Men of the Cross Review & #Giveaway on Diverse Reader

21878750Diverse Reader loved Men of the Cross!! Thank you, Meredith.

Check out Meredith’s review. Enter the giveaway for a chance to win an e-copy of this tale of war, passion, and forbidden love. You’ll also have a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card.

Get over there now and enter the drawing! The drawing closes in 5 days so don’t delay.

And sign up for my Newsletter and I’ll send you a sample from Book II of Battle Scars, For King and Country.

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Charlene Newcomb is currently working on Book III of her Battle Scars series, 12th century historical adventures filled with war, political intrigue, and a knightly romance of forbidden love set during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. 

Kindle Countdown Deal – Men of the Cross

21878750 Just a friendly reminder that Men of the Cross is on sale all this week for Kindle (Amazon US & UK). The sale will end on Sunday, so now is your chance to indulge yourself and curl up with a book that Professor Andrew Latham, author of The Holy Lance, calls “a vivid picture of the Third Crusade . . . filled with excitement, passion, and plenty of action.” Christopher Monk, aka The Anglo Saxon Monk, describes it as “Trauma and passion in a battle of bodies and souls.” C’mon, you know you want to read it!

Sweeping battles, forbidden love, and 2 knights
fighting for Richard the Lionheart
A 2014 B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree and Readers’ Favorite
Buy the book: Amazon

And don’t forget – the Big Gay Fiction Giveaway (#BGFG) is ongoing through the end of the day Sunday, too. Choose from 80+ authors writing m/m fiction in multiple genres: historical fiction (like mine), literary fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and more.

Free books, short stories, and sample chapters are just a click away.

Yes, free! Opt into an author’s mailing list and you can download something new to read just in time for the long holiday weekend. So many freebies in just one place.

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Charlene Newcomb is currently working on Book III of her Battle Scars series, 12th century historical adventures 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.

A shout-out from Sharon Kay Penman

 

me and Sharon Kay PenmanAugust slipped past and I never managed to mention that the lovely Sharon Kay Penman mentioned both For King and Country and Men of the Cross on her blog at the end of July. Sharon writes:

“I think they might be of interest to my history-loving, book-loving readers and friends.”

What a thrill to have my books noted by a best-selling author of historical fiction! I met Sharon last year at the Historical Novel Society Conference in Denver. She is so generous with her time, with her fans and with authors like me. And she writes amazing books – I have many on my TBR list, but will recommend Here Be Dragons as my favorite. 13th century, King John, England, Wales, and France – fabulous!

Men of the Cross and For King and Country (Battle Scars I & II) take place at the end of 12th century while John’s brother, Richard the Lionheart, is king. John’s shenanigans are the focus of Book II. Fans of Sharon’s Lionheart and King’s Ransom will enjoy the series (even if I do say so myself).  I hope you’ll check them out!

And don’t forget, both books have been recognized as great reads. Men of the Cross was awarded the B.R.A.G Medallion in 2014; and For King and Country has been long listed for the Historical Novel Society Indie Award for 2017!

! An HNS-longlisted 2017-2registered- 800

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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.

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Voting begins today – Summer Indie Book Award

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VOTE EARLY AND DAILY!!

Both of my historical fiction novels – Men of the Cross and For King and Country – have been nominated by a lovely reader for a Summer Indie Book award in the historical category. Readers can vote once a day Sept. 1 – 11.  You can even vote for both books!

Vote here!  http://goo.gl/zK9veq

Metamorphic Publishing notes:

“Voting for the awards will be done via Poll Maker, and will open on September 1, 2016. Anyone can vote once a day, until midnight on September 11, 2016. Links to polls will be posted here, and pinned, hopefully a week before voting begins. They will also be on the webpage athttps://metamorphpublishing.com/summer-indie-book-awards/. Genre links will go out in the newsletter, so sign up here: http://eepurl.com/bL43cf.

You may vote in any or all genres. Each genre will allow you to make muliple choices, as long as you checkmark them all BEFORE you hit vote the first time! Since voting is limited to one visit per day, you must get all your choices marked before you hit the vote button.”

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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 and to let you be the first to know about special offers.

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Author Interview: Helena P. Schrader

HPS-sculpture (2) “..Jerusalem was lost. The site of Christ’s Passion. The home of the Holy Sepulcher. Lost. What was there left to fight for?”
–Envoy of Jerusalem

It is the year 1187. Saladin has crushed Christian forces at the Battle of Hattin and secured almost every city in the Kingdom of Jerusalem for his own, including Jerusalem.

Author Helena P. Schrader whisks us back to that precarious time in her latest book, Envoy of Jerusalem, the third in her biographical novel series about Balian d’Ibelin.

From the book blurb: He was a warrior and a diplomat both: Balian d’Ibelin. Balian has survived the devastating defeat on the Horns of Hattin, and walked away a free man after the surrender of Jerusalem, but he is baron of nothing in a kingdom that no longer exists. Haunted by the tens of thousands of Christians now enslaved by Saladin, he is determined to regain what has been lost. The arrival of a vast crusading army under the soon-to-be-legendary Richard the Lionheart offers hope — but also conflict, as natives and crusaders clash and French and English quarrel.

Helena, I am delighted to have the opportunity to talk with you about your latest novel. Let’s get right down to the questions! You note that your books are historical biography. Can you tell the casual reader what is the difference between that genre and other works of historical fiction?

Historical fiction is fiction set in the past. It may include encounters with real historical 51PhFSyGoJLfigures as, for example, when King Richard makes an appearance in your novels, but it doesn’t necessarily. Many books of historical fiction involve entirely fictional characters and create storylines for them. No real people figure in the novel; the time period, setting, society, and background events are what make it “historical.” Neither novels with completely fictional characters nor primarily fictional characters with cameo appearances by historical figures are biographical fiction.

Biographical fiction tells the life story of historical figures, people who really lived and for whom there is a historical record, but it goes beyond the skeleton of known facts to imagine feelings, thoughts, motives, fears etc. that are not documented and so “fiction.” In biographical fiction, the author must adhere to the historical record, but can interpolate where evidence is missing and interpret particularly controversial events and evidence to create a consistent and believable character. Sharon Kay Penmen’s novels about Richard III, Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine are all excellent examples of biographical fiction.

What is the biggest thing that people think they know about this subject that isn’t so and can you talk about how you’ve used that information to further the plot, the times, the people?

Balian d’Ibelin is a fairly obscure historical figure – unless you’re a scholar studying the crusader states in the late 12th century. However, he was the hero of a Ridley Scott film titled “The Kingdom of Heaven.” So most people who have heard of Balian saw the film – which is full of inaccuracies starting with the fact that Balian was the legitimate son of a baron, he was born in the Holy Land, and he didn’t have an affair with Princess Sibylla, but rather married the Dowager Queen of Jerusalem, the Byzantine Princess Maria Comnena. Unlike in the film, he not only fought in the Battle of Hattin, he commanded the rear guard, and – most important to this book in the trilogy – unlike in the film he did not simply slink away after the fall of Jerusalem to become a blacksmith in France. Instead, he remained in the Holy Land and played a decisive role in re-establishing the kingdom including negotiating the truce between Saladin and Richard of England in 1192.

What is the most important thing that people don’t know about your subject that they need to know?

I think I covered most the points about Balian above, so I’ll interpret this question to mean what people don’t know about Balian’s world – i.e. the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem at the end of the 12th century. There is a common misconception that the crusader states were predominantly Muslim and the crusaders were a tiny, unwelcome “occupying power.” This is not true. The Holy Land was still predominantly Christian when the first crusaders arrived in 1099 and an estimated 140,000 additional Christian settlers came to the Holy Land from Western Europe in the years between the First Crusade and the fall of Jerusalem. These settlers made up almost one quarter of the population. The Syrian, Armenian, Greek and other Christians in the Holy Land were, furthermore, very grateful for crusader rule because it had freed them of many oppressive taxes and humiliations they had suffered under Arab and Turkish rule. Nor is it correct that these Orthodox Christians were oppressed by the crusaders; they were allowed to retain their own churches, customs and courts. Large numbers of native Christians, known as Turcopoles, fought alongside the crusaders. Depictions of Turcopoles as half-breeds and converts from Islam are nonsense.

In previous interviews, you had talked about the origins of this series being the Ridley Scott film Kingdom of Heaven which features a very different background for Balian d’Ibelin, but what in particular fascinates you about this era?

I think it’s because we again find ourselves confronting jihadists and so forced to define who we are and what our values are. We need to assess which of our values we can sacrifice for security and which we must be prepared to defend with our lives.  These books are as much about who we are today as about Balian d’Ibelin, the Leper King or Saladin.

Unlike the kings and the sultan, Balian doesn’t have someone keeping his ‘diary’ and we are left with the impressions of him through other contemporary chronicles, which don’t always represent him in a good light. What did Salah ah-Din and the Muslims think of him? What about Richard’s chroniclers? And tell us about the Lost Chronicle of Ernoul.

The Arab chronicles describe Ibelin (to them Ibn Barzan) as “like a king” and stress that he was a very influential man – despite having only a small barony. The lost Chronicle of Ernoul, on the other hand, was written by a man who identifies himself as being in the household of Balian d’Ibelin and accompanying him, which has led people to assume he was a squire to Balian, possibly the son of another baron and a man who rose to power on Cyprus. Certainly he was a native of the Holy Land, rather than a crusader, and his account generally reflects this fact. The perspective of natives of Outremer and crusaders could be very different! Unfortunately, however, the original text of Ernoul’s chronicle has been lost and we have only a variety of Western histories that appear to be based in part on the lost chronicle of Ernoul, but were supplemented or modified by Western churchmen in the early 13th century. This was the same period in which the principle account of Richard in the Holy Land, the Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi was written.

This is significant because it was a period in which there was a bitter dispute over the inheritance of the County of Champagne. The surviving French and English chronicles are heavily influenced by viperous partisan support for the French candidate with the consequence that they very crudely slander Balian d’Ibelin and his wife.

Let me explain: When Henri de Champagne set out on the Third Crusade, he naturally had to consider the possibility that he – like tens of thousands of crusaders before him – might die in the Holy Land or on the way there or back. Since he was unmarried and had no children, he designated his brother as his heir in the event that he failed to return. And, indeed, Henri never did return to Champagne, but he did not die on crusade! Instead, he married Isabella, Queen of Jerusalem, and had three daughters by her. The eldest of these, Alice, became Queen of Cyprus, and in due time she laid claim to Champagne by right of her father.

Naturally, Henri’s brother and his heirs, who had been ruling in Champagne ever since Henri failed to return, were not inclined to just walk away from that which they had come to see as rightfully theirs. To retain their rich inheritance, however, they had to somehow prove that Alice had no claim to it. They (or their legal advisors) decided that the best point of attack against Alice was her parent’s marriage.

Alice’s mother, Isabella of Jerusalem, had been married at the age of eleven to Humphrey de Toron. Although this marriage had been annulled by a Church council, headed by a Papal Legate in 1190, Humphrey de Toron was still alive in 1192 when Isabella married Henri of Champagne. So if the French contenders for Champagne could prove that the marriage to Toron had not been properly dissolved, then Henri’s marriage to Isabella was bigamous and Alice was a bastard – and as such had no right to Champagne.

To prove that, of course, the French contenders for the County of Champagne had to discredit the Church Council composed of five Archbishops, and villainize everyone involved in the annulment of Isabella’s marriage to Toron. Since Isabella’s mother and step-father, Maria Comnena and Balian d’Ibelin, were the moving forces behind the divorce, they became the two of the targets of slander and character assassination. The Church Council was dismissed as having been bribed. The fact that Isabella had been below the canonical age of consent at the time of her marriage to Toron (and so any Church council would have ruled against the marriage) was simply ignored or denied.

Frankly, I sympathize with the nephews of Henri de Champagne’s desire to retain their inheritance and can therefore understand why they pursued this line of reasoning. I even understand why French chroniclers were willing tools of local patrons as opposed to a distant woman unlikely to leave them land or alms. However, the damage to Maria and Balian’s reputation has been enormous because most people don’t bother to find out what was motivating the re-writing of history in the early 13th century.

I guess we cannot put politics aside, but I find it incredible to believe that King Richard actually supported Guy de Lusignan (King of Jerusalem by his marriage to Sibylla, the Queen) when he knew the disaster at Hattin in July 1187 and subsequent fall of Jerusalem could be laid in the hands of de Lusignan. Can you give us a little background to the family connections and history behind de Lusignan as compared to the other contender to the throne Conrad de Montferrat?

Lusignan was a vassal of Richard as Count of Poitou, and feudal oaths were reciprocal, not one-sided. (I’ve written about this in one of my blogs posts.) More important, Montferrat was related by marriage to Richard’s archrival Philip II of France and Philip had already thrown his weight behind Montferrat before Richard arrived. I believe Richard backed Lusignan more to thwart Philip than for any other reason.

Balian and Richard, while fighting on the same side, are initially at odds with each other in the months after Richard’s arrival in the Holy Land in June 1191. What causes Richard to begin to trust Balian?

I try to describe that in the second half of the book. Balian was an effective commander and leader of men, as his escape from Hattin and his defense of Jerusalem proved; Richard respected men who were brave and good leaders. Richard was, furthermore, no bigot and he made a point of seeking advice from the natives of the Kingdom; with Lusignan completely discredited, Ibelin was “like a king,” first among equals, and the fact that the other barons respected and deferred to him would have impressed Richard. Richard would also have soon realized that Saladin too respected Ibelin and trusted his word, a fact that increased Ibelin’s value to him. Last but not least, he was step-father of the legitimate Queen of Jerusalem, and his wife was from the Byzantine Imperial family; in an age where bloodlines were everything that was a connection even the King of England could not ignore.

[And, by the way, Helena does an excellent job of showing Balian in this light. You can see Richard coming round. Well done!]

Can you give an example of where there is no historical evidence that records Balian’s presence at specific events where you chose to place him and why?

There’s no evidence whatsoever that Ibelin fought at the Battle of Arsuf, but the battle is just too important to the history of the Third Crusade to skip over. Furthermore, there were contingents from Outremer in the Battle and there’s no reason why Ibelin wouldn’t or couldn’t have been present. I’ve never found even a hint that he might have been somewhere else. He was fighting man and this crusade was about regaining his country, his barony, freeing the captives and the Holy Sepulcher – everything that mattered to him. I think he was there.

True or False: was Balian shot with a poisoned arrow at the siege of Tyre?

False or rather pure fiction.

I especially enjoyed your characterization of the relationship between Maria Comnena, the dowager queen of Jerusalem (and married to Balian) and her daughter Isabella. The scene regarding Isabella’s need to set aside her husband Humphrey of Toron is very powerful. Were there any sources that gave you a feel for these women? How much of that scene, or their relationship in general, is fact-based?

As I mentioned above, Isabella’s divorce from Toron is described in considerable detail in the chronicles. The Itinerarium (most hostile to Balian) stresses that although Isabella at first resisted the idea of divorcing Humphrey, she was soon persuaded to consent to divorce because “a woman’s opinion changes very easily” and “a girl is easily taught to do what is morally wrong.”  On the other hand, the Lyon Continuation of William of Tyre, which is generally seen as most faithful to the lost Chronicle of Ernoul – who was an intimate of the Ibelin family at this time, remember – provides the following insight: Having admitted that Isabella “did not want to [divorce Humphrey], because she loved [him],” the Lyon Continuation explains that her mother Maria persuasively argued that so long as she (Isabella) was Humphrey’s wife “she could have neither honor nor her father’s kingdom.” Moreover, Queen Maria reminded her daughter that “when she had married she was still under age and for that reason the validity of the marriage could be challenged.” At which point, the continuation of Tyre reports, “Isabella consented to her mother’s wishes.”

This is the core of my interpretation of what happened. I will note, however, that most people tend to dismiss Isabella as pawn, doing what other people wanted her to do. I don’t see her that way. I think she made a very clear choice: in favor of a crown over the man she loved. I think she was far more ambitious and politically savvy than usually portrayed.

For those interested in exploring the subject or theme of your book, where should they start?

With my website: http://defenderofjerusalem.com. The website has a lot of short essays on the crusader kingdoms, biographies of leading characters, and, of course, a list of primary and secondary sources and reviews.

How do you feel when you finally finish the last page of a book and you release it to the world?

Those are two separate moments. When I finish the last page, I’m about to start the first re-write and then send it off to test readers. I may continue to re-write the ending several times and it isn’t finished until I sign-off on the release form. I generally have a fit of anxiety at that point, afraid it isn’t really ready yet.

When it is released to the public (i.e. goes “live” on Amazon and B&N), I start frantically marketing, and generally worry about forgetting something I could do to help draw attention to the new release. With 4,000 books being published every day it’s very difficult to gain any attention these days.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing a book tentatively called “The Last Crusader Kingdom” that looks at the establishment of a Latin Kingdom on the Island of Cyprus, a kingdom that lasted over three hundred years. It could also, in modern parlance, be called a novel about “post-conflict reconstruction.”

Although “Envoy of Jerusalem” concludes the Balian d’Ibelin trilogy, it does not end with his death; it closes instead with the Treaty of Ramla that ended the Third Crusade. This is the last time Balian played a recorded role in history. He last witnessed a charter in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1193, so historians “presume” he died shortly thereafter. But there’s no evidence. Records/Charters might simply have been lost, or he might have been absent from the kingdom – for example on Cyprus.

Furthermore, while historians agree that the Ibelin family was “the” leading family on Cyprus for the next three hundred years, none of them are able to explain exactly how that came about. However, we know that several of the important secondary characters in the Balian trilogy played a critical role in the history of Cyprus. Most important: Aimery de Lusignan became the first King of Cyprus. His wife Eschiva was with him in the early years. Balian’s younger son Philip became regent of Cyprus, and Balian’s elder son John led a baronial revolt against the Holy Roman Emperor in Cyprus as well as Beirut.

So in my next novel, I move into territory that is less well documented than the events covered in “Defender of Jerusalem” and “Envoy of Jerusalem,” but events that form a bridge to the very well documented Ibelin Revolt against Friedrich II in the early 13th century. I put forward a plausible, if undocumented, thesis of how the Ibelins became so well entrenched on Cyprus. In fact, much of the Balian trilogy lays the foundation for this book, and Aimery, Eschiva and John d’Ibelin are the principle characters, although Balian and Maria are in supporting roles. Eventually, I hope to write about the Ibelin-led insurrection against Friedrich II in a book titled (tentatively) “Barons against the Emperor.”

Thank you so much for sharing the incredible history of Balian d’Ibelin with me today. Best of luck with this series!

Buy Envoy of Jerusalem: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Connect with Helena
Read more about Helena on her blog, http://www.helenapschrader.com. Follow her posts on the crusader kingdoms of Cyprus and Jerusalem at Defending the Crusader Kingdom, http://defendingcrusaderkingdoms.blogspot.com

Helena has published numerous works of fiction about the Middle Ages and Sparta and works of non-fiction. You will also find Helena on social media on GoodreadsFacebook, and YouTube.

 

Men of the Cross – sale July 28-29

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July 28-29 – Two Day Sale on Amazon (U.S.)

Get Men of the Cross for $1.99 (ebook)

Why do you want to pick up Men of the Cross for this great low price? Well, it’s cheaper than that latte at the local coffee shop and will stick with you a lot longer! And Book II of the Battle Scars series is now available. You could skip Men and go straight to Book II – both novels work as stand-alones. But if you read Book I, you will have fuller insight into the relationship of characters Henry de Grey and Stephan l’Aigle.

Men of the Cross is a B.R.A.G. Medallion honoree. indieBRAG is the Book Readers Appreciation Group which has a selective review process. They have  a two-fold mission: “to discover new talented self-published authors”; and to “provide an independent, broad-based and reader-centric source to advise the public which indie book merit the investment of their time and money.”

The novel has had some splendid reviews, too –

“A vivid picture of the Third Crusade.”
–Professor Andrew Latham, author of The Holy Lance

“A historical romance with a difference . . . very well researched a
and historically 
competent . . .”
–Christoph Fischer, author of Ludwika:
a Polish Woman’s Struggle To Survive In Nazi Germany

“If Mary Renault had chosen to write about the Crusades instead of ancient Greece and Persia, she could not have done any better–and that is high praise, indeed.”
–Bo, on Goodreads

“Trauma and passion in a battle of bodies and souls.”
–Christopher Monk, aka The Anglo Saxon Monk

Get Men of the Cross on Amazon now!

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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.

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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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