K.M. Weiland writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in the sandhills of western Nebraska. She is the author of A Man Called Outlaw and the recently released Behold the Dawn. She blogs at “Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Author” and “AuthorCulture.”
About the book: Marcus Annan, a tourneyer famed for his prowess on the battlefield, thought he could keep the secrets of his past buried forever. But when a mysterious crippled monk demands Annan help him find justice for the transgressions of sixteen years ago, Annan is forced to leave the tourneys and join the Third Crusade.
Wounded in battle and hunted by enemies on every side, he rescues an English noblewoman from an infidel prison camp and flees to Constantinople. But, try as he might, he cannot elude the past. Amidst the pain and grief of a war he doesn’t even believe in, he is forced at last to face long-hidden secrets and sins and to bare his soul to the mercy of a God he thought he had abandoned years ago.
The sins of a bishop.
The vengeance of a monk.
The secrets of a knight.
Here is an Excerpt from Behold the Dawn.
All of Annan’s dreams were battles.
The clash of iron against iron; the stampede of hooves pounding sod and rock alike; the wordless roar of men pitted one against another. Sometimes he dreamt of St. Dunstan’s Abbey, sometimes he dreamt of the tourneys. And now he dreamt of the Crusade.
He jerked awake and knew immediately that he had been shot. His heart beat with a ferocity that left him winded, a lingering effect of the phantom battles in his head. He lay still for a moment, slowing his breathing the better to hear and casting from his mind the broken images of his dream.
He waited, listening to the moans and rasped mutterings of the other wounded in the tent and to the wind rattling across taut canvas. It was dark, save for distant firelight gleaming from the other side of the tent wall. Had he been rescued, after all?
Carefully, quietly, he thrust an elbow against the ground and levered himself up. The movement woke dormant pains all through his chest; the back of his head throbbed with a heaviness born in part of his long unconsciousness.
He sucked air past his teeth and waited until all the little pains resolved into a single great one, concentrated high in his left breast, just beneath the collarbone. Gingerly, he exhaled. He remembered now—everything up to the point when he had fallen from his horse. How long ago had that been? How many hours, days, weeks had passed since then? And where was he now?
Outside, voices murmured meaningless words. Foreign words, he realized. Turkish words.
His heart turned cold. He was a prisoner.
The voices stopped, then grew nearer, accompanied by the sound of footfalls. Ignoring the ache of his bones, he swiveled on his hip and fumbled onto his knees. His hand reached instinctively for his weapons, but both his sword and the dagger he wore at his back were gone, as were his mail and helm. He wore a loose white tunic, the sleeves rolled above his elbows, and, beneath that, a swathe of cotton across his injured shoulder.
The voices ceased as half a dozen shadows stopped before the tent flap. The canvas was thrust aside, and a scarred Moslem entered with a torch. Two Knights Hospitalers followed, supporting a semiconscious Christian.
Annan quelled the coiled intensity in his body. The Moslem merely glanced at him, gestured to a pallet at the other end of the tent, and muttered something in his own language. The Hospitalers lowered their burden to the indicated ground and set about straightening the man’s fevered limbs.
Casting the light of his torch across the unconscious and semiconscious denizens of the hospital tent, the Moslem grunted and handed the torch to one of the Hospitalers. For the first time, the light fell on a dark-haired woman. She stood just inside the entrance, one hand lowering the tent flap behind her, the other clutching a bundle to her chest.
Her large eyes—the color of freshly turned soil—shifted to meet Annan’s, and she started toward him, lithe and straight, like a reed in the wind. Her bearing spoke of nobility, but she bore it with a composure that was charming, even alluring. The hair hanging in confusion to her waist was thick and straight and not quite black.
She stopped before him, and a smile touched her mouth. “Master Knight.”
The smile deepened slightly, and she knelt beside him. Her free hand pressed against his uninjured shoulder. “Are you not aware that you are yet an invalid? Lie down, please.”
He yielded, ignoring the grumbling pains in his chest.
She helped him straighten himself, then leaned over him to lift the dressing from his wound. Her hair fell past her shoulder and brushed against his bare arm. “I’m glad you’ve woken. The Hospitalers thought you might not.” She glanced at him, then back to the dressing. “The wound is healing well. If you were wondering.”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Mairead. I am the Countess of Keaton.”
“Keaton?” He breathed deeply, fighting back an overwhelming weariness of brain and bone. His eyes drifted from her face and focused on the shadows in the canvas above his head. “You were the woman with the Earl of Keaton. His… wife?”
“Aye.” Her voice snagged on the word, and he shifted his gaze back to meet hers.
“Where—” He could feel the catch in his own voice even before he heard it. “He is here?”
“Aye. He was wounded.” She replaced the dressing and tugged the collar of his tunic to cover it. She didn’t look at him. “Do you know him?”
He lifted an unsteady right hand to rub his chin. “I did. A long time ago.”
Her hands came to rest in her lap, clasping themselves with an utter calmness that bespoke inner pain all too well. “What is your name, Sir?”
“Marcus Annan.” He exhaled, and an unrealized shudder filled the breath. Here, before him, was the woman Father Roderic had been willing to pay him to kidnap. They were all within his grasp—this woman, Lord William, even the Baptist. He had not accepted the commission, but did not the mere fact that his reputation had given men cause to think he would, make it fitting that he lay here now, in their presence, an arrow hole in his body?
Her face gave no sign that she recognized his name. “You fought in the siege of Acre?”
“I can tell from your voice that you are Scottish. But you wore no cross on your surcoat?”
“I’m not a Crusader.”
“Then why come to the Holy Land?”
“To visit the shrines of the saints?”
The look in her eyes was one of further questions, but he gave no further explanation. She was young, perhaps a score and five years, and there was still much of the girl in her. The contours of her face were narrower than they would have been as a child, the lines harder. But he could still see the girl she must once have been—in the soft formation of her words, in the way she held her lower lip between her teeth, in the striking contrast between pale skin and dark unruly hair. “How did an English countess come to be in this sty?”
“I came with my lord.” Her hair fell across her cheek, shielding her.
Annan stared at her. There was more than this to her story, including no doubt the bounty in Turkish gold placed upon her head by Father Roderic. The Baptist had been more right about Lord William’s danger than he knew.
She stirred and turned her head to find her bundle, still without lifting her eyes. “I should go. Lord William is waiting—”
“What’s the status of the prisoners?”
She hesitated. “There are rumors that we are to be released. The Christians have taken Acre. They took it the day you were brought here. King Richard’s terms call for 200,000 pieces of gold, the return of our True Cross, and an exchange of prisoners.”
“I know not. Soon though, I think.”
She began to rise, and he reached out to grasp her wrist. She looked down at him, and her lips parted in surprise.
Lifting himself onto his good elbow, he looked her in the eye. “Lady, I wish to see the Earl of Keaton.”
“That’s impossible. He is wounded, he is dying. He can see no one.” She started to pull away, but he held fast, his eyes boring into hers.
“I must see him before he dies. Tell him—” He filled his lungs with the stench of sweat and filth and rotting flesh. “Tell him that someone who saw St. Dunstan’s fall wishes to see him.”
She stared at him, and her dark eyes grew wider yet. It was clear she knew at least part of the story behind the name. Did she know it was knowledge of the Abbey that had driven the earl to this place?
“You know Matthias?” Trembling, she drew away, her eyes still on his face. “Aye. I will tell him.”
And then she left, tearing her gaze from his face and slipping from the tent in silence.