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, February 13, 2015

The Templar by the Roadside - An Excerpt from "The English Templar"




Lordship of Najac, France
March 1308


Hugh felt the hair stand on the back of his head. "Christ in heaven! Someone was murdered right here! Look! You can see the blood and how they dragged him off the road! Jesus! The corpse is still there!"

Felice first felt the same terror as Hugh did, but then she caught the scent of wine and decided that the red snow was colored with spilt wine not blood. Following Hugh's outstretched finger, she expected to find something equally harmless: a piece of discarded tack or clothing, but she grabbed her pommel in terror when she realised that there was indeed a corpse beside the road.

Felice's mare shied to the left as she felt her rider's nervousness. Hugh was looking frantically over his shoulders and then around at the forest, which loomed ominously in all directions. "Oh, my God. Oh, my God! What if they're still here? Jesus, what are we going to do? Felice, what are you doing? Are you mad?"

Felice had jumped down from her mare and was approaching the corpse. She could not have said why, but something about it wasn't right. Clutching her skirts in one hand and leading her reluctant mare in the other, she approached the body cautiously. And then with a shock she met its eyes and her heart stopped. The eyes had locked on hers and they looked through her to her very soul. She was more than naked. Her soul was on trial. The Day of Judgement would not be more merciless. The shock of that realization took her breath away and blood flushed her face but the fear was gone. Then Felice shook off her astonishment and rushed forward to fall on her knees beside the man. 

Her eyes ran over the long, greasy hair and beard crawling with flees, saw the cracked lips and the blood oozing from the corner of the mouth. The man's skin was so pale it was almost translucent and the grime outlined thousands of lines carved into his face by pain. The eyes were sunk deep in their sockets. Felice registered the smears of dirt on the neck, the half-hardened, half-wet smear of blood on the left breast of what had once been a white surcoat. Though the red of the cross was all but obscured by filth, straw and dried vomit, Felice did not need to see to know what she had in front of her. Her eye continued down the length of his body past the hose blacked with filth to the swollen, bruised and deformed limbs below the knee. SHe gasped and her stomach heaved as her nose registered the revolting mixture of sweat, urine, shit and rotting flesh that emanated from the Templar. 

"Hugh!" she shouted over her shoulder, appalled that her own cousin was still astride his horse and staring at her as if she had gone mad. "Hurry! Bring one of the blankets! No, bring me both horse blankets and then ride for Najac!"

"Are you crazy? You don't know who the man is! He might be an outlaw or--"

"Don't be stupid! He's a Templar and he's close to death. We have to get him to Najac!"

"A Templar? Jesus God! Have you lost your senses entirely? If we help him, we'll be arrested and excommunicated and probably hanged! Leave him alone! If he's close to death, then the best favor you can do him is let him die in peace!"

Felice did not argue. She stood up abruptly and went to her mare. Hugh sighed with relief and turned his horse away from the embarrassing discovery on the side of the road. The he realized Felice was not mounting but dragging her saddle back off her mare's crouper. 

"Felice! What are you doing now?"

"I'd rather be excommunicated than damned! she retorted as she dropped down beside the Templar. She detached the heavy, felt blanket covered with grey hairs and smelling pleasantly of horse to which the saddlebag itself was attached. She arranged this over the Templar as gently as she could. 










The English Templar is available for sale here.

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