The Lion and the Crow
Published by Dreamspinner Press, Jan 19, 2015
This is a tale about two medieval English knights—Sir William Corbet, aka the Lion, and Sir Christian Brandon, aka The Crow. In a time when duty was everything, personal honor was more valued than life itself, and homosexuality was a shameful act punishable by death, how can these two men reconcile their deepest, most secret yearnings to love another man?
Sir Christian was raised in a household where he was hated for his unusual beauty and for the sake of his parentage. Being smaller than his six brutish half-brothers, he learned to survive by using his wits and developing a gift for strategy. He feels little loyalty to the system that’s abused him since birth.
Sir William, a large and fierce warrior, has pushed his unnatural desires down all his life. He’s determined to live up to his own ideal of a gallant knight. But when he takes up a quest to rescue his sister from her abusive lord of a husband, he’s forced to undertake a journey with Christian. It’s a partnership that will test every strand of his moral fiber, and, eventually, even his understanding of the meaning of duty, honor, and love.
REVIEWS & Blog Posts:
“Going Medieval On Your Ass” guest blog post on Kim Fielding’s blog
“Gay Love in Medieval England” guest blog post on Jamie Fessenden’s blog
5 stars The Novel Approach (for 2nd expanded edition): “She [Eli Easton] paints a beautiful love story and presents an interesting and intelligent duo that fights all odds to remain together to the very end.”
5 stars MM Good Book Review (for 2nd expanded edition) — “…the journey William and Christian take together, with the sexual tension hanging between, them is great because we do see these characters change.”
The Novel Approach — 5 star review “li Easton not only gave a convincing, seemingly historically correct story packed full of adventure, but she deftly wove a sensual love story right into the heart of it.”
“I’ve always enjoyed a good medieval romance about knights, kings, conquerors and the rough times they lived. This is a wonderful and convincing blend of those gallant men and how an m/m romance may have played out. There is deceit, adventure, bloodletting, battle scenes, heroic rescue, and of course daring love scenes. I won’t give it away, but I love the scheme the MC comes up with to save the day and attempt to rescue the damsel in distress. If you love tales of knights and castles, you’ll love this gem of a story.” See full review
“There were some tense elements to this that kept the heart pounding and fascinated with finding out what would happen. It was also very sweet in places, getting that “yeah, come on, just be heppy with who you are, lads” feeling going. … It is a slow burner, so if you like the lust simmering along with that “will they, won’t they?”, “Can they, should they?” element, then you’ll like this.” See full review
5 stars RJ Scott blog — “I don’t normally read historical books but I do read everything Eli writes and couldn’t resist downloading this. I read it in one sitting. Lovely… and a brilliant HEA.”
Hearts on Fire — 4 hearts review
Infinite Love — 5 star review
The first time William saw him, he was riding onto the tournament field on a red horse. His doublet was brilliant blue with a white eagle spreading its wings on the front, identifying him as one of Lord Brandon’s sons. Glinting silver armor was plated over his shoulders, his arms, and the tops of his legs. Underneath he wore black hose.
It is a warrior’s habit to size up an enemy—or a rival. So William felt no shame in staring as he took the youth’s measure. The armor he wore was polished but functional. It was well-used, not that of a popinjay. A black velvet girdle was slung low on his narrow hips, and a chainmail skirt hung below it. His shoulders were broad for his frame, but his chest was slender and his waist slim. There was nothing of the larder on him. He rode his mount as light as a feather. William’s eyes dropped to his spurs—gilded. He was a full knight. But William knew well enough that such a thing could be all but bought by the nobility.
The round was archery, and the young knight had foregone any protection or decoration for his head—neither helmet, beads, nor braids. His hair was nearly black, chopped shorter than was fashionable, and bristled on top in a barbaric style. It was a harsh, warrior’s cut, but on him it only made a more open frame for his face. It was the finest face that William had ever seen. It was long, narrow, and delicate, with full, quirked lips, a straight nose, a dimpled chin, and broad arched brows over large, dark eyes. His skin was as pale as a bucket of Jersey cream. There was a rosy cast on the proud bones of his cheek that any maiden would kill her own dam for. It was a battle flush perhaps, in anticipation of the contest.
William was used to forming an impression in an instant, and he rarely changed them. In his mind there were men made for battle, craggy and crude. Those were the men you wanted by your side—if their tempers were not too odious whilst in their cups. And then there were men made for the pleasing of women, as if God had put such men here for the sole purpose of warming a woman’s blood for her husband’s bed, thus guaranteeing the spread of the human race. The later might well claim to be the former—as good in battle as any man. But rarely had William found it to be the case. Perhaps it was a problem of motivation. What man, given the choice, wouldn’t rather be thrusting between a woman’s thighs than thrusting a spear on the practice field? Beauty was most oft lazy.
This young knight was definitely a woman-pleaser. He was beautiful in a way William had never seen on a man. In truth, he’d never even seen it on a woman. That did little to inspire his trust. He registered the distinctly feminine cheers of welcome the crowd afforded the rider, aptly proving William’s point. And then the young knight rode past William—and looked at him.
It wasn’t a mere glance. His eyes met William’s when he was still ten paces away and held them, unrelenting, as he rode in front of him. He even turned his head as he passed before letting his gaze finally slip from William’s. William did not back down from the stare. He dropped his eyes for no man. But he stood stoically, nothing showing on his face. It seemed forever that the knight passed, that those eyes were locked on his. They were a rich, dark brown and full of warmth and life. Even with the knight’s face placidly composed, those eyes seemed to speak volumes in a language William didn’t understand. They reached inside him and made his stomach clench hard with feeling.
Confusion? Curiosity? Outrage?
What did he mean by looking at William thus? They’d never met. Was it a challenge? A welcome to a stranger? The admiration of a young warrior to an elder one? Had he heard tales of William’s prowess? Or had he mistaken William for someone else?
William had stopped to watch the procession of archers on his way to the stables, where he’d been taking his tired mount after the last victorious round of jousting. Now he found himself in a crowd of the bailey’s laborers. One of them was a blacksmith, his beefy form wrapped in a scarred leather apron.
“D’ya know ‘im?” he asked William. “The Crow?”
“No.” William frowned as the name sank in. “The Crow?”
The man chuckled. “Aye, poor lad. He’s the youngest of seven and his brothers took all the more favorable names.”
Another man, craggy and shrunken with age, spoke up. “Lessee, there’s a bear, a hound, a fox….”
“Badger,” a third man said brightly. “That’s Sir Peter Brandon.”
“Aye. Badger. Vulture’s one, innit?”
“‘Tis Sir Thomas,” the blacksmith agreed amiably.
“Lessee. Must be one more….” Craggy Face pondered seriously.
“Lion?” The third man suggested.
The blacksmith glanced at William knowingly. “Nay. None of the Lord’s sons has earned that title. And if the first two don’t, you can bet the latter won’t. Elder brothers won’t be outdone.”
“Hence ‘the Crow,’” Craggy Face snorted.
“Boar,” the third man supplied helpfully. “’ees the biggest ‘un.”
“Sir Stephan! That’s got it done. Boar suits him too. Even the teeth.” Craggy Face barred his teeth and chomped. A stench wafted on the breeze.
William’s eyes were drawn back to the Crow as he moved away, tall and straight in the saddle. From the back his shoulders looked broader still. They narrowed in a defined V to an almost delicate waist. “And that one? The Crow? What’s his Christian name?” William asked.
That earned him guffaws of laughter from all three of his new companions. William looked at the blacksmith in annoyance, his hand going to the hilt of his sword. The blacksmith held up his large paws placatingly. “No offense, Sir Knight. Only his name is Christian. Sir Christian Brandon. ‘Tis that what’s amused us.”
William smiled and relaxed. “I see. I must be getting prescient. He’s young to have his spurs.”
“Not so young,” Craggy Face said.
“What has Sir Christian, twenty summers?” the third man questioned no one in particular.
“Say what you like, ee’s earned them spurs,” the blacksmith said firmly. “Them brothers of his gave him no quarter. Hard as iron nails, every last one of ‘em.”
“Let’s go watch ‘im shoot,” said Craggy Face, with eager anticipation. They hurried away from William, following the general flow of the crowd towards the archery targets.
William almost followed. He was curious to see the Crow shoot, to see if he had any skill to match that noble bearing. But then he thought better on it, changed direction, and headed for the stables. He did not know what to make of the youngest Brandon, knew not the meaning behind his look. But an uneasy feeling warned him that keeping his distance was the most expedient course. He was here for a purpose. He needed to put his cause to Lord Brandon and earn his help. He couldn’t afford to antagonize any of his sons. And he couldn’t afford to get led astray with wenching, gaming, or fighting either. His suit was too important—to Elaine and to himself.
William walked away, leading his horse to the stables as the thwunk of arrows and the roar of the crowd sounded loud behind him.
Christian strode through the castle hallways, his blood thrumming in a splendid rush. It had been a good day. He’d taken top honors in archery and had acquitted himself well in foot combat. He’d earned his father’s pleased nod as he handed Christian his cup. And he was bestowed a kiss upon his cheek from Lady Gwendolyn.
Lady Gwendolyn’s lips were soft and perfumed. Christian had been unable to stop his eyes from shyly falling to the ground like a callow youth, which had earned him laughs and hardy slaps on the back from his father’s men. And even as he blushed and grinned, Christian’s eyes had sought a certain face in the crowd, one with lips not soft and not perfumed. Christian hadn’t found him there.
The knight’s name was Sir William Corbet. Christian had learned this from the man who ran the tournament. William was the son and heir of a minor noble, Lord Geoffrey Corbet, whose lands lay fifteen leagues to the southeast. Christian had noticed William in the first jousting bout of the day, when William had beaten six of his father’s knights, including Christian’s brother, Thomas.
Christian’s eyes had been drawn to the knight from the start—the one in the silver armor, wearing a crimson doublet with a black lion on the front. Even with his visor down he was arresting. His body was large and broad, strong and confident in the saddle. He’d ridden sure and easy, and he handled the javelin with restrained power. Christian had found himself more and more riveted as the bout went on. The knight had beaten his opponents soundly, and then he removed his helmet to accept his accolades. Christian’s breath and heart and the thoughts in his head had all frozen, like a gear stuck and held, if only for a moment.
Sir William Corbet was magnificent. He had light brown hair, worn straight to just below the shoulders, serious and kind blue eyes, a square face, full lips, and a closely shaved beard. He looked the epitome of a knight—noble, powerful, and true. Christian had never seen his equal. Desire had spiked in Christian then, that dreaded, hot, heady, unwelcome feeling that betrayed and stung him, like an adder in his breast.
God’s blood he hated it, hated it all. If he were his father’s daughter, he might have had a prayer of claiming, wedding, a knight like Sir William. As it was, his response to the man was not only hopeless but deeply shameful. And yet, despite knowing this, despite being fully aware of the risks, Christian had been unable to stop himself from looking at Sir William as he rode past him on the way to the archery. Christian had only meant to glance, maybe nod politely in an offer of friendship. But once his eyes had locked with William’s, he could not tear himself away.
Christian cursed under his breath. He had probably made a spectacle of himself. But at least a gaze was only a gaze, and he was sure none of his brothers had seen it. He had done nothing truly damaging—not yet. Dear God, not yet.
If he could only inure himself to the idea that what his eyes could feast upon, and his heart desire in secret, harmed no man. Then he might at least look forward to seeing Sir William at the banquet tonight and be able to—
A whisper of a sound broke through Christian’s thoughts. In a moment, his dagger was in his hand, even as he was spun and pressed hard against the wall.
Malcolm’s face, contorted with hatred, glared down at him. His beefy arm pressed across Christian’s throat. A chainmail sleeve dug into the delicate skin there, bearing down on his windpipe. As the arm pressed deeper, threatening to crush what could not be repaired, Christian let his dagger’s sharp tongue slip under his brother’s doublet to prickle and sting. Malcolm’s eyes narrowed on a gasp of pain and the pressure on Christian’s throat eased.
His brother’s breath stank of ale and of the waft of carrion that always accompanied Malcolm these days, as if there were something rotting deep inside him. The smell seemed to go hand and hand with his increasingly erratic behavior, though none except for Christian seemed willing to acknowledge it.
Malcolm hissed words into Christian’s face. “You think you walk on water, do you not, your highness?”
“Are you full up with victory, my brother? Does your own pretty glory make you hard?”
Malcolm ground a cruel thigh into Christian’s groin, and Christian gasped in shock. Malcolm had always been sadistic but never before in a sexual way. Christian thanked his stars that Malcolm’s attack had turned his body cold after those warm thoughts of Sir William.
“I will sink this blade if you don’t get off me, brother,” Christian threatened, his voice soft and deadly. The point dug in, piercing the linen shift and the skin. Christian took great care with his blades. It was as pointed as a needle and sharp enough to sink in to the hilt, as if flesh was as easily spread as a whore’s thighs.
Malcolm sneered but backed off. “Be warned. Ne’re dare go against me in the joust, little Crow. Or I will impale you in front of the crowd and lick your blood from my fingers.”
“‘Tis not my event, as you well know,” said Christian coolly, but his dagger remained pointed at the ready in his hand.
As if to show he had no fear of it, Malcolm reached out and gave Christian’s jaw a caress bitter with disdain. “Remember, you quivering bitch. I am watching.”
Christian jerked his chin away and Malcolm slunk off. Christian wondered briefly if Malcolm even realized the insult he’d made to himself—calling Christian a female dog, as if it were the lowest creature, when Malcolm bore the moniker ‘hound’ thanks to his exception skills at tracking.
By the saints, it was pointless to try to understand Malcolm. He was insane, truly, and grew more so year by year. Heart pounding, Christian forced himself to calmly walk to his room. But once inside he bolted the door and leaned against it, trembling.
Malcolm hated him, had always hated him. But what had provoked Malcolm this time? The fact that Christian had won acclaim? A nod from his father? But Christian always won at archery; that was nothing new.
Christian remembered the warm look from Lady Gwendolyn, the way her lips had lingered on his cheek. At the last banquet, he’d seen Malcolm watching her, his eyes greedy and half-lidded with want.
God’s teeth. I don’t want her! Christian wanted to open the door and shout it down the hall. But then, he reminded himself, Malcolm already knew that.
When Christian was eight he became a page in his father’s household. Most boys were sent to a neighboring castle for such duty, but he was the seventh son. Rules and attention to such structured matters were much relaxed by the time Christian came along. His father was stingy with servants and his older brothers were demanding. Christian did his service at home.
His brothers trained hard and long in the small arena near the castle’s stables. When he wasn’t dong menial labor, Christian was pressed to join them. He’d looked forward to his training at first, eyes aglow over the blunt wooden swords and the spinning quintain. But once in the arena, he was pushed and bullied and beaten, expected to keep up with his older brothers at once and with no relenting. Training came to mean pain and humiliation, and there was no escaping it.
Thus darkness ate up the rest of his childhood years, like a black dragon grinding up infants in its razor-sharp teeth. His only comfort had been his sister, Ayleth, who bandaged his wounds, came to him in the night, and held him. She stifled his cries and sometimes she cried with him.
Malcolm, six years Christian’s senior, had come close to killing Christian at least twice in the training arena. His hand was stayed only because of the watchful eye of Sir Andrew, the knight in charge of their training. No one else knew it; or at least no one else would admit it. But Christian knew; so did Malcolm. Christian’s other brothers all gave him plenty of bruises and half-hearted abuse. But none loathed him as Malcolm did. None had cracked his ribs, crushed his fingers, or kneed him so hard in the groin he’d pissed blood for a week.
There was something deeply wrong with Malcolm; Christian knew this. It got worse the older Malcolm got. He knew his father and other brothers were worried, but they did not see the worst of it because Malcolm saved his most violent tendencies for Christian alone. And if Christian complained, he only looked weak and childish. At times Thomas or Stephen or one of the others would snap at Malcolm to leave off, to let Christian be. But it was not enough to save Christian truly, never enough. And his father? The great lord dismissed all of their infighting as an annoyance.
Christian had had no choice. He was forced to toughen or die. He’d toughened—until he’d become as brutal and wild in the arena as any of them. His gentle mouth was taught how to bar its teeth in hatred. His sharp wits were bent to outmaneuvering and treachery.
Once, when he was fifteen, and Malcolm had ‘accidently’ pushed him off the top of a hayrick whilst they were building it up, Christian had cornered him against a wagon and asked him one thing. Why?
“Because I see you, brother,” Malcolm had said, low and terrible. “I know what you are inside, what you try to hide. And I will kill you before I let you disgrace this family.”
“I won’t,” Christian had said, shocked and ashamed.
“I know, brother,” Malcolm replied with an evil smile. “I will make sure of it.”
Thus Christian kept his doors and windows locked at night, always. Thus he carried several sharpened blades, even inside the castle. He’d escaped for a number of years, as a squire, and they had been the best years of his life. But he’d been sucked back in as irresistibly as a man sinking in quicksand. His father’s orders; once Christian had earned his spurs he was a knight, and as a knight he owed his fealty to his father’s castle.
Between those who wanted to bed him, those who wanted to wed him, and those who wanted him dead, the castle was a place more dangerous than any battlefield.
THE FULL STORY WILL BE PUBLISHED IN JUNE 2013