Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the winner of more than 20 literary accolades. For a complete list of her awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight to historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.

Friday, February 27, 2015

A Pivotal Confession - An Excerpt from "The English Templar"

The Bishop of Albi paced back and forth across his study, his purple robes fluttering about him, the gold threads of the embroidery glittering in the candlelight. He was a formidable figure in full episcopal regalia, his mitre set firmly on his head and his thick fingers laden with massive rings. But for all the jewels and silk, he strode back and forth like an angry elephant, and the calloused guard feared the strength hidden beneath the clerical robes.
The bishop was red in the face and his eyes bulged slightly in his round, flat face. The guard had been sent back to report the loss of one prisoner to the bishop, while the sergeant proceeded with the rest of the detachment to Poitiers. They had lost a whole day looking for the missing prisoner and then decided they could not risk arriving late in Poitiers with the other seven.

The bishop had heard the man out with mounting fury and then demanded to know why in the name of God they had stopped to help the widow with the wine-cart stuck in the snow. “You were already tasting the Bordeaux, weren’t you?”

“No, Your Grace. We couldn’t get past the other wagon, Your Grace.” The guard had been instructed to lie about this point and he had readily seen the sense of it. “We had to stop and get it out of the way first.”

“And you couldn’t leave one moron like yourself to watch the prisoners? How many men did it take to move one bloody wine wagon?”

The guard cleared his throat and flexed his hands nervously but he had no answer, and the bishop’s look of contempt made him run a finger under his collar in embarrassment.

“Why wasn’t the man chained?” the bishop bellowed next.

“We were instructed to bring a wagon for sever prisoners. There was no time to make chains for the eighth,” the guard responded defensively. “I pointed out that there were not enough chains for the last prisoner, but Sir Novice —“ he pointed to Umberto, who was standing as unobtrusively as possible to one side of the fireplace — “said it didn’t matter. He said the prisoner had two broken legs and wasn’t going anywhere.”

The bishop spun about on Umberto. “Is that true?”

Umberto swallowed his own fear and lifted his head. His hood was flung back upon his shoulders and his head proudly emerged from the folds. His skin had a marble pallor and his eyes and cheeks were sunken and shaded grey. “Yes, it is. Father Elion spent all night interrogating this English Templar and writing up his confession just so he could be transported. I assumed that your escort and the fact that the prisoner could not walk was sufficient guarantee that he could not escape.”

“You are as innocent as a newborn lamb,” the bishop observed in a low, insulting voice that made Umberto flush. He knew he had been made to look the fool and he feared for his career.

The bishop’s gaze shifted to Father Elion. The master interrogator looked extremely weary. His boney shoulders were hunched and his head hung low; the lines leading from his hawk-like nose to his mouth stood out like gorges down the side of his face. He eyes were lost in the shadows of their sockets. “The Englishman’s confession is pivotal. He is the first and only English Templar to confess to denying Christ and to idol worship. I have a signed confession here.” Father Elion drew one copy of the confession from his deep sleeves.

“A lot of good that does us now!” the bishop snapped back. “Do you think the King gave such explicit orders about taking care not to kill the prisoners so we could let them slip through our fingers before they can be put on trial?”

“But he can’t have got far. Not with two broken legs. Even if he was rescued by other Templars, they could not take him far in his condition,” Umberto protested. He had to do or say something to mitigate the impact of his error.

“No. Most likely the man never got farther than the woods at the side of the road. You—“ the bishop spun on the guard, “may choose to believe tall tales of phantom Templars still lurking in the woods, capable of miraculous deeds. The Templars I’ve seen couldn’t save their own asses! It is far more likely that the prisoner did no more than roll off the wagon and die in the snow!”

No one contradicted him. After a moment the bishop continued, “As soon as the first thaw comes, you will search the woods on both sides of the road all the way from la Bruyere to Villegranche until you find the corpse. If you fail to find the corpse, then you will search every village and turn every farm and cottage upside down until you find the man. These villagers are all still Albigensian heretics at heart. It would be just like them to harbor a Templar precisely because they have heard the Templars have denied Christ.”

The English Templar is available for sale 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.