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?
Ribbon lightning flashed across the darkened sky as Duke Robert and Etienne reached the outer castle walls. Crackling thunder shook the ground beneath them as they dismounted near the stables. The grayish clouds burst open, sending a deluge of water upon the earth. Strong winds whipped the rain, stinging the face as the men fled inside, pulling their mounts behind them. The animals neighed, standing on their hind legs, threatening to trample anyone in their way.
“All is well, hush,” Etienne said, trying to calm the horse, rubbing its face and neck with his hand.
Duke Robert managed to get his stallion into its stall and proceeded to inspect the length of the barn, comforting the animals.
“I think it best to stay here until the storm passes,” Etienne said.
Sitting on a bale of hay, Etienne leaned against the wall. Looking at the loft, he remembered a stormy night when he and Isabella took shelter on a warm summer’s day. He recalled her laughter, her wet hair sticking to her face, her eyes sparkling when he touched her cheek. Invigorated by the smell of freshly cut hay, they tumbled in the straw, satisfying their desire numerous times until the rain stopped.
You need to go home, Etienne thought.
“Has there been word of Henry?” Duke Robert said, sitting across from his favored friend. “But I have interrupted your thoughts.”
“I was just wondering how long the storm will last. As for your brother’s whereabouts, the spies have not returned. He cannot be far.”
“Have you given His Holiness’s call for an Army of God much thought? I dare say I am intrigued. My soul is in need of saving, but the peasants would revolt if I taxed them to pay for such a lengthy campaign.”
“He did say full remission of our sins,” Etienne said. “I am tempted, but my sword is yours, Your Grace.”
“Ah, that is good to hear, because, my friend, I am inclined to join the campaign. It would free me from this useless fighting. And William Rufus would probably lend me the money, or I could ask Henry. Upon our return, they would not dare to rise up against me, lest they be excommunicated.”
“If that is your wish, so be it. I would visit Argences before we leave. Isabella can rule in my absence, as she has done in the past, until we are safely home.”
Award-winning author, 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 recent work includes Crusader’s Path, a redemption story set against the backdrop of the First Crusade, and Forgiving Nero, a novel of Ancient Rome.
Since Operation Desert Storm, Mary Ann has been a passionate supporter of the United States military, having been involved with letter-writing campaigns and other support programs. She appeared on The Morning Blend television show hosted by KMTV, the CBS television affiliate in Omaha, and was interviewed by the Omaha World-Herald for her volunteer work. She has been a featured author on various reader blogs and promotional sites.
Mary Ann currently resides in Elkhorn, Nebraska.