March 21, 2013

Star Noble: Beloved Enemy (Excerpt & Interview)

Please help me welcome new author Star Noble! Her debut novella, a Timeless Dreams, already received a glowing review from MM Good Book Reviews.


Title: Beloved Enemy
Release Date: 13th February, 2013
Author: Star Noble
Author Website: Star Noble on Facebook
 
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: Historical, Romance
Blurb: At the edge of the Roman Empire, Cheruscans Kjeld and Dafried forged the bonds of childhood friendship, playing and hunting together along the mighty Rhine—until Romans ripped Kjeld away from his idyllic life and best friend to live as a Roman soldier.

That was ten years ago. Kjeld, now a Roman general, returns to his foster parents to prepare for a glorious celebration: a battle in the Coliseum. What he doesn’t know is that Dafried, after being captured during an assault on Roman military post, now trains as a gladiator in preparation for the upcoming competition. When the childhood friends reunite in the sands, it could spell death for one of them.

A Timeless Dreams title: While reaction to same-sex relationships throughout time and across cultures has not always been positive, these stories celebrate M/M love in a manner that may address, minimize, or ignore historical stigma.



1-Welcome Star Noble! Please tell us a bit about yourself and your release.

Thanks for the invitation, Chris! I've always loved writing, mostly short stories. Finally, last summer, I found the courage and submitted my first novella Beloved Enemy for publication. A dream came true when Dreamspinner Press told me they wanted my story.


2-In what locale is your book set? Why did you choose this setting?

It's set in the Roman Empire. I saw a movie about the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, and I was intrigued by the plot. I did some research and learned that the Romans invaded Germanic tribes and separated healthy boys from their families to be raised in Rome. All of a sudden I knew I wanted to tell this story.


3-How long have you been writing?

I have been active in a writing community for seven years.


4-What compelled you to write this particular story?

See above.


5-What gave you the courage to submit your story to a publisher?

Over the last years I had worked hard to improve my writing. It was time to take the next step.


6-When creating your characters, do you have models in mind or are they totally fictional?

The young actors in the movie about the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest became kind of models. They were strong and handsome; one dark haired, the other one tall and blond. They were in my mind when I wrote the story.


7-Why did you start writing m/m? Is there something special that draws you to this genre?

I've always loved men not being afraid to show their feelings for each other. When deep friendship turns into a love relationship, that's what I like to read and write about. Once you've crossed that border as a writer, you don't go back.:-)


8-What are you reading right now? Do you have a favorite author or genre?

I love reading suspense stories, but at the moment I'm in love with Stephan Niederwieser's books. He's a German author writing gay fiction. He has a wonderful way of "show, not tell", and the images he creates stay your head.


9-What are you working on now?

I have just finished a short story about a young man who has been abandoned by his lover. And now I'm writing another short story about a birthday surprise.:-)


10-When you're not writing, how do you like to spend your time?

Give me a book I like, and you can't count on me for hours.
Listening to music and singing (and dancing) along is another favorite activity of mine.


11-What are your writing goals for 2013?

Writing another novel.


12-Do you have personal goals for 2013?

Staying healthy.




Would you like to share an excerpt from “Beloved Enemy”?
Yes, of course.

Chapter 1

DAFRIED, let’s run to the grove over there!” Kjeld, twelve-year-old son of the Cheruscan tribe leader, Aldemar, jumped up from the stump he was sitting on. He looked over at his best friend, Dafried, son of Gundbert, trader of their tribe. Dafried was lying in the grass, looking at the sky.
Dafried raised his head sleepily. “What?”
This time, I’ll be the first!” Kjeld ran forward with long strides, long blond hair waving in the breeze.
Hold on!” No longer sleepy, Dafried scrambled to his feet to run after his friend.
Kjeld knew he had the advantage of being taller, but Dafried was known as the best sprinter in their village, so Kjeld gave his best to reach the trees first. This time, he had to win!
But, all too quickly, he heard heavy breathing and wheezing behind him.
In a last effort, Kjeld lurched forward. “I won!” he gasped, embracing the trunk of the old tree for support.
Dafried gave a sound of pain, clutching at Kjeld’s back.
Kjeld caught his breath, turning around slowly. Dafried had gone down on his knees, his dark head resting against Kjeld’s legs.
What’s wrong? Come on, I’ll help you up.” Kjeld put his arms under Dafried’s armpits and hauled him upward.
Ouch!” Dafried lost his balance and went to the ground, writhing in pain. “Stupid… ankle. I must have sprained it again.”
Kjeld settled next to him. At first, he’d suspected that his friend was fishing for sympathy because he had lost the race, but now, he saw that Dafried was in real pain. He remembered the previous spring, when the children of the tribe had completed a race through the woods and Dafried had reached the target line as one of the last, limping.
You should join our council of elders,” Kjeld joked.
Dafried gritted his teeth, looking away as if trying to hide tears.
Let me look at your ankle.” Gently, Kjeld took the sandal off Dafried’s foot and put his hand on the warm skin at the ankle. It was beginning to swell.
Dafried jerked at the touch and Kjeld shushed him. “It doesn’t look too bad. I’m sure Leila will find a salve and you’ll feel up to the next race tomorrow.” Dafried grunted at the mention of the medicine woman. “And I promise you’ll get a head start.”
You always say that, but you never keep your promise!” Dafried complained weakly. His eyes had changed to a darker blue, as they always did when he was hurting or furious. Kjeld gazed sympathetically at his friend.
An idea hit him, and he pointed over to the stump he’d been sitting on before the race.
You know what? I had an early start and won, but because you’re hurting and were very fast too, I’ll give you something I found this morning. Let’s get you over there, and you’ll see what a precious thing it is.”
Really?” Dafried looked up, curiosity shining in his eyes. Kjeld was happy to see his friend more alert again. “What is it?”
Come on. Put your arm around me and we’ll walk over there.” Slowly, Kjeld helped Dafried stand up, and together they stepped across the clearing to the other side of the forest. Kjeld kept his arm around the other boy’s waist and let him sit down on the trunk where they had started their race.
Phew! I don’t feel like walking a lot today,” Dafried said. He looked around. “Where’s the thing you found? Or are you just making fun of me?” Now he was pouting, something he often did when he wanted to persuade others to a certain end. Kjeld had witnessed countless times Dafried’s mother surrendering to her son’s wishes after seeing that expression on his face.
Kjeld smiled and walked into the forest.
Where are you going?” Dafried called, unable to keep the worry from his voice. Kjeld didn’t answer at once.
Hey, are you leaving me alone?” Dafried called again, louder.
I would never do that to my best friend,” Kjeld answered, reaching into an old, rotten tree. There he had hidden it: a strong staff. Kjeld had removed the tree bark, and the surface was shiny. He moved his hand along the staff and nodded, content.
He stepped back to Dafried and held out the staff. “I want to give it to you. It’s unique, isn’t it? It offers a good grip, with a sharp head. You can defend yourself with it, and we can play soldier games with it. And you can lean on it until your ankle is fine again.” Kjeld looked at his friend expectantly.
Dafried’s eyes shone with surprise. “This is for me?” He took the staff and weighed it in his hand. “It’s heavy enough to be a weapon.” He turned it around and slid his hand along the wood. “What’s that?” He frowned, taking a closer look at one spot right below the head. “Hey, it’s your name carved there.”
Yes. And now it’s yours. Do you like it?” Kjeld sat next to his friend, running his hand along the staff.
Yes… but something’s missing,” Dafried mused, outlining Kjeld’s name on the staff.
Kjeld raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
Both our names should be on this staff,” Dafried said with determination.
Nothing easier than that.” Kjeld smiled. “I’ll show you how. But first, I should get you home. Your mother will be worried.”
She worries too much,” Dafried said dismissively. He stood up, leaning on the staff. “This is a wonderful thing for me. I’m sure I will be better in no time.” He took some steps forward and almost faltered.
In a second, Kjeld was by his side. “Step by step. We do it this way.” Kjeld put his arm around Dafried’s waist, supporting him.
You do know Leila, don’t you?” Kjeld said, guiding Dafried around some bare roots.
Who hasn’t heard of that old witch?” Dafried snorted. “They say she can kill you with her cooked herbs and fried frog legs.” He shuddered, catching his breath.
She’s the best healer in the Cheruscan tribe,” Kjeld said firmly in her defense. “And she’ll know what to do.”
The shadows were longer along the path now, and the temperature had dropped considerably since they’d been out. Kjeld was cold—he hadn’t worn his linen shirt. It had been sunny all day, and Dafried was only wearing his breeches. His friend’s shoulder felt clammy to Kjeld’s touch, and moving forward, he murmured, “Can you walk home? Or should I run back and call your father?”
And leave me alone, ready to be eaten by the wolves?” Dafried squawked indignantly.
Kjeld just raised an eyebrow.
Dafried sighed, nodding.
Whacking at the bushes that blocked the way, the boys made their way back through the forest. It was getting dark, and the trees looked like gray monsters. Although Kjeld and Dafried were familiar with the forest and knew about the dangers, Kjeld wished they could just be at home again. People had gotten lost in the deep woods and been found months later, half-eaten by wild animals.
Kjeld squeezed Dafried’s arm, hoping they would make it home safe.
Finally, they stepped out of the brush. “We’re almost home,” Kjeld said, pointing at the wide valley in front of them. It was a breathtaking view. The evening sun shone on the long thatched roofs in the village, and Kjeld breathed a sigh of relief. It would be best to stop at Kjeld’s home. “We can see it already,” Kjeld said. Dafried’s family lived at the north fence, much too far for Dafried to walk with his hurt ankle.
I bet my mother is making oatmeal with honey—you always like that.” Kjeld’s mouth watered.
Dafried took a deep breath, leaning on his staff. Licking his lips, he muttered, “I’m hungry like a wolf.”
He was lifting the stick to push a big branch out of the way when they heard the sound of approaching horses to their left.
Stay here!” Kjeld hissed, pulling his friend back into the trees. Crouching on the ground, they could see more than ten riders moving along the edge of the forest, their light armor reflecting the evening sun.
The Romans again,” Dafried spat, shifting until his foot rested more comfortably. “Last week, they spent days in the neighboring colony. My father heard that they demanded more taxes; that’s the third time this year. Who knows what they’re up to now?”
It’s getting more and more ridiculous. But, as my father says, there’s no way to refuse their demands.” Kjeld sighed. The Romans occupied their homeland, and if anyone revolted against them, it would mean certain death for many of their people. Kjeld pinched the crease in his forehead.
One day, we will be free again.”
Do you think the coast is clear?” Dafried’s eyes glistened with anticipation, the riders pushed to the back of his mind in favor of the promised oatmeal.
Bracing his right arm on Kjeld’s shoulder, he pushed himself up from the ground and grabbed the staff for support. The Romans had disappeared into the countryside, and they would probably be safe reaching their village.


KJELD, where have you been?” Ingrid, Kjeld’s mother, demanded, looking worried. “We just heard a troop of Romans checking the area. You shouldn’t stray too far from home these days.”
She ushered the boys into the house, glancing down the lane as if afraid that the soldiers were nearby.
Don’t worry, Mother. The Romans didn’t see us,” Kjeld reassured her, leading Dafried to a nearby chair.
Dafried, you can eat with us,” Ingrid said, automatically putting another plate on the table.
Thank you.” Dafried winced as he slumped on the chair.
Oh dear boy, what happened?”
He hurt his ankle running,” Kjeld explained, eyeing the evening meal already on the table.
Dafried, come nearer to the fire,” Ingrid said with a frown, gesturing for him to sit down on the bench. “What did you boys do again—fighting with each other? Kjeld, didn’t I tell you how dangerous that is without someone to watch you both?” She probed Dafried’s bruised ankle gently.
Dafried’s cry stopped Ingrid’s scolding. She must have touched the spot where the swelling was the worst. “It looks sprained,” Ingrid said, patting Dafried’s knee.
Kjeld hurried to his friend’s side, hovering over him. What if the injury was more serious than they had first thought? The whole side of Dafried’s foot was now purple and swollen.
Mother, why not ask Leila?” Kjeld suggested. “She usually knows how to treat a wound and ease the pain.”
Ingrid looked up at her son and smiled. “So go. You know where to find her.”
Kjeld nodded and turned to leave, touching his friend’s arm. “Hang on.” He gave Dafried an encouraging smile and hurried out the door to find Leila. She had helped many fighters to recuperate from severe injuries endured on the battlefield, so she could probably help Dafried with his sprained ankle.
Kjeld mentally promised to sacrifice something worthy to the gods if Dafried’s ankle healed properly. He relied on Dafried’s joyfulness and the fun they had together. They often played hide and seek with Kjeld’s little sister, Karin, and loved teasing the little girl when she screeched and hid her face after being found.
Whenever Kjeld and Dafried prowled around the surrounding fields and forests, Dafried always found something exciting. Once, Dafried had found the copper mask of a Roman soldier. He had scared Kjeld to death by appearing from behind with it on his face. Kjeld had been so frightened he’d wet his pants.
Afterward, when Kjeld could laugh about the whole thing, Dafried had looked at him, suddenly serious. “I didn’t bother you too much, did I?” And he had reached out his hand with the copper mask. “Do you want it? It’s yours.”
Kjeld kept the mask on his shelf and held it in his hands from time to time, wishing he could wear such a mask in a fight to defend his tribe from the Romans.
Absorbed in thought, Kjeld hadn’t noticed that he had reached Leila’s house. It was at the end of the village, made of big wooden logs. Smoke came from the chimney, so Kjeld assumed the woman was at home.
He knocked on the heavy wooden door; it opened slowly. Darkness surrounded him, and a strange smell wafted in his direction, making him choke.
Hesitating, he held his breath before he took a step forward. Summoning his courage, he spoke into the darkness. “Leila? It’s Kjeld, Aldemar’s son. Dafried hurt his ankle and is in pain. My mother asks if you can help?”
A dark shadow emerged from the opposite side of the room and materialized as a slender, middle-aged woman wearing a black, hooded cloak. She held a little bowl in her hands with something steaming in it. Kjeld stepped back when she approached him with the stinking liquid.
Don’t be afraid. I knew you would need my help,” she murmured. “The gods told me to mix my special medicine. It will help your friend.”
Dafried will never drink this stuff,” Kjeld managed, holding his nose.
He turned to leave, but a light touch on his shirt held him back. “This is not for your friend. Follow me. I’ll show you what I have for your friend’s pain.” Leila walked back into the dark interior of the room, her feet making a shuffling noise on the wooden floor.
I have to leave the village to offer my help in a fight near the Rhine,” she said, bending over a pot that held a variety of herbs. Kjeld recognized garlic and cress among them. He stood rooted to the spot, not daring to disturb the medicine woman.
Come here and take a look. I’ll teach you how to create the healing drink. It eases pain and helps you to fall asleep.”
Now interested, Kjeld watched Leila mixing herbs and spices. He listened to her mumbling about willow bark and tried to keep her instructions in his mind.
Leila put the compound in a little pouch, closed it with a leather strip, and handed it to Kjeld. “Take some of the contents, pour hot water over it, and give the mixture to Dafried to drink. He’ll rest soundly and feel better tomorrow. But don’t use all of it, or he won’t wake up for hours.” Leila made a parting gesture. “I’m sorry that I can’t look after your friend more closely, but I have to leave soon. Be well.” Her eyes flickered. “Maybe you can use your knowledge someday.”
Kjeld mumbled his thanks and left the house, relieved that he could flee the stench.
Attaching the pouch to his belt, Kjeld made his way home. Darkness had set in, and Kjeld slipped on the muddy ground more than once. Making sure that the pouch with the medicine was still tied to his belt, he hurried along the houses that appeared intimidating at night.
He reached his home and entered through the front door, only to find the room empty. The fire was still burning, and he wondered where his mother had gone. Usually she was at home in the evening, putting his little sister Karin to bed and planning the next day’s errands.
Quietly, he made it to the adjoining room where his bed was. Karin was sleeping peacefully in her alcove. Kjeld turned to his bed and saw Dafried lying there. He was restless, tossing and turning.
Hey, friend, I’m back.” Kjeld crouched near the bed and touched his friend’s shoulder. “Wake up. How are you?”
Dafried opened his eyes blearily. “It hurts….” He shifted his leg to find a more comfortable position.
I’ve been to Leila and she gave me something for you,” Kjeld whispered. He looked around. “Do you know where my mother is?”
Your mother is on her way to my home to inform my parents of my accident. Don’t worry.” Dafried sat up, eyeing the pouch in Kjeld’s hand. “Is that one of Leila’s strange-tasting medicines?” He shuddered, making a face.
Kjeld answered in the affirmative. “You should have been there. The stench was almost unbearable. But these are only herbs that need to be put in hot water. It’s for the pain, and I hope it’s drinkable.”
I hope so too.” Dafried sighed, checking the bandage on his ankle. The hurt foot was covered with leaves and something that looked like clay. Kjeld’s mother had taken care of Dafried as well as she could.
I’ll fetch some water. There’s always some over the fire.” Kjeld started to walk over to the fireplace, but heard his little sister call for their mother. He put the bowl down and went over to the alcove.
Karin, Mother is with Dafried’s parents. She’ll be back soon. Go to sleep.”
Father?” the little girl asked, sounding as if she was about to start crying. Kjeld put his hand on her forehead, stroking her brow.
Dad is helping the farmers build fences, remember? He’ll be back home soon to tell you a good-night story. It’s no use staying awake. Go to sleep now.” Kjeld watched as Karin finally closed her eyes.
Kjeld felt a hollow pang at the reminder of his father’s absence. Kjeld missed him in the moments when things went wrong and he needed his father’s support. But Aldemar had a leading part in the farmers’ community. There had been a poor harvest that year, so Kjeld’s father was helping the farmers to breed cattle.
He returned to the fireplace, poured some hot water in a bowl, and opened the pouch with the herbs, adding some of the contents to the bowl. Carefully, he carried the steaming bowl into the sleeping area and put it on the ground.
That’s it?” Dafried looked suspiciously at the hot liquid. “Leila always makes the worst concoctions. Do you really expect me to drink this thing?”
It’ll be good for you, believe me.” Kjeld held the bowl to Dafried’s lips and made sure his friend sipped some of it.
Dafried leaned back against the wall and pointed to the floor beside the bed. “Your mother told me to stay the night, until I feel better again. I wish you would sleep next to me on the ground—like a pet, or my slave.” A mischievous smile appeared on his face.
Kjeld suppressed the urge to wrestle with his friend. Dafried couldn’t feel too bad if he had the strength to banter with Kjeld. It was the way they were with each other—closer than brothers. Kjeld had promised himself long ago that he would always take care of his friend.
I’m no pet and no slave,” Kjeld finally responded and sat on the edge of the cot. He took off his sandals and his shirt, then grabbed the blanket and the linen pillow filled with feathers from under Dafried’s head, lying down on it with an appreciative groan.
Hey, that’s rude! I’m the injured one,” Dafried protested weakly, reclaiming the spot he’d had before and pushing his friend against the edge of the bed to get more space.
Kjeld only laughed and made himself more comfortable.
Be quiet, or do you want to wake up Karin again?” Dafried whispered. Both listened for any sounds from her alcove, but everything was silent.
Kjeld turned to his side, trying not to nudge Dafried’s bandaged ankle. Finally calming down, Kjeld felt the exhaustion of a long day. Worrying about his friend and the journey to Leila’s had taken its toll. Kjeld closed his eyes for a moment, feeling Dafried’s warm body next to his. As long as they were together, everything was going to be all right.
Drifting off to sleep, Kjeld mumbled, “Good night, my friend.”


KJELD awoke to a familiar voice.
Dafried, come. Your father is here to take you home.”
He cracked his eyes open and saw his mother standing near the bed. Next to him, Dafried stirred. The room was very dark, but Ingrid held a candle. Behind her, he could see Gundbert, Dafried’s father.
Where’s my father?” Kjeld asked sleepily.
Ingrid smiled at him. “He’s home again, washing up. It’s been a long day, but your father is going to say good night to you, I’m sure. Now help me get Dafried out of bed.”
I can do it myself,” Dafried said, rubbing his eyes. He sat up and tried to climb over Kjeld, but the injured ankle hindered his movement, and Dafried slumped against his friend.
Let me help you.” Dafried’s father reached down, and with Kjeld’s support, he got Dafried out of the bed and scooped him up in his arms. Looking down on Kjeld, he smiled. “You’ve got your bed again for yourself. Go on sleeping.” And they were gone.
Kjeld leaned back on his pillows, his thoughts still about his friend.
He remembered being six years old and meeting Dafried for the first time. The women of the tribe had held their regular meeting regarding the education of the children of the tribe. The girls helped in and around the house while the boys learned how to fight. Kjeld wasn’t fond of war games; he preferred to stay inside, making plans for a better shelter for the village.
When Dafried joined him, trying to coax him into attacking two stronger boys, Kjeld refused at first. Dafried offered to share his weapons: some branches and a rope, a big stone, and a mask made of clay. Kjeld had laughed it off, turning away. But, for a second, he had seen the hurt expression on the other boy’s face. It had done something to him. He listened to Dafried’s ideas about how to defend their tribe against enemies, and he liked the boy’s boldness. It was the beginning of their friendship.
Kjeld was getting sleepy when Aldemar entered the room and sat on the edge of his son’s bed, the light of the candle showing the exhaustion on his face.
It’s been a long day, son. Three of Farmer Kunold’s cows got lost and ended up on the moor; it took all day to rescue them. Slaves from other villages helped us; otherwise, we would have lost them, and I would still be out there. Hard times.” Rough hands briefly stroked over Kjeld’s head. Kjeld loved it when his father stopped by his bed to tell him about his work.
What about the Romans? We saw a troop passing by today.”
Aldemar sighed. “There are more complaints about the Romans invading our territory. I’m worried about their behavior.”
Kjeld nodded. “We’ll have to convince the Romans to leave us alone. Every time they show up, we’re afraid something terrible will happen.” He reached for his father’s hand.
It will never change. We have to pay more taxes every year. Someday, it’ll be too much, and we’ll need the strength to fight them effectively,” Aldemar remarked, sighing.
By now, Kjeld was too tired to follow his father’s words. He fell asleep, happy that his father had stopped to talk to him as if he were an adult. But at the same time, there was a definite sense of loss. Dafried’s warm presence in the bed was gone, and he felt it keenly.

4 comments:

  1. I love stories about ancient Rome, so thanks so much for introducing me to this one! :) It sounds intriguing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I already bought it and hope to read it on my flight. :) Glad I could help!

      Delete
    2. Thank you, Tali!

      Delete
    3. Thanks for your support, Chris!

      Delete