Swords of the King – work in progress update

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Chateau Gaillard, one of many   locations of Battle Scars III

Apparently back in September I promised monthly updates on Battle Scars III: Swords of the King.

Whoops! Is it really the middle of April? Looking back, I see I told you about awards & accolades for For King and Country. I wrote about research for Book III based on my visits to Lincoln and Nottingham, my experience as a ‘supporting author’ at GRL in Kansas City and the Big Gay Fiction Giveaway. And in March and early April I highlighted some significant events in the life of Richard the Lionheart.

So, what is happening with Swords?

I am closing in on “the end.” Three weeks ago I told a friend I had 5 ‘chapters’ noted in my Scrivener outline. Well, one of those turned into 3 chapters. I’m at 94,000+ words and those remaining 4 could add another 10,000-20,000 words.  A broken truce, numerous engagements between Richard’s army and the French, the big climax and aftermath — Henry, Stephan and Robin will be in the thick of the action.

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Chateau de Gisors

At Gisors, Philip of France takes a dunk in the River Epte when a bridge collapses in September 1198. (A true story.) And the pace won’t let up in the pages that follow. Richard’s brother, the evil John (you know, King John of Magna Carta fame), does not forget how Henry, Stephan, and Robin thwarted his efforts to overthrow Richard in Battle Scars II.

It seems like the research never ends. I think I have read everything I need to, and then discover I want more detail about a particular place or event. Check/cross-check more sources. Am I missing some piece of information? I certainly hope not.

Snippets from Swords of the King

If you follow me on Facebook you will have seen these short snippets. Then again, given Facebook algorithms, maybe you haven’t! Enjoy…

John sniffed at his drink. “Interesting that you defend Lady Elle, Henry. She ignored her brother’s wishes when she did not marry you. She chose that landless, penniless squire. Quite the story there, even my own mother involved. So many secrets, plots and intrigue.” John’s eyes grew icy as he brought the wine to his lips and swallowed a swig. He clamped a hand on Henry’s shoulder and scrutinized Robin. “But as they say, the truth always outs.”

* * * *

A wrinkled map covered the table in the king’s tent and tallow candles made the air stale with smoke. The men hovered over it like a pack of wolves. Snarling, Richard whisked out his dagger and stabbed Paris. “So Philip consorts with Flanders, Ponthieu, and Boulogne. Where will they strike?”

* * * *

“Watch out for the rats,” Allan said.

Edric groaned.

“Give him the torch,” Henry said. “The path is uneven, and I for one don’t want to carry Weston if his foot catches in a hole.”

“Or slips in the pigeon shite,” Allan added as he handed the torch to Edric.

“Is that what smells like an overripe privy?” Edric had slowed, lowering the flame to inspect the sandstone.

“I thought that was you, Weston,” Robin said and increased his pace uphill.

* * * *

Just as Henry started after Robin, curses flew at the front of the room. Stephan scrambled atop the trestle and the curses weren’t the only thing in flight. He landed on Edric Weston and both men disappeared from Henry’s sight.

Chairs toppled, wine and food bounced into the air, and men clambered to get out of the way. Stephan and Weston rolled across the floor, knights cheering, definitely more in Stephan’s favor than Weston’s from the shouts Henry heard. King Richard was on his feet spurring them on, but one quick glance at his wife and at Queen Eleanor, and he immediately ordered them to stop.

For King and Country News

For King and Country is Amazon exclusive until early July, available free on Kindle Unlimited. Do check it out!

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Image credits

Château Gaillard – by Sylvain Verlaine (Own work), CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Chateau de Gisors, France – by Nitot (Own work), GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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men_full-sideCharlene Newcomb is currently working on Book III of Battle Scars, 12th century historical fiction filled with war, political intrigue, and a knightly romance of forbidden love set during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. There will be more to come, so sign up for Char’s Newsletter. It will be used – sparingly – to offer exclusive content and and to let you be the first to know about special offers.

Mini-teasers for Book III, Swords of the King

nominee-high-res-flatHave a line or two…

But first – voting is still open for the Summer Indie Award.
Go vote, preferably for one or both of my books.
Historical: http://goo.gl/zK9veq
Then come back here to see what is in store for Battle Scars, Book III!

Okay, now that you’re back…

I want to get into the habit of cross-posting these one-liners, 7x7s, and random blurbs from Facebook more often. If you’ve read them there, skip to the end because you don’t want to miss information about the cover reveal and preview of Chapter 1.

Of teasers and pantsers

I can’t say I post these types of teasers to my Facebook page on a regular basis. They are spur of the moment posts – I’ll be working on a scene for Swords and think, “This is cool and there aren’t any major spoilers. Let me share this.” Or another author acquaintance will tag me to participate in a “go to page 7, line 7, and share 7 lines” game. Maybe a few more people will see them here and be interested in tracking my progress, or they’ll check out Men of the Cross or For King and Country.

While some writers can pound out a novel in a few months – bless them – I work a bit slower and some days can’t even get one hour of writing in. I started working on Swords of the King in late June. I’m what’s called a “pantser,” that is, I write by the seat of my pants rather than have a detailed outline. I know how the novel ends and I have the key points outlined to get me to the end – but how I get there within the confines of actual historical events is a journey for me and my characters. I was surprised when a nasty villain from Book II decided to show up much earlier than I had originally planned, but I am having a ball with him. 🙂

I had done a good bit of research preparing for the writing of Book III, but keep discovering I have more to do to ensure I can immerse the reader in events, places, and people.

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I would like to say the first draft will be done by early summer 2017, but I can’t make any promises. I hope you will hang in here with me.

One-liners, 7x7s, and random thoughts…

Henry  knew warriors who claimed every battle was the same. Details were lost in the charge, in the flight of arrows overhead. Henry shuddered. The noise. Siege machines ripping large boulders through the air. Rocks smashing into a stone curtain wall. The clink of armor, the clank of swords. Screams, the sounds of men dying. The smell… Oh God. The smell of blood stung Henry’s nostrils and bile rose in his throat.

* * *

May have to dig deeper into medieval Paris circa 1196. Hadn’t planned to go there for Book III, but the knights are pointing me in that direction.

* * *

At the bridge, Henry and Stephan watched the ducal train. Cart after cart came over the distant ridge and then stretched down on to the flood plain like a serpent, an apt description when Henry remembered King Richard’s words about his former sister-in-law and her advisors. Covered in brown and beige tarps that looked like snakeskin when shadows fell across them, the carts overflowed with baggage. The duchess’ necessaries would include tapestries, pillows, and linens to make any room to her liking, silver and gold goblets and trenchers, pots to cook her meals, and casks of wine.

A hundred mounted riders slithered at the van- and rearguard, the procession plodding along and now about half the distance between the summit of the hill and the bridge. The Breton flag, a black cross on white field, flew above the duchess’ litter. A spirited horse drew up beside it and the curtain was drawn aside. The rider was a child judging by his size—an important one, being that three knights hovered round him. Arthur.

* * *

By the time King Richard rode through the gates the skies had unleashed their fury—not that the storm matched the thunder in the king’s eyes.

* * *

“Why so suspicious, friends?” Edric settled himself and slung a blanket across his back. “I am here to ensure Robin completes his mission and—”

“And then kill me so if I am captured I will not break under torture and tie the deed back to John.”

“God’s bones,” Henry exclaimed.

Edric roared with laughter, even wiped tears from his eyes. “You have quite the imagination, Robin.” He took a long breath. “That cannot be further from the truth. I am here to help, that is all. You underestimate your usefulness to Prince John.”

* * *

“What have you done, Robin?”

Robin heard Marian’s voice call to him above his horse’s pounding hoofs. “You will not be happy,” he muttered to himself.

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Be special! Sign up for the cover reveal and a preview of Chapter 1

I hope you’ve enjoyed these tiny snippets. In the future – hopefully by the end of this year – an early Christmas present! –  I plan to send a preview of Chapter 1 to people who sign up for my mailing list. Be the first to see the cover of Swords of the King (unless you happened to be at the Historical Novel Society Conference the last few days and got the postcard in your hospitality bag) See the link below and sign up now.

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Photo credit
Château de Fougères – photo by Luna04 at French Wikipedia – Transferred from fr.wikipedia to Commons by KaTeznik using CommonsHelper., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4838424)

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Charlene Newcomb is the author of the Battle Scars series, 12th century historical adventures set during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. There will be more to come, so sign up for Char’s Mailing List. It will be used – sparingly – to offer exclusive content and to let you be the first to know about special offers.

Excerpt from Men of the Cross

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Book II? Well, I can’t buy that because I haven’t read Book I.

Of course, I would love you to read both Battle Scars books, though I think – as does at least 1 reviewer – that For King and Country will work as a stand-alone. But let me entice you with a scene from Book I, Men of the Cross:

From Chapter 5…

THEY’D HAD THEIR ALE to celebrate Henry’s victory and within moments the sky opened sending all the revelers scrambling to find cover. Stephan and Henry retired to the king’s pavilion with a score of other knights. King Richard had not returned from a hunting expedition in the woods nearby, but squires and servants had scrounged up succulent venison and lamb and laid them out on one of the long trestles. The fire had been warm, the food plentiful, and the games exhilarating though Stephan lost at chess—twice.

“Mayhap you should give up the game,” Henry said.

Broad-shouldered William of Abingdon slapped Stephan’s back and laughed. “Listen to Henry. But dice? You’ve not played with me since we left Tours.”

Henry looked between the knights. He’d learned that “play” might have multiple meanings and merely smiled shyly. “I cannot watch you lose another penny,” he said. “I bid you goodnight.”

“Victory!” Stephan shouted as Will turned him round and steered him to the dice table. Will plopped down beside Stephan and fingered the cubes as a crowd gathered. He tossed them with a quick flick of his wrist. Their audience groaned at Will’s first roll, but cheered at Stephan’s pair of fours. Ultimately, Stephan won, but that might have been because Will’s hand was more interested in the muscles of Stephan’s thigh than in the toss of wooden cubes. Stephan thought his own restraint admirable, especially when Robin stopped to talk and Will grew more daring in his exploration. Stephan was more than ready when other knights departed for the evening or bedded down in the pavilion and Will asked him back to his own tent.

Creaking wagons woke Stephan a few hours later. Will snored softly next to him, his hand resting at Stephan’s waist. Stephan rose and shook off his exhaustion. He pulled on his hose and tunic and tugged aside the tent flap. Yawning, he stretched in the cool morning air. He wagged his head to clear it, tried to focus on the hum of activities around him. Where one tent after another lined the road five or six deep in both directions when he’d gone to bed, there now were empty, trampled plots of dirt. Hundreds of tents had been dismantled. A few campfires smoked and sizzled with breakfast but goods had been stowed and the pilgrims were making ready for one more day on the road.

Stephan called over his shoulder. “Will, get out of bed and I shall help you pack up the tent. We’ll be left behind.”

A horse whinnied and Stephan turned. The young thief from Tours came around the side of Will’s tent. He held Tempête’s reins out to Stephan. “I saddled him up for you, my lord.”

Stephan eyed the boy suspiciously—what mischief was this?  Straightening, he walked toward boy and horse, inspecting Tempête from nose to haunches. He stroked the destrier’s neck. He checked the saddle, pleased to see the boy had tightened the straps perfectly. His saddle bag was packed tightly. Had the thief replaced its contents with useless rubbish?

Allan looked wounded. “It’s all there, my lord, including two pennies loose at the bottom.”

An honest thief, Stephan thought. Still, what was he after? “Sorting through my bag, were you?”

“Just to pull the wineskin you’d stuffed there. You’ll need some ale on the march today.”

“I do not remember asking you to see to Tempête.”

“You did not, my lord. Me and Little John saw you speaking with the one they call Sir Robin last night. Heard that you were to ride at the vanguard this morn.”

Stephan slapped his thigh. “Christ!” He gaped at the eastern edge of the valley where wagons were already kicking up dust.

“Sir Robin was looking for you when the sun came up. Told him we’d hurry you along. I talked it over with Little John. We thought it best to retrieve your horse first and then wake you.”

“Little John?”

“My friend.”

“The dark-haired lad?”

“Aye, my lord,” Allan said, pointing to the boy peeking out from behind a nearby wagon. Little John held chunks of bread and cheese out to Stephan.

“Wait right here.” Stephan hurried back into the tent. “Will?” He shook the naked knight and then tossed him a grey tunic carelessly thrown to the ground when they’d come in during the night. He slipped his surcoat over his head and then found his sword belt beneath Will’s cloak. “There are two boys outside,” he said as he secured the belt round his waist. “I shall give them a coin to help you. Mayhap one can find your squire.”

“It cannot be daylight.”

“It is, and Robin is waiting for me.”

“I hardly slept, no thanks to you.”

“Complain, will you? See if I warm your bed again.” Stephan grabbed his cloak. Outside, he handed Allan a half penny. “You heard?”

“We shall help Sir William with his things.”

“Good. Then I shall be off.”

Allan handed him Tempête’s reins and fingered the frayed edge of Stephan’s cloak. “Little John is good at mending, my lord. He knows how to smooth the nicks in a sword, and shine it so bright that it might blind someone who intends you harm.”

“And you know horses.”

“That and much more, my lord. I would be glad to teach you a trick or two at the games.”

“You were watching me at the pavilion last night?”

“Aye. You should be wary playing that knight from Rotherham.”

“Oh?”

“He cheats.”

“You know how to beat a cheater, do you?”

“Aye, my lord.”

“Allan, is it?”

“Aye.”

Stephan encouraged Little John to come forward. He ripped a chunk of bread from the loaf in the boy’s hand. “Thank you.” He bit into the bread, studying the two boys. Rough around the edges. Thin and filthy. But this Allan—he had some useful talents. And a good heart. He could have escaped from Stephan in that chase, but he’d slowed down, concerned about his dark-haired friend. Stephan imagined he’d learn if Allan exaggerated Little John’s skills in time. “Find me when we camp for the night,” he told the boys. “I have a job or two you might help with.” He mounted Tempête and pivoted towards the vanguard. Pressing his heels to the horse, he called back,  “And I just might take you up on those tricks.”

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The Lionheart’s fleet arrives in Acre, June 1191

Siege of AcreKing Richard I of England had mustered his troops in March 1190 in Tours (now part of France) and set out for the Holy Land to answer the Pope’s call for the Third Crusade. After wintering in Messina, Sicily, his fleet – some 200 vessels strong – sailed east. Storms made the journey harrowing and the fleet was separated. Richard’s bride-to-be, Berengaria of Navarre, and his sister were nearly captured when their boat was shipwrecked in Cyprus. Richard rescued the ladies and defeated his enemies there, married Berengaria on the 12th of May, and sailed on to the Holy Land. On 8 June 1191 the Lionheart arrived in Acre.

Here is that scene from Men of the Cross, Book I of Battle Scars:

The galley drew into the harbour. The city of Acre had been under siege nearly two years. The pounding of the stone throwers drew Henry’s eye. Jerusalem’s fall had been the rallying cry for this call to arms, but the crusaders needed to secure Acre as a gateway. Without the great port, the desire to hold the Holy City in Christian hands would be nothing more than a dream.

Henry saw the smoke darkening Acre’s late morning skies. His mood blackened. He’d expected to see his first battle here, not in Messina. He hadn’t lost any friends that day, but he couldn’t forget that he’d come within a dagger’s width of an enemy blade. If it hadn’t been for Stephan’s true aim, he wouldn’t be looking at the land that had given a Savior to all Christians.

. . . THE WIND SHIFTED TO the west. Acrid smoke from the city drifted towards the ships, but Henry hardly noticed. Stephan had come up beside him, the sweat of swordplay glistening on his chest and back. He thwacked Henry on the buttocks with a cloth. Henry jerked, allowing only a half-hearted glare.

Stephan dried his face and rubbed down his body with the cloth in deliberate and slow moves. His stomach muscles tightened and the biceps in his arms bulged. Little John mimicked him, flexing his arms to show his budding physique. Stephan jabbed his fist at the boy, then tossed the dirty cloth to him in exchange for his tunic.

Fidgeting, Henry looked past them both, well aware of the grin on the boy’s face.

“Allan plans to take bets on Little John,” Stephan said, tugging the light brown shirt over his head. “He thinks he will beat any of the knights’ squires. Did you see how he feinted to the left then brought his staff up under my sword?”

Henry smiled as Little John disappeared below deck. “He has a good teacher.”

Stephan tilted his head back proudly. “So I’ve heard.”

Henry ignored the boast, focusing on the land beyond Acre’s impressive stone walls. Stephan followed his gaze. “Are those Saladin’s troops?” Henry asked. “There must be thousands of tents.”

Robin’s earlier report became a reality. Acre jutted out into the sea like a thumb on a hand. Water surrounded it on three sides. Mountains to the north, plains sweeping towards forested hills in the east and southeast. Henry remembered how Roger thought there’d be nothing but desert and blowing sands. He would have liked the trees, though they were nothing like ones in England.

“Saracens to the north,” Stephan said, and then nodded his head to the east and southeast, “and more of the infidels there.”

Henry shivered. Tents of every shape and size scarred the landscape, boasting the colours of sunsets and clouds. It was nothing like his first sighting of the king’s camp back in Tours. Here, Saladin’s army surrounded the crusaders.

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Men of the Cross and For King and Country 

are available on Amazon sites worldwide.

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Charlene Newcomb is the author of the Battle Scars series, 12th century historical adventures set during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. For King and Country, book II of the series, was published on 2 May 2016. There will be more to come, so sign up for Char’s Mailing List. It will be used – sparingly – to offer exclusive content and and to let you be the first to know about special offers.

 

Excerpt from For King and Country

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Henry tried to shut out Marian and Robin’s voices as he and Stephan left. The wooden stairs creaked beneath their feet. At the landing, Henry heard Hugh settling his father for the night. Edward’s muffled laugh sounded, familiar and comforting, reminiscent of days long past.

Candlelight flickered beneath Bea’s door. She was singing softly, a verse their mother taught them and sang to lull her restless children to sleep.

Henry eased the door open to get a glimpse of his nephew. Bea sat near the brazier rocking David in her arms. She looked up as he peeked into the room.

“Is he not yet asleep?” Henry asked.

“Almost.”

Henry tiptoed into the room. He smiled down at the babe, gently touched his nose and forehead. He turned, trying to coax Stephan closer. “His skin is so soft.”

Stephan nodded from the door. He looked somber, but then his eyes grew soft and a hint of a smile curved his lips. He looked at Bea. “Goodnight, my lady,” he said and headed for Henry’s bedchamber.

Henry stroked the dark tuft of hair on David’s head. He needed to ask Bea about her late husband, the one whose name drew scowls every time he’d heard it mentioned. And then there was their father…and Stephan. But Bea looked so content and happy, and he saw no need to spoil the night.

He wandered to the window and opened the shutters. Clouds trailed across the moon, bathing the guards’ tents in eerie shadows. At the sight of the tents he shuddered, drew in a ragged breath. Knees suddenly weak, he plastered his hands to the wall either side of the window.

“Henry, what is it? What’s wrong?” Bea asked.

He stared into the courtyard. “The tents, the Holy Land, so much blood…” He clenched his fist, drawing it to his chest. “I try to remember I am home now.”

“Is it helpful to speak of it?”

“I will not burden you with the horrors I saw, the things I did. Stephan listens to me. That is all I need.”

Bea placed David in his cradle. She smoothed her silk sleeping gown and drew up to Henry, slipping her arms around his waist. “I am your sister. I love you. I will listen, help you, any way I can.”

“I know.”

Bea rested her cheek against his arm. “Stephan will be gone soon. I will be here for you.”

Henry’s throat tightened and he fought back a tide of grief. He held Bea tightly and tried to forget the day Stephan would leave. But Bea was right. That day would come all too soon.

*

For King and Country 

is available on Amazon sites worldwide.

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See Sharon’s full review at The Review

 

Excerpt from For King and Country

king and country_smallChapter 1

Drums. Dear God, not the drums.

Henry de Grey shuddered and blinked against the mid-afternoon sun. Streaks of light shimmered through the trees like blades of a hundred broadswords. Stephan l’Aigle stirred beside the young knight, but then lay still, like Henry, listening. At the water’s edge, the knights’ horses perked their ears. A distant rumble sounded. Not drums, but wheels grating along the old Roman road on the far side of the River Witham.

“One wagon,” Henry muttered and exhaled sharply.

Stephan brushed Henry’s hand. His fingers lingered on an old battle scar. “Thinking of the war?”

“I am fine.” He smiled, dismissing memories of the Holy Land conjured by the play of light and sounds. “Go back to sleep.”

“Your father expects us. You said we’d not far to go.”

“Not far.” All the while he’d been on crusade Henry dreamed of coming home. He left one war behind only to fight the absent king’s enemies in England. He would be the last to begrudge anyone of the recent truce, but he worried about facing his father and his desire to see Greyton diminished the closer they drew. Sheltered in the quiet of the greenwood he prayed the peace would last, though he wasn’t certain he would find it himself.

Three years at war changed a man. Stephan had changed him.

Stephan stretched his battled-honed muscles, but made no move to rise. His eyelids drooped. The man could sleep anywhere. In a siege camp, on a boat rocking on the sea, or on the hard ground. The slightest indication of trouble would wake him, a priceless trait for a king’s man in wartime, and one Henry had been grateful for from Outremer to Bavaria to England.

Henry wanted to forget Stephan’s work for Queen Eleanor still loomed, their time together so uncertain. Drawing up on his elbows, he leaned close to Stephan breathing in the smell of leather, musk, and sweat. A gust of wind swept his dark wavy hair against Stephan’s cheek. Warm breath touched his face chasing away all thoughts of kings and queens, wars and traitors. He tilted his head to steal a kiss, but held back when the trees stilled and the wagon wheels echoed like distant thunder.

Henry placed a finger to Stephan’s lips. “Quiet.” That wasn’t one wagon. He sat up, jostling Stephan and earning a grunt of displeasure.

Stephan rolled to his stomach and shifted to scan the wood. “Three—”

“Four,” Henry said, pointing to a fourth wagon lagging a bit behind the others on the opposite bank. A group of mounted riders passed in and out of the shadows headed north towards Lincoln. The chink of horses’ harnesses rang louder and dust and dirt stirred in the caravan’s wake. The riders wore hooded mail hauberks and black-as-night surcoats. Henry couldn’t make out their badges at this distance, but they were armed. Swords, shields, and clubs clinked against their mail chausses.

“I do not think they carry goods for market day.” Henry frowned. “Not with a dozen guards.”

“Count John’s men,” Stephan wondered as he stood. “I may have news for the queen sooner than anyone suspected.”

“Let’s find out, shall we?”

Just three weeks past the truce had ended sieges across England. The king’s own brother had sought to usurp the throne. Count John’s treachery had been quelled for the moment, but John had many loyal vassals. The Sheriff of Lincolnshire, castellan of Lincoln Castle, was John’s man. If troops and provisions were en route to Lincoln, would this peace be crushed like grain beneath a millstone?

Henry struggled to rise. His hauberk felt heavy, his bones remembering the ache of battle. Stephan offered him a hand and pulled him to his feet, embracing him tightly. Henry pounded his back. Reluctantly, they released each other, their eyes locking, no words needed.

Stephan’s surcoat hung from a tree branch. He jumped a log to grab it, and then crossed the grassy bank to the horses. Sunlight painted his hair the hue of fresh-sown hay. Five months in England had faded the deep tan each man had worn in Outremer.

Henry stared at Stephan as he dressed.

“What have I done?” Stephan asked, his sky blue eyes sparkling with child-like innocence.

Henry fingered his own linen shirt. “We may have a truce with the king’s brother, but if those are John’s men…” He pointed to Stephan’s clothes.

Stephan looked at his surcoat and, with a wry smile, shook his head. “This will not do.” He stuffed all evidence of the king’s red and gold colors into his saddle pack.

Henry glanced at the sun dipping below the trees on its way to the horizon. The wagons could travel at a steady pace, but Lincoln was more than twenty miles to the north. “They’ll not make Lincoln before dark.”

Stephan fixed his swordbelt at his waist. “When they bed down for the night we shall inspect their cargo.” He craned his neck, eyes suddenly narrowed. “Listen.”

Wind rustled the trees. Sheep bleating in a nearby pasture did not hide the rattle and groan of the wheels on the cobbled road.

Henry jerked his head. “They’ve turned towards Greyton.” Why? The one easy answer repelled him and fear crept into his heart. Surely his father did not play at Count John’s treason.

“There is some reason for this,” Stephan said, reading his mind.

Scrambling to his horse, Henry tried not to think the worst. He had one foot in the stirrup when hoofbeats echoed along the little-used forest trail where they had rested. He stepped away from Soleil, signaling Stephan to stay within the shadows of the trees. Stephan unsheathed his sword as two riders approached at a gallop.

Henry reached for his blade, but the mounted men looked vaguely familiar. One sat as tall as King Richard in the saddle. The other was a head shorter and broad-shouldered. A branch caught his hood revealing a mass of light-colored hair.

“It’s Allan and Little John,” Henry said, surprised to see the young squires. He stepped on to the path and flagged them down. Their lathered horses snorted and pranced. “We did not expect to see you before the morrow.”

Emerging from behind a huge oak, Stephan looked more curious than concerned. “Where is Robin?” Their good friend Sir Robin du Louviers claimed he’d been ordered to hold a day with the squires at Windsor to await additional instructions from the queen. “You go on,” he’d said, one brow quirked knowingly. It had been a welcome ploy giving Henry and Stephan time alone.

“Wagons,” Allan said, pointing across the river. “Sir Robin is at their backs. We followed them from Grantham, stayed far enough behind not to be seen.”

“Sir Robin remembered this trail and had us backtrack to get word to you,” Little John added. “He was certain you’d be at Greyton Manor by now.”

“We’d thought to rest—” Henry said.

Stephan snorted, having enjoyed more than rest in the greenwood. He also knew full well Henry was not anxious to face his father.

Henry turned a mocking smile on Stephan. The squires’ grinned, but he ignored them. “The wagons are making for Greyton. If they are John’s men, we’ll not look for trouble, but I must learn their business.” He mounted his horse as Stephan vaulted on to his dark Spanish stallion. They spurred the animals to the old stone bridge that crossed the Witham, slowing as the wagons came around the bend.

Henry waved a greeting, not wanting to appear threatening. “Good day to you, sirs.”

Stephan halted, resting his fist on the pommel of his sword, his eyes on the guards. To either side of the knights, Little John and Allan sat straight in their saddles, their faces unreadable.

The captain raised his arm signaling the wagons to stop. He looked young, his face unmarred but with strong cheekbones and dark eyes beneath black brows. He nudged his horse forward.

Henry did not miss hands slipping round the hilts of a dozen swords. “You are traveling to Greyton?” he asked.

The captain studied Henry and Stephan, their stallions, and the squires. He might have noticed the fine weave of Henry’s clothes, but showed no sign of recognizing the badge on Henry’s surcoat, a heraldic fleur-de-lis and stags on green and blue. “My lord.” He tipped his head. “I am Harold Burford. We’re to stay at Greyton tonight.”

Henry’s heartbeat quickened. “My father is expecting you?”

“We sent no word ahead, my lord.”

“Just for the night?”

“Yes, my lord. On the morrow we’ll journey to Nottingham.”

Not Lincoln. But why stop at Greyton? A chill snaked through Henry’s bones. His horse sensed his unease and pawed the ground. Henry thought better of questioning the man further and stroked Soleil’s neck. Inspecting the cargo while it sat at Greyton should not be difficult. He’d arrange to share plenty of ale with the captain and his men to loose a few tongues.

“I shall ride ahead and let my father know you are not far behind.” Henry heeled Soleil and gave him head before the captain could utter a reply.

Pastures and fields of grain blurred past Henry. A few minutes later, he galloped into the village with Stephan and the squires at his back. Two small children chased a cat across the road directly in his path. His horse responded to the gentle tug on the reins and he skirted by them. Their arrival caused a stir, but Henry did not slow as villeins looked up from their work. Someone called out to him, but he reined in sharply and swung down from his horse, starting towards the timbered hall.

Stephan slid from Lune and hurried to catch up. He clamped a hand on Henry’s wrist. “Rest a moment. You’ve not seen your father in three years. No need to barge in like a wild boar.”

Henry’s jaw muscles twitched. Stephan was right. He placed his hand atop Stephan’s and held it fast, and then turned to the squires. “See to the horses. Then go round to the kitchen and tell Mary I’ve sent you. And don’t eat all her bread.”

Stephan chuckled and handed his reins to Little John. “I’ll keep watch on the road while you speak with your father,” he told Henry.

The squires led the animals away as Henry took in his surroundings. A young boy peered at him from the stable door. Robin’s son. With this commotion, when would he have a chance to let Marian know that Robin was alive and at their doorstep? Henry did not know the whole story, only that Robin had left Marian without a word all those years ago. The war had kept Robin away, but had he known about the boy, he would have returned to Greyton.

The village was much as Henry remembered. The chapel, the mill, a score of cottages and barns, animal pens, and workshops—still there and little changed while he had been gone. He acknowledged the smith sweating over his forge, but the fine reddish bay tethered outside the stables held his gaze. It had been ridden hard, its coat gleaming with sweat. A saddle cloth of rich crimson and jade graced the stallion’s back. From nearby Cartholme, if memory served him. Henry had met the baron once, but he had no recollection the man had ever called at Greyton. What business had brought him today, Henry wondered.

He studied the weathered oak of the hall, the oldest part of Greyton Manor, built by his great-grandsire. His gaze strayed to the window of his father’s bedchamber, upstairs in the stone-built part of the manor. Edward de Grey had opposed Henry’s decision to take the Cross. Mayhap he had feared for Henry’s life—what parent would not? Oh Father, did you know war would force me to question everything I once believed? And love. Henry’s heart clenched. His father would never accept that two men could love each other. Never. And Henry would not tell him. Edward would be devastated, cast him from his land and his heart at any whisper of the truth.

Henry had never imagined he would fall in love with another man. It had come after many prayers to God whose Church would condemn them, but he knew in his soul it was a rare gift he shared with Stephan. Their close friends recognized it—mayhap before they admitted it themselves. Henry took comfort they knew the truth.

He drew in a deep breath and met Stephan’s gaze. “I am ready.”

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For King and Country
will be available on May 2 on Amazon

War, political intrigue and passion…
heroes… friends and lovers…
and the seeds for a new Robin Hood legend await you…

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Coming soon! Battle Scars Book II: For King and Country

I am waiting on the full cover from the cover designer for For King and CountryWith that in hand, I can order print proofs to share with some first readers, not only for their impressions of the novel, but also to have a few more pairs of eyes looking for those obnoxious typos. I have started formatting the ebook, too. Three wonderful people will get that ARC (advance review/reader copy) version – I didn’t even have to twist their arms!  I don’t have a firm release date yet, but Book II will probably be out by then end of April. Stay tuned.

While they read, I need to prepare a few related historical posts about England in the tumultuous time period of 1193 – 1194. I have to figure out the Kindle Countdown deal, think about setting up a giveaway, a mailing list, and marketing, marketing, marketing. And somewhere in there, I need to get into my research for Book III!

While you patiently wait for the publication date, let me tease you with another short excerpt from Book II:

Robin watched his father work from the open door of the shop. Sunlight bled in through the windows. A cross-draft rustled William Carpenter’s hair, revealing streaks of gray where it had once been brown and gold, like Robin’s. Their mouths had the same rosebud curl. Bruises purpled his huge hands, hands that reminded Robin of the intricate designs his father carved, like the wooden horse he had treasured as a child. William’s muscles twitched as he planed a wooden chest and then brushed wood dust to the floor.

Robin cleared his throat. “Sir?”

William’s head shot up. He eyeballed his son and hastily returned to his handiwork. “I heard you were alive.”

“Word travels fast.” Robin knew better than to smile. His father might have his eyes on the chest, but he would sense Robin’s attitude.

“Apparently not from wherever you have been these last twelve years.”

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