Friday, 19 September 2014
Kim Rendfeld book tour - The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar.
Enthralled with the Days of Charlemagne
By Kim Rendfeld
I blame my foray into fiction on a legend, one that followed me home from Germany and refused to leave me alone until I sat myself down in front of a computer and wrote. Never mind I knew little about the Middle Ages and had only heard of Charlemagne in middle school.
The story that so captivated me is about the origin of Rolandsbogen, now an ivy covered arch where a Rhineland castle used to stand. To avoid introducing a spoiler to anyone who has not yet read my debut, The Cross and the Dragon (2012, Fireship Press), I will say only that it is a variant on the tales about Roland and it involved lovers being separated by a lie.
I thought I would write only one novel set in early medieval Francia, but then I researched the history. Two published books and one draft manuscript later, I’m still there.
What has gotten me hooked? There are so many characters, events, and issues that I can’t fit them all into a blog post, but I’ll happily provide a sampling.
Real-Life Gutsy Women. To call medieval women chattel is oversimplifying their reality. While arranged marriages in early medieval times make it far from ideal, women were not delicate, passive creatures. They tried to influence the events around them, and a queen mother could rule as regent for a young son. Bertrada, a supporting character in my first two novels, was a full partner to her husband, King Pepin. When he died, she played an active role as queen mother to her grown sons, Kings Charles and Carloman. When Carloman died and Charles seized his lands, the widow Gerberga crossed the Alps with two very young boys to protect her sons’ rights, seeking aid from the ruthless Lombard king, Charles’s angry ex-father-in-law.
Alda, my fictional heroine of The Cross and the Dragon, fits right in with her historic counterparts.
Charlemagne’s Wars against Pagan Peoples and Other Grim Realities. The Continental Saxons in particular piqued my curiosity, especially when Charles’s biographer described the wars against them as the most prolonged, bitter, and laborious.
During his first war in Saxony in 772, Charles ordered the destruction of the Irminsul, a pillar sacred to the Saxons. Combine that with the sad fate of war captives ending up as slaves, and troubling questions arise. What would it be like to have your faith literally go up in smoke? What would be like to be free one moment and a slave the next?
Those two questions led me to write The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (August 28, 2014, Fireship Press). Its heroine, Leova, is an ordinary peasant who loses everything – her home, her husband, her faith, even her freedom, and she will go to great lengths to protect her two children, Deorlaf and Sunwynn.
The Personal and Political Were Intertwined for Royal Families. Charles was married five times. He divorced the first two wives and outlived the other three, and then he had at least four concubines, fathering five children. Decisions we today would consider mere fodder for tabloids could lead to war. At the beginning of The Cross and the Dragon, Charles is about to go to battle with his ex-father-in-law, the king of Lombardy, to save Rome. In Lady Queen Fastrada (tentative title of my work in progress), Charles’s son by his first wife tries to overthrow him. I didn’t make that up.
In the following excerpt from The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, you’ll see some of these elements at play. This scene takes place shortly after Leova and her children are sold to a Frankish merchant.
“Are you one of the bishop’s guests?” Leova asked. Ragenard’s place in the Franks’ complicated society puzzled her. He was wealthy enough to afford clothes that were not faded, frayed, or patched, yet Pinabel had not treated him as an equal.
“The bishop finds news of important families to be worth providing hospitality to a merchant,” he replied. “So I need you to listen to gossip among the servants and tell me everything you hear, no matter how trivial.”
“It would be more difficult not to listen.” Leova fiddled with a patch on her dress. “While Sunwynn and I were mending clothes yesterday, all the women could speak of was Queen Hildegard being with child.” Carrying a monster’s offspring.
“Everyone knows that.” Ragenard smiled. “But have you heard about the state of her health?”
“Her morning sickness has passed, and she is eating well.”
“Good.” Ragenard glanced over his shoulder, then leaned toward her and lowered his voice. “Did you hear anything about the queen mother?”
Leova gave him a blank look. Several Frankish words were new to her—city, bishop, monk, nun, king, queen, merchant.
“What is a queen mother?” Sunwynn asked to Leova’s relief.
“The mother of the king,” Ragenard replied, blinking. “Her name is Bertrada. She is very powerful.”
“Oh,” Leova said, remembering the name. She wrung her memory. “Some of the maids were wondering if the birth of a healthy heir will appease her. Something about King Charles seizing his dead brother’s land and divorcing a—what was the word? Sounds like lost guard.”
“Lombard,” Ragenard said. “Our king repudiated the Lombard princess his mother had convinced him to marry. I have listened to the nobles argue long into the night about the king’s actions, but I have never taken a side, and neither will you.”
“What’s a Lombard?” Sunwynn asked.
“A people who live far south, ruled by a strong, devious king.”
To read the first chapter of The Cross and the Dragon or The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar or learn more about Kim Rendfeld, visit kimrendfeld.com. You can also read her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, like her on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.
Can love triumph over war?
772 AD: Charlemagne’s battles in Saxony have left Leova with nothing but her two children, Deorlaf and Sunwynn. Her beloved husband died in combat. Her faith lies shattered in the ashes of Irminsul, the Pillar of Heaven. The relatives obligated to defend her and her family sell them into slavery instead.
In Francia, Leova is resolved to protect her son and daughter, even if it means sacrificing her own honor. Her determination only grows stronger as Sunwynn blossoms into a beautiful young woman attracting the lust of a cruel master, and Deorlaf becomes a headstrong man willing to brave starvation and demons to free his family. Yet Leova’s most difficult dilemma comes in the form of a Frankish friend, Hugh. He saves Deorlaf from a fanatical Saxon and is Sunwynn’s champion — but he is the warrior who slew Leova’s husband.
Advance Praise for The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar
“Carolingian Europe comes alive in Kim Rendfeld’s sweeping story of family and hope, set against the Saxon Wars. Her transportive and triumphant novel immerses us in an eighth century world that feels both mystical and starkly real.” - Jessica Brockmole, author of Letters from Skye
“A captivating historical filled with rich detail, compelling characters, and a well-paced plot that keeps the pages turning to its very satisfying end. A true delight for fans of historical fiction. I couldn’t put it down.” — Susan Spann, author of the Shinobi Mysteries
“The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar is refreshingly set in a less familiar medieval period – soon after Charlemagne has conquered a portion of today’s Germany and its people. The characters are refreshing also, common folk instead of the lords and ladies who are the usual inhabitants of historical novels, and how they adjust to their new condition is fascinating. Altogether, this book was absorbing from start to finish.” – Roberta Gellis, author of The Roselynde Chronicles
To read the first chapters of either novel or learn more about Kim, visit kimrendfeld.com. You’re also welcome to visit her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, like her on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.