NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Sharon Kay Penman follows up her acclaimed novel Lionheart with the vivid and heart-wrenching story of the last event-filled years in the life of Richard I of England, Coeur de Lion.
November 1192. After his bloody crusade in the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Richard and his crew are overcome by a sudden storm, its fierce winds propelling the ship onto the Sicilian shore. But this misfortune is just the beginning. Forced to make a dangerous choice, Richard finds himself in enemy territory, where he is captured—in violation of the papal decree protecting all crusaders—and handed over to the Holy Roman Emperor. Imprisoned in the notorious fortress at Trifels, from which few ever leave alive, Richard, for the first time in his life, experiences pure, visceral fear—while his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, moves heaven and earth to secure his release. Amid betrayals, intrigues, infidelities, wars, and illness, Richard’s courage and intelligence will become legend.
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Praise for A King’s Ransom
“Masterful . . . [Sharon Kay] Penman has absorbed herself so fully into the heart and mind of her protagonist that an undeniably flawed but refreshingly human Richard [the Lionheart] virtually walks off the pages.”—Booklist
“Historical fiction of the first order . . . Instead of history that reads like a novel [Sharon Kay] Penman achieves something greater: a novel that reads like history.”—Willamette Week
“A well-researched and impressively detailed narrative displaying a strong commitment to historical accuracy and richly drawn, sympathetic characters.”—Library Journal
“Once you start reading you won’t want to stop.”—British Weekly
“Massively entertaining.”—Kirkus Reviews
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Sharon Kay Penman is the author of eight previous historical novels: The Sunne in Splendour, Here Be Dragons, Falls the Shadow, The Reckoning, When Christ and His Saints Slept, Time and Chance, Devil’s Brood, and Lionheart. Additionally, she has written four medieval mysteries: The Queen’s Man, Cruel as the Grave, Dragon’s Lair, and Prince of Darkness. She lives in Mays Landing, New Jersey.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Off the Coast of Sicily
They were dangerously close to the coast of North Africa, so the ship’s master had warned his crew to keep a sharp eye out for pirates. When the sailor perched up in the rigging shouted, men instinctively dropped hands to sword hilts, for they were battle-seasoned soldiers, returning home from Outremer after a threeyear truce had been made with the Sultan of Egypt, Salah al-Din, known to the crusaders as Saladin. They crowded to the gunwales, but they saw no sails upon the horizon, only the slategrey sea and a sky mottled with winter clouds.
Finding no sign of pirates, the knights glanced toward the man standing in the prow of the ship. He would always attract more than his share of attention, for he was taller than most men, his hair and beard a striking shade of redgold. But he was in need of a barber’s shears, and the costly wool mantle draped about his shoulders was frayed around the edges, stained with sweat and sea salt. While these weeks at sea had taken their toll, his hollowed cheekbones and pallor testified to his nearfatal bout with quartan fever. He might be almost invincible in hand-to-hand combat, but he’d not been able to stave off the deadly maladies and miasmas that stalked the Holy Land. Twice he’d come close to dying from sickness in Outremer, the fate of their crusade rising and falling with his every labored breath, for all knew they had no chance of prevailing without him—even the French lords, whose loathing for Saladin paled in comparison to the intensity of the hatred they felt for the Lionheart, Richard of England.
The animosity between the kings of England and France had burned hotter than any Saracen flame. Unable to match Richard’s battlefield brilliance or utter fearlessness, Philippe Capet had broken the oath he’d sworn to God and abandoned the crusade after the fall of Acre, returning to France with his honor in tatters and his heart filled with bile. He soon began to conspire with Richard’s younger brother John, hoping to take advantage of the English king’s absence to lay claim to his domains in Normandy. When he learned of their treachery, Richard was desperate to get home, to save his kingdom while he still could. But he’d remained in Outremer, bound by a holy vow that fettered him more tightly than any chains could have done, and after he’d managed to retake the crusader city of Jaffa from a much larger Saracen army, Saladin was ready to discuss peace terms.
Richard won some significant concessions. When he arrived in Outremer, the Kingdom of Jerusalem had consisted of the city of Tyre and a siege camp at Acre. When he departed sixteen months later, the kingdom stretched along the coast from Tyre to Jaffa, Saladin had lost the powerful stronghold of Ascalon, and Christian pilgrims could once again worship in the Holy City. But they had not reclaimed Jerusalem from the Saracens. The most sacred city in Christendom still flew the saffron banners of Saladin, and even before he’d left Outremer, Richard’s enemies were declaring the crusade a failure.
What they did not know was that he, too, believed he had failed. He’d been one of the few to refuse to visit Jerusalem and pray at the Holy Sepulchre, confiding to his queen that he’d not earned that right. He’d promised the new ruler of Jerusalem, his nephew Henri of Champagne, that he would come back as soon as he’d dealt with the unscrupulous French king and his faithless brother. And on that October night as his ship headed out into the open sea and Acre receded into the distance, he’d whispered a fervent prayer that God would keep Outremer safe until he could return.
The ship’s master was conducting a shouted dialogue with the lookout in the rigging, translating for the English king’s benefit. Turning toward his knights, Richard tersely informed them that a storm was nigh. A muted sound of dismay swept through their ranks, for most men were convinced it took more courage to set foot on the wet, pitching deck of the Holy Rood than it did to ride onto a hundred battlefields. So far they’d been lucky, not having encountered any of the fierce gales that made winter travel so hazardous. But they all had vivid memories of the violent storms that had battered the royal fleet on their way to Outremer, and many of them now hastily made the sign of the cross.
It was said that sailors could predict bad weather in their very bones, and this one’s forecast was not long in proving true. The wind began to rise, catching the ship’s sails and rippling the dark surface of the sea with frothy whitecaps. Black clouds gathered along the horizon, and the day’s light was soon blotted out. The crewmen scrambled to obey their master’s commands, the helmsman hunched over the tiller like a priest at his altar as he struggled to keep the bow headed into the waves. The Bishop of Salisbury and some of the others sought the dubious shelter of their canvas tent. Richard remained on deck, for he always chose to face his foes head-on, and so his Welsh cousin Morgan ap Ranulf and the Flemish lord Baldwin de Bethune stayed loyally by his side, holding tight to the gunwale as the ship dropped down into troughs and battled its way up again. The ship’s master had told them that their local pilot said there was a safe harbor up the coast at Sciacca, and as they raced the storm, more and more men sought out the clerics on board, asking to be shriven of their sins while there was still time.
By now the wind was howling like a wolf pack on the prowl. They’d reefed the sails, but the Holy Rood continued to heel dangerously. When they tried to lower them, one of the downhaul lines started to come loose. With courage that left even Richard dumbfounded, two sailors scrambled up into the rigging and somehow managed to reattach it. With both masts bare, their ship was still propelled by the force of the wind on the hull and rigging, but it no longer skimmed the waves like a bird about to take flight.
Rain had begun to fall, needlesharp against their skin; within moments, all on deck were drenched. They’d not be able to reach Sciacca, the master told Richard, shouting to be heard above the roaring of the wind, and were heading for a cove a few leagues below the town. The men on the Holy Rood had often faced down Death. Most had thought themselves doomed at Jaffa, caught outside the city walls by an army seven times the size of theirs. Richard had saved them, though, gaining a victory that should have been impossible. As joyful as they’d been by that miraculous reprieve, they felt even more grateful when their ship at last dropped anchor in a small inlet that offered shelter from the worst of the storm, for they feared death by drowning more than being slain by an enemy’s blade.
They awakened at dawn to a Sicilian sunrise that tinted the sky a pale gold, the occasional cloud spangled in copper and bronze. With the prospect of a fair day for sailing, spirits rose and they made ready to break their fast with bread, cheese, and figs. But it was then that a warning yell came from the rigging, and they soon saw the lateen sails of two large galleys heading toward the cove. The ship’s master, a grizzled Pisan who’d lived most of his life on the deck of a ship, started to curse under his breath. Had they encountered pirate galleys in open water, they’d have had a good chance of outrunning them, but their sails had not yet been hoisted, making them a tempting target for sea rovers, who were now maneuvering to block the entrance to the bay.
Richard had joined the older man at the gunwale, his gaze fixed upon the windwhipped flags flying from the galley mastheads. And then he smiled. “Not pirates,” he announced to his watching men. “They are King Tancred’s galleys.” Turning to the master, he gave the order to run up the banner of the English Royal House. The galleys were close enough now for them to see the reaction of the men aboard, the easing of tension as they realized the Holy Rood was not a threat. The largest of the ships was soon within hailing distance, and after getting confirmation that the King of England was indeed a passenger, they invited Richard to board their galley to confer with their lord, the Count of Conversano. He gladly accepted, hungry for news of his kingdom and his enemies, and, taking the Bishop of Salisbury and two Templar knights, he jumped into their longboat and was rowed across to the galley.
Aboard the Holy Rood, there was relieved laughter; no man who’d taken part in Richard’s attack upon a huge Saracen ship off the coast of Tyre was eager to experience another sea battle. Morgan ap Ranulf helped himself to a chunk of bread smeared with honey and watched as his cousin the king boarded the galley and was given a respectful welcome. He was soon joined by a crusader comrade and friend, Warin Fitz Gerald, and obligingly broke off a piece of the loaf for the Norman knight as they joked who was more wretched, a knight on the deck of a ship or a sailor on horseback. Warin had a ribald sense of humor and he was soon speculating who would be unhappier, a virgin in a bawdy house or a whore in a nunnery. Morgan elbowed him in the ribs, reminding Warin of their mock pact not to speak of women whilst they were stranded on shipboard, having an itch but no way to scratch it.
Such talk turned Morgan’s thoughts to the woman he loved, the Lady Mariam, who’d sailed from Acre on Michaelmas with the king’s sister, Joanna, widowed Queen of Sicily, and the king’s wife, Berengaria of Navarre. Surely they’d safely reached Sicily by now, intending to continue their journey overland, for Joanna was very susceptible to mal de mer; when she’d sailed for Sicily at age ten to wed William de Hauteville, she’d become so seasick that they’d been forced to land at Naples and travel the rest of the way on horseback. That homesick little childbride was now a stunningly beautiful woman of twentyseven, and Morgan, who was very fond of his cousin, wondered what fate would await her upon her return to Richard’s realm. She’d be a rare marital prize, and he hoped the English king would choose a man who was worthy of her.
Royal marriages were matters of state, of course, and compatibility was not a concern when diplomatic alliances were at stake. But if they were lucky, a highborn husband and wife could find contentment together. Morgan thought Richard seemed content enough with his queen, who’d traveled from her small Spanish kingdom with Richard’s formidable mother, the celebrated—some would say notorious—Eleanor of Aquitaine, joining Richard in Sicily and wedding him in Cyprus on their way to the Holy Land. Morgan suspected, though, that Berengaria would never lay claim to the king’s heart in the way that Mariam had laid claim to his. Richard revered his mother, who was as astute as any ruler in Christendom, but Morgan did not think women mattered all that much to the Lionheart, who seemed more at home in an army camp than in any of his palaces.
Both men turned as Warin’s squire, Arne, approached, carefully balancing two cups of wine. He lingered afterward, until Morgan, who liked the boy, gave him an encouraging look. “May I ask you a question, my lords?” Taking their consent for granted, for he was optimistic by nature, he squatted down beside them. “I am puzzled,” he confessed. “This Tancred is the King of Sicily. He took the throne after Queen Joanna’s husband died? And then he seized her dower lands and imprisoned her in Palermo? So why is King Richard friendly with this man?”
Warin rolled his eyes, for Arne’s habit of making many of his sentences sound like questions both amused and annoyed him. Morgan was more indulgent, for the boy had spoken no French at all upon his arrival in the Holy Land. He’d come to the siege of Acre with Duke Leopold von Babenberg, squire to a knight of the Austrian ministerialis, Hadmar von Kuenring. The duke was a devout crusader, having taken the cross twice. But he was a very proud man and after a quarrel with Richard that left his pride in shreds, he’d abandoned the crusade and returned to Austria in high dudgeon. Arne’s knight could not accompany the other Austrians, though, for he’d been stricken with Arnaldia, the malady that had almost killed Richard.
The camp doctors had held out no hope for him, and Arne was encouraged to sail with his countrymen and his irate duke. But he would not desert his lord, tending the man faithfully until his death. The crusaders were touched by the boy’s loyalty and the Flemish baron Jacques de Avesnes had accepted Arne into his household. After Jacques’s death during the battle of Arsuf, Warin had taken the boy on as his squire. He’d turned out to be conscientious and cheerful, and once they were safely back in Richard’s domains, Warin and Morgan meant to ask Richard for funds to pay for Arne’s return to Austria, if that was his desire. Richard was very openhanded, as befitted a great lord, and since he liked the boy, too, they thought he’d consent.
Now it was Morgan who took it upon himself to explain the intricacies of Sicilian politics to Arne. “What you say is true, lad. King Tancred did indeed hold Queen Joanna in confinement and took her dower lands, for they controlled the roads from the alpine passes, the route the Holy Roman Emperor would have taken when he led his army into Italy.” He started to tell Arne that the Emperor Heinrich had claimed the Sicilian throne after the death of Joanna’s husband, for their only son had died and the heir was therefore the king’s aunt, Constance de Hauteville, Heinrich’s wife. He remembered in time that Arne likely knew that, for the Austrian duke was one of Heinrich’s vassals.
Taking another swallow of wine, he offered the cup to Arne, who accepted it happily. “Tancred bore Lady Joanna no ill will, and made sure that she was treated well in captivity, holding her at one of her own palaces. He’d feared to release her because of her close bond with the Empress Constance, but he was given no choice when King Richard swept into Sicily like one of their hot scirocco winds, demanding that his sister be freed at once and her dower restored to her. Tancred wisely sent her to Richard in Messina and offered gold for her dower rights.”
Arne was listening with interest, his head cocked to the side. “Thank you, Sir Morgan. But how did Tancred and our king become so friendly?”
Morgan noted the boy’s use of “our king” and wondered if Arne would even want to return to his Austrian homeland. Those who’d fought alongside the Lionheart in the Holy Land had been bedazzled by his bravura exploits, for in their world, nothing was more admired than prowess on the battlefield, and so it made sense that this Austrian youth would have been bedazzled, too. “Tancred and King Richard found they had much in common, lad. They are both soldiers, both men who are accustomed to speaking their minds, and both hold the French king in great contempt.”
Arne grinned. “Who does not?” he asked cheekily, and all within earshot laughed, for Philippe Capet had done irreparable harm to his reputation by deserting the crusade; even his own French lords had refused to accompany him back to France, putting their crusaders’ vows above their fealty to their king. In light of what transpired, Morgan thought it would have bee...
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