Friday, October 25, 2013

"The Disinherited" -- Excerpt 4

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 fourth excerpt:


Lady Adèle’s screeching voice woke Julienne. From a fitful sleep on her pallet, she roused herself in the pitch dark of the tower room. “Julienne! Julienne!” the old woman screamed, as if she were being assaulted.
          Julienne flung back her covers with a sigh and stood. “I’m coming, my lady.” The tiles were cold under her bare feet. She looked for her slippers, but the old woman was howling more furiously. “Julienne! Come this instant!”
          Julienne abandoned the search for her slippers and went to the high bedside. “My lady?”
          “The bedpan, you stupid girl! Why else should I wake you in the middle of the night?”
          There was no point remarking that she often woke Julienne because she wanted something else: a potion to ease the pain in her crippled legs, or something to quench her thirst, or even a snack. Re­signedly, Julienne took the bedpan from under the bed and held it under the old woman. When she was finished, she emptied it in the chamber pot, washed her hands in the bowl beside the garderobe, and then returned to her thin pallet.
          She listened to the old woman snoring and felt the light of dawn crawl slowly up the eastern sky. Another day was about to begin. It would soon be sixteen years since she had come here. Sixteen years of sleeping on the floor of this woman’s chamber. Sixteen years at her beck and call. Sixteen years of servitude …
          Julienne felt deadly tired. She wished she could go back to sleep, but no matter how she tossed or turned, she found herself on edge and strangely nervous. The stale air in the chamber oppressed her, and she decided that fresh air would do her good. Stealthily she rose and dressed herself. She then took her cloak off a hook on the wall and slipped her feet into soft leather shoes. Carefully she pulled the door open and started down the spiral stairs, past the chamber where their curious guest slept, and out onto the wall walk.
          The sky was now decidedly gray, even faintly pink in the east, and around her the towers stood out in sharp silhouette. Then a part of the wall before her moved and she gave a cry of alarm.
          “Don’t worry; I only rape women after noon.”
          The hair stood up on the back of her neck, and she turned to flee back into the hall.
          “I’m sorry.” His voice followed her, and she stopped and turned back.
          “Why do you say things like that?”
          She could see him shrug. “I only say out loud what people are thinking.”
          “I was just startled. I didn’t even know it was you.”
          Gerard considered her. Her hair had come half out of its braid and hung in soft loops beside her face, with one wisp falling across her cheek. With surprise, he registered that she was not so bad-looking after all. Yes, her nose was pointed and her lips thin, but she had wide-set eyes under arching eyebrows, high cheekbones, and a lofty forehead. “You too are from the Languedoc,” he said at last. “I hadn’t expected that. I thought Thury would have his own people around him, but almost everyone is from hereabouts, it seems.”
          “I am from the Minervois,” Julienne found herself saying. How long had it been since she admitted that, remembered that?
          She saw his head jerk. “Were you at Minerve?”
          She swallowed. Oh, God, why had she started this? Her heart was beating against her chest, and now she remembered she had had the nightmare again. That was why she had slept so poorly. “Yes,” she managed.
          “You were there,” Gerard asked in horror, “during the siege? But you must have been a child.”
          “I was nine.”
          Gerard cursed himself. How could he have mocked her with a threat of rape? “You weren’t―molested―surely not even they―” He couldn’t finish. He knew it had happened. He knew it had happened more than once. But Minerve had surrendered. Its citizens should have been immune ….
          “No,” she managed tightly. “I was―lucky.”


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Friday, October 18, 2013

"The Disinherited" -- Excerpt 3

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 third excerpt:

Lady Celiste directed her attention to Gerard with a flush of eagerness, but her expectations for a dashing knight-errant were instantly disappointed. Gerard was too old, too weathered, and too poor to fulfill her fantasies. As quickly as her interest had flared, it fizzled out. She politely held out her hand for Gerard to kiss and declared with pointed distance, “We are very grateful for the service you rendered our beloved aunt. You can be assured of our gratitude.”
          Gerard’s eyebrows twitched at the contrast between her youth and her tone. Had he been younger, he might have thought her beauty entitled her to so much hauteur, or he might not have noticed it at all in his infatuation. As it was, he found her lofty arrogance a tarnish to her beauty.
          Already Lady Celiste had transferred her attention to Father Florio, who was watching her with benignly critical eyes. “You must be Father Florio. In the last three years Aunt Guilemette has not written a single letter in which she has not praised you, Father. What a pleasure it is to welcome you at last under my humble roof.”
          The word “humble” brought another raised eyebrow from Gerard, who at once glanced around the room, taking in the luxurious furnishings, the hooded fireplace and ribbed vaulting―all plastered and painted exquisitely. As he lowered his gaze his eyes met those of the waiting woman, and he had the uncomfortable feeling she could read his thoughts.
          Lady Celiste had taken Father Florio’s hand between her own, and then with an elegant gesture of her left hand she indicated they should sit themselves in the window seat. “Julienne!” she remem­bered to call over her shoulder to the waiting woman. “See to Sir―” She could not remember his name. “The knight. He can get something to eat in the kitchens and sleep in the squire’s chamber. My husband isn’t due back for another fortnight. Tomorrow I can see about finding him something suitable for his troubles.”
          “My lady.” Julienne dipped a courtesy to her mistress, and then with a forced smile indicated the doorway to Gerard.
          Gerard did not respond at first. He had, despite his notably ignominious career, rarely been treated so contemptuously. He noticed that Father Florio stiffened and even Guilemette seemed on the brink of protesting, but Lady Celiste was helping her up into the window seat and chattering about something. Father Florio looked back at Gerard, and his expression was both apologetic and promising. “I will speak to the Lady Celiste―” he started.
          “Don’t bother!” Gerard snapped, and he was gone.
He clattered down the stairs without waiting for the waiting woman. He descended past the audience chamber down to the ground floor. He strode across the armory, on whose naked walls crossbows, lances, and halberds hung. He ignored the rows of saddles, the shelves with helms, and the quarrels stacked in bundles, and strode purposefully into the cellar under the hall. Here he found himself in a barrel-vaulted chamber with unglazed tiles, and directly beside him was the large, square cistern. Beyond the cistern was a smaller, narrower brick basin built over a cavern in which a fire could be built, and then a drain led from this basin into a pool. It was dry and empty at the moment, but the waiting woman had managed to catch up with him at last, and Gerard announced to her, pointing to the pool: “I want a hot bath. Can you see to that or shall I lay the fire myself?”
          “We will get one of the scullery boys to heat the water for you,” she responded to his apparent anger with stiff dignity.
          “Good.” He continued straight through the wine cellar, past the smoke and salt rooms, into the pantry, and then into the kitchens. In pantry and kitchen, astonished assistant cooks and scullery boys looked up and gaped at this strange knight who had burst in among them. The main meal of the day was over. One boy was busy separating the leftovers into basins (one for reuse, one for the poor, and one for the dogs), while two others were busy washing the plates and cutlery from the high table in a deep stone basin. A cook was gutting and decapitating pike, apparently in preparation for some future meal, and an assistant was tossing bones and other ingredients into a steaming pot over the fire, evidently a soup of some sort.
          Gerard’s eyes professionally scanned the shelves and tables, locating a haunch of pork. Pointing, he said to Julienne, “I’ll have some of that pork, fresh bread, and some of your Abbey de Valmagne rosé―I saw some casks of it as I passed through.”
          Then he returned to the pantry as Julienne quietly gave the orders to make up a platter of pork, bread―and the Valmagne―for the visitor. She also gave instruc­tions to prepare a hot bath. When she caught up with the knight, she was appalled to find he had paused at the foot of the stairway leading up to the hall overhead and taken a goblet from the tray of washed objects waiting to be returned to their shelf. It was a rare gold goblet inlaid with jewels, and he was turning it around in his hand, studying it with an intensity that suggested he was apprais­ing its worth.
          The suppressed amusement with which she had followed him up to now dissipated instantly. In a sharp, piercing voice she called, “Put that back where you found it, sir! You have been promised payment and need not sink to stealing.”
          Gerard swung around on her, all the pent-up anger of the last hour smoldering in his face. “I don’t stoop to petty thievery. If I want something, I smash the place down and take the lot!” With a flick of his wrist he sent the goblet hurling through the air towards her. She gasped in surprise and flung out her hands to prevent it from smashing to the flagstone floor.
          “My God!” she exclaimed as she caught the precious goblet. “Where did a barbarian like you learn the langue d’oc so well?”
          “Don’t kid yourself that we’re any better than they are! If the Pope had offered us all the lands we could grab north of the Loire, we’d have been just as eager and just as thorough.”
          He left her gasping for an answer and started pounding up the spiral stairs. She had no choice but to follow him, carefully replacing the goblet on the tray as she passed.

 


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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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Friday, October 4, 2013

"The Disinherited" - An Excerpt

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.

Over the next few weeks I will be publishing excerpts here:


Sir Amaury de Marly, the royal constable of Aguilar, strode into the room. Sir Amaury was a tall, hefty man, now nearing fifty. He had been a companion-in-arms of the great Simon de Montfort in his youth, and was a loyal son of the Church. He had been personally responsible for the destruction of countless heretics and their protectors. But that was years ago. Now he was dressed for leisure in a loose, knee-length woolen gown belted at the waist. He greeted his  unexpected Cistercian guest warmly. “Brother Lucas, an unexpected pleasure. Are you alone?” (It was rare for monks to travel singly.) Without awaiting an answer, he shouted after the departing page: “Boy! Bring wine and a snack for Brother Lucas.” Then, turning back to his guest, he asked, “What brings you here this time of year?”
“Father Theobald is dying, and the abbot sent me to fetch one of your knights.”
“One of my knights? What does the good Father Theobald want with one of my knights? Surely no earthly power can help the good Father now!”
 “He wants to see a certain Sir Gerard. He was very insistent and the abbot said we should do as he asked.”
 “Sir Gerard?” the constable repeated in astonishment. “Do you know the man?”
 The monk shrugged. “How should I know him?”
 The constable snorted and remarked curtly, “A mercenary. As godless as he is fearless. He comes from hereabouts, and it is said he has heretic relatives.”
“So do the good Father Theobald and many other true and devout Catholics. A man cannot be judged by his relatives.”
  The constable snorted in apparent disagreement, but did not contradict the monk. Instead he strode to the door and shouted into the hall beyond, where several men of the garrison were engaged in a desultory game of dice. “Mar­maison! Fetch Sir Gerard immediate­ly!” He turned back to the monk. “Father Theobald is dying, you said? I’m sorry. He is a wise and pious man.”
  “Indeed,” the monk agreed, keeping his opinion to himself. Brother Lucas was only twenty-two and he had suffered during his novitiate under the harsh tutelage of Father Theobald, who had then been the Master of Novices. Father Theobald was widely credited with near-saintly wisdom. Certainly he was very learned and a brilliant scholar, but Brother Lucas had also seen his petty, selfish, and self-righteous side.
  “And how is Abbot Berengar? I trust he has recovered from the illness that afflicted him last summer?”
  “Abbot Berengar has a delicate stomach, sir.” Most disrupted by the increasing influence of the Dominicans at the expense of the Cistercians, Brother Lucas added mentally. It was an outrage that the younger order was being entrusted with unheard-of powers, quite free of all episcopal oversight, while the Cistercians were pushed more and more into the background. Brother Lucas personally thought that as the abbot of one of the wealthiest and most renowned abbeys in the Languedoc, Father Berengar ought to be more active in protesting the encroach­ments of the pushy Dominicans. But Abbot Berengar was far too weak for confrontation; instead he developed stomach trouble and withdrew into his cell for prayer and contemplation.
  “He should eat more meat,” the practical-minded soldier replied, and without hesitation gave Brother Lucas other dietary tips, which the young monk patiently ignored.
  The sound of boots pounding up the stairs finally released him from the tedium. The man who entered the chamber was dressed in knee-high black boots, brown leather hose, and a chain-mail hauberk, over which he wore a quilted leather brigandine. He had a mane of unruly red-brown hair streaked with grey, which fell to his shoulders. His only facial hair was a long, thick mustache that almost concealed a scar running from the corner of his mouth to his chin. His light-brown eyes were sunken in their sockets, and a network of deep wrinkles in the weathered face gave it an expression that was perpetually wary. “You sent for me, my lord?”
  The constable nodded. “This is Brother Lucas of the Cistercian abbey at Fontfroide. He has a message for you.” The constable indicated the monk, who lifted his head to address the soldier.
  “Father Theobald, our honored sacrist, is very ill. He requested that you come to him as soon as possible.”
  The knight lifted his eyebrows as if in disbelief, and remarked as much to himself as to the others: “How odd.”
  “You know Father Theobald?” the constable asked pointedly, suspecting some mistake.
  “No,” the knight answered. “He is my father.”
 
 
 
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