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, October 26, 2018

The Holy Roman Emperor in the Holy City - An Excerpt from Rebels against Tyranny

This excerpt is based on first hand accounts of Frederick II's visit to the Holy City, including the Arab sources that tell us about the Qadi and his reaction to Frederick's actions.

At the entrance to the Temple Mount, Frederick and his escort of Teutonic and Imperial knights dismounted again and passed through the gate. Here Frederick waited for the qadi of Nablus to catch up with him while gazing up at the great, golden dome. When the Muslim cleric rejoined him, Frederick noted, “It is a beautiful structure—far more magnificent than the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Is it true that that madman Balian d’Ibelin stripped the gold from it during the last siege?” 

The qadi bowed deeply. “It is true, your majesty. He is said to have used the gold to pay the mercenaries that defended the city against the forces of Salah ad-Din.” 

“Barbarian!” Frederick dismissed Beirut’s father with contempt. The qadi gestured for Frederick to proceed, and they mounted the steps and crossed the wide paved platform in the direction of the great mosque. Frederick kept nodding in approval as his eyes swept over the mosaics of the exterior. Then his eyes fell on a marble plaque. He paused to read it, deciphering the Arabic out loud. “The Great Sultan Salah ad-Din, may Allah’s blessing be upon him, purified this city of the polytheists. Ah ha!” Frederick turned to grin at the embarrassed qadi. “So who were the polytheists?” 

The Muslim scholar opened his mouth and closed it again, bowing deeply in embarrassment as Frederick burst out laughing. He passed into the interior of the mosque with the qadi trailing unhappily in his wake. Fredrick looked about as any tourist would, noting the interior decorations with approval before wandering over to the “rock” itself. This was protected by an iron fence and screen. “What’s this for?” he asked over his shoulder to the qadi. “Something to keep out the pigs?” He jovially referred to the Christians by another name popular among Muslims. 

The qadi looked as if he wanted to sink into the foundations, while Frederick again laughed heartily at his own joke. 

His tour of the Dome of the Rock complete, Frederick proceeded toward the al-Aqsa mosque—that large complex that had served as Templar headquarters and which the greedy bastards valued more than the rest of Jerusalem put together. Ahead of him a throng of pilgrims of the poorer sort were already gathered, oblivious to the fact that the Holy Roman Emperor had arrived by the other gate to the Temple Mount. They were shuffling forward to pass through the narrow entrance guarded by some Mamlukes. 

The Mamlukes looked angry and disgusted, Frederick noted, and he imagined they thoroughly disapproved of the terms of the Treaty that gave Christian pilgrims the right to set foot on the Temple Mount at all. The terms were restrictive, but they did grant those in Frederick’s army the right to visit all the “holy” sites—even if Fredrick couldn’t see what was “holy” about the Knights Templar’s former headquarters. 

Shaking his head in disgust, his eyes fell on a priest clutching a copy of the Bible in his hand. Frederick instantly lost his temper. “You tactless idiot!” he called out. 

At once all the pilgrims turned to stare in astonishment. At the sight of the Holy Roman Emperor still wearing the Imperial crown and robes, they fell to their knees in awe. 

Fredrick waded into the crowd, grabbed the stupid priest by his arm and yanked him to his feet. “How dare you come in here with a Bible? Don’t you realize this is a sacred Muslim site! You are here as a guest only! You have no business carrying a Bible with you! Get out! Out!” The Emperor shoved his knee into the priest’s backside to lend his words greater force, and the man stumbled over his own robes as he staggered forward. “Go!” Frederick shouted after him, and the man started running, with a backward look at Frederick as if the Emperor was mad.

Turning to his host, Frederick intoned, “We apologize for the tactless stupidity of our subjects, o qadi.” 

The qadi of Nablus bowed deeply in reply, but he failed to disguise his intense disapproval.

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, October 19, 2018

The Loneliness of Kings - An Excerpt from Rebels against Tyranny

With the arrival of Emperor Frederick in Cyprus, King Henry was isolated from his previous advisors and became a virtual prisoner of the Hohenstaufen's men. He was treated courteously -- but like a puppet. His later behavior suggests just how much he came to hate both Frederick and his local supporters. In this scene the nine-year-old monarch reflects on his position with his only sympathetic companion: 
the lion in his menagerie.

King Henry was in his menagerie. It had always been one of his favorite places, but since the arrival of the Holy Roman Emperor, he spent more time here than usual. His Sicilian watchdogs didn’t like the stink of the big cats and made disgusted faces, preferring to stay outside in the garden when Henry visited the cats. Henry didn’t like the smell either, but he found that the longer he stayed the less he noticed it, and so, whenever he wanted to escape the company of the various imperial officials the Emperor imposed on him, he came and conversed with the lion.

“We’re in the same situation,” Henry explained, looking into the unblinking, golden eyes of the lion. “You can’t run free and be with your friends, and neither can I. But at least you don’t have to listen to lectures all day long,” Henry added. The Emperor insisted that King Henry needed more “education” and had assigned him instructors, particularly for the natural sciences and mathematics. That was bad enough, Henry felt, but what he really resented was that whenever the “the wonder of the world,” Frederick Hohenstaufen, spoke with him, the latter spent most of the time telling Henry how evil and insidious his former friends were.

“Maybe Lord Philip did keep some of my revenues for himself,” Henry told the lion, who yawned at him, letting out a puff of bad-smelling breath. “But it isn’t as if I went without anything I needed or wanted,” Henry pointed out.

The lion slowly pulled his hind feet under him and pushed himself upright. He sauntered over to the bars of his cage and looked more intently at Henry, who was sitting on the floor outside the cage with his back against the wall.

“Nor is the Emperor a particularly good king,” Henry informed the attentive lion. “If he was, then people wouldn’t keep rebelling against him. First, he drove the Lord of Beirut into rebellion by threatening to take away Beirut, and now all of Apulia is in revolt. Apulia,” Henry explained to the lion, “are the lands in Southern Italy that belong to the Kingdom of Sicily. For weeks now, messengers arrive practically every day reporting on yet another city that has either fallen or just gone over to the Pope without a fight. And you know the best of it?” Henry asked the lion, who decided to sink down on his belly again but continued to stare at Henry. “The Pope’s armies are led by King John of Jerusalem! Queen Yolanda’s father. I wish my cousin Eschiva was here so we could talk about it,” Henry admitted. The lion was not the best conversationalist.

Since he had no other companion he trusted however, Henry soon resumed his monologue. “I overheard Herman von Salza, that’s the Master of the Teutonic Knights, who recently arrived from Acre, say that if Frederick wanted a kingdom to return to, he needed to take Jerusalem fast and return to Sicily. Frederick insisted he had to ‘crush’ the Ibelins first. Salza tried to convince him that this war on fellow Christians only played into the hands of the Pope, and warned him he might win Cyprus only at the price of losing Sicily. Then he told the Emperor, ‘Take Jerusalem and you’ll be the hero of Christendom. After that, you can do whatever you like to the Ibelins and their friends.’”

Henry paused, thinking about that. “I hope that’s not true because I don’t see why he should be able to take away people’s lands and titles just because he doesn’t like them. Beirut’s father defended Jerusalem against Saladin, you know. If it wasn’t for him, many more Christians would have been enslaved. And Beirut himself made a prosperous city out of Beirut that was a ruin before. The Emperor shouldn’t interfere in affairs here. He doesn’t understand anything about the Holy Land and those of us who were born here.”

The lion yawned again and blinked at Henry slowly.

“I don’t really think he can do Lord John and Lord Walter any harm,” Henry told the lion a little uncertainly. “They hold the royal castles, and if you’d ever seen them you’d know they are impregnable.” Henry stumbled over this word that he had only recently learned from Gunther von Falkenhayn. Then he brightened and confided to the lion, “Best of all, if Frederick goes to Syria to recapture Jerusalem, then I’ll be rid of him! The first thing I’m going to do is ride to St. Hilarion to see my sisters, and then I’m going to visit Lady Yvonne and Lady Eschiva. In fact, I think I’ll hold a tournament and have a banquet with lots of music and dancing.” Henry was warming to the theme of being master of his own house again.

The lion tentatively reached one of his big paws out between the bars of the cage as if offering it to Henry. The fur looked wonderfully soft, and the paw was relaxed and looked gentle. It was almost as if the lion was offering him friendship. Henry wanted to reach out and touch that paw, but the lion-keeper had warned him never, never, never to try to touch the lion. He claimed the lion was still wild at heart and only looking for an opportunity to take his revenge upon his captors.

Still, Henry didn’t feel any hostility emanating from the lion. The lion seemed to understand and sympathize with him. So Henry looked left and right to see if the lion-keeper was anywhere about. He appeared to be alone, but Henry knew from experience that the lion-keeper liked to keep out of sight yet within hearing. “Hello?” Henry called out to see if he got a reaction.

Although no one answered, he heard voices outside—angry, agitated voices.

Now what? Henry thought, pushing himself to his feet in anticipation of something unpleasant.

A moment later one of his Sicilian watchdogs burst in, grimacing at the smell and visibly holding his breath. “My lord! Come at once! The Emperor wishes to speak with you.”

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Emperor's Letter - An Excerpt from Rebels against Tyranny

When Emperor Frederick II arrived in Limassol on his way to the Holy Land for his repeatedly promised and long-delayed crusade, he sent to his "beloved uncle" John d'Ibelin, Lord of Beirut, a letter full of assurances of affection and high regard. In the letter, he begged the Lord of Beirut to bring his children to Limassol so that the Emperor might embrace them and promised Beirut himself rich rewards.  Beirut's friends and advisors, however, smelled a rat and warned him not to accept the Emperor's invitation.

In this scene, Beirut's children debate what he should do.

“Won’t any of you support me in this?” Balian demanded of his siblings furiously as soon as they were alone together. “The Emperor intends to humiliate and ruin our father! He told me to my face that he would hold him accountable for Uncle Philip ‘plundering’ the royal Cypriot treasury—and that was before Barlais started filling his ear with further lies.”

“That’s what you keep saying, but the Emperor’s letter spoke a very different message,” Baldwin pointed out in an annoyed tone.

“Didn’t you hear what everyone in there was saying?” Balian countered incredulously. “Everyone agreed the letter was suspicious! The Emperor’s letters have more often been filled with lies than truth! He lied to King John, he lied to the Pope, he lied to the Lombard League, he lied to the German princes! His reign is a catalog of broken promises. Starting with a crusading vow that he’s deferred so many times I lost track! The Patriarch of Jerusalem warned against any association with the Hohenstaufen.”

“Don’t let yourself get dragged into Church affairs, Bal,” Hugh advised. “The Emperor’s dispute with the papacy has nothing to do with us. The Pope tried to stop this crusade even though it’s the best chance we’ve had of regaining Jerusalem since Richard the Lionheart went home.”

“That’s not the point,” Balian argued. “You’ve got to understand how often Frederick has said one thing and done the opposite! If this is supposed to be a crusade, why the hell did the Holy Roman Emperor bring more scholars and clerics than fighting men? Why did he bring his harem?”

“Oh, come on!” Baldwin rolled his eyes. “You don’t have to lower yourself to repeating convent-girl gossip!”

“Damn it, Baldwin!” Balian lashed out at his brother furiously. “I saw them with my own eyes!”

“Really? Harem girls?” Hugh pricked up his ears and looked like a bird-dog ready to pounce. “I’d like to see them.”

“They were veiled, of course,” Balian tossed at Hugh, deflating his interest a little, “but there were about a dozen of them. Furthermore, they were escorted off one of Fredrick’s ships by a score of Mamlukes—probably eunuchs—in turbans and Saracen sashes. I could hardly believe my eyes so I asked one of the sailors about them. He told me they were Sicilian Muslims who served the Emperor as his personal bodyguard—and the bodyguard of his harem it seems—just like our cousin Eschiva tried to tell us. This is not a man who is the least bit serious about a crusade! He’s here for no other purpose than to exert his authority over us—the lords of Cyprus and Jerusalem! You’ve got to believe me!” Balian was starting to feel desperate.

“I agree with you, Balian,” Bella spoke up, startling her brothers. “Frederick isn’t much of a fighter, but he’s obsessed with his power and position.”

“Just what makes you, of all people, an expert on the Holy Roman Emperor?” Baldwin wanted to know.

“I’m the one who talked to cousin Eschiva most, and she spent three years at his court,” Bella told him bluntly, staring him down.

“Eschiva? You should have heard the way her brother talked about her! She’s not a reliable witness,” Baldwin said dismissively, earning the immediate ire of both Balian and Bella.

Balian rose to Eschiva’s defense “She’s a far more reliable witness than Eudes is! Eudes is so wrapped up in his own importance and self-interest he wouldn’t be able to see a rabid dog if it was standing three feet in front of him.”

Bella insisted belligerently, “Eschiva is very perceptive and intelligent, and she saw the callous and cold-blooded way Frederick treated his bride—which is why all that talk about ‘dear and well-beloved cousins,’ and ‘affectionate’ feelings for Papa is fake. Think about it, Baldwin! Why on earth would the Emperor want Papa to bring ‘his children’ with him on crusade? He seemed far more interested in us than in the King—which is very suspicious.”

“We happen to be some of the best knights—” Hugh started to point out.

“Spare me!” Bella cut him off. “The Emperor didn’t say ‘adult sons’ or ‘knighted sons,’ he said ‘your children,’—which, by the way, included Johnny and Guy and me!”

“And you will stay right here in Nicosia with the King’s sisters,” John of Beirut ordered firmly, coming into the room and bringing his sons to their feet respectfully.

“Father, we need to talk,” Balian declared at once, only to break off when his father shook his head.

“Balian, I know what you think and feel. You’ve told me often enough already.”

“Father, listen to me! Frederick is surrounded by Muslims and Jews.”

“And four archbishops,” his father reminded him.

“Four Sicilian Archbishops, who are about as spirited as donkeys!”

“Balian! Please! I don’t like to hear you talk that way about princes of the Church. Calm down, and listen to me instead. We don’t need to discuss it again because this letter gave your suspicions more credence than anything more you could say. Bella, sharp as she is,” Beirut smiled at his daughter with genuine pride, “put her finger on it. This insistence on me bringing my children is alarming. You and Hugh are also right: the letter reeks of nauseating flattery. His assurances of affection for the ‘uncle’ of a bride he treated hardly better than a slave girl ring very hollow indeed. I do not believe for a moment that the Emperor intends to seek my advice much less honor me in any way.” He paused to let his words sink in, and Balian was humbled by his father’s clear understanding of the situation.

“That said, I was not being melodramatic when I said I would rather die than be accused of undermining this crusade. Your grandfather spent his entire life in the service of Jerusalem. He gave everything for Jerusalem—offering his own freedom to ransom the poor. I, in contrast, have done nothing but enrich myself. I have rebuilt a city and built a splendid palace. By the grace of God, I have six fine children and have seen them educated and outfitted in the most lavish manner possible. I am one of the wealthiest and most powerful men this side of the sea. Many men in Outremer follow my lead and my example. If I fail to respond to the Emperor’s summons, then men will be right to say that I am nothing but a wealthy, ambitious and self-serving man.”

“But he’s hardly brought any troops himself!” Balian protested again.

All the more reason that we must come with our full strength,” his father countered. “You,” he looked to Balian, but then included Bella and Hugh, “however, are right that there is good reason to doubt the Emperor’s intentions. So we must all be on the alert, but the men of the House of Ibelin will go to meet the Emperor, while Bella remains here. Understood?” He looked from one child to the other, receiving a “Yes, my lord,” from all his children.

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, October 5, 2018

Of Books and Maidens - An Excerept from Rebels against Tyranny

The level of education of the nobility in the Middle Ages is often grossly underestimated. Particularly the nobles of Outremer involved in the resistance to Frederick II were characterized by high levels of scholarship, several being the authors of important legal treatisies, histories or books of philosphy. When I discovered that women were often book illuminators, I couldn't resist making books and illumination a part of my novel.

In this scene, Balian discovers more about Eschiva.

Balian had borrowed the Odyssey from Eschiva and sat at the salon table trying to read it by the light of a hurricane lamp. He desperately wanted to read it, so he could entertain Eschiva with it in the morning, but although he could read the Greek letters, sound out the words, and occasionally even make out whole phrases, it wasn’t good enough. He could not read an entire stanza of the Greek verse, much less a page or an episode.

Tiring, he flipped through the pages half-heartedly hoping something he could understand would catch his eye. Instead, he was distracted by the beautiful illustrations. They were powerful, colorful, and evocative. They reminded him of the tales in the book, and he remembered lying on his belly on the cool tiles of his father’s palace in Beirut while his grandmother read to him in Greek. She had been very old by then and she dressed in old-fashioned robes. She didn’t wear black like some widows; she permitted herself royal purple, dark blues and greens as well. Her voice was old too, but melodic. When she read the Odyssey, Balian had heard the waves of the sea carrying him away.

As he turned another page he was startled to find a piece of paper folded inside. Puzzled, he removed it and caught his breath. It was covered with beautiful illuminated letters. They were cast haphazardly across the page, forming no single word, just letters decorated with fishes and ships, gulls and sea monsters. He glanced toward the closed door of the aft cabin. Eschiva.

“What? Are you still up?” Philip asked in surprise, squinting in the unexpected light as he emerged from his cabin with the evident intent of going on deck to relieve himself.

“I was just reading—well, trying to read,” Balian admitted, hastily returning the sheet with the beautiful letters and glancing anxiously toward the door of the cabin where Eschiva slept. He didn’t want her to know he’d been up all night for nothing.

“Why?” Philip asked, still confused.

“I wanted to read it for Eschiva.”

“Wait. I’ll be back in a moment.” Philip disappeared to take care of his business, and when he returned he plopped himself down next to Balian. “Now,” he opened, addressing his friend seriously. “What is this about? You aren’t, you know—I mean she’s your cousin.”

“Yes, I know,” Balian answered sharply, an annoyed frown creasing his face.

“Well, so, you can’t seduce her, right?”

“No! Of course not!”

“And you can’t be serious about her either. I mean, if nothing else, you could do a lot better.”

“Her father, like mine, was regent of a kingdom. She’s the granddaughter of a king, while I’m the grandson of a queen. I think that makes us remarkably well suited in rank, don’t you?” Balian noted tartly.

“Yes, well, true, but—though I hate to admit it—you’re not bad-looking, so, as well as being an Ibelin, you can have any maid you want.”

Balian shrugged uncomfortably. He knew that. It had gotten him in enough trouble already. “I’ve had a lot of girls, Novare, and I’ve chased more. The prettier, the more conceited, I’ve found.”

Novare snorted. There was truth to that, but that didn’t stop him dreaming about the perfect maid: sweet-tempered, cheerful, biddable, rich, full-bodied, hot-blooded, breathtakingly beautiful, and virtuous—at least until he came along. Bringing his thoughts back to his friend, he asked. “So you really like her?”

“Yes, don’t you?”

Novare shrugged. “She’s not my type. Too—I don’t know—boring.”

“Boring? How many maids do you know could drug a guard and escape by night through a city to run away from the most powerful monarch on earth?”

“Well, she did have a little help,” Novare reminded his friend immodestly.

“Once she reached the port, yes, but she had to get there first. I think that took tremendous courage.”

Novare raised his hands in surrender. “No question, Bal. She must have spunk, I just don’t see….”

“Beyond her plain face,” Balian finished for him.

“Maybe you’re right. If her skin clears up more and she put on a little weight, she wouldn’t be half-bad.”

Balian nodded and looked down at the book on the table in front of him. “It’s not as though I’ve lost my heart to her, Novare. I would just have liked to entertain her a little. She must be terribly lonely, all alone in the world except for Eudes.” Novare rolled his eyes at the mention of Eudes de Montbéliard, whom neither of them liked. “It must also be very boring cooped up in the cabin all day and night,” Balian continued.

“No doubt, but—if you’ll forgive me for saying so—a little, meaningless kindness on your part could be quite misinterpreted. She’s probably never had any man pay her much attention. A few of your smiles could turn her head. You don’t want to break her heart when she finds out it all meant nothing to you, do you?”

“Of course not,” Balian dismissed the suggestion. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to trifle with her feelings. Go back to bed.”

Balian looked down again and his eyes fell on the first illustration. It showed Helen being led away by Paris. Helen had long golden hair and white skin; Paris was dark and dressed in armor. In the background, a king with a crown on his head slept in a bed with a baldachin. Helen of Troy had been the greatest beauty on earth and what had it gotten her husband? Ten years of bloody war. Penelope, on the other hand…. Balian shrugged and carefully closed the book

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.