"Test of Faith," with Aleksandr Voinov, eXcessica/Lulu (February/May 2010)

"Test of Faith" is a 22,000-word novella co-written with my very good friend Aleksandr Voinov. It has been released in e-book form by eXcessica on May 3, 2010, and in print form from Lulu.com in February, with an added bonus of around 6,000 words of historical background and a map of the Battle of Hattin. You can order your print copy here, via Lulu. E-books are now available via eXcessica.

July, 1187: Saladin has defeated the Crusader army at The Horns of Hattin. While hundreds of his comrades have perished in the battle, Thierry de la Tour Rouge, a Frank and Templar Knight, has survived only to be taken prisoner by the Saracens. Stripped to his woolen leggings and linen shirt covering and tied like an animal to the pole of a tent, Thierry fears torture in the attempt to break him and his faith.

Abdul Basir is French by birth and a convert to Islam. As an advisor to Saladin, Abdul has been accepted by the Saracens and regarded with respect, but he will never be one of them. Thierry has been bought for him and while Abdul owns him, he cannot guarantee that Saladin will spare Thierry’s life.

In the spirit of acceptance and forgiveness, Thierry chastely kisses Abdul, hurtling them both into a clash of faiths and a contest of wills. One man motivated by the fulfillment of a long-lurking fantasy and the other by the need to survive and keep his faith intact. In the process, they come to show each other mercy, kindness, mutual respect and trust—enough to reveal their desire for one another.

As Saladin holds the fate of Thierry’s life in his hands, can Abdul ensure the safety of this honorable crusader who has become his brother? Or will he have to find the strength and courage to let Thierry go in peace?


The Horns of Hattin. Horns of the devil.

Thierry still felt the smoke burn his throat, and no swallowing could take the pain away. His head throbbed from the heat, here on the waterless devil’s playground where he’d lost his horse and his comrades. Where the Saracens had snatched victory from them—drawing them out between the Horns, cutting them off from water, then setting fire to the dry grass, increasing the torment of thirst and heat.

Twelve thousand men under Saladin; he had a thousand knights on horses, and there were twenty thousand Christians on foot to fight them. The Christians had charged, and the Saracens had moved out of their way, allowed them to pass—only to catch them like a stag surrounded and beset by dogs on all sides. On the hill they’d stood, but wave upon wave upon wave of Saracens charged at them, until the foot soldiers had been worn away, and only a few hundred knights remained.

They had pulled Thierry from his wounded horse, and, in the pandemonium of battle, blind with sweat and dazed by the merciless heat, strong hands took his sword and shield, almost broke his leg as his spur tangled in the stirrup. They forced him onto his belly, in the dust, coughing his heart out.

They had tied him up like a sheep, tied his arms and legs, and let him lie, helpless, breathing dust and smoke, listening to the infernal screams of the wounded, the shouts of the victors. The labored breath of his dying charger, suffering badly in the heat.

If there was hell on earth, thought Thierry, this was it.

Barely conscious, he had been manhandled onto his knees, and then he felt a great weight leaving him. A vicious-looking dagger glinted in front of his eyes. Thierry could only cough helplessly, swallow more dust through the chainmail coif’s front flap covering his chin and mouth, and be grateful for something that wasn’t kindness, when the dagger severed the leather strap that held the chin flap near his ear.

He looked into a wild, dark face, with eyes like burning coals; while another man pulled the chainmail coif down into his neck, baring his head. A rough hand grabbed his hair and pulled his head back. Thierry froze as his throat was bared—wasn’t this how they killed their animals?

The Saracen showed his teeth with what could only be described as naked hatred, when somebody else called out in their language. Thierry had only recently arrived from France—he didn’t understand a word, they spoke too fast, but the Saracen clearly disliked what he’d heard. He sheathed the dagger again and spat on the ground.

The two men who held Thierry dragged him forward before Thierry could manage to walk with the restraints—he could only take very small steps, which made him stumble more than once. Nevertheless, he would live, and he thanked God for whatever the other man had said.

They dragged him to a tent. By now he was so thirsty he could smell water, but he didn’t expect kindness. If they would ransom him, they’d have to keep him alive. If there was one thing the bloodthirsty heathens liked more than spilling Christian blood and harrowing the believers, it was good Christian silver.

They tied his hands to the tent pole, forced him to sit down, then a leather strap went across his throat and was fastened behind the pole. He was left, with a guard poking his head in at intervals.

It was dark when they returned. His captor was even more displeased now, but he carried a heavy bag of coin, while two men—who wore armor and weapons of far better quality—seized Thierry again.

He’d been bought and sold. But to what end?

They brought him to a richer tent—Thierry could only assume that some eminent personage had paid for him. The ransom would be paid one way or other; this new development would not change anything about the ransom. It made no sense.

The guards dropped him to the ground then roughly opened his belt with the leather scabbard and pulled it away. The white cappa was next, and they cursed him, impatient when the tight sleeves did not come off from the chainmail shirt immediately. Then the long chainmail shirt and the chainmail gloves, baring him to the padded jerkin. They threw his armor to the ground, where it gathered in a small heap. They even took his spurs, the chainmail shoes, and the chainmail leggings, relieving him of every piece of metal he wore.

They exchanged a few words that Thierry did not understand, and they proceeded to undress him, claiming the padded knee-length jerkin next. All this was no kindness, not meant to give him relief from the weight or the heat, even if Thierry felt his spirits return somewhat. They might sell it, or prepare him for torture, he realized with sudden terror. Maybe he would not be ransomed before he’d given up whatever secrets they thought he possessed. Fear made his skin crawl; he could glean nothing from the hateful faces of his captors. He hoped against hope that they wouldn’t mistreat him; that their end was silver, not secrets.

When he wore only his woolen leggings and breeches, with the white linen shirt covering his chest and half of his thighs, girded with a red wool belt, the Saracens then tied his legs again and made him stand against the pole, where they tied his wrists over his head.

Thierry closed his eyes with relief when they left him. No torture—or, not yet. He had time to make his peace with God and remember the lessons he’d learnt about captivity during the initiation. They’d try and break his faith. His own officers in the order had forced him to spit on the cross, to deny God, and while his soul had been consumed with terror at the blasphemy, it had been nothing but a test. A test to prepare him for this. This, the real thing: the ire of the heathens.

    For a signed copy, contact me below!