Time to drag you behind the scenes!
I wanted to show you some storytelling decisions that go into writing a book, and show you how real-life research can fuel a story.
This one’s about King’s Warrior.
First, a little backstory on the story.
Originally, King’s Warrior was part of an anthology of connected stories, & mine was kicking things off, so I knew I wanted something big and exciting for all the other stories to reference.
The theme for the anthology was a ‘captured’ theme.
The stories were all going to be connected via this theme, all have Celtic heroes, and all were going to have a jeweled dagger running through them. The SAME jeweled dagger. And yet, the stories were going to span hundreds of years.
Since my story was appearing first in the anthology, I wanted to set up a compelling, exciting ‘story’ for the dagger that the other authors were going to be working with.
I knew I wanted to set it during the 2nd Crusade, with King Richard the Lionheart and all that crazy jazz. Lots of potential for drama, but where to focus…and get my dagger??
Assassination, of course. Of a Crusader king. By ANOTHER Crusader king. Amiright??
Okay, so what REALLY happened?
In 1192, Conrad of Montferrat, Marquis of Montferrat (Northern Italy) and one of the leading crusaders, was elected King of Jerusalem by the other crusader leaders, although he’d ruled as de facto king as a result of his marriage to the heiress to the crown, Queen Isabella, in late 1190.
(I’m not even going to go into that crazy, convoluted history, but it’s worth a look!)
Anyhow, England’s King Richard was pretty unhappy about this bonhomie among the other crusading leaders. Richard didn’t want Conrad to be king: he wanted someone else.
In fact, Richard had lobbied hard for one of his own vassals to be elected king. More specifically, one of his troublesome vassals, in the even more troublesome duchy of Poitou, Guy of Lusignan. But Guy wasn’t a popular…well, guy. He wasn’t brave, he wasn’t honorable, and he wasn’t really a very good fighter. Also, he was a right arse. I suspect no one in the entire world actually liked Guy.
But Richard was extremely motivated to hoist his independent-minded, belligerent vassal off on the Holy Lands where he would trouble Richard no more.
Alas, the English king’s candidate was outvoted by the other crusader kings.
I’ll go out on a limb and say this wasn’t something the strong-willed Richard appreciated.
(Of note: Richard really, really, really did not want Guy returning home to bother him, so at this point, he SOLD Guy the lordship of Cyprus (where he could still be called ‘king’) to keep him away from Poitou. Ha.)
Everything seems good, right?
Richard got rid of his troublesome vassal, plus some money into the bargain.
Conrad, who was a courageous fighter & leader and respected by everyone, would get the kingship. Happy days ahead in the land of fighting.
Then tragedy–or opportunity–struck.
Two days before he was to be crowned, Conrad was assassinated by, well, two Assassins. As in, the real-life Assassins. They’d been disguised as monks and had infiltrated the grounds for awhile before they struck. Conrad was basically hacked up in the gardens.
The Assassins fled. One was killed, but one was caught alive. And guess what?
Under torture, he claimed King Richard contracted them for the kill.
Medieval crazy sauce.
Whether or not King Richard was actually involved in the assassination, and whether that involvement was direct or indirect, no one knew.
A lot of people believed it. And the rumors spread throughout Europe, driven in large part by the French king’s enthusiastic support of them.
Oh how King Philippe wanted Richard to have done this deed. Or at least be thought to have done it. It would make his take-over of England so much easier.
Because that’s what Philippe was planning, of course. He’d already hie-tailed it out of the Holy Lands, and he was conspiring actively with Richard’s younger brother, Prince John. (Yes, the one who became the evil King John of so many truths & legends).
So, did Richard plot for the assassination of a king? It was never proven, but it was a compelling enough rumor that the king was required to submit proof that he hadn’t been involved at one point. (A hard thing to do, but there you have it.)
(Second parenthetical: I’m not going into this crazy backstory either, of King Richard’s travels home from Jerusalem et al, but omg, the drama!!! Another day, another post.)
But whether he did or didn’t conspire, all you need for Story is plausibility, and this was intrigue I couldn’t ignore: King Richard accused of conspiring to commit regicide and assassinate another king.
But I still needed my dagger…
Fortunately, history provided that too.
What you need to know about the Assassins was they really like daggers. Like, a lot. They used them as weapons, but they also used them as threat.
They were legendary for sneaking into the tents of political opponents at night and leaving behind one of their daggers and a note, right next to the leader they’d stood beside, undetected, in the dark.
The message was clear, but in case it wasn’t, they often followed up more overtly.
For instance, one of their exploits: In 1092, upon his coronation, the new sultan of the Seljuk empire rebuffed a Hashashin ambassador. Bad idea.
One morning soon after, he woke up to find a dagger plunged into the ground beside his bed. Terrified, he didn’t say anything about it–who wants to announce a weakness like that? A little while later, a messenger from the Assassins arrived, saying, “Did I not wish the sultan well, that the dagger which was struck in the hard ground would have been planted on your soft breast.”
Gotcha. That one was pretty effective. For decades after, there was a ceasefire between the Seljuks and the Nizari.
Guess what this gave me? My dagger for King’s Warrior!
The way I saw it was…King Richard’s involvement in the murder was never proven.
But what if it could have been??
What if this dagger, specially constructed and engraved with runes that implicated the king, boasting the king’s very own ruby in its hilt, was used in the assassination. It would be an unavoidable message to Richard, and the world.
I had my story!
An Irish warrior, once bodyguard to the king, on the run, with a dagger that was (or was not??) used in the assassination of Conrad, hunted by noblemen and kings who’ll stop at nothing to get him and his contraband.
Our hero is desperate, cornered…dangerous. He’ll do anything to accomplish his mission. Even kidnap an innocent merchant woman and use her as camouflage to escape.
The drama hurts, yes? :)
If you’ve read King’s Warrior, I hope you loved it, If you haven’t, go check it out!
If you like big adventure and hot romance, you’ll love King’s Warrior because it has a charming, dangerous Irish hero who finds the love of his life on the mission of a lifetime.