Rowena Sudbury (rowenasudbury) wrote,
Rowena Sudbury

Historical Romances [excerpt included]

I admit it, when I wrote my first m/m romance novel I'd never read any books in the genre. I went to a bookstore once looking for m/m books, and all I ended up with was a collection of short stories called "The Best of Friction". It turned out it wasn't really what I wanted, because the stories were, for the most part, not romantic.

Instead of reading m/m fiction, I wrote my first novel as a traditional historical romance novel, only instead of a hero and a heroine there were two heroes. After I finished the first draft I did some research on homosexuality during medieval times, and found out it was not tolerated at all. Because I was trying to write a romance novel, not necessarily a completely accurate historical novel, I decide to ignore the grisly truth about homosexuals.

Another issue is that I envisioned one of the characters as a "king". I made up a kingdom for him, but I used an actual place name in England for that kingdom. I think that's where things got murky. There was actually a Lysnowydh, but it didn't have a king.

Aside from those two glaring "mistakes" the rest of the book is as accurate as I could make it. I researched customs of the time, and tried to use some accurate language. The language is not completely accurate because even I would abandon a book that had true middle English in it. The story begins roughly around 1235.

Flash forward to The King's Tale being published. Dreamspinner Press put it in the "Timeless Dreams" category as a book that minimizes or ignores historical stigma. It was a new category, and mine was among the initial offerings. I don't know if people got confused by that, I think some of them did, but immediately I realized I was....I don't know if I should say ostracized or ignored...but the rest of the historical m/m authors seemed to take issue with the fact that I didn't have my main characters in jeopardy because of their sexual orientation, and also that I had "king" Christopher, because who was he really?

Despite that, the book was well received, or at least that was my impression. It racked up a lot of nice reviews from review sites. I was elated! Then readers started in with negative comments, and back then I wasn't equipped to handle them. In the end, it must have done pretty well, all things considered, because when I was ready to release the sequel DSP decided to re-edit it and release it as a 2nd edition.

That brings us to the sequel, The King's Heart. This book has not been received with as much glowing praise as the first book. As I have mentioned before, in Amazon discussions there are all kinds of false accusations made about the book as fans of the first book attempt to dissuade people from reading the second one. The purpose of this book is to act as a bridge between the first book, and the eventual last book. At this point my interest in writing that last book has ebbed. It's a lot of work writing a historical novel, there is a lot of research that must be done. Kind of difficult sending your baby out in the world and having it ignored, or misunderstood, or lied about.

In any case, I'm including an excerpt here. In this excerpt Christopher has a one on one meeting with Henry III. Although they do not talk about any of the larger issues happening in actual history at that time, they do address two things: Christopher's homosexuality and Christopher's title of king. I believe I was misguided in thinking this would magically clear up misconceptions and make my work accepted as actual historical m/m fiction, but here it is.

An uneasy peace settled between Christopher and Dafydd through the course of the night, and when Christopher departed, the embrace they shared was warm. Dafydd watched from the battlements as Christopher's party rode forth from the keep and was heartened when just as the king reached the verge of the forest, he turned and raised his hand in a final salute.

The journey to London took ten days when conditions were favorable. Christopher pushed the men hard: they rose early each morning and sought rest just after dusk each night. Even for a king, it was not safe to travel the roads after dark.

They arrived in London just as the lamps were being lit on the tenth day of their journey and managed to make it through the main gate before it was closed. The smells of the city assaulted their country noses, and even though all were used to it, they spurred their horses forward that they might reach the relative haven of Westminster Palace. As the palace was situated along the Thames, the fetid air seemed freshened by proximity to water.

Once they arrived at the inner bailey of the palace, Christopher was separated from his men, and he watched with mild envy as they were guided off toward the barracks, most likely to spend the night in camaraderie with the men of the other lesser kings. Although Alain would be allowed to wait upon him for the duration of his stay, he knew this first night would be given to the ceremony afforded him as a trusted vassal. A bath waited, with a courtesan to assist, and if he did not wish to slake his lust, then a meal would be provided in his room. He heaved a sigh as he followed an obsequious servant through the maze of passageways. Lust was in his soul, but it would never be slaked by whoever awaited with his bath. The prospect of a solitary meal and an uneasy sleep was not a pleasing one.

The bath did much to soothe his aching muscles, yet the practiced touch of the attendant only fanned the flames of his desire, and it was with difficulty that Christopher sent her away. Yet again his mind returned to the tired track of wishing he had been successful in cajoling Dafydd to join him. The fine meal laid for him before the fire did little to dismiss the vision of Dafydd, and when he settled into bed later, he imagined that far away in Lysnowydh, Dafydd was dreaming of him.

With morning came the familiarity of routine, and Alain came to assist him with dressing in fine court garb. Many vassals had come from outlying regions, and it was not certain that Christopher would receive his audience with King Henry that day. In some respects, he wondered at the haste that was required when he was summoned to London, as many times there did not seem a pressing need for the gathering.

When he was suitably garbed, Christopher made his way back through the twisting maze of passageways until he found the stairs that led below to the main hall. Many others congregated there, breaking their fast with the bread, meats, and ale set out on long trestle tables. As he ate his bread, Christopher noted that many of those usually associated with King Henry's court were in attendance, as were the French who many complained had overrun the court when the king had married Eleanor of Provence.

Once the meal concluded, the hall was divided. Trusted vassals such as Christopher were guided into an inner chamber, where they congregated in groups until such time as King Henry was ready to give each a private audience. The lesser vassals were expected to remain in the main hall and wait until a general assembly was called.

Based on the service of his father, Christopher was well cherished by King Henry, and he was escorted into the high king's chamber early in the day for his private audience. King Henry was kindhearted by nature and ever generous. Many times his actions came before his thoughts, and he showed the perverse obstinacy of a weak man who was called on to rule when all he longed for was peace.

Christopher bowed low, then placed both his hands in King Henry's as he rose and said, "Your majesty, as always, 'tis an honor."

"Aye, Christopher," Henry said. "It does my heart good to be in the company of those I love best." One endearing characteristic of King Henry was that his left eyelid drooped, giving him a drowsy look, and thus at times making him more approachable.

"I had intended to bring Sir Dafydd along on this trip, that he might enjoy the amenities London has to offer. Alas, I was not able to rouse him from the comfort of Lysnowydh keep," Christopher said as he released his hold on King Henry's hands. "I sorely miss him when I am from home."

The smile left King Henry's face, and soft color crept across his cheeks as he cast his eyes furtively about to ensure they were still alone. "'Tis best you did not bring him, in truth."
"Your majesty?" Christopher queried.

King Henry moved to sit in one of the chairs pulled up before the small hearth in the chamber and indicated that Christopher should take the other chair. "I but gave you leave to handfast with Sir Dafydd because I love you well, Christopher, and I loved your father well before you. Yet surely you know sodomy is a sin, and as such 'twould be my charge to give you over to the Inquisition if you brought him here to Westminster."

Christopher drew his breath in sharply, and he all but snarled as he replied, "Surely you would not, your majesty."

"Aye, I would," King Henry said, and an unaccustomed coldness entered his voice. "I allow you to hold the title of king, when in truth you are naught more than a cock crowing on a dung heap. Lysnowydh, in fact all of Cornwall, is far enough removed from London that betimes I allow you all to move outside of my rule. In truth, those of you residing in Cornwall who style yourself as kings are naught more than simple vassals. In times long in our past 'twas decided that you would bear the title of king, and as I love you dearly, I allow it. But know you this: were you to have brought your shameful proclivities out in the open here, in mine own court, you and Sir Dafydd both would have been subject to Papal Inquisition, and you would not have escaped with your lives."

Most of the color drained from Christopher's face, leaving two spots of red high on his cheeks. He clenched his hands into fists as he sat in mute silence, waiting for the high king to continue.

Sensing Christopher's barely controlled rage, King Henry shifted back and dipped his head as he continued. "I have not shared with Pope Gregory that I have allowed you the dispensation to commit this sin, Christopher, and 'tis best you keep the knowledge to yourself. You have provided yourself with an heir, and thus suspicion is cast away from you. Surely even in your remote corner of my realm, what Thomas Aquinas has writ is common knowledge."

Barely keeping the anger from his voice, and with his hands still clenched into fists, Christopher ground out, "Enlighten me, your majesty."

King Henry shifted in his seat, clearly uncomfortable with the turn the conversation had taken. "All sexual acts that do not lead directly to procreation are a sin against nature." A heavy silence fell between them, filled only with the crackling of the fire. At last King Henry spoke again. "Whilst I believe all Sir Thomas and Pope Gregory have said, I make an exception in your case, Christopher. All I ask is that you do not make it more difficult for yourself, or myself, by bringing that which you must needs keep secret out into the open."
A muscle tensed in Christopher's jaw as he ground his teeth together. He dipped his head and spoke in a deadly soft voice. "In my heart, what I feel for Dafydd is not wrong. How could it be wrong? It galls that I must needs keep it secret, as though 'tis shameful that we have formed such a deep bond."

Shifting once again, King Henry reached over and laid his hand over Christopher's hands where they were clenched in his lap. "Betimes that which we do not understand is the hardest to accept, Christopher. Hear me well, though: Sir Dafydd is not welcome in my court. If the time comes that I make a progression through Cornwall, 'twill be an honor to meet the man who has so ensnared your heart, but until such time, you must needs keep your liaison clandestine."
Christopher slumped forward as the full weight of the high king's words sunk in, and his hands loosened from their fists. He turned, looked into King Henry's eyes, and saw compassion tinged with fear. Releasing the breath he was holding, he murmured, "I hear and understand, your majesty."

"'Tis well," King Henry said with the ghost of a smile. "Go now. We will meet again ere week's end in general assembly."

Christopher rose from his seat and bowed stiffly. "My thanks, your majesty, for this frank talk."

"I know 'twas not easy to hear," King Henry said, "and yet it has been said."

With one final nod, Christopher turned and exited the chamber. The vassals who waited outside pressed forward to draw him back within their midst, yet he waved them off, a scowl firmly fixed to his features.

Alain waited near the door, and Christopher bid him bring his cloak. After it was retrieved, Christopher made his intention clear to his servant. He needed time alone, yet he told Alain where he could be found if his presence was required in court.

With a heavy heart, Christopher walked forth from the castle, through the bailey, until he reached the bitter cold of the main road. Not far from Westminster was a tavern, and there he could nurse the stinging hurt that had been dealt to his heart.
Tags: excerpt, historical romances, m/m history, the kings heart
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