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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Interview with Wayne Turmel Author of "Acre's Bastard"

Today I'm interviewing the author of a new book set in Outremer, "Acre's Bastard." This book was released just two weeks ago and is available in trade paperback or kindle formats.

Wayne Turmel is the author of a recently released novel “Acre’s Bastard: Part I of the Lucca le Pou Stories.” “Acre’s Bastard” follows the adventures ― or should I say misadventures? ― of a 10-year old orphan of mixed native/crusader heritage in the city of Acre on the eve of the Battle of Hattin. The hero, Lucca, has been raised in the Hospitaller orphanage of the city and goes by the name of Lucca the Louse. In a series of fast-paced but believable adventures, Lucca finds himself a witness, always believably on the fringes, of this important moment in history. Turmel calls this book an “adventure” story, and, while the setting is historical, the purpose of the book is not to describe the historical events or to educate but rather to entertain. And that it does―with an engaging cast of characters and irreverent humor.

Wayne agreed to answer a number of my questions about this book. Here are his answers:

What inspired you to write about this place and period? Why the Holy Land in 1187? Why Acre rather than Jerusalem?

Wow, why not? Since I was a kid, I was entranced by stories of knights and chivalry. All my favorites--Robin Hood, Ivanhoe—had people either riding off to, or coming back from, Crusade. Swords are way cooler than guns. As I got older, the clash of cultures obviously became more important and intriguing. I mean, it’s not like it’s still relevant or anything, right?

When I went to Jerusalem, and stood in front of the ruins of the Hospital, I kept asking myself, “What the @#$@% were they thinking?” That question never stopped resonating with me. I confess to being very cynical about the Crusades. The battle of Hattin is just such a prime example to me of where bravery, faith, honor, politics and humanity’s innate stupidity collide. Just like in most wars.

I chose Acre intentionally because it wasn’t the center of the action. So much of what we read about that time is centered on the big characters—kings, knights and the like. But what about the people who were just trying to live their lives? I also didn’t want a setting that had been written about a lot. People have all kinds of emotional reactions when you mention “Jerusalem.” I didn’t want that getting in the way of the story.

The multi-cultural aspect of the coastal cities of that time also got me thinking a lot. Like children in most cities, there’s a better chance for exposure to different cultures than in an isolated village. It’s the biggest part of Lucca’s education.

The hero is a 10 year old boy. Why select a character so young? What were the advantages of a hero in that age group?

Making Lucca 10 was a risk, as was making him bi-racial (Frankish and Syrian). In fact, my last publisher didn’t want to do the book because of his age. I wanted the character to be young enough to offer a naïve perspective, allowing for the humor in the book to come through, without being too young to think for himself and survive. The disadvantage of his age was it pretty much eliminated romance, and some people really hated that he was in such jeopardy. But if you look at the pictures of the children coming out of Aleppo today, you realize terrible things happen to children in war. And the fact this is the first in a series is probably a pretty good hint he makes it. Should I have said, “Spoiler alert?”

Lucca being an orphan doesn’t have a family so the obvious “supporting cast” are missing. Can you tell us a little more about the other characters in the book? Which of them do you see playing a role in the next books of the series?

Most of the characters are fictional. The only real-life people who show up in the book are Raymond of Tripoli, and Saladin (or Salah-adin). Of course, that gives me license to have fun creating the other players.

The most fun was writing Brother Marco (who, without giving anything away for the uninitiated) is a Knight of St Lazar, and Sister Marie-Pilar who is a nun/nurse. Al Sameen (the Fat One) is a ruthless Saracen spy who Lucca takes great delight in tormenting. Brother Idoneus just gave me the willies. There are good guys and bad guys on all sides of the war.

I’ve actually started the second book, so Brother Marco, Sister Marie-Pilar and Ali the Saracen all make appearances.

Venue and setting are also very important in a novel of this kind and you do a wonderful job of taking us into the allies of an oriental city. At the same time, you almost slip into the cliché of describing this immensely fertile region (the biblical land of “milk and honey”), which in this period produced a variety of crops, as desert. Why did you choose to depict what would have been a thriving agricultural landscape as so bleak?

Thank you for that. I had a lot of help getting it right. I know it’s not desert because the day I landed in Tel Aviv it was pouring rain with a chance of snow in the hills, which caught me a little off guard. In fact, Israel, Lebanon and that whole region reminded me of California: there’s a very green fertile patch of desirable land along the Mediterranean coast and along the rivers, but you don’t have to go very far inland for it to get very hot, rocky and forbidding.

1187 was a drought year, so in July things were pretty brown and parched, even the fields that would normally have been in fruit. It also foreshadows what happens at Hattin, where the lack of water was decisive in the battle.

Tell us a little more about your readers? Who did you set out to reach with this series? Adults or young people? Why should they be interested in this book? What can they get out of it?

This book was written for anyone 15 or 16 and up who enjoys adventure, history and a touch of humor. I say 15 because that’s about the time I started reading books adults felt I wasn’t ready for. Maybe that was my motivation to read them…. Rule breakers are welcome and encouraged.

The origin of this book actually started with a bar argument with a fellow writer. I was bemoaning the fact that so many books were aimed at “YA” audiences. I felt that did readers a disservice. I remember reading books like “Kim” and “The Three Musketeers,” as a kid. They weren’t aimed at young readers, but a smart teen could easily read and enjoy them (although there is one scene in my book that is pretty close to R Rated). In fact, the title of the book was changed from Brat to Bastard just so people wouldn’t think it was a YA book, despite Lucca’s age.

Meanwhile, adults like me shun material that’s intentionally aimed at a younger audience, so it was important it didn’t get that dread “YA” label.

I’m also surprised how many women readers enjoy Lucca’s story. I was afraid the subject matter would appeal only to people who already read Crusader fiction; stereotypically, that would be men into hard-core military history. This is a much more accessible story than that, and I’m gratified at the reception so far.

As a reader, it’s clear that you enjoyed writing this book. Which scene did you like writing most? What scene is your favorite (which may or may not be same thing, of course….)?

Chapter one, where Lucca and his street rat buddies are getting into trouble by trying to peer through a brothel window actually made me laugh as I wrote it. I think it’s a really fun way to set up a story and let us know that kid is pretty much a smart aleck and destined for trouble. He’s also resourceful and brave enough to get out of it.

Now the other side of the coin: What scene did you find most challenging to write?
I’m going to cheat and give you two. The hardest one to write emotionally was chapter 2, when a pedophile attacks Lucca and drives him from the orphanage and into the streets. I needed to create real, believable danger, while not making it salacious, exploitive or too hard to stomach. It literally kept me awake at night finding the right balance.
The second challenge was logistic. How do I put a ten-year-old in the center of a battle? Logically, what was he doing there? It took a couple of drafts to come to the solution, but I think I worked it out.

What now? Acre falls six days after the Battle of Hattin, betrayed by the Queen’s uncle, the Count of Edessa (who was probably not even at Hattin). Will that be the next episode in the Lucca le Pou series?

Poor Lucca doesn’t get much of a break. He has to flee Acre for Tripoli carrying a message for Count Raymond. He’s accompanied by Sister Marie-Pilar, a young Druze girl named Nahida, and a Hospitaler knight, Brother Gerhardt, with a dark tragic secret.

How many books do you envisage in this series?  Do you know what the ending of the series will be? Are you going to let Lucca grow-up, or will all episodes be in a time-frame where he remains a young boy?

At the moment, I’m thinking three books. “Acre’s Orphans” starts two days after the first book, so Lucca’s still 10 going on 11. The third will have Lucca at 15 following Richard in the retaking of Acre.  I think. There are so many other stories set in other times I want to tell that I need to get Lucca out of my system so I can move on.
Thanks for talking to me, Wayne. I appreciate the time and I’m sure readers will be intrigued and inspired to buy “Acre’s Bastard.”

"Defender of Jerusalem" covers the Battle of Hattin from the perspective of Balian d'Ibelin.


Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Battle of Dorylaeum

Two weeks ago, in his first guest post, Rand Brown looked at the start of the First Crusade. Today he examines the first important battle of that military campaign.

For reasons not entirely clear from the sources, the Crusader lords decided to divide the army into two columns – a smaller vanguard and a larger main body – as they marched through the inhospitable Anatolian plateau.  This plan may have been determined according to sound contemporary military practice in Europe where dividing one’s force allowed for more efficient foraging.  Although the vanguard was the smaller, it benefited from the military experience of Bohemond who commanded overall as well as the reinforcement of his highly competent Italio-Norman forces.  Accompanying him were the equally competent Duke Robert Curthose of Bohemond’s ancestral Normandy, the son of the famous William the Conqueror, and Duke Robert of Flanders along with their forces and thousands of pilgrims, including women and children.  Also joining them was the Byzantine advisor, Tatikios, and his nominal force which really amounted to a glorified bodyguard.  The main body contained the rest of the army and was led by Count Raymond, Duke Godfrey, and Bishop Adhemar.  Although the two columns were separated by about a half-day’s march distance (about 5km according to John France’s estimates), almost all the chroniclers attest to vast amounts of pilgrim stragglers strung out between them, perhaps thinking that they could retreat to the safety of either if attacked.

The Anatolian Plateau is still characterized by a labyrinthine network of ridges and valleys that considerably impact the passage of large forces.  In the late 11th Century, army movement through this region would have been tortuously slow.  Additionally, the chroniclers attest to the harsh conditions of the dry and barren climate, noting that the suffering among the many non-combatant pilgrims was already taking its toll and perhaps weighed heavily on the Crusader lords’ minds.  While there is still room for debate about the actual location of the first epic engagement of the First Crusade, Dr. France has made a very convincing argument for a patch of ridge-flanked valley about 4km north of the modern Turkish city of Bozüyük and 45km northeast of the site of the Dorylaeum outpost.  At this particular site, the west-to-east valley takes a decided turn southwards after passing through a thin passage that forms an excellent choke-point.  It is not hard for one to imagine that this choke-point would serve as an excellent place for Kilij Arslan to spring an ambush.
On 1 July, 1097, the sun rose over the makeshift camp of Bohemond’s vanguard column that had just spent the night somewhere near the Bozüyük choke-point.  It is not unreasonable to assume that a commander of Bohemond’s considerable experience would have chosen a site that at least took advantage of whatever defensible terrain features existed at the time – which, according to the chroniclers, included a slight hillock on the site itself and a marsh on one flank.  Surrounding them were tiny ravines and trails that led down from the surrounding ridges, impossible for large armies to traverse, but perfect for small parties.  It was still early when word of first contact came back from Crusader scouts who reported brief skirmishes with Seljuk counterparts in the valley leading south.  The intensity of these skirmishes probably alerted Bohemond that these were more than mere local raiders and that Kilij was lurking somewhere nearby, waiting for the right moment to spring his trap.  Realizing the precarious nature of their position, Bohemond halted the many knights from impetuously chasing after the small parties of Turkish harassers with the help of Robert of Normandy.  Maintaining strict command and control over his isolated column would be essential to surviving this engagement as the Seljuks triumphed when they could divide and scatter their more heavily armored foes.

Bohemond quickly ordered all knights in the camp to dismount and form a solid rank facing southwards, reinforced by the thousands of common infantry behind them.  At about the same time, the first elements of Kilij Arslan’s mounted horde began streaming down from the many paths and ravines from the surrounding hills.  Fulcher of Chartres and the anonymous author the Gesta Francorum offer vivid descriptions of the engagement and may have been personally present for it.  They both recount the terror and chaos in the vanguard camp as the first clouds of Seljuk arrows crashed among them, wounding both soldier and non-combatant alike.  However, the ranks of the dismounted knights stood firm, bolstered by the iron discipline imposed by Bohemond and his fellow lords along with the superiority of their armor.  Ralph of Caen, a Norman chronicler of the First Crusade, bore explicit testimony to this when he wrote, “The enemy were helped by their numbers – we by our armor.”  Although many unarmored pilgrims suffered grievously from the Turkish attack, the real priority of the Crusade – the armored knightly professionals upon whom the entire effort relied – weathered the storm well and stood as a wall against the chaotic Seljuk maneuvering.

According to all the chroniclers, this initial phase of the fight lasted for an extremely long time – at least a six hour stretch from dawn until sometime around 12 noon.  This would be consistent for an action where the Western forces entrenched into an almost “wagon fort” stance while the Turks raced about, loosing arrow after arrow and probing for weaknesses to exploit.  While they still possessed ammunition, the Seljuks had little reason to engage in close quarters fighting.  However, this rapidly changed as arrow reserves began to run low with no real impact on the solid ranks of knights and footmen.  Steadily, bands of Turks attempted to charge through into the Western camp.  Many of the chroniclers describe this moment as their most desperate, with a few Turks making it inside the camp to strike terror into the women, priests, and wounded within.  However, wherever the Turks got close the initiative then swung in favor of the heavier armored Latin knights and infantry who were far more skilled at melee combat than their foe.  Also, the terrain benefited Bohemond’s force, as the elevated ground forced the Turks to charge upwards and the marsh on the west flank bogged down the Turkish riders who ventured into it and become easy targets for Crusader infantry.  Kilij must have begun to sense that these Latins were a vastly different breed than the disordered mob Peter the Hermit had led to the slaughter a mere year ago.  As more and more Turks were forced to charge in for close combat, the situation began to embarrass Seljuk overconfidence.  Around the noon hour, horns were heard in the hills to the west and announced that the Turkish situation was now hopeless.

Bohemond’s great gamble had been to hold just long enough with his vanguard for the much larger main force (at least two to three times the van’s size) to link back up with him.  By brilliantly executing superb command and control over his forces, he had been able to do just that despite nearly being surrounded by Seljuk attackers.  As the mounted forces of Godfrey, Raymond, and the rest of the Crusader host crested the ridge to the west, the Turks had nearly run out of ammunition and were hopelessly pinned against Bohemond’s dismounted lines.  

What followed was a mass charge that smashed into the confused Seljuk ranks and scattered them, while Bishop Adhemar held high the white banner of St. Peter he had received from Pope Urban.  What must have begun as a confident ambush turned into a complete disaster for the Seljuk warlords and, with the arrival of the main body, the situation for Kilij Arslan was unrecoverable.  The surviving Turks vanished back into the surrounding hills, individual chieftains undoubtedly giving into self-interest at the expense of any unified effort for Kilij’s sake.  Almost as quickly as it had begun, the first true battle of the First Crusade was over.


Although the Crusaders held the field on that July day, they did so at a frightful cost.  Even though there had been few casualties from among the knights and professional soldiers, thousands of unarmored pilgrims had fallen to Turkish arrowfire and skirmishing.  Some of the largest numbers came from those pilgrims who had been straggling in between the two columns and who were virtually defenseless against bands of Seljuk riders.  Also, while many of the chroniclers attest otherwise with figures that beggar belief, the Crusaders are thought to have actually outnumbered the Seljuks in this fight.  Somewhere about 200,000 is thought to be the total head count for the Latin host, with around 50,000 of that number being actual knights and professional fighters.  Kilij Arslan would have been lucky to raise even 20,000 fighters in his hasty rush to intercept the Latin host.  However, they knew the land far better and, with the division of the Crusader columns, had possessed a golden opportunity to destroy them piecemeal – an opportunity they utterly failed to seize.

Kilij Arslan fled back into the depths of Anatolia with the shattered remnants of his forces and his reputation.  According to the Anonymous, the would-be sultan had to lie to the remaining garrisons of Anatolia, telling them of a “great victory” just so they would open their gates and let him pass through.  Never again would Kilij Arslan pose a threat to the movement of the First Crusade.  As the Latin host proceeded, city after city would submit and return to Byzantine control.  However, the reconquest of Asia Minor was not the goal of the great Western effort – much to Byzantine frustration.  After recovering from their desperate first engagement, the united Crusader army rapidly made their way southwards towards the friendlier territory of Armenian Christian Cilicia, where they could conserve their strength before pushing towards the great city of Antioch – where Asia Minor and Syria met and where the Latin host would need to pass in order to gain access to the Levant and, ultimately, Jerusalem.

Dorylaeum represented the first real clash of arms between the Western forces of the First Crusade, teaching them lessons of warfare in the Near East that would prove invaluable as they drove ever closer to their ultimate goal in Palestine.  It also allowed the various Crusader lords – formerly only experienced in European warfare – to see just what exactly they would be facing and how to defeat it.  If any credit is given for the Latin victory there, it would be rightly bestowed upon the superior armor and melee skills of the Western knights.  Later on in the Crusades, Islamic chroniclers would refer to the Latin knights as “the men of steel” whose far superior armor could almost negate the impact of their mounted archers.  However, this capability was only effective if Latin commanders could keep their troops in strictly ordered ranks and refused to let them become scattered chasing after bands of mounted archers feigning retreat.  Here is where Bohemond’s skill as a military leader paid off in dividends for the Crusade.  With his experience fighting in the East, he knew how imperative strict command and control was when facing the rapid fluidity of the Seljuk fighting style.  Had he not been in command of the vanguard, it is very probable that it would have met the same fate as the pitiful People’s Crusade and the First Crusade as a whole might have ended in bitter disappointment.  The victory at Dorylaeum allowed the Crusade to continue with enhanced momentum toward their final objective and even tipped the scales within Asia Minor back in favor of the beleaguered Byzantines for at least a time.

Sources Referenced:

John France.  Victory in the East – A Military History of the First Crusade.  Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

_______.  Western Warfare in the Age of the Crusades 1000-1300.  Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1999.

Fulcher of Chartres, et al.  The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and Other Source Materials.  Ed. Edward Peters.  Philadelphia PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971.

Rand L. Brown II is a co-founder of Real Crusades History.  He possesses a MA in Military History from Norwich University and currently serves as a commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Barbarian" Crusaders -- A Second Look

Two weeks ago I laid out several of the popular misconceptions about the crusades and made a rebuttal. Today I want to look more closely at the persistent myth that the crusaders were "less civilized" than their Muslim opponents.

The crusaders are widely portrayed as "barbarians" today primarily because they are seen as brutal aggressors against "peace-loving, tolerant, and highly sophisticated" Arab societies in the Middle East. This ignores the fact that the Arabs had taken the Holy Land by the sword, not with sweet words, persuasion, or peaceful tolerance. And that expansion continued far beyond the Holy Land: 

Muslim armies attacked Constantinople 678. In 698 the Christian city of Carthage fell to the sword of Islam. In 713 Corsica was conquered. By 720 the Muslim invasion of Spain was nearly complete. In 732 an invading Muslim army almost reached the Loire before it was crushed by the Franks under Charles Martel and pushed back behind the Pyrenees. In 827 Muslim armies started the conquest of Sicily, and ten years later landed in Italy. In 846 Rome was attacked and St. Peter's sacked by Muslim armies. In 934 Genoa was sacked. In 997 the Muslims sacked Santiago de Compostella, the most important pilgrimage church in the West. In 1009 the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built by the Byzantines in the reign of Constantine the Great (306 – 337), was utterly destroyed.

Meanwhile, however, the Muslims had divided into Shiites and Sunnis and engaged in bloody wars in which they murdered, raped, pillaged and burned rival Muslim cities. Zengi, atabeg of Mosul, for example, according to a Muslim source ordered the “pillaging, slaying, capturing, ravishing and looting” of Edessa, but was feared in Damascus because of “his exceptionally cruel and treacherous behavior” – to his co-religionists. The great “chivalrous” Saladin spent more of his career fighting his fellow Sunni Muslims than he did fighting the Christians.

Attempts to depict the crusaders as illiterate brutes lacking in cultural accomplishments also miss the mark. The “unwashed masses” might not have been very cultivated—but nor were the peasants and common soldiers of the Byzantine Empire or the Turks.  The upper classes in 11th century Europe, on the other hand, had already started to develop arts and architecture to a high degree of sophistication as manuscripts, artifacts and the architectural record shows. Literacy may have been confined to an elite and fostered mostly by the clergy, but the leaders of the crusade themselves were highly educated. (And, by the way, at this time classical Greek scholars had been re-discovered and were being studied in the West.) Furthermore, literacy was not exactly universal in the Byzantine and Muslim worlds either. While it is fair to say that in certain fields (mathematics and astronomy) the Muslim world was more advanced than Western Europe, in other fields (shipbuilding, transportation and agricultural technology), the West was more developed.  As earlier entries have stressed, medicine in the West was on about par with the East, not hopelessly more backward as so often portrayed.

However, two features of Western European feudal society set it apart from the East into which the crusaders came so suddenly and unexpectedly at the end of the 11th century. 

First was the decentralized system of government based on complex, feudal relationships. Both the Byzantine and the Muslim world in this period were intensely hierarchical societies in which the Emperor (in the one) and the Caliph (in the other) theoretically held supreme and absolute control over his subjects. To be sure, reality looked slightly different.  By the end of the tenth century the Syrian Caliphs were virtual prisoners of the Abbasid dynasty, and changed masters when the Seljuk Turks captured Baghdad in 1055.  Thereafter they were puppets of the Selkjuk sultans, while the Fatimid Caliphs were at the mercy of their viziers. 

But whether the theoretically absolute rulers wielded actual power or not, their powerful “protectors” always ruled in their name; they considered – and called themselves – slaves of their masters. Western feudalism, in which kings were little more than the “first among equals,” was utterly alien to the Eastern mentality, and so was the outspokenness and (from the Easter perspective) impudence of vassals. The Eastern elites saw the inherent dangers of such a fluid system and associated it with primitive tribal structures. Yet it was exactly these feudal kingdoms that gradually devolved power to ever wider segments of the population until (through a series of constitutional crises) they eventually developed into modern democracies. Meanwhile, the Eastern states remained mired in autocracy.

The other feature of Western European society that the Muslims (though not the Byzantines) found disgusting and incomprehensible was the presence of women in public life. The fact that women had names and faces that were known outside the family circle was viewed as immoral and dishonorable (much the way the Athenians viewed Spartan women) by the Muslims of the 12th and 13th centuries. The fact that women not only had names and faces, but a voice in civic affairs and could play a role in public life including controlling and bequeathing wealth and influencing politics was even more offensive. Yet modern developmental research shows a strong correlation between societies that empower women and development. Societies that insist on muzzling and oppressing half their population are nowadays considered less “civilized.”


Whether you view the crusaders or the Saracens as more civilized depends on how you view democracy and womens’ rights. And modern commentators who feel compelled to “apologize” for the crusades are either utterly ignorant of the issues at stake and the comparative cultures of the antagonists—or implicitly reject the very Western values they allegedly defend. 

In my three part biography of Balian d'Ibelin I endeavor to portray the crusader society as accurately as possible.

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