Friday, November 13, 2009

Today's special guests: Sojourners from the Third Crusade in K.M. Weiland's "Behold the Dawn"

Every now and then a story comes along that will not let us go. Characters create such a strong persona and presence that we can't forget them. Behold the Dawn, by author K.M. Weiland, is such a story.

I freely admit that I am particularly drawn to historical novels of epic proportions. That said, Behold the Dawn is my favorite read of 2009 so far. Therefore, I'm thrilled to have had the chance to step a little further into the lives of the characters of Ms. Weiland's book and to get to know them a little better here today.

I invite you to join me in greeting the knight Annan, the Lady Mairead, and another guest who shall remain nameless as a little surprise to the others. But first, here's a synopsis of their story:

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.

Hello, and welcome, Master Knight. Thank you for your willingness to talk to readers today about your story.

You held many secrets for years and years. Once situations arose to force you to face them, did it then become easier to consider telling your story to all of us? What was that like? (or) what convinced you to bare your soul and tell your story to Ms. Weiland?

I don’t know that it will ever be easy. I’m not proud of my past. I still don’t enjoy talking about it. But it was a story that needed to be told.

During those agonizing years, what sort of things did you often think about but not say out loud?

Mostly everything. I’ve never been given to small talk. I say what needs to be said and not much more. My actions have always done more of my talking than my mouth.

Tell us more about how you met Marek. What of your past did he know when the story began?

I found Marek about to be thrown into prison for stealing bread. He was a grubby, gringing youth who had never had a guiding hand or a chance to make an honest man of himself. I’ve no doubt someone could have done a better job of that last than me, but I was the only one at hand, so I bought off his debt and took him as indentured servant. Marek knew of me only what he could see. I never talked about the past with him. But he always was a quick lad, with a sharp mind and rabid sense of curiosity, so ‘twouldn’t surprise me if he pieced together more of my story than I ever thought he could know.

You indicate many profound regrets. Is there one that stands out that you are willing to tell us here, (or should readers wait to read the story to find out what that is)?

I regret many things, although, by the grace of God, I’ve surrendered my mistakes to Him and put them behind me. They are no longer the haunting weight I can’t escape. But I suppose if I had to pick only one regret, it would be my disagreement with my elder brother. I suppose I always held anger in my heart against him because he was my father’s favorite and, as is usually the case with the eldest son, his sole heir. We continued to be at odds throughout our youth, until finally our friction culminated in a brawl. His wife, Lucinda, attempted to intervene and was struck down. Both she and the twins with whom she was pregnant were killed. If any one event can be claimed as the catalyst for the mistakes that followed, including the tragedy of St. Dunstan’s Abbey and my eventual descent into the tourney fields, it was that my sister-in-law’s death.

Tell us about Gethin - what he was like before his course was changed and he became known as the Baptist.

It’s strange how pain changes a man. Gethin was always impassioned, always on fire for righteousness and reform—and there was no place that needed both so badly as St. Dunstan’s, where I went to serve penance after my sister-in-law’s death. But before the day when the abbot, Roderic of Devonshire, had him beaten like a dog and thrown out to die in the roadside, Gethin had not yet been touched by the ravaging fire of vengeance. During my stay at the Abbey, he was the one who comforted me in my grief and my guilt. He was the one who led me to search for answers, reading the Holy Texts in the scriptorium. He was the one who introduced me to a personal God. The irony of what he became will always be a wound in my soul. He was my friend; indeed, he was the brother of my heart.

You saw Marek become a man during the Crusade. He seems to have gotten under your skin. Have you heard anything of him lately?

I owe Marek more than he knows. I picked him out of the streets to save his life, but he saved mine more than once—and in more ways than one. He and Dolly live not far over the hills from Mairead and me. Their first little one is on the way, and Marek’s fit to be tied. Much as he’s grown, I’ve sometimes my doubts about the laddie being ready to be a father.

How did you become a tourneyer? Is there anything that would ever call you back to such a life, or to battle?

Battle has always been the fire in my blood, for as long as I can recall. You have to remember that this society of ours is a society of warriors. An educated man is one who can fight and ride. The battlefield was the school of my youth, and I learned its lessons well. I thrived upon them. Indeed, violence has always been my siren. When I left St. Dunstan’s in despair, the tourneys were the obvious choice. Many second sons, void of any fortune, sought to make their living in the melee battles. I disappeared into the gaudy, gory world of the tourneys, hoping deep in my heart, I suppose, that I would find the end of my sorrows in inevitable death. But, thank God, such was not to be.

I admit, even still, the battles call to me. I miss the weight of my mail shirt upon my back, the clench of my fist around a sword, the swell of my destrier’s galloping muscles beneath me. But, nay, I’ll never go back. I have found a better life. I’ve put my violent skills to better use, opening a school to train young men to defend themselves. I live in quietude now. I live in peace.

Thank you, Sir. I congratulate you on your new path.
(Turning to Mairead)
Mairead, I'm honored that you would join us here to discuss your story. First, I have to admit that I'm not certain I'm pronouncing your name correctly. Can you help us with that?

Of course. It’s pronounced MARE-ade—with a little roll of the “r.” It’s a Gaelic name that means “pearl.”

Thank you. When readers first meet you, you are the wife of Lord William, Earl of Keaton. It was a traumatic event that brought that marriage into being. What brought you and Lord William to the Holy Land?

I met William when I visited the royal court (what little of it was left in London with the king in residence in Normandy). I knew from the beginning that he was a fine man—a man in a million. But not until my trouble did I discover how deep his honor went. I was… Let’s put it this way: I was pursued against my will by Lord Hugh, Earl of Guerrant, and compromised beyond recall. William married me both to save me from shame and to protect me from Lord Hugh’s further advances.

I know that it is a tender subject, but perhaps you can tell us how you met Lord Hugh, and how long it was that he had been pursuing you.

I think the first time I saw him was when he and a party of other lords came to hunt with my father at our home in Glen Taet. He showed me marked interest, but not until I met him again in London did his advances become intolerable.

You and Annan found yourselves in a very unexpected circumstance when you were placed in his protection. Did you, in your wildest imagination, ever think that you might desire to remain in that protection indefinitely?

No. All I wanted was to escape to the convent in Orleans. William had already prepared a place for me there, against such a tragic occurrence as his death. He wanted me to be protected, if he were no longer able to do it himself.

Tell us about your feelings when Lord William first placed you in that protection of Annan's.

William trusted Annan to protect me, and I trusted William. But all I knew of Annan at that time was that he was a condemned tourneyer, a man with the blood of countless upon his hands. He was so big and so brusque and so… lethal. For all I knew he was another Hugh de Guerrant. I wanted only to keep him at arm’s length for the entirety of our journey.

What was it about the Baptist's teachings that made you and Lord William such ardent followers of him for so long?

The Baptist was zealous; he was inflamed with a passion for reform in the Church. He saw the corruption. Indeed, he had witnessed it firsthand. And when he spoke of the need for reformation, his words burned with truth. His charisma was inescapable. William had known him long before I did, and he seemed to trust him implicitly, even when he didn’t always agree with some of his more violent ideas.

You have been able to come terms with the secrets of your past. But, are there times when they ever haunt you still? Do moments remain when you and Annan still have to bear eachother up?

Absolutely. The nightmares still come—for both of us. But the past is the past. We’ve both put it behind us. What’s done is done. It’s over now, and we want only to look forward to each new day, with thankfulness in our hearts that the Lord God has allowed us to spend them together.

What was it like telling your story to Ms. Weiland? How did you meet her? Are the two of you anything alike?

I don’t know that I really told her my story. She just discovered it. She met me first in the prison camp in Tyre—though at time she envisioned it rather more like a dank English dungeon than a ragged collection of tents. We’re not really very much alike, I don’t think. She’s more cynical than I am. More like Annan than me, really!
Thank you, Lady, for sharing your story, again, here today.

And now I'd like to bring out another guest.

(Marek enters. Annan stands and they clasp arms in greeting.)

Surprise, Annan! You didn't know that we'd invited Marek here today.

(Marek sits, smiling.)

I have a simple question for you, first, Marek. Please tell us all about Maid Dolly, starting with how you met her.

Oh, Dolly! My bonny Dolly. ‘Twas her face that kept me alive during the long, hard years of indentureship. (It’s not easy being responsible for a troll, you know. Wasn’t for me, Annan would be roaming around without a decent meal or a shod horse. He doesn’t even ken how lucky he was to find me three years ago. Who knows where he’d be without me to keep him from getting killed.) Anyway, Dolly—I met my lovely maid in Glasgow when I was yet a pup. She never exactly promised that she’d marry me. But we set that all to rights soon as I got back from that blinking Crusade.

In the course of the story, we see you grow from boy to man. Was there any specific point in which you felt that change happening in yourself?

Oh, when everyone else is running amuck all around you, losing their heads, and getting themselves deep into trouble, somebody’s got to keep his wits about him. I knew going to the Holy Land was a good idea for Annan (had to get him absolved somehow!), but I guess I didn’t expect to grow so much meself. When the day came that Annan trusted me with the only thing in this world that was precious to him—and I failed… I guess that was when I realized that I was facing the greatest challenge of my life.

How are you now? Do you have scars or are you quite recovered from your injuries?

Oh, I’m all right now, mum. My shoulder’s good as new, and it’d take more’n a bang on the head to dent me.

What do you think of Annan, now; after all you've been through together?

Don’t tell him I’m saying this—‘cuz it’d only go to head, you know—but Annan’s the best thing ever happened in me life. I was just a street urchin before. Only bread in my mouth was what I stole from the pockets of someone else. That’s how Annan found me. Some whinging old shopkeeper nabbed me and had every intention of chucking me into the dungeon. But Annan obviously realized that I’d make him a top-rate companion and bodyguard, so he snatched me up. And he changed my life. Taught me to fight, to ride, to live honorably. Aye, in spite of everything—it was Marcus Annan who taught me about honor.

(Addressing the group)

Has anyone heard from Lady Eloise recently? If so, how is she faring? Has she ever gotten used to Annan and who he is to Mairead?

(Annan leaning forward)

We stopped to see Eloise before leaving the Holy Land. Brother Warin is still with her, as well as her faithful servant Ducard. They’re slowly rebuilding the castle—as well as their lives. I think she’s reconciled to Mairead being my wife… though she made a grumbling remark or two to Mairead before we left.

The three of you are an unlikely troupe when you find yourselves together on the Mohammeden desert. In what ways did you each find yourselves adjusting?

(Mairead smiles and glances at the others)

Diverse as the three of us are, we eventually fell into an easy companionship. I think the hardest thing for me was learning to interpret Annan. I didn’t realize at first that his silence and his gruffness were just a mask for the compassionate man within. Thank the saints for Marek! He was the buffer between us until we got ourselves sorted out.

Well, you all have an amazing story, and I'm happy that you have found that peace that your were striving for. Thank you again, for being guests today on THE SECRET LIVES OF CHARACTERS.

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 Authors ( and AuthorCulture (
Join me for further review of Behold the Dawn, and an investigation into what makes an epic at WRITE REASON: