I’m very excited to be on the blog tour for The White Cross by Richard Masefield today to have a great a extract to share with you.
The White Cross is available now in ebook and paperback, purchase your copy of the book here.
Before I share my extract with you here is a little bit about the book.
Set in the late twelfth century at the time of King Richard I’s crusade to win back Jerusalem from the Saracens, The White Cross deals with timeless issues – with the moralities of warfare and fundamental religion, the abuse of power, the heights of martial fervour and the depths of disillusionment The writing pulses with life, capturing the sights and sounds, the very smells of medieval life. At the novel’s heart is the relationship between Garon and Elise – the story of an arranged marriage which rapidly develops into something deeper, to challenge a young husband’s strongly held beliefs and set him on a long and painful journey to self-realisation, to break and finally restore a woman’s spirit as she battles for recognition and for justice in a brutal man’s world. And then there is the Berge dal becce; a character who is surely more than he appears? The only way to uncover all the secrets of The White Cross is to read it!
Fontevraud, Anjou: July 1189
Six startled nuns, their Abbess and the Primate of all England cast up their eyes to cross themselves as the obscenity rings through the Abbey Church.
‘God’s eyes and limbs!’ Duke Richard adds profanely, as stooping to enter the low crypt he clamps his mouth to breathe as little as he can of its polluted air.
Tall candles cast giant shadows across the walls and ceiling of the chamber; five candles to represent the wounds of Christ, with between them on a pinewood
trestle his father’s naked corpse. Henry, the second king of England of that name, has always seemed the kind of man who never would grow old and die. But having
done so anyway is not a pretty sight. From its breastbone to its genitals the old king’s body has been opened like an oyster. Where a proud paunch once rose, a stinking cavity now gapes; and from the buckets on the floor containing his internal organs the stench of putrefaction rises.
For a long moment Duke Richard stares down on his father’s ruin. Henry gutted on a slab, he thinks disgustedly, then turns on the three men whose task he’s interrupted. ‘Cover it,’ he barks at the lay brothers who’ve been charged to purify the royal remains for burial. ‘Cover it and then get
out!’ And fumbling with the foetid buckets, hurrying to drape the corpse in the plain cloak it’s worn for its last journey down from Chinon, the embalmers tread on
each other’s heels to scramble up the narrow stairs.
To leave the live king with the dead one.
‘Stinking vultures! Cringing, shitting little jackals!’ Duke Richard saves the main force of his anger for the old man waiting for him in the abbey nave; a thin, round-
shouldered figure in the black and white pied robe of a Cistercian abbot. ‘God’s teeth, those creatures stink of Henrys entrails!’ The Duke’s metalled boots ring on the flags as he strides forward. ‘They claim the Body Royal is indestructible, yet stink to heaven of his guts!’
‘The bodies of all men from the lowest peasant to the greatest emperor are subject to corruption of the flesh, my son; death comes to all of us in time.’ Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury turns back his cowl to show the kindly, undernourished face of a committed Christian, its tonsured cranium already freckled with the spots of age.
‘I’m sure the Abbess would have spared you this, if you’d but thought to…’
‘I tried to fold his arms onto his chest, what’s left of it,’ the Duke interrupts him. ‘But they were set. Dear God, I
had to break them, man; and when I looked into his face, his eyeballs moved! I tell you that my father’s eyes moved in his skull and black blood trickled from his nose!’
‘You broke his joints?’ A second shock. But Baldwin
hurries on to tell the Duke that, distressing as they are, such things have no significance. ‘No, none at all.’ He pats the
royal sleeve placatingly. ‘Involuntary emissions are by no means unusual I believe in the embalming process.’
‘My father cursed me on his deathbed. You heard him, Baldwin; the old fox blames me for his fall.’ The Duke spits violently and with a hand that trembles, wipes the spittle
from his tawny beard. ‘By Christ, if I know aught of Henry he’s cursing me from the road down to hell!’ Which maybe isn’t so far from the mark, the old archbishop thinks, remembering how desperately the
son and father fought each other for control of Aquitaine; how Richard leagued with France and his own brother, John, to wrestle from King Henry an empire
great as Charlemagne’s – to leave the poor man in the end with only England and six foot of soil at Fontevraud in which to lay his bones. No, when it comes to treachery there isn’t anyone more dangerous to kings than their own relatives, Baldwin tells himself; and how could anyone, and least
of all the man before him, forget King Henry’s frightful deathbed malediction:
‘I curse the day that I was born! I curse my devil’s brood of sons! I call on Heaven to curse Richard’s soul! May God and all His saints deny it its eternal rest until I
am avenged!’ ‘My son, it is from recognition of our sins and our imperfect nature that we achieve enlightenment,’
Baldwin says aloud with a deliberately disarming smile. Which rather brings us to the point, he dares to think; a princely penitent, a priest and a religious house – the three conspire. Now is the time and place for Richard to repent his sins, recant his shocking oaths on God’s anatomies, and kneel before me in a state of true
About The Author:
Richard Masefield comes from a family of writers – John Masefield was his cousin – and with a love of animals and the outdoors he decided at a young age that he would farm and write, if necessary both at once. It took years of hard work before Richard could realise his dream, and in fact his first published novel was written while milking a herd of Friesian cows. He still lives on his farm in Sussex with his wife Lee and together they spend as much time as possible with their large family of children and grandchildren.