Tag Archives: historical fiction

Book Review: Sword of Clontarf by Charles A. Brady

Sword of Clontarf : Charles Brady : 9780976638681

Whew! After that streak of Star Wars reviews, some of you might have been worried that I had no other books to talk about. Fear not, hardy readers! There are a couple of different novels which I have up my sleave, one of which we will discuss today. Since we are only a few weeks from December (where did the year go?!?!), however, I will have time for just one more book review this year. That slot is going to another Dean Koontz book, as promised to Mr. Bookstooge. All others will have to wait until January of 2019.

There will be more Star Wars reviews next year, though, so stay tuned for them! I have had to postpone one of my promised Spotlight! articles – the one I described as rollingly entertaining here – until January, too. This is on account not only with the focus of the upcoming Spotlight! post, but of the last article discussing Wedge Antilles. Still, he had to do a lot of rolling in his X-Wing, so maybe we can count him as the promised Spotlight! discussion. Next year’s first two Spotlight! foci will be different, however. Trust me. 😉

All right, with that out of the way, let us turn to today’s subject. This would be Sword of Clontarf, by Charles A. Brady. Sword is a children’s book, obviously, centered on a fictional character who shows us a piece of history. Originally published in 1960, the reprint I have came out in 2006, so you can buy a good copy of this story new if you desire, readers.

The book begins with Niall (pronounced like “Neil”) Arneson being shaken awake by his Irish, Christian mother. Taken to Iceland after being captured by Vikings during a raid on Ireland, Etain the Fair is known throughout Eaglewaterheath, Iceland, as the Dumb Woman. No one means disrespect to her with this title – especially since she is the second wife of the steading’s master, Arne Helgison. Etain is known as the Dumb Woman because she can’t speak.

Only, now she suddenly is speaking to Niall. And she is speaking in Irish!

Finally on his feet, Niall learns from his mother and his uncle, Hjalti, that his father has been murdered. Clearly, this is bad, but on it’s own it is not enough to warrant such an urgent wake up call. Nor is it cause for Niall to flee his home all of a sudden. By rights, Niall should be out with his three older half brothers hunting his father’s murderers.

Image result for sword of clontarf by charles a. brady

But you see, that is where the crunch comes. Niall is a Christian. His older half brothers are pagan, just like his father. Arne allowed Etain to keep her faith and have Niall baptized, but he retained his pagan views. His first three sons followed his example, but they have never liked Etain or their kid half brother. With Arne gone they are likely to seize the chance to murder Niall themselves before chasing down Arne’s killers.

Etain, naturally, does not want that for her son. While Hjalti would be happy to offer Niall protection and care, being fonder of him than of his other nephews, the idea of having to kill his brother’s other sons to defend the youngest does not appeal to him anymore than it does to Etain. Thus the two have come at this early hour to prepare Niall either to flee or to fight. It is his choice.

Seeing the reason behind their arguments (eventually), Niall accepts their plan and dresses quickly. As he is preparing to leave, his mother drops another bombshell on him. Through her, he is related to the former high king of Ireland, who now serves as the current High King’s chief advisor and friend.

Who is the High King – the present Ard Rhi – of Ireland in this year of 1000? The answer to your question is Brian Boru.

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Brian Boru

Unlike King Arthur, Brian Boru is confirmed to have lived. Around the year 1000, Brian united all the clans of Ireland under one banner, becoming the High King of the island. Traditionally, the position of Ard Rhi didn’t mean what we would think today. The head of every clan in Ireland had a king; becoming Ard Rhi or High King wasn’t like becoming King of England or King of France. It was a somewhat temporary position and it didn’t have a lot of power attached to it.

Biran Boru changed that. For ten years he ruled a united Ireland, keeping the peace and making it the safest it had ever been. There is a legend that, during Brian’s reign, a well dressed young lady with a solid gold ring walked the length of Ireland (35 miles) completely unmolested. That is the type of peace Brian brought to the country.

In the year 1014 the pagan Norsemen – known better to modern audiences simply as “Vikings” – tried to invade Ireland. They raided the country pretty regularly prior to Brian’s reign; I believe he might have become Ard Rhi mainly to drive them from the Emerald Isle’s shores, though it is possible that I am remembering my history incorrectly. Either way, in 1014, on Good Friday, the Norsemen tried again to take Ireland at the Battle of Clontarf.

It was a pitched battle, and if the Norsemen had won, Western civilization might never have risen as quickly or as well from Rome’s ashes. As it is, the Irish turned the assault aside when the tide went out, taking the Norsemen’s boats with it. Some might say this was coincidence, or good planning on the part of the Irish. It was neither; it was Providence, pure and plain and true.

The Battle of Clontarf was a great engagement, and the Irish distinguished themselves well there. But the fight had a cost, too. During the battle Brian Boru was slain in his tent, where he was praying for victory. His death ended Ireland’s unity, though not her civilization, nor her contributions to the West. But it was a sad loss nonetheless.

Before all of this happens in the novel, however, Niall receives something precious and deadly from his mother. Etain didn’t feign dumbness when she was captured by the Norsemen. Not on purpose, anyway. The reason she did not speak when the Norsemen captured her was because she had something in her mouth. It was a talisman they valued highly called Thor’s Ring.

Now the Thor you encounter in this novel isn’t the jovial, knightly, Christianized hero of Marvel Comics’ fame. (Yes, I said ‘Christianized,’ readers. What is more, I meant it; let the new Marvel hierarchy gnash their teeth about it if they like, but the truth is that Stan Lee Christianized the old Norse myths. That includes Thor Odinson.) The Thor in this novel is like the original Norse interpretation: fierce, bloodthirsty, and dangerous. And the Norsemen worship him and his fellow Asgardians accordingly.

Whether one believes such a talisman ever existed or that it had some kind of power does not matter. What matters is that the Norsemen believed it had power. As long as the Irish held the Ring and two other talismen of import in the novel, they could force a truce on the Norsemen. But if the heathen Northmen ever got their hands on the three talismen, it would mean all out, open war between the two factions again.

In order to protect the Ring and her people, Etain hid it in her mouth during the raid. She couldn’t speak without giving away her secret and, when the Norsemen came to the conclusion that she had been born dumb, she kept up the charade out of fear for her life. This fear extended to her husband, whom she came to love deeply. Eventually she felt guilty for keeping him in the dark about her ability to speak. She kept trying to work up the nerve to tell him the truth, but put it off every time. Now, of course, it is too late to set the record straight for him.

Anyway, that is the set up for the first chapter. After saying his good-byes, Niall sets out from Eaglewaterheath with an Irish thrall his mother and uncle have freed. After a series of adventures, he reaches Ireland and joins his mother’s kin…..

….And that is the last of the spoilers you are getting, readers! If you want to know what befalls Niall in Sword of Clontarf, pick the novel up today. A good read that is full of history, it is well worth the purchase price. Enjoy it, readers!

‘Til next time!

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Book Review: Fear in the Forest by Cateau De Leeuw

Leeuw | Etsy

Okay, readers, I have good news! This is the last book I will review before delivering on my promised descriptions for Mr. Bookstooge and the girls over at The Elven Padawan. It’s been a long time coming, but better late than never, as they say.

Next week there will be a review of a Dean Koontz novel, followed by at least one, maybe two Star Wars analyses, with attendant warnings for younger readers. I’m thinking of making that a standby for some posts; there might be people who drop by here looking for books their children will like, after all. Most of the novels I review here are kid-friendly – and if they aren’t, there’s generally some kind of statement mentioning that up front. Still, for some stories, it might be better to have a more detailed parental/astute young reader alert.

This change is still under consideration, so it may or may not happen across the board. It will, however, be a definite part of my Star Wars reviews going forward. If you are looking for information on original Expanded Universe fare from the old SW timeline, my future articles describing those books will now come with this bold flag: Warnings for Younger Readers. If anyone has a question about possible objectionable content in the Star Wars novels previously reviewed here at Thoughts, just drop me a line in the comments. I’ll fill you in on the details (or lack thereof) that you should look out for when perusing those stories.

As you may have guessed, though, the book we are looking at today does not need a Warning tag because it is designed specifically for children. Fear in the Forest, by Cateau De Leeuw, takes place in the U.S. sometime after the War for Independence, as far as I can tell. It’s not explicitly stated in the narrative, but this blogger is sure that the story takes place after America won her independence.

Daniel, the hero of the piece, is an orphan who has spent the last three years on the Worder farm. His father was killed a couple of years prior by Indians, who scalped him and burned the farm. Since that time Daniel has been earning his keep with the Worders, who took him in after this disaster.

However, this does not mean that our hero is a desired member of the family. The Worders took him in out of a sense of duty; there were no other families close enough to Daniel and his father’s home who could care for him. They already have seven children and are expecting an eighth, so things are getting a little crowded at the Worder residence. They haven’t made Daniel feel welcome and tend to treat him more harshly than their own children, although they don’t abuse him.

Fear in the Forest - Kindle edition by Cateau de Leeuw ...

Part of the reason for their animosity toward Daniel may be due to the fact that, ever since his father’s death, he has been terrified of Indians. He’s afraid to go out into the woods alone and rushes back to the farm not long after he’s been told to go into the forest for some reason. One of the Worder boys – Abel – loves rubbing Daniel’s nose in his own fear, which doesn’t help the boy’s confidence at all.

Things are about to change, though. While working the land with the rest of the family at the beginning of the book, Daniel sees a man riding toward the house. Recognizing him as a white visitor from the north, a general shout goes up around the farm. The family converges on the visitor, eager to learn the latest news about the world outside. Except for Daniel, that is; he gets sent out to find and shoot some meat for the dinner meal, despite the fact that the family knows full well how much the forest scares him.

Still, Daniel knows better than to disobey an order. He takes the family gun, heads out into the trees cautiously, and manages to shoot a turkey for dinner. Once that’s done, though, he wastes no time getting back to the farm. There, he learns that the visitor is named Mr. Reese and that the man came to the Ohio country looking for land. Finding none that suited him, he’s headed back East.

The conversation then turns to Major General “Mad Anthony” Wayne, who is building roads through the Ohio country in order to move his troops through the forests so he can fight the Indians more effectively. Building the roads also makes it easier for those interested in moving into the Ohio country to do so, encouraging more settlements in the future.

For some reason, in the middle of this conversation, Mr. Reese asks Daniel if he’s ever heard of the packhorse brigades that take supplies from Fort Washington to Fort Greeneville. After the boy stammers that he has, Reese suggests that Daniel might like to join one of these supply trains. Flabbergasted, Daniel is thrilled and terrified. Thrilled because it’s an offer of adventure, but terrified because Indians continue to threaten the supply brigades as much as they do the settlers.

Mr. Reese doesn’t demand Daniel agree to go at once. He suggests the boy sleep on the matter so he can give him an answer the following morning. Daniel, however, is too confused and scared to sleep. Finally determining that the decision is too much for him, he gets up to tell Mr. Reese this –

Only to hear Mr. Worder tell the visitor that he and the family wouldn’t mind a bit if Daniel left, since the couple has enough trouble taking care of their own children and the farm. Naturally upset, Daniel goes back to bed, but not to sleep. Deciding that it’s best he doesn’t stay where he isn’t wanted, he chooses to leave with Mr. Reese the next morning….

And that’s all I have to tell you, readers! No more spoilers here! I will say, though, that Fear in the Forest was a surprisingly good book. It’s not the first historical novel this blogger has read, but it was more entertaining than it appeared to be, based on the description inside the cover. While the novel follows the general pattern of a boy going out into the world and overcoming his fears as he becomes a man, Cateau De Leeuw tells the story in an intriguing way. That makes Fear stand out from its contemporaries and many modern historical books.

But don’t take my word for it. Pick up Fear in the Forest at your earliest convenience, readers, and learn how good a book it is yourselves. It is worth its purchase price. ‘Til next time!

Fear in the Forest: Cateau De Leeuw, Leonard Vosburgh ...

Role Models and Heroines – Madeleine de Vercheres

Much is made today of the need for strong female role models for young girls. The academics and critics have succeeded in convincing the public at large that there are not enough heroic women to inspire the next generation of girls. They naturally ignore the mothers of these girls, insisting that there must be other, greater paradigms of feminine glory at every turn which they can aspire to become. When these people turn to history for models for modern girls, they tend to mythologize the heroines of the past. They claim these women “broke with the customs” of their times in order to blaze their own trail in a “man’s world.”

In this way they are the victims of their own desire to eradicate knowledge of true history. They have forgotten that it was not strange in the American West for women to own, use, and know guns as well as men did. Women served in the American War for Independence as well, such as the famous “Molly Pitcher” – Mary Hays McCauley – and Deborah Sampson. One frontier heroine of the Americas, however, was perhaps more daring than even these bold women, in part for the fact that she performed her heroics at a much younger age.

Born on March 3, 1678, Marie Madeleine Jarret de Verchéres grew up in a military seigneury along the St. Lawrence River. A military seigneury was a plot of land granted to officers in the army, as it was known at the time, the army of New France. The French soldiers were persuaded to settle on the land as habitants while the officers, called “seignurs,” remained in command of the fort or stockade.

The stockade Madeleine called home was the property of her father, the Sieur François Jarret de Verchéres. Within the Verchéres fort were the manor house, where Madeleine’s family lived, the blacksmith’s shop, the blockhouse, and the cabins of the habitants. The habitants, men and women, worked in the fields, both for their own food and on behalf of the Verchéres family.

Madeleine was the second oldest child in the family, followed by twelve year old Louis and ten year old Alexandre. The youngest of the six children were a boy, Jean, and two girls, Angélique and Cathèrine. François, the oldest of the Verchéres children, had died at the battle of La Prairie in 1691 as part of a campaign against the belligerent Iroquois Nation. He was greatly missed by the whole family, though they admired his courageous example.

The Iroquois were a confederation of northeastern Native American tribes. The head tribe was that of the Mohawks, from which we get both the name and the distinctive hairstyle. Unlike the Hurons and the Algonquin, the Iroquois were not on good terms with the French. Allied with the British, the Iroquois had adopted their biases and hatreds for the Catholic French settlers. On top of this, the Iroquois were enemies of the Hurons and the Algonquin, Indian tribes which had united with the French. Any friends of those tribes were enemies of the Iroquois.

This animosity led to many battles between the French and the Iroquois. But by 1692, matters seemed to be improving. Governor de Frontenac had returned to New France. To protect his people from Iroquois attacks, he had patrols sent out and fought battles against the hostile Indians. Having dealt with near-famine the year before due to increased Iroquois activity, the French settlers in the St. Lawrence area were pleased with the coming harvest. Reports said that the Iroquois were far away and would not trouble their region.

In October of 1692, Madame de Verchéres had to attend to business in Montreal. With the Sieur de Verchéres away already, in her absence one of the children would have to command the fort as it belonged to the Verchéres family and they must maintain their authority over it. Because she was the oldest of the remaining children, Madeleine was the only choice for this position. This would be unremarkable in the annals of history except for one small detail: Madeleine was fourteen years of age.

While Louis and Alexandre were to be left with Madeleine, the three youngest children would accompany Madame de Verchéres on her journey. The older children saw their mother and younger siblings off before they returned to manage the seignury. For the next two days, all was quiet. But on the morning of October 22, 1692, while overlooking the seignury from the St. Lawrence River, Madeleine and the family’s old manservant spied a number of Iroquois creeping up on the fort. The two ran back and gained the safety of the stockade in time, closing the gates behind them immediately afterward.

Most of the male settlers were not so fortunate. The habitants working in the fields had been left woefully unprotected by the sergeant in command of the fort’s militia. Feeling secure in the lack of Indian activity over the past months, the sergeant had taken six of his men out on a hunting trip. As a result only two soldiers remained in the fields to guard the habitants, while two more were left to guard the stockade. This meant that the men in the fields were easy targets, and many were killed or captured by the Iroquois that morning.

Inside the fort, Madeleine sent Alexandre to one of the bastions – a watchtower on the stockade wall – to monitor the situation and allow any habitants who ran back entry into the fort. Then she, Louis, and the elderly manservant filled a gap that had developed in the palisades. All the while they wondered why the small cannon, kept in the stockade to be used to warn the neighboring seigneuries of an attack, had not yet been fired.

Madeleine learned the reason for the cannon’s silence when she went to the blockhouse to load the muskets she and the others would need for the defense of the fort. The two militiamen on guard in the stockade had retreated to the blockhouse when the attack began. Madeleine found one of the two with a lit match. In his terror, he planned to blow the fort up rather than face torture and death at the hands of the Iroquois, a plan his compatriot agreed was best.

Flabbergasted at their weakness, Madeleine rebuked the soldiers swiftly and fiercely. Sending them to the bastions, she set about her own work. When her brothers and the manservant joined her, Madeleine told them to order the habitant women and children to retreat to the blockhouse, where they would be safest. Meanwhile she, her brothers, the manservant, and the two militiamen would guard the fort.

It was not long after this that, looking out through one of the loopholes in the fort’s walls, Madeleine saw an Indian dragging a boy across the ground. She fired her musket, but was promptly knocked backward by the weapon’s recoil. Experienced with a pistol, she had never used the much larger gun before.

This is one of many details in Madeleine’s story which puts the lie to the academics’ and critics’ claims that women were not expected to fight. Indeed, fighting was considered a man’s profession, and rightly so. But on the frontier, with the threat of attack ever a possibility, the men knew that their women must be able to protect themselves if anything should happen to remove them from the scene. Madeleine’s familiarity with loading muskets and her ability to shoot demonstrates that her family’s status, wealth, and position in New France’s society did not prevent them from teaching her the critical art of self-defense.

Because of the swiftness of the attack, Madeleine did not have time to change out of her simple dress and moccasins. The only thing she had time to do was snatch an old military hat from a peg in the blockhouse after loading the muskets and jam it on top of her neatly tied-up hair.

Many modern filmmakers would be shocked by this. They would be so tied down to the contemporary belief that women were held back by the customs of the times, and therefore expected to be simpering damsels who stayed at their sewing or baking rather than learning how to use a gun or withstand a siege. Were certain directors and scriptwriters to make a film about Madeleine, they would probably show her chafing under her younger brothers, who would be put in command of the fort in her place despite their younger ages simply because they were boys and she a girl.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth. All three children had withstood an Indian attack some two years earlier. During that attack, their father had also been absent. Their mother, however, had commanded the militia and the people in the fort until the siege was lifted. Madeleine had experienced the terror of an Iroquois siege before, and had had a perfect role model for how to withstand one in the future. She was no simpering damsel, nor was she a firebrand who learned to use a pistol in secret while smiling forcedly over her sewing. She was a lady born and bred on the frontier, trained to defend herself and those under her care by her parents.

A battle-tested frontier girl, Madeleine knew that survival in New France depended as much on wits as it did on weapons. She therefore understood that, if the Iroquois decided to directly attack the fort they would easily overwhelm her small band of defenders. So she ordered her group to make it sound and appear as though they had a full garrison of grown men protecting them. Wary of the noise as the guards called “All is well!” and the shots fired intermittently from the loopholes, the Iroquois held off on a direct attack, falling for the ruse.

If this were the extent of her courage, it would be enough, but Madeleine did more. The same day that the siege began, she and the guards watched from the bastions as neighbors of the Verchéres rowed down the St. Lawrence River and into sight of their fort. These were the Sieur Pierre Fontaine, his wife, and three of their children. They had heard the cannon shot Madeleine had ordered, but were unable to row to a better defended fort because of the distance. Pierre Fontaine brought his wife and three children to the Verchéres seignury because it was closer.

At the risk of her own life, Madeleine walked down to the riverfront to collect the family, her only defense a pistol. Boldly she escorted Fontaine and his family back to her fort, despite the threat of Indian attack. The militiamen had been too afraid to do the deed, balking at her order to rescue the Fontaines. And so Madeleine walked out to rescue the family herself.

Madeleine did not sleep during the first two days of the siege. Since the militiamen had proved to be such cowards, she kept them in the blockhouse with Fontaine as their commander at night, unwilling to trust them as sentries in the dark. Thus it was that she stood guard on the bastions with her brothers and an elderly manservant through the nights, rotating shifts with Fontaine and the militiamen during the days. On the sixth night of the siege, a habitant youth managed to escape from the Iroquois camp and return to the fort. He told Madeleine that the Iroquois, tired of waiting for the French to show themselves, planned a large scale attack on the seignury the next morning. With nothing left to do but prepare to fight for their lives, Madeleine and her small garrison prayed and committed themselves to God, knowing they could never withstand such an attack without help.

The attack never came. Another prisoner who had escaped from the Indians managed to secure help from Montreal. The next day, after a week-long siege, Madeleine and her command were overjoyed to receive French reinforcements. When they learned a French force was coming down the river to aid the fort, the Iroquois had quietly and quickly left the seignury. Neither Madeleine nor the others had heard them go.

Madeleine de Verchéres fades from history after this almost superhuman event. It seems that the Verchéres seignury was never seriously threatened by the Iroquois again. For her heroism in directing the defense of the fort, Madeleine was awarded a life pension by the French crown when she became an adult. At the request of a later governor of New France, she related the story of how she had withstood the Iroquois. She married, but the union apparently remained childless. The only following incident we know of in her life before her death is the story that she saved her husband, Pierre Thomas Tarieu de la Pérade, when he was assaulted by an Indian in 1722.

There are no great memorials dedicated to her memory, no films paying tribute to her bravery. Only in a small park in Verchères, Quebec, is there any physical reminder of Madeleine de Verchéres. It is a bronze statue of a young girl wearing a dress, a set of boots, and an officer’s hat. She is holding a musket, which is pointed at the ground.

Madeleine de Verchéres is not held aloft by the academics or critics as the ideal of a courageous woman, but she should be. Much can be learned from this daring young heroine of the New World frontier. It is a sad shame that, when role models for girls are demanded so vociferously, one magnificent heroine remains lost to the general public. It remains to be seen if anyone will ever champion her memory in the future. Let us hope that someone does succeed in raising her back to the public consciousness. She is a heroine who should not be forgotten.

Book Review: The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly

Image result for The Trumpeter of Krakow by Eric P. Kelly

In the Church of Our Lady Mary in Krakow, Poland, there is a special tradition. Every hour of every day, on the hour, one of the firemen of Krakow goes to the tower in the church and plays a special hymn on the trumpet. This hymn is called the Heynal, the Hymn to Our Lady. You can hear it in this video here:

If you listen carefully, you will notice that the hymn ends abruptly. It actually ends on a broken note. Why?

In thirteenth century Poland, the Tartars were invading. They were almost at the gates of the city of Krakow when they heard a song. It was a boy in the brick cathedral of the Church of Our Lady Mary, which at that time was outside the walls of the city. All the other buildings around the church had been burned by the invading Tartars. Only the church remained standing.

The boy was blowing the Heynal on his trumpet, as he had sworn to do in times of emergency. He knew doing this would get the Tartars attention and let them spot him. But it was his duty to play the Heynal on the hour, and the time had come for him to play. So he played.

And a Tartar took aim and fired at him, killing him with the arrow. This left the broken note of the Heynal, as the boy died before he could finish the tune. All who play the hymn today end the tune on the broken note, in memory of the boy who died fulfilling his duty to country, God, and church. Even during the years when the Communists had control of Poland, the Heynal would be played from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary.

In the twentieth century, a student and teacher named Eric P. Kelly heard the Heynal being played from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary in Krakow. The melody enchanted him almost as much as Poland did. And it inspired him to write The Trumpeter of Krakow.

In later centuries, after the Tartars were driven out of Poland, the Heynal was played not only on the hour, but to alert the city to the danger of fire. The watchman who would play the Heynal on the hour during the day or night (they rotated shifts, of course), would ring the bell and play the hymn to warn the city of invasion and other such dangers. But for the most part, during the fifteenth century, it was to warn against fires.

Krakow had a lot of wooden buildings at the time. One little set of sparks in the right place at the right time and – whoosh! There goes a third of the city up in smoke.

Pan (Mr.) Andrew Charnetski, his wife, and his son Joseph are headed into Krakow one day in July of 1461. Joseph is sitting on the back of the cart with the last possession of his family besides the cart itself, the horses, and the clothes on their backs – a pumpkin. The Charnetskis lived in the Ukraine until their house and property were burned to the ground by raiders.

Now they are headed to Krakow, on a market day. The road to the city is full of farmers headed to market with their goods, as well as with those coming to buy those goods. The Charnetskis are the only refugees of any import in this story.

As Joseph sits on the back of the cart, watching the world go by, he suddenly sees a man riding toward them. Getting his father’s attention, Joseph dives at once to catch hold of the animal’s reins when the stranger commands him to mind the horse. Young though he is – Joseph is fifteen – the youth senses something amiss with the stranger. There is something dangerous, something evil, in his expression.

The man introduces himself to Pan Andrew and talks to him rapidly in a low voice. Whatever he says, Pan Andrew does not like it. In fact, though no one can tell from his expression, the stranger’s words frighten him. He tells the man to be off, but the stranger is stubborn. He then asks how much Pan Andrew will take for the pumpkin.

Pan Andrew tells him it is not for sale, despite the fact that the man offers him far more than any pumpkin ought to be worth. When Pan Andrew continues to refuse to sell the pumpkin, the stranger draws his sword –

But Pan Andrew is better. He knocks the man off of the cart and to the ground. Thinking quickly, Joseph turns the man’s horse and slaps its rump, sending it running. He jumps aboard the cart and his father takes off, leaving the stranger cursing and shouting in the mud beside the road.

The family makes it to the city safely. On their way in Joseph hears the Heynal as it is played from the tower of the Church of Our Lady Mary. Pan Andrew promises to tell him the story of the broken hymn later on. What poor Pan Andrew does not yet know is that all is not well in Krakow. Pan Andrew goes to see his relatives but finds his cousin has been killed in a feud between the tradesmen and the nobles. This leaves the Charnetskis with no place to stay, no money and, worst of all, no protection.

If you want to know what else happens in the story, readers, you shall have to chase down a copy of The Trumpeter of Krakow yourselves. I have whet your appetite, I hope, for this charming story. Someone I know read and went into raptures over the book a long time ago. I waited a long time to read the novel, unfortunately. Perhaps, if I had read it earlier, I would have enjoyed it more than I did.

Poland is left in the dust these days. For twenty years it did not even exist; it was divided between Germany, Russia, and Austria. By far Austria treated the Poles better than the Germans or the Russians. Poland has suffered much throughout her long history.

However, as the Japanese say, “Fall seven times, stand up eight!” Poland has suffered, but she has always stood back up at some point. It is time she was recognized for this strength. This post and, perhaps, others will help to put her back in the world consciousness, where she belongs.

God go with you, readers!

Book Review: The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas

Image result for the robe by lloyd c. douglas

A few years ago, I was in a very bad emotional rut. It was horrible, and not much I did lightened the mood very often. Sooner rather than later, I was in the pits again. It was not a nice time.

It was in the middle of this awful time that I read The Robe, by Lloyd C. Douglas. The book was uplifting for me and helped me right my attitude. I skim read the entire novel in an evening; I reread it more thoroughly several times over the following days. It was, I think, something of a lifesaver for me at the time.

The Robe takes place in Ancient Rome, during the waning days of the reign of Emperor Tiberius. Hidden away on the island of Capri, Tiberius has slowly gone insane and paranoid. This is due in no small part to his harpy of a wife, Julia, the ambitious and evil Empress. Tiberius never loved her but was forced to marry her for political reasons. His debauched state on Capri is the result.

Meanwhile, in Rome, his stepson, Gaius, is holding a party with the Tribunes. One of these Tribunes, Marcellus Lucan Gallio, ends up insulting the prince after the other passes out from too much drink. In retribution, Gaius has Marcellus sent to Minoa to take command of the Legion there, in order to punish him for the insult.

Minoa is in Palestine, and it is a mess. Marcellus soon has it all cleaned up and squared away, but not long after this, the Legion is called on to keep order during a Jewish celebration. It’s the Passover – and not just any Passover. It is the Passover where Jesus eats the Last Supper with His disciples.

Marcellus ends up not only present for the trial, but ordered to carry out the crucifixion. Because the spectacle is so unpleasant, Marcellus’ second-in-command gets him stone drunk in order to help him get through it. This is something Marcellus’ faithful Greek servant, Demetrius, is unaware of – although he knows the Tribune would never get drunk on an occasion such as this on his own.

This is bad enough, but it gets worse. That night, at the banquet thrown in the Insula by Pontius Pilate, the soldiers begin mocking the deceased Jesus. In an effort to put down the ruckus, a more sober Marcellus puts on the Robe, which he won in a dice game at the foot of the cross.

Instead of fixing the mess, the decision makes everything worse. Marcellus is left in a sick, depressed state by the act. Only Demetrius’ watchful care ensures he does not kill himself. Trying to help him, Demetrius takes him back to Rome and his family. That, however, does not help matters. No one recognizes Marcellus and he barely talks to his family. So Demetrius changes tactics and takes Marcellus to Athens, watching him carefully to make sure he does not try to drown himself or some such thing.

Image result for the robe by lloyd c. douglas

All the while, Demetrius carries the Robe that Jesus wore to the cross with him, finding there is some inexplicable power in or attached to it. In order to repair the rents in the garment, he locates a Jewish tailor in Athens and keeps him in mind as he tries to cheer up Marcellus. When his efforts do not work, he resorts to bringing out the Robe.

Marcellus’ reaction to the very sight of the Robe is to threaten to sell Demetrius at the earliest opportunity. Because he is holding the Robe, Demetrius does not take offense at Marcellus’ harsh words. Whatever power clings to the Robe has a calming effect on him, which helps him to see that Marcellus does not really mean what he says. He is just so distressed and unhappy that he is lashing out at the bearer of the Robe: Demetrius. With his last attempt a failure, Demetrius puts the Robe back and goes out to find some kind of solace in the city.

Meanwhile, Marcellus decides he must end this ignominious existence. It is putting too much strain on him, his family, and poor Demetrius. He decides to commit suicide.

However, Demetrius took precautions against this idea, stealing both the daggers that Marcellus owned, the first and only items that he ever stole from his master since he was given to him. Marcellus goes to get one of the daggers out of his loyal slave’s pack – and finds the Robe set atop the bag.

Deciding he will “have it out with this Thing!”, Marcellus snatches a handful of the Robe…

And immediately, his mind is healed. He is no longer a sick, wasted, unhappy man. How it happened he cannot tell, but he somehow senses that he has been forgiven.

The Robe is a VERY good story, and I would definitely recommend it for Easter reading. It is good for the mind and the soul, as I can say from experience. The Robe helped me at a low point in my life, and for that reason I have a special respect for the book.

Here’s hoping it can do the same for you, readers, at some point. Though I hope you are not in Marcellus’ situation – or mine – I think that The Robe is one of those books you are better off having, at least as a just-in-case. And besides, it is a good story. If you cannot fill your home library with good stories, then do not bother building a home library!

Image result for the robe by lloyd c. douglas

Book Review: The Gentle Infidel by Lawrence Schoonover

The Gentle Infidel is a historical novel set in the 1400s, the fifteenth century. It starts out with a Jew named Joseph visiting his friend Nicolo da Montelupo, a Christian Venetian merchant living in Scutari. Just across the strait from Constantinople, Nicolo lives in the territory of the Turkish Empire because its taxes are lower than the Greek taxes. But, because he is a Christian, he cannot have a brightly colored house, as the other inhabitants of Scutari do. His mansion must be painted gray, like all Christian houses in the Ottoman Empire.

Joseph has come to Nicolo looking for unset jewels to present to the emperor’s vizier. Nicolo shows him his collection of jewels – all splendid specimens. When Joseph agrees to pay 100,000 ducats for the gems, Nicolo suggests a diamond would not do for the centerpiece stone. He then calls in his son Michael, asking him to bring in the best and most beautiful of the collection. It is an emerald from India, said to be cursed, and Joseph agrees to pay 50,000 ducats for that one stone. All told, this venture will cost him 150,000 ducats. Ah, the price one has to pay for dealing with an Italian – even one who is a good friend!

The next day, however, Joseph cryptically warns Nicolo to take his son and sail back to Venice as soon as possible – that very day, even. But Nicolo does not heed his friend’s warning, not fast enough…

So when Michael is conscripted into the janissaries, the elite corps of the emperor’s bodyguards which is formed of the sons of Christians who are indoctrinated as Moslems, he is taken completely by surprise. Like any good father, Nicolo fights to get his son back. He even manages to get a meeting with the emperor, Murad II, himself. But, between his physical problems and the heat of the day, Nicolo’s body fails him. He dies of a stroke in the emperor’s palace in Adrianople – and Michael remains in the janissary camp.

The rest of the story focuses on Michael’s journey. Over the years he grows and becomes strong. Told by the masters of the camp that his father lied to him when he said Michael would be in the janissary camp for a few weeks on holiday, over time the younger Da Montelupo develops a contempt for his father and anyone related to him due to his perceived abandonment.

This makes him somewhat nervous when he is sent to investigate a suspected smuggler in Constantinople, one Filippo Bernardi. You see, Signore Bernardi was a friend of Michael’s father. Michael barely remembers him, but he recalls enough. And someone that close to his father might want to make him a Christian again….

But Michael takes the assignment all the same. It would be cowardice not to do so. He visits Bernardi’s home, and as he feared, both Bernardi and his daughter, Angela, recognize him. Angela and Michael were friends as children, and before he was conscripted, Michael gave her his toy dagger. Nicolo recognized the seed of romance in the gesture and, currently eyeing a Turkish courtier’s third wife, Michael does not wish this childhood idea to grow and bear fruit.

Angela, however, forgets the requisite behavior demanded of infidel women before the young janissary several times during Michael’s stay in her father’s house. This is especially true when Bernardi mentions Nicolo da Montelupo. Michael angrily cuts the old merchant off and states that his father lied to him and abandoned him, having never come to see him since he was taken into the janissaries. Horrified by the lie her friend has believed for so long, Angela breaks silence and tells him the truth: his father died a week after Michael went into the janissary corps. His last thoughts were of his son, not himself.

Michael is so taken aback by the news that he breaks his wineglass by gripping it too hard. Despite his training as a Moslem, Michael is known as a “gentle infidel.” He lets Bernardi off with a warning to stop smuggling, and then goes back to Adrianople – where he gets into trouble.

The Gentle Infidel is not a novel for children. All the same, it is an extremely informative story about the late Middle Ages in the Middle East. In it you will find romance, danger, intrigue… Also, in this modern era where much is misunderstood, this novel will enlighten readers about this important epoch in history. Lawrence Schoonover, the author of the book and another historical novel called The Burnished Blade, gave up his successful career in advertising to write both books.

Until next time, readers.

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: Song of Eagles by William W. Johnstone

Song of Eagles, by William W. Johnstone, is a Western that focuses on the fictional Falcon MacCallister. The book begins with Falcon moseying along looking for work. He is not hard up for money; he just wants to have a little job to keep him busy. His children are back East in school and he has nothing much to do at the moment (his wife is dead).

Falcon goes to visit his father’s friend, John Chisum. Chisum’s ranch is not far from the little town of Lincoln, situated in the New Mexico Territory. If you know your Old West history, readers, then you have some idea of what is coming next.

While at Chisum’s place, Falcon witnesses a youth named Billy Bonney arrive. Like Falcon, Bonney is also looking for work, but he hopes to get a job at a ranch. Chisum has no place for him, but directs the lad to his friend John Tunstall, whose spread is not far away.

At the same time, Chisum directs Falcon to nearby Fort Sumner. He does this because Falcon enjoys playing poker – a game most believe is won by luck but which MacCallister wins by his skill at reading his opponents. On entering the town, Falcon finds the local saloon and asks the owner to let him have a share in the place. The older man agrees to the bargain and, while he goes to visit some family for a few months, Falcon runs the business.

Not long after Falcon and Bonney settle in, Tunstall is murdered and the Lincoln County War erupts. Falcon maintains his friendship with Billy throughout the conflict. He is also never caught when he surreptitiously aids the persecuted cattlemen, especially John Chisum, during the “war.” Throughout the book he keeps the saloon going and aids Billy the Kid/Billy Bonney with advice and/or a place to stay every once in a while.

Song of Eagles is a great story. To start children off with a love of Western fiction, this book may not be the best. But Johnstone’s story is historically accurate and a fun read, and it has an interesting twist or two at the end. You can while away a few afternoons reading it.

Well, partners, time for me to ride off. I will see you around!

Later,

The Mithril Guardian