07 August 2014

Excerpt Thursday: THE GETTING OF EMPIRE (Book One - Robert: The Wayward Prince) by Austin Hernon

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Austin Hernon with his latest novel, THE GETTING OF EMPIRE, in the series, Robert: The Wayward Prince. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. The author will offer a free copy of book one of Robert: The Wayward Prince in Kindle format from Amazon to a lucky blog 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.

Although Robert was the eldest son of William the Conqueror, he was not his favourite; in fact they spent most of Robert’s life at odds with each other. Robert’s disdain for his father’s cruelty and obsession with power, and William’s displeasure with his son’s demeanour and attitude to civic duties rendered the pair incompatible. Only Matilda the queen, wife of William and mother of Robert, was able to keep the peace between them.

Nevertheless, King William was not slow to deploy Robert’s other talents to ensure the security of his domains and his expansionist desires – King William had plans for Wales, and was considering expanding his influence across the Alps into Northern Italy.

A Norman empire from Northumbria to Constantinople was firmly in the mind of William when he set about putting his warrior son to the test, diplomacy and dynasty were the weapons which the king deployed from Robert’s armoury – in addition to the sword.

See how Robert’s diplomacy keeps the Scots at bay, how his skill-at-Arms cannot be bested, and mostly, how he loves.

There is Morberga, Nordic blond, from stable girl to lady of the court, as Robert loses his heart to her stately beauty.

Then Tegwin, raven haired and fiery horsewoman, imported from North Wales to beget with Robert a prince for a united Wales.

King William’s other target, Matilda of Canossa, de facto ruler of Northern Italy, the pope’s general and nemesis of the German Emperor, Heinrich IV.

See how this extraordinary family, chaotic at the best of times, are plunged into near anarchy when the Conqueror dies suddenly, leaving three brothers to sort out the subsequent mess for themselves.

Then witness the genesis of the fracture between Islam and Christianity, and how Robert found himself cast in the role of Saviour of Jerusalem.

This is a wide-ranging tale of love and war, loyalty and treachery, obsession and ambition, which will hopefully cast some light upon the previously ignored effigy of a duke, lying in the gloom of an aisle in Gloucester Cathedral.

**An Excerpt from Robert - The Wayward Prince**

January 1079. Gerberoy, France.

Midday came soon enough. We had used the short interval to prepare our accoutrements and sharpen our weapons, and as no message arrived we mounted and rode out of the gate. I led my two flanks in columns behind me until we were clear of the mound and ditch, when we moved into a line across the meadow. There we waited until a priest appeared in front of us and gave a blessing.
            I was only half aware of his prattling, concentrating instead on the movements on the horizon some three hundred paces to our front, where the French were forming up and making ready to confront us.
            I had no quarrel with the French, or King Philip, but this was now a matter of honour; go back to my father and accept his peace or stay here as a won right and see if I could negotiate some kind of peace.
            Shortly the priest was done; whatever heaven thought of the matter it was now in the hands of mortals on earth, and the horses between our legs knew it. Prancing, pawing, snorting and biting at each other as they were brought tightly together, rubbing against each other’s flanks – they knew that their business was about to commence. I lowered my lance a little and we took the first few steps towards the opposing French. Equal in number, I thought, but how equal in purpose?
            On my left Montgomerie shouted over the kerfuffle.
            ‘They have found you a tall one, Robert.’
            ‘Indeed!’ I shouted back, seeing the lanky knight in their centre. ‘And when I have felled him I shall send his armour to my father; armour for tall men is in short supply.’
            ‘Hah!’ cried Rupierre on my other side, the nerves showing in his trembling voice. ‘Then try not to make any holes in it, my lord; it would not do to send the king holy armour.’
            I grinned at that remark; if they were still of good spirit, then the day would be won more easily.
            Montgomerie joined in. ‘Aye, my prince!’ He shouted louder as we gathered pace. ‘Tis horrible draughty stuff in the winter is holy armour.’
            The time for jest now done, I half lowered my lance, the red pennant near the end fluttering in the breeze as we picked up speed and the shiny tip glinted death’s message in the weak wintry sun.
            As I concentrated on the tall figure at the centre of the approaching line of horsemen, I could see that they were in a slack formation with too many gaps – easy meat! – and I called out for a tighter line.
            ‘Keep tight! Keep pace! Watch your target!’ And so commanding I finally lowered my lance to the horizontal as the signal for the final gallop, couching it ever tighter into my armpit.
            All was now noise about my ears; the world outside the tip of my lance disappeared as I ignored the pain in my legs with the horses clashing and rubbing in the mad gallop towards glory or perdition.
            I had that man’s eyes in my view for only a blink as I sought out and aimed at my chosen target: that small gap between the top of his shield and his shoulder above his lance. His height was now his nemesis; my thick legs gripping my horse, my broad back anchored against the back of the saddle and my low profile my eternal advantage. He was one among many who had been badly advised to go against me in this kind of engagement. At the strike his shield moved slightly and my lance struck, and although not penetrating his mail, he was propelled off the back of his horse and hit the ground in an untidy, noisy bundle.
I turned my horse with difficulty; the beast was feeling the weight of its bollocks and these stallions were never easy to control. I could see that my squire had approached the fallen warrior on my spare horse and was waiting for my instructions. But my attention was distracted by something odd – for the meadow was silent. I had expected to make a stand against another knight but instead every warrior on the field was still and watching me. What nonsense was this?
            As most of the wreckage on the field was the French – serve them right for being slack – it was my men standing motionless which puzzled me.
            Halting by the fallen knight, where my squire had acquired the stillness of a statue, I dismounted and drew my sword, prepared to offer the vanquished man mercy in exchange for his arms and horse. But instead I shouted at the frozen youth.
            ‘Why in God’s blood are you mummified, Cedric?’
            He looked back at me with horror on his face as he stuttered, pointing at the dusty, dishevelled lump on the ground, ‘Tis…the king, Prince Robert. Your father lies here.’
            ‘What!’ I growled. ‘What bad jest is this, you dog’s turd?’
            The figure on the ground stirred and tried to sit up so I poked at his throat with the point of my sword.
            ‘Keep still, you sheep’s bladder, else I let loose your air.’
            The man coughed, and then struggling removed his helm – whence my jaw dropped.
            ‘Robert!’ he said wearily, ‘if I am a sheep’s bladder then you are a bladder’s spawn. Help me up.’
            I gave him my hand and he climbed to his feet. He reeled groggily but he was still head and shoulders above his eldest son, although he had long since failed to impress me with that particular advantage.
            ‘It seems, dear Robert, that you have seized your inheritance somewhat earlier than I had planned.’ He was still dragging at his breath and the words came out reluctantly. ‘No doubt your mother will be pleased; she always favoured you.’
            ‘I am her firstborn, as I am yours; you two should be together in the matter. It is you who have taken sides. Favouring that red-headed twerp William and that snivelling little bookworm Henry over me.’
            ‘Ah yes!’ He was recovering now and continued with more certainty, ‘But my behaviour has made you a hard man, has it not? By God’s miracles, have you never seen that?’ He fixed me with that ball-shrivelling stare he used to such effect on other men.
            ‘Oh! I see, been doing me a favour, have you? Well, tis time I returned your good offices; how do you intend to pay for your defeat on this field, sire?’
            ‘As I said, a hard man.’

Learn more about author Austin Hernon at www.waywardprinceproductions.co.uk