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EXCERPT: The Usurper King

Books are truly a group creation. Regardless of whether a book is independently or traditionally published, conscientious authors work with editors, graphic designers, formatters, beta-readers, and advance readers to be sure their work is well-done and of high quality. So I'm delighted to share an excerpt from The Usurper King this week. Author Mercedes Rochelle is one of my beta-readers, and I also read for her.

For those not familiar with the term, a beta-reader is a person who volunteers to read a manuscript prior to publishing. Authors choose this process at varying times in the manuscript process, but I tend to do it once my final copy-edit is done and I want to "test" the waters to see what feedback I receive from my betas. It's helpful to get candid opinions, insights, and additional edits from readers who literally have the first access to my books.

Mercedes and I have a great working relationship when it comes to beta-reading. We plan them in advance and communicate with one another as to the status of the manuscript and whether we need special details examined. The Usurper King is Mercedes's newest work and in my opinion, one of her best! For those of you who love British history, her detailed histories on the Plantagenet Dynasty are meant to be savored and enjoyed, because when it comes to Mercedes, HISTORY is the integral mechanism in her novels.

So let's take a look inside The Usurper King!

A Tempestuous Parliament Session (Excerpt from The Usurper King by Mercedes Rochelle)

To almost everyone, the name John Hall meant absolutely nothing. But Henry assumed Bagot wouldn't bring him up unless he knew something meaningful. He leaned over to Archbishop Arundel, instructing him to recess parliament until the next day. In the interim, they could recover Hall from Newgate and question him.

The prisoner was easily found and brought into parliament, manacled at the ankles and shackled at the wrists. Looking about in trepidation at the glowering faces, he tripped as he was led up to the bar. The guard grabbed him and turned him around to face the members.

James Billingford, one of the king's clerks, was instructed to interrogate the prisoner. He walked up to Hall, jutting out his chin.

"John Hall, valet to the Duke of Norfolk, were you present at the death of the Duke of Gloucester?"

Taking a deep breath, Hall nodded. "Yes, I was there unwillingly. I was asleep when the Duke of Norfolk ordered my presence. It was around midnight. I went to his solar. He looked terrible, like he hadn't slept for days. 'What do you know about the Duke of Gloucester?' he asked. I was confused, for I thought the duke was dead and I told him so. Then he said no, the duke was not dead but that the king and the Duke of Aumale, who was then Earl of Rutland, sent men to Calais to kill him. He ordered me to accompany five of his own men, two valets of Rutland's, and William Serle, who was King Richard's chamber valet, to the Duke of Gloucester's cell. I knew what was going to happen." He looked imploringly at Billingford. "I'm not an assassin. I told Norfolk no, I did not want to do this thing, even if I had to be dismissed and suffer the loss of all my goods. Suddenly, he leaped to his feet and gave me such a blow to the side of the head he almost knocked me to the floor. 'You will go,' he said, 'or else you will hang tomorrow. For it is the king and the Earl of Rutland who have ordered his death and it must be accomplished'. What could I do? I was in fear for my life." He stopped talking while the members grumbled amongst themselves. Rutland was squirming in his seat but his father restrained him.

Refusing to look at the Duke of Aumale, Hall continued. "We were all taken to the Church of Our Lady of Calais and made to swear on the body of Christ that we would tell no one about what was to happen. Then we were taken to the castle where the duke was imprisoned. I guarded the door of his room while Serle and one of Rutland's valets strangled him with his own scarf then covered him with his mattress to make sure he was dead." He stopped abruptly as the hall burst into pandemonium. Although many suspected Gloucester had been murdered, this was the first time it came out into the open.

Aumale was frantic. He stood and tried to outshout his neighbors, punching his fist in the air. "The man lies," he cried, aware that nobody listened to him. "I sent no one to Calais!"

Hall grimaced, knowing it was his word against the duke's. However, it seemed Aumale had little support. No one could understand anyone else in all the ruckus; at least the fingers were pointing at the duke rather than the hapless prisoner. Finally, the archbishop pounded his staff on the floor until the noise died down.

"I demand to be heard," shouted Lord Fitzwalter, who had an especial dispute with Aumale. After more pounding, he was given leave. "It was you who appealed Gloucester of treason," he snarled at the duke. "You brought accusations against him, and it was you who made the king hate him. For all these reasons, you were midwife to his murder, which I shall prove in battle." Tearing off his hood, he threw it to the floor.

"And here is my hood!" cried Aumale, throwing his own in response.

The tumult began again. The old Earl of Warwick threw his hood on the floor, then Lord Morley, then Lord William of Beauchamp. Following their lead, every single earl and baron threw their hoods down while the Commons roared their outrage, threatening to charge across the room. The guards struggled to hold them back with halberds.

"My God, Thomas," Henry stood, grabbing the archbishop's wrist, "they are going to kill him right in front of me!" He held out his arms. "My lords, my lords, restrain yourselves. Please, for the love of God, stop this clamor!" He waved at the turmoil, and even took Arundel's staff, banging it on the floor. Nobody heard him.

"I command you to stop this uproar," he warned, still shouting. "You disregard my demands at your own risk!" Still, the men were so intent on their own anger that nobody heeded.

The king turned to Thomas Percy, standing behind the throne. "Have the heralds sound the trumpets. We need to stop this now." Momentary the blast of horns rang through the hall, drawing everyone's attention. Stopping in the middle of their scuffling, men finally noticed that the king was shaking with fury.

"I order you not to do anything which is against the law," Henry roared. "Where is your sense of decorum? Restrain yourselves until we can discuss this rationally."

Fortunately, Henry's speech had an effect and the hall quieted down. Men took their seats again. Hall looked around, hoping he was forgotten in all the excitement. No such luck. James Billingford, the king's clerk, was standing before him, watching the king. Henry nodded toward him.

"My lords, what is your judgment against this man?" He pointed at Hall.

"Death," someone shouted. "A traitor's death," shouted another. The room threatened to break out in an uproar again, when the king held out his hands. He was still standing.

"We need order," he called out. "One at a time, my lords, give me your judgment." As he waited, the earls and barons stood one by one and called out "death" in a determined voice.

The prisoner had visibly slumped; he needed help to stay on his feet. Wanting to get this thing over with, King Henry immediately gave his verdict. "John Hall, I condemn you to be drawn, disemboweled, then hanged, beheaded, and quartered. Lord Marshal, take him to Tyburn at once and perform your duty."

At first, Hall was dumbfounded; he had done nothing to deserve a traitor's death. Then he realized he was to be sacrificed to avenge Gloucester's murder. "No, no," he screamed. "I am innocent. I swear to you that I did not kill the Duke of Gloucester!" Two guards grasped his arms and dragged him from the room, for by then he had lost the use of his legs. "No! Spare me! I am innocent of wrongdoing!" As he was hauled out the door, his voice took a long time to fade away until finally he was gone, leaving the assembly with a sickening sense of relief.

BLURB: From Outlaw to Usurper

First, he led his own uprising. Gathering support the day he returned from exile, Henry marched across the country and vanquished the forsaken Richard II. Little did he realize that his problems were only just beginning. How does a usurper prove his legitimacy? What to do with the deposed king? Only three months after he took the crown, Henry IV had to face a rebellion led by Richard's disgruntled favorites. Worse yet, he was harassed by rumors of Richard's return to claim the throne. His own supporters were turning against him. How to control the overweening Percies, who were already demanding more than he could give? What to do with the rebellious Welsh? After only three years, the horrific Battle of Shrewsbury nearly cost him the throne—and his life. It didn't take long for Henry to discover that having the kingship was much less rewarding than striving for it.

Meet the Author

Mercedes Rochelle is an ardent lover of medieval history, and has channeled this interest into fiction writing. Her first four books cover eleventh-century Britain and events surrounding the Norman Conquest of England. The next series is called The Plantagenet Legacy about the struggles and abdication of Richard II, leading to the troubled reigns of the Lancastrian Kings. She also writes a blog: to explore the history behind the story. Born in St. Louis, MO, she received by BA in Literature at the Univ. of Missouri St.Louis in 1979 then moved to New York in 1982 while in her mid-20s to “see the world”. The search hasn’t ended! Today she lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.

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