So it was when I submitted The Blood of The Fifth Knight to my publishers. The novel is the sequel to The Fifth Knight, which was a #1 Amazon bestselling historical thriller in both the US and the UK. No pressure, you understand?
Crucially, your editor has what you, as the writer, can never have about your own work. And that, my friends, is distance. So while you might pride yourself as an ace editor, you will never have the advantage of not having written it in the first place.
Enter my wonderful developmental editor for The Blood of The Fifth Knight, Katie Green. Katie was extremely encouraging and complimentary (she called it a 'brilliant historical thriller'!). Such editorial feedback is, I can assure you, very easy to accept.
Yet in order to make a book better, an editor also has to suggest the dreaded deletions. Yes, those scenes, those chapters that you sweated so hard over. They need to get gone. And begone no matter how great they are. For while they might work as a piece, they need to fit in to the overall novel. So it was with the original second scene in my novel.
In the first scene, Sir Benedict Palmer is standing on the sweltering streets of Canterbury on 12 July 1174, watching King Henry II make his brutal public penance for the murder of Thomas Becket. (This was the last scene in The Fifth Knight).
Henry is in deep trouble. A rebellion led by his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is on the cusp of victory. A key figure in the rebellion is Raoul de Faye, Eleanor's uncle and would-be suitor. Scene two was to have introduced us to de Faye, hiding out in London that day as he prepares for Henry's defeat.
Yet Katie felt that the scene (while a great scene) slowed the pacing and interrupted what was happening with the main characters. She also advised that it was probably a bit of a duplication with another scene. She was right. It had to go, with some of the aspects put into later scenes.
But of course de Faye didn't go. He's crucial to the whole book. And he's one of my bad guys, and I love my villains very, very much. So to get the love going for de Faye, and to get a peek into the world of The Blood of The Fifth Knight, here (for free!) is that deleted scene:
London, 12 July 1174
Raoul de Faye, Seneschal of Poitou, wiped the perspiration from his forehead and cursed London.
One would have thought this rented room high enough above the street to escape the stink. Yet the many and varied foul stenches drifted up and in here as sure as smoke.
He crossed to the small wooden window, propped open to allow a modicum of air. He leaned out to see if he could catch any glimpse of the messenger he expected. No sign of the man yet in the relentless, noise-filled surge of people, horses, carts, donkeys and oxen below. A farmer driving a dozen large pigs added newly to the barbarous crush.
Withdrawing inside in disgust, de Faye fastened up the window. Gloom descended in the wretched room. It would soon become stifling, but that would have to be borne. He liked heat. Or rather he liked clean heat, the heat of the countryside.
On a day such as this at his castle in Faye-le-Vineuse, south of Chinon, the air would be hot with scent, with growth. A breeze would travel the peaceful fields, birds soaring upon it. The roses in his courtyard would throw out their thick, sweet scent, with the grapes in his vineyard drawing it in, using it for their miraculous swell that would yield him his fine wines.
But London was not his beloved countryside across the water. London did not even have the finesse of the cauldron that was Paris. No, this city was a cesspit all of its own, a place to be endured rather than enjoyed.
He picked up a jug of ale from the rickety wooden table and poured himself a cup. Though the brackish liquid looked and smelled foul, the steadiness of his own hand pleased de Faye. Like the greatest of knights, he traveled amongst his enemies at great peril to himself, and remained unafraid.
As he drank a mouthful, the warm, yeasty liquid left a rancid residue on his tongue. He grimaced. How many hours had men spent making water and barley taste this bad? Better they had left them apart, though any water he’d seen in this rancid city would kill a wild ox stone dead. He took another draught.
Outside, the church bells rang for the office of None. Low ones, high ones, all in an orderly chime. Good. They were a portent, a portent that all his careful plans were coming to fruit. The messenger should not be long now.
The rebellion was proceeding exactly as he, the uncle of Queen Eleanor herself, had planned. In a matter of weeks, her churl of a husband, Henry, would be defeated. Then he, Raoul de Faye, could lay the kingdom at the feet of his niece, his love. She would see him for the heroic warrior he was, and his fifty-eight years on God’s earth would not matter to her. She would want him to rule by her side, would offer her bed and her body to him.
De Faye wiped the wet of the ale from his neatly trimmed beard. Troubadours would assemble at the court over which he and Eleanor would rule, to delight her in the melodic poems she loved and cultivated so much. Yet it would now be him they celebrated him in song for his victory: praising him as the courtly knight who had done this for his passion, his worship for his lady. His name would echo down the ages, just as it had for Arthur, for Lancelot. For Yvain.
A muffled knock came from the door. At last. To be expected but de Faye had to make sure. He had no business in this city. If the king’s men even got a sniff that he was here, he would be hauled from here and flayed alive.
De Faye raised his voice. “Whom do you seek?”
The answer: “Harpin.”
Harpin. The monstrous giant slain by the great knight, Yvain. De Faye smiled to himself at his own choice of password and swung the door open.
The messenger stood there, the dust from the July road covering him like thick, brown snow.
“Pray come in.”
The messenger did so, accepting gratefully de Faye’s offered cup of beer.
“How does it proceed?” asked de Faye.
“Word from Norwich, my lord. Bigod’s troops are assembling. Victory is imminent.”
“As I thought. This is good, good news.” De Faye clasped his hands in satisfaction.
All to plan. His plan. Henry teetered at the edge of the precipice called defeat, about to take the long, hard fall that could only end in disgrace and death. De Faye had brought him there. The only response from the king? To whine and wobble about the streets of Canterbury, appealing to that dead traitor, Becket.
“Another drink, my man?”
The messenger nodded and held out his cup. “My thanks to you, my lord. I seem to have swallowed half the road.”
De Faye refilled, waited until the young man drank deep, head back, uncaring of anything except the liquid slaking his thirst.
Then with a quick sweep of his long, pointed dagger, de Faye opened the neck of the messenger, so fast the foul drink sprayed out with the hot blood.
The man crumpled to the rough floor planks, cup clattering from his hand. A swathe of crimson swamped the brown dust of his clothes.
De Faye collected his bag and swung his cloak around him. The young man had hardly been an opponent like the giant Harpin. Nonetheless, de Faye had vanquished him. But a shame. Good, discreet messengers were hard to find, took a long time to train. Yet they could leave a trail and de Faye couldn’t risk that with this one, not at this point in his campaign.
Like the great Yvain, his victory was in his grasp. Then Henry would pay, pay for his betrayal of Eleanor. Pay with his very life.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~The Blood of The Fifth Knight is published by Thomas & Mercer on 01.01.2015. You can pre-order it here on Amazon.com or here on Amazon.co.uk.