Friday, March 20, 2009
About twelve years ago, I fell in love with the Middle Ages. I'd always found the concepts of chivalry and courtly love pretty cool, but I didn't have any real way to express the fascination. Then I discovered the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism). The SCA is a group that re-enacts and educates about the time period of 600 - 1600 CE. Once I discovered this group it was only a matter of time before it found it's way into my writing.
Now, all these years later, my writing and my passion for the Middle Ages have come together to create the book I just recently contracted to Ellora's Cave called Seeking Truth. Here is the blurb.
Pain. Baron Eaduin Kempe has experienced enough of it to last him a lifetime, yet again it stalks him. Judith, his beloved foster mother, suffers in agony which cuts like a blade to his own gut. He'll do anything to ease her pain, even if that means that he, a man of dominant, fierce passions, must marry an innocent, convent-raised healer to obtain her services.
Witch. Lady Vérité de Sauigni fears this accusation more than any other, because of her psychic gift to see truth. A convent should be a haven for service to God, but her father made it her prison. Vérité will do anything to escape, even marry a sensual, handsome man who only wants her for her healing skills.
Vérité's healing skills, though prized in her new home, can't save her from charges of witchcraft when King Stephen and His Court arrive at Kempe Castle. Will Eaduin honor the vow she extracted from him to kill her so she won't suffer under questioning? Or will he do more? Will he risk his life for love?
In my daily life I work as a reference librarian and when you add that to my SCA experience research is probably a given, but I have to admit I had a great time completing the research for my book. Since I write for Ellora's Cave, I knew the book would be an erotic romance. I took a lot of time researching Medieval sexuality, Canon Law regarding marital relations, and the rights of women in marriage.
But I also set this book in a time period I knew little about, the troubled reign of King Stephen, the grandson of William the Conqueror, who reigned from 1135-1154. My book is set in 1146 which is after some of the worst of the civil war between Stephen and Empress Matilda, or Maud (as she was often known) who was the daughter of Henry I, had passed.
I discovered this time period by watching the Brother Cadfael mysteries featuring Derek Jacoby. As I watched The Rose Rent, I was struck by how well they'd researched the clothing. I'm a sucker for a properly researched historical drama - especially good clothes. As I watched more episodes, I decided to find out more about the time period. I requested books through interlibrary loan and purchased books for my personal collection.
This turbulent time in English history was the perfect world for my hero Eaduin, so I found him a heroine who would suit him and started to write. I'm happy to say it worked. I fell in love with my hero and liked my heroine. I took a bit of artistic license with the language and activities of my characters, but I think it worked. At least my editor likes it. ;-)
The nice thing for me was that when I ran into snags with my research I had friends in the SCA to whom I could turn for guidance. Some of the SCA fighters really helped me get inside the mind of my hero - a man well used to protecting his people by his command or by his own hand. I thank them for their input because it was something I couldn't have gained anywhere else.
As a tease, I'll include the opener of my book for you to enjoy.
(© 2009 - Francesca Hawley)
His stallion’s hooves pounded like the beating of his heart as Baron Eaduin Kempe shook damp black hair from his eyes. Though a gentle spring rain fell, it felt like a driving storm. The presence of his beloved foster mother blunted the emptiness of his keep, but if he lost Judith…
Nay. He wouldn’t think on it. All had seemed normal with her, so well did she hide her pain.
Was he blind? How could he have missed something of such import?
Eaduin rode on grimly, determined to find aid. Today.
His horse leaped a ravine, clearing it easily. When he’d asked Judith to whom he should apply for aid, she’d ordered him to the Abbey of Blessed Virgin to seek vérité. He didn’t need to find truth. He needed medication to dull Judith’s pain. Despite her pain, her will was as strong as ever so to the Abbey he rode. Only Judith mattered. He glanced ahead, catching sight of the spires of the Abbey’s central chapel above the treetops.
His half-brother, Godwin who served as his Captain of the Guard, rode at his stallion’s left flank. They approached the gates at a gallop, but pulled up when they remained closed. He and Godwin had been five miles on the road, and would need to return before evening, for Eaduin wouldn’t leave Judith alone for longer. Where was the damned guard? Their horses sidled restlessly as the men exchanged glances. Godwin hailed the guard who should be atop the gates.
“Baron Eaduin Kempe wishes to speak with the Reverend Mother on a matter of grave urgency.”
Eaduin smiled faintly. It was his thundering voice which made Godwin’s squires jump to do his bidding, and it drew the immediate attention of the watch.
“Lord Eaduin bloody Kempe will find no welcome here!”
He grimaced, before looking up to see the old guard peering over the ramparts. “I seek no welcome from you, Artur Pecke, you insolent cur. How dare you swear within these sacred walls! Open the gates. I will speak with the Abbess. Now!” His roar echoed off the stone, making the old man wince then scowl, shaking his fist.
“And what army will see you past this gate?”
Eaduin swore under his breath. He just had to assign his father’s former guard captain here, hadn’t he? The old bastard hated him. Be damned to hell! He pulled his strung bow from his saddle and an arrow from his quiver. He knocked it, taking aim in one smooth movement then sighting on the stupid man’s head.
“I need no army, old man. Let me in and live to see the sunset!”
Eaduin knew the wily old guard could easily duck before the arrow even reached him, but Eaduin was out of patience. He heard Judith’s cries in his ears and had no time to parlay with a self-important idiot.
“Open the gate, you fool!” a voice inside the gates yelled.
Eaduin relaxed his drawn bow, his breath releasing with a hiss. He recognized the authority of Mother Anne’s voice when he heard it and so did Sir Artur. The clack of the windlass rattled loudly as the bridge lowered and the heavy doors opened ponderously. How ironic it was that his orders and his money barred his passage, for long had he given money to afford protection to these brides of Christ. Eaduin spurred his horse, traversing the bridge and coming to a stop in the courtyard—Godwin at his side. They dismounted, handing the stableman the reins.
“Treat them kindly. They’ve been run hard and will need to make a return trip shortly.” The chief stableman offered a respectful nod before leading the horses away. Eaduin turned to meet the concerned gaze of Mother Anne.
“Why are you here, Baron Kempe?”
“I need a healer. Where are your sisters who serve?” Eaduin strode toward the hospital, but the Abbess planted herself in his path.
“Why do you seek a healer? What help can we give you Mistress Judith cannot? After all, she has been the teacher to most of our sisters in the use of herbs and healing.”
Eaduin’s rubbed his face, trying to hide the anguish he felt but Mother Anne saw it and placed a comforting hand on his arm.
“Lord Eaduin? What is it?”
“It’s Judith. She’s very ill but none of us has the skills to help her.”
“Is it fever?” She tensed, her brows knotting in worry.
He shook his head. “Nay, she’s hidden her illness from all of us. A bit more than a fortnight ago, she collapsed. We have tried to follow her directions to offer her relief, but none of us know what we are doing. We are as likely to kill her as cure her the way we blunder about, but it might almost be a mercy.”
“Did she say what the illness is?”
“Nay. She looks far gone with child, yet there is none. After treating herself for months with syrup of poppies, the medicine eases the pain no longer.”
He could see the Abbess’ confusion with his poor description. His ignorance at his lack of expertise appalled him. He shook his head, his eyes filling with tears. He blinked before they spilled, lest Sir Artur taunt him.
“You are sure she’s not with child?”
“Certain. God forgive me but I hadn’t noticed how she had loosened her gowns and ceased to wear belts at her waist.” He shook his head in self-disgust. “God forgive my selfishness…” he muttered as he met Mother Anne’s serene blue gaze in chagrin. He took a deep breath, speaking forcefully. “She needs aid, Mother. Judith is in grave pain which nothing relieves. I can’t… I can’t bear listening to her pain-filled screams. It tears out my heart.”
Tears began to fall. He brushed them away with annoyance. The old guard captain studied him and Eaduin expected to see laughter at his show of weakness. Instead he saw shared pain. Mistress Judith was beloved of everyone, it seemed.
His need for his foster mother felt purely selfish to him. After all, Judith had given life to Godwin and his brothers and sisters. Surely their grief should supersede his, yet she was Eaduin’s salvation. He owed his sanity and conscience to her, for without her he would be a monster like his deceased father and half-sister had been. Both now suffered in the fires of hell. If not for Judith… God above...Judith… He must help her. Eaduin would not leave without aid—no matter what he had to do to receive it.
“When did you last sleep, my Lord?”
He paused in thought, trying to remember, then shook his head. “It matters not. Will you send someone to her? Please?”
Eaduin could see apology in the Reverend Mother’s face as she readied a refusal. Before she could reject his request, he dropped to his knees on the hard ground in front of her in the supplication of a penitent.
“I beg you, Mother, for Judith’s sake. Let me rot when the time comes, but for the love of God, don’t allow Judith’s suffering to continue. She doesn’t deserve it. Isn’t the pain she endured at my father’s hands enough?”
Eaduin beseeched the normally stern Abbess, whose bright blue eyes filled with tears which spilled down her cheeks. Mother Anne knew the truth of Judith’s suffering at Osweald Kempe’s hands. She took a deep breath.
“Judith ordered you here?” Eaduin nodded as the Reverend Mother considered, her hands settling on his shoulders as she looked down at him. “What did she tell you, my Lord? Exactly…”
“She told me to come to the Abbey of the Blessed Virgin to seek vérité,” he snorted. “Truth? Mother, I have no need of truth. I need a healer. Yet she was adamant. ‘Seek vérité,’ she said.”
“In this case, they are one and the same.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I know. But you will, my son. Rise. Let us go find the healer you seek.”