Geoffrey Hotspur, orphan-squire and ward of the powerful John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, longs to return home to France.
Having fought in the ranks of the now disbanded papal armies in Italy, he finds himself penniless and stuck in a foreign land far from his native Avignon, with only a resentful and unscrupulous debt collector as companion. He misses the warm bosom of the Great Hall, the company of his fellow squires and the kind words of the chatelaine, Anne de Roet. Above all, though, Geoffrey fears losing his place at court, and so he must by all means and with speed make his way back to the halls of Gaunt or risk being forsaken by the only family he has known.
But when Geoffrey and his English Free Company take a job protecting pilgrims headed north, he meets a beguiling young woman, heiress of an old and distinguished crusader family of Cyprus, who fuels his fantasies about courtly love and confuses his priorities. Meanwhile, to reach the safety of Avignon, Geoffrey must traverse northern Italy, where the clouds of war are gathering…
Twelve year old Niccolo, the new marquis of Ferrara and heir to the strategic lands of the Este family, is under siege. His right to the throne is being contested by his uncle, the old Visconti captain-general Azzo d’Este, who has been cultivating allies and gathering men-at-arms since the death of the old marquis in 1393 – and he is almost ready to strike. Outnumbered and insecure because of his questionable legitimacy, Niccolo must gather an army of his own if he is to defend his birthright. However, with limited resources and vassals deserting him left and right, the young marquis must keep his wits about him if he is to negotiate the perilous waters of family politics.
When the paths of the errant squire and troubled marquis cross, their fates intertwine as each endeavors to take from the other what he needs.
Book Two of the English Free Company Series
The squire Geoffrey Hotspur reaffirmed the grip on his sword and set his eyes to search for a challenger.
A great clash of arms continued to rage on the field below, oblivious to the flank attack he had made to seize the high ground and discomfit the line of knights that was about to charge and win the battle.
But now, as he stood alone on the very crest of the heights, a number of heads turned towards him, most notably that of his lord and master, Sir John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster.
With bloodied sword still in hand and surcoat smeared with the grime of war, England’s greatest warrior looked down at the young man with expectant eyes.
Then out of the mess of men and horses a knight emerged to meet him with sword drawn and visor down.
Geoffrey immediately went to the attack.
An upward cut intended to put his foe’s sword out of place failed to connect, as the unknown knight pulled himself back at the last moment.
Undeterred by his miss, Geoffrey quickly made a half-turn into his opponent and struck crosswise to slice open his belly.
Another whiff of air.
Expecting a counterstrike, Geoffrey shifted his stance away from the knight and pulled his sword into a defensive guard.
After parrying a possible cut, thrust or cleaving blow, he could pass into yet another turn and close play to keep the man from retreating again.
But no attack came; the knight merely stood in a ready guard.
Geoffrey felt the eyes of the duke on him. He had done well by his lordship with his deed of arms, but the defeat and capture of a knight, and perhaps several others, in a duel could earn him his spurs.
He drew his sword up to his shoulder and advanced quickly, hoping that such a brash move would entice the passive knight to pass into an offensive guard, but as before the man stood steadfast, as though awaiting a proper strike.
Geoffrey furrowed his brow and gritted his teeth.
“Fight, you blackguard!” he yelled as he feinted a thrust, twisted his blade and pulled upwards at an angle, all the while closing.
The knight dodged the blow as Geoffrey expected and with great effort twisted his sword again for a crossing slash.
Geoffrey’s eyes grew big as he watched his blade pass cleanly through that of the knight’s.
He must be misjudging the distance, and so to clear his vision he blinked several times.
His sight now clear, Geoffrey snatched a glimpse of the duke; he remained stoic in his saddle, as though waiting to pass judgment.
The noise of the battle stopped. Yet more eyes fell on the squire. Geoffrey retuned to the attack, stabbing and hacking with increasing recklessness, desperate to inflict some kind of damage on the knight who continued to step away from play.
Eventually, Geoffrey found himself on the edge of the heights, far away from Gaunt and the battle, confronted by nothing more than a harmless breeze.
He turned around in time to see the Duke of Lancaster riding away. Geoffrey dropped his sword, but just before it struck earth all went black and he woke up.
Dimensions: 229 x 152mm
Page Count: 300
Dimensions: 210 x 148mm
Page Count: 300