Tag Archives: Medieval

Kingmaker: Kingdom Come by Toby Clements

Century | 2017 (24 August) | 441p | Review copy | Buy the book

Kingdom Come by Toby ClementsKingdom Come is the fourth and final novel in Toby Clements’ superb chronicle of the Wars of the Roses. The series, Kingmaker, focuses on the years between 1460 and 1471, from the Battle of Towton to the Battle of Tewkesbury, years that transformed England while tearing it apart. Kingdom Come completes the story of Thomas and Katherine and so you’d be well advised to read the series as intended, from the beginning starting with Winter Pilgrims. This review assumes you’ve had the pleasure and that you don’t mind hearing about things that have happened before on Thomas and Katherine’s journey.

The year is 1470 and all is going well for Thomas and Katherine Everingham. Their son Rufus thrives and another is on the way. Their manor, Marton Hall in Lincolnshire, prospers, expanding even, providing a home, not only for Thomas and his family but also for the men and women who have endured with them through years of war and restlessness. There are so few left. With Edward IV on the throne and the old King Henry VI in the Tower, the country seems to be at peace at last. But, of course, it isn’t. It just seems like that on the surface. The Earl of Warwick, once such a close ally of Edward IV, is plotting against him, attracting to him men that Edward believes he can trust. They’re waiting for the perfect moment to set the trap and, unfortunately for Thomas, it’s he who discovers the plot and it’s Thomas who has to brave Edward’s wrath by revealing it.

But that’s not all. The manuscript that has been both the curse and blessing of Thomas and Katherine’s life for so long continues to threaten their very lives. Thomas’s secrets are about to be revealed. There is only one thing they can do. They must run. But the time will come when the call to arms will be heard once more and Thomas and Katherine won’t be found lacking as the armies gather for an almighty battle on the outskirts of Tewkesbury.

I have followed the Kingmaker series since it began and, without doubt, it is one of the finest historical series around. It’s successful for so many reasons, not least of which is the private and constant story of Thomas and Katherine Everingham. They have endured so much and deserve even more but it’s never easy and in this final book they must suffer again. This might be a series about war but Katherine is no less important than her soldier husband. War affects them both equally and her perspective matters just as much. This is refreshing, to say the least, in a novel about medieval warfare. There are scenes in Kingdom Come which are so painful to read. Life is far from easy and death, betrayal, illness and hunger come all too frequently. We care deeply for these two and, by the time of this fourth book, we cannot wait to see what happens to them in the end. But we know this is no fairytale. Happing endings are not guaranteed.

Katherine’s character is particularly fascinating, not least for her medical skills. Toby Clements always makes sure that each novel has at least one scene in which Katherine is up to her eyeballs (or at least her elbows) in blood, gore and disinfecting urine. Once read these scenes cannot be forgotten. You might even want to read them with your eyes shut – they’re most certainly gruesome and…. thorough. Kingdom Come is no different. I must admit that I anticipate these scenes and rather enjoy them but perhaps I shouldn’t admit to that!

The surrounding characters are so wonderful and it’s good to keep returning to old friends, although they are now much reduced in number – and even in body. John Stumps is an extraordinary personality and Toby Clements portrays him beautifully. But we still miss some of the figures from the earlier novels. Kingdom Come contains an intriguing look at Edward IV while in exile. There is so much more to Edward in these days of trial and punishment. The quality of the author’s writing and historical insight and imagination means that it really does feel like we’re there. Toby Clements also excels with his use of present tense. I’m not always a fan of present tense, especially in historical fiction, but it really works here.

As always with this series, Kingdom Come is such an exciting and dramatic novel that grips the reader tightly. I must admit to having grown wearisome of the manuscript, which has haunted these books from the beginning. I sensed that the author may have been feeling the same way. It was good to see the back of that. This series has moved so far ahead of conventional devices, such as secret manuscripts and lost memories that occasionally popped up in the earlier books.

Kingdom Come is powerful and vigorous historical fiction, combining the horror and brutal energy of the battlefield with the more intimate drama of a family on the run and surviving as best that they can. All set within the vividly realised setting of the 15th century, a place where no one in their right mind would wish to be but how glorious it is to read about it. I don’t know where Toby Clements will take us next now that Kingmaker is done but I do know I’ll be there every step of the way.

Other reviews
Winter Pilgrims
Broken Faith
Divided Souls

Court of Lions by Jane Johnson

Head of Zeus | 2017 (6 July) | 397p | Review copy | Buy the book

Court of Lions by Jane JohnsonKate Fordham has left her old life, and much that she loves, behind her, driven from her home by brutal circumstances that have left her scarred and living under a new name in the beautiful city of Granada in Spain. Kate works in a bar in the city but her heart is most at home in Granada’s Alhambra, the palace of the Moors, with its stunning architecture and luxurious gardens. One day while visiting the site, Kate discovers in one of the walls a screwed up piece of very old paper marked with words written in no known language. And a door into the Alhambra’s past opens before us.

It is the late 15th century and the last act of the Sultans’ rule in Granada and southern Spain is about to play out. Prince Abu Abdullah Mohammed stands on the verge of the throne. The prince’s father, the Sultan, is unpopular, his cruel uncle hated even more, but the Sultan seals his fate when he puts his Sultana, the prince’s mother, aside in favour of Isobel de Solis, his beautiful Spanish war captive. But war within the family almost pales beside the threat from outside Granada. Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain are resolute in their determination to drive the Moors from Spain once and for all and they will show no mercy. But safe within the defensive walls of the Alhambra, the young prince shows another side. His closest friend is a child called Blessings. Blessings was sold from a desert tribe of North Africa to be the prince’s companion. Blessings finds the unexpected: painful unrequited love for the prince known and loved as Momo. Their story will play out against the drama of Granada’s last stand.

Court of Lions is such an enticing read! It’s a beautiful looking book with that fine hallmark of a Head of Zeus hardback – a ribbon – and just looking at it made me want to read it. I’m so glad I did. Jane Johnson richly evokes the last days of what must have seemed an Eden on Earth, the Alhambra, and brings it alive in colour, scents and fountain waters, though the involving story of Mumo and Blessings. The descriptions of the Alhambra are gorgeous, reminding us how hard it must have been for its Moorish inhabitants to give it up. This is a novel about war, though, and there are plenty of action-packed scenes as Mumo and his family fight each other for supremacy before Isabella and Ferdinand exert their own cruel influence. But the most wonderful parts of Court of Lions are those which take us within the walls of the Alhambra.

The novel moves backwards and forwards between the later years of the 15th century and the present day in which Kate struggles to escape and then confront her past. I enjoyed Kate’s story, particularly her interaction with the modern inhabitants of Granada, a city in which cultural differences still exist. But the heart of the novel, and the source of its greatest pleasure, is in the chapters which carry us back into history. Kate has little connection with this past beyond a sensitivity to the Alhambra’s history – this isn’t a timeslip novel – instead we’re given a sympathetic, atmospheric and elegant portrait of the Alhambra and its people through the centuries, focusing on characters past and present who capture our imagination wonderfully.

I’m delighted to post this review as part of the blog tour to celebrate the publication of Court of Lions by Head of Zeus on 6 July. For other stops on the tour, do take a look at the poster below.
Court of Lions blog tour poster

City of Masks by S.D. Sykes

Hodder & Stoughton | 2017 (13 July) | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book

City of Masks by SD SykesIt is 1358 and some years have passed since the events chronicled in The Butcher Bird. Oswald de Lacy, the young Lord Somershill, is not the man he once was. He is pursued by demons and they have chased him to Venice where he waits for passage on a vessel to the Holy Land. Pilgrimage is Oswald’s hope but Venice is at war with Hungary and this is keeping all ships in harbour. It’s also not doing much to help the mood in this naturally suspicious and paranoid yet pleasure-loving city. Executions and torture are common, and among the masked gamblers, drinkers and lovers, lurk spies, thieves and murderers.

As the novel begins, we’re not sure what has happened to Oswald to drive him from England in such despair but he’s in need of diversion. But this comes from an unfortunate source. A friend is found murdered outside the house where Oswald is staying and Oswald, who has brought from England a bit of a reputation as being a solver of mysteries, is hired by the dead man’s exceedingly unpleasant grandfather to find the young man’s killer. The pursuit of the murderer throws Oswald into the heart of this lively and misbehaving city of secrets. Most have something to hide. It doesn’t help that the belligerent Venetian authorities have Oswald in their sights – a foreigner asking questions stands out. But Oswald isn’t on his own. His mother has accompanied him to Venice. Oh dear.

City of Masks is S.D. Sykes’ third Somershill Manor mystery and it’s very different from the previous two. The obvious difference is that this novel isn’t set in England but Oswald, our young hero, is not the man he was before, due to tantalising reasons that only become truly known in the second half of the novel. We’ve moved away from the devastating impact of the Black Death on Oswald’s manor and tenants but Oswald is clearly in pain. Discovering the reasons for this adds both power and poignancy to a novel that is also a thoroughly satisfying medieval mystery which throws a curious light on life in Venice during the mid 14th century.

The Venetian setting is marvellous. Its places familiar to us today mix with those lost in history but all are filled with colourful, lovely characters, many of whom are up to no good. There is a theme of religious pilgrimage running through City of Masks but this is skin deep, as shown in the city’s hypocrisy and unkindness to the poor, ill and vulnerable. I loved the descriptions of the waterways and islands of Venice, its palaces, grand houses, prisons and inns. It is richly evocative, both glamorous and seedy, wealthy and squalid. In a way, Oswald himself sums this all up – he might be a lord but he is living on the edge of respectability.

I have to admit that I was wary when I heard that City of Masks would be moved away from its setting in medieval England. Medieval Venice didn’t have the same appeal to me. But I needn’t have worried. S.D. Sykes is such a fine writer who really knows her subject and history and she makes Venice seem so real – a mysterious place in which one can be lost so easily. The mystery is a fascinating and gripping one, even more so because it throws such light on Venetian society at this time. S.D. Sykes is also great with people – I loved the characters in City of Masks. Oswald’s mother drives me mad at times (poor Oswald) but I’m rather glad she came along.

Oswald’s character and story dominate the novel and deservedly so. He is always likeable, flawed though he undoubtedly is, and we care for him. City of Masks works well as a stand alone novel but I think much can be gained for having read the three books in order. Watching Oswald grow from boy to man is well worth doing and a lot of this culminates in City of Masks. I also really enjoyed the way in which the mystery behind Oswald’s troubles is revealed.

I have loved each of the three novels in this wonderful, brilliantly written historical series but, if I had to pick a favourite, it would be City of Masks. From start to finish, it is nothing less than mesmerising and engrossing.

Other reviews
Plague Land
The Butcher Bird

The Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer

Simon & Schuster | 2017 (15 June) | c.350p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Outcasts of Time by Ian MortimerIt is December 1348 and the Black Death ravages England’s terror-stricken population. God has turned His back. The bodies of men, women and children fill great death pits in the towns and cities while more corpses rot where they fell – on streets, on country roads, in their houses, in each other’s arms. Brothers John and William are travelling by foot to Exeter, a place that both know well but is especially meaningful to John, a stone mason, who carved some of the brand new cathedral’s statuary, incorporating representations of himself, his brother and his beloved wife into its carvings.

But they see the work of pestilence everywhere and know it is only a matter of time before they too are stricken. And when the inevitable happens, they seek to make peace with God in a sacred place. But instead they are made an offer: they can either return home to live out the six days remaining to them or they will experience each of those six days, 99 years apart from the one before. They would move through the centuries with all sign of the plague removed. But at the end of those six days they will face the Final Judgement.

And so begins an extraordinary journey for two men whose lives have been lived firmly within the medieval world of the mid 13th century. Men for whom God is central to their existence, just as the Earth is the centre of the universe. Both John and William fought for Edward III in France, determined if necessary to die for their beloved King. As they make the first leap – to 1477 – they realise that everything will change, that they will stand out more and more. Not just for their clothes and their accents, but also for their faith, their convictions and their morality. All of these elements of life are fickle. All of them change through the centuries as John and William experience such times as the rise of Protestantism, the English Civil War, culminating in the early 1940s. While their world expands across seas, some things remain the same. War, above all else.

The Outcasts of Time is an astonishing novel, not least because it combines a fascinating, irresistible Faustian tale with a clever scrutiny of the transition from the medieval to modern worlds as it would have affected an unexceptional everyman from the 13th century. It’s a personal story, as told through the words of John, and, as such, it is moving, heartfelt and often tragic, especially as he misses his wife and children. But it also tells the broader tale of humanity’s progress (or lack of it) through seven hundred years. The judgement on how well we have done comes from John as he struggles to make sense of it all, or at least some of it. Hanging over it all, though, is the memory of the plague and the descriptions of this are powerfully repulsive and painful to read. We all know about the Black Death and how it eliminated so many villages and devastated towns and cities but this novel reminds us of the countless human tragedies that combined to create the disaster. What John and William and others had to endure is appalling.

The novel is rich in themes but it is also packed with the most fascinating historical details, as you’d hope when considering the credentials of the author historian Ian Mortimer. I loved all the details about dress, houses, the shifting form of the city of Exeter and the changes to the use of the countryside, as well as the gradual introduction of developments in technology, the sciences, the arts. Imagine seeing trains for the first time, or a clock, or hearing a piano or Mozart, or a line from Shakespeare, seeing a movie. Or learning that man’s position to the universe and God is not what you thought. That morality can shift, even the nature of good and evil. Yet you can look into the night sky and the stars are still there. Whenever I visit a historic place I always think about the people who trod those stones before me – what did they see? What did they think? The wonder that history holds is everywhere in this novel.

The Outcasts of Time is one of those novels that I think would actually benefit from a second reading. It is so richly layered with themes that it is only when you (or at least me) reach the end that you fully realise what an achievement this book is, how much there is in it to discover. At the time of reading it, I was caught up in each of the episodes and I didn’t make all of the connections between the centuries. At the end I realised that I had missed some of the ‘clues’. This is most certainly a novel that deserves and rewards a close reading and your full attention.

The ideas in The Outcasts of Time are huge but they are also wholly accessible because they are planted in a story about two brothers who, when faced with a most terrible and frightening death, have to make a personal choice. This marvellous novel engages the heart and mind and, when finished, it’s not one you want to forget.

What inspired me to write about Joan of Kent? Guest post by Anne O’Brien, author of The Shadow Queen

The Shadow Queen by Anne O'BrienThis week, on 4 May, HQ publishes Anne O’Brien’s latest historical novel: The Shadow Queen. To mark the occasion I’m delighted to host a guest post from Anne in which she writes about what inspired her to write about Joan of Kent, the wife and widow of the Black Prince and mother of Richard II.

First, here is a little of what The Shadow Queen is about:

From her first clandestine marriage, Joan of Kent’s reputation is one of beauty, rumour and scandal. Her royal blood makes her a desirable bride. Her ambition and passion make her a threat. Joan knows what she must do to protect her reputation… the games to play, the men to marry. She will do anything to get what she wants: The Crown of England. A tale of ambition, treachery and desire, The Shadow Queen tells of a woman’s ascent through the court to command royal power alongside her young son, King Richard II.

What inspired me to write about Joan of Kent?

Who was she?

Joan of Kent, during her eventful life, was Countess of Kent in her own right, Princess of Wales, Princess of Aquitaine and ultimately King’s Mother. She was a woman of royal birth and unsavoury reputation. What was it about this woman who made an impact on the court circles of the late fourteenth century that appealed to my imagination?

A Plantagenet princess, she was first cousin to King Edward III, a woman of royal status although her father’s name was tainted with treason. Joan was by tradition beautiful, raised in the royal household, but was salaciously notable for her three marriages, two of them clandestine and one certainly bigamous. Thus she has intrigued readers of history as much as she has invited condemnation. Was she ‘the most beautiful lady in the whole realm of England, and by far the most amorous’. Was she ‘beauteous, charming and discreet’? Or was she ‘given to slippery ways’?

But scandal was not the only element of fascination in Joan’s life. So was her ambition. As wife of Edward of Woodstock, later to be known as the Black Prince, she blossomed as Princess of Aquitaine where she made as many enemies as friends. As King’s Mother to the boy King Richard II she succeeded in the early years in keeping a firm grip on the power behind the throne. But her past scandals could undo all that she had achieved, threatening to destroy her secure hold on power. Would it, because of Joan’s marital history, be possible to accuse Richard of illegitimacy and so dethrone him?

How was the proud woman to be able to protect herself and her son? Always subtle and carefully manipulative, Joan exhibited a range of talents drawing into her political net the Royal Council and the powerful prince, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.

There is so much here to entice the lover of medieval historical fiction. Was Joan simply a pawn in the pattern of royal alliance-making, forced into marriage with a powerful family against her personal wishes, or did she take her future into her own hands? Was she a woman of perfect compliance, or did she have a will of iron? Was her marriage to Prince Edward one based on a childhood love affair, or were Joan’s motives far deeper in her bid for personal power?

A character of much notoriety, some charm and considerable ambition. This is Joan of Kent, The Shadow Queen.

The Shadow Queen by Anne O’Brien is published 4 May by HQ (£12.99 hardback)

Other post
The Queen’s Choice – review and extract

Kin of Cain by Matthew Harffy – an extract

kin-of-cain-by-matthe-harrfyOn 1 March, Aria published Kin of Cain, a novella in Matthew Harffey’s Bernicia series set in Anglo-Saxon Britain during the first half of the 7th century. I’m delighted to take part in the celebratory blog tour. You’ll find an extract below but first here’s a little about what this Bernicia Tale is all about.

630 Ad. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical tale set in the world of The Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell. Winter grips the land in its icy fist. Terror stalks the hills, moors and marshes of Bernicia. Livestock and men have been found ripped asunder, their bones gnawed, flesh gorged upon. People cower in their halls in fear of the monster that prowls the night. King Edwin sends his champions, Bassus, Octa and band of trusted thegns, to hunt down the beast and to rid his people of this evil. Bassus leads the warriors into the chill wastes of the northern winter, and they soon question whether they are the hunters or the prey. Death follows them as they head deeper into the ice-rimed marshes, and there is ever only one ending for the mission: a welter of blood that will sow the seeds of a tale that will echo down through the ages.

Reviews
The Serpent Sword
Blood and Blade

Extract

The scream silenced the mead hall like a slap to the face of a noisy child.

A chill ran through the throng. The brittle laughter died on lips that quickly twisted from smiles to scowls. The warm hubbub of moments before was shattered as easily as the thin skin of ice that formed on the puddles in the courtyard outside.

One of the hounds looked up from where it gnawed a bone by the hearth fire and whimpered.

Ælfhere, the scop, lowered his lyre, the last, interrupted notes, jangling in the air.

Octa set aside the mead horn he had been drinking from. His senses were dulled by the drink, but not enough that the small hairs on the back of his neck did not prickle with the sound of anguish that came from outside the hall. He turned to his friend, Bassus, who sat on his left. The huge warrior’s brow furrowed. Bassus met his gaze and opened his mouth, but before he could speak, another scream rent the chill night that smothered the great hall.

There were words in that scream.

“The night-walker! The sceadugenga brings death!”

Night-walker. Shadow-goer.

Octa felt bony fingers of terror scratch down his spine. He shuddered, hoping none of the other king’s warriors would notice. He had not long before joined the king’s gesithas and some of the men were wary of him, he knew.

They had feasted; eating, drinking and boasting. Trying to ignore the one who haunted the dark winter paths. They had prayed, some to the old gods, others to the king’s new Christ god, in the hope that the night devil would prove to be nothing more than a wild animal. A man could hunt an animal. Arrows would pierce a wolf or a bear’s flesh. But deep down they had all been expecting more screams in the night. More death stalking the shadows. Few of those in the hall had seen the remains of the people who had been slain by the beast, but the tales of the corpses, ripped and raw, bones smashed, limbs removed, had reached them all. This was not the work of any animal. This was something else.

Something evil.

At the head of the hall, the imposing figure of the king surged to his feet. Edwin, King of Deira and Bernicia, pointed to the end of the hall where the door wardens stood.

“Open the doors,” he said, his tone commanding.

The shorter of the two warriors who guarded the door hesitated. There was a murmur in the great hall. There were many present who did not wish to see the stout wooden doors opened to the night. For who knew what horrors dwelt there in the darkness?

“Lord?”

“You heard my words clearly,” Edwin said. “Open the doors.”

Another scream, closer now.

“I am king of the folk of these lands. I will not leave them outside in the dark while we feast in the fire-glow and warmth of my hall. Now, open the doors.”

“Wait, lord king,” Bassus’ rumbling voice stilled the door ward’s hand before he had lifted the bar. Edwin looked to his champion, arching an eyebrow at the interruption.

“You are right, of course,” said Bassus, “but let us arm ourselves first. We know nothing of what awaits us beyond the walls of Gefrin’s hall.”

Edwin nodded. The door wards quickly distributed the weapons that had been left in their care. A hall crammed with drunken warriors carrying swords and seaxes was not wise, hence the precaution, but now protection of the king and the hall was more important.

Octa retrieved his seax. The weapon had been a gift from his uncle Selwyn and the smooth antler handle was comforting. For an instant his mind was filled with memories of his home in Cantware. Edita and Rheda. His mother. Beobrand. Would he ever see them again? As usual when he thought of them, he felt a pang of regret, a twist of guilt at having abandoned them. But Bernicia was his home now. Edwin his king, and the men around him, his sword-brothers.

He readied himself with the rest of the men near the doors of the great hall of Gefrin. Women and children huddled at the far end of the room, with the priests and the queen.

The reek of fear-sweat filled the air as another wail came from just outside.

“Open the doors!” roared Edwin.

The door wardens lifted the bar and swung the doors open.

Cold night air cut into the hall’s muggy warmth like an icicle plunged into pliant flesh.

For a moment, nobody breathed. The hall was silent, all eyes staring into the utter blackness of the night.

Then, stepping out of the dark and into the frame of the doorway, came a vision from nightmare. Blood-slick and steaming, staggered a figure into the hall. The men stepped back, without thinking, wishing to be distanced from this ghoul. The women gasped. The dark-robed priest, Paulinus, raised the amulet he wore at his neck and recited words of magic in the secret tongue of the Christ followers.

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For other stops on the tour, please take a look at the poster below.

kin-of-cain-blog-tour

Viper’s Blood by David Gilman – An extract for the Blog Tour

Viper's BloodLast month, Head of Zeus published Viper’s Blood, the fourth novel in David Gilman’s fine Master of War chronicle of the Hundred Years War. I’m delighted to be part of the Blog Tour to celebrate the publication and you’ll find below an extract from the novel in which Sir Thomas Blackstone and his loyal bowmen and swordsmen carry war into the streets of a besieged French town in the 1360s.

You can read my review of Viper’s Blood here.

Extract

Hundreds of fireflies shimmered from the dark alleys. Burning torches. And what had been silence a few heartbeats before was now overtaken by a rising roar of men’s voices as from the streets and alleys men and women advanced in a surging line, torches held high. Fear and anger mingled in their throats. They carried pitchforks and scythes, falchions and iron bars. Women held kitchen knives ready to stab, their voices an eerie pitch that could raise the dead. Anger and fear drove them against the English invaders. And the French troops who pushed their swords into their backs. The garrison were using them as shields against the Englishmen.

Blackstone saw the threat. They would be overwhelmed. A greater fear needed to be inflicted. He raised his sword arm towards Longdon and his archers on the walls. ‘Kill them!’

Without hesitation Will Longdon’s archers turned their bows towards the snarling faces in the shimmering torchlight and as Blackstone raced for the steps screams echoed against the walls. The bowmen were slaughtering the townspeople, but, shields held high against the arrows, the French soldiers came on, trampling their bodies underfoot. To French eyes, this was to be an easy victory. Fewer than fifty men appeared to have breached the walls. They looked to be routiers and they were now trapped in the confines of the square. Crossbowmen sheltered behind the advancing soldiers and four of Longdon’s archers died on the walls.

Blackstone reached the windlass. He jammed in the turning pole. Normally it took two men to turn the drum but, letting Wolf Sword dangle from its blood knot, he grasped the handle and heaved his weight against it. The chain bit and the great door creaked. Meulon was suddenly at his side and lent his weight. The door was barely halfway up. ‘Enough!’ Blackstone said and Meulon jammed the holding rod into position.

They turned for the square. A hay cart blazed; shadows loomed high on the walls. They hurled themselves into the fray. Renfred, Perinne and John Jacob were shoulder to shoulder holding ground; Killbere was to one side and it looked as though he had been separated by a mixed group of troops and townsmen. The townsmen’s fury and terror made a heady mix as the torches illuminated a scene from the underworld. Dogs howled and barked; some driven mad by the smell of blood panicked, snapping and snarling at both attackers and defenders. Both sides slew them. Will Longdon ordered some of his men to keep shooting at the surging crowd as Jack Halfpenny and Thurgood ran further along the wall with three other bowmen and loosed arrows into the Frenchmen’s flanks.

Blackstone glanced over his shoulder. Where was Chandos? He turned around and saw the flames illuminating the throng of men and women who were still surging forward. Their weight of numbers might push Blackstone’s few men back through the very gate they had raised. Killbere had cut down four of the attackers but he was overwhelmed and fell beneath repeated blows. Blackstone turned again, Meulon at his shoulder.

‘John! Perinne!’ Blackstone yelled. They saw him move towards Killbere and within a few strides joined him. Thirty paces away Gaillard and his men had raised a shield wall and that had slowed the French advance; his men were thrusting beneath the wall into those who pressed against them, making no distinction between those they struck, turning the square into a charnel house more terrifying than any priest’s threat of purgatory. Women writhed, screaming from their wounds; soldiers fell to their knees, hands grasping at entrails spilling from pierced bellies.

‘Get him back,’ Blackstone shouted to the men-at-arms who had manoeuvred themselves to join him. Two men grabbed Killbere and dragged him into an abandoned building. ‘Stay with him!’

Several men were now at Blackstone’s shoulder and with a skill borne from years of efficient killing they moved forward in a wedge like a broadhead arrow, forcing the French back yard by yard in a grunting, sweating trial of arms that few could match. Blackstone reached Gaillard, saw the arrows still cutting into the French. Panic was claiming the enemy.

As John Chandos and his men stormed through the half-raised gate the looming shadows of Blackstone’s men methodically killing anyone who challenged them almost made the veteran knight falter. He had never seen so many being slaughtered by so few.

And then he brought his men to bear and the surge forced the French to turn and run.

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If you want to read more, you can find Viper’s Blood here or in all good bookshops.

For other stops on the Blog Tour, please take a look at the poster below.

Viper's Blood blog tour