Tag Archives: historical fiction

The Triumph

By  Nickolas Urpí 

 “Memento mori…”

Whispers slave whispers throngs bells jangling like the inconsistent shouts of the masses of people shouting “io triumphe io triumphe” purple purple purple burning of torches choking on smoke flooding nostrils incendiary

I had consented to let the soldiers burn the huts as they looted the thatched homes in the city as was customary of the time everyone always burns as is their right the right of the conquered is it not so?

“Of course it is so” I had said to myself with the slopping of boots across the muddied ground the same shouting bursting in my ears “There is no other way”

“Imperator! Imperator!” Calvinus the procession like a long snake winding its way up through the Forum heading directly to the Capitoline choking the streets the throngs of people shouting shouts shouts shouts repeat repeat repeat the hard cobblestones swallowing the noise the soldiers red glimmering bronze beaming like ten thousand suns painful to the eyes “To the Gauls came the torch, from the steps of his porch, the enemy was sprawled, by our general who’s bald!” reach for the top of my head, feel the empty spaces and the laurel wreath crinkling beneath my hot fingers in the sun the golden cloak at my feet and the studded sandals the laurel wreath adorning the son of Jupiter the red paint of Mars clinging to my face the red clay the statues of the heroes lining the procession, gilded and adorned with luscious paints brilliant colors dancing in the sun’s cascading lights—

“Memento mori…”

The statues in the golden beaming of the sun—

“Your father triumphed twice in his lifetime,” they had said. “Your grandfather fought alongside Quintus Fabius Maximus in repelling Hannibal. He died in Zama. Of course you will go to war and defeat numerous enemies,” they had said this, encircling me in the atrium of my own house, my bulla my childhood medallion that had felt so light I had never truly felt it feeling so weighty as it was removed from me the wax faces of my ancestors peering out at me from around the room “Of course you will”

“Must I?” I had said. “Will I?”

The light from atop the Capitoline the sun’s fingers clinging to the Temple of Jupiter the greatest and best the greatest and best the shouts from the adoring crowd having earned their approbation and love and respect the way the ancestors had always done it the way of the ancestors the way of our fathers lining the streets watching the procession from atop their marble columns the fingers of their ambition poking the clouds Clavinus finding his name etched in stone across the way from his father my father the great Clavinus who took eight hundred prisoners had slain fifty thousand in battle brought back three million sesterces to the public coffers the great Calvinus who weareth the laurels of Jupiter atop his four horse chariot white as the day and pure as the light

“Memento mori…”

Fifty thousand slain the prisoners bound by hemp to the carriage which pulls them thus to their imminent death or saledeath their eyes shadow cast and downfallen beneath the banners “Here are the captured prisoners of war from Britain” prisoners of war war war war

They had lost. Our glinting steel dulled and bloodied—dried up in the hot sun and cold wind the panoramic vista of a fresh lake with the reeking of severed limbs and drowning corpses in the evening glare. The golden sunset had faded into the crimson settling of the glare lingering beyond the horizon’s threshold.

“The town lies just beyond the ridge. They would have evacuated by now. Shall I give the order to burn the houses?” he repeated to me. It seemed as though my tongue had been pinned to the roof of my mouth the way the spear had been driven into that man’s head and split his skull.

“That is what is always done,” I had replied to him. The smoke from the burning huts beyond that thin invisible veil that separates what is seen from what is unseen.

The smoke rose up and filled my nostrils again the procession winding its way around the city like the curdling of milk the prisoners watching their precious metals piled atop each other like their comrades’ burnt corpses the savoring taste of defeat’s bitter dust lingering on their tongues are they not men too? The reds and the purples washing the sea of crowds shouting and shouting How could I not have said “That is what is always done” for it was always done it was the way of the ancestors

the ancestors’ watched atop the corpses of wasted quinqueremes and

the cheering and the shouting

Shouting “Calvinus!” my name the men marching onwards with their glimmering helmets the colossal monoliths of the ancestors peering down and gravely sending their approbation between the dying light of day and the ascension of the Capitoline rising before the heads of the four horses the smell of cypress trees congratula—

“Memento mori…”

the cypress boughs

“Your father would be proud if he could see you today,” they said as the dirt began to pile atop him beneath the marble slab which listed his achievements which I did not care to read as I had memorized them long ago against the death written on his face when he became a wax mask to hang next to grandfather. “You will of course be consul and follow in his footsteps and slay many foes.”

“Must I?” I had said.

“Of course you must,” they had replied in unison.

I must have then no choice in the matter it was expected it was the way of the ancestors then the smoke ripping and tearing the water from the ducts in my eyes running down the cheek and mingling with the redness of my painted faces Mars’ and mine faces the shouting and cheering mixed with the cries of anguish and death and the smell of burning burning burning

“Is that not what the old generals had done?” he had asked, his armor spattered with the boiling blood of a Gaul.

“Then I must,” I had said. Though perhaps I could—

No perhaps only way the ancestors had done the cheering throngs of crowd singing as the ancestors fell behind in the procession but continued to glare casting their shadow over the crowd and I musn’t the son of Jupiter the face of Mars the mighty conqueror of the barbaric west laid waste the enemies of the people of Rome Calvinus the magnif—

“Memento mori…”

I must I must I must the way of the ancestors there is no shame no shame no shame no shame the lingering redness of Mars across the battlefield night is falling hold onto the horses tighter the reins the army marching in red the crimson son the rock falling upwards cannot go upwards can it? No it cannot

“A wise man once said the rock can never be trained to move upwards, no matter how many times it has been thrown,” they had said to me when I still had my bulla.

“Why not?” I had asked.

“That is simply the way it is done,” they had said to me.

“But what if it wants to go up?” I had asked them.

“It does not matter what it wants—it cannot choose when everything tells it to fall down,” they had said to me. “Besides… a rock cannot want.”

“Let them have their pillage. I cannot stop them. I must let them do what is… as expected,” I said to him whilst my knees soaked in the freshly strewn lake lingering in the dying sun with fifty thousand lives extinguished before the second began to be counted.

“A marvelous victory.”

A marvelous victory resounding with the name Calvinus and the thoughts of shimmering gold armor adorning the triumphal column with his immortal visage atop it—

“Memento mori…”

The sheep was led up to the altars the knife in my hand gleaming like the sword of Mars hanging above us all perhaps there is no expectation

But their faces are looking at me, looking at me with the grave approval of the ancestors to place this knife into the neck of this beast perhaps there is a—but no—there is only the way of the ancestors I must I could not have

I could not have the blood is dripping on my hands

“There are fifty thousand dead and eight hundred prisoners still alive mostly women and children.” The camp sat upon the hill looking over the field, the rancid and pungent grotesqueness of death sifting through the night breezes.

“The men forgot to place a barricade around the camp,” I had said.

“But there are no more enem—… yes, imperator I will see to it that it is done,” he had said. “The town was burned to the ground, as you wanted, imperator.”

“As I wanted?” I had said. “But, of course, that is always done. I could not more avoid it than a lion change his roar.”

The night was drifting away again, the moonlight pale and condescending

Of course there was no alternative the choice was not mine the choice was not mine to make not mine no choice the way of the ancestors compel compel push push force force like a blacksmith’s hammer to anvil the rock must fall the rock must fall yes it always falls

“Memento mori…”

men are not rocks

______________________________________________________________

Nickolas Urpí is the author of the literary war fantasy novel The Legend of Borach and has been published in HCE Review literary journal, Soft Cartel magazine, Ripples in Space magazine, and The Fall Line magazine. His writings fuse his studies of ancient history, literature, and philosophy with his crafted prose to immerse the reader in the world of his fiction through vivid settings and characters. An alumnus of the University of Virginia, he resides in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Thanks for sharing!
75
Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on The Triumph

Everything I Never Told You

Written by Celeste Ng

Published by Penguin Books

Review by Meredith Allard

 

Some readers may argue against my classifying Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng as historical fiction. The story takes place in the not-so-distant past of the 1970s, but as someone who lived through those years reading the story did bring on a sense of nostalgia. In some ways, life seemed more simple then. There were no cell phones, no social media. You had actually use a rotary phone to contact people, and there were these things called typewriters, kids, where you needed ribbons and messy liquid paper to fix those pesky typos. We can have a discussion about how far in the past something has to be in order to qualify as historical fiction. We can also discuss whether or not nostalgia in itself is enough to qualify something as historical fiction. My rationale for including Everything I Never Told You as historical fiction is that, while the story about a family mourning the death of its teenage daughter is timeless, the story itself may have looked different if it took place in the 21st century.

Teenager Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, but being the favorite child isn’t as wonderful for Lydia as you might think. She carries the weight of both of her parents unfulfilled dreams—her father’s insecurities being about Chinese and feeling as though he never fit in, and her mother’s unfulfillment at feeling destined to the life of a traditional housewife, thereby never meeting her true potential as a woman in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. When Lydia is found drowned, the carefully woven family fabric begins to unravel, and everyone in the family, including Lydia’s older brother and younger sister, is forced to confront what they knew, or what they thought they knew, about their family.

Everything I Never Told You is a family story about how often we don’t know the people we’re supposed to be closest to. Ng does a wonderful job sharing each character’s perspectives, and we understand James and Marilyn, or at least we understand why they acted as they did. Yes, it would have been nice if there were more self-reflection among the characters while Lydia was alive, but that’s not particularly realistic. Often, we don’t recognize where we could have done better until after the fact. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, we may even see some of our own family dynamics reflected in the story. There’s that old saying from Maya Angelou—when people do, they do the best they know how to do. That’s what James and Marilyn do in Everything I Never Told You—they did the best they knew how to do. And that’s all anyone can do in any given moment.

Thanks for sharing!
75
Posted in Historical Fiction, Reviews | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Everything I Never Told You

Daughters of the Witching Hill

Written by Mary Sharratt

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review by Meredith Allard

 

I was drawn to Daughters of the Witching Hill because of my interest in witch hunts and witch trials, and Mary Sharratt did not disappoint. The story is based on historical details and transcripts from the real-life 1612 Pendle witch hunt.

The novel starts with an interesting premise. What if some of the people accused of witchcraft in the 1612 Pendle witch hunt actually practiced magic? Daughters of the Witching Hill begins with Bess Southerns, known as Mother Demdike, a poor woman living with her children in Pendle Forest. She discovers a familiar, delves into magic, and develops a reputation as a cunning woman, which is considered different than a witch because cunning women use their powers to heal and not hurt people. The magic works both for and against Bess and those she cares for most. Bess’ granddaughter Alizon, is afraid of the magic her grandmother possesses, but Bess’ best friend since girlhood embraces the dark side of magic. Bess is betrayed by her own family—some who testify against her willingly, and some who don’t. Bess, Alizon, and others are accused of witchcraft and may suffer the ultimate consequence because of one man determined to make his name as a witch finder.

The novel caught me from the first page through Bess’ narrative voice. When Alizon takes over the narrative later in the story, her voice is just as powerful. Mary Sharratt does what the best historical novelists do so well—she weaves facts of the time period, details about food, clothing, work—seamlessly into the plot. Through Bess, we see what life was like for poor people in late 16th and early 17th century England. Work was hard to find, and poor people had to travel from place to place asking if there was any work. There were times when Bess and her family went hungry. There were famines when many people died. Magic provided Bess and her family with an income as well as some respect—at least until Bess begins to age and lose some of her potency as a healer. As someone from the poor end of the socioeconomic spectrum, Bess and her family are vulnerable to the whims of those with higher status. Sharratt does a fine job showing the precarious nature of life for poor people like Bess and Alizon.

If you’re interested in witch hunts or witch trials, you will love Daughters of the Witching Hill. This is also a great read for those interested in 16th and 17th-century English life.

Thanks for sharing!
75
Posted in Reviews | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Daughters of the Witching Hill

The Monarchy Revolution

By Abbey Serena

Forty-four years before Prince Albert draws in his final breath and sends the entirety of England into a period of mourning that lasts for the remainder of the century, a curse is placed upon the monarchy. What this curse is, and why it has come, none of the royals know. It comes in the form of a magic man—perhaps remnants of the Romantics, whose eyes would have glazed lovingly at the sight of him, for all of their opium-induced theories would have been proven true. This man is not altogether a man—and, for the sake of history, he is truthfully not real at all, except in his ability to rot certain aspects of the royals’ lives. He brings with him misery in the form of death. Queen Victoria said in her diary, after her assassination attempt on June 10, 1840, “Just before the 2nd shot was fired… or rather more while he fired, dear Albert turned towards me, squeezing my hand, exclaiming ‘My God! Don’t be alarmed.’” Why not alarmed? Why not fear for the end of a reign so filled with peace that not a single war was started, that the people stopped breaking their bones over their work, and that the monarchy was stabilized and expanded by the nine children for whom Victoria laboriously expanded and contracted her body? Why not be alarmed at the threat of an end? Prince Albert never told us, the readers of his German diaries and the scholars of history, why he commanded his wife, the Queen, to not be alarmed by death contained in a bullet.

Here, I must depart from you, reader, and have you choose for yourself if the cursed man was at fault for all of the wrongdoings that will happen forthcoming, or if the figures that I will portray should have taken responsibility for their actions. The question that I have for you, and that I’m certain Prince Albert posed within his own mind, is if fate interfered in the decades-long span of time in which this story takes place.

 * * * * *

The year was 1817, and the hour had grown so late that almost all of the light inside of the Palladian mansion, Claremont, was snuffed out. The young Prince Leopold doubted that anyone in the entire English nation slept tonight. Seated in an upholstered chair that had been placed out of the way of all of the people who rushed back and forth like ants raiding a basket of food and swiftly dodging death, Leopold stared straight ahead of himself at a portrait of a naked woman by an artist whose name he couldn’t recall. It occurred to him then that the female body was a strange, ugly, powerful weapon. They weren’t built for war, but they could both harvest life and destroy it using only their wombs.

The woman in the portrait reminded him of his own wife, Charlotte. Her hair was the same reddish-brown hue, and every tendril appeared like a flashing ribbon that she had tied to her crown like decorative ornaments. This nameless figure, too, was built with broad shoulders and a square torso. Her breasts—misshapen, pink-tipped lumps—pointed sadly down to a fat belly that might have been caused by pregnancy or tarts.

Everyone abruptly stopped moving. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the door to the bedchamber where his wife was giving birth crack open. The figure that emerged was unsightly. He was a short man—no taller than the average woman—cloaked from head to toe in a wool coat. His back was slumped over and heavily knotted near his shoulder blades. A pomaded, white wig sat atop his head, the face of which nearly made Leopold cringe with its gruesome appearance. The man had two swollen flaps where his lips should have been, and his cheeks were furred with dark, coarse hair.

In the crook of the man’s arm was a swaddled bundle. Leaning on his cane, the man staggered over to Leopold and extended his arm without saying a word. Leopold dumbly held out his hands and the man placed his burden into them. Looking upward, Leopold examined the weathered, blackened skin and the silvery, damp eyes of the physician who had attended his wife during her labor. Looking at the bundle, he pushed back a swath of blanket and stared into the bluish, deathlike visage of his baby. Knowing from the silence that came from within the bedchamber that Charlotte hadn’t survived the birth, Leopold tilted his head back and gazed into the physician’s pale eyes. “What is to be done now?” Leopold, ever the strategist, whispered.

The good physician’s face flickered with interest, but still he remained mute. Seeing that he would receive no council from the man, he clutched his child against his breast and leaned his forehead into the heel of his hand. As water slid down Leopold’s cheeks, the physician turned and strode down the passageway. Between thumps of his cane, there came a steady tapping noise, as if he was wearing wooden shoes

* * * * *

In Belgium, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, sat with his mistress at their breakfast table. He puffed on a cigar while Julie had for herself a plate of meat, eggs, bread, and sweets. Glancing at his companion, Edward exhaled heavily and reclined in his chair. Julie was a fine Frenchwoman, if not a bit theatrical. She was a jealous viper; she would never be outdone by another woman. On this morning, her dark hair was coiled atop her head and she wore a cambric gown that scooped up her breasts and thrust them upward. He loved Julie because she frequently asked him about the time that he had spent serving in the military.

Just as Julie finished her breakfast, someone knocked on the door. One of the staff hastened to answer it, and then appeared in the threshold of the breakfasting room. “My lord, a man comes with the post. He requests an audience with you in the parlor.”

“He does?” Edward asked with a crooked tilt to his eyebrows. He slanted a sardonic smile at Julie before rising. “I’ll see him at once!” As he followed his housekeeper toward the parlor, he wondered whatever a man bringing his post could want with him. He entered the room and found, sitting on his couch, a dreadful creature who made a poor excuse for a human being. Instead of rising and bending himself over into a bow, the man remained where he was and lifted his silvery gaze to the duke. He had in his lap a sack of letters. Edward, who realized that he had been staring at the strange-looking, old man, came forward and greeted him, “Good friend! Rise and bow to me, and then we’ll talk of whatever matters you seek to discuss with me.”

Putting his cane forward, the man stood and held out the sack. Edward fathomed that the man must have been stupid with age and simply took the letters without pressing him to bow again. Then the man gestured for his other hand. He took from his coat what appeared to be The Morning Chronicle, and he placed it in Edward’s free hand. Edward glanced down at the paper and pushed his mouth to the side of his face when he saw, printed on the cover, a headline that spoke of Princess Charlotte’s untimely death.

Edward looked back at the man, who nodded his head and shuffled past, his cane leaving dents in the rococo pattern on the rug. The housekeeper assisted the man out of the house, and as soon as Edward heard the front door close, he sank onto the couch. Peering closer at the paper, Edward realized that his father’s other relations were swiftly reacting to the news of the poor princess’s death and starting a race for the next heir. Edward snorted at the thought of his relatives chasing after young women still in their time of breeding. All of them were obese and balding. Even to have a taste of the royal line, many women would not subject themselves to such a fate.

Stroking his chin, Edward contemplated his mistress. They had been together for a long time. But on the other hand, he was still in his prime. It would be simple for him to find another woman, and if he managed to produce an heir to the throne, he’d be financially set for the rest of his life. For such a long time, Edward had been existing in and out of various states of debt. Surely Julie would understand.

As if his thoughts about her had summoned her, Julie appeared in the doorway, an apprehensive expression drawn onto her face. “What was that about?” She asked, her French accent lilting every word in that sweet way that he enjoyed.

“Ah, my dear girl! There was only a death in the English royal family. There are at least two of those every year, as you know. It is nothing to be worried about just yet.” He motioned for her to come to him, and like the affectionate woman that she always was, she floated over to him and propped herself upon his knee. To remove all of the worry from her head, he kissed her mouth and burned her cheek with his stubble.

* * * * * 

“Wait here.” Edward made a staying motion to his wife, Victorie, who wriggled backward on her seat in the carriage and stared at the back of his head as he alighted. A notch worried the space between her eyebrows. Making a little, sighing noise out of her throat, she rested her hands in her lap and looked down at the curved mound that had become her belly. They had waited far too long. She told Edward that they should have left for Kensington at least two months ago, but her stubborn husband had struck forth on a project to renovate several of the houses in Coburg.

Suddenly, the carriage door swung open again. A gust of wind rushed in and nearly blew off her cap. Tightening the strings, Victorie gazed at the man who stood in the doorway. He was half-concealed in shadow, and the little sliver of his face that she could see was matted with hair so thick that it almost appeared like animal fur. She stiffened. Where had her husband gone?

“What would you, sir?” She asked softly, her voice tainted with her German accent.

He stretched his hand out, his gloved fingers curled around a bit of paper. She took the paper and looked down at it. It was heavily folded and creased, as if it had spent the majority of its existence inside of someone’s clothing. She could feel the warmth of someone’s skin radiating from it, and there was a stain of sweat, though just a small one, on the corner. Looking back up, she frowned when she realized that she was alone once more.

Opening the paper, she read,

Madame,

            My heart yearns for you. The baby is almost due, and yet I am still with you.

            Yours,

            Prince Edward, Duke of Kent

Victorie’s eyelashes twitched as she contemplated the words contained within the scrap. Her hand smoothed over the curve of her belly. The baby inside rolled back and forth, just like the choppy waters over which they were trying to cross.

Edward entered the carriage again, rocking it as he took a seat across from her. Knocking the rain from his coat, he said in his loud, commanding voice, “Strange fellow, our coachman! He is silent, but efficient.” Without another word, he tipped his head back, pushed his hat down so that it covered his eyes, and, she assumed, tried to fall asleep.

Frowning deeply, Victorie leaned against the window and shut her eyes. Had she made a mistake to marry an Englishman? It was too late to have those sorts of thoughts. She had fixed her bed, and now she must lie in it, or so she thought George Herbert said.

* * * * * 

When Drina—later to take on her German roots and go by the name of Victoria—was seven-months-old, she spent most of her days chasing light across the floor. This day was no different than any other, and she remembered it with a distaste, remembered how suddenly her father had passed after this particular day. The little princess had been set down by someone—she couldn’t remember whose pair of arms that she had just been cradled in—and, upon seeing a cat streak across the floor and hunt down a moving stream of yellow that came in through the cracked window, Drina frantically pawed her way across the floor and sat herself down on the light. The cat, whose prey had just been squashed beneath the bottom of the new princess, gave her a stiff look and slinked off.

Peering downward, Drina was surprised to find that the beam of light had not been caught, but had slithered its way out and was now draped across her lap! She swatted her own leg. When her toy didn’t even give a shudder, she made a grumpy noise and flipped back onto her hands and knees. She began to prowl around again. Everywhere around her, people chatted and chortled at themselves as they drank their afternoon tea.

She poked her nose up and gazed at the faces of people that she didn’t recognize, and then the warm, dignified expression on her mother’s countenance. An old man was seated in a chair next to the lit hearth. She remembered him, remembered when her mother had scooped her up and plopped her on the man’s knee. Drina had giggled, thinking that it looked like his face was melting. She liked that old man. Even though her mother had chastised her, the old man had merely chuckled, rubbed her head, and dropped a bit of spittle on the ruffled collar that he kept tucked beneath his coat.

Padding her way through the booted feet and making sure that she wasn’t kicked, Drina kept looking up. Little did she know that she would continue having to look up for the rest of her life. Upon seeing her daughter, Victorie let out a delighted, cooing noise that was very flattering to Drina’s ears. Spinning around, she hobbled over to her mother, who bent and picked up the child. Suddenly, Drina was accosted with kisses and tickles.

“Baroness Lehzen, why is the child out of her nursery?” said a dark, masculine voice from across the room. Turning her head, Drina looked at her father, whose withered, pale face shone starkly against the tan-skinned, round-faced Germans who had taken over Kensington.

Another figure that Drina hadn’t before noticed stood from his chair by the window. Twisting in that direction, she glowered at her uncle, the Duke of Sussex. He was a frightening man, though as of yet, he’d never given her any true reason to dislike him. It was his wig. As he came over, he hunched against his cane and lumbered across the floor as if it pained him to move. His head was covered in an unwashed, tattered wig that smelled like mothballs and human sweat.

Realizing what the uncle intended to do, Victorie gripped her child tighter and said airily, “Oh, that’s all right, my lord. Drina is being good. Please, sit down and don’t trouble yourself with removing her.”

The only reply that he offered the duchess were his short breaths of air as he approached and bent for Drina. Smelling his wig, she began to squirm as he lifted her, supported her with one arm, and clung to his cane with his other hand. The tail of his wig fell over his shoulder and brushed against her neck, sending chills racing up and down her spine. As he took her from the room, she beat her fists against his chest and wailed so loudly that the next estate could have heard her, and yet her uncle wasn’t deterred by her tantrum. She found herself drifting farther and farther away from her mother, who remained seated, looking rigid, bewildered, and nervous all in one flittering expression.

As Drina was swept from the room, she noticed her mother glimpse over at her husband, who was leaning heavily against a wall, taking in shallow breaths. Not long ago, her father had bustled into the house, shouting, “There is a fortune teller! Will no one come with me and see this voodoo?” And when no one went, for fear of the dark magic that permeated the devilish sibyls who concocted those fortunes, her father went alone; when he came back later, he was much more sullen, his mouth turned downward. Drina overheard him say, “The sorceress told me that ‘This year, two members of the royal family will die.’” Drina didn’t know what it meant to die, but her father’s face suggested that it was perhaps an unpleasant experience. She didn’t think about these things until many years had passed, but, in that moment, she still felt a change in the air as she drifted next to the man who was already decaying within his own skin.

* * * * *

When the young queen was twenty-one-years-old, her husband, Prince Albert, took her out in a carriage for a trip through Hyde Park. She and her companion sat aloft on an elevated seat; with this being an open-carriage, Victoria had a full view of the park and the people that meandered through it. Many of them waved at her, happy grins sprouting on their faces as she and the handsome prince passed by. Several children, twirling long ribbons around, let out screeching laughter and chased briefly after the carriage. Victoria extended her hand toward them.

“Hello!” She called in a bright, melodic voice. Turning back around, she glanced at her husband, who had his hand cupped over his eyebrows. In his usual way, he studied the movement of the carriage beneath him, the way that it swerved around trees, but never tipped. Laughing softly, she asked, “Would you stop studying everything and enjoy the day?”

He flicked his eyes up to her and pressed a crooked smile onto his lips, and then went back to studying. Shaking her head, Victoria looked out again and gazed at a few Arabian horses in the distance. They were beautiful, wild creatures, their backs twitching as they learned to barely tolerate the saddles that were placed upon them.

A gunshot rang out and bounded off of each of the trees. Spooked, the horses bucked their heads and let out shrill whinnies. Looking to the right, Victoria squinted at a man who was holding a gun. Suddenly, Albert grabbed her arm in a grip that nearly hurt and thrust her downward. “My God! Don’t be alarmed!” He shouted.

Her whalebone corset wasn’t made to be flexed, and so it dug into her stomach, which was four-months swollen with life. Gasping, Victoria struggled against him and heard a scuffle from what seemed to be all around. When he let her back up, she immediately looked toward the gun-holding man and saw that he was on the ground, writhing beneath the bodies of several other men.

Her gaze flew to Albert, who was staring at her with eyes as large as saucers. In a matter of seconds, she was trapped against his chest, his heartbeat ricocheting through her entire body. Even though people were looking, she flung her arms around him, her bonnet loosening from her head and falling away.

Peering over Albert’s shoulder at the man, she felt a quiver in her very bones as she had a moment of recognition. It was like she had seen him somewhere, at some other period in her life. There, on the ground, was a man garbed in a thick coat, though it was an usually warm summer and even her lightest, linen dresses drew perspiration to her skin. His head was topped with a dark, thick-brimmed hat. His face, mostly concealed from her, was turned slightly so that she could see his chin, and on his chin was hair so coarse that it might have been peeled off of an Alaskan fox and attached to his chin with sticky pomade.

* * * * *

Would there be no peace for her yet? On the second of December, in 1861, Victoria perched on the sofa in the Blue Room, clasping a copy of Sir Walter Scott’s Peveril of the Peak. Tucking a length of hair behind her ear, she read softly to her husband, who had lie in his bed for weeks. She trembled a little as she held the book, occasionally looking up at Albert, whose brow was wrinkled with agony and whose skin was soaked with sweat. “What I wouldn’t give to see you well,” she whispered.

She existed in and out of consciousness for the next few days. Albert’s face became thick and puffy as he wasted away at the hands of a disease that she was certain the doctors were incorrectly diagnosing. They called it typhoid. Had it been typhoid, Albert would have been gone months ago, when he first began to complain about the pain in his stomach. He was starting to look how he did when she first met him; a young, lanky boy with a little bit of dough in his cheeks. She had fallen in love with that version of him, but she wasn’t sure if she wanted him back.

Come the ninth of December, Dr. Jenner exclaimed, “He is getting on favorably, thank God!” When Victoria entered the room, her heart pumping hard, she heard her husband mumbling to himself in French about war. As she looked sharply at the man that she had enlisted to save her husband, he assured her, “This is to be expected.”

On the eleventh, the middle-aged queen was awoken by her servants, who said that the doctors were asking if the children could come see their father. And at this point, she took up life in another world entirely and followed people around with a shuffling, stooped gait, and sat herself down by Albert’s bedside, becoming a piece of cold architecture. When hours went by and his rough breathing didn’t change, she started to get up, but he suddenly reached out and said desperately in a French-German-English combination, “Please don’t leave.”

Tears came to her eyes and burned her with their salt. “Give me this respite. I can’t stand to see you this way. I will be back.” Years later, she would regret leaving him just then, but as it was, she fled from the room and retreated to her own private space, where she was free to deny that her beloved husband was dying.

When he stopped taking as much air in later that evening, Victoria seemed to sense it through the very walls that separated them. She hurried back to her husband, brushing by a new doctor who had been brought in—this one dressed in a heavy coat, with a hat tipped down over his face. He carried beneath his arm a valise, and she nearly knocked it loose as she raced past him.

Entering the Blue Room, Victoria flung herself down by Albert’s bed and clutched onto his hand. “Est ist das kleine Frauchen,” she begged, returning to her German language, not realizing that she had returned to it. Albert, though his eyes were sealed shut and he was as still as a boulder, trembled his lips, just slightly, as if wanting to respond to her plea for kisses.

Someone touched her shoulder.

Whirling around, Victoria released a vulgar sound at the sight of the coated doctor, whose face was concealed beneath the brim of his hat. She thought she might have moved—maybe burst out of the room—maybe stayed where she was—she thought she recalled one of her daughters calling her back over to the bed—placing her hand within Albert’s. “Oh, this is death,” she whispered, “I know it. I have seen this before.”

And in the next few minutes, Albert inhaled several breaths, before exhaling deeply. His head tilted to the side, pressing into the feather pillow, and then he was quiet.

Sinking to the ground, Victoria let out several loud sobs and kissed all over her husband’s forehead, before the new doctor flung a sheet over him. Someone took her away from Albert, lifted her, and brought her into the Red Room. Her children were near her. One of them was in her arms. She pushed him away. She believed that it was Alfred. He looked too much like his father. He had his stern brow.

The year was 1861, and the hour had grown so late that almost all of the light inside of the heath stone castle, Windsor, was snuffed out.

______________________________________________________________

Abbey Serena is a senior at Bowling Green State University, where she studies Creative Writing and Scientific & Technical Communication. She is an editor on the staff of Prairie Margins and Mid-American Review, two national literary magazines. She has an upcoming publication in Ofi Press. Copperfield Review is her second publication.

Thanks for sharing!
75
Posted in Historical Fiction | Tagged , , | Comments Off on The Monarchy Revolution

An Interview With Kari Bovée

Kari Bovée is the author of Girl with a Gun – An Annie Oakley Mystery.

When and why did you begin writing, and did you always write historical fiction?

I started writing stories in the third grade. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. After college I took a job as a technical writer—which at the time I thought was soul-sucking—but, I actually learned a lot from the experience. I started writing novels when I was in my early thirties but then took a long hiatus from that to raise our children. During that time, I worked as a freelance writer from home for a couple of magazines and newsletters, etc. I just couldn’t get writing out of my system. I started writing novels again when my youngest was a junior in high school. I love historical fiction and historical mystery, but also like to write contemporary mysteries, too.

What is your latest novel? How would you describe it to potential readers?

My latest novel is Girl with a Gun – An Annie Oakley Mystery. It is what the title states, an historical mystery with Annie Oakley as an amateur sleuth. After watching a PBS American Experience special on Annie Oakley, I was impressed with the depth of her intelligence, her talent, and what she had to overcome in her early years. I love to write about empowered women in history, and Annie Oakley fit the bill. I thought she’d make a kick-ass amateur sleuth.

What makes this book different?

Instead of writing a biographical account of her life, I’ve put Annie Oakley—a famous and iconic person—into a situation she never encountered in real life. I think it’s fun to imagine how she would have reacted to being compelled to solve a murder. I took what we know of her through history and created a different reality for her.

All authors have a different path as they seek publication. What was your journey to publication like?

I’ve spent a lot of time and years working on craft and learning about the business of writing and publication. I went the traditional route for a long time. I’ve had two different agents at different times in my writing journey, but with the advent of independent publishing, I realized that traditional publishing isn’t the only path. I wasn’t quite ready to go it all on my own, so I sought out a hybrid publisher – SheWrites Press/Spark Press. So far, I’ve been really happy with the working relationship I have with them. I can make my own decisions, but have someone to guide me and help me through the publishing process. I feel like I have a good deal of control, but I don’t have to do all the millions of tasks that are required to birth a book into the world!

What are the joys/challenges of writing historical fiction for you?

I love research. I’m an academic at heart, so I love to get lost in all the details of history. I like to research historical figures and the events which made them famous (or infamous) and then try to imagine how it affected them psychologically. What motivated them? Why did they make the decisions they made? What were they thinking about when they were making history? Did they realize they were making history? What would have happened if they were faced with x situation or y characters?

What is the research process like for you?

I try to learn as much as I can about a person or event that I am writing about. The internet is a great place to start, but it’s wise to cross-reference what you are researching. The “facts” can vary. That’s why I’d much prefer to write fiction than non-fiction. It gives you some license to play with history, which is also great fun for me. You have to be accurate enough to be believable, but since the work is fiction, you have some room to be creative. I also try to find books on my subject matter or characters or try to interview historical “experts” who might know about my time period, the setting, or a person I’m researching.

Do you travel for research? If so, what role does travel play in your writing process?

Instead of coming up with an idea for a story, and then traveling to the destination where the story will take place, it usually happens the other way around for me. I travel quite a lot, domestically and internationally, and I’m often inspired by the places I’ve seen or the people I’ve learned about. Then I come home and research further. Sometimes the story requires that I go to the destination again, but I always take lots of notes and photos when I travel, so I have some good information at my fingertips.

Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

Gosh. There are so many. I have a degree in English Literature and still love to read the classics. I have always been inspired by the 18th and 19th century greats like Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Edgar Allan Poe, and Dickens. I’ve been influenced by Larry McMurtry, Anne Perry, Deanna Raybourn, Stephanie Barron, and Kerry Greenwood. Some of my recent favorites are C.W. Gortner, Cara Black, Hallie Ephron, Louise Penny, and Erika Robuck.

What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction?

Historical fiction has been one of the genres that go in and out of popularity. If you love history and want to write historical fiction, don’t worry about whether or not it is selling at the moment. It will always come back. Readers have a desire to know about the people and events that came before them. It helps us to understand our world today. Putting your characters, whether real or imagined, in a story that helps explain how our society has changed or not, gives people that reference. It can also provide an escape from what is currently going on in the world. History will never go out of fashion.

What else would you like readers to know?

I have three blogs where I write about my three passions in life; empowered women in history, empowered women writing, and empowered horsewomen of the world. (Go to www.Karibovee.com to access all three.) The first two are obvious, but I am also an avid horsewoman and have had horses in my life since I was 11. I’ve competed for years, and have been practicing natural horsemanship for the past decade. I consider my horses my “soul food.” They are such amazing creatures who have a depth of sensitivity and understanding that astounds me all the time. I cannot imagine my life without horses. They inspire me to be a better person and enrich my life in ways that I discover every day. They are magical!

Thanks for sharing!
75
Posted in Interviews | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on An Interview With Kari Bovée

Last of the Minnesingers

By Andrew Stiggers

Diether swept the floor of the empty stage, bustling about with his broom in near darkness, the faint candlelight flickering from the side curtain as a draft played havoc offstage. It didn’t bother him – he was used to living in the shadows.

“Why are you sweeping?” a child’s voice called out.

He stopped and looked out to see a small boy sitting in the empty auditorium. The theatre doors should have been shut by now, he thought. “Why am I sweeping? Well, someone has to do the work.”

The boy nodded and smiled, his face lit up by the candles mounted along the walls towards the back of the auditorium.

“Listen, boy, tonight’s performance has finished. Why are you still here? Where are your parents?”

“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll leave soon and catch up with them.”

Diether had no time for children. He went back to his sweeping.

“Are you with the theatre troupe?” the boy called out again.

“No.” Diether brushed harder, facing the floor of the stage.

“What do you do?”

He stopped again and rested his hands on the top of his broom. Studying the smiling boy, Diether knew the lad couldn’t see him clearly on the darkly lit stage. “What do I do?”

Maybe he’s not so bad, Diether thought. Not like the others. He scanned around to make sure there was no one else in the auditorium. “Very well.” He placed the broom down on the stage, made a theatrical pose, his hands out in front of him, and took in a deep breath. “I am a minnesinger. I am –“

“What is a minnesinger?”

What is a minnesinger? I don’t believe it. What do they teach you at school nowadays?”

“Nothing about minnesingers.”

“Minnesingers were medieval singers – famous, noble poet-singers who played at all the German courts. They wrote and sang the most beautiful songs in this world.”

His family were descended from one of these minnesingers, and generation after generation had passed down the songs and taught each other how to sing them. It was the same for Diether – his father had shown him dozens of illustrated poems on ancient manuscripts and taught him the ancient way of singing. Diether learnt them quickly, even composing and singing his own lyrics. His father was astonished when he first heard him sing. You are truly a gifted minnesinger, my son. No one can take that away from you.

“So can you sing?” asked the boy.

“Of course – I am a minnesinger.”

“Will you sing a song for me?”

“Well…”

“Please?”

“All right, but just one song, and then afterwards you need to go home. What is your name?”

“Friedrich.”

“So, Friedrich, listen.”

Diether took his position centre stage – the flickering light still barely showing the outline of his figure – breathed in deeply… and sang. He chose a ballad in a melody created centuries ago, singing in High German with a rich, deep voice, slowly and in strict rhythm, rolling his tongue over each word, emphasising every hard consonant.

Fly high up and away, my sweet,

Through woods and hills and leas.

Fly with the nightingales,

Through all the kingdoms and the lands.

Fly to my soft, soft bed of grass,

And rest thine gentle head on me.

For you are mine, and I am yours, my sweet.

There was passion, emotion in Diether’s voice. Tears welled up. With such a depth of heart and feeling it was as if he sang with the voices of his father and the many generations of minnesingers before him.

The boy stood up on his seat and clapped loudly. “Wonderful!”

Diether took a bow.

He was happy the boy appreciated the song. If only everyone else did. He thought about the vulgarity and base humour of the play performed this evening. Diether had watched the audience’s reaction from behind the side curtain. The townspeople all laughed coarsely as the dwarf in an oversized black hat tried to prod the female actors with his droopy sword, before swigging beer and throwing food about and dropping his baggy trousers in front of the audience.

The House of Comedy, the new Freiburg theatre was called. Sadly, this was what the public wanted these days – to gawk and laugh at the bizarre and grotesque on stage.

Well, Diether was no buffoon. No Pickelhering, Hanswurst or Harlekin clown, or whatever the latest fad was. As his father had pointed out, he was a talented minnesinger, the last of their kind, but Diether had discovered no one wanted to listen to old songs of love any more.

“Right, you should go home now, boy.” Diether stooped down to pick up his broom.

“Could I hear some more?”

“You promised to leave.”

“Please, sir.” The boy stubbornly sat back down in his seat.

Perhaps there is still an audience for the minnesingers after all. “Wait there. I have an idea.”

He went backstage and rummaged through the wardrobe room. Diether normally wasn’t allowed back here. “Move out of my way,” one of the actors once said as she rushed in to get a change of costume during a performance. “You shouldn’t be here,” another said. “Get back to sorting out the props.”

He regarded the clothes and masks. His parents had always told him that it was all right to be different. It doesn’t matter what others think. Just be yourself, Diether. He’d really wanted to believe them. When he was a boy he used to dress up in fancy costumes like the ones hanging here, and try to play with the other children, pretending to be a real minnesinger. He’d thought he could impress them with his singing but it hadn’t made any difference. They still teased him and threw stones at him.

Returning to the stage dressed in a knight’s uniform and wearing a half-visor helmet, Diether discovered that Friedrich had moved to the front row of the auditorium. The boy was swinging his legs beneath the seat in excitement.

Diether stood to attention as he addressed the auditorium and set the scene. “My noble lords, ladies … and Friedrich … I want you to cast your mind back to the past, to the Middle Ages, to a time when the great cathedrals were being built and the Crusades were being fought.”

The more Diether talked and gestured, the more he edged towards the front of the stage and further into the dim light of the auditorium, feeling confident behind his visor.

“I am Meister Diether von Freiburg, one of the world’s greatest minnesingers. Having returned from Jerusalem as part of the Emperor’s entourage, I have travelled from court to court through all the Teutonic lands, reciting myths and legends, telling of the glories of the German people and winning every singing contest thrown at me.”

Friedrich clapped again.

The knight dramatically slumped his shoulders and looked down at the stage floor. “But I am now sad.” He peered up at Friedrich through his visor, waiting for a prompt.

“Why so, Meister?”

“For I have not found my lady love, the woman of my dreams – my muse. It is my greatest hope one day to meet her, and woo her with my tales.” Diether gestured to the imaginary audience. “Do you wish to hear one of those tales?”

“Yes, Meister.” Friedrich’s legs swung wildly under his seat.

“Very well. Imagine the ancient lands of Franconia and Swabia –” Diether held out his hands “– and let us begin.”

* * * * *

There once was a knight who traversed the lands on horseback, travelling far and wide. One day he stopped at the side of a road, alongside a hedgerow full of flowers, and heard a voice.

“Are you lost, Sir Knight?”

He surveyed around but could not find where the voice came from.

“May I help, Sir Knight?”

He looked down at his feet and saw a badger at the entrance to a hole beneath the hedgerow. “No, I do not think a badger can help me.”

“Try me.”

“Very well. Every year I make my way to see a lady at her tower, hoping to profess my love to her. I see her on her balcony, combing her long, fair hair, but before I dare call out to her I become afraid and leave the tower. I then travel far and wide for a whole year until I have mustered enough courage to try again.”

“Why are you afraid, Sir Knight?”

“I am beneath her station. I am but a mere, lowly knight and I am fearful of her rejecting my advances.”

“But you do love her?”

“Yes, with all my heart.”

“Then do not be afraid. Love is within us all, regardless of our station, of who we are in this world. She may love you too. Talk to her, woo her and you shall find out.”

The knight knelt down and smiled at the badger. “You are right, badger. You have helped me.”

“Be brave, Sir Knight, and go. Go to your lady.”

* * * * *

Love is within us all.

Friedrich clapped again, standing on top of his chair.

Diether stared at the empty auditorium. He really did dream of finding his one true love – an impossible dream, he knew. He imagined her, red hair with rosy cheeks, adorned in a golden dress, sitting on a stone bench surrounded by flowers.

“Can I be a minnesinger, Meister?”

“Well …” Diether scratched the top of his helmet, pretending to think. “You must be of noble blood. Are you?” The boy eagerly nodded. “Yes, of course you are. Come and stand next to me.”

Friedrich clambered up onto the stage.

“You must first swear a pledge. You must pledge to bring joy and happiness to all. Do you so swear?”

“I swear.”

“Good. Remember: the minnesinger always sings about honour, duty, nature, but most of all – and this is very important – he sings about love.”

“Yes, Meister.”

“Next you need to learn how to stand and project your voice. Here, like me… That’s right. Now let’s hear you roar.”

“Roar?”

“Absolutely. Like this … Roar!”

The boy laughed and then he tried. “Roarrrr!”

“Excellent. You’re now ready to recite some poetry.”

“But I don’t know what to say.”

“Just use words such as bliss and happiness and fair maid. Go on, you’ll be fine.”

“I … You bring mesuch happinessmy fair maid.”

“Very good, but you have to put more of yourself into the words – be more expressive. Again.”

You bring me so much bliss and happiness, my fair, lovely maid.”

“That was wonderful. We will make a minnesinger out of you yet, young man.” Diether patted him on his back. “Now stand here at the front of the stage and face the audience. Good. Imagine a packed house with the whole audience all sitting on the edge of their seats, waiting on your every word, on every gesture you will make.” Diether smiled.

The boy stood with puffed up shoulders, legs apart.

“Apprentice, stand straight, stand proud, for you are the last of the minnesingers. You have sung well – for Germany and your one true love.”

A ray of light from the auditorium entrance shone directly through Diether’s visor and momentarily blinded him. “Now take your bow with me.”

The audience.

Diether could see them all. His fellow minnesingers – poet-musicians from across the German lands. They were there to congratulate him and cheer him on. His patron the Emperor, sitting on his throne, waving his hand. The King of Bohemia holding his trusted falcon. Herr Dietmar von Aist, together with his lady wife, clapping in the front row. The dukes of Anhalt and Brandenburg looking up at him as they played chess to one side of the auditorium. Walther von der Vogelweide smiling, a large white feather on his hat, a peacock in full fan up above him on the balcony. And Count Conrad von Kilchberg, gloriously adorned in golden antlers. All in their flowing robes with crowns and swords, some holding pipes or lutes or drums. Even Tannhäuser was there at the back of the auditorium in his white hooded robe, a black cross emblazoned on his chest, standing next to several horses tied to a post.

“Do you see them too, Friedrich?” Diether whispered as he stood straight and dignified before taking his final bow, the stage light madly flickering and then fading to black.

* * * * *

The candle lit up again.

“There you are, Friedrich. Your mother and I have been searching everywhere for you.” The boy’s father had returned to the theatre.

“The minnesinger was showing me how to sing.”

“What minnesinger?”

“Why, the man next to me on the stage.”

The boy turned round. The knight was gone.

* * * * *

After placing his broom away, Diether went to the wardrobe room where he hung up the costume. On his way out he passed a mirror and caught sight of his reflection. A disfigured face riddled with lumps and bumps, a grossly enlarged forehead, and one partially closed, swollen eyelid stared back at him.

He’d been a beautiful boy when he was first born, his mother had said, but then it all changed, getting worse year after year. I’m sorry, son. Fleeing from all the boys and girls who threw stones at him, hiding at home, finding work that nobody else wanted to touch – reduced to sweeping the darkly lit, empty stage in front of an empty audience, and always alone.

Before leaving the backstage of the theatre he sang quietly to himself, For you are mine, and I am yours, my sweet, and then blew the candle out.

______________________________________________________________

Andrew Stiggers is a short story writer. Born in Paris, France, he has lived overseas including in Hong Kong, Singapore and Cameroon. He studied English Language and Literature at the University of Reading in the UK. His short fiction has been published in a number of anthologies, and his achievements include being the Winner of the 2017 Global Ebook Awards (Short Stories/Essays category), Winner of the Trisha Ashley Award 2017 for best humorous story, a Finalist for the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2015 and an Honourable Mention for the Writer’s Digest Writing Competition 2016. He was also a recipient of a New Zealand Society of Authors Mentorship in 2015.

Thanks for sharing!
75
Posted in Historical Fiction | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Last of the Minnesingers

The Child Pilgrim

By Lisette Merry

The Vikings’ blood lust continued. And when spring arrived in 852, King Aethelwulf decided that if he were to stem the tide of their raids, he must remain at home.

The King was deeply disappointed. For it meant, that for the time being at least, he would not be able to fulfil his lifetime ambition of making his own pilgrimage to Rome. And a pilgrimage would have to be made now. For it had become a diplomatic necessity. So if he could not go, who would he send in his stead?

The King sat alone in his chambers with the Abbot of Ferrieres’ letter in his hand, and contemplated this question. He considered, in turn, each of the thegns, warriors and eminent clergymen in his court. They were all loyal and pious men, and therefore suitable to represent him to Pope Leo IV.  But one, by one, he dismissed them all. For he believed that God wanted him to send someone of his own blood. And, as he searched his heart, God provided him with the answer to his question. It was his youngest son, four year old Prince Alfred.

The King put down the letter, and smiled. God’s answer did not surprise him, for Alfred despite his tender years was already wise. And not only wise …..What a phenomenal memory he had too! He had seen it for himself just two weeks before, when Alfred had recited the entire ‘Book of English Poems’ to him and his wife Osburh. The book was a favourite of Queen Osburh, and she had asked Alfred to learn it and then recite it to her.

King Aethelwulf closed his eyes and pictured the scene again in his ‘mind’s eye’….. When Alfred had arrived he had told them both that he had learned the poems by listening to his tutor recite each one. And, once he had heard the poem, he recited it back. In this way he had memorised all of them.  Alfred, he remembered, had then handed him the book, and he had silently read the poems as Alfred had recited them ….. He had been word perfect!  Osburh knew all of the poems by heart, and he remembered seeing tears of joy in her eyes as she witnessed Alfred’s accomplishment.

And there was more evidence of God’s work in the way that Alfred had thrived at court. ……Hadn’t he been so impressed by Alfred’s abilities that he had arranged for him to be at his side whilst he conducted his kingly duties?

The King knelt down and bowed his head in prayer. God be praised for these your blessings on my son Alfred.  Thy Will be done this day and always.  Amen.

                                                                            * * * * *

Early next morning King Aethelwulf summoned Lothart, his Frankish secretary, and instructed him to make all the necessary arrangements for Alfred’s pilgrimage.

It was customary for Kings to request permission to travel through another King’s lands, and after he had dismissed Lothart, King Aethelwulf wrote just such a letter to his ally, King Charles the Bald of Francia. In it he asked that Alfred’s presence was kept between themselves, so as not to attract unwanted attention. And when he received King Charles’ consent to his request, just a few days later, he allowed Alfred’s pilgrimage to proceed.   

 * * * * *

 Four year old Alfred stood on the ship’s deck and watched the sailors work. When they had finished, the crew lined up ready for Captain Eastelwelf inspection. As he completed it he nodded his approval, and ordered them to weigh anchor.

Alfred could not wait to be underway. What an adventure this is! He thought, as he gazed out across the water.     

Lothart stood beside him and followed his gaze, but he turned to look at Alfred as he suddenly exclaimed

 ‘Look Lothart! The sun beams are lighting the water and making the sea sparkle.’

 ‘Indeed they are, my lord.’

‘The sea is calm today.’ Alfred continued in a quieter voice. ‘It is a sign that God blesses our pilgrimage.’

‘Yes, my lord of that I have no doubt,’ he replied.

Whilst they had been talking the crew had cast off, and Alfred watched Captain Eastelwelf turning the ship’s wheel as the crew began to unfurl the sails. Now Alfred could feel the ship moving forward, and he clasped his hands together with excitement. My pilgrimage has begun! He thought

Alfred wanted to go to the bow of the ship, but he knew that would be unseemly, and so he forced himself to stay where he was, and instead, he looked across the deck at the men in his entourage. Alfred knew them all as ‘King’s men’ which meant they had all personally sworn their loyalty to his father…….. And here they are, standing together on the deck, dressed in their fine courtly vestments. They look a little out of place.  Alfred thought, and then he smiled. Probably as I do myself……

He looked at each man in turn. There was Aethel, his bodyguard, who was at this moment, thanking the sailor who was collecting his luggage to stow below deck. And as he watched more sailors arrived to collect luggage from the two men standing next to him, Aetheldrum, the King’s physician and Ceoloth, the eminent clergyman. And then Alfred saw more sailors come over to collect luggage from the rest of his entourage, who were seven high ranking court officials, and thegns of Wessex.

Captain Eastelwelf shouted orders to his crew, as he turned the ship’s wheel and brought the vessel ‘about’. With the manoeuvre completed, he then ordered the crew to pull in the sails and once the ship was moving forward he ordered them to ‘close haul’ the sails to increase the ship’s speed through the water.

With the wind and tide in his favour, Captain Eastelwelf made port at Etaples-sur-Mer, on the northern coast of France by early afternoon.

* * * * *

As soon as the ship dropped anchor, the pilgrims stepped confidently ashore. They gave thanks to God for their safe voyage, and afterwards Lothart went into the quayside market to purchase a pack mule to carry King Aethelwulf’s gifts. And when all was ready, the pilgrims set off along via francigena, towards their first place of rest, St Judoc. 

                                                                            * * * * *

It was Aethels who caught sight of him first, standing at the open door to the monastery. Aethels could not believe his eyes!  And he closed them for a moment and then opened them again, just to check…..but his eyes had not deceived him… it was Abbot Lupus. Straightaway he passed the word on to the others, and they talked excitedly amongst themselves in hushed voices about the renowned clergyman. As they drew closer, Abbot Lupus stepped outside with his arms outstretched to them in greeting. His welcome warmed their hearts, and it was not long before Alfred felt able to ask him if they could meet.

‘Of course, Prince Alfred,’ he replied. ‘We shall speak presently.’

‘Thank you, your eminence’ Alfred said. ‘I will ask Lothart to accompany me, if you are agreeable.’

‘Certainly,’ he replied.

                                                                          * * * * *

 In the letter he wrote to the King later that evening, Lothart reported all the events of that day. Lothart wrote that the meeting had been a ‘resounding success’, and that Abbot Lupus had been delighted by Alfred, and by the King’s gift of lead for the roof of his abbey, and so much so that he had blessed Alfred’s pilgrimage, the King and his people.   

 

                                                                         * * * * *

And the lead was just the first of many gifts that Alfred would present to the Church on his father’s behalf. King Aethelwulf was a pious and generous man. He had ordered that gifts were to be given to the abbot of each of the monasteries in which the pilgrims rested on their journey. His gifts were all magnificent gestures of his generosity. But even so, or so it seemed to Alfred, each gift appeared to be slightly grander than the last one had been.

However there was still a wonderful surprise gift awaiting them all. And not even Alfred could have predicted how magnificent King Aethelwulf’s gift would be for the last monastery they rested in at Pavia. The gift was a crucifix made of 24 carat gold, and it was decorated with four rubies the size of hen’s eggs. It stood as tall as Alfred, and when the time came for him to present it to the Abbot of the monastery, Rudolpho, Alfred had to ask Aethel and Lothart to help him lift it.  The Abbot was overwhelmed with joy when he received it, and when he found his voice, he blessed the King, his people, and Alfred’s pilgrimage.

                                                                       * * * * *

Alfred and Lothart stood side by side on the flat roof of the monastery where the pilgrims were resting. The monastery was built beside St Mary’s Church, in the Schola Saxonum district, and from their vantage point they had a wonderful view of Rome.  

The noon day sun beat down upon them. It was so hot, that Lothart had to take off his velvet hat, and they both had to shield their eyes from the glare as the sun’s rays lit the buildings clad in white marble all around them.   

Alfred thought about his father, and what he had told him. His father had been right, Alfred thought. Pope Leo IV was a man of great vision and ability. He had seen that now for himself. The evidence was everywhere. The Holy Father had repaired and replaced the marble cladding so that the buildings now ‘shone white’ in the sunlight again….And there was so much more…..Hadn’t he also restored the eighteen city gates to their former glory? And Alfred smiled as he remembered the magnificent gate through which he had entered Rome.  And here, before him now he could see the wall that Pope Leo IV had ordered to be constructed to enclose Vatican Hill.

                                                                     * * * * *

Alfred stared at St Peter’s Basilica. He was spell bound by its size and beauty. And the spell was only broken by a papal guard as he tapped him gently on the shoulder, and ushered him inside.

As Alfred walked behind the papal guard he took in every detail of the splendour of his surroundings…. Even when he saw the imposing figure of Pope Leo IV waiting to greet him, attired in his full papal vestments, Alfred was not overwhelmed. The Pope, for his part, was deeply impressed by the young Prince. He smiled at him as he approached, and he placed his hand on Alfred’s shoulder as they walked together to the altar. It was here that Alfred knelt before the Pope, and bowed his head as the Holy Father anointed him to confirm him. And Alfred remained kneeling as he announced to the congregation……

‘I will write to Prince Alfred’s father King Aethelwulf of Wessex, and inform him of all that has passed here today. I confirm that from this time forth Prince Alfred of Wessex, is by God’s Grace, my godson, and confirmed as a member of God’s Holy Church. I also appoint Prince Alfred a Consul of Rome.’ 

Lothart sat with the congregation and noted down everything. He would use his notes in the letter he would write to the King later that night.

                                                                    * * * * *

In the days that followed his audience with the Pope, Lothart escorted Alfred to all of the buildings in Rome that the Pope had recommended for Alfred to see. Lothart was fascinated by the size of Rome, and stunned by its magnificence, as was Alfred.

Every building brought new wonder, and when they first looked upon the Coliseum, Lothart had to hold his hand against his chin to stop his mouth from dropping open. And when he looked at Alfred’s reaction he found him staring at the Coliseum, with eyes that were wide with wonder. Lothart smiled, and looked back at the Coliseum, and there they stood in silence until Alfred found his voice, and said.

‘The building is so tall and wide…. Each stone is bigger than ten men standing shoulder to shoulder…It must be very heavy. How does the building stand?’

Lothart was impressed by Alfred’s perception.

‘The stones are held together with a substance called mortar, my lord.’  .

‘Do we use it in Wessex?’ Alfred asked.

‘We use it, yes, when we build with stone, my lord…. But we mainly build with timber,’ Lothart replied.

They toured the Vatican City, and the churches that the Pope had recommended. In each of them the priests proudly showed Alfred their church’s collection of Holy relics. Alfred was fascinated.

‘I shall collect relics,’ he told Lothart later. ‘For they are holy things that Jesus touched….and his Apostles too. They are in the Bible.’

‘Indeed my lord.

‘When I am grown I will ask the Holy Father if I might have some of them to keep by me always in Wessex. I hope he will agree.’  Alfred said.

‘I am sure he will my lord,’ replied Lothart, and he quickly brushed a tear from his eye, so moved was he by Alfred’s piety.

 * * * * *

Once they had completed their tour of Rome, Lothart gathered the pilgrims together for their journey home. And as soon as they had finished packing their belongings, they knelt and prayed together.

And their prayers were answered, for they arrived home safely in the early spring of 854, barely a year after their departure.

                                                                             * * * * *

King Aethelwulf, Queen Osburh, and their family gathered together with the king’s court for Easter that year at Wilton.  

With so many important individuals gathered together under one roof, King Aethelwulf took the opportunity to attend to his most pressing diplomatic duties. And therefore everyone soon knew of the diplomatic triumph that Alfred’s pilgrimage had been for the Royal House of Ecgberht. 

As soon as King Aethelwulf had completed his work, Queen Osburh went over to where Alfred was sitting and talked to him about his pilgrimage. Their lively conversation soon attracted the attention of the prestigious Ealderman Hereberht and Ealderman Wulfhere, who were landowners in Wiltshire, and they asked Queen Osburh if they might join their conversation.

‘Of course gentlemen,’ Queen Osburh replied, and soon they were also listening to Alfred’s fascinating recollections.  Alfred was delighted to see their eyes widen with amazement as he recounted in detail everything he had seen and done there. Alfred particularly enjoyed the moment when they sat in silent wonder as he repeated from memory everything that Pope Leo IV had said to him.

* * * * *

When the court gathered in the King and Queen’s presence later that evening, Ealdermen Hereberht and Wulfhere praised Prince Alfred, saying that they had both been encapsulated by his phenomenal memory of his pilgrimage.

The King’s court were soon agreed. The child Prince Alfred was exceptional, and he had clearly been chosen by God for greatness.

______________________________________________________________

Lisette Merry has always found history fascinating. She has a number of favourite historical periods including the life and time of King Alfred the Great.  She lives in Kent, England with her husband.

Thanks for sharing!
75
Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction | Tagged , , | Comments Off on The Child Pilgrim

An Interview With John Nuckel

Historical fiction author John Nuckel’s new book is called Drive.

When and why did you begin writing, and did you always write historical fiction?

I stated writing about 11 years ago. My first three novels made up the Rector Street Trilogy. They are financial thrillers.

What is your latest novel? How would you describe it to potential readers?

My latest is Drive. It’s the first episode in what will be The Volunteers series. The Volunteers is an organization formed at the turn of the last century by a captain from Teddy Roosevelts Rough Riders. The original intent was to fight against the tyranny of Tammany Hall. The Volunteers as an organization has been around in the background of New York City since that time.

What makes this book different?

Half of the book takes place between 1899 and 1905. The other half happened last summer. This highlights the effectiveness of The Volunteers as an organization. This format enables me to write about any era within the last 127 years. My next one takes place in the Cotton Club during the roaring twenties.

All authors have a different path as they seek publication. What was your journey to publication like?

I tried everything! I self-published my first three books and two short stories. I submitted pieces to many publications in addition to making the rounds with the novels. I’ve been fortunate to have been published in businessinsider four times and had a feature piece run in the New York Times.

What are the joys/challenges of writing historical fiction for you?

The joy is the research. I’m a bit of a history buff so I love going to the library or city museums and spending hours with my nose in a book. The challenge is to make sure that I give proper respect to the characters. Although it is fiction, I write about strong people and I try to make sure to give them their due.

What is the research process like for you?

As I mentioned, research is my hobby. I’ll start with a google search and end up in the library reading old articles about all sorts of characters. That will lead to buying a book. I also like to go to the places that I write about. I visited a few pubs researching Drive.

Do you travel for research? If so, what role does travel play in your writing process?

Most of my books are about NYC. I live here so it is easy to go to the places I write about. I plan on writing a western for The Volunteers series soon. Did you know that Seth Bullock of Deadwood fame was a Rough Riders and struck up a friendship with Teddy Roosevelt? I may travel west to write that one.

Which authors are your inspiration—in your writing life and/or your personal life?

Raymond Chandler and F. Scott Fitzgerald are my two favorites. I love Chandler’s economy of words and Fitzgerald writes so beautifully. I have so many others. I read a book a month. I’m down from two a month since I have been writing.

What advice do you have for those who want to write historical fiction?

You have to love your subject. There is no other way than to be immersed in the time period and the characters.

What else would you like readers to know?

Drive is a nice mix of action and history. It even has a little romance. It was so much fun to write and I’m sure it will be fun to read.

Thanks for sharing!
75
Posted in Interviews | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on An Interview With John Nuckel

The Visionary Librarian

By Michael Bloor

January 1st, 1781

I do not fully know my reasons for setting down this record of past events. I have studied the works my great contemporary, David Hume, and I therefore no longer cleave to the kirk and to the faith of my fathers. Yet the purging of what others call my soul, penitence, and the striving for a moral life, they all remain a habit with me. Furthermore, I have a strong presentiment that I shall not live out this winter. These days of bitter chill may be my last opportunity to reveal my hidden crime and to state my case, not to the Maker in whom I no longer believe, but perhaps to my better self – the self who always seeks but never finds, who can carefully shape a principle but cannot always live by it. If others should find this manuscript after I am dust, may they read it and know that even a puir body can try to do his duty.

I have taught the school in the parish of Inverallan for thirty seven years and I trust I have discharged that duty honourably, though no Inverallan weaver’s or ploughman’s bairn has joined the ranks of David Hume, Adam Smith, William Robertson, and William Fergusson – the Philosopher-Kings of Scotland and all Europe. However, the Inverallan dominie has a further duty yet – a duty greater, I believe, than that of schooling the Inverallan bairns – I refer to my duty as Keeper of the Books. A hundred years since, the Inverallan laird bequeathed his library of two hundred volumes (together with a respectable sum for their upkeep) as a free library to all men and women who wished to borrow them. When the old minister, Mr MacKellar, informed me of my appointment and showed me the library that was to be in my charge, I could conceive of no duty under the sun that could be more pleasurable. I was not to ken then the rue that would come to me.

In the early years of my charge, Inverallan and the surrounding parishes were in a sorry state. The laird had declared for Prince Charles Stuart, and when the laird is for a cause then the tenants have little choice but to follow. Two score of men had marched off with the laird, my elder brother Alexander among them. Only three lads limped home. At first, we had good news of Alexander. It seemed that he had distinguished himself in the field at Preston Pans and, when the laird fell ill and was left behind in Edinburgh, Alexander took charge of the laird’s men on the march into England. On the retreat from Derby, Alexander was detailed to be part of the garrison the Prince left in Carlisle. After that we heard nothing. Cumberland’s army marched through our parish on their way to Culloden: they fired the laird’s castle and drove off all our cattle and our remaining horses.

It was in February 1752, a time of want and bitter cold, that I had more news. In the late evening there was a tapping at my window, but the pane was so frosted over that I could not see out. I took up my lantern and opened the door. A tall figure, muffled in a cloak stood before me. There was a bright moon, but his face was shadowed by his hat.

‘They tell me our parents are both dead.’ It was Alexander. I dropped the lantern; we embraced.

I fed him some porridge and spirits and studied him as he ate and drank. To my surprise, he seemed hardly changed, for all his seven-year absence. Only his rich, travel-stained clothes spoke of a difference. He told me bits and pieces of his story: it seemed that in the ’45 several men had died at his hands; more recently, he been in France in the service of the Stuarts, but Scots were no longer welcome there; he had used the last of his money to pay the ‘freetraders’ (as our smugglers are commonly called) to land him near Kirkcaldy; he had travelled to Inverallan only by night, there being a price on his head. But rather than talk over-much about himself, he had the charming ability to draw out the talk of others:

‘Well, Jamie lad, you’re quite the scholar now. I see on the table that “Lock’s Works” is your present study eh?’

‘Philosophy is only one of the subjects to be found in The Free Library, Sandy. There are books on geography, history, theology, and mathematics, translations of Ovid and Virgil, maps, collections of sermons…’

‘Yon is a strange conceit, is it not? to make a pile of your books, some of them doubtless worth a year of our faither’s labour. And then offer them up to any passin’ ploughboy that has a fancy for them?’

‘Each ploughboy, as you put it, must sign for each volume that he borrows. But Sandy, I don’t think you’ve grasped the wonder of the thing. They come here from their fermtouns and weavers’ cottages, limbs stiff after a hard day’s labour, walking miles through the sleet and the glaur. They carry back with them Shakespeare’s Sonnets to read by the ill light of their cruisie lamps. And that is their taste of Rhenish wine and honey cakes, their bed of goose down, their transport to Samarkand. With a book in his chapped hand, every ploughboy is an equal of the Duke of Argyll and the Marquis of Breadalbane. This free library is a growing light in a dark world, Sandy.’

‘Pish, Jamie. Your ploughboy is a duke’s equal (mention not that damned Argyll to me) in the alehouse, wi’ a tankard in his hand and a maid on his knee. What need of books, when you’ve left the schoolroom?’

In my eagerness to convince Alexander, I fetched the Borrower’s Register to show him. As he turned the pages, he murmured: ‘Well, well, Andra Comrie borrows Abercrombie’s Sermons. I thought him dead on the field at Falkirk.’

Seizing on this sign of interest, I lent over his shoulder to point out one of old Peter Reid’s borrowings. Alexander frowned: ‘I never marked Auld Peter as a scholar, Jamie. Does he have a daughter or a granddaughter who would read to him?’

‘He died last Lammas, Sandy and he’d lived alone up at Loanhead these four years. It’s my guess that the old man sought and loved the nearness of books. Perhaps his was the delight of the adventurer who trembles at the threshold of the treasure chamber…’

Alexander snorted, but I persisted – a man who lives too much alone with his thoughts: ‘I fancy that old Peter’s pleasure in his borrowings is like my pleasure in this library. I am surrounded by more books than I can ever read, surrounded by more knowledge than I can ever glean, more wisdom than I can guess at. Surrounded thus, I’m not daunted, I tremble with pleasure.’

I paused, embarrassed. Alexander gave me a long look and spoke softly: ‘Jamie, I have need to borrow a pile of your books… Indefinitely.’ I stared. ‘There’s a bounty on my head. I know of a vessel at the Broomielaw in Glasgow that will carry me to a new life in the Carolinas. For a price. Your books are as good as ready currency.’

My elder brother faded before my eyes and a simulacrum took his place. The brawling spirited lad I had idolised, and run after, was vanished like snow off a dyke. I recalled my mother’s sorrowing judgement: that Alexander was like a cherry, sweet to taste but with a stone at his centre. Before me was the callous gallant who had left his parents to fret and go to their graves thinking him dead on a battlefield, who had fawned and intrigued for place and favour in foreign courts, and who had only returned briefly to his native Scotland to profit from, and ruin, his brother’s position of trust. Worst yet, he would pillage the free library – the library that is, and should remain, a hope and consolation in a wretched world.

Every schoolroom is a stage for the dominie to strut and strike a pose. It was now my turn to dissemble and fall in with Alexander’s plans. We made up his bed, despite his faint protestations (‘I’m an old campaigner, Jamie – the heather has oft times been bed enough for me’) and fixed that he would stay hidden with me the next day, departing in the dusk with his booty of sixteen books (more than he needed for his fare, I’ll warrant).

That next day, I watched him take the less-frequented moorland road. I marvelled at how he hardly bent his back, shouldering the coarse linen sack of books. When he was past the castle ruins, I grabbed my hat and walked over to the manse, to beg the loan of the minister’s mare (I was still a communicant in those days and a member of the kirk session). I then took the military road to Stirling. I had slow progress over the half-frozen snow and dawn was breaking when I reached Stirling Brig. Mares’ tails of mist were twisting over the River Forth, which Alexander had to cross to gain the Glasgow road. I had the Brig sentry call up the Sheriff’s Officer, an old pupil of mine, to whom (in confidence) I told my tale.

After resting the horse, I turned for home and only heard the end of the story a week later. Samuel Haldane, the Sheriff’s Officer, came by to return the linen bag of books. I sat him down at the fireside and poured him a glass. He told me that Alexander, as he’d surmised, had been too canny to try to cross the brig: Haldane had put a concealed watch on the upstream ford and his men had taken Alexander there by surprise. However, as the party were marching back to Stirling, Alexander had slashed at one man with a concealed dirk, broken away and ran for the river. Whether the pursuers’ musketry had been successful, or the cold of the river had overcome Alexander, Haldane was unable to say, but Alexander’s body was seen to be borne away by the current, down to the sea.

Haldane could see that his news had pierced me. He rose and laid a hand on my shoulder: ‘Mr Robertson, your brother Alexander was well-kent in all this countryside from Stirling to Crieff, even before The Rebellion. He was too wild a man for these New Times.’

Though Haldane’s words were some comfort to me, mine is nevertheless the sin of Cain. But I did not commit fratricide merely to repossess a bag of books. Rather, I would claim that I sinned for a great principle, the principle of free knowledge. I have served that principle (not always constantly, but as best I can) for thirty seven years. And, if I could still pray, I would pray that the light of Inverallan library would shine out across all Scotland and the whole wide world.

______________________________________________________________

Michael Bloor is a retired sociologist living in Dunblane, Scotland, who has recently discovered the exhilarations of short fiction. This story was written as an homage to the wonderful Innerpeffray Library, founded as a free library in 1680s.

Thanks for sharing!
75
Posted in Historical Fiction | Tagged , , | Comments Off on The Visionary Librarian

Mont Gisard

By David Hourani

Southern Palestine, 1177

Sweat and dust caked the young man’s hair and cropped beard as he rode the road north from Ascalon.

Youssef ibn Bakhus was the son of the Muqaddam of Ehden, the Maronite lord of the town. His father was a vassal of the Count of Tripoli, and as such, was a rear-vassal to the king of Jerusalem.

When the crusaders came to the Levant, they were surprised to find thriving Christian settlements in the mountains of Lebanon. The Maronites saw the benefit in having much needed allies in their fellow Christians from Europe, and homage was a small price to pay for security. The Crusaders recognized the asset having indigenous guides and translators would be.

Youssef and his men were trained with the bow, lance, and sword from a young age. Unlike the Franks, they fought in light armor, composed of quilted silk and hardened leather, with interlinked mail across the chest and torso. The horses they rode were slightly smaller, but were faster and had more stamina than the large European destriers their counterparts rode.

He had known the king since they were children. When offered the chance to join the king’s household two years prior, he had taken it, bringing with him thirty men from Ehden and the surrounding villages, but leaving his younger brother behind. The transition had been difficult initially. He had been looked upon with some suspicion by several of the nobles at court upon his arrival; however, over time he had earned their grudging respect, and the friendship of several.

As he rode, his mind wandered to what had led to this point.

Baldwin, the King of Jerusalem, suffered from leprosy and, as such, could not produce any heirs and the most likely candidate to inherit the kingdom would be a child of his sister Sybilla, who was recently widowed and pregnant.

Philip of Alsace, the Count of Flanders, and one of the most powerful nobles in Europe had come to the Levant on Crusade. On his arrival, he had demanded that Sybilla marry one of his vassals. Baldwin had not outright refused this as he could not afford to anger such a powerful lord. Instead, he simply did not answer and sought to form an alliance with the Greek Empire in Constantinople with the goal of striking at Egypt, hoping to threaten the base of the power and wealth of Salah al-Din, the Sultan of Syria and Egypt. When Salah al-Din learned of this, he began strengthening the defenses of Egypt and calling his levies.

Philip of Alsace had other plans. He did not want to share the wealth or crown of Egypt with the Greeks. He decided instead to move to attack northern Syria with several knights of the kingdom and the lords of Tripoli and Antioch.

With the Kingdom of Jerusalem weakened with many of its warriors in the north, Salah al-Din decided to invade from Egypt with the thirty thousand man army he had gathered for its defense. Baldwin had less than six thousand men with which to defend his kingdom.

The Frankish army had moved south to meet the Muslim threat, but as its numbers became known, they realized that a pitched battle would be futile and retreated inside the defenses of Ascalon, remaining there as Salah al-Din had moved north raiding Ramla and the surrounding villages.

Youssef now rode with three men, and they had seen no sign of Salah al-Din’s forces other than the occasional charred field or house. One of his men pointed in the distance at two riders approaching swiftly. He recognized two of his men he had sent forward with strict instructions to find Salah al-Din’s rear screen line and then return.

“Speak, Samir.”

“Lord, we came within sight of the rear-guard and baggage train.

“Were you seen,” Youssef questioned quickly.

“No, lord. There is no screen line.”

Quickly realizing the importance of this information he turned his steed back toward Ascalon. En route, he came upon more of his scouts with similar information, as well as others with information that the road south to Gaza  was clear of the Muslim army as well.

 * * * * *

When he arrived in the great hall in the Citadel of Ascalon, he found King Baldwin in quiet discussion with Joscelin of Edessa, his uncle, and Reynald de Chatillon, the lord of Transjordan and the newly appointed regent of the realm.

The lord of Transjordan looked more like a common soldier than one of the most powerful vassals of the kingdom, more comfortable in a camp than a great hall. A tall man with auburn colored hair and beard, and skin turned dark tan by years in the sun of Outremer, he had a scar ran down the under his right eye, giving him an almost sinister appearance. The younger son of a Burgundian nobleman, he had come to the Holy Land twenty years prior seeking his fortune during the Second Crusade. He found it,  becoming Prince of Antioch through marriage to the then heir, Constance of Antioch. He ruled the Principality for the next eight years and developed a reputation as a man of prowess, ruthlessness and brutality on the battlefield. Captured by Nur ad-Din in 1161, he was held in captivity for fifteen years during which his wife had died. His stepson, Bohemond had become Prince of Antioch during his imprisonment, and so upon his release, he was again landless. He traveled south to the Kingdom of Jerusalem and offered his services to the young king. King Baldwin consented to and arranged to his marriage of one of the great heiresses of the kingdom, Stephany of Milly, who was heir of the Transjordan. Reynald had returned the king’s favor with undivided loyalty.

Youssef made his obeisance before the king, but the king quickly motioned him to his feet, recognizing the urgency in his expression and step.

“Speak, Lord Youssef.”

“Salah al-Din has split his forces. His vanguard has burned Ramla and is marching on Lydda, while a portion of his army has been sent to burn the hill villages,” he paused for breath, before continuing. “He has left no screen of scouts between Ascalon and the army. The road to Gaza remains clear as well.”

All three men were quick to understand the implications of the report. The other lords in the hall turned their attention as Baldwin quickly stood to his feet, waving aside the assistance from his servants.

“Send a messenger to Gaza, instruct the Grand Master to meet us on the coastal road south of Ibelin. Call the men to arms, call out the city levies as well,” the king ordered.

“Sire, even with only part of his army, Salah al-Din will still have more than twice our numbers,” Joscelin of Edessa reminded him, “victory is in no ways assured.”

Although always one for action, the lord of Transjordan looked unsure as well, as did several of the other lords; however, the king had no doubts.

The king’s face, scarred from his leprosy, was resolute as he stared coldly at his uncle.

“I would rather face try the dubious chance of battle with the enemy than suffer my people be exposed to rape, fire and massacre, while I remain safe behind tall walls. The kingdom is my charge and I will safeguard it.”

Before the king’s uncle could argue further, Reynald de Chatillon shouted, “To arms!”

With that, the discussion was ended and the hall sprang to life. Youssef quickly gathered the rest of his men who had not been scouting with him. He saw the stepsons of the count of Tripoli, Hugh de St Omer and his brother William gathering their household knights. The summoners were riding through the streets calling the feudal levies that had gathered to arms.

Youssef was surprised by how quickly Reynald had been able to organize their forces. They numbered around five thousand men in total, with six hundred mounted knights. They left late in the afternoon and headed north along the coastal road toward Ibelin and Jaffa.

Youssef had to bridle his impatience, the speed of their march limited by their footsoldiers. Despite having their left flank covered by the sea, they were still incredibly vulnerable on the march.

It was not long before an alarmed scout road up reporting mounted men approaching the rear of the column. Most likely it was the Templars from Gaza, but Reynald dispatched Hugh de St. Omer and Balian d’Ibelin with their household knights to the rear just to be safe. Because time was of the essence, the march would not be halted.

It was not long before a messenger arrived at the head of the column reporting the arrival of the Templars, shortly followed by Odo, Hugh and Balian at the head of their knights.

The Grand Master had brought eighty knights. He joined Baldwin and Reynald at the head of the column. As they neared Azotus, a rider approached where Youssef and Hugh de St Omer were riding with their men in the column. As the rider drew closer, Youssef was surprised to see it was the lord of Transjordan.

“Lord Youssef, I want you to take your men and scout ahead east of Ibelin.”

“Yes, my lord,” he responded, spurring his Arab courser toward where his men rode in the column, he called them from the formation.

They quickly rode out along the coast before turning inland to pass east of Ibelin. They were all armed in a similar fashion to Youssef. A hardened leather vest interweaved with quilted silk and steel plates guarded their torsos. They all had quivers strapped across their backs. When they had rode out from the column, they had all strung their bows which were now secured to their saddles. They were all armed with either a sword or axe as well.

After an hour they could see Ibelin to the northwest. All around them they could see the devastation that Salah al-Din’s army had wreaked. The burned fields in the countryside surrounding Ibelin, with smoke rising in the distance from the village of Ramla itself. Night was beginning to fall and the distant campfires could be seen to the east.

They had yet to come across any significant Saracen force. It seemed as if the majority of Salah al-Din’s cavalry was north, raiding near Lydda and Arsuf.

* * * * *

When they reached the head of the Frankish column it was already dark. Youssef reported to Baldwin and Reynald what he had seen. He had left scouts out in the field and continued to get frequent reports as their host continued on through the night, driven by the will of their ailing king. Baldwin had acquiesced to riding in a litter, but only after much insistence by his seneschal and regent.

Their night was free of attack and by morning, their scouts reported they were within five miles of Salah al-Din’s camp. They had been heading inland for several hours, using the low lying hills to screen their movements as much as possible. The Bishop of Bethlehem had accompanied them with the True Cross. His face dripping with sweat even though the autumn air was cool and the sun was far less unforgiving.

One of Youssef’s men rode in out of breath about midmorning.

“Lord Youssef! Salah al-Din’s baggage train has become mired  in the mud. His rear-guard has not been able to keep contact with the main column!”

Without bothering to respond, Youssef spurred his mount to the head of the cavalry column motioning his man to follow him. Once to the king and Reynald, he motioned for his man to repeat his report. The effect was what Youssef had anticipated.

“Heavy cavalry to the center, have the infantry in the vanguard form the left wing, my lord seneschal, the command is yours,” the lord of Transjordan ordered, “my lords Baudouin and Balian,” he said, addressing the brothers Ibelin, “The command of the right wing is yours. Once the center charges, attempt to cut off their retreat south.”

The changes took place as they still moved forward. In the center a force of almost a thousand cavalry was the main thrust of the attack. The heavy Frankish knights in their full body mail, carrying heavy lances, and on their large steeds. Youssef and his men rode with the king.

They could see dust and smoke rising in the distance as they neared Ibelin and Tell Jazaar, or Montgisard, as the Franks called it. After rounding a turn, the Muslim baggage train came into view, mired in the mud of a wadi. The Frankish forces urged their horses to a high speed, leaving their foot soldiers behind. Salah al-Din’s rear guard realized too late their peril as they scrambled to form battle lines.

“Deus le volt!”

The battle cry of the kingdom rang out down the line of mailed warriors. The heavy cavalry charge crashed over the Muslim rear guard like waves against sand, killing hundreds in an instant. Horses on both sides broke their necks in the crash. Knights thrown from their mounts were quickly trampled; however, the majority of the Frankish cavalry continued on, as the Frankish infantry followed into the broken lines, killing what remained of the shocked Muslim troops.

Following the few fleeing survivors of the rear guard, they soon came into sight of part of Salah al-Din’s main body. Like the rear guard, however, the alarm was too late. As the Franks moved their horses to a hard gallop, Youssef glanced towards their center at the king who had insisted on riding into battle. Flanked by Reynald de Chatillon and his household knights, his illness seemed a thing of the past.

Looking back up, Youssef saw the yellow and green standard of Salah al Din, marking the Sultan’s presence in the field. The Frankish knights yelled their battle cry once more and pushed deep into the hastily assembled Muslim lines.

Youssef impaled a rider with his lance and unsheathed his sword. He pushed his horse towards another opponent, making quick work of him. He was in the vanguard, with the King, Reynald de Chatillon, Hugh de St Omer, and several other knights. Before he realized it, they had pushed to the center of the Muslim host, facing the elite Mamluk bodyguard of Salah al-Din.

The Mamluks were Eastern European, Slavic, and Turkish, soldiers, who had been taken from their families as young boys and sold as slaves into Muslim houses. Raised from a very young age in the art of war, they were the backbone of the Muslim army.

The fighting had slowed as the fleeing Muslims beginning to rally; however, the Franks knew that if the Sultan was to fall, the battle would be won. With this thought they threw themselves at Salah al-Din’s Mamluks.

Youssef found himself fighting a giant of a man, armed with a long curved sword called a shamshir and a shield. He pushed his mount towards the man and at the last moment threw himself at the giant. Both ended up on the ground, but only a moment before they were back on their feet. Youssef gave the man no time to regain his bearings and immediately charged, parrying a strike with his sword, before bringing his fist into contact with the man’s throat. The shock was enough for Youssef to drive home the killing strike.

The king’s men pushed forward, giving no quarter. Youssef parried a spear thrust, closing with the wielder and killing him a fluid motion. The ground became slippery with blood as the killing continued, but Youssef could feel the wave of battle pushing them forward.

Thirty paces away, Youssef saw one of Hugh de St Omer’s household knights lunge at the Sultan, whose horse reared, taking the blow in the neck. As the knight was killed instantly by one of the Mamluks, Salah al-Din deftly rolled off the falling horse.

Another adversary occupied Youssef for another moment, before he was quickly killed by the now surging Frankish forces.

Cheering caught his attention, and he looked in time to see Salah al-Din fleeing on camelback, only a handful of his bodyguards behind him. His colors, left behind, lay in the dirt surrounded by the Sultan’s dead Mamluks.

Reynald was urging on them on, and Youssef knew he was right. A commander as skilled as Salah al-Din could still rally his troops if given time. Remounted, they pushed on, but found no formed battle lines, only fleeing soldiers, leaving behind weapons, armor, and other spoils of war. Those that surrendered were taken prisoner, others were quickly dispatched. As they came to a halt, Reynald sent out lieutenants to continue the rout of the Muslim army, pushing them back towards Egypt.

Their losses had been heavy.They would find later they had suffered almost two thousand casualties, with over a thousand dead. The eight hundred wounded Franks were evacuated to the Hospital of St. John in Jerusalem.

Despite this, their mood was euphoric, for their losses were nothing compared to the decimation they had dealt to Salah al-Din. The rout continued for the next ten days, as more of the Muslim soldiers were taken prisoner and killed. Salah al-Din evaded capture, eventually making it back to Egypt; however, only ten percent of his army had survived.

* * * * *

A great feast was held in Jerusalem, celebrating the victory and the king that had lead them. Youssef watched the revelries with pride in his king, whose determination and courage had done so much to bring them the victory; however, he could not help but feel a melancholy at the same time. It would only be a matter of time before the combination of the king’s failing health and the might of Salah al-Din’s empire would place them in jeopardy once again. He looked out on the laughing, smiling faces, wondering which would be missing in a year. He forced himself out of his mood. Worries for another time. Today, they would drink.

______________________________________________________________

Dr. David Hourani is a medical doctor and student of Middle Eastern and Crusader history.

Thanks for sharing!
75
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Mont Gisard