Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Understanding Ourselves by Understanding the Past.


My biographical novel of Balian d'Ibelin in three parts is complete, but the saga continues. Follow me to Cyprus, where Lusignans and Ibelins struggle to put down a rebellion and establish a durable state. Watch for excerpts and updates here.

Friday, October 11, 2013

"The Disinherited" - Excerpt 2

On October 1, I released "The Disinherited," a novella set in the Languedoc during the Albigensian crusades. It is one of my ten Tales of Chivalry, and part of the sub-series "Tales from the Languedoc." It is, however, a stand-alone novel that can be read without reference to the other books in the series, although some characters overlap.

Here is a second excerpt:

The monk reemerged at the head of the stairs, accompanied by a bent old man leaning on the arm of a gaunt Templar. The Templar was wearing a loose, white, Templar habit belted with a red cord at the waist, rather than armor and surcoat, but there could be no mistaking the soldier beneath the soft robes. Although he paced his normally long strides to the shuffling of the invalid, his sharp eyes, which had so often squinted against the sun that they seemed permanently puckered, rushed ahead to the transept in anticipation.
  Their eyes met, and Gerard felt his heart leap. His blood flooded his veins with warmth. The flush that flooded his brother’s face suggested that he, too, was not unmoved by this first meeting in sixteen years.
  Sixteen years, Gerard counted backwards, wondering if he had aged in that time as much as Everard had. But he must have, considering all that he had gone through. Absently he ran his hand through his hair, remembering that it too was streaked with gray, just as his brother’s once coal-black beard was now softened to salt-and-pepper.
  He stood staring at his brother as he brought their father carefully down the steep stairs, but he did not see him. Instead he was remembering the young man of sixteen years ago. Then, Everard had been lean but not gaunt, tanned but not leathery as now. He had worn the armor, surcoat, and mantle of the Temple that day, his long-fingered hand resting on the simple black belt that held the standard-issue Templar longsword. And they had fought bitterly.
Gerard could still remember vividly the insults and recriminations they had flung at one another that day―insults that had festered and ached like dirty wounds long, long after other, more recent wounds had healed and been forgotten. By contrast, all his own words seemed to have glanced off Everard’s unshakable faith and self-assurance like harmless, childish blows. That was the worst of it, that Everard had been right. Why did he blame him for being right? What weight did those hot, truthful words have against twenty years of sharing the same bed, the same board, the same companions, adventures, and memories?
Everard had reached the bottom of the stairs, and Gerard could read his own thoughts in his brother’s eyes. Two more strides and they could embrace again. But they had forgotten the old man.
The old man drew up abruptly, and the iron grip on his younger son’s arm made the Templar halt with him. Everard had to break eye contact with his brother and look questioningly at his father.
  Father Theobald was bent nearly in two from years of hunching over his books. He no longer needed to shave his tonsure, because he had gone bald except for a fringe of thin, wispy white hair that fell about his ears and on the back of his neck. He had the promi­nent, beak-like nose that Everard had inherited, and thin, bloodless lips. His skin was flecked with brown age marks and sagged in great sacks from his chin and on his throat. But the eyes that squinted up at Gerard were sharp and black―like Everard’s.
Though he trembled with the effort, he raised his hand and pointed a finger at Gerard. “You are my scourge and my damnation! You, with your Godlessness, wantonness, and violence! For a lifetime you have been the instrument of God’s wrath―punishing me for the sin in which you were sired! In the Name of His Great Mercy, can you not cease?” The agony and the anger were so inter­twined, it was impossible to separate them. Together they gave the old man’s voice both strength and pathos. His cry flew up to the vaulted ceiling overhead and cascaded back upon them with lingering reverberations.
  Gerard stared at the bent old man, sensing his brother’s embarrassment in his averted face. He had been told this was his father, and the resemblance to Everard confirmed it, but what did his father know of him? He had last seen him when he was just a few days old, a whimpering infant on a borrowed breast. He had never been there when as a boy Gerard had been lost, lonely, or confused. He had not watched him grow to manhood, had not taught him his letters or his catechism―much less taught him to ride and hunt and fight or presented him with the spurs of knighthood. His father had not once―in all his forty-three years―even sent him a letter inquiring after his health and well-being. Gerard knew that his lifestyle invited criticism, but what right did this stranger have to voice it? “What do you know of me?” he demanded, in a tone of voice that sounded both haughty and scornful.
  “You think I do not know of your misdeeds?” the old man retorted in an outraged croak. “There has not been a single year in which I was not tormented by news of your misdeeds. First it was my own brother who reported to me faithfully all your impudence and transgres­sions. After that I had my network of informers―my fellow Cistercians, Dominic Guzman, as long as he lived, and papal emissaries. You were my scourge, and I was determined to use it regularly for the benefit of my soul. But there has to be an end. I am dying.” His voice, which had started strong and accusatory, ended as a whimper.
  Gerard answered with a shrug that made his brother wince. “You never tried to guide my life before; what right have you to intervene now?”
 
 
 
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