Breaking up my inexorable daily countdown to publication of King in Waiting, I’m delighted to welcome on to my blog again today Stuart Rudge, who has just released the fourth novel in his ‘Legend of the Cid’ series about legendary Spanish hero El Cid.
It seems only yesterday Stuart was last here on publication of Blood Feud – or indeed the first novel in the series, Rise of a Champion. Congratulations, Stuart, on the release of Master of Battle!
And to celebrate the book’s release, here are the blurb and an extract to tempt you to read more…
Master of Battle
Peace reigns in the Kingdom of Leon-Castile, and Antonio Perez returns to his native Asturias to discover the fate of his remaining family. Whilst there, he reconnects with Jimena, his childhood companion and the girl he once loved. But when his loyal friend Rodrigo and Jimena fall in love, Antonio is consumed by jealousy. As the wedding of two of his closest companions approaches, Antonio must battle his enemies and his inner demons, lest it lead to the ruin of all he holds dear.
Having secured his borders, Alfonso VI of Leon-Castile pushes south against the Moors. When a raid by the Moors threatens Castile, Rodrigo leads his men on a daring campaign of vengeance. But with the venture a credible threat to the uneasy peace Alfonso has brokered with the taifa kings, Rodrigo’s bravado could have dire consequences to himself and the security of the kingdom. With enemies old and new circling, will Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar find greatness on the battlefields of Hispania, and cement his reputation as one of the most feared warriors in the land, or will his actions lead to his ruin?
Master of Battle is the exhilarating fourth instalment of the Legend of the Cid.
Context: it is 1079AD, and the great fortress of Gormaz in Castile lies in ruin after an army of Moors has put the castle and surrounding village to the sword. In this extract, Rodrigo and Antonio learn the truth of what befell Gormaz, before Rodrigo conjures a plan to repay the transgression with bloody vengeance…
‘Horsemen coming from the east!’ called out a sentry.
We led our horses out from the gate to see a large band of men approach from the east, parallel to the river, and even in the waning light we could see it was the garrison of Gormaz. They rode without cohesion and slowed their pace as they passed through the remains of the village; some dismounted and helped in the efforts to move the dead, and a handful called out names, presumably of loved ones, whether it was in a lament or a desperate attempt to find them. We rode down to meet them, and I noted some of them were bloodied as if they had been involved in a recent fight.
‘Who commands you?’ Rodrigo called out as a handful rode to us.
‘I do,’ replied a tall, clean-shaven knight. His mail had been split at the right shoulder, and a trickle of blood sullied the metal links. ‘I am Sebastian Lopez de San Esteban de Gormaz.’
‘You best have a damned good reason why you are alive whilst this castle burns,’ growled Lifardus, and before we knew it more lords were hurling insults at the newcomers.
Rodrigo held up a hand. ‘Let him speak.’ Moments later the rowdy lords fell silent and awaited the report of Sebastian. ‘Why were you not in the castle when the Moors came?’
‘We left to hunt them,’ Sebastian replied. ‘Three days ago, our scouts reported a huge band of Moors were approaching. We saw the smoke from the south where they had already attacked. They came to the edge of the river, watched us, waiting for something. There must have been a hundred and fifty, perhaps two hundred. I knew their behaviour was highly irregular, for when the Moors raid, they take what they want then flee before we have a chance to react. But these men…were taunting us, challenging us almost. They even dismounted and took their prayers in the fields, such was their confidence! I could not allow them to wander the land so took most of my men and tried to engage them. They fled.
‘We chased them south and east for a day and a half. Each time we thought we were gaining on them their pace quickened, and when we tried to return here, they turned and threatened us, forcing us to confront them. Each time they refused to give battle. But as dusk arrived yesterday, a second band appeared, and their combined might fell upon us. I lost over a hundred men before we could fall back. We could not save the wounded. We retreated to some woods to the north, spent a fearful night there. When dawn arrived, we saw the smoke and cautiously returned, fearing the worst.’ A tear welled in his eye and his voice cracked. ‘I accept I acted rashly, and the deaths of all these men, women and children are on my hands. If you men deem it necessary to decide my fate now or send me to the king to receive my punishment, I will not protest.’
‘So why were the villagers not within the confines of the castle?’ I asked.
‘I do not know. I ordered them to safety, but I can only presume the garrison assumed the danger had passed and told them to return to their homes.’
‘How many men did you take with you? And what was the strength of the Moors?’
Sebastian swallowed. ‘Three hundred horsemen accompanied me to track down the initial band of a hundred or so. The second that attacked…easily seven hundred. We had no chance.’
‘Eight hundred Moors raiding across the land?’ Velasco exclaimed.
‘We should bring every man, woman and child in the area within the safety of the walls,’ Bermudo said. ‘If the Moors return…’
‘Why would they come back to a castle that has been stripped of everything?’ Childebrand enquired. ‘If they wanted to conquer it, they would still be here. There is nothing of worth left within its walls. They will not return. I would suggest men clear the wreckage within and rebuild what was destroyed. A fortress like this cannot stand empty for too long, lest the Moors be tempted to pillage this area once more.’
‘I will send for craftsmen to come from Ayllón,’ I put in. ‘They can help in the rebuilding of the castle.’
Two more lords from local castles followed my lead and pledged men and resources as I had. Sebastian was grateful for the assistance, but given what had happened to Gormaz on his watch I did not think he would be around much longer to oversee the rebuild. Once Alfonso discovered the truth of the events here, I feared the man would be exiled for his failure.
I noticed Rodrigo had fallen silent. He sat astride Babieca and simply gazed south, and one by one the other lords joined him in the tranquillity.
‘What are you thinking, lord?’ Lifardus asked.
Rodrigo kept his gaze fixated on the land over the Duero and drew a heavy breath before he finally spoke.
‘I am trying to determine how we can defeat eight hundred Moors with our numbers.’
The lords in attendance exchanged wide-eyed glances. Most seemed excited by Rodrigo’s proposition, and a smile curled upon Childebrand’s face and he sat up straight, giving his full attention to Rodrigo. Only Sebastian and I seemed concerned at the prospect of chasing down an enemy who outnumbered us.
‘You want to ride down the Moors?’ I asked, almost in disbelief.
‘Do you want to return to Ayllón and tell men you did nothing whilst the greatest fortress north of the Duero burned?’ Rodrigo bit back.
‘Go home if you wish,’ Childebrand frowned at me. ‘I declare my full support for any retaliation against the Moors. Are the rest of you men with this craven?’
The other lords once more exchanged unsure glances, before they nodded their consent, their voices rising in a crescendo of agreement. I alone remained unconvinced, and would not throw my support into the fray.
‘I would advise against this course of action,’ I said, disrupting the clamour.
‘Why?’ asked Childebrand.
I turned to Rodrigo. ‘You know of the situation in Tulaytula, of al-Qadir’s deposition and al-Mutawakkil holding the city in his stead?’ Rodrigo narrowed his eyes and nodded. ‘A few weeks ago, Alvar came to me and said Alfonso was marching to Tulaytula to help restore al-Qadir back to his domain. He suggested al-Mutawakkil would relinquish control of the taifa because he fears a war with Alfonso. If we were to tread this path and retaliate for the attack on Gormaz, it may be seen as a declaration of war upon Tulaytula. We may undermine everything our king is trying to achieve. The ramifications may be grave.’
Rodrigo’s stern visage flinched at the mention of Alfonso. Deep inside I knew he saw the sense in my concerns, but he would not allow himself to show it. He wanted vengeance like the rest of the men gathered on the slopes of a castle that burned.
‘Why would Alfonso care if we razed a few castles to the ground, enslaved a few Moors and stole their wealth?’ Lifardus asked.
‘Alfonso needs al-Qadir on the throne of Tulaytula,’ Rodrigo said carefully. ‘But al-Qadir is an incompetent fool and only rules in Tulaytula because he has the protection of Alfonso. Both men know this. By keeping al-Qadir on the throne, Alfonso can influence politics south of the Duero, keep the Moors at bay long enough to repopulate the land south of the Duero. Only then would we be in a position to strike further south.’
‘If we attack it may further undermine al-Qadir’s authority,’ I added. ‘Everything our king is working for could be thrown back into turmoil. That is why I urge caution.’
‘So we let them get away with what they have done?’ Sebastian cried. ‘Look at the corpses of the dead! Men, women and children, all butchered. Would you feel the same if your own family had joined them?’
‘I merely urge caution,’ I said through gritted teeth.
‘Your request for caution has been noted, Antonio,’ Rodrigo said with a hint of annoyance, ‘but it has been overruled. We will gather our men and ride south. I will lead this expedition. Does anybody object?’
None dared to challenge his authority, for Rodrigo had served as alferez of Castile to Sancho, had commanded raids like this before, and each man quietly gave thanks that a man of his ilk and ability led us into the fray. His gaze rested on my own, and after a moment of hesitation, I gave a slight nod to show my support.
‘Good. Now, where do you think the Moors came from?’ Rodrigo asked Sebastian.
‘My guess would be Medina Salim. Most of the raids come from the eastern end of the valley, though given the size of the raiding party I would wager men from Atienza and Sigüenza could have joined in the venture.’
Rodrigo turned to me. ‘Whether or not al-Qadir ordered this attack, the men across that valley made their choice. The men of Medina Salim will feel our wrath first.
‘We will source whatever food we can from the surrounding area. Each man will need rations for three days, no more. By then,’ his voice grew louder with passion, ‘we will gorge ourselves on the wares of these bastards who dared to trespass in our land, kill our people and burn our castles.’ The comment was met with jeers and cheers as Rodrigo whipped a frenzy within the soldiers gathered. ‘I promise every one of you will be rich with the trinkets and riches of al-Andalus. And once Medina Salim burns like Gormaz, the road to Tulaytula will be open for the taking; rich, ripe land untouched by raiders, ready to be harvested. Will you accompany me south and take vengeance on these heathens?’
‘Yes!’ we all roared.
‘Will you restore the pride of Leon-Castile?’
‘Then let us prepare ourselves. This will be a hard fight against a foe who will be defending his homeland, but they cannot stand against our wrath and our fury. Are you with me?’
A final roar of approval sounded
‘Relay these orders to your men, then rest and prepare yourselves. We shall discuss a sound battle plan on the morrow.’
The lords of Leon and Castile departed, buoyed by Rodrigo’s words, and gathered their men to inform them of the plan. There was a buzz, an excited chatter at the prospect of riding to war. These men were riled that the great castle of Gormaz had burned on their watch, and now they wanted blood in recompense.
About the author:
Stuart Rudge was born and raised in Middlesbrough, where he still lives. His love of history came from his father and uncle, both avid readers of history, and his love of table top war gaming and strategy video games. He studied Ancient History and Archaeology at Newcastle University, and has spent his fair share of time in muddy trenches, digging up treasure at Bamburgh Castle.
He has worked in the retail sector and volunteered in museums, before working in York Minster, which he considered the perfect office. His love of writing blossomed within the historic walls, and he knew there were stories within which had to be told. Despite a move in to the shipping and logistics sector (a far cry to what he hoped to ever do), his love of writing has only grown stronger.
Master of Battle is the fourth instalment of the Legend of the Cid series, which began with Rise of a Champion. Stuart hopes to establish himself as a household name in the mound of Bernard Cornwell, Giles Kristian, Ben Kane and Matthew Harffy, amongst a host of his favourite writers.
Many thanks for being a guest on my blog today, Stuart!
Alex Marchant is author of two books telling the story of the real King Richard III for children aged 10+, The Order of the White Boar and The King’s Man, and editor of Grant Me the Carving of My Name and Right Trusty and Well Beloved…, two anthologies of short fiction inspired by the king, sold in support of Scoliosis Association UK (SAUK).
A third book in the ‘White Boar’ sequence, King in Waiting, is currrently available for pre-order and will be published on 17 September 2021, with the fourth, Sons of York, due out in 2022. Alex has also published a standalone timeslip novel for readers aged 10+, Time out of Time.
Alex’s books can be found on Amazon at:
My Twitter handle and Matthew Wansford’s