Almost there! I received the print proofs for Men of the Cross yesterday, a day earlier than expected. I’ll have 4 sets of eyes to look it over while I continue formatting the ebooks for Kindle & Nook (and whoever else uses the .epub format). I hope to push the publish button next week.
I have a giveaway set up on Goodreads. Scroll down the page and you’ll see the link on my page to Enter to Win 1 of 3 print (and signed) copies. The giveaway will run until May 15, so sign up if you’d like.
To celebrate the upcoming release, I thought I would share my “author’s note” from the back of the novel.
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The history of the Third Crusade is well-documented by several chroniclers who provided slightly different versions of the events of the day. Some of the history was written in the years following King Richard’s departure from the Holy Land after a three-year truce was signed with Salah al-Dīn. (In the novel, I choose to refer to him as most Christians did: Saladin.) I depended heavily on primary source translations, including Nicholson’s Chronicle of the third crusade : A translation of the Itinerarium peregrinorum et gesta regis ricardi, and Riley’s The annals of Roger de Hoveden, comprising the history of England and of other countries of Europe from A. D. 732 to A. D. 1201. I turned to those works and Weir’s Eleanor of Aquitaine: a life for initial background information.
As I delved deeper into Battle Scars, my list of resources grew to include numerous biographies of King Richard I, other historical figures of the day, and general histories of and articles about society and culture in the Middle Ages. (Working at a large university library has its perks!) Miller’s book, Richard the Lionheart: the mighty crusader, has a wealth of information about fleet and army logistics. The number of pilgrims, those we commonly call crusaders, varies wildly in reports from the chroniclers. Ambroise’s Estoire and the author of the Itinerarium mention 100,000 Christians and 300,000 Turks (or Saracens as the term I chose to use to mean all those in Saladin’s army). Both figures are greatly exaggerated. Actual estimates for the crusader army are closer to 20,000, with 6,000 horses. The Saracens numbered 25,000-30,000. The logistics of moving and feeding this 12th century army in a land far from home, especially under such adverse conditions as the weather, the terrain, and Saladin’s scorched earth policy, are incredible. Miller estimates that man and beast required 67 tons of food and 180 tons of water per day, most of which had to be carried with the army. He also notes that “Actual quantities [of supplies] are seldom recorded in the accounts that remain…but surviving records showing that 50,000 [horseshoes] were provided by the county of Gloucestershire and another 10,000 by Hampshire.” (p.168)
While the primary sources and others detail Richard’s actions, I had no intention to recreate every moment, but rather tell the story through the eyes of two fictional characters: Sir Henry de Grey and Sir Stephan l’Aigle. An early turning point for Henry and Stephan in Battle Scars occurs with an incident regarding the first reported fatalities. The armies of Richard and Philip of France had not even departed the European continent when a bridge over the Rhone River at Lyon collapsed in July 1190. Ambroise describes the scene as utter chaos with hundreds of people, animals and wagons plummeting into the rapidly-raging river. The chroniclers report only two deaths (or two bodies recovered per Ambroise) from that mishap. Scholars note that deaths among the “common” people often were not reported.
“But those who in the morning passed
Crowded the bridge so thick and fast
Misfortune did them overtake.…
the arch fell and they tumbled in,
and were shouting, groans and din…
The water there so fiercely surges
That little which falls in emerges.”
–Ambroise, The crusade of Richard Lion-Heart
Henry and Stephan are present for many of the events of 1190-1193. The joy of writing two fictional characters within an historical setting is that I am able to weave their fictitious lives around actual events. It gives me—without the benefit of being there myself—the chance to imagine what they saw and what they felt. Henry and Stephan are onlookers to the actions of the king. They have some intimate knowledge of King Richard’s inner circle but other sights and sounds are strictly their own and mine.
So forgive me, dear readers, if I slipped in an occasional anachronistic phrase, if I inadvertently missed or barely touched on key moments, or altered a date or an event to allow my two young knights to be participants. I have done my utmost to stick close to the historical record.
I did incorporate the translations of some of Richard’s words to his advisors, and in at least one instance, I placed those utterances on a different occasion on the road to Jerusalem for the pace of the story. I chose to use a fictitious character to deliver the news to Richard of Philip of France’s decision to leave the Holy Land in July 1191. It lets me add a bit more drama to that scene while showing the nature of allies and enemies. The fictitious messenger is a “hat tip” to my coffee shop acquaintance, Mick, who gave me The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny. De Charny, who must be France’s equivalent of William Marshal (England’s greatest knight), is Mick’s 14th century ancestor. De Charny and his family (through his mother) had close ties to French kings in the 13th and 14th centuries. I decided to extend the family’s relationship back to the 12th century with a paternal, rather than a maternal, connection.
The details of the Lionheart’s journey after he left Acre in October 1192 are not as well-documented. Some events are debated among scholars so I admit I have taken poetic license. In my research, I have not discovered the names of all of Richard’s companions as he journeyed through Bavaria. I chose one reported version of his capture because it added to the “adventure” of this novel. Queen Eleanor received news of Richard’s capture in mid-January 1193 and my research of the literature did not indicate who delivered that news. Why not Henry, Stephan and their friend Sir Robin?
Though one of the underlying themes of Battle Scars is the relationship between Henry and Stephan, I do not refer to the question of King Richard’s homosexuality. Twentieth century scholars suggested that Richard was gay, though more recent scholarship shows the “evidence” is circumspect. Like other forms of sex outside marriage, it was considered a mortal sin. The late John Boswell notes severe punishment, including death, did exist in some countries in the Dark and Middle Ages. However, Boswell also cites evidence that the “crime” of homosexuality was dealt with no more harshly than other forms of adultery, with a fine or penances to be offered for as little as a year.
Lastly, I would like readers to know that the final scene of Men of the Cross was actually the beginning of this labor of love. At a weekly meeting of my writers group, I shared a short story with Cathy, Marie, and Mark. The characters struck a chord with them. The Robin Hood legend—my take on it—is birthed in the novel because of their encouragement. Why not include the man who becomes the legend rather than just have a “Robin-like” character? My writing group wanted to know more about Henry, Stephan and Robin. How did these men, who fought at Richard the Lionheart’s side in the Holy Land, arrive at that moment on the battlements of a castle on the south coast of England in the early spring of 1193?
So I give you Men of the Cross, book 1 of Battle Scars.
As I closed in on completion of the first draft of Men of the Cross, plot possibilities for a sequel invaded my thoughts. It demanded to be written. As I publish Book I of Battle Scars, the second book in this series, For King and Country, sits in rough draft form on my hard drive (and in the Cloud because I am a huge believer in back-ups). The continuing story will follow Henry, Stephan and Robin in England as they reunite with their families and friends. The actual events in England of 1193-1194, when Richard languished in captivity and was held by the Duke of Austria and the Holy Roman Emperor, are well-known. My three knights will be part of that history, uncovering a plot by John, the king’s brother, to usurp Richard’s throne. I will expand the Robin Hood legend in Book II, including an explanation of Robin’s family history in Lincolnshire. Many familiar characters become integral to the plot, but I will approach their backgrounds from my own perspective. I hope you will stick around for the adventure.
For a list of my reference resources and to monitor my progress on Book II, please drop by my website, https://charlenenewcomb.com.