Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the author of 24 historical fiction and non-fiction works and the winner of more than 53 literary accolades. More than 34,000 copies of her books have been sold. For a complete list of her books and awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight into 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, March 27, 2015

A Special Mission - An Excerpt from "The English Templar"

“Felice, try to understand,” [Umberto pleaded.] “We Dominicans have a sacred mission. I is a mission that… that demands incredible sacrifice. Not what you think! Not just obedience and poverty and chastity.” He dismissed these virtues with an irritable wave of his hand. “It demands far, far more. For the sake of God we are forced to confront... to witness… to commit.. How can I explain?” he cried out in agony.

He wanted to share everything with her, but he knew that she could not understand. He had to make her understand. He needed her to understand — and tell him that it was all right. If she, so pure and innocent as she was, would kiss him and sooth his raw nerves, then he knew he would have the strength to go on. And he had to go on. If he retreated now they would tear him apart like a pack of hounds that had run a fox to ground.

“Felice.” He turned toward her on the bench and clasped her hands between his own. “It is good that you do not know — cannot eve dream of — the evils of which men are capable. The perversions, the depravity, the blasphemy to which some men sink…” He shook his head. He could not bring himself to tell her the truth.

I know more than you think, Felice reflected to herself. She knew now that men could tear the healthy teeth out of a prisoner or put burning iron to his flesh — to make him lie.

“There is heresy around us, Felice,” Umberto told her, diverting his own thoughts from the dangerous uncharted waters of doubt into the safe have of righteousness. “Far, far more than I ever imagined. Who would have thought that the very Knights of Christ were themselves rotten with the vilest of heresies.”

She started.

“I know, I know. You think of your uncle and your grandfather an you don’t want to believe it is true. But… but I have been taught you can trust nothing by its appearance. A man, a soul, can wear so many disguises. But to pierce the layers of falsehood to the truth…” He had let go of her hands and grasped his own head. “Sometimes… I am not sure I have the strength.

Felice waited but Umberto was staring into space, his eyes veiled, his tongue licking at his unhappy lips. “The strength for what, Umberto?” She asked gently.

“For my profession. The bishop has entrusted me with so much responsibility already,” he told her and he did not bother to disguise his pride. “I have been entrusted with a special investigation — entirely on my own. But… but it is very difficult.”

“If it were not difficult it would be no challenge and no achievement.” Felice was glad to fall back upon a phrase they had often bandied about before.

Umberto’s lips acknowledged her words with a smile and his eyes lightened a little. She was helping him as he had known she would. He had been right to come to her — and there really was no need to lay his soul bare. It was good as it was. Encouraged, he pressed ahead. “To date, there have been thousands of confessions by French Templars, but not one Templar outside of France has admitted to the vile practices we have uncovered.  That is, one Englishman, a knight who fell into our hands by chance, did confess and we sent him to Poitiers just before Easter — so the Pope could convince himself of the validity of the confession. But he escaped. Some say he was spirited away by Templars still at large and others that villagers — Cathar heretics — have given him shelter.”

Felice was afraid to breathe and afraid not to. Surely he would see how terrified she was.
“You have nothing to fear!” Umberto hastened to assure her, seeing that she looked as if she thought the Templar would come and attack her in her bed. “He had two broken legs and could do no one any harm — that is why he must have had assistance. Unless, of course, he died in the snow.”

If Felice had not known the story, she would have been thoroughly confused. In order not to give herself away, she insisted somewhat sharply, “You’re not making any sense, Umberto. Try to tell me calmly, from start to finish, what has happened — and what this has to do with you.”

Umberto lifted her hands to his lips and kissed the palms hotly. ‘You are right! You are always right. But why have I been frightening you with tales of free and escaped Templars? There can hardly be very many and we will track them down soon enough. You need not fear them. I promise you!”

He reached out and his fingers brushed a strand of her curly hair off her neck. He wanted to protect her from all harm and all evil. He wanted to keep her wrapped in a cocoon of security and luxury. No other man — not the brutal, bestial, disgusting creatures that called themselves men — should ever come near her. Better she lived out her days in purity here [at the convent] than that she was exposed to the world beyond.

“I was entrusted with finding the Englishman or his body when the thaw came, but you know what the weather has been like. It was not until two weeks ago that I could even begin my search. And, you see, that makes it so difficult to find a corpse. It could have washed away in the flood to God knows where! But if I do not find the corpse, then I must find the man. And to find the man, I must question the villagers along the route where he disappeared.”

“Have you been questioning the people in Najac?”

“Why Najac?” He asked alarmed. “That wasn’t on the route.”

Felice felt her stomach turn over. She had given herself away after all. “Because you said I had nothing to fear. I thought it was because you had already established no one there knew anything.”

It sounded ridiculous to her, but Umberto was too pre-occupied with his own thoughts to be alert to disjointed logic. “No, no. I’ve started farther south. But you see the peasants — they don’t want to cooperate. They force us — truly force us — to use harsher methods. And then it can happen… it sometimes happens that even under pressure they … they cannot tell us anything. A man who knows nothing cannot give information he does not have. But think how hard it is for me! How can I know who has information but is refusing to tell and who is truly innocent? So innocent people get hurt. Even women.” He added the last under his breath, the agonized screams of a woman still ringing in his ears.

Felice understood. He had tortured villagers — women — and she felt a revulsion that made her want to run away. But then she saw the beautiful young man she loved and she was filled with pity for him.

Umberto held his head between his fists, his elbows propped on his knees, and gazed at the tiles of the floor.

“Would it not be better to let this Templar go free than to harm innocent villager?” Felice ventured cautiously.

“I can’t do that!” Umberto protested, lifting his head sharply. “Don’t you understand? If I fail to find him, I am ruined! I will have failed the bishop and he is not a man who keeps unreliable men in his service!”

The English Templar is available for sale here.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Lord of Najac - An Excerpt from the English Templar

Castle of Najac, France

The door latch clicked and the door creaked open. Percy looked over expectantly and smiled at the old man who entered.  He knew that this was the man who had saved his life, set his legs and was responsible for the care he had received.

Geoffrey stopped short at the sight of the blue eyes looking at him.  “Brother! You look better today.”

“I am better. How long have I been here?”

“Three days.” Geoffrey told him, advancing to the bed and looking at his patient with satisfaction. He had never really feared for Percy’s life, but the Templar had been feverish and it was good to see that the fever had broken.

“How can I ever thank you?”

“By surviving, by getting well, by taking up the fight against those that did this to you — to us: to the Temple.”

Percy didn’t answer. Three days ago he had not wanted to survive. Now he was content to lay here in this cocoon of good will, but if he got well he would have to leave. And where would he go?  He could not face anyone who had known him before, and the Temple had been destroyed in any case. But if he could face getting well only with uneasiness, he had absolutely no desire to go on fighting.  He did not think there was any point in fighting. The men who had done this to him had not only the King of France but Holy Church behind them. They would surely do it all again if he tried to defy them. Percy knew he could not face the torture chamber again. He would rather kill himself.

Geoffrey sensed some of what was going on in his mind and he laid a thin, wiry hand on Percy’s. “Don’t worry about that now. You did not ask my help, so you owe me nothing.  I helped you because I could not do otherwise. I vowed to help my brothers and I intend to do the best I can. I regret only that I am so old and feeble. I’m hardly a figure to strike fear into the heart of the King or Norgoret, much less the Inquisition.” Geoffrey gave a self-mocking laugh, and Percy was ashamed.

“My lord, I think you would make the King and even the Pope burn with shame.”

“My name is Geoffrey. I should prefer you call me that.” The intensity of Percy’s admiration embarrassed Geoffrey, and he drew a wooden chair beside the bed and sat down, explaining chattily, “This castle and lordship belonged to my wife. I am nothing but a landless Cypriot knight who had the undeserved good fortune to win the hand of my lady from Saint Louis, who was her guardian.”
There was a knock on the door and Geoffrey called, “Come in.”

The girl who entered had masses of curly auburn hair confined only by a ribbon around the crown of her head.  She had wide-set, golden eyes under clean, black brows, a long, fine noes and well-shaped lips in a heart-shaped face. She wore a gown of cream-colored wool and over this a loose pleated burgundy surcoat that ended at her knee with a broad band of embroidery.  She was not the kind of bright, shimmering beauty who took away one’s breath, much less the kind of succulent, voluptuous female to inspire instant lust, but no normal young man could have failed to feel an instinctive attraction. The freshness of her skin and the litheness of her motions as she stepped lightly into the chamber reinforced those instincts.

Percy unconsciously tried to sit up and at the same time keep the blankets tucked protectively around a chest that had grown thin and frail from inadequate diet and lack of exercise. He surmised from her free hair and the quality of her gown that she was a daughter of the house.

She broke into a smile as their eyes met, and Sir Geoffrey reported, “The fever has broken. Sir Percy and I have been having a very pleasant conversation.” Then he turned to Percy. “You remember my grand-daughter Felice.”

Percy froze. He started to remember. Before Sir Geoffrey had found him there had been someone else, a woman. Just after the prisoners’ transport had continued without him, he had heard hooves. He had thought they had come back for him. Instead he found himself looking at a stranger, a woman. She had dismounted and covered him with a blanket. Then she had wrapped his hands and feet in rags. He stared at the enchantingly innocent maiden before him with open horror. He could remember the condition he had been in. As good as naked from the hips down and stinking with his own excrement. He turned his head away and closed his eyes in humiliation.

Hurt, Felice turned on her grandfather with a bewildered and outraged expression.
Geoffrey put his finger to his lips. “Come, my dear. I’ve evidently talked too long and wearied our guest. His fever may have broken but he needs rest.”

Geoffrey pushed himself to his feet and, taking Felice by the elbow, led her back out of the room, closing the door behind them.

“Why does he scorn me?” Felice demanded in outrage.

“He is ashamed of what you saw, that is all. It is a good sign. It means he is recovering — not just his strength but his pride. That is something to be grateful for,” Geoffrey insisted, firmly escorting her down the spiral stairs.

“You mean he would rather I had not seen him at all? That I had ridden by?” Felice asked indignantly.

“No, he would rather that I had found him — or Niki or Hugh.”

The English Templar is available for sale here.