By Mary Ann Bernal
From the sweeping hills of Argences to the port city of Cologne overlooking the River Rhine, Etienne and Avielle find themselves drawn by the need for redemption against the backdrop of the First Crusade.
Heeding the call of His Holiness, Urban II, to free the Holy Land from the infidel, Etienne follows Duke Robert of Normandy across the treacherous miles, braving sweltering heat and snow-covered mountain passes while en route to the Byzantine Empire.
Moved by Peter of Amiens’ charismatic rhetoric in the streets of the Holy Roman Empire, Avielle joins the humble army of pilgrims. Upon arrival in Mentz, the peasant Crusaders do the unthinkable, destroying the Jewish Community. Consumed with guilt, Avielle is determined to die fighting for Christ, assuring her place in Heaven.
Etienne and Avielle cross paths in Constantinople, where they commiserate over past misdeeds. A spark becomes a flame, but when Avielle contracts leprosy, Etienne makes a promise to God, offering to take the priest cowl in exchange for ridding Avielle of her affliction.
Will Etienne be true to his word if Avielle is cleansed of the contagion, or will he risk eternal damnation to be with the woman he loves?
Mary Ann Bernal attended Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry, NY, where she received a degree in Business Administration. Her literary aspirations were ultimately realized when the first book of The Briton and the Dane novels was published in 2009. In addition to writing historical fiction, Mary Ann has also authored a collection of contemporary short stories in the Scribbler Tales series and a science fiction/fantasy novel entitled Planetary Wars Rise of an Empire. Her latest endeavor is Crusader’s Path, a story of redemption set against the backdrop of the First Crusade.
Duke Robert and his inner circle lingered at the palace gates until Alexios’ guard escorted them to the Great Hall for an evening of feasting and entertainment. Etienne stood next to his ducal lord, sharing his thoughts about how the evening should progress, especially, not becoming addled from drinking overmuch. As they walked through the rooms, they commented among themselves about such a display of wealth. The Latin Christians admired the luminous stained-glass mosaics of Christ, the Blessed Mother, and Empress Theodora. Exquisitely carved pillared chairs sat outside the numerous rooms along the corridor. Peering inside an open door, Etienne saw a large table with a decorated worktop and huge cabinets on either side.
Alexios greeted his ducal guest with great ceremony, befitting Duke Robert’s rank. Minstrels played their flutes and lyres on a small platform erected near the portico doors where a cool breeze carried the aroma of flavorsome foods. Duke Robert and the Emperor sat side-by-side with Etienne at Duke Robert’s left and the remaining knights seated along the length of the table covered by a linen cloth displaying embroidered edging. Alexios’ knights also numbered five, which Etienne found intriguing, noting the absence of the Emperor’s wife and her women.
Servants poured wine into silver cups carved with different images of warriors engaged in battle. Bowls filled with an abundance of vegetables, fruit, nuts, and boiled eggs were in the center of the table. Two platters contained a variety of roasted fish and meats. Sauces seasoned to perfection and spices added flavor, transforming a plain meal into a delectable feast.
Spoons of fine silver and bejeweled daggers complemented gold plates, the rims encrusted with emeralds. Silver fingerbowls filled with warm water had been set down near the goblets alongside a folded absorbent cloth.
Alexios shamelessly flattered his guest, which Duke Robert enjoyed immensely. The Emperor praised Duke Robert for his decision to remain in Sicily during the winter months and not continuing the journey until springtime. But the Emperor no longer trusted the Latin Christians after dealing with Peter and his Army of Peasants. The sooner Duke Robert went on his way, the less chance of his knights plundering the city and surrounding villages.
As they ate, six dancers entered the room, dressed in flowing silk garments of bright colors. The women formed a circle, facing one another. They held their hands in the air, waving them to the left and the right, turning around for the men to see their faces, turning back again, singing and dancing, twisting their bodies, their long sleeves flowing, sensuously, enticing Duke Robert and his men. Swaying to the minstrels’ tunes, the women stood behind Alexios’ honored guests. They used their veils to pull the knights away, leading them to individual bedchambers, removing their clothing with ease, fulfilling every desire until night became day.