Have you ever wondered what might happen if you could throw a party of your choice and not only could you invite your MC(s) but other literary figures as well? In this feature, I ask you to imagine exactly that scenario and some more. Meet Suzannah Rowntree and let’s get the party started!
aka The Author
Suzannah Rowntree lives in a big house in rural Australia with her awesome parents and siblings, drinking fancy tea and writing historical fantasy fiction that blends real-world history with legend, adventure, and a dash of romance.
If you like the mythic fantasy of Stephen Lawhead, S. A. Chakraborty or Naomi Novik, you’ll probably like her stories too!
aka The MC(s)
Lukas Bessarion, a young Syrian noble displaced in time. He’s very happy to be at the party, but feels awkward because he hasn’t had a bath in, like, a week. Ayla, a streetwise Turkish girl who’s lived on the street her whole life, isn’t even slightly abashed: she’s found herself a plate and piled it with all the food she can find, and in about thirty seconds, if Lukas doesn’t catch her, she’ll be putting her head under the chocolate fountain. Count Raymond of Saint-Gilles, a Frankish lord, as usual feels the weight of the world on his shoulders. He evidently considers the party a waste of time: the main question is, who’s in charge, and can they provide anything in the shape of an alliance?
I’m going to be really nice to my characters (heaven knows I’m often pretty horrible to them) and invite along the people they love and miss, particularly Lukas and Ayla’s families who are separated from them by hundreds of miles at best and hundreds of years at worst!
The Main Attraction
This party takes place in the desert. You have ridden leagues in the hot sun, pushing your horses to the edge of their endurance, one eye on the sky and the other on the horizon waiting for your enemies to come in view. At sunset you stumble upon a tent pitched by a hidden well. The stars are out. The lamps are lit. The musicians are playing. The servants, who seem to be expecting you, bid you welcome to the feast. Yours not to reason why: you’re too exhausted and hungry to argue, and besides, they have a chocolate fountain.
It was going to be our mysterious and possibly not-quite human host, dispenser of wisdom, weapons, and/or fiendish dilemmas. But there we go–Ayla’s covered in chocolate and Lukas is mortified, so maybe it was the chocolate fountain all along.
Me and Mine – The Brothers Bright
The refrain of this song is “I will burn your kingdom down if you try to conquer me and mine”, a sentiment very familiar to Lukas Bessarion and the rest of his family, who feel driven to fight for their homeland against foreign invaders of whatever origin.
Love and War – Fleurie
I admit I really enjoy when a book has a romantic subplot, and while I was struggling to get a handle on the central relationship in the book, I found myself listening to Fleurie’s “Love and War” a lot, since it captured the mood I was going for really well.
Heavy Is The Head – Zac Brown Band ft Chris Cornell
The burden of leadership is something that forms a theme throughout the Outremer books, and I love how this song speaks to that. This is a good one for Raymond of Saint-Gilles, although plenty of other characters in the series have similar experiences!
City of the Dead – Eurielle
Not to give spoilers, but the last full chapter of the book was one of my favourites to write, and Eurielle’s “City of the Dead” has been on my Outremer playlist for a long time because it reminds me of that particular chapter – complete with ominous Latin chanting!
Desert Queen – Sister Sin
It’s actually a bit scary how well this song suits a major WIND FROM THE WILDERNESS villain, the demon Lilith. With lines like “Fall onto your knees – surrender your soul to the crimson desert queen” it’s the perfect villain song.
aka Who Let the MC(s) Loose?
Well, Saint-Gilles has found the mysterious host, has gratefully accepted the magical weapon and wisdom, and has unhesitatingly handed over the soul of his firstborn in exchange for guaranteed safety for his people. Meanwhile, Lukas has towed Ayla outside to wash off in the well outside. We won’t follow them. They’re probably kissing each other and feeling really guilty about it.
Not half as guilty as Lukas is going to feel in the morning when he wakes up to find the tent and party have vanished…and Saint-Gilles has the weapon. But don’t worry, Lukas: your turn is coming…the only question is, what’s it going to cost?
Wow, that was a more exciting party than I expected! I’m so glad I was there for it, and so thrilled to be a SPFBO finalist!
Suzannah Rowntree’s Finalist novel is A Wind from the Wilderness advanced to the Finals by The Fantasy Hive. You can connect with the author here:
To read about more parties and to follow our process in the SPFBO 6 Finals, please visit my SPFBO 6 Finals page!
Excerpt from, A Wind from the Wilderness by Suzannah Rowntree
The next time he woke it was day in earnest and Ayla was still asleep next to him. With the sun’s rising, the morning had warmed. He shifted away from her and got up on one elbow to peer into the street.
Through the slats of the wooden steps, a narrow road was visible, sloping down between high tenement walls toward the harbour, where a thin slice of water sparkled in the sun. Behind, the road curved uphill, breaking into stairways where the ground rose sharply.
The smell of frying fish drifted toward him on the breeze. Far above, a door slammed and Lukas peered up to see washing fluttering from crisscrossing lines between balconies.
Ayla jerked awake. “Greek? Oh, there you are.”
“We made it,” he whispered. “We’re in Constantinople!”
Ayla peered up the street. “I’ve never seen such a clean street. No wonder I couldn’t find anything to wrap us in. How do the beggars live?”
“There are charities for them. At least there used to be.”
“What, for all of them? This is the richest city in the world.”
Lukas watched her as she studied the street. Slanted brown eyes, full lips, a rounded face—how could he have mistaken her for a boy? Washed and properly dressed, she would almost be pretty.
“Look at this,” she murmured.
Lukas transferred his gaze to the street again. A small band of four priests in fine vestments followed a Greek guide down the street toward them, lifting their fine robes out of the muck that gathered in the central gutter. Pale-skinned and clean-shaven, the men were clearly barbarians from the West. One of them, a tall, spare old man, wore the cross and ring of a bishop.
Not far from Lukas’ hiding place, the bishop turned to his guide and said in Latin, “This is the way to the Hospital of Sampson? Are you sure?”
“It’s a short cut, my lord.” The barbarians were so tall that their guide had to crane his neck to look at the bishop. “Traffic’s so bad on the Mese, that…”
The bishop interrupted him. “They told me the hospital was near the church of Saint Sophia. I did not think the church was by the sea, and yet I see water.” He pointed down the alley toward the harbour.
Lukas slewed his head around and saw four more seedy-looking men shift away from where they stood half-concealed in stairs and doorways. With apparent laziness, they drifted toward the barbarians.
Ayla nudged Lukas. “Feeling hungry?”
“We save the Christian’s purse, might be something in it for us.”
“There are five of them!”
“Bet I can do it.”
Lukas grabbed her wrist. “No! Don’t get involved in this.”
She rolled her eyes. “Look. I know this kind of scum. You just have to scare their leader, and the rest will follow, right?”
In the alley, the bishop tightened his grip on his staff as the Greek ruffians confronted him. Most of them had long knives, while one carried a serviceable club. Behind the bishop, his priests clustered together.
“I would have paid you well to guide me honestly,” the bishop told the guide.
“Not as much as you will pay, barbarian.” The guide stepped away from the westerners and pulled a knife from his belt. “Hand over everything. Your men too.”
The bishop stood his ground.
“I am the personal representative of Pope Urban of Rome and a guest of the emperor. Are you sure you have chosen wisely?”
“Less talk, more gold,” one of the Greeks growled in his own language, and the guide repeated it in Latin.
The bishop sighed and spoke to the priests in a barbarian language. Lukas did not know the tongue, but it sounded familiar. If you lived in Jerusalem, sooner or later you heard every language in the world.
With apparent meekness, the priests dug into robes and unbuckled purses.
“Now,” Ayla whispered. “Back me up!”
Before he could protest, she hopped out of their shelter and strolled toward the Greeks. Lukas scrambled after, stifling a groan for his bruised and cramped muscles.
“Hey, boys.” Her voice deepened, but it was the most feminine sound he had yet heard from her. “Going to keep all of that?”
They turned as Ayla sauntered up to the Greek who had asked for gold. He only gave her a flat stare in return, evidently seeing no threat in the young Turk.
Without warning, Ayla shot out a hand, grabbed and jerked. Drops of the Greek’s blood spattered the bishop’s white vestments. With a howl, he staggered back, clapping a hand to his bloody head.
Ayla let out a whoop, whipped around and threw the Greek’s ear in the guide’s face. Then she drew her own knife.
“You going to do the smart thing?” she hissed.
Swearing, they grabbed their one-eared leader and ran. Some of the oaths hanging in the air were Lukas’ own.
Ayla shot him a smug grin over her shoulder. “See? Worked.”
“Saint George! Are you crazy? You’ll get yourself killed one of these days.” His hands were shaking. She had almost got him killed, and she was just laughing at him.
“Some day. But not today.”
The barbarians stood gaping, still holding their purses in their hands. When Lukas and Ayla stepped toward them, the bishop held out his without a word.
Ayla accepted it.
“You can’t do that!” Lukas gasped.
“Can’t eat good deeds either.” Ayla rifled within and came out with two silver coins. “This will get us breakfast.”
She handed the purse back to the bewildered bishop and tossed one of the coins to Lukas.
“Oh heaven,” Lukas said helplessly. Switching to Latin, he said, “My lord, I beg your pardon. My friend is…trying to help.”
The bishop looked from Lukas to the purse and back again. Slowly, his brow smoothed. “So I see.”
“Please, you can put your money away. We don’t want it.”
“There’s more if you can guide us to the Hospital of Sampson,” the bishop offered.
“I’m sorry, my lord. I’m new to the city myself.”
“You can speak their language?” Ayla cocked her head. “What’s he saying?”
The bishop drew his black mantle aside to fasten his purse to his belt. As the fabric moved it revealed a weapon: a short broadsword, wide, flat and wickedly pointed. As the other priests rearranged their robes, more weapons showed. A glint of steel at the bishop’s neck revealed that he was wearing a mail shirt.
Armed priests? Lukas swallowed, noticing what he had previously missed: the breadth of the bishop’s shoulders, his hands big and scarred like a warrior’s. Not at all like a scholar or a priest.
Ayla looked puzzled. “God have mercy, Lukas, why didn’t they fight?”
“What does he say?” the bishop asked in Latin.
“He wonders why you let those rascals take your money instead of fighting, my lord.”
The bishop touched the sword at his side with those warrior’s hands. “Well, it is only a purse, a small matter to spill blood over. I am a priest of God and Holy Church. I did not come all the way from France to shed the blood of my fellow Christians.”
France. These barbarians must be Franks then. Lukas strained his memory. Surely he had seen Franks visiting Jerusalem in the old days. They must not be pagans either, since they came to worship at Jerusalem, and now had a bishop.
A bishop who spoke like a holy man, yet carried a sword.
“Your Latin is good,” the bishop said when Lukas had translated his words to Ayla. He rearranged his mantle to conceal the sword. “Have you any other languages, boy?”
Lukas shrugged. “Greek, Syriac and Armenian.”
“Ah!” The bishop glanced at his priests, lifting a meaningful eyebrow. “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches! My lord the count of Saint-Gilles wants a faithful man to provide interpretation of such languages. If you speak them as well as you do Latin, there may be a place for you in his household.”
A place? As a servant? Lukas opened his mouth and then shut it again, trying to find a tactful way to refuse.
Ayla jabbed him in the ribs. “What’s he saying, Greek?”
“He wants me to work for his lord. As an interpreter.”
“I can’t.” He turned to the bishop. “I’m sorry, my lord. I have…a journey to make.”
“I also have a journey to make. Perhaps our paths lie together.”
Lukas grimaced. Unless the bishop was also trying to turn back time by centuries, that was very unlikely.
Ayla nudged him again. “What do you mean you can’t? Are you crazy? You’ll starve otherwise.”
The bilingual conversation was making his head spin. Meanwhile the bishop said, “The count and I are travelling to Jerusalem.”
Jerusalem! That made him pause. While he struggled for thought, one of the priests glanced at the sky and tapped the bishop’s elbow.
“My lord, remember the Watchers.”
The bishop turned back to Lukas. “I have a meeting to attend. An interpreter of my own might be useful. Come with me now and make your choice about Jerusalem after.”
The Watchers! Lukas did not hesitate this time. “Done.”
The bishop blinked at his easy capitulation. Meanwhile, Ayla must have guessed that they’d reached an agreement. “Good choice, Greek. Beats asking the Watchers for help. Well, I suppose this is goodbye.”
Lukas turned to her with a sudden pang. “Are you leaving?”
“Got to find my uncle.”
“Will you be all right?”
She shot him an incredulous look.
She was not his sister Marta, he reminded himself. She was bred on the streets and knew how to forge her way. If he doubted that he only had to look at the blood on her hands.
“Let me know how you fare. Meet me at Saint Sophia…tomorrow at noon.” The great basilica was the only landmark he was sure of finding in this immense city.
She pursed her lips. “All right. Stay gold, Greek.”
“Be safe, Kismet.”
He stepped back. But before she left, he had to ask it.
“Wait. Why shouldn’t I go to the Watchers?”
Ayla had already turned away from him. Now, she glanced back over her shoulder. The smile on her face did not reach her eyes.
“Because if you did, I’d have to kill you.”
To read about more parties and to follow our process in the SPFBO 6 Finals, please visit my SPFBO 6 Finals page!