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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

BLOG TOUR: An Extract from the Ongoing Serial "Tom Swan and the Head of St. George" by Christian Cameron

"1450s France. A young Englishman, Tom Swan, is kneeling in the dirt, waiting to be killed by the French who've taken him captive.

He's not a professional soldier. He's really a merchant and a scholar looking for remnants of Ancient Greece and Rome - temples, graves, pottery, fabulous animals, unicorn horns. But he also has a real talent for ending up in the midst of violence when he didn't mean to. Having used his wits to escape execution, he begins a series of adventures that take him to street duels in Italy, meetings with remarkable men - from Leonardo Da Vinci to Vlad Dracula - and from the intrigues of the War of the Roses to the fall of Constantinople"

Courtesy of Orion Books, here are the first few pages of the opening series installment, Tom Swan and the Head of St.George: Castillon, while you can read the full extract (18 page 7.8 MB pdf) HERE and see more illustrations from the series. Enjoy!

"For good or ill, Thomas Swan had been one of the first men into the French gun positions and one of the last to be taken. So he was on the right of the line of captives as the blood-maddened crowd of peasants and foot soldiers killed Englishmen.
Swan was too tired to struggle. He thought about it. By the time he’d watched them kill a couple of men-at-arms worth far more than he was worth, he realised that they were all going to die.
He took a breath and wondered somewhat idly how many he had left. A Frenchwoman killed an archer by cutting off his penis with an eating knife. The archer screamed, utterly wretched, and the crowd cheered her. Swan took another breath.
It was his first battle – his first campaign in France. His first time out of London. But he’d heard enough from his mother’s brothers to guess why the Frenchwoman had killed the archer.
A big man – a really big man – shouted at the French mob in French. Swan’s French was quite good. The man didn’t even sound English. He heckled them, and when two French gunners came for him, he picked one up. The man stabbed at him with a long knife. The big man shrugged after the Frenchman put a knife in him, and threw him into the crowd.
Off to the right was a party of men on horseback. They were pushing through the line of wagons that guarded the back of the gun emplacement.
The big man was still fighting. The Frenchmen had scattered, and one was loading a handgun. Another aimed a crossbow and pulled the lever, but his aim was poor and the arrow killed a third Frenchman, a franc-archer at the edge of the crowd.
Swan felt the Frenchman behind him shift his weight, and hunched for the blow. He couldn’t help it. He thought of twenty wrestling tricks his uncles had taught him to take the man’s sword, but he could barely raise his arm. He’d fought . . .

Talbot was dead.
It was all unbelievable. He thought, Damn it, I’m here to make my fortune! I’m only eighteen!

He took another breath, and waited to die.
The horsemen pressed into the crowd, swords drawn. Armoured knights. And a cardinal. Swan knew what the round red hat meant.
Two francs-archers grabbed an English archer, tore his shirt, and then beheaded him in three gory strokes of their short swords. The knights did nothing to stop it, and Swan’s hopes died.
The crowd bayed like a hunting pack and pushed towards the latest killing, and the cardinal was almost unhorsed. He shouted at them, and the crowd moved again – two of the knights pulled their horses up on either side of him, protecting him. The nearer of the French knights reached out and cut a French soldier with his sword. The man flinched away.
Swan pushed through his despair. It couldn’t hurt. It might even help.
‘Kyrie eleison, Pater! Kyrie, Agie Pater!’ he shouted in Greek.
All that learning ought to be good for something.

The cardinal’s head snapped around, his eyes searching.
A Frenchman’s fist crashed into Swan’s head.
He stumbled.
Now and in the hour of our death. Amen.
He was hit again, fell to the earth, and . . .

Thomas Swan awoke to crisp linen sheets and light.
His whole body hurt.
Good Christ, I . . .

‘I’m alive!’ he said aloud. And felt like an idiot, but he was very much alive. Certain parts were insisting they were alive.
He looked around – there were palettes laid on a wooden floor, and whitewashed walls. A monastery, then.

‘One of the English devils is moving!’ said a woman’s voice in French.
A burly monk appeared with a staff. Swan bowed. He was naked, which put him at a disadvantage.
‘Tom Swan, at your service,’ he said. Then switching languages, he said, ‘Serviteur,’ in good Gascon French.

The monk pointed one end of the staff at Swan and called, ‘Help! Help!’
It might have been funny, except for the real possibility he was about to be killed. Swan bowed again. ‘My interests are entirely in food, friends,’ he said.
Other men on palettes of straw and clean sheets were stirring. Swan had to assume that the big man in the bandages was the Fleming who had fought the Frenchmen. The man wasn’t moving. He had one arm out over his sheet, and that arm was covered in massive bruises.
He counted sixteen. Sixteen men.

‘Good Christ,’ he said.
The burly monk continued to threaten – ineptly – with the butt of the staff. He shouted for help again, and there were distant footsteps.
A slim man – older, but with angelic blond hair and a less than angelic face – appeared from behind the monk. ‘You are the barbarian who speaks Greek?’ he asked.

It’s difficult to appear dominant or even charming when you are naked and covered in dried blood and bruises. Swan shrugged. ‘Greek. French. Italian. English. Latin.’ He smiled in what he hoped was an ingratiating manner because he really wanted to live.
The blond man nodded. ‘Come with me, then,’ he said in Latin.
Swan spread his hands as if to indicate his nudity.

The blond man was dressed foppishly like an Italian – tight hose, tight short jacket, a tiny hat perched on his curls. He had a very effective sneer. ‘His Eminence has seen a naked man before,’ he said. ‘Perhaps not as gamy as you – but still. Move.’
The fop drew a dagger from behind his back.

Swan considered the possibility of taking the man’s weapon and running. He didn’t have the bone-weary feeling of defeat – his joints ached, he had bruises, but he could fight.
The slim blond man looked as if he knew what he was about. He kept his empty hand between them, and the dagger well back.

Swan walked along the brightly lit corridor. A nun saw him and turned her back. Then she moved quickly down the corridor and shouted ahead that a naked man was coming.
She turned back and looked at him. And spat.
He almost laughed.
He took a deep breath. They were at a closed door.

The thin man stepped out of the way. ‘If you do anything I do not like, I’ll put this in your arse,’ he said, flicking the point of the dagger from side to side. ‘Understand, Englishman?’
Swan nodded.

‘Say something in Greek for me,’ the man said. His grin wasn’t friendly.
‘Oinos, o phili pais,’ Swan said. He smiled.
‘Eh,’ the other man said. ‘Not the way Greeks say it, but still. In you go.’
Swan was ushered through the door.

Every monastery has a room for receiving rich or noble visitors – panelled in wood, lined in tapestries, sometimes with precious silver and gold in a cupboard carved with lives of the saints. This House of God was no exception, except that the cupboard had no carved doors. And no silver.

The cardinal was sitting in the sun. Swan shrugged. ‘I’d like something to wear,’ he said. ‘Your Eminence.’
The cardinal nodded. ‘You speak Greek?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ Swan answered, in French.

‘What in heaven’s name suggested that you should call out to me in Greek?’ the cardinal asked.
Swan fingered his beard and tried to think. ‘You’re a cardinal,’ he said. ‘From Italy.’
The cardinal raised both eyebrows.

‘People in Italy study things in Greek. My Greek master was Italian.’ Swan was suddenly babbling. ‘My sword master was Italian, too, but—’
The cardinal barked a sharp laugh. ‘As it happens, I am Greek,’ he said.
Swan took a deep breath, racked his brain for the Greek for ‘to save’. ‘Σας ευχαριστώ που με έσωσες, αγιότητα σας. Thank you for saving me, Eminence.’

‘I am very pleased to have saved such a young scholar. Are you – hmm – someone important? Worth a fine ransom?’
It occurred to Swan to tell the truth, but he couldn’t risk it. ‘Oh, yes,’ he said. ‘My father will pay a thousand ducats for me.’

The cardinal nodded. ‘I told Alessandro you were a nobleman’s son. He doubted me. A thousand ducats? Excellent. I’ll see you well lodged, then. I’m going to Paris. Do you have friends in Paris?’
Swan shrugged. ‘I had hoped to go to the Sorbonne,’ he said. ‘It didn’t work out.’
‘Do you read Hebrew?’ asked the cardinal.
Swan had to shake his head. ‘No,’ he said with real regret.
‘Have you read Plato?’ asked the cardinal.
‘My Greek master had a copy of Aristotle’s De Anima. And Xenophon’s Apologia. That’s really all I’ve read.’ It was an astounding piece of truth, for Swan. But Bessarion was difficult to lie to.

‘You’ll enjoy Paris,’ the cardinal said, and waved his hand. As Swan turned to leave, he said, ‘Don’t do anything . . . hasty. This place was burned by the English. Some of the nuns were raped. All the silver taken. Yes? You understand? They would like to kill you.’
Outside the door, the thin blond looked him up and down. ‘I’ll find you clothes,’ he said. He sneered. ‘But you’re not worth a copper centivo, much less a thousand Venetian ducats. Are you?’
Swan raised an eyebrow. ‘I most certainly am,’ he said.
‘Eh,’ said the Italian. ‘We’ll see.’

Back in the cells, where the men lay on palettes. They were waking up. There were a dozen francs-archers in the corridor, eyeing the nuns. The nuns glared at him with unconcealed hate.

One of the Frenchmen tripped him as he went by. He went down and rolled, avoiding another kick.
The Italian punched the Frenchman in the ear so fast that Swan was very glad indeed he hadn’t grabbed for the dagger. The punch went in – uncontested – and the archer fell and his legs kicked – once.

‘My prisoner,’ the Italian said, in French. His dagger was out again, and he gestured with it. ‘Don’t make me hurt any of you.’
The Frenchmen growled, but they didn’t do anything more.

‘Do you have a servant?’ asked the Italian, his eyes on the Frenchmen.
‘No,” Swan admitted, and then narrowed his eyes. ‘Yes,’ he said. He paused. ‘If he survived.’
The Italian looked over the men, most of whom were still on their palettes. ‘One of these?’ he asked.

Swan reached out and pointed at the Fleming, who was still unconscious. ‘If he’s alive.’
The Italian looked at him. It was a long look – eye to eye.
‘Really?’ he said. The faintest sign of a smile flickered at the corner of his mouth. ‘The English devil that all the Frenchmen are waiting to hang is your servant. Eh?’
Swan shrugged and licked his lips. ‘He’s not English,’ he said. ‘He’s Flemish.’

The Italian raised an eyebrow. ‘Eh bien. If you say. I will do my best to keep him from being shorter by a head.’ He shrugged. ‘You are clever, Englishman. I give you this for free.’
Swan nodded. ‘Sometimes,’ he said. ‘Not yesterday, by God.’

An hour later, he was on a bad horse, wearing a bad doublet and a foul shirt and a pair of braes that had shit stains and hose with holes in them – soled hose and no shoes.
Thomas Swan had spent his life being the poorest boy among rich boys. He knew what good clothes were like. He just never seemed to have them. The kit in which he’d been sent to France was the very limit of what his mother could afford, and it was gone – every stitch, down to his eating knife and his belt purse.
The Fleming was head down over a mule, wearing a shirt and braes and nothing else.
They sat mounted in the courtyard. There were raised voices in the portico.
The cardinal was insisting that the English prisoners were not to be murdered."


NOTE: The first three Tom Swan and the Head of St George ebooks are available now
For more on the Tom Swan series follow the rest of the blog tour – tomorrow’s stop is Bookzone4Boys. 
You can catch the previous stop on our Tom Swan blog tour here.



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