Everyone loves Francis or so I’ve been told. How can readers not love him, or empathize with him. He’s the quintessential knight, the archetype we often associate with heroes of legend. Yet his tale is not pleasant and he is beset by constant problems and misery.
So who is Francis Whitehall?
There was a time when the Whitehall name stood for something, something honored and celebrated. It was respected and had great prestige. The magnanimity attached to the Griffins, however, was forfeited by the unforgiveable atrocities committed by Francis’ father, William Whitehall, against the populace living in Warwick. – Betrayal : Chapter 17
Francis’ father was a knight who served King Baldwin III in Jerusalem. He returned with enough fortune to set aside the military life and farm with his wife, Constance. But an illness struck and a fever caused him to lose his wits. William’s animated, exciting tales of glory in the Outremer were suddenly replaced by the truth, by the horrors of war he could no longer live with. He began to see things, hear things. Some things were real, memories of tragic events. Other things were not. Demons. Specters.
His fears heightened, William suddenly donned his armor one day and went on a killing spree. He was taken into custody and beheaded.
Francis was only seven at the time but the memory was fresh in his mind. His mother lost everything that day. If it had not been for the godly mercies of an old family friend and Templar, Lord Geoffrey Clayton Wolfe, Francis might not have lived to be a man, not a good one anyway.
Humbled by the experience, by the charity, France strove the rest of his life to live up to the benevolence of the Wolfe. There was nothing Francis wouldn’t do for him or do to help others. And he worked every day to bring honor back to the Griffin sigil.
In 1182, Francis spent eighteen days wooing a pretty noblewoman who was a reputed shrew. Francis and Midonia soon wed and the next year their daughter Anne was born.
But the times were not good and Lord Wolfe’s industry fell off. He could no longer provide for his bannermen. He sent some away honestly but others were recalcitrant and left on their own. Francis could not stay but he could not forsake the Wolfe either. He lived in a unsustainable middle ground, maintaining his oath while packing up his family. They headed out on the road, living in tents. Francis competed in tournaments all across Europe in order to survive. He was talented and kept winning – because he had to keep winning. But still there was doubt and fear. He knew he was but one fall away from losing everything, from being injured and unable to compete. His wife didn’t let him forget it. Instead of praying and standing faithfully by his side, she badgered him and cursed him, wishing he’d fall so she could take Anne and go home to her mother’s house.
“Wise up. Recant that oath you made to Lord Geoff. Leave him and bind yourself to a more worthy lord, to a great man with great possessions and land to distribute. We must have a castle appointment. We must have it soon. We can’t keep living like this. There are many lords in Briton seeking honest men, such as you are. They would bless us favorably.” – Betrayal : Chapter 16
It took every ounce of faith Francis could find to stay the course.
And then came the Whitsuntide tournament in Mainz, Germany. After a heated argument with his wife, Francis went out on the tourney field hoping to find riches, or at least enough gold to get them to the next tourney. And it was here he met the Spanish caballero, Pero de Alava, and Francis’ fortunes changed for good.
Riding to Pero’s rescue as assassins were attempting to murder him, Francis found favor. Pero was young and wealthy> He decided to take the more experienced, seasoned veteran under his care. After his wounds healed, Pero traveled with Francis back to Warwick where he purchased the rights to Francis’ services from the Wolfe, even helping the Wolfe with his economic woes. In short time, Pero and Francis became more than Lord and Bannerman. They became friends, best of friends.
When Pero received his imperial commission at Capua, Francis and his family came as well, Francis serving as the Estate Steward. Midonia had the castle appointment she always wanted. A place to call home.
Little did both men know how challenging the job would be. They were outsiders in Italy. The Holy Roman Emperor, who was German, was making a statement by sending foreigners to rule at Capua. The Church didn’t like it. The Fabbro family that ruled Campania didn’t like it. Pero and Francis found little co-operation from the powerful in Italy but still they managed to be successful, the people flocking to their kindness and justice. It was a wonderful story… wonderful until the Emperor died. A new ambitious pope rose that same year as well, one eager to push back against the Empire.
At a banquet in the capital, Pero got into an altercation with the Castellan of the great city, who was also the Lord Commander’s son and heir apparent. Pero broke Rugerius’ jaw and the men from Capua were expelled at once.
Pero was not the same after that incident. Francis couldn’t reach him. No one could. Francis didn’t like what he was seeing. Pero was exhibiting some of the tragic traits his father had exhibited before donning his armor that fateful day. And then a fateful correspondence from the High Court arrived and Pero was ordered to leave Capua on a dangerous quest.
Francis did all he could to convince Pero to stay but the Spaniard was nearly suicidal and forsook them all. He rode away at once. Francis was left with a notice granting him his freedom and a good deal of land and wealth. He could take his family away from Capua and the Italians and never look back.
Francis never got the chance.
That very night, employing inside agents, Rugerius Fabbro and his force of ruthless mercenaries rode into Capua and slaughtered everyone. Francis escaped but not with his family. They paid dearly along with the others. Francis was there and saw it firsthand, their deaths. And there was nothing he could do about it.
Francis took to the open road with Guidus Salvatore, the former Provost of Parthenope who had escaped with him. They had no plan, no goal, no idea what they was going to do next; until Francis learned that the War Queen was still docked in Mondragone. The War Queen was an English ship and Francis’ former squire, now a knight himself, was with the War Queen.
Feeling a sense of renewed hope, Francis, with Guidus in tow, went to seek out Merle Gilmore, the Rose.
Be sure to read the books to learn more…
Allen M Werner is the author of the Epic Fantasy series, The Crystal Crux.
Betrayal, Blue Grotto, Cold Knight, Shimmer