Today I am featuring a book by an up and coming author I’ve only recently stumbled across, Stuart Rudge.
His new book, Blood Feud, is the sequel to The Rise of a Champion in the series entitled The Legend of the Cid. The series is set in eleventh century Spain which is out of the usual mainstream English History focus and in itself makes the book interesting to me – though I have to confess that it is not a period that I know much about!
Here’s what the book blurb says:
Castile. 1067 AD.
The clouds of war gather over Hispania, and Antonio Perez continues on his path to knighthood, under the watchful eye of his lord, Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar. A peculiar invitation sees Antonio and Arias in the den of their nemesis, Azarola, where they discover the truth of his marriage to Beatriz, Arias’s sister, and the years of suffering he has inflicted upon her. Arias vows to deliver Beatriz from the clutches of Azarola and restore his family’s honour – even if it means betraying Rodrigo, defying his king and threatening the future of his country.
Fresh from his victory over Navarre and Aragon, King Sancho of Castile sends his revered champion Rodrigo to Saraqusta, to treat with amir al-Muqtadir. His mission is to secure an increase to the parias tribute from the Moors and hasten preparations for a war with Leon. But an unknown evil stirs in the shadows of the city which, if allowed to fester, not only threatens Saraqusta itself, but the entire political harmony of Northern Hispania. It is up to Rodrigo and Antonio to root out the conspiracy before it is too late.
Blood Feud is the stunning second instalment of Legend of the Cid.
I’m certainly looking forward to dipping into this series, but since I’ve not yet had a chance to do so, here- with Stuart’s permission – is an extract from the book so that you can get a flavour of Stuart’s style.
I did not see much of Rodrigo in the days after the battle for he was with Sancho at the negotiations. He eventually summoned me, and the heat of the autumnal sun faded as I entered the cool interior of his tent. Its furnishings were basic with only a bed, a chest that sat at its base and a table and two chairs in the centre. An armour rack in the corner held his mail and helm, and propped against it was his fine sword scabbard; the tool within was absent. A large parchment covered the table, held down by miniature wooden castles, and in one corner was a wooden jug, goblets and a platter with a few scraps of bread and roasted lamb. He held his tongue as I entered, and did not look up as he sipped from one of the goblets and studied a parchment in his hand. My lord Arias stood beside him, goblet in hand, and nodded as I entered.
‘How is the arm, lord?’
‘It will not stop me from fighting and, above all else, drinking.’ Arias threw a grin my way as he took a sip from his goblet and drew his sword. ‘You have not sharpened this enough. It needs to be sharp enough for me to shave with, otherwise it is useless. You can do that tonight, and after that you can repaint my shield. Have you fixed the gash in my boot yet?’
‘No lord. I will get to it right away.’
Arias gave a grunt and nodded as Rodrigo looked up at me.
‘How many have died?’
‘Six, lord. Another nine were injured and may not fight, or even work again.’
Rodrigo took a deep breath but said nothing, placed the parchment on the table and scratched at his trimmed raven beard. The war had taken its toll on the people of Vivar and he must have wondered where we would find replacements for those men to work the fields and maintain his holdings.
‘Vivar will mourn them,’ he said solemnly. ‘You have done well.’
‘In what respect, lord?’
‘Doing as you are told. Arias tells me you have excelled in every aspect of your training and duties, and you fought well when called upon. It has been a hard-fought war. A lot of men did not make it back, but we did. Castile has been hit hard. Now is the time to rebuild, replenish and exploit the new land at our disposal.’
Rodrigo motioned to the table. There was a large map in the centre, which showed a rough representation of the Christian kingdoms of Hispania. The vellum was old and worn, but I could see scratch marks and fresh ink lines between Castile and Navarre where the border had been redrawn.
‘The Navarrese have ceded all territory west and south of the Ebro, including all of the Rioja. But they have also ceded parts of Alava, everything west of the Nervion. Our kingdom has grown in power and prestige. We could not subdue the men of Navarre once and for all, but it will stop them from making excursions in to our territory for a while.’
After the rout at Viana the summer before, the Navarrese had penetrated deep in to Castilian territory and devastated the district of Bureba, a day or two’s ride north and east from Burgos itself. Only a few strongholds held out as winter approached, and Rodrigo personally led a force of knights to relieve the lord of Briviesca, who was forced to hole up in his castle along with as many villagers and livestock that could be brought in from the fields. We descended upon the enemy one cold dawn. Within an hour the ground was soaked with Navarrese blood and only a handful made it back to Navarre, allowed the villagers to return to the ruins of their homes and rebuild their lives as the snows began to fall.
‘We are all due to profit from this war, some more than others.’
‘I look forward to polishing my lord’s treasure when we return to Vivar,’ I said with a wry smile, turning my gaze to Arias.
‘Careful I do not receive any weapons in my share of the loot,’ he frowned, ‘or I might just test the sharpness of the edge on your neck.’
‘You will not be returning to Vivar,’ Rodrigo said, ‘at least, not for too long.’ The comment made both I and Arias frown at the young alferez.
‘What do you mean?’ Arias probed.
‘You fought valiantly during this war, and your efforts have not gone unnoticed. You are no castellan, Arias. You should be a lord in your own right. Sancho has decided you are going home.’
Arias was rendered dumbstruck. He stared at Rodrigo wide eyed and with his mouth agape.
‘Frias is yours once more.’
The castle of Frias protected a crossing of the Ebro on the north eastern border with Navarre, and had been Arias’s castle which he had inherited from his father, but King Fernando had stripped Arias of his land and title after he had harboured men loyal to Rodrigo’s father, Diego Flaínez. Fernando had Diego and several members of the Flaínez clan executed after false allegations of an attempted coup were presented by Azarola, the same man responsible for my own father’s death. Arias had served as Rodrigo’s castellan and mentor in Vivar ever since, but now his loyalty had borne fruition with just reward.
It was the first time I had witnessed Arias genuinely speechless. Rodrigo held his gaze and kept a firm expression, but I could tell he was amused by Arias’s reaction. The loss of Frias had dented his pride and now the chance to become the lord once more, take back his ancestral home, had overwhelmed him.
‘Lord, I am so grateful…’
‘Lord?’ Rodrigo scoffed. ‘In all these years as my castellan you have never called me lord, at least not with conviction. Do not turn in to a sopping mess, old man.’ He grinned and Arias barked in laughter as they embraced and slapped each other on the back.
‘You have my thanks a thousand times over.’
‘Sancho wanted to give it to Garcia Ordóñez, but I was not in any hurry to help his cause. The bastard has Pancorbo back in his grasp, as well as a swath of new land in La Rioja.’
‘Garcia does not deserve half of what he gets. If he ever loses Pancorbo again I will personally reconquer it and keep it for myself, or give it to someone worthy. Antonio, do you want to be the lord of Garcia’s domain?’
‘I am afraid I am not worthy of it yet, lord. Only you can decide that.’ I said with a dry smile. ‘Give me Dueñas instead.’
Arias grimaced and nodded. ‘One day, lad. One day.’
‘Antonio,’ Rodrigo called to me. ‘I have something for you.’
The alferez crossed to a chest at the base of his bed and pulled out an object. It was a sword scabbard, covered in black leather, decorated in gleaming silver and studded with small emeralds. A man who possessed such a valuable object would usually be a lord or highly decorated war hero, honoured for their brave service.
‘It belonged to Jimeno Garces and now it is mine, yet I have no use of it for mine is of much better craftsmanship.’ He held it out towards me. ‘You may have it.’
‘I cannot accept that,’ I said, wide eyed.
‘You refuse my gift? It is an exquisite item. Every man needs a good scabbard to keep his sword sharp and clean, ready for the next kill.’
‘It’s not that, lord. I would be honoured to carry such a trinket. But I am just a squire, and do not deserve it. I killed only two men in the war, whilst there are many who served with more valour and bravery. Give it to someone who deserves, lord.’
Rodrigo pursed his lips as he pondered my words, and gave a slight smile. Honour was something Rodrigo valued above all other traits in a man, and he would have appreciated my noble gesture, which was worth more than any precious decoration.
‘Well if Antonio is not going to have it, then I will,’ Arias said, then took the scabbard from Rodrigo’s grasp and turned it over in his hands. His gaze flashed to Rodrigo. ‘With your permission of course, lord?’ he grinned.
Rodrigo sniggered. ‘You can keep it safe for Antonio, until he comes of age. Go and check on the squires, see who did not make it. We will look to recruit some new boys when we return to Vivar.’
‘Lord,’ Arias gave a nod before he exited the tent.
Rodrigo turned to me. ‘Come, let us take a walk.’
Outside the air was warm as the breeze caressed my skin, and the sky deepened to a mellow violet like blood to a fresh bruise. Though the dead had been collected the faint scent of death lingered and dried blood stained the ground. Carrion birds circled above and searched for any remaining scraps. Men sat as fresh meat sizzled on spits over smouldering fires, sent forth mouth-watering aromas as wine and cider was passed round. There was no raucous laughter and celebration; most chatted quietly as a flute whistled a solemn ode to the dead. It was a time for reflection, to give thanks to God for surviving the war and having the opportunity to return to loved ones.
‘How is your training coming along? Has Arias broken you yet?’
‘No lord, but I am better with a blade now to when we first met.’
‘And you look taller and stronger. This is your eighteenth summer?’
‘Still too young for a knighthood, but you will get there one day.’
‘You were not too young.’
Rodrigo gave a grin. ‘Sancho thought I was exceptional for my age, and who am I to argue? This is my twenty fourth year and I am alferez of Castile. Not many men can say that.’
‘I still have a few years left to accomplish that feat,’ I smirked.
‘I do not doubt that. You are strong, quick and smart, and I have noticed some of the other squires look to you for guidance.’
‘I do what I can, lord. Some of them need encouragement, including your own squire, if you do not mind me saying.’ I motioned ahead at a young man sat on a stool with a long sword laid on his lap. He turned a whetstone over and over in his hands as if searching for something, confused at its purpose. He was enthusiastic enough, but nervous and clumsy.
‘Leave off Felix,’ Rodrigo retorted. ‘He is a good boy and is still learning.’ He spoke too soon and grimaced as Felix finally ran the whetstone along the edge of the blade, but the whetstone slipped from his grasp and instead his fingers ran along the blade. Felix yelped and sprang up. The colour drained from his face as blood trickled from his wound.
‘I guess he still has a lot to learn,’ Rodrigo muttered, before he turned to me. ‘Arias is lucky to have a squire like you, and you are lucky to have a lord such as him. Do not forget that when you go to Frias.’
Rodrigo hurried over to help his squire. I found it hard to believe such an incompetent fool like Felix had found himself in such an enviable position. He was the son of Lope Dominguez, one of Sancho’s household knights, but there were rumours Lope had paid a small fortune for Felix to become the student to the new alferez of Castile. It was the only way a boy like Felix, with his crop of shaggy, blonde hair, slender frame and nervous demeanour could tread the path to emulate his father. Whether it was true or not did not matter, for Rodrigo was the second most powerful man in the kingdom and had an imbecile for a squire.
I sighed as I resumed my duties with the arrival of dusk.
The next day we packed up the camp and returned to Castile.
If so, you can buy Blood Feud here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08DRBSQLP
So what about the writer?
Well, Stuart 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.
By day, he works down the local dock, playing with shipping containers and trains. Rise of a Champion was the first piece of work he has dared to share with the world. He hopes to establish himself as a household name in the mould of Bernard Cornwell, Giles Kristian, Ben Kane and Matthew Harffy, amongst a host of his favourite writers.
You can find Stuart on social media:
I think Stuart may well be a writer that we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the coming years.