HE'S FOUGHT FOR HIS LANDS, HIS MARRIAGE, AND HIS KING. THE FIGHT FOR HIS SOUL IS JUST BEGINNING.
"He's alive." With these two words, the world as Sebastian knows it will never be the same. The news that his cousin Konrad-his sworn enemy and abusive first husband of his beloved wife Adela-means that his marriage is no longer valid. Even the high king Charlemagne cannot challenge the decision of a powerful emerging Church. Sebastian can do nothing but watch as the love of his life enters a convent.
This epic tale of love and honor sweeps the reader back into the fascinating 9th century world of the incomparable Charlemagne. No mere military account of conquests and battles, this is a rich, well-rounded period drama and an authentic recreation of the early medieval world. Book I of this three-volume series was highly recommended by the Historical Novel Society. The second novel does not disappoint, as the hero is sent from the king's Rhineland court to three preeminent capitals of the 9th-century medieval world: Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Baghdad. Through his courage under pressure, original ideas, and steadfast service to the king Sebastian has become one of Charlemagne's twelve paladins, a high honor, but the cost is also high. He loses his beloved wife and family, becomes entangled with other beautiful women, and is submerged into a foreign world of intrigue and betrayal. Becoming a paladin changes Sebastian from a young man of faith and character into a hard-bitten warrior in a ruthless world. Thus the latter part of the novel presents a swirling adventure but also a parable of the ruin and redemption of a professional soldier.
At this point in their marriage, Charlemagne was besotted with Fastrada, with her elegant beauty, exceptional intelligence, and palpable carnality. It occurred to Sebastian that she was like original sin, impossible to ignore or avoid. The queen did as she pleased, more or less. And it took Sebastian only a few moments to see she was not content just to be Charlemagne's queen, his woman of the moment. She wanted much more. She didn't want to replace the king, she just wanted to control him and anyone else who had power and influence. "Congratulations, my queen," Sebastian began, bowing low before Fastrada. "The king told me of your new child. He's very pleased." "Ah," she murmured, reaching across to take his hand in hers. "Is that all you can say? The baby is old news. I had her months ago. The king is just now getting around to celebrating her birth. I would have thought you might say you were glad to see me." "Of course I am, Your Grace." He cleared his throat and ventured lamely, "You are looking very well and healthy." "Heavens! You certainly know how to charm a lady. Never mind. Take my arm. Let us get to know one another better." She walked him into the part of the garden where there were thicker shrubs. "You seem to be avoiding me, my handsome hero," she said, holding his arm tightly up against her bosom. "Why is that? I so want to be your friend." "What?" Sebastian croaked, stunned at her familiarity. "Your friend, Your Grace? That is impossible; you are the queen. It would not be seemly." Fastrada laughed derisively. "My good Lord Sebastian! Seemly? What kind of word is that? Don't be so stuffy and formal. Do you not think that queens are like all other women? They have feelings and emotions-needs, just like men or any other woman." Despite his smug confidence that he was aware of Fastrada's game, Sebastian flushed red with embarrassment. The queen was speaking to him with highly inappropriate familiarity and holding him far too closely to her side as she led him rapidly into a nest of high flowering bushes, her hip firmly thrust against his own. Whenever she spoke, she leaned into him, pressing her bosom into his arm. "Look here, Sebastian," she insisted, stopping and fixing him with the unwavering eyes of a cat on the hunt. "I want you to be my good friend. I admire you ever so much, and I always listen eagerly for news of you. You are the most interesting man in my husband's court. I follow your doings everywhere. I even know some of your secrets." She paused a moment to let this pregnant phrase sink in. "I know, for example, that you are a man of great passion and determination, that you love unreservedly and you would do anything for the one you love, even to the point of heedlessly intruding into the den of a notorious bandit to fight him in the midst of his bloodthirsty friends. What passion! What consuming desire drove you to do such a reckless thing? They almost killed you. And yet you live. Perhaps it's true what the people say about you-that you cannot be killed. And you appear now even stronger, more vital than before. I marvel at you, my intrepid Achilles! Can you blame anyone for wanting to be closer to you?" "You do me far too much honor, Your Grace, and I am truly sorry you know about that unfortunate business in Denmark. I was a fool, not a hero there." "Of course you weren't a fool-only passionate and dogged in your devotion. Would that the king would love me with such ardor." "He does, I assure you, Your Grace. He dotes upon you." "Yes, at the present moment he does. But would he go to such extremes as you have done for love of me?" She let the question hang in the air as Sebastian struggled in stunned confusion. Finally, she continued, "My dear Sebastian, I want you to be my confidant. I want you to be close to me-very close. Did you know that it was I who recommended to the king that he choose you to be his paladin? Yes, it's true. I told him he could find no greater devotion or loyalty in a man and that he could have no greater champion." She drew in a breath, pulling him closer. "So you see, you are my paladin as well as the king's. You will be the new Roland, and I will be the muse for all your future adventures."
Colonel Steger had two long careers which contributed greatly to Sebastian's story, a military one with many years abroad in Europe and Vietnam, from which much of the action and adventures emerged, and an academic one as a professor of history at the University of Saint Mary in which the compassionate, philosophical, and romantic side of Sebastian was evoked. He is now Professor Emeritus and writes from his home in rural Kansas.