Sunday, December 30, 2012

To Know Evil - Happy New Year

In To Know Evil, my historical mystery that has just recently been published on Kindle, the climax of the story takes place on New Years Eve in the Monastery of St. Benedict in Northern Italy in the year AD 999.

When I originally wrote the story, the scene took place soon after Christmas on December 31. On researching the Middle Ages, I found out, much to my dismay, that Europe celebrated New Years on 25 March. This little miscalculation actually extended my story almost three months. I probably could have worked around it somehow, but chose to have the climax on 25 March. I didn't want anyone pointing out I got New Years wrong.



It is believed that Julius Caesar, the celebrated Roman emperor, first proposed the idea of having January 1 as the first day of the year way back in 46 BCE. This is because the month of January has been named after the Roman God Janus. Janus is personified as a two-faced person, one face facing the front and the other facing the back, and he is believed to be the God of doors and Gates. This, to Caesar, symbolized transition from one year to the other. The then Roman celebration of the New Year was flooded with blood and drunkenness.
Later, with the rise in Christianity, the New Year was associated with the incarnation of God’s son, Christ. As such, March 25, Annunciation Day or Lady Day, was considered as the beginning of New Year. This is the day when Mary was informed by the Angel Gabriel that she would bear God’s son Jesus.

When William the Conqueror (also known as “William the Bastard”, “William of Normandy”) took over the reins of England, he ordered January 1 to be established as the New Year to collaborate it with his coronation and with circumcision of Jesus (on the eight day from His birth on December 25). However, this was abandoned by people later as they joined the rest of the Christian world to celebrate New Year on March 25.
In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII (also known as did away with the Julian calendar for good and established the modern day Gregorian calendar where January 1 was re-established as the beginning of a New Year.
Today however, January 1 is internationally accepted as the beginning of New Year although many parts of the world have their separate New Year celebrations in different times of the year.



Sunday, December 23, 2012

To Know Evil - Foreward

I sometimes wonder how important Forewards are to novels. Why do some authors put them in? Are Forewards simply used to set-up the story? Do these stories actually need to be set-up? Can't the story simply be told without the Foreward? I often thought of these questions when I wrote To Know Evil.

Forewards sometimes remind me of Chorus in Shakepeare's Henry V, or Rumour in Henry IV, Part Two. Certainly Shakespeare did not use these devices in all his work, not even the majority of his work; so why did he here? Hopefully he did not think his audience was so dense that they had to be told they were going to use their imaginary forces to see horses Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth? It seems that Shakespeare did not have to tell his audiences that they were going to have to imagine Rome, or Scotland or Denmark, or that they would be transported back hundreds of years.

I had considered not having a Foreward in To Know Evil, as I had seldom ever used them in my other  works. But I left it in figuring some readers would do what I have been known to do from time to time when confronted with a Foreward; just skip over it and get right to the story.

Since To Know Evil was recently published on Kindle, I thought I would put some of the book on my blog and I thought I would start with the:


Foreword

In northern Italy sits a small unassuming coastal town on the Ligurian Sea. Surrounding the town are low-lying hills that stand like silent sentinels, with heads bowed and hands folded in front of them in what would appear to be an almost pious posture. Leading northeast out of the town is an old dirt road that meanders into the hills. The road wanders almost aimlessly for sixty-six kilometres into the rugged countryside and comes to a sudden end at a river that flows past the base of a small mountain. The top of the mountain presents an excellent view of the entire area. Sitting atop the mountain is a partial wall of cut stone, rising above a mound of similar cut stone that has long since fallen into ruin. Aside from this account that follows, it is all that remains of a terrible tragedy brought on by an unspeakable evil.
The ruins date back to the second century B.C., and the Punic Wars. After Hannibal led his army in an unprecedented move over the Alps and invaded Rome from the north, the Roman Emperor commanded legionaries specially trained in engineering to erect a series of small outposts to help warn against any future invasion.
One such outpost was built atop a low mountain, referred to in ancient Etruscan legend as Serpent’s Mountain. The Romans knew little of the Etruscans and paid little heed to the reference, since no snakes were ever seen in the area, but those who knew the folklore about the site did not take the strange tales lightly. Stories of human sacrifice, sexual perversions, demon worship, and heinous tortures kept all but the very foolish—and the Romans—from treading in the shadow of the mountain.

Although the post witnessed Julius Caesar’s troops as they passed it on their way to invade Gaul, this particular station experienced only minimal contact with the outside in two hundred fifty years. Indeed, assignment to this remote station was tantamount to being exiled into obscurity. A soldier sent there could consider his military career at an end. In the second century A.D., something strange overcame the men stationed at the outpost. In what can only be termed mass madness, the soldiers killed one another. This obscure fact has not made it into any history book, though the few who learned of it attempted, in vain, to explain the unusual event. Whether the madness was brought on by isolation or loneliness none could say, for there were no survivors to tell the tale.
It was not until the coming of the barbarians, more than three hundred years after this mysterious tragedy, that the distant outpost was used again, yet no army would dally there for long. Sometime before the fall of the Roman Empire, the station was found abandoned and claimed by an obscure order of Christian monks known as Gnostics. Over a period of two hundred years the Gnostic monks built an elaborate stone monastery atop the original outpost. These monks were renowned for their skills in masonry and carpentry, and other arts that are little known today. The monastery itself was a combination of Roman, Byzantine, and Gothic architecture. Its shape was basically square, with different buildings joined together, surrounding a spacious courtyard. The structure displayed an elegant simplicity, and was supported by tall columns and arches. In its day it could easily have been considered an architectural marvel. 
It is worth noting that during the barbarian invasion in the third, fourth and fifth centuries, there is no record of the monastery ever being attacked by hostile forces. The Gnostic monks received few visitors from the secular world and were most particular about whom they allowed into their sect. It was this very particularity that condemned them to extinction. By the time the Benedictines discovered the monastery in the year 580, only one Gnostic remained, a Brother Alamar, who claimed to be 114 years old.
The Benedictine order was founded early in the sixth century by Benedict of Nursia, who established many monasteries in Italy, including the one at Monte Cassino. Benedict believed in a purposeful and ordered life, balanced by equal portions of prayer, work, and sleep. To guide monks in their search for salvation, Benedict penned a monastic legislative code. Known simply as the Rule, it spelled out in great detail the practices monks were to follow so they might earn a place in Christ’s kingdom.
What follows is the story of what took place in that Benedictine monastery in the year 999 A.D., the incredible secrets buried there, and the terrible tragedy that brought an end to that fellowship of brothers.


To Know Evil on Kindle

To Know Evil on Youtube


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

To Know Evil - Now on Kindle!

I am very happy to announce my historical mystery, To Know Evil has just been published on Kindle.

To Know Evil on Amazon

An Irish monk dies in a Benedictine abbey in northern Italy on the eve of the second millennium. When Brother Thomas of Worms attempts to investigate the murder, his abbot accuses him of inventing trouble to avoid his duty to God and assigns Thomas the chore of copying a Biblical text as penance. Neither copying nor humility comes easily to an intelligent man like Thomas, who struggles with his commitment to obey his abbot. While in the library, Thomas is drawn to a gnostic book that leads him to a discovery that threatens the very fabric of the Church. When more monks perish, Thomas's loyalty to the monastery and its rites is tested, and he risks expulsion as he seeks to uncover the link between the murders and the hidden codex that has shaken his faith.

" this is an intriguing look at life in a cloistered monastery at the turn of the millennium. The story line is fast-paced and filled with twists..."


Stephen Gaspar’s TO KNOW EVIL is a moody and atmospheric medieval mystery with a sleuth as cunning as Brother Cadfael and a monastery as creepy as in Umberto Eco’s NAME OF THE ROSE.

Deeply atmospheric, TO KNOW EVIL combines the ancient mysteries of the DA VINCI CODE with a traditional whodunit. With accurate detail, Stephen Gaspar paints a riveting picture of medieval monastic life and a group of monks with human failings. Readers may see a bit of themselves in Brother Thomas of Worms.”

"Stephen Gaspar crafts an intriguing tale of betrayal and murder, set in a monastery on a remote mountaintop in northern Italy..."

Check out the great Youtube promo for To Know Evil by Greg Maxwell

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Study in Sherlock

This past November was the 125th anniversary of the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes in Print. A Study in Scarlet was published in Beeton's Christmas Annual in 1887. It is now a rare collectible and considered the most expensive magazine in the world, with a Beeton's 1887 selling for $156,000 at Sotheby's in 2007.
 Beeton's Christmas Annual was a paperback magazine published from 1860 (volume 1) through 1898 (volume 39).  Each issue also carried a distinctive title reflecting that season's contents.  The 1887 edition, entitled "A Study in Scarlet," was approximately 8.5" x 5.5" and had color pictorial wrappers (cover).  It was issued in November at a price of one shilling and sold out before Christmas.
Cold-Hearted Murder by Stephen Gaspar is an homage to A Study in Scarlet; the first half of the story has Holmes and Watson investigating a series of bizarre murders, and the second half tells the remarkable story of what led up to these crimes. In A Study in Scarlet the backstory takes place in the American West, while in Cold-Hearted Murder the backstory is set during the Great Klondike Gold Rush in the Canadian North-West.
Cold-Hearted Murder is now available on Kindle.
Cold-Hearted Murder on Amazon

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Templar and the True Cross IV

    It had been seven years since de Montpellier had seen Paris. The last time he was here he had to flee for his life under cover of darkness. Today he entered the town with mixed emotions, feelings of both nostalgia and resentment. To Sir Jean-Marc, the city had not changed much. Paris was situated on the Seine River. The city was divided into three main sections; the town or ville on the right bank of the river, the university on the left, and in between the Ile de la Cité. This island on the Seine was the true heart of France. Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle and the Royal Palace were all recent additions to the Cité, making Paris the most modern city. The many universities were advanced and highly prized, attracting people from all over Europe.    Sir Jean-Marc entered the town from the north on the right bank of the river. The city appeared even more crowded than he remembered it, as more people moved away from farms and into urban areas. He recalled an adage he had frequently heard in his travels; ‘Town air make men free’, the saying went. For Jean-Marc, who had known both the open sea and the open land, he could not make much sense of the adage. Towns were offensive to him. Not only the unsightly manner in which the buildings were huddled tightly together, but even more offensive was the smell of animals, rotting refuse, and open holes used as privies.  

      The Templar passed two and three-storey houses that doubled as merchant shops. The second storey overhung the ground floor, allowing more living space in the former than the latter. Shutters on the front of the house closed up the shop at night, while in the day the shutters pivoted down to serve as a trestle on which goods were displayed. In the living quarters at the rear was an open fire for cooking and warmth. The smoke from the fires found its way out of the house through open windows and cracks. Since these merchants catered to the predominantly illiterate class, their shops were often identified with pictures such as a boot to indicate a cobbler, a fish to indicate a fish store or the red and white pole that was the mark of a barber. Many, if not all, of the merchants and craftsmen belonged to guilds who rigidly controlled their own trade. 
    Sir Jean-Marc de Montpellier crossed one of the four bridges that joined the town and Ile de la Cité. Here on this island, a primitive Celtic tribe had built a fortification, holding the island until the Romans drove them away in 52 B.C. The Romans had abandoned the island nearly five hundred years later, and soon Paris welcomed her first Frankish king. The Viking raids in the 9th Century prompted the Capetian kings to rebuild the city and make Paris the capital of France.    
    On Ile de la Cité, the houses were finer than in the town— some were even made of stone—but still lay cramped and crowded. These were the homes of rich merchants who vied for the king’s attention and bought it with rich sums that provided arms and armies. Also on the island flourished some of the finest craftsmen in all France, such as silk weavers, furniture makers, silversmiths, makers of musical instruments, and those who produced illuminated manuscripts.

    Once on the island, Jean-Marc went immediately to the Royal Palace. He was able to enter the palace of the king by a prearranged signal that accompanied the message he received weeks ago ordering him to return to France under the king’s protection. Seven years had passed since Sir Jean-Marc had fled to escape death at the king’s hand, and if the knight had a sense of humour, he might just laugh at the irony of the situation. He did not, however, have much of a sense of humour, and nor could he find anything amusing about the entire matter. Whatever light-hearted feelings he might have possessed he lost on Friday, October 13, 1307, a date that would forever live in perfidy, and one he himself could never forget. For Sir Jean-Marc, it was a date that would forever be accursed in his heart of hearts, and one he would ever consider the epitome of infamous dishonour. For it was on that day that King Philip IV ordered the arrest of every Templar knight in France. At the time, Jean-Marc de Montpellier had been twenty-seven years old and only a Templar for six years, but in those six years he had felt more vital, more a part of something noble and righteous and Godly than he had in his entire life. He had served closely under Jacques de Molay, leader of the Knights Templar since first joining the order, and aside from his own father, Jean-Marc had never loved or respected a man more. Jaques de Molay was thirty-five years Jean-Marc’s senior but the two became close friends and were seldom seen apart.
    They had been on the island of Cyprus when a message reached them to return to France in 1307, at the order of the king. Jean-Marc’s family had been loyal to the throne for generations and none suspected any treachery until it was too late and all the Templars were placed under arrest. Regardless of Jean-Marc’s association to the king, he could expect no preferential treatment, and when an opportunity to escape presented itself, de Montpellier had been forced to take it. Naturally he did not wish to leave his comrades, but de Molay and the others ordered Jean-Marc to flee. He would carry the guilt of that action to his grave.  
            
         * * * * *

    In a small audience hall, King Philip le Bel sat upon a high-back throne of intricately carved wood and inlaid with precious stones. The room was small in comparison to the king’s official audience chamber, but this meeting was to be anything but official. It had not been an easy nor a rash decision to recall Sir Jean-Marc de Montpellier back to France, but Philip felt he had little choice. Things could not go on as they were. It now seemed inevitable that this day would come. They had known, of course, where de Montpellier had been. They had known for over two years. Philip le Bel had been content to allow the knight to live out his days in exile. That fool de Nogaret had wanted to send assassins to kill him when his whereabouts had been discovered, but the king could not allow that. And what if he had? What if Philip had taken de Nogaret’s council and had sent assassins to kill the knight? Where would they be now? There was a very good chance the assassins would have failed. De Montpellier was no ordinary man, no ordinary knight. There had always been something special about that one, the king knew. But what would happen now? How would de Montpellier respond? Would he come to his king’s aid? Of course he would, Philip concluded. The man was the epitome of honour and duty. After all, patris est filius.
    “I advise your Majesty not to meet him alone. Allow me to stay by your side. If not by your side, then behind the tapestry.”
    The King of France gazed up from his musings. The words had come from Sir Gwayne de Chartres.
    “You would hide behind the tapestry like some common ...” the king could not imagine what he could compare it to, and shook his head in disgust. “He would find you out, Sir Gwayne. He has ways of knowing things. He would never hide behind a tapestry.” 
    The words were not meant to belittle the knight, but they served that result, and so Sir Gwayne grew silent.
    “He has too much honour,” the king continued as if speaking to himself. “He would potius mori quam foedari—rather die than be dishonoured. That is his weakness, and if the time comes, it is something we may use against him.
    “No,” the king said, taking on a less introspective tone, “if I am to meet Sir Jean-Marc, it must be alone. I must show him my trust if I am to take him into our confidence.”
    “Perhaps de Montpellier has no love for his Majesty,” de Chartres posed.
    “Perhaps he has no love for you, Sir Gwayne,” the king came back, and before the knight could protest further, the king dismissed him with a wave of his hand. “Leave us. Signal that he is to be sent in.” 

                * * * * *

    Now in the palace of the king once again, Sir Jean-Marc was led by a servant to an antechamber. He had known the castle in his youth, but did not remember ever seeing this room. Wordlessly the servant bid Jean-Marc to enter the room, and just as silently he left the knight alone. Slowly de Montpellier paced about the room, not knowing what to expect or where all this would lead. After a considerable wait, a door that had gone unnoticed up until now, opened in the wall. A young knight Jean-Marc did not know approached him and bowed slightly. He asked the Templar on his word of honour if he carried any weapons. De Montpellier raised his hands from his sides and indicated he was without a weapon. Satisfied, the knight motioned to the hidden door in the wall. Hesitantly Jean-Marc approached it, and passed through.
    He came out into a familiar room, the king’s small audience chamber. Still, it was a large room, with a polished marble floor, and tall columns that led up to an arched ceiling. At one end of the room an elaborate tapestry hung upon the wall. The tapestry was of King Louis IX—who was canonized in 1289—as he sat beneath an oak tree outside the palace dispensing justice and healing sick subjects. Before the tapestry, twin thrones sat upon a raised dias. One of the chairs was empty— and had been so since Queen Jeanne I had died in 1305—yet upon the other throne sat Philip IV, King of France. As Jean-Marc approached the monarch, he recalled why the king was known as Philip le Bel,  for even at forty-six years of age, the king still presented a striking figure. Philip le Bel was the epitome of a strong and appealing leader. He was a tall, handsome fellow, with long blond hair and striking blue eyes. He carried himself with all the confidence and kingly bearing of a man anointed by God. Yet to de Montpellier, the king’s appearance seemed hampered with worry and a solemnity that rivalled Jean-Marc’s own.
    The Templar approached the throne, his footfalls echoed with a hollow sound. He knelt on one knee before the king with head bowed.

    “Rise Sir Knight,” commanded the king in a royal intonation. De Montpellier did as he was bid and the king spoke in a more familiar tone. “We are pleased to see you again, Sir Jean-Marc de Montpellier. Your presence fills a void in our heart that has long been vacant. Come, let me embrace you as a true son of France.”
    The king rose and descended the steps while de Montpellier took an awkward step forward. The two men put their arms about one another, but neither believed it to be more than a token gesture.
    The king pulled back, and taking the Templar by the arm the two walked the hall slowly.
    “It pains us to tell you of your father’s death,” King Philip spoke with genuine sadness. “He was our true friend and we miss him. But now you are here and it is almost like old times, my son. You wear your hair so short, now.” Philip le Bel stroked his own long, luxuriant locks, and when Jean-Marc said nothing, the king proposed, “Shall we talk of happier days; when you, as a boy would visit me here. Though I have three sons of my own, you were always my favourite. And not only mine—Isabella is married now to Edward and living in England. She would have been happy to see you after all these years.”
    Jean-Marc retained a solemn silence.
    “Are you waiting for permission to speak?” the king asked. “I do not remember you being so quiet. Tell me, how does it feel to be home again?”
    “It feels... strange, Sire” the knight spoke lowly. “It no longer feels like my home.”
    “But of course it is,” the king reassured him. “France can be the only true home for a true Frenchman. The monastery where we found you... where was it?”
    “Castille, Sire.”
    “Castille is not France,” Philip said with a suppressed chuckle. “Do you believe, my son, as I do, that God created France to be the centre of the Empire?”
    “Is that why you brought the papacy here?”
    “That was not entirely my doing,” the king said with conviction. “The Pontiff understood that for Christianity to survive, France must survive, France must lead. For France to lead, she must fight our enemies, and to fight our enemies we must have the finances. Do you understand?”
    “Finances. Is that why you brought about the end of the Templars?” Jean-Marc asked evenly and without emotion. “For money?”
    King Philip donned a staid countenance. “Stet pro ratione voluntas—let my will stand as a reason!  It is not for you to question the motives of the king,” he stated. “You were young then. You were not in the country to know what was happening. The bishops and the barons fought for the demise of the Templars. The Hospitallers gained much afterwards. Regardless of what you may have heard, I was not the prime mover that brought down the Templars.”
    “But you might have prevented it,” Jean-Marc insisted.
    “I was trying to hold a country together,” the king stated forcefully. “Can you understand that? Everything I did, everything I do is ex aequo et bono—according to what is just and good. My duty is to France. Your duty is to France. That is why I called you back. That is why you are here.”



The Templar and the True Cross on Amazon

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Templar and the True Cross III

Sir Jean-Marc de Montpellier departed the tournament grounds hurriedly, denying all invitations to joust another round, or meet and be congratulated by admirers. He changed out of his armour, arranged for the care of his horse and entered the fair-grounds which lay adjacent to the tournament field. There were trees of oak, maple, and elm that lined the grounds. Their leaves had started to turn colour, but to de Montpellier, they did not seem as bright as he remembered from his youth. There was a dull hue hanging over the countryside that seemed to reflect the times.
    This would be the final trade fair of the year and would last several days. Merchants travelled from England, Spain, Provence, Flanders and Italy, and gathered north of the city to hawk their wares– French wine, Italian glass, and cloth and wool from Flanders. Jean-Marc saw splendid coloured fabrics from Ypres and Bruges that were known for their softness and perfect yarns. There were merchants with spices and silk that had come all the way from China, while others sold furs brought from as far as Russia and Germany.
            Entertainers, money changers, and other hangers-on added to the activity of fair days, while local merchants, moneylenders, and buyers found fairs convenient places to do business. Adding to the fair’s carnival atmosphere were a variety of entertainers such as stilt-walkers, jugglers, acrobats, and wandering musicians and minstrels.
    De Montpellier did not like the entertainers. As a Templar, he had no use for these types, and believed they served no useful purpose. They were too frivolous, too nonsensical. He believed the purpose of life was to serve God, and he could not see how these people served God in any way.
    Several stalls on the grounds offered produce from the local areas, but few offered palatable displays. This was the third year of the Great Famine. Since 1311, Western Europe had experienced early winters and cold wet springs which had considerably reduced harvest yields. Almost ten per cent of the population had succumbed to starvation, while more still died of illness brought on by malnourishment. This was the first famine Europeans had ever experienced, and most countries were thrown into a state of panic. In the past three centuries, the population of Europe had more than doubled. Urban areas such as Paris had grown faster than the number of farms needed to supply them with food. The people could only be fed when crops were good, which in these times, was seldom. Some believed it was the coming of the end times, and turned towards God for comfort. Sir Jean-Marc de Montpellier did not know if this was indeed the coming of the end times, but he was certain that the famine was God’s own hand teaching the country a lesson for their unrighteousness. Man was straying from the Almighty’s path, and they needed something to help them find their way back.   
    Sir Jean-Marc stopped at a stall that offered food and drink. He purchased a simple flat-cake mixed with nuts and dried berries, which he washed down with very poor wine.
    The Templar knight could not help bringing attention to himself wherever he went. Even here on the fairground his presence garnered curious stares from all, some who thought they recognized the knight, and some who deemed they should. People often gave him a wide berth, and few dared move in too close. There was one on the fairground, however, who spied de Montpellier and studied him from a distance for a time before moving in for a closer scrutiny. He was a brash young man, a minstrel who carried a stringed instrument in his hand.
    The young man strummed his instrument gently as he approached the knight, humming a tune. As he moved closer, the musician broke out into song.
A bold brave knight did ride,
Across the dark countryside.
On a quest for truth and right
To bring to the land a new light
And thereby dispel the night.


    Sir Jean-Marc studied the minstrel closely. The other man was a slim, comely youth perhaps twenty years of age, with curly light hair that hung down to his shoulders. The knight had seen this type before in his travels; itinerant jongleurs who roamed about making a living from singing songs, telling stories and  performing feats of magic or displaying acrobatic skill. If Jean-Marc could appreciate singing, he would have to admit that the man had a sweet voice and carried a tune well. As it was, Jean-Marc attempted to ignore the man, but he could not expect the same from the jongleur.
    “You are new to the province, are you not?” the singer said brazenly to Jean-Marc. “I have been to every fair around Paris for the past six years and I have never seen your like before. My name is Gilbert, master minstrel. I am known from Paris to London, where I have been in the court of Edward II. I studied under Henri de Chevolet. He taught me his entire repertoire before he died last year. Surely you have heard of Chevolet, even if you are not from here. His reputation is well-known. Henri de Chevolet knew the works of Adam de la Halle, the famous trouvère. Surely you have heard of him.”
    Jean-Marc chewed on his dry flat-cake and took a sip of wine. He shook his head to indicate he had not heard of the man Chevolet or of de la Halle.
    “That is a wonder you have not heard of Henri de Chevolet,” the minstrel said. “You must be from some outer province not to have heard of him. Tell me, Sir Knight, from where do you hail? Have you ever been to Paris?”
    Jean-Marc nodded.
    “I have been invited to play in the palace of his Royal Highness King Philip the Fair,” Gilbert said boastfully. “So, tell me, good Sir Knight, what is your name?”
    The Templar hesitated and hoped that this man would go away, but he did not. “My name is Sir Jean-Marc de Montpellier,” the Templar said. Jean-Marc knew he should be more tactful; he had in fact been ordered by the king to be discreet, but his father had taught him as a young boy to be proud of his name.
    Gilbert paused in thought. “It would seem that I should know that name,” he said. “It sounds familiar.”  Still thinking, Gilbert strummed his instrument, and after a moment broke out into song.
And he rode far out of sight
This young, brave Templar Knight
While his brothers fed the fire
At the royal command of their sire
de Montpellier bore visions dire.
    “Are you that de Montpellier, Sir Knight?” Gilbert asked thoughtfully. “Some say you fled France to let your brother knights die at the stake. Others say that it was you who betrayed them so you could have the riches of the Templars for yourself.”
    “I care not for what others say,” the Templar responded.
    “But what do you say, Sir Knight?” the minstrel asked. “What is the truth, so I might put it in song?”
    “The Good Lord, the king, and I know the truth. That is enough for me. You need not put it in song.”                                                                               
    Without another word, the Templar rose and walked off. Gilbert followed Sir Jean-Marc’s progress through the fairgrounds, but after a short time decided to ply his trade elsewhere and perhaps make a little money.
    De Montpellier decided to leave the fairgrounds as soon as possible. A grubby-looking youth ran past the knight on his left which caused him to turn in that direction. Before he was aware of another youth on his right, the little thief had cut the purse-strings from his belt and was off at a run. Despite his size, the knight moved with unbelievable swiftness. His long strides caught up with the youth, who attempted to evade capture by darting this way and that. The boy let out a surprised scream when he was grabbed by the scruff of the neck and lifted off his feet.
    “Hand over my property,” Sir Jean-Marc ordered.
    The youth cried out for help which immediately garnered attention. Heads turned, and people began to move in. The knight, oblivious of the spectators, asked for purse but the boy continued to cry out for help. Even when people asked the stranger to explain his actions, the knight paid them no mind and searched the boy with one hand while he held on to him with the other.
    “What is the problem here?” asked an authoritative voice. “What are you doing there?”
    The crowd that had gathered now parted and a stern-looking mounted guard rode up to the scene, demanding an explanation. The knight turned to the guard but would not release the boy. Sir Jean-Marc knew this was an appointed guard whose duty it was to patrol the grounds and knew it was best to cooperate.
    “This boy cut my purse-strings and made off with my property,” the knight said simply.
    “Did he now?” the guard asked with a hint of doubt.
    The boy protested, “This man grabbed me and threatened to kill me if I didn’t go with him. He wanted to take me somewhere. I was scared and ran. He chased me and is going to kill me. Please, don’t let him kill me.”
    “He is lying,” the knight said.
    “You be silent,” said the guard, and when the boy persisted, he said, “You too, be silent. Does he have your purse on his person?” the guard asked de Montpellier.
    “He must have passed it on to his friend,” Jean-Marc said.
    By this time the crowd was making up their mind, and since de Montpellier was a stranger, most sided with the boy, even though most suspected he was a little thief.
   The comments became threatening and for their own safety, the guard instructed them, speaking in a loud clear voice so all could hear, that he was taking Jean-Marc and the boy to the pied-poudre where the matter would be settled.
    The crowd protested, mainly because this was the only decent entertainment they had witnessed all day. The guard moved the boy and knight hastily away to a white and red striped tent that held the pied-poudre, a special temporary court where parties could settle their differences on the fairground. The mounted guard climbed down from his horse and escorted man and boy into the tent. 
    Inside the tent, presiding over the pied-poudre, was a minor official who sat behind a small table. Beside him was a secretary recording all that transpired. Two armed guards stood within the tent to keep order. They entered the tent to see that there was presently a case before the court.
    As one litigant was desperately trying to explain her case, the official rested his head in his hands, his face turn down to the table. The litigant, a local resident, said she had bought a bolt of cloth from a merchant from Flanders, but soon after buying the cloth the woman examined it more closely and saw that it was not of the best quality and was demanding her money back. The Flanders merchant explained that the female customer had been satisfied when she bought it and saw no reason to return her money. Besides, the merchant went on to explain, the women had left the fairgrounds some time ago, and the merchant was not even certain she had returned with the same bolt of cloth he had sold her.
    The two proceeded to argue until the magistrate held up his hands and cried out for them to halt in a loud voice. He sat staring at the two litigants. His eyes betrayed his contempt for them. The magistrate had received his appointment from Pierre Duboise, a personal council to the king, but had hopes of presiding over more important and august cases. He felt his talents were going to waste with these peasants and decided to dispense his own brand of justice that shadowed the wisdom of Solomon, and would teach these two lowly serfs not to waste his precious time.
    The magistrate’s decision was that the merchant was to return half the money to the woman, and the bolt of cloth would be cut in half down the middle— making it fairly useless— and each were given a piece. The litigants walked away dejected, and totally unsatisfied.

    “Next case!” the magistrate called.
     The guard stepped forward, and in as few words as possible, explained the case and indicated the two new litigants. The official regarded the pair and asked the boy to explain himself. Calling forth a few tears, the boy repeated the same story he had related to the guard.
    “Do you have anything to say for yourself?” the magistrate asked de Montpellier.
    “Only God’s own truth that I have already stated,” the knight uttered. “And if Your Honour cannot see that, than even the smallest bit of justice has fled the land.”
    The magistrate considered the man before him. At first, the man’s insolence had incensed him, but he then thought better of it. There was something different about the stranger. He wore a sense of honour about him. And there was something familiar about him. The magistrate decided to take an obvious precaution. He ordered the guard to pick up the young lad by the heels and after a few shakes and amid the crying protests of the boy, a few different purses fell to the ground. 
    Jean-Marc de Montpellier bent over, picked up his purse and went on his way.
    The knight wished he had not passed through the fairgrounds. Not only for the inconvenience of having his purse stolen and having to go to the pied-poudre, but mostly because he felt contempt for these displays. The entire affair held no appeal to his simple and ascetic nature. He felt too much energy was put into these types of materialistic endeavours and kept people from contemplating God and His glory. He left the fairground and walked toward the city.

The Templar and the True Cross by Stephen Gaspar is available on Amazon

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Sherlock Holmes and the Klondike

Cold-Hearted Murder is the latest Sherlock Holmes adventure from mystery author Stephen Gaspar. In Cold-Hearted Murder, the great detective is drawn into mystery and murder revolving around a trio recently from the Klondike gold fields in the Yukon Territory where they made their fortune.

But what had happened in that remote part of the world near the Arctic Circle? What strange occurrence took place in the Canadian wilderness that would plague:
Patrick Flynn, the young handsome American, who was strong but too trusting;
Charles Westerbrook, the not-overly honest Englishman, bent on making his fortune;
Suzanne Bouchard, the beautiful French-Canadian seductress who used her wiles to get what she wanted.

Cold-Hearted Murder on Amazon

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Templar and the True Cross (part 2)

Chapter II

    In the early hours of the morning Sir Jean-Marc was once again on his knees in prayer. He thanked God for this day, and prayed for the strength and courage to overcome his enemies, to resist temptation and turn away from his own sinful nature. Gathering up his belongings, the Templar left Le Chevalier Noir and went out into the cool, clear morning. Though there was no snow, it felt as if winter had come early, much to the dismay of the farmers. A northerly wind carried a stiff coldness that was to reflect the times to come. Jean-Marc did not like the cold. The years he had spent in the Mediterranean had conditioned him for warmer climates.
    In the stable, he saddled his long-time companion, a spirited stallion, who was the sole recipient of whatever affection existed in the man. The horse had taken him far, been loyal and true, and Jean-Marc realized the need to care for the beast the same way he cared for his sword, which he kept honed. His armour, which he also kept in good working order, was free of rust and dirt. These were his sole possessions, the tools of his trade. He loaded his armour and supplies upon a mule, and the Templar rode to the tournament grounds outside the city of Paris.
    Tournaments were a centuries-old tradition in the Holy Roman Empire, and began as training grounds for knights. The early tournaments were often bloody matches, not far removed from actual warfare. Broken bones, severe wounds and even deaths resulted from these matches, where armies of knights would meet upon the field and battle. The harshness of these melees garnered strong disapproval from the Church. Kings realized the loss of knights did not make up for the brutal and fatal exercise, and so tournaments became regulated and more of a friendly competition rather than a lethal training ground.
    The tournament was being held on a large level field surrounded on two sides by low hills which allowed spectators to observe the matches. On the third side was erected pavilions for the wealthy and nobles, though it was still early in the tournament and few members of the nobility were present. The crowd that gathered today was light-hearted and eager to see a hard-fought competition. They were not eager to see a knight die, but a show of  blood or a serious injury was always welcome, and would provide lively conversations for days to come.
    A fall breeze fluttered the colourful banners and pennants that danced about on poles and lances. The grounds were busy with knights, officials and squires. Sir Jean-Marc soon spotted the three men from the tavern who were competing in the joust. The Templar went over to the jousting officials and with a little persuasion, convinced them to match him up with the scar-faced knight. Jean-Marc waited patiently as an official approached the knight to ask if he had any objections to being matched with de Montpellier. The scar-faced one listened to the official, then looked over to where Jean-Marc stood. Glaring at Jean-Marc, the knight nodded his head slowly.


    This was to be strictly a pas d’ armes, or a tournament a’ plaisance, where combatants competed purely to test their prowess against one another. There was to be no unchivalrous displays of an emprise, where blood and death were purposely sought. Despite this, Jean-Marc fancied himself a good judge of character and knew the man he would compete against. The scar-faced knight would try to kill him regardless of the rules. Jean-Marc would have to be wary.
    Being without a serf or squire to assist him, Sir Jean-Marc laid out his own armour in an orderly fashion, and began to dress inside the small tent he had set up. Against his body he wore close-fit stockings and a loose tunic, over which he put on his acton, or padded undergarments. The acton helped to protect his body from blows and also created a buffer from his hauberk, a mail shirt made from thousands of small metal rings joined together for protection. Jean-Marc’s thigh-length mail shirt had long sleeves ending in mittens to protect  his hands, and a hood or coif to cover his head. Next he put on mail chausses to cover his legs. Over his mail he wore in a sleeveless surcoat of white emblazoned with a black cross upon his chest. The long surcoat was girded at the waist with a wide heavy belt. Lastly Jean-Marc carried his helmet with a cross cut into it for vision. Bending to one knee, he uttered a short prayer, and so adorned, he picked up his shield and left his tent to prepare for the joust.
    Once outside, Jean-Marc was approached by a man a few years younger than himself. The man was dressed as a knight, and was tall, well-proportioned and convivial. The man did not bother introducing himself, nor did he ask de Montpellier his name.
    “You are jousting against Guy of Lyon?” he asked Jean-Marc.
    “Who is Guy of Lyon?”
    The man pointed to the scar-faced knight. Jean-Marc nodded.
    “A friendly bit of warning, Sir Knight; watch out for Guy of Lyon. He is not above foul play. Not long ago Guy of Lyon jousted against a friend of mine. It was to be a competition only. Guy charged and aimed his lance at my friend’s head and wounded him severely. When you charge Guy of Lyon, be mindful of his trickery, Sir Knight. Keep your head low and your shield high.”
    De Montpellier nodded to the man knowingly and with appreciation.
    Jean-Marc approached his horse and gently stroked its head. He spoke to it in soft even tones telling the beast what was to come and what was expected of it. Jean-Marc synched the saddle tighter and inspected the stirrups. Confident his accoutrements were in order, he mounted the horse and made his way to the field.
    Since this was to be a friendly bout, the combatants were issued blunted lances to prevent serious injury. Couching the lance in his right arm, Jean-Marc held the weapon up, while holding his shield with his left. His opponent would approach on his left side. The two knights sat their mounts at the opposite ends of the field.
    The scar-faced Guy of Lyon sat on a black horse with a covering to match the man’s surcoat, which was emblazoned with a white stag across the chest. The man’s shield consisted of six diagonal  alternating stripes of black and white. From beneath his helmet he glared at his opponent. He had been insulted and made to look the fool last night, but now he would win back his honour against this so-called Templar. He would have taken his revenge out on the man last evening, but he had had too much to drink, and his companions had talked him out of it. Now, on the field of battle, he would prove who was the better man. He would have to take the Templar the first round, for despite his hatred of the man, Guy of Lyon suspected this knight was not to be trifled with. He would give him no warning, no quarter. He meant to dispatch his opponent right readily.
    The rules of the joust were simple: the two knights would charge one another and use their lances to unseat the other from their mounts.

    At the signal, the two knights dug their spurs into their horses’ flanks and charged towards each other, Jean-Marc still holding his lance up. The horses gained speed as their hoofs dug in and threw up dirt. Guy of Lyon aimed his lance at Jean-Marc’s head, but still the Templar kept his weapon up. The combatants drew closer and it appeared as if the Templar would not lower his lance. As they were practically upon each other, the Templar lowered his lance across his horse’s neck and leaned forward in the saddle. Jean-Marc held his lance tightly, couched in the crook of his arm for support. He squeezed his knees tightly around his horse and prepared for the impact. Guy of Lyon kept his lance high aiming for Jean-Marc’s head which, if it contacted, would surely knock the Templar from his saddle. Jean-Marc had been sitting his horse high, leaning to the left, but at the last instant he dropped into his saddle and shifted his position causing Guy of Lyon’s lance to miss him completely. Jean-Marc’s lance, however, impacted with the black and white shield of the other, knocking the dark knight from his horse.
    The crowd cheered as Guy of Lyon tumbled off his mount and resoundingly hit the ground.
    Jean-Marc’s lance had splintered on impact, so he discarded it. He turned his horse about and rode up to the knight upon the ground, who was momentarily stunned. The spectators looked on in anticipation as they watched the Templar dismount and approach the other. They cheered again as de Montpellier removed his helmet, tucked it under his left arm and put out his right hand to help the dark knight to his feet. This act of chivalry, so seldom seen these days, caused the crowd to remember the romance of an age gone by that would not likely be seen again.

    On the ground, the dark knight’s ears continued to ring from the impact and shook his head to clear it. Still on his back, he removed his helmet and stared up at the Templar and his outstretched hand. He knew it would show dishonour if he refused the Templar’s gesture. Guy of Lyon put out his hand and allowed de Montpellier to pull him to his feet. As the crowd cheered, Guy of Lyon leaned closer to Sir Jean-Marc and said, “This is not over, Templar.”
    “Here is my head,” Jean-Marc responded.
    The black knight seethed at this blatantly obvious challenge, but knew this was not the time or place for what he intended. He would be patient. He would wait.          
The Templar and the True Cross on Amazon

Youtube promo for The Templar and the True Cross

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sherlock Holmes Mystery - Kindle

The new Sherlock Holmes adventure is a case of Cold-Hearted Murder!

Cold-Hearted Murder by Stephen Gaspar is available on Kindle.
View Cold-Hearted Murder on Kindle
 
When grotesque murders are committed during one of the hottest summers in London, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are drawn into the investigation.

Cold-Hearted Murder is one of the most baffling and bizarre cases Sherlock Holmes has ever investigated. Why are the victims being monstrously mutilated? Why are they being murdered in cold locations? What is the significance of the Golden Triangle?

What Sherlock Holmes will learn is that these incredible killings have their origins in the Canadian Northwest during the great Klondike Gold Rush.

Cover design and Youtube video by Greg Maxwell
Cold-Hearted Murder Youtube promo

 Also on Kindle, The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
 













Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Templar and the True Cross (Part 1)

I am very happy to present  a series of excerpts from my latest historical mystery, The Templar and the True Cross. Please check back regularly for future postings.

view book on amazon

The Templar and the True Cross
by Stephen Gaspar

                         Chapter 1


    The road that leads from Rouen to Paris is a winding, well-used thoroughfare that cuts through the hilly French countryside. Built during the height of the Roman Empire, this ancient road is shadowed by broad leafy trees on either side that guard a traveller against the midday sun, but in the same vein makes traversing the road at night dark and frocked with peril, as leaves and limbs are tossed by the evening breeze, casting strange, unearthly shadows. The sun had long gone down, and the full moon struggled to peek through the thick low-hanging clouds that marched sullenly across the night sky like phantom legions. Somewhere in the trees an owl hooted, as a stiff breeze rustled the leaves that burned with late-autumn colour.

    Along this road, half a day’s ride outside of Paris, sat a humble inn that offers weary travellers food and drink, a brief respite from their journey, and perhaps even a bed for the night. Outside the inn, a sign hung swinging in the breeze, bearing a picture of a knight on horseback and the name Le Chevalier Noir. A dim light from the inn spilled out onto the road. 
    Inside the ill-lit tavern, the rattling of dishes and tankards banging on rough-hewn tables are drowned by the clamour of voices raised in coarse exchanges and crass jocularity. By far, the loudest noise came from a table where three swaggering and verbose knights ate and drank with gusto, making lewd remarks at the barmaids and patrons alike. The innkeeper, a large dour-looking man with an unwashed apron and unwashed hands, knew these types well. These men were not true knights, but rather mounted men at arms. Sadly, the days of chivalrous knights were no more, their type being replaced with the likes of these three who bullied, barged in and were overbearing. These three ruffians were most likely from an outer province come to partake in the tournament. The innkeeper took some comfort that they had chosen not to wear their swords this evening. Still, he did not necessarily want them in his establishment, yet neither could he keep them out. He could only pray that when they left his inn there would be little breakage and no deaths. 
   Yet, these three did not seem to concern innkeeper as much as the man who sat alone in the corner. The innkeeper had noticed the man as soon as he had walked into the tavern. Tall and broad, but he moved easily, with grace and purpose. He was somewhat silent and morose. The stranger had inquired if there was a room to let. Nothing elaborate he had said. The innkeeper remembered the comment because never had any of his rooms been referred to as elaborate. He told the stranger he had one small room that he could let him use for the night. The man had nodded, speaking as little as possible, then asked for a tankard of warm wine to be brought to the lone table in the corner. The stranger had not given his name, and for some reason, the innkeeper was reluctant to ask. When he brought the drink, the man accepted it without a word and laid down a small coin for the drink and the room.












There was something familiar about the man, though the innkeeper was at a loss to know what it could be. He suspected this stranger could be dangerous, though he carried himself with a certain honour; it seemed to hang on the man like the clothes he wore. He had been sitting there all evening, regarding the three loud knights who sat at the table in the centre of the room. The innkeeper was uncomfortable with the way the stranger watched them.
    Aside from these three, the tavern contained a score of patrons who had come to eat and drink and forget the troubles of their pitiful lives. The low beamed ceiling was half hid by the smoke that rose from the open fire, where one could warm himself against the cool evening, and where roasts of pork and beef cooked slowly on a spit.
    “Here is to the king!” said one of the three knights, raising his cup. He was a rough-looking man with a broken nose and a scar on his left cheek.
    “To the king!” sang out the other two, one a partly bald-headed man with crooked teeth and the other a rather handsome clean-shaven man with a broad sweeping black moustache.
    The trio banged their cups together and drank deep of strong ale that ran freely over the rims and down their chins.
    “And who is more deserving than Philip the Fair?” posed the bald one. “He brought the Pope to France, put the Lombards in their place, and expelled the Jews.”
    “To say nothing of bringing an end to the Templars,” added black moustache.
    “Thank God and the king those heathens are with us no more,” spat the scar-faced one. “A pack of deviants of the worst kind. Thieves and cowards the lot of them, and disloyal to say the least. France is well rid of them.”
    In the dark corner of the tavern, the stranger had finished the meagre repast the landlord had provided him, and now sat quietly sipping warm wine. He could not help overhear the trio, and he did not like what he heard. He had no desire to call attention to himself, but he found he could bear their comments no longer. He stood up and approached their table. He was a tall man and powerfully built, yet he moved with grace and was standing at the table before the other three noticed his approach. The three looked up with a start at the tall, silent man.

    “I could not help but overhear you spoke of the Templars,” the stranger said in a low, but commanding voice. Dressed in a hooded white mantle, the three knights took him for a Cistercian monk. The man lowered his hood and his white cloak hung behind him. He stood as straight as a pole.
    The other three did not object to his presence, but regarded him with suspicion.
    “That we were,” scar-face responded. It was obvious he spoke for the group. He did not shy away from voicing his opinion, and his highest opinion was of himself. With his left forefinger, he stroked his scar proudly while he looked the stranger up and down, assessing the man before him.
    The stranger had a handsome ruggedness, but was not as handsome as the black moustached man at the table. The stranger had a moustache and a dark full beard as well, and kept his dark hair trimmed unfashionably short. The man’s expression was sombre, yet his dark brown eyes held an intensity that locked onto whomever he regarded. He was  large and lean, and though scar-face could not see beneath the cloak, he suspected the man was quite fit and muscular despite his age. The man carried no sword, nor any visible weapon. There would be little to fear from him, they assumed.
    “My comrades and I were toasting the king and good riddance to the Templars,” scar-face continued. “With the burning of de Molay and his band of disloyal deviants, we are well rid of them, may they all burn in hell. France does not need their kind. Come friend, join us in a drink to the end of the Templars.”
    “I cannot drink to that,” the stranger said coarsely, with a hint of defiance.
    Scar-face eyed his companions and all three rose from their seats to face the man.
    “We have extended our hospitality in friendship, sir,” scar-face said, summoning up as much graciousness as he was able. “And you have refused it. Your response is not only uncivilised, but an insult as well.”
    “You have defamed a righteous man and a loyal band of knights whom you are not even worthy to mention,” the stranger said evenly, but with conviction.
    The bald-headed man took a step towards the stranger, but scar-face stayed him with an outstretched hand.
    “Before my companions and I teach you a lesson in manners,” scar-face spoke, holding his usually unbridled anger in check, “we would like to know who we are instructing.”
    “I am Sir Jean-Marc de Montpellier of the Knights Templar,” the other declared.
    The three knights paused briefly, then scar-face grinned and laughed with a hearty guffaw, that was joined quickly by his comrades.











“The Templars are no more,” scar-face announced. “De Molay and the last of his kind were burned at the stake this past spring. Those of his ilk who are still alive have fled the country never to return. There are no Templars in France. The king has banished them.”
    Sir Jean-Marc de Montpellier pulled his cloak back to display an eight-pointed red Cross Pattee blazoned across his white mantle, the traditional symbol of the Templars.
    The three stared mutely at the cross in disbelief for a brief moment, then black moustache spoke. “That cross means nothing.”  There was little confidence in his words.
    “You best leave here, Templar,” scar-face said slowly to de Montpellier. “France does not desire or require your kind here any longer. Leave here now and go in peace.”
    Sir Jean-Marc de Montpellier stood rigid. “You have insulted the Templars and you have insulted me.”  With a movement so quick it was barely seen, de Montpellier struck scar-face upon his cheek with the back of his hand.
    For a moment the scene held, as if none of the three knew what had happened. The sting on scar-face’s cheek gave proof and the man let out a bellow. This was a signal to his companions and all three lunged at the Templar.
    With a deft move, de Montpellier tipped the table that was between them. The trio tripped over it and hit the floor in a sprawl.
    The innkeeper, who had been watching the exchange with an experienced eye, had moved slowly toward the four men. In anticipation of trouble, he had reached them just as the altercation began. The innkeeper positioned himself between the man he took to be a true knight and the other three who were now scrambling to gain their feet. Black moustache was up first and the innkeeper practically threw him atop scar-face, who was just rising. The two went down again. In a mock attempt to help the bald one to his feet, the innkeeper grabbed hold of his shoulders and pushed him backward where he crashed into another table and struck his head, causing him to lose whatever senses he had. Scar-face lept to his feet and lunged for de Montpellier but the innkeeper put his considerable frame between them.
    “Good sirs!” the innkeeper bellowed. “Remember you are gentlemen!  There is no fighting in this establishment.”
    Scar-face disregarded the man until he reached for his knife and found his hands were clamped to his sides by the powerful grip of the innkeeper. Only then did scar-face realize the man’s incredible strength.
    “Let me go!” scar-face demanded, not taking his hate-filled eyes off of de Montpellier.
    “If you gentlemen must battle, I suggest that the tournament would be a more appropriate time and place,” the innkeeper replied.
    Scar-face glared at Sir Jean-Marc, then at the innkeeper. He glanced at his bald-headed companion, who was only now beginning to stir, then to black moustache, but was not ready for any type of confrontation. Seeing little hope for a positive outcome, scar-face motioned to black moustache and they aided their companion to his unsteady legs and made their way to the door of the tavern. Once there, scar-face turned to Sir Jean-Marc and uttered, “You are a dead man, Templar!”
    Sir Jean-Marc de Montpellier, who had stood immobile since tripping up his opponents, received the threat with steadfast regard. When the three disappeared into the cool, dark autumn night, he turned to the innkeeper and nodded his humble thanks.
    The large man spoke dispassionately to the knight. “My only concern was the protection of my property. I have offered you lodgings for the night, for I took you to be a man of honour. I will not withdraw the offer, but I expect you to leave my establishment by early morning.”  And he turned away to tend to his business.
    Sir Jean-Marc retired to the small, windowless room he had been let for the night. It was a simple room, no more than he needed, no more than he deserved. One straw-lined bed, one rickety chair, and two rats. Before going to sleep, the knight spent a considerable time on his knees praying, thanking God for helping him survive the day, and asking to survive the night. Left totally alone and in the dark, he could be brutally honest regarding all the sins in his life, that were the source of his self-loathing. Sir Jean-Marc prayed for the opportunity to redeem himself in the eyes of God. He petitioned to be forgiven for sins he had committed in his lifetime, and those which he would commit. Little did he know that God had forgiven him long ago, and what robbed Jean-Marc de Montpellier of his peace was his inability to forgive himself. He did not understand why God had permitted him to live while other brave men died. Surely there was something left undone, and he suspected what it was.
    The knight dressed down to his sheepskin undergarments and lay in the short, low bed. He lay as straight as he stood, and kept his sword within reach. His mind drifted back to many days ago when he lived a relatively peaceful existence in a Castillian monastery. Jean-Marc de Montpellier had resigned to live the remainder of his days in that monastery, but then came a message from the King of France. The message had arrived by mounted courier, who had ridden in all haste from Paris. Sir Jean-Marc lay in bed studying the document now by candlelight. The message carried the royal seal, of course, pressed into blood-red wax. The script was elegant, the message was brief but succinct.
BY ROYAL DECREE OF HIS HIGHNESS PHILIP IV  KING OF FRANCE AND NAVARRE AND COUNT OF CHAMPAGNE COMMANDS THAT SIR  JEAN-MARC  DE MONTPELLIER IS TO APPEAR POSTE HASTE  BEFORE HIS MAJESTY PHILIP LE BEL AT THE  ROYAL PALACE IN PARIS IN THIS THE YEAR OF  OUR LORD 1314
    The document was signed; a Deo et Rege – from God and the King. The meaning was clear. Like all monarchs, Philip IV believed his sovereignty as approved by the Almighty. This very notion inspired the phrase, rex non potest peccare – the king can do no wrong.
    A short post scriptus informed de Montpellier to enter the palace through a private entrance and wait in an antechamber adjacent to an audience hall, and that Sir Jean-Marc should endeavour to be discreet as to his presence in France. A purse of gold coin for travelling expenses accompanied the letter.  
    After receiving the message Jean-Marc had spent an entire day in meditation and prayer. What could the King of France possible want of Sir Jean-Marc? Why call him back to France after all these years? These questions and many others occupied the thoughtful mind of the Templar Knight. Then, coming to a difficult decision, he made some brief goodbyes and he and his horse boarded a ship bound for Le Havre. Once in the seaport town, he travelled overland, past Rouen and finally to this inn. Tonight was the first altercation he had experienced in many years, but his past training revealed itself as muscles responded to instinct, and his honour remained intact. Now that he was back in France and his identity would soon be made known, he suspected there would be more opportunities to preserve his life and honour. He knew that there were others in Paris who would seek his death, just as he was certain there lived some whose death he contemplated. De Montpellier felt the spark of hatred and revenge grow in him. He had hoped his years in the monastery, years spent in prayer and meditation, had quelled these dark desires, but now he felt his heart beat faster and his breath came quicker. He prayed to God for this feeling to pass. He prayed for peace that he knew would never come. The Templar turned to the small candle by his bed and blew out the light.   

Friday, October 5, 2012

New Templar Video

The Templar and the True Cross 
Windsor film maker, Greg Maxwell has just completed a YouTube video promo for The Templar and the True Cross. Like all the previous videos Greg has made for me, this one is great!

The Templar and the True Cross by Stephen Gaspar. Available only on Kindle.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YGD3LJiKsxQ


The Templar and the True Cross 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Templar and Thomas Aquinas

 The Templar and the True Cross
In my latest historical mystery, The Templar and the True Cross, my protagonist, Sir Jean-Marc de Montpellier, is a Templar Knight. Traditionally these monastic knights were imbued with many honourable qualities; a Templar was brave, skilled in battle and was devoted to God. Sir Jean-Marc is all of these, plus the fact that he is very intelligent. Growing up in Paris he attended the Sorbonne and studied under Gerard d’ Auberville who studied under the great philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) studied and later taught at the universities of Paris, Cologne and Naples. Thomas was a Italian Dominican friar who wrote a great deal and was the man who perfected faith through reason.

When Sir Jean-Marc goes to see his former master at the University, the old professor has the Templar recall his past lessons.

    “My boy, you recall the work of my old friend and master, Thomas Aquinas, and his definition of philosophical discipline.”
    “It all starts with logic,” Jean-Marc responded.
    “Exactly. Logic, as you surely recall, is the mental constructions we place on our experience.... What do you remember of Summa Theologica?”
    Sir Jean-Marc thought a moment. “Thomas Aquinas states that in acts of will man strives for the highest end, which are free acts insofar as man has in himself the knowledge of their end and therein the principle of action. Whether the act be good or evil depends on the end. Human acts are good if they promote the purpose of God and His honour.”


Thomas Aquinas wrote on a wide variety of subjects from the nature of God to just war, and from creation to sex. He was canonized a saint in 1323, less than fifty years after his death, and nine years after my story takes place.

Saint Thomas is one of 33 Doctors of the Church and is the patron of universities and students. His writings have survived to this day and continue to influence modern thought. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

King Philip IV and the Templars


In my latest historical mystery, The Templar and the True Cross, my protagonist, Sir Jean-Marc de Montpellier, is purely fictitious. There are, however, several true characters in the story, such as Philip IV, King of France. Also known as Philip le Bel, he appears frequently in my story, along with his daughter and his three sons.

Philip and Jean-Marc have a history, but their current relationship is a bit turbulent. After all, Philip IV is known for disbanding the Templars (Jean-Marc’s order) and having its leaders burned at the stake. Now the King wants Jean-Marc to discover who has stolen the True Cross of Christ, Christendom’s most holy relic.

It is always a challenge to put an historical person into a work of fiction. For myself, it is important to get the character right, so historians don’t balk and say, ‘That person would never do that!’ or ‘That person would never say that!”

It would have been ideal to have found actual quotes from Philip IV, but such was not the case. All a writer can do is research the character, and as best he may, give the character some... well, character.

It was easier to portray Philip’s physical nature; he wasn’t called le Bel for nothing. He was a handsome king, as well as strong-willed, resolute and commanding; you know, kingly.

I believe readers will be happy with the way King Philip was portrayed in The Templar and the True Cross, for as he says in the book; “Stet pro ratione voluntas—let my will stand as a reason!”     

The Templar and the True Cross

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Bernard de Clairvaux

When I was researching the Templar Knights for my historical mystery, The Templar and the True Cross, I came across the name Bernard de Clairvaux. He was born in 1091, in his fa­ther’s cast­le at Les Fon­taines (near Di­jon), Bur­gun­dy. Bernard entered a Cistercian monastery in 1113. On the first page of my book, I quote Bernard de Clairvaux:

It seems that a new knighthood has recently
appeared on earth . . .
. . . a new kind of knighthood and one unknown
to the ages gone by. It ceaselessly wages a twofold
war both against flesh and blood and against a
spiritual army of evil in the heavens.

He is truly a fearless knight . . . for his soul is
protected by the armour of faith just as his body is
protected by the amour of steel. He is thus doubly
armed and need fear neither demons nor men. Not
that he fears death–no, he desires it.

Gladly and faithfully he stands for Christ . . . 

– Bernard de Clairvaux, c. 1135
De Laude Novae Militae
In Praise of the New Knighthood

So impressed was I with this passage, that I modeled my hero, Sir Jean-Marc de Montpellier after what Bernard had written about the Templar knights.

I do not have room here to list all the accomplishments of Bernard de Clairvaux. What I will say is that he rose to em­i­nence in Church po­li­tics, and be­came em­broiled in the pa­pal schis­ms of the 12th Cen­tu­ry. He was well known in Rome, and found­ed 163 mon­as­ter­ies through­out Eur­ope. He died in 1153. The Ca­tho­lic En­cy­clo­pe­dia car­ries a large ar­ti­cle on him.

Bernard was a man of ex­cep­tion­al pi­e­ty and spir­it­u­al vi­tal­i­ty. Martin Luther 400 years lat­er, called him, “the best monk that ever lived, whom I ad­mire be­yond all the rest put to­ge­ther.”
The Templar and the True Cross

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mysteries on Kindle

The Templar and the True Cross is the third historical mystery that I published on Kindle. The first was The Canadian Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, originally published as an ebook with a Canadian ebook publisher in London, Ontario, then with The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, a small publisher in Ontario. The second book I had published with Kindle was another Sherlock Holmes mystery entitled, Cold-Hearted Murder.
No work is done in  a vacuum or can be brought to completion solely by one person. Even the solitary work of writing must eventually bring in other people. I cannot imagine one person doing everything on their own.



I would like to take the opportunity to thank two people who supported me in my work. The first is Aimee Parent who has proof read and edited practically all my work. My association with Aimee goes back over a dozen years, and I have always enjoyed working with her.


The second person I would like to thank is Greg Maxwell. Greg is a good friend of my sons, Tom and Ryan, and graduated in Communications from the University of Windsor. Greg has just finished working on the movie, The Birder, that was shot in and around Windsor. I worked with Greg in the design of the aforementioned three books, and I think he did a great job.  





Stephen Gaspar on Kindle