If the story seems familiar, it's supposed to. The idea behind this one was an alternate Europe at the beginning of the third crusade. Tollard is based on Richard I, King of England. More famously known as Richard the Lionheart, or Coeur de Lion for the purist. It was a lot of fun to write.
I've been obsessively interested in Richard and the third crusade for many years. He was one of the greatest military minds of the middle ages. Also, a national hero of England... which is funny, since he spent only 6 months of his 10 year reign in England, (the rest of his time as king on the continent) and never spoke a word of english. At that time most English nobility spoke french.
Hollywood and modern historians love to demonize Richard. This really pisses me off. (I had a hard time with the new Robin Hood movie because of the way they portrayed him). I hate, I hate, I hate when people judge the past on modern principles. Yeah Richard was a bit of a brute. But so was every one else in the medieval world. But if you take the time to read about the period, and understand what drove men back then to do what they did, you might see some of the nobility and heroism in the figures that lived through some of the bleakest times the earth has seen. I view Richard as a great man. Not perfect by any standard, but a giant compared to many of his age.
This is why I wanted to write a story based on him. Also, because his nemisis--Saladin--the Sultan of Egypt and Syria, is one of history's most admirable leaders. In many ways, Saladin was the better man. I could talk about these dudes all night. Too bad there isn't a good movie about them that you can watch to get the jist of what I'm saying. Oh well. There's a lot of good books about them... many of them on my shelf.
Anway, here's the bit of my story. Understand it has seen very little editing, and might read rough in a few places. Give me a break, I wasn't going to polish it unless I finished the damn thing! I never had a title for it--a fact that still bothers me. And for those who might be interested: I wrote nearly 130,000 words before quitting. I figure it would have taken to 160,000 to finish the story. (Those of you that don't know, that's a good sized book. About 550 pages). Oh, and one last note, I'm posting this under a Creative Commons non-commercial, non-derivative work license. If you want to know what this means, leave a comment that you're curious and I'll let you know. The short of it is: If you steal this and try and claim it as yours, repost it with changes you have added, or in any way try to make money off of this, I will find you, break your knees, and rob you of all your riches. Or at the very least, sue you and deny you as my friend.
“YOU ARE NOT MY SON,” the king said to Tollard. “A demon impregnated your mother! And I should cut off your head and feed it to my dogs! How I wish your brother still lived!”
Tollard only smiled. He scratched at his well-kept beard—that turned from red to gold, depending on the light—and stared at Father. They were nearing the end of their tedious parley, inside the cramped pavilion east of Morton, and Father had said the same many times already. Tollard had a feeling that it wouldn’t be the last insult he'd receive today. He had defeated Father’s army and so understood why the old man was so furious. He tried not to chuckle as the king scowled at him; he didn't want to provoke the decrepit fart into one of his epic tantrums. King Herral had been humiliated enough already. “You will release Mother immediately,” Tollard said. “I want her on a ship sailing for L’Rorche, before the new moon.”
“Yes, yes,” Father growled, “I have already sworn to let the bitch go.”
Tollard bit his tongue and clenched his fists. If the bastard insults her one more time I will cut off his royal prick and shove it down his throat! The half-grin on Father’s face made it plain that he knew Tollard wanted to burst into violence. That would be foolish, though. Because ten armed knights surrounded the king and Tollard sat unarmed. He had his own armed men behind him—each loyal and brave—but he’d be dead before they could stop Father’s men from driving their swords through his heart. Angennet family meetings were always enjoyable.
“I want that Callet fop out of my land before Lenorel is allowed to set foot on a ship! I won’t tolerate a foreign king and his army in my—”
“Impossible,” Tollard said, unmoved by Father’s look. “Moving an army takes time; you know that. Guy will be out of L’Melles within a fortnight, no sooner.” Guy could move faster if he wanted to, but he and Tollard had discussed the issue when they had learned Father desired peace. King Herral was as sly as a minx, known for backing out of promises a day or two after making them. Tollard couldn’t afford him changing his mind if Guy left Merran quickly.
I nearly lost our little summer war, though Father doesn’t seem to be aware of the fact. I am perfectly happy to let him remain ignorant. “Guy,” he said, “will begin his retreat when word of our treaty reaches him, but you will put Mother on a ship as soon as you are back in Angelan.”
Father ground his teeth like a millstone crushing wheat; he often did so when angry. The sound of it could drive a man mad. As a boy, Tollard dreaded that awful noise, for it had usually been made at him.
“If you betray our agreement,” Father said, spittle spraying from his mouth like sea foam, “I will hunt Lenorel down and hang her from Rochard’s walls! I want the Lanjen out of Merran!”
Tollard and Guy had made quick work of Father’s forces when the fighting began, after the last of the spring storms. The king’s legendary military genius hadn’t been able to stop them from advancing ever northward. After they had captured L’Melles—the city where Father had been born—the old man seemed to have lost his appetite for battle. Tollard had been confident that he would ride into Cassendy, capture its ducal capital of Rochard, and laugh from the city’s ramparts while Father sent men to beg him to accept terms of surrender.
Damn, Marchelle l’Gouis, Tollard thought. If he hadn’t blocked Rochard’s approaches... Marchelle will die when I get a hold of him. Tollard didn’t let men who tried killing him live.
He wished, as so often he had during the past months, that the famous knight served him instead of Father.
“Are you listening to me?” Father bellowed. “If you betray me, boy, your mother will hang!”
Now isn’t the time to let your mind wander, pay attention! “I heard you, Father. I'll not betray our agreement. Guy won’t either; I’ll make sure of it.” Tollard watched as the king’s breathing returned to normal, and the blood drained from his face. Father was holding his temper admirably.
“This parley is over. “We have nothing more to talk about,” Father said. He rose from where he sat at the gilded table and turned to leave.
Tollard felt his own face turn hot as blood flowed to his cheeks. The man’s arrogance is endless! What does he think this whole parley is about? Father knew Tollard would insist on being declared his heir again; the entire purpose of the summer war had been to regain that lost right. Tollard’s older brother lay in his grave, and so law bound Father to make Tollard the heir. He already ruled as Duke of Aquias and Count of Tiers, and by God he would be King of Angelan as well! Even if it meant he had to send Father to the blackest pits of hell. “Wait! We haven’t discussed my rights.”
Father spun on him and tried pulling at his dagger, forgetting that like Tollard, he was unarmed.
“You dare demand that of me? After all the problems you have caused me? After waging war against me? Why would I let you rule my realm when I am gone?”
Tollard felt like chewing at the edges of the embroidered carpet that covered the pavilion’s floor. He was beginning to understand Father’s need to rage uncontrollably. Did he think I would forget to bring up my inheritance? Who would rule Angelan if Father didn’t acknowledge him? Geoffard? Joul? Father and Tollard both knew that the two youngest Angennet sons would be disastrous. Geoffard had gained fame for being devoid of morals, and Joul courted timidity like a spider hiding in dark cellars.
Tollard prepared to yell it all to Father when one of the king’s young pages pushed his way into the dimly-lit pavilion, interrupting their bickering.
“Pardon, Sire,” the boy said, as quiet as an ugly maid. “There is a rider with urgent news from the East.” The sinking sun spilled in through the pavilion’s entrance behind the page, outlining the boy in its fiery glory.
Father looked to Tollard with open suspicion on his face. Tollard only stared back, impatient. “Show him in,” the king commanded, voice as cold as death. The boy fled the pavilion as though the iciness of the king’s tone could burn him. Father continued to glare at Tollard as he lounged is his chair across from him.
Several minutes later, a man with long black hair and a well-kept goatee pushed through the pavilion door into the knight-filled pavilion. The knights eyed each other as though about to join battle, while Father tried desperately to slay Tollard with his dagger-like gaze. The man wore a clean, long, blood-red surcoat down to his ankles, a golden sunburst embroidered on its front, with a long-sleeved hauberk beneath its silken folds. Tollard watched the man pause as he noticed the tension in the air. A thick leather belt, wrapped twice around his waist, held an empty scabbard. The man didn’t bother hiding his nervousness about being unarmed. By his surcoat the man proclaimed himself to be a knight of the Order of Elraine’s Humble Soldiers, or the Knights of Elraine. Goldhands if one wanted to be derogatory.
And Tollard recognized the knight. He couldn’t put a name to the face but knew he had met the man before. His name isn’t important, Tollard told himself, yet the man’s features nagged at the back of his mind.
Father supported the Knights of Elraine by sending funds to them and granting lands and incomes, and Tollard supposed that the man had come to beg him for more money. “What do you want?” Father asked the knight sharply.
“Your Majesty,” the knight said as he bowed his head respectfully, “Your Grace,” he said to Tollard, “I bring dire news from Oltreaquiem; the
has fallen and its king is dead.” Kingdom of Serlimum