I know new readers rightly want to start with the first book in any series, but how about a short excerpt from Book III? No spoilers to speak of – no explanation needed. This is the opening of Chapter 9. Take a peek…
John’s camp, Normandy
The River Seine sparkled. It snaked around the valley unfolding before Henry and Stephan as the sun slipped past midday. A church tower dominated the land, its shadow drenching the adjoining abbey like a coming storm. Pastures and farmland bore tents more numerous than Henry could count. John’s camp. Troops were gathering for the spring campaign.
John had commandeered the abbot’s residence, surely to the abbot’s horror as John was not known to be a godly man. His banner hung by the door and two guards grew alert when Henry and Stephan drew closer.
A familiar figure emerged from the house. Mercadier. The captain waved, a hint of a smile on his battle-scarred face. Henry had met the soldier at the king’s Christmas court, placing the stories he had heard about the ruthless butcher with the face. Killing the enemy was expected in battle, but harming the poor and innocent and ravaging villages were vile acts that Mercadier and his men—and John—took too far.
Mercadier tipped his head. “Lord Henry de Grey, am I right?”
Henry acknowledged the captain and nodded towards Stephan. “Sir Stephan and I bring a message from the king.” He dismounted and handed the reins to a waiting groom.
The captain jutted his chin, his hand resting on the hilt of his sword. “We’d no reports that King Richard was nearby.”
Henry found a smile. “Near three days’ ride, so your scouts have done their jobs well.”
“They let you through. Bread and gruel for them tonight.” Mercadier chuckled, pleased with his own joke. “Stand aside,” he shouted at the guards, his voice a harsh contrast to the communal prayers drifting from the church. “Come. I shall see if Prince John might see you now.”
Henry cringed. Prince John.
Boisterous voices carried from the hall. Mercadier swung the door wide. Inside, he looked to the dais, and not seeing John there, cast his gaze around the room. Forty or more knights sat at two long trestles. A fire in the hearth blazed and torches lined the bare walls. Servants refilled jugs of wine and replaced empty platters with ones overflowing with salted herring, wheaten bread, and cheeses.
“Wait here,” Mercadier said and set off to a corner where a group of men huddled over a chess board.
Henry got his first good look at John. He had last seen him on his knees in Lisieux two years past, begging King Richard’s forgiveness for his treason. “Don’t be afraid, John, you are a child,” Richard had said. It still made Henry angry. The king had brushed off John’s traitorous actions.
Mercadier leaned in, whispering in John’s ear. Not a muscle in John’s face twitched, but he stood, and without looking at the knights, strode to the head of the table. Conversation in the hall dwindled to nothing as he settled on the huge oaken chair. He gestured to a page, who adjusted the plush crimson cushions on the seat to his satisfaction. An invisible signal must have passed between John and his captain, because Mercadier encouraged Henry and Stephan forward.
Review of Swords of the King
–Sharon Bennett Connolly on The Review
This entire series has been a new and refreshing take on warfare in the reign of King Richard the Lionheart. Charlene Newcomb has retold the art of warfare with brutal honesty. The battle scenes are vivid, fierce and frighteningly vicious. However, she has also considered the effect such constant warfare has on her leading characters and although PTSD was an unnamed condition in twelfth century Europe, that does not mean that it did not exist and did not affect the lives of the sufferers and those around them. The scenes where Henry has to face the horrors of war, replaying over and over in his dreams, are some of the most touching and thoughtful you may ever see in historical fiction.
Where Charlene Newcomb also breaks new ground is in the love affair between Henry and Stephan. A love that, in those days, could not be spoken or acknowledged, but which gives each character his major strengths and weaknesses. It also acknowledges another fact that gets brushed over or avoided in history, that homosexuality is not a twenty first century phenomenon, but it was something people have had to live with throughout history, in much less enlightened times than our own. The author deals with the subject thoughtfully and sensitively, but head on, which makes for an interesting and enlightening read.
The characters in Swords of the King are a mixture of real, imaginary and legendary and they are the real strength of the story and of the entire Battle Scars series. The fictional Henry and Stephan are dropped into the lives of King Richard and his family. Charlene Newcomb weaves them into the fabric of the story so well, that it is hard to tell the invented from the historical fact.
If you like this but haven’t delved into my medieval Battle Scars series, I hope you’ll consider giving Book I, Men of the Cross, a try. It’s available on Amazon, and in Kindle Unlimited.