28 August 2015

Great Explorers: What the Arabs Knew

By Lisa J. Yarde

Ahmad ibn Fahdlan (born AD 877, date of death unknown): Michael Crichton's Eaters of the Dead (Vintage - 1976) and the 1999 film The 13th Warrior starring Antonio Banderas re-introduced the exploits of Ibn Fahdlan. Much of Crichton's version of Ibn Fahdlan's later adventures are fictionalized and parallel the story of Beowulf, but this doesn't make the traveler unremarkable. One hundred years after writing about his historic travels, no one remembered Ibn Fahdlan, and another nine hundred years would pass before analysis and recognition of the importance of his journey occurred. He was one of the first Arab travelers to provide a firsthand depiction of Vikings in eastern lands. 

Born in Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid empire, Ibn Fahdlan's writings reveal little of his family's origins or status. He was a faqih, an expert in Islamic law. On June 21, 921, the Abbasid caliph Muqtadir sent Ibn Fahdlan as an envoy to the Muslim ruler of the Bulgars, who had converted in 900. The Bulgar ruler wanted instruction in Islam and the construction of a mosque, as well as help against the Khazars who had taken his son as a hostage and treated the Bulgars as vassals. 

Although he failed to provide the Bulgar king with a promised 4,000 dinars, Ibn Fahdlan achieved his goal of their meeting on May 12, 922, a journey of almost a year, which covered 2,500 miles.  Afterward, while traveling along the Volga River, Ibn Fahdlan met a group of Scandinavian traders, known as the Rus among Arabs and the Vikings in the west. They had raided in fifty-four longships as far as Seville during 844, so Muslims were aware of them. Ibn Fahdlan wrote in his account, "I have never seen bodies more perfect than theirs. They were like palm trees. They are fair and ruddy.... Each of them carries an ax, a sword, and a knife and is never parted from any of the arms.... Their swords are broad bladed and grooved like the Frankish ones. From the tips of his toes to his neck, each man is tattooed in dark green.... All their women wear on their bosoms a circular brooch made of iron, silver, copper, or gold, depending on their husband's wealth and social position." He was less impressed with their manners. "They are the filthiest of God's creatures. They do not clean themselves after urinating or defecating, nor do they was after having sex. They do not wash their hands after meals." 

Ibn Fahdlan remained at the encampment for an unspecified duration that allowed him to witness everyday life among the traders. How they burned their dead in ships, particularly the rich sent on their way to the afterlife with the help of an old crone called the Angel of Death, who strangled a slave girl to be burned alongside her master. Ibn Fahdlan also detailed the power of their Scandinavian kings and his companions, the pagan sacrifice of animals, and capital punishment. Upon his return home, Ibn Fahdlan wrote about the journey in his Risala.    

Abu'l-Hasan Ali ibn al-Husayn al-Masudi (AD 896-956): Another Baghdad native, the historian and geographer Al-Masudi also wrote about the Khazars, Bulgars and the Vikings. Called the Herodotus of the Arabs, he first studied poetry, philosophy, medicine, law and history. In describing foreign lands, he likely drew on earlier works such as Ibn Fahdlan's Risala. Yet Al-Masudi gave more details, suggesting that his accounts of most of Persia, Syria, Arabia, Central Asia, eastern Africa, and India also offered hand knowledge.

Of the Khazars he wrote, "The king and his court and all those of the Khazar race practice Judaism, to which the king of the Khazars was converted during the reign of Harun al-Rashid (Abbasid caliph 786 - 809).... The pagans who live in this country belong to many different races, among which are the Saqaliba (for slaves kidnaped throughout Europe) and the Rus, who live in one of the two parts of the city. They burn their dead on pyres along with their horses, arms and equipment. When a man dies, his wife is burned alive with him, but if the wife dies before her husband, the man does not suffer the same fate." In writing of the Bulgars, he mentions, "...the king of the Bulgars is a Muslim, converted as the result of a dream during the caliphate of Muqtadir.... The Bulgars are a large, powerful and warlike nation, which has subjected all the neighboring peoples. One of the Bulgar cavalrymen, who had embraced Islam along with their king, held off one or even two hundred infidel horsemen." He also described a Viking raid on the Caspian Sea. "The Rus spilled rivers of blood, seized women and children and property, raided and everywhere destroyed and burned." 

In 941 Al-Masudi moved to Cairo, Egypt and wrote the first draft of his enduring work, The Meadow of Gold and Mines of Precious Gems, which he revised up until a year before his death.

Muhammad al-Idrisi (AD 1099-1166): Born in Ceuta, North Africa, the geographer and cartographer Al-Idrisi is best remembered for his maps of the then known parts of the world, including Europe, India, and China. From his youth until his service of eighteen years to the Norman Christian king Roger II of Sicily, Al-Idrisi explored Anatolia Moorish Spain and Portugal, Viking York, France, Hungary, and Finland. He also relied on earlier work, particularly that of the second century Alexandrian geographer Claudius Ptolemy, preserved in an Arabic translation.

His royal family, the dynasty of the Hammudids, originally came from Malaga, Spain. Al-Idrisi's great-grandfather fled when the Granadan Zirid dynasty conquered the family's homeland. Al-Idrisi made the return to Spain where he studied at the University of Cordoba. At the age of 39 in 1138, he received and accepted an invitation to the court of King Roger (1097-1154), who wished Al-Idrisi to create the most accurate map of the known world. Since Sicily had such busy ports, Al-Idrisi first focused on gathering the knowledge of sailors and traders. It took fifteen years for the compilation of all available sources. In his initial drawing, Al-Idrisi made some corrections to Ptolemy's calculations. Then Al-Idrisi reproduced the map for Roger on an engraved silver disk more than six feet across and weighing in excess of three hundred pounds. The disk signified the geographer's belief that the world was round, a common belief among scholars."The earth is round like a sphere, and the waters adhere to it and are maintained on it through natural equilibrium which suffers no variation." To him, it was also, "...stable in space like the yolk in an egg. Air surrounds it on all sides.... All creatures are stable on the surface of the earth, the air attracting what is light, the earth what is heavy, as the magnet attracts iron." A book, the Tabula Rogeriana, with regional maps, descriptions of climates, and the approximate distances of travel between cities accompanied the development of the disk, kept in Roger's palace from 1154 through the reign of his successor, until the Norman barons' unrest in 1160.  


Al-Idrisi fled the court but preserved the Arab version of the Tabula Rogeriana. The famous Ibn Batutta, Christopher Columbus, and Vasco da Gama all took inspiration for their subsequent voyages from Al-Idrisi's maps.

Images are authorized from Wiki Commons.


Sources include Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far North, (Penguin Books), and The Bibliographic Encyclopaedia of Islamic Philosophy (Bloomsbury Acadamic) 

Lisa J. Yarde writes fiction inspired by the Middle Ages in Europe. She is the author of two historical novels set in medieval England and Normandy, The Burning Candle, based on the life of one of the first countesses of Leicester and Surrey, Isabel de Vermandois, and On Falcon's Wings, chronicling the star-crossed romance between Norman and Saxon lovers before the Battle of Hastings. Lisa has also written five novels in a six-part series set in Moorish Spain, Sultana, Sultana’s Legacy, Sultana: Two SistersSultana: The Bride Price and Sultana: The Pomegranate Tree, where rivalries and ambitions threaten the fragile bonds between members of a powerful family. Her short story, The Legend Rises, which chronicles the Welsh princess Gwenllian of Gwynedd’s valiant fight against English invaders, is also available.

27 August 2015

Excerpt Thursday: FINDING GABRIEL by Rachel L. Demeter

This week, we're pleased to welcome author RACHEL L. DEMETER again with her latest novel, FINDING GABRIEL. The author will offer one free copy of the novel to a lucky visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post  - this is your only opportunity to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Colonel Gabriel de Laurent departed for the war intending to die.

After a decade of bloodstained battlegrounds while fighting in Napoleon's army, Gabriel returns to the streets of Paris a shattered and haunted soul. Plagued by inner demons, he swallows the barrel of his flintlock pistol and pulls the trigger.

But fate has a different plan.

Ariah Larochelle is a survivor. Orphaned at twelve and victim to a devastating crime, she has learned to keep her back to walls and to trust no one. But when she finds a gravely injured soldier washed up on the River Seine, she's moved by compassion. In spite of her reservations, she rescues him from the icy water and brings him into her home.

Now scarred inside and out, Gabriel discovers a kindred spirit in Ariah – and feelings he imagined lost forever reawaken as he observes her strength in the face of adversity. But when Ariah's own lethal secrets unfold, their new love is threatened by ancient ghosts. Can Gabriel and Ariah find hope in the wreckage of their pasts – or will the cycle of history repeat again?

Perfect for fans of Gaelen Foley's Lord of Ice and Judith James's Broken Wing, Finding Gabriel features all the dark romance, searing passion, and historical intrigue of The Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables.

** An Excerpt from Finding Gabriel**

The flintlock pistol felt slicker than ink against Gabriel’s weathered palms. Lost to severe thought, he tentatively rotated the firearm between thumb and forefinger. Overhead, light from an oil lamp reflected off the slender barrel and penetrated the darkness of his soul. The illumination spilled across the sleet-covered cobblestones, emitting a faint golden ring through the dense haze of the River Seine. Seduced by the movements, water lapped against the embankment in a mockery of waves.

Broken and entirely alone, Gabriel had returned from the battlefield months earlier. And he’d departed for the war fully intending to die.

But things hadn’t gone according to plan.

A decade of his life had flashed by in a blood-spattered mirage. And now that he was back on Paris’s soil, his home felt more foreign than anywhere on earth. It was a blinding, 
soul-deep agony that rose from the shadows and came for him in the night. The memories would coil around his throat in a deathly embrace and echo in the haunted cavern of his mind.

But tonight would be different. Tonight, he would free himself.

He exhaled a shaky breath and two of his fingers fell from the pistol and settled upon the navy material of his uniform. The rhythm of his heartbeat felt strong and willfully defiant beneath his touch; the gold 
epaulettes decorating his shoulders trembled in time with his pulse.

Instead of dying alongside his men – dying as a war hero – new 
scars had been added to the old. External now reflected the internal.

Instead of meeting his maker, as the Catholics so eloquently phrased such things, he was decorated with an abundance of medals and applauded by Napoleon Bonaparte for his bravery.

Indeed, Gabriel mused, bravery is a rather easy feat when a man has so little to live for.

A 
solider with nothing to lose has everything to sacrifice.

He should have died countless times across countless battlefields. Day and night, his men were slaughtered before him, behind him, beside him … and yet no bullet had been spared for their commander. Death had a cruel sense of humor in that way. France’s emperor had been exiled to Elba, and Gabriel was isolated within the seventh ring of hell.

And now, standing along the River Seine on this harsh winter’s night, Colonel Gabriel de Laurent felt more cowardly than brave. Far more dead than alive. Whatever remained of his spirit had faded away since his return. His body had been degraded to a cold, numb shell. And he was empty.

Distant, rolling thunder wrenched Gabriel from his thoughts. A storm was moving in. A low blanket of clouds shadowed the horizon and obstructed heaven from earth. The scarce trees that lined the Seine quivered, their skeletal limbs shaking with the damp chill.

By this time tomorrow, Paris would be weeping for her fate.

Gabriel’s breaths grew labored, short, strained. Each one 
misted the night air and swirled tight coils against the engulfing black. Another volley of thunder shook the silence and roared like a caged beast. His eyes shut as he remembered the bellowing cannons that had dominated so many bloodstained grounds. Twisted nostalgia reared inside his gut. Indeed, the chaotic heat of the battlefield was preferable to the cold stillness in his heart. The war had offered a distraction, a purpose … a chance to conclude his legacy with a semblance of grace and integrity.

Gabriel lifted his face to the bruised sky as hard raindrops clubbed his cheeks. They streaked down his skin in lieu of the tears he refused to shed. The nearby oil lamp shuddered and flickered, threatening to wink out. A strange fog blew across the iridescent cobblestones, cloaking everything beneath an aura of hopelessness …

The night was expanding. And he was content with that.

Silent calm filled Gabriel’s heart as he inched dangerously close to the river’s edge. The front half of each boot hung off the cobblestone slab, waiting in eternal limbo. Even the air thrummed with breathless anticipation.

Down below, budding ice caps peeked out from the water’s glassy surface and glistened beneath the moonlight. They quivered within the unforgiving darkness, bobbing about like buoys at sea. Strangely mesmerized by the vision, Gabriel twirled the pistol, spinning it with the ease of a baton – stopping only to gaze down its throat. That slender chamber was a mouth into hell. Black, crude, infinitely bottomless.

It was an escape.

And he knew the release it offered would be bittersweet. The silver barrel gleamed with malicious intent, illuminating the engraved words de Laurent. Gabriel traced each letter with an aching heart. His gold signet ring, which he’d worn on his pinky finger since boyhood, shimmered like a beacon.

The wind moaned and shifted directions, plastering a damp forelock across his brow. A chill seeped inside his bones, numbing them to the marrow. It was a chill that had nothing to do with the piercing cold … a chill that was nearly eleven years in the making. The chill rooted itself much deeper than his skin; it lurked inside his chest, far beneath flesh and bone, within his very soul.

And he was drowning beneath the cold.

His pulse reached breakneck speed. Painful memories flooded his mind and body in one fell swoop –

A ring of blood encircling her neck like a macabre necklace. The sound of approaching footsteps. A storm of tears cascading down pale cheeks. The thrust of a blade. The caress of flames as they melt flesh from bone …

Gabriel tracked callused fingertips over his satchel’s worn leather, stroking the precious keepsakes within. The bag hung at his side, its strap draped across his shoulder in a viselike grip. A shiver traversed through his body as both eyes squeezed shut, remembering … reliving.

He longed to fade away, to simply dissolve into the darkness of his past forever. But there was no hiding – not even within the deepest shadows.

Sighing, he forced away the ghosts of his past and jolted himself into the present. Over eleven years had passed since that wretched time, and relief was finally in hand’s reach.

Now there would be no more pain. No more nightmares. No more agony.

There would be no more turning back.

Without sparing another thought, he slipped the pistol’s barrel between his lips, prayed to the God he’d never believed in, and deftly pulled the trigger.

About the Author

Rachel L. Demeter lives in the beautiful hills of Anaheim, California with Teddy, her goofy lowland sheepdog, and her high school sweetheart of eleven years. She enjoys writing dark, poignant romances that challenge the reader's emotions and explore the redeeming power of love.

Imagining dynamic worlds and characters has been Rachel's passion for longer than she can remember. Before learning how to read or write, she would dictate stories while her mother would record them for her. She holds a special affinity for the tortured hero and unconventional romances. Whether crafting the protagonist or antagonist, she ensures every character is given a soul.

Rachel endeavors to defy conventions by blending elements of romance, suspense, and horror. Some themes her stories never stray too far from: forbidden romance, soul mates, the power of love to redeem, mend all wounds, and triumph over darkness. Her dream is to move readers and leave an emotional impact through her words.

Don't be a stranger! Rachel loves to connect and interact with her readers: 

Visit Rachel's Official Website: http://racheldemeter.net
Stay in the loop with Rachel's Author Newsletter: http://tinyurl.com/rldnewsletter
Follow Rachel on Twitter: @RachelLDemeter
Join Rachel on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rldemeter
Add Rachel on Goodreads: http://goodreads.com/RachelLDemeter

23 August 2015

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Steve Lindahl on WHITE HORSE REGRESSION

This week, we're pleased to welcome author STEVE LINDAHL with his latest novel, WHITE HORSE REGRESSIONS. The author will offer one free copy of White Horse Regressions to a lucky visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Hannah Hersman is haunted by horrific nightmares of Paige Stackman, her murdered lover. With the police investigation at a dead end, Hannah takes the unusual step of calling Glen Wiley, a regression therapist. Glen sends her back into her past life memories where they discover a cycle of violence and death they must break.
The sessions reveal that Glen and Hannah shared a life in Victorian London during which they knew Annie Chapman, whose gruesome murder by Jack the Ripper was similar to the fate Paige suffered. They find that the crime has repeated itself through the ages. The search for answers requires that Glen send Hannah back further, to a life she lived in China during the Han dynasty, where the cycle began.
Through the use of past life memories the novel covers three time periods, all involving backstage theater settings and the show people who inhabit them: a community theater in present time Vermont, a traveling circus in Victorian London, and a puppet theater in China during the Han Dynasty. The London scenes weave facts from the Ripper murders into the novel's plot while the scenes in China include facts from the story of the two monks who brought Buddhism up from India and changed the history of the world.
Glen and Hannah journey into the memories of their past lives to solve a murder that has been committed in their current existence and stop murders destined to happen after their deaths. In the process they learn about evil, love, and the eternal nature of the human soul.

**Q&A with Steve Lindahl**

Your work is historical fiction, but with a different slant. Can you tell us about that?

My books are past life mysteries, where a crime has occurred and a hypnotist is called in to find clues by looking at events from past lives. This process involves looking into memories that take place in distant places and times. The memories are seen through the point of view of characters who share souls with the people who are hypnotized.

White Horse Regressions begins with the murder of an actress in present day Springfield, Vermont. The victim's lover, Hannah Hersman, calls in a hypnotist, Glen Wiley, who sends her back – first to Victorian London then to China during the Han Dynasty. Past life memories are an excellent device for mixing historical fiction with a current plot, resulting in stories that work like time travel stories, but without the conflict caused by accidental changes to history.

Researching the people and settings of nineteenth century England then switching to Han Dynasty (first century) China was challenging and fun. I mixed real characters such as Annie Chapman, one of Jack the Ripper's victims and Emperor Ming, the emperor who introduced Buddhism to China, with fictional characters. To do so I had to get the facts right about the historical figures and ensure that the fictional people fit.

Where does the title White Horse Regressions come from?

The White Horse Temple is the first Buddhist Temple in China and a critical setting in the novel. But there are references to white horses throughout the book. There is a cult-like group that has functioned in all the incarnations. They use toy horses, horse stamps on packages, and real horses to identify and unify their group.

The dictionary definition of a regression is “the act of going back to a previous place or state.” A past life regression occurs when the memories of a former incarnation are brought out, generally with the aid of a regression therapist. I put these two concepts together to produce what I believe is a catchy title.

Did you choose to write about reincarnation because you believe in past lives?
I believe our souls are eternal and I accept reincarnation as one possibility. I have participated in past life regressions with some, limited success. But my interest is focused on writing novels. Part of that process is accepting whatever beliefs my characters have.

I choose to write historical fiction with a spiritual perspective that is broad. In Motherless Soul, my first novel, one of the main characters is a Presbyterian minister. She incorporates what she learns into her own faith and expresses her belief.

Today, more than a billion people profess a belief in reincarnation. It was once a part of accepted doctrine among early Christians, specifically the Gnostics. But my books are more about history, mystery, and relationships between characters than they are about a single religious belief.

What books and authors have influenced you the most?

The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis probably influenced my writing the most. It is a time-travel story that sends a young woman back to England during the plague years and is a wonderful example of historical fiction within another story. In that case, the book is set in the future (2054) and goes back to the past. Other writers who have influenced me include: Jodi Picoult, Gail Godwin, Chris Bohjalian, and Leo Tolstoy.

Sometimes books influence me in ways that have nothing to do with my writing. For example, I discovered a character while reading The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks who lived for a time in New Jersey. That character never explored the lakes in NJ, even though he had loved water in his native North Carolina. I followed the same path in the opposite direction. I was raised on a lake in New Jersey and now live in North Carolina. I always missed the lake, so, after reading the novel, I decided to look around. Now, weather permitting, I go kayaking a few times each week.

Did you learn anything from writing your book? If so, what was it?

At times, research can be almost as much fun as writing. I loved learning about both Victorian London and ancient China. If I have to pick a favorite topic, I'd say I found the introduction of Buddhism to China and the story of the monks, She Moteng and Zhu Falan to be the most fascinating.

But I always learn from my characters and in this book Hannah Hersman had a lot to teach me about relationships with friends as well as lovers. She also taught me about shedding fear to get more out of life. I have missed her a great deal since I finished writing White Horse Regressions.


About the Author

21 August 2015

New & Noteworthy: August 21

Previously only available as library hardback edition in England or large-print library edition, Jennifer Mueller's A RUINED SEASON is now out for the first time in paperback and ebook.

Sophie Greenwood went to London to have her season hoping to find a husband. If only they had told her that her father had lost all his money, but gossip spreads quickly around London and already everyone knew Baron Canmore's scandal. Now two years later, will Sophie ruin another season? No one seems to want to make staying scandal-free an easy task. Almost everywhere she turns someone is trying to make her the laughing stock. Fleeing London once more seems to be her only option. What hope is there for a life of her own?


Learn more at jennifermuellerbooks.com.

20 August 2015

Excerpt Thursday: WHITE HORSE REGRESSIONS by Steve Lindahl

This week, we're pleased to welcome author STEVE LINDAHL with his latest novel, WHITE HORSE REGRESSIONS. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. The author will offer one free copy of White Horse Regressions to a lucky visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.


Hannah Hersman is haunted by horrific nightmares of Paige Stackman, her murdered lover. With the police investigation at a dead end, Hannah takes the unusual step of calling Glen Wiley, a regression therapist. Glen sends her back into her past life memories where they discover a cycle of violence and death they must break.
The sessions reveal that Glen and Hannah shared a life in Victorian London during which they knew Annie Chapman, whose gruesome murder by Jack the Ripper was similar to the fate Paige suffered. They find that the crime has repeated itself through the ages. The search for answers requires that Glen send Hannah back further, to a life she lived in China during the Han dynasty, where the cycle began.
Through the use of past life memories the novel covers three time periods, all involving backstage theater settings and the show people who inhabit them: a community theater in present time Vermont, a traveling circus in Victorian London, and a puppet theater in China during the Han Dynasty. The London scenes weave facts from the Ripper murders into the novel's plot while the scenes in China include facts from the story of the two monks who brought Buddhism up from India and changed the history of the world.
Glen and Hannah journey into the memories of their past lives to solve a murder that has been committed in their current existence and stop murders destined to happen after their deaths. In the process they learn about evil, love, and the eternal nature of the human soul.

**An Excerpt from White Horse Regressions**

Sometimes Kao Si was jealous of Kao Hui because her daughter was too young to work. What a life, she thought, sleeping all day while her mother carries her on her back. Kao Si would never admit her feelings to her husband. He would call her lazy. Everyone woke at sunrise and worked outside until it was dark. That’s just the way it was. Unless there was rain. It was nice when there was rain.
There was none that day, but there was something else that stopped their work. Shortly before the noon break, two men arrived. They were riding on white horses with many tablets and small statues tied behind the saddles of the animals. They both had dark skin and wide eyes so they must have come from a far away place where people look different.
Kao Si’s husband, Kao Jin, put down his hoe and approached the men.
“Welcome. We rarely get visitors out this far in the country. What brings you our way?”
“This is She Moteng,” the taller one said. “And I am Zhu Falan. We are on a long journey, bringing sacred texts to Emperor Ming of Luoyang.”
“Are you hungry? We can’t let travelers pass without offering a meal. My family was about to stop for our noon break. This is my wife, Kao Si with our daughter who is called Kao Hui.”
Kao Si bowed as low as she could. She wanted to say welcome, but she didn’t speak because she did not want to seem too forward. The men were dressed in patched robes that had been dyed yellow-orange. Their clothing along with the way they had spoken of sacred texts told her they had to be religious men. They dressed as if they were poor, but the horses they rode were magnificent and the statues she could see strapped to those horses’ backs were beautiful. Perhaps they had taken a vow of poverty, but they were now working for the emperor who had taken no such vow.
Kao Jin turned to his wife. “Prepare some rice and millet wine for these fine men.”
Although millet wine was not an expensive drink, Kao Si was surprised that her husband had offered the men more than simple bowls of rice. It seemed to her that he was trying to impress them for his own advantage. That was a wise move. Perhaps he was more ambitious than she had thought.
Inside the one room hut they called their home, Jin and Si had a simple wooden table and two benches, their only furniture as they slept on mats. Jin had made the table and benches himself and Si believed he had done a good job with the work. They didn’t have many material things to take pride in, but she liked that table. They offered the seats to the travelers. Jin and Si sat on their bed mats while they ate.
“The statues we carry are protected by the Emperor,” She Moteng said when they were done. “No one would dare touch them without our permission.”
“I know,” Kao Jin replied.
“They’re statues of the Buddha. You are welcome to look at them if you wish.”
“I’d like that.”
“Come. I’ll show them to you. Some of the smaller ones are made of pure gold.”
She Moteng stood up and bowed to Kao Si. He and Kao Jin stepped out of the small home, leaving Kao Si alone with Zhu Falan.
“Your husband seems interested in our statues.”
“My husband is no fool. The emperor’s protection is enough to temper his interest.”
“Kao Hui began to cry, so Si picked her daughter up and cradled her.”
“Perhaps she is hungry?” Zhu Falan asked.
“I fed her outside before you arrived.”
“I see. And you know your daughter well enough to know it isn’t time for her to be hungry again. You are an amazing woman.”
“It is not unusual for a mother to know her child.”
“That is true, but there is more to my words than you know at this time.”
“Then you must be the one who is amazing.”
“Perhaps I am, in certain ways,” Falan told her, then seemed to change the subject. “Would you prepare some tea?”
“I have none to offer you.”
“We have come from India and I have brought a great deal of tea with me. If I give you some, would you prepare it? And share it?”
“Is it the emperor’s tea?”
“Yes. But there are times when the emperor is generous. I know he will not mind you having some of his tea and perhaps he wouldn’t mind your husband having a gold statue, if the circumstances were right.”
“A gold statue? Even the smallest one must be worth a fortune.”
For Kao Si a dream of wealth had always been as likely as that she might sprout wings and fly. She was overwhelmed by the idea that her family might be allowed to keep one of the statues. The money would bring choices they never thought they could have. They might buy more land and have tenant farmers pay to work it. Kao Hui might not have to lead a life of constant hard work as her mother had. It was amazing to think about, yet she wondered about the right circumstances Zhu Falan spoke of.


About the Author

16 August 2015

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Elizabeth Fremantle on WATCH THE LADY

This week, we're pleased to welcome author ELIZABETH FREMANTLE with her latest novel, WATCH THE LADY, set in 16th century Tudor England. The author will offer one free copy of Watch the Lady to a lucky visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

From “a brilliant new player in the court of royal fiction” (People), comes the mesmerizing story of Lady Penelope Devereux—the daring young beauty in the Tudor court, who inspired Sir Philip Sidney’s famous sonnets even while she plotted against Queen Elizabeth.

Penelope Devereux arrives at Queen Elizabeth’s court where she and her brother, the Earl of Essex, are drawn into the aging Queen’s favor. Young and naïve, Penelope, though promised elsewhere, falls in love with Philip Sidney who pours his heartbreak into the now classic sonnet series Astrophil and Stella. But Penelope is soon married off to a man who loathes her. Never fainthearted, she chooses her moment and strikes a deal with her husband: after she gives birth to two sons, she will be free to live as she chooses, with whom she chooses. But she is to discover that the course of true love is never smooth.

Meanwhile Robert Cecil, ever loyal to Elizabeth, has his eye on Penelope and her brother. Although it seems the Earl of Essex can do no wrong in the eyes of the Queen, as his influence grows, so his enemies gather. Penelope must draw on all her political savvy to save her brother from his own ballooning ambition and Cecil’s 
trap, while daring to plan for an event it is treason even to think about.

Unfolding over the course of two decades and told from the perspectives of Penelope and her greatest enemy, the devious politician Cecil, Watch the Lady chronicles the last gasps of Elizabeth’s reign, and the deadly scramble for power in a dying dynasty.


*Q&A with Elizabeth Fremantle**

Where do you get your ideas for your books?

As I write about real characters from history, inspiration springs from reading about their lives. But there is always an underlying idea that is more abstract; for example in WATCH THE LADY I was exploring the notion of loyalty and the fact that loyalty can, if taken to an extreme degree, drive a good person to ill deeds.

What aspects about the past do you specifically try to highlight in your novel(s)?

My particular aim is to give a voice to the women whose stories have been obscured in history. So Katherine Parr, of Queen’s Gambit, was not the dull nursemaid of popular reputation but a successful author and a dangerous political operator. In Watch the Lady I explore the adultery that ensured Penelope Devereux’s story was ignored for centuries and shine a light on her controversial political dealings.

I’m interested in women who are rule-breakers, or who in some way show defiance in the face of a culture that limited them to the domestic arena.  

Please tell us a little about your latest novel Watch The Lady.

Watch the Lady is set in the declining years of Elizabeth’s reign, when the aging Queen’s intransigence and refusal to name an heir are beginning to destabilize the country. Political factions at court are polarized with the Cecils and the Devereuxs at loggerheads. My heroine Penelope Devereux, sister to royal favorite, the Earl of Essex, and muse to poet Sir Philip Sidney, inhabits the heart of this world and the novel follows her in her mission to ensure that her family is placed to best advantage when Elizabeth finally comes to an end.

Penelope is a woman who refuses to be limited by her gender and finds ways to manipulate her restricted world to suit her ends.

Who is your favorite author or book that you would like to recommend to your readers?

One of my favourite books is BEWARE OF PITY by Stephan Zweig. Set in Germany just before the first world war, it is an extraordinary feat of writing, exploring the idea of pity as a destructive force and describes a class-bound world that is about to be turned upside down.

Sisters of Treason (now in paperback), introduces Tudor court and the Tudor blood being a curse more than a blessing.  For those who’ve never read Sisters of Treason, can you speak a little on the Tudor history on how this “curse” has affected their lives in Watch the Lady?

At the opening of Sisters of Treason lady Jane Grey, aged only seventeen, is executed for the threat she poses to queen Mary's throne. She is the Protestant granddaughter of Henry VIII's sister and might easily become the focus of plots to oust the Catholic Queen.  Her sisters—Katherine particularly as she’s next in age—live in the shadow of this event, fearful that the same might happen to them.


About the Author

Elizabeth Fremantle is the author of Sisters of Treason, Queen’s Gambit, and Watch the Lady, and has contributed to Vogue, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, The Sunday Times (London), and other publications. She has also reviewed fiction for The Sunday Express. She lives in London, England.


13 August 2015

Excerpt Thursday: WATCH THE LADY by Elizabeth Fremantle

This week, we're pleased to welcome author ELIZABETH FREMANTLE with her latest novel, WATCH THE LADY, set in 16th century Tudor England. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. The author will offer one free copy of Watch the Lady to a lucky visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.


From “a brilliant new player in the court of royal fiction” (People), comes the mesmerizing story of Lady Penelope Devereux—the daring young beauty in the Tudor court, who inspired Sir Philip Sidney’s famous sonnets even while she plotted against Queen Elizabeth.

Penelope Devereux arrives at Queen Elizabeth’s court where she and her brother, the Earl of Essex, are drawn into the aging Queen’s favor. Young and naïve, Penelope, though promised elsewhere, falls in love with Philip Sidney who pours his heartbreak into the now classic sonnet series Astrophil and Stella. But Penelope is soon married off to a man who loathes her. Never fainthearted, she chooses her moment and strikes a deal with her husband: after she gives birth to two sons, she will be free to live as she chooses, with whom she chooses. But she is to discover that the course of true love is never smooth.

Meanwhile Robert Cecil, ever loyal to Elizabeth, has his eye on Penelope and her brother. Although it seems the Earl of Essex can do no wrong in the eyes of the Queen, as his influence grows, so his enemies gather. Penelope must draw on all her political savvy to save her brother from his own ballooning ambition and Cecil’s 
trap, while daring to plan for an event it is treason even to think about.

Unfolding over the course of two decades and told from the perspectives of Penelope and her greatest enemy, the devious politician Cecil, Watch the Lady chronicles the last gasps of Elizabeth’s reign, and the deadly scramble for power in a dying dynasty.

**An Excerpt from Watch the Lady**

January 1581

Whitehall 

When she had first been fitted for the dress she would wear to be received by the Queen, it had seemed an infinitely beautiful thing, but there in the long gallery at Whitehall it had transformed into something wrong—too plain, too Puritan.
The countess was listing instructions as they walked. “Stay on your knee until she indicates you may rise; do not stare; do not speak unless she asks it of you.”
Penelope wanted to stop and listen to the singing, which she could hear faintly coming from the chapel where the choir were practicing. They had worshipped there on the previous day after their journey and Penelope had felt the music burrow deep inside her, expanding until she could no longer tell where she began or ended. She had never heard such a choir. Forty voices—she counted them—each singing a different part, yet marrying as if they were one. That must be the sound of heaven, because nothing on earth can draw itself tight about your heart like that until you might gasp for the sheer joy of it. The Earl and Countess of Huntingdon did not allow music in their chapel; they said it distracted from private contemplation and communion with the Lord.

“Don’t dawdle so, Penelope.” The countess’s hand was clamped on her wrist, so tightly she feared it would leave a bruise.
They walked swiftly past the line of portraits, too fast for Penelope to see if she could find her family amongst them, the countess barking at the dawdlers to step aside. The women’s gowns were cut in a way Penelope had never encountered, waspish pointed stomachers embroidered with flowers and birds, skirts flaring out so wide two could not pass in a corridor without negotiation. Some wore gossamer structures curving up behind their heads, like the wings of dragonflies. She wanted to take a closer look to see how they were fashioned, whether it was wire that held them up, or magic. The countess favored plain garb and the dark-green velvet gown Penelope wore was testament to that. Finely tailored though it was, it had nothing of the splendor of those other dresses, and even the crimson satin sleeves, a delight only hours ago, failed to make it seem less drab. “The Lord does not appreciate excessive luxury,” her guardian liked to say.
Penelope yearned in that moment for a flowered stomacher, dragonfly wings and a jeweled, feather fan, rather than a prayer book, hanging from her girdle.
“Do not acknowledge anyone unless invited to do so; your uncles will be there; your stepfather”—she said “stepfather” with a scowl of disapproval; Penelope had noticed long ago that her guardian rarely called Leicester “Brother” and wondered why—“your Knollys grandmother, various of your cousins, but you will not look at them. It must be as if the Queen is the only soul in the chamber.” She stopped then and looked Penelope up and down, removing a thread from her shoulder and adjusting her wrong-shaped cap. “And whatever you do, don’t mention your mother.”
Penelope missed her mother. She would not have had her in such a plain dress. She would have stopped awhile to listen to the music. She imagined her beautiful mother, Lettice Knollys, the Countess of Leicester, beside her in the place of her guardian. She would have lent her a set of jewels and pearl-tipped pins to decorate her hair. But Lettice was not even to be mentioned at court—as if she didn’t exist.

Penelope felt the anger spread through her on her mother’s behalf—her whole family’s behalf—and could hear her say, as if it were only yesterday and not five years ago when news came of her father’s death, “That woman killed your father.” She remembered her bewilderment, for her father had been in Ireland in charge of the English army when he died of the flux. Penelope had come to understand, fitting all the pieces together, that by “that woman” her mother had meant the Queen.

Penelope usually prided herself on her courage but she felt it dissolving, like a pearl in vinegar, as the door to the Queen’s privy chamber loomed near.

“Listen to me, Penelope. The Queen’s goddaughter you may be, but she will not want some flighty girl in her household, however well born. You must pay attention. We shall wait inside the door. Do not approach until she beckons. Address her as ‘Your Majesty,’ even if others don’t—it shows respect. If she asks about your pastimes, tell her you are fond of reading the gospels and no mention of card games.” She must have been thinking of the pack of cards she had confiscated from Penelope and her younger sister, Dorothy, and flung on the fire. Penelope wished Dorothy was with her but the countess had deemed that she was to stay behind. “And did I say not to mention your mother?”

“Yes, my lady.” The anger opened up in her again and she quelled it by turning her thoughts to her father’s very last wish for her, which had her betrothed to Philip Sidney, whom she hoped might be behind that door. She tried to conjure up a picture of him in her mind but she had set eyes on him only the once, and that had been six years ago. He seemed to barely notice her then, but why would a proud youth already of age, whose uncle was the Earl of Leicester, notice a girl not yet thirteen, even if she were the Queen’s kin? His face, she remembered, was finely carved, with a straight nose beneath an open brow and the faintest scattering of smallpox scars that somehow conspired to make him all the more interesting, as if he had lived and had experiences she couldn’t even imagine.
Her father’s other wish had been to hand the care of his daughters to his kinsman, the Earl of Huntingdon, a wish apparently sanctioned by the Queen that could not be broken. When she had begged her mother for an explanation, Lettice had opened her palms upwards and shaken her head, saying, “It was your father’s will. I have no say in it. Besides, it is a good opportunity for you girls; the Huntingdons have great influence with the Queen.” There was a crack in her voice. Penelope had had to accept that there were some things she might never fully understand. She glanced down at her plain skirts, feeling suddenly at a complete loss.
“Penelope, your daydreaming will be your downfall.” The countess pinched the back of her hand sharply, just as the great doors swung open.

They moved forward together, waiting just inside. The Queen was dressed from head to toe in gold, and Leicester was standing beside her with a proprietorial hand on the back of her chair. Penelope dropped her gaze but couldn’t help flicking her eyes over the Queen’s maids, who were scattered about all dressed in white like a host of angels. She hated that green velvet then, imagining the satisfaction of ripping it from top to bottom, and set her gaze on a knot in the floorboards that was like an eye staring back at her.

After what seemed an age the Queen said, “Ah, Lady Huntingdon. Let’s take a closer look at your ward.” A countess gave her a shove forward. She fixed her eyes on the Queen’s hands, thinking it a safe place for them to rest. The beauty of them surprised her; they did not seem the hands of a woman nearing her fiftieth year—an age that seemed incomprehensibly distant to Penelope. Finally reaching the point, a few feet from the Queen’s skirts, where the countess had instructed her was the correct place, she dropped onto her knees, still looking at those hands. That close, she was able to see properly the rings that decorated her fingers: a vast ruby, which must have been the one she was to kiss—if the opportunity arose—a square cut diamond with an enamelwork shank, and, surprisingly, a large domed toadstone, ugly beside its more majestic fellows. She thought toadstones were protection from poison but couldn’t remember for certain.
“Closer,” the Queen said, and Penelope shuffled forward awkwardly on her knees, watching as those long fingers reached out to tilt her chin up.
Her breast was festooned with pearls and her face was spread thickly with white lead paste, which had crept into the lines about her eyes and mouth. She smiled then, briefly revealing a row of teeth the color of mutton.

“Lady Penelope Devereux,” she said, running a pair of hooded brown eyes over her, squinting slightly as if her sight was poor.“How old are you?”
“I am eighteen, Your Majesty.” Penelope could barely get the words out above a whisper.
“Not so young, then.” The Queen looked serious, as if she was trying to make some kind of calculation in her head. “We hear you can sing. Is it true?”
“I am told I have a serviceable voice, Your Majesty.” She could feel the room lean in to listen, as if what she had to say was of great import.

“It wouldn’t matter if you could or not, given your countenance,” was the Queen’s reply. Then she leaned in close enough for Penelope to smell the musk on her—a memory sprang into her mind of her mother rubbing musk over her neck and onto the insides of her wrists on evenings when guests were coming to sup—“You shall spread envy amongst our maids with that face, and if your voice is even half as lovely, all hell shall be let loose.” Though she cupped her hand close to Penelope’s ear, it was only the pretense of discretion for the curious gathering of angelic maids could easily hear. The Queen seemed amused.

A little laugh fluttered up in Penelope; she liked the compliment, more than she should have, and enjoyed the Queen’s little game that put her at the center of something she didn’t quite comprehend. Certainly the countess did not approve of that laugh.
The Queen then took both Penelope’s hands in her own. “I fancy I shall take you under my wing, Penelope Devereux. You seem to have a sense of humor and look at these glum girls about me.” She swept her arm to indicate the angel maids and it was true; when Penelope looked again, they seemed, despite their splendid clothes, as dull as Latin verbs. “Besides, I don’t doubt you need some proper mothering.”
Penelope noticed the Queen’s hand wander up absently towards Leicester’s, resting on the back of her chair, and how their fingers intertwined. It was such a very intimate and easy gesture, which to Penelope seemed an indication of ownership—ownership over her own mother’s husband. She felt the flare of anger once more. “I think you will thrive away from the countess’s auspices. She takes pride in raising obedient girls but I can see you have spirit. It seems a shame to dim such brightness.” Penelope heard the countess inhale sharply—that spirit was the very thing she had spent the last years trying to knock out of her.
By “mothering,” Penelope asked herself, had the Queen meant that it was the countess lacking on that front or her own (unmentionable) mother?
“Sit,” the Queen said then, patting a stool beside her. “Do you play cards?”
“I love to play,” she answered, adding, without thinking, “It gives me a thrill to risk a wager,” which provoked a loud guffaw from the Queen.
Penelope watched her relatives (all but the countess, whose gaze remained stony) swapping looks of approval with each other, seeming satisfied with her performance. “You have only one opportunity to create a first impression,” her mother had said. “Be yourself, my sweet. The Queen may loathe me but I was in her favor long enough to know what it is she likes in a girl, and it is not the tedious piety the countess has tried her best to hammer into you. And, sweetness, once you are admitted, it will benefit us all. God knows I need eyes and ears amongst the Queen’s women, and”—she had taken her daughter’s hand then and placed a kiss on its back—“you shall be those eyes and ears. I have no influence these days, no say even in the destinies of my own children.”
Just then Leicester had walked in. “What witch’s brew are you two beauties cooking up?”
“Penelope is to be received by the Queen tomorrow—but I presume you are aware of that.” Penelope thought she detected an edge of bitterness in those last words but she had been so long away from her mother it was difficult to tell. “I was instructing her on correct behavior.” Then she turned to Penelope. “You will love it at court, my sweet. All life is there. You have the temperament to shine brightly in that firmament, and the beauty. But let me warn you: don’t ever show weakness or fear—the Queen loathes a faintheart. Isn’t that right, dearest?”
“Indeed, it is.” Leicester had stooped then to stroke Lettice’s swollen belly and drop a lingering kiss on her lips. “Has this little fellow been kicking you to distraction?”
“He has,” replied Lettice with a smile. “He is every bit as active as his father.”
Leicester had taken her mother’s hand then, weaving his fingers through hers in exactly the manner he held the Queen’s hand now.
Penelope was well aware that the Queen had been angered beyond reason at her favorite’s secret marriage to Lettice—the countess’s servants had whispered of little else for months in the wake of it. But seeing that small yet intimate gesture replicated gave her a sense that the true situation was far beyond her comprehension. She wondered if she would be required to report back to Lettice on things concerning her stepfather and the Queen, if that’s what she had meant by “eyes and ears.”
The Queen asked for cards to be brought and chatted merrily, pointing people out and remarking on them—“He is my chamberlain, he will see to your needs,” and “That curmudgeon there is mother of the maids.” As she shuffled the pack Penelope scanned the chamber, seeking out Sidney, but there were so many young gallants, all of them garbed in a dazzling array of finery, it was impossible to identify which might be the one her father had promised was hers.


Reaching up to her frizz of copper hair, the Queen unhooked a vast pearl drop, set about with colored stones, and, placing it upon the table, said, “What is your wager, Penelope Devereux?”

Penelope’s belly tightened into a knot, for she had nothing to offer save a lace handkerchief of her mother’s that was tucked into her sleeve; but that was hardly a fair wager in the face of such a jewel. The Queen must have been aware the Devereux coffers were empty. Slowly she pulled the handkerchief out, letting it drift to the table beside the pearl.
“It is pretty; the lacework is fine.” The Queen picked it up, inspecting it minutely under a magnifying glass. “You must know that an embroiderer’s hand is as distinctive as a scribe’s.”
Penelope did not know such a thing, not until then, when she realized the Queen meant she recognized the handkerchief to be her disgraced mother’s work. “I do, Your Majesty,” she replied, holding her breath.
The Queen raised a single painted brow. “A fair wager, it is. Best of three.”
Penelope let out a silent exhalation and waited for the Queen to pick a card from those on the table and discard another. She did the same and they took it in turns until the Queen tapped the table calling, “Vada,” indicating a show of hands, displaying a run of fives. Penelope could feel the room press about them, watching the newcomer undergoing her test. She had heard it said that the Queen was not fond of losing and was glad to find that her own skill was no match for her opponent, for she knew it would have been hard to curb her competitive spirit in the name of tact. So it was an authentic defeat when the Queen revealed a second winning hand and scooped up the wagers with a laugh, saying, “We shall need to sharpen your game, my girl.”
“I fear Your Majesty’s skills will always be sharp enough to scratch me.”
This provoked another burst of laughter from the Queen.
“You could do with a little adornment,” she said, taking the pearl and clipping it into Penelope’s hair. “I will send my tailor to the countess’s rooms to fit you for a dress.”
“I do not know how to thank you enough, Your Majesty.” Penelope was imaging the fabrics she would choose, thinking of flying on gossamer wings, when an elderly man with a long face and a silver beard approached.
“Burghley,” the Queen said, “do you know Lady Penelope Devereux?”
So this is Burghley, thought Penelope, looking at the man she knew to be the Queen’s Chief High Treasurer, the most powerful man in the land, next to Leicester. He was also her brother’s guardian.
“I have not yet had the pleasure,” he said, taking her hand briefly. “But I know your brother well enough. He is happily settled up at Cambridge these days. You are close, I believe?’
“We are, my lord. I long to be reunited with him.” She was thinking of how many months it had been since she had seen her beloved Essex.
“We shall invite him to court for the tilt,” said the Queen. “Now where is your own boy, Burghley?”
“He is here, madam.” A boy moved forward. He must have been about Penelope’s age but was smaller by far than her in stature, with one shoulder substantially higher than the other and a bulbous body set upon legs so thin it was a miracle they could hold him up. He reminded her, with his odd bird-boy shape, of a painting of the devil she once saw in a forbidden book, and she felt a twinge of the old fear that image had planted in her.
Where the father’s face was long, the boy’s was longer to the brink of ugliness, with a great domed forehead and his hair sticking up above it like bristles on a hearth brush. Both men were clad head to toe in black, each with a stiff snowy ruff; but in spite of their plainness there was a luxury about them that didn’t pass Penelope by.
The odd boy gawped her way and she, finding sympathy for one cursed with such a crooked form, smiled at him. He didn’t return it, but continued gawping and blushing hotly. His father gave him a tap on the shoulder, which seemed to jolt him from his trance. He dropped sharply onto his knees before the Queen, fixing his eyes on her shoes.
“Getting on here at Whitehall, Cecil?” said the Queen. “Your father showing you the ropes?” Turning to Penelope, she added, “Cecil arrived at court just a few days ago, didn’t you, boy?”
Cecil mumbled out a response, but Penelope was not listening for she had just spotted, beyond him, with a tightening about her heart, the face that was inscribed on her memory.

- See more at: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Watch-the-Lady/Elizabeth-Fremantle/9781476703121#sthash.BVg1mW7x.dpuf

About the Author


Elizabeth Fremantle is the author of Sisters of Treason, Queen’s Gambit, and Watch the Lady, and has contributed to Vogue, The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, The Sunday Times (London), and other publications. She has also reviewed fiction for The Sunday Express. She lives in London, England.