, the King of France. Certainly he spoke the French of her homeland’s oppressors. She did not want his services! “I have not accepted your generous offer, Monsieur,” she pointed out sharply, adding pointedly, “I do not travel with strange men.”
The archer groaned out loud and rolled his eyes. The Cypriot woman crossed herself and started praying. The squire suppressed a laugh, and Sir Geoffrey stared at her, baffled. Then, after a moment, he reasoned with her. “My Lady, you cannot continue on that horse, and it looks like it could rain any moment. If you are new to Cyprus, perhaps you do not know how violent the storms here can be at this time of year. I beg you to reconsider and allow me to bring you under the shelter and protection of the Lord of Paphos as rapidly as possible.”
His gesture toward the clouds and a renewed gust of wind made her look again at the dark, churning clouds gathering overhead. As she watched, a flash of lightning pierced them and she shuddered involuntarily. She could not stay here. She glanced toward the packhorse and noted with surprise that, stripped of its packs, it was a lovely fine-boned mare with a delicate face and large eyes. Indeed, it was a beautiful horse with the narrow legs of a racer and the arching neck of a proud palfrey.
Again Eleanor looked at the knight in confusion. The “packhorse” matched his spurs more than his plain surcoat. Something wasn’t right about this knight, but the threat of the storm was tangible, too. Her whole body was in a state of alarm, and reason told her it made more sense to accept the offer of a good mount and a strong escort than to insist on remaining here on a lame horse with a sullen archer and a native woman she could barely talk to. If only he hadn’t been wearing King Louis’ lilies on his heels …
Eleanor pulled herself together. “Your name means nothing to me, sir. Are you in the service of the King of France?”
“No, My Lady. I am Cypriot. My father was in the service of King Richard of England, and accompanied him on crusade, but remained here at the orders his liege lord.”
“The Duc d’Aquitaine? Coeur de Leon?” The legendary Lionheart was so much a hero of her childhood that it was as if this strange knight had been transformed into a long-lost friend by his association with the late English King. As soon as Geoffrey answered her question with a somewhat baffled, “Yes, Mademoiselle,” Eleanor nodded her consent and dismounted.
Within moments her saddle and the leather saddlebags with her modest belongings had been transferred to the knight’s “packhorse,” while Sir Geoffrey’s luggage was distributed between his own and his squire’s stallions. When all was ready for her, Sir Geoffrey swung himself down from his horse and went to hold the off stirrup, asking as he did so, “Do you ride well, My Lady?”
“I did as a girl,” Eleanor answered unhelpfully, as she approached the little bay mare, trying not to limp. She took hold of the pommel with her left hand, and facing back, turned the stirrup toward her with her right hand. Twice she pointed her toe in the stirrup, but it was no use. With a horrible sense of humiliation, she realized she did not have the strength in her right leg, the leg shattered in the wreck, to push herself up off the ground.
She withdrew her toe from the stirrup. “Sir, I have an injured leg; could we find something to use as a mounting block?”
“Forgive me, My Lady. I didn’t know. Ian, give the lady a leg up!”
The young squire cheerfully jumped down from his horse again and came to help Eleanor. He locked his fingers together and held them for her to step into. She held onto the pommel with both hands, set her foot in the squire’s hands, and he lifted her up until she could swing her right leg over the cantle of the saddle.
No sooner did her bottom settle onto the saddle than the mare started moving. The knight held her firmly just behind the bit, so she swung her haunches in first one direction and then the other. This mare was not like any “packhorse” Eleanor had ever seen before. She could feel the nervous energy of the animal, and was instantly alarmed. It was too long since she had ridden a horse like this. Ashamed of her own fear, Eleanor reproached the knight. “This is a very nervous packhorse, sir!”
“She’s not a packhorse, My Lady,” he answered candidly. “She’s an Arab warhorse. We killed her last master, but she refused to flee like the other horses. Should I take her on the lead?”
“No, of course not!” Eleanor answered without thinking. Only children ― and prisoners ― were led. “I can manage, sir.” Eleanor thought the knight looked skeptical, but he did not insist. Instead, he let go of the mare’s reins to return to his own stallion. At once the mare broke into a trot. Eleanor reined her in sharply, so she danced in place uneasily.
“We best hurry, My Lady, and try to get as far as possible before the rain breaks,” the knight told her.
“Of course,” Eleanor answered despite her inner alarm.
At once the knight took up a trot, and Eleanor’s mare followed without any urging, with the squire on her flank. Anna, crossing herself and lamenting in Greek, brought up the rear, while the archer set off in the opposite direction with the lame horse in tow, whistling happily.

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Friday, March 14, 2014

Excerpt from "St. Louis' Knight: The King and All His Knights are Captured!

The Kingdom of Cyprus                    
April, Anno Domini 1250
  
“The French King and all his knights have been captured by the Saracens,” the herald intoned. His deep voice, more commonly used to proclaim the ancestry and deeds of knights at tournaments, was muted with both respect and shock. His bright livery was shrouded in a dark cloak as if he were in mourning for a lost cause, and his boots and hose were splattered with mud, betraying his haste to bring the news to the Dowager Queen of Cyprus.
His words provoked an eruption of shocked and frightened exclamations from the little audience. The Dowager Queen was on her deathbed, and had been for months. She lived in almost complete seclusion, served only by a household of Cypriot servants and four ladies, three of whom were almost as old as she was herself.
One of these ladies began crossing herself repeatedly and reciting the Rosary in a tone of almost hysterical desperation. Another clapped her hands over her mouth and stared at the herald as if she expected Saracens to come storming through the door behind him. A third protested, “But that can’t be! King Louis had the greatest army anyone had ever seen! He had scores of barons and nearly three thousand knights. They can’t all have been captured! Not all those brave knights! And the King’s brothers! And what of the French Queen and the ladies of the court?”
“When the messenger left Egypt, the French Queen and her ladies were still in Damietta with the handful of knights and men-at-arms left there for their protection, but I doubt that is still the case. With the King captive and his army destroyed, the Sultan of Egypt will undoubtedly try to recapture Damietta. The knights with Queen Marguerite are urging her to remove herself to safety immediately. If she chooses Cyprus over Acre, she could be here any moment.” The herald glanced toward the large double-light window that looked south, towards Egypt, as if expecting to see the sails of a Genoese round ship straining to bring the French Queen to safety. But the window offered only a view of the walled garden of this isolated manor.
The Dowager Queen clicked her tongue and drew the herald’s attention back to the interior of the room. “What did you expect?” the old woman asked rhetorically. “All these foreign kings and princes think crusading is a lark! They think we hang onto only the fragments of the Holy Land because we, the nobility of Outremer, have become weak, cowardly, and luxury-loving. They all come out here thinking that they, so splendid and so brave, will chase the Saracens back into the desert. Ha!”
The herald did not contradict her. There was some truth to what the old Queen said. Although King Louis himself had seemed a sober and far from lighthearted crusader, his younger brothers and many of his knights had been as arrogant and ignorant as the Queen suggested. Besides, the Queen was a woman who knew more about politics in the Holy Land than almost anyone else alive. Alice of Champagne had been widowed when her son, King Henry I, was only eight months old and had acted as his regent until he came of age ― by which time she had weathered a civil war on Cyprus and a crusade led by the Holy Roman Emperor. As if that hadn’t been enough, as the granddaughter of the Queen of Jerusalem, she had been Regent of Jerusalem for the under-aged King Conrad IV as well. While it was fair to say that Alice of Champagne’s politics had not been crowned by particular success, no one could deny that she understood the complexity of surviving in Christian Palestine.
“So,” the old woman scoffed, “the Sultan of Egypt has humiliated the most powerful monarch in Christendom. The Holy Roman Emperor must be dancing for joy to see the Pope’s favorite humiliated like this.”
“Madame! How can you think in such terms when a Christian monarch and all his knights and nobles are at the mercy of the godless Saracens?” one of Alice’s ladies admonished her ― inducing her praying colleague to raise her voice even more shrilly to the Mother of God.
The old Queen silenced both ladies. “Enough of your howling, Catherine! You have the brain of a hen, Eschiva! Godless or not, the Sultan loves gold. He’ll let them all go when enough ransom has been paid, and if France is beggared, then the Holy Roman Empire will be stronger.” The Dowager Queen had always sided with the Holy Roman Empire against the barons of the Holy Land, and now she smiled to herself. Then she cleared her throat and announced, “Thank you, Sir Herald. Blanche, give the herald ten livres for his trouble! Eleanor, see him to the kitchens and tell the cook to give him a hearty meal. I weary.”
The interview was over. The Queen signaled for assistance to rise, and two of her ladies sprang to help her from her armed chair, while the third retrieved her mistress’ purse and doled out the promised reward. The herald found himself following the fourth of the Queen’s ladies, Eleanor de Najac, down the spiral stairs from the Queen’s tower chamber toward the kitchen on the ground floor.
Eleanor was the only one of the Queen’s women who was less than sixty years of age. The herald guessed she was no more than twenty or twenty-one. All the herald knew about her was that she was a ward of the Comte de Poitiers, the French King’s younger brother, and had had the misfortune to shipwreck on the coast of Cyprus or her way to join the Comtesse de Poitiers’ household.
The storm that struck in March of the previous year had been one of the worst in living memory, and it had scattered half the French King’s fleet then assembling for the voyage to Egypt. In the confusion following the gale, hardly anyone took note of a small French vessel that went ashore on the west coast with the loss of all hands ― especially since the only corpses found were those of common sailors and tonsured men, presumably clerics bound for the Holy Land.
Weeks later, however, a second ship from France brought letters making reference to the passage of the heiress of Najac aboard a previous vessel. The Comte de Poitiers, who was by then in Egypt with his brother, asked the King of Cyprus to find out what had happened to his ward.
A search for her corpse was instituted along the coast, and to the wonder and amazement of those sent to find her body, Eleanor was found alive ― albeit severely injured ― in a fishing village. Since Eleanor spoke no Greek and the fishermen spoke neither Latin nor French, Eleanor’s rescuers had not realized she was a high-born lady and heiress; they had not thought to notify the authorities.
The herald was familiar with the cramped, stinking cottages of the local fishermen. He was certain that for a French noblewoman the weeks in the Cypriot fishing village had been a hell ― especially since one of her legs had been crushed in the wreck and she was in pain and feverish.
Even now, more than a year after the wreck, she walked with a limp as she led him across the inner courtyard to the kitchen tract. The experience had also left its mark on her face and soul, the herald surmised, for her face was too guarded and sober for a gentle maiden still in the bloom of youth.
Furthermore, although the herald knew professionally that the sires of Najac were ancient and wealthy lords, Eleanor neither looked nor acted like a haughty heiress. The simplicity of her dress, a soft linen gown with a pale-blue surcoat, would not have been out of place on the wife of a country squire or town merchant. Her auburn hair was neatly braided down her back and her head covered with a flat, modestly embroidered hat, held in place by simple white veils. The effect was neat and attractive ― but not suited to an heiress. The Cypriot court was filled with young women who adorned themselves much more lavishly and brightly, although they claimed hardly more than a thimbleful of noble blood rather than a barony! They compared to Eleanor of Najac like butterflies to a moth.
Not that Eleanor was plain. The herald considered her with the eyes of a connoisseur of women as Eleanor gestured for him to sit at a table in the passageway before the kitchen. She was pretty in a soft, understated way, he decided. She had wide-set hazel eyes, dark straight eyebrows, and an elegant long nose in an oval face. Her skin was flawless and very pale. Her only bad features were her nearly colorless, narrow lips ― but even this defect would have been forgotten, if only she smiled.
 “Wait here, Sir Herald, while I inform the cook of your needs,” she told him simply, before lurching down the stone steps leading to the kitchen.
Waiting for her, the herald wished he had some means to make her smile. If only he had brought good news instead of word of this catastrophe! It was only too natural that Eleanor was deeply troubled under the circumstances. Her guardian was in grave danger, a prisoner of the Saracens, and even if the Sultan was unlikely to harm a prince of France, she must worry that the ransom he imposed would impoverish her, since the income from her inheritance flowed into the Count’s coffers as long as she was unwed.
 While the herald was still lost in these thoughts, Eleanor returned with a bronze aquarelle in the form of a lion and a linen towel.
“My Lady, it is unseemly that you wait on me. Send for a servant, and sit with me instead,” the herald urged, indicating the bench on the other side of the table from him.
She seemed flustered by his remark, hastily putting the aquarelle down and stepping back as if she had done something wrong.
He smiled to reassure her and gestured to the bench opposite him again, urging, “Sit with me a moment, My Lady. Perhaps I can be of service with some information? My travels take me all over the island.” The herald had long since learned to use his natural access to information to satisfy the interest of others in gossip.
Eleanor nodded, but not with eager curiosity as he had expected. Instead she sat very stiffly on the bench opposite, and there was so much tension in her that the herald felt compelled to reassure her. “You must not distress yourself too much. I’m sure the Comte de Poitiers is in no great danger.” In the herald’s experience, maidens of Eleanor’s age were rarely interested in the fate of their fathers or guardians. It was far more likely that Eleanor was worried about some young knight who had courted her or otherwise caught her fancy. But no modest maiden would confess such an interest to a strange man, so the herald knew he had to pretend to talk about her guardian.
Eleanor drew a deep breath, “Would you ― would you mind telling me more of what has happened in Egypt? I have been very isolated here,” she hastened to excuse herself.

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Friday, February 28, 2014

St. Louis' Knight - The First of the Templar Tales

Roughly one month from today, I hope to release the next book in my Tales of Chivalry series. 

St.  Louis' Knight is the first of three interrelated novels featuring Templars forming a sub-set of novels, the Templar Tales.  The final book of the Templar Tales (chronologically) is The English Templar, describes the destruction of the Knights Templar in the early 14th century and is already available for sale. The second book in the series Sir Jean of Acre describes the final days of the crusader states in late 13th century, including the seige and fall of Acre.  It is out-of-print -- and in need of a re-write.

St. Louis' Knight is more a prelude to the later books than an integral part of them, although it does introduce a central character of The English Templar as a young man. The inspiration for this particular novel came during my first trip to Cyprus almost twenty years ago and resulted in a short novel, The Cypriot Knight, published in 1995.

That was a mistake. My enthusiasm had outrun both my research and my skills as a novelist. Influenced by advice on “what would sell,” I warped the story and lost the thread. The product was half-baked ― and it rightfully did not sell very well.

This past year, while looking for a new project after finishing my Leonidas trilogy, I looked again at The Cypriot Knight, the first novel I ever published. Even as I cringed at the product as it stood, I recognized that it had potential. I decided it deserved a second chance.

The new novel incorporates some scenes from the old, but it is essentially a new work, hence the new title. It has greatly benefited from much more research on the Albigensian Crusade, the Seventh Crusade, and the crusader kingdoms generally. I hope it has also benefited from greater skill on my part as a novelist. 

In the weeks to come, I will be posting excerpts from St. Louis' Knight here. Hope you'll enjoy them.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Women in the Kingdom of Jerusalem

The crusader states, established at the beginning of the 12 century, rapidly developed unique political institutions and their own legal traditions. One of the most interesting ways in which they set themselves apart from contemporary societies was the prominent role played by women.  I
In the surrounding Muslim world, of course, women had neither names nor faces, much less a voice, in public. In the Byzantine Empire, on the other hand, women enjoyed considerable freedom, wealth, education and influence, but they did not directly hold power.  In Western Europe, the 12th century saw several very powerful female rulers, notably the Empress Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine, yet the crusader kingdoms stand out because the high status of women in the Holy Land was more comprehensive and institutionalized than in either the Eastern Empire or the Western Europe.

This exceptional position for women probably evolved out of the repeated failure of the ruling dynasties to produce male heirs.  A look at the succession in the Kingdom of Jerusalem illustrates this well. When Baldwin II died in 1131, he was succeeded by his daughter, Melisende, who ruled jointly with her husband Fulk of Anjou (grandfather by his first marriage of Henry II of England). When Fulk died in 1143, Melisende remained Queen of Jerusalem, and ruled jointly with her eldest son, Baldwin III.  Although her son eventually side-lined her, it was only after a struggle in which several powerful barons and most of the clergy sided with the Queen. At Baldwin III’s death in 1163, his heir was his brother Amalric I, but Amalric’s heir was the ill-fated Baldwin IV, the Leper King, who could have no children.  This made his sisters (and through them and their husbands) his heirs.  At Baldwin’s death, the crown passed first to his sister Sibylla’s young son, Baldwin V, and, after his death, to her and her husband, Guy de Lusignan.  At Sibylla’s death, Guy lost his right to the crown (in the eyes of the Barons of Outremer), and it passed instead to Baldwin IV’s other sister Isabella and her successive husbands.  When Isabella died, she was succeeded by her only child, a daughter, Marie, and she conferred the kingship on her husband, John de Brienne, before dying giving birth to yet another girl, Yolanda (or Isabelle), who passed the crown of Jerusalem to her husband, Friedrich II, the Holy Roman Emperor.
In short, in the century between the death of Baldwin II and the ascension of Friedrich II, the crown of Jerusalem passed through the female line no less than ten times! Furthermore, the situation in the crusader states and baronies was similar, if not quite so dramatic; that is, the title to baronies repeatedly passed through heiress rather than heirs. This fact alone would have increased the importance of women, but it is significant that these queens (and countesses and ladies) were not passive vessels.

Melisende was Queen in her own right, commanded loyalty and support among her vassals and forced both her husband and later her son to take her political wishes into account.  Sibylla forced upon the kingdom a man patently unsuitable for the kingship and soon detested by her brother, the reigning King, and the majority of the barons.  When her son Baldwin V died, Sibylla – not Guy – was crowned by the patriarch, and she placed the crown on Guy’s head as her consort.  Furthermore, Guy’s vassals viewed their oaths to him absolved the moment Sibylla died – despite Richard of England’s determined support for Guy.  In the end, even the Lionheart gave up and recognized that without Sibylla, Guy could not be King of Jerusalem. The crown passed to Sibylla’s sister, Isabella. Isabella conferred the crown on three men in succession, Conrad of Montferrat, Henri de Champagne and finally AImery de Lusignan. Notably, Henri de Champagne, a nephew of both Philip II of France and Richard I of England (his mother was a daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Louis VII), never even called himself King of Jerusalem; he remained Count of Champagne, while Isabella was Queen of Jerusalem. Her daughter’s husband, John of Brienne, also lost his title of King of Jerusalem at his wife’s death, although he acted as regent for his infant daughter until she wed Friedrich II.
The dynastic importance of women was both cause and effect of a uniquely high status for women in the crusader kingdoms that took many other forms. Not only did women act as regents and receive homage from vassals, they enjoyed a freedom of movement and opinion that scandalized the Muslim – and sometimes the Christian – world.  Some claim Amalric I’s first wife, Agnes de Courtney, was set aside because of her immorality; certainly she was accused of having affairs with a prelate of the church (later the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Heraclius) and with Aimery de Lusignan. Her daughter Sibylla is alleged to have had an affair with Baldwin d’Ibelin before taking Guy de Lusignan to her bed.  A contemporary claimed that Baldwin IV wanted to hang Guy for “debauching” a princess of Jerusalem, but was then persuaded to let his sister marry her lover.  It was behavior such as this that led many in the West to believe Jerusalem had been lost because of God’s wrath with the immoral Christian rulers.

Yet while the antics of the royal women may indeed have deserved censure, the higher status of women generally meant that widows in the crusader kingdoms exercised far more control over their property and their lives. SIbylla is the most prominent example, but she was not alone in choosing her second husband. Constance of Antioch chose Reynald de Chatillon, and Maria Comnena chose Balian d’Ibelin, just to name two other prominent examples. In short, young girls were married often at very tender ages to boys or men of their parents’ choice, but widows had the power, property and right to choose their own husbands – and often did.
The higher status of women also impacted their daily lives. Upper class women were literate as they could not have otherwise conducted their affairs, and they owned books. Some accounts stress that they rode astride for greater safety in an always precarious environment, something that gave them greater mobility. They did not have to go veiled in public, although women almost certainly covered their faces from the ravaging effects of the summer sun when out of doors.  But perhaps most important, they were entitled to their opinions, free to voice them and often heeded by their male contemporaries. Compared to their faceless and voiceless sisters in the Muslim world, this was undoubtedly the greatest privilege of all.