Wednesday, April 29, 2020

David Blixt’s The Master of Verona is #152 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION

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****David Blixt’s The Master of Verona is #152 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece

Name of fiction work? And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us? The Master Of Verona. It was my first “real” novel, after writing a couple that live in a drawer. It had many names – The Murder Stroke, Il Veltro, and so on.

Has this been published? And it is totally fine if the answer is no.   If yes, what publisher and what publication date? Yup. It was published July of 2007 – same week as the final Harry Potter novel.

What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? I started during the summer of 2000, and finished the first draft about a year later. But then, a novel is never finished, only published. For each new edition, I’ve gone back and tinkered a little.

Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work?  And please describe in detail.  And can you please include a photo? Well, in the early days, my wife and I shared an office in our apartment in Chicago, in what should have been our dining room. It was huge. Then we moved into one of the two bedrooms in that apartment – tighter fit, but still workable. Then we had kids, moved to a new place, and while she has the nice office at the front, I have the narrow butler’s pantry in the back, just off the kitchen. She gets Lake Michigan, I get the alley.

What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? Desktop computer, at my desk, loud keyboard. Rum & Coke to hand, occasionally smoking Egyptian tobacco in a hookah. Music constantly, usually in headphones. Today I’ve replaced the hookah with candles, and the alcohol with water with a splash of MiO. Otherwise, the same.

What is the summary of this specific fiction work? The backstory to the famous feud in Romeo & Juliet. Set in Verona, it combines all the characters from Shakespeare’s Italian plays with the real people of Dante’s time. The lead character is Dante’s son, bridging the two worlds, as he falls under the spell of the charismatic and cunning Prince of Verona, Cangrande della Scala (a real person, Dante’s patron, the model for the Prince in Romeo & Juliet).

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt? Pietro’s two best friends have fallen out over a woman. Both are injured, so they cannot duel. Pietro takes up the challenge of one in order to fight his own mortal enemy, a princeling from Padua.

Please include just one excerpt and include page numbers as reference.  This one excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer.
Page 343.


The Scaliger spoke, but Pietro couldn’t hear him, his ears filled with his own hammering heartbeat. Yet he recited the ritual oath and gave the forced handshake, quick and humiliating. Then Ziliberto dell’Angelo gave the signal to begin. For a mad moment Pietro wondered what bizarre pecking order placed the Master of the Hunt in charge of judicial duels. Shaking away the thought, he placed his helmet on his head and rode to the Arena’s far end where Jacopo waited with lances and other weapons. “Are you ready for this, big brother?”
“Just stay back where it’s safe,” instructed Pietro. “Father’ll kill me if I let anything happen to you.” Even under the circumstances, the threat of Dante’s wrath seemed both real and terrible.
       Poco nodded, swallowing several times. He’s more excited than I am, and just as scared. Terrific. That’s all I need – a squirrelly page.
Up on the balcony, Antonia could hardly watch. Her brother looked so small atop that beast, dwarfed by his own armour. Carrara’s armour was moulded to his shape, creating the appearance of grace and poise where Pietro looked clumsy and brutish.
Yet her brother lifted his lance with ease. As the challenged party, Marsilio had been offered choice of weapons. His squire held up his first tool of destruction and the crowd gasped. He’d chosen a halberd.
          Gripping her father’s sleeve, Antonia asked, “What does that mean?”

“Carrara’s chosen a polearm rather than a lance.” That Pietro had stuck to the traditional lance was probably wise, Dante informed her. Her brother hadn’t ever fought with a halberd, and it was a tricky weapon to wield, having a spike, an axe, and a hook, all at the end of a long pole. “They’ll have an equal reach. But Pietro has a shield, one with a good spike for goring if he gets in close. Carrara’s weapon is for killing, Pietro’s is for unseating. If he can get Carrara to the ground without losing his own seat, he’ll have the choice of finishing it there and then. All he has to do is avoid the halberd’s head.”
Was that all? It sounded like a lot to Antonia. For the first time she understood why young men devoted so much of their time to learning about different types of weapons and combat. But Pietro had spent more time with his head in books than actually on the turf.
On the Arena floor, Pietro was thinking much the same thing. His one lesson in swordplay hadn’t covered fighting from horseback, let alone polearms. But he’d seen enough jousts to know the rules, and a little strategy. Don’t hit the horse, knock the other fellow out of his seat. Easy. I’ll have this wrapped up by supper. His reverberated laugh sounded slightly hysterical to his ears. Across the Arena floor Carrara looked deadly peaceful. Pietro had the insane urge to pull faces inside his helmet. Maybe he should wave. Or give Carrara the fig. But no, that was unchivalrous.
Cangrande gave the nod, Tullio d’Isola dropped the flag, and Pietro spurred at Carrara, who was kicking his own mount into motion. The crowd surged to life as the two combatants raced at each other.
Pietro fought the instinct to lean forward. His armour was heavy enough to unseat him if he got unbalanced, and that would be a stupid way to lose. Instead he held his lance crooked in his arm and tried to breathe as the monster beneath him thundered across the pitch. Everything seemed to be happening too fast. He and Carrara were surely both going to die. That halberd was a wicked-looking thing. It was angled right for Pietro’s heart, and only a heartbeat away.
There was the clatter and scrape of metal on metal as Pietro beat away the halberd’s spike with his shield and Carrara’s horse sidestepped the lance. A thousand voices seemed to sigh.
On the balcony Antonia was covering her eyes. “What happened?”
Dante was terse. “They missed. They’re circling around again.”
Antonia peeked. Yes, Pietro was almost directly beneath her, turning his warhorse about for the next charge. His round shield bore a scar just below its center. With a shout she could feel, he urged his mount on to another charge. This time Antonia kept her eyes open almost to the moment of impact, then saw what Carrara was doing and gasped.
Pietro was riding full tilt for Carrara when the other suddenly veered his horse, trying to get the halberd’s axehead sweeping around in an arc. Too late to stop, Pietro swerved and brought his shield across. He missed with the shield but, dumb luck, got his lance across the halberd’s path. There was an awkward ‘clack’ as the axehead was deflected.
The line of both their charges broken, the two horses moved away from each other. Desperate to disengage, Pietro was trying to pull his horse back to a safe distance to begin a new charge. In close quarters his lance was all but useless, while the halberd bore hook, spike, and axehead.
         Which Carrara now brought into play.
Above, Antonia watched in horror as her brother’s horse stepped the wrong way, opening up his back to a blow from the axehead – a blow that descended, aiming for the center of Pietro’s spine. No matter how strong the steel of his back-plate or how much of the impact the gambeson absorbed, he would be stunned, leaving him open for a killing blow. Antonia screamed.
How Pietro got his shield up and over his head he never knew. He felt the halberd’s axehead strike, the impact twisting the muscles in his left arm. He turned his head in time to see the silver hook at the halberd’s back catch the edge of the shield and rip it downward. Pietro involuntarily released his grip on the shield, but the strap across his upper arm held it in place.
His eyes were on the axehead. Carrara was swinging it around to literally disarm his foe by taking Pietro’s arm clean off. The lance in his right hand was useless, so he raised his left arm, shield dangling, hoping to somehow ward off the strike.
The stars favoured Pietro again. His shield’s spike caught the halberd between axe and shaft, deflecting the blow. Pietro was still kicking with his spurs, and finally the destrier under him responded, tearing away along Carrara’s left side. With a flick of his own spurs Marsilio twisted about in pursuit.
Pietro cursed. In close-quarter fighting he was at a disadvantage. Raising the lance, he pitched it backward. With any luck, Marsilio’s horse would trip on it, and so end the fight. That wouldn’t happen, of course, but it was pretty to think so.
Pietro’s hand scrabbled to draw his sword from the saddle’s scabbard. A longsword, more than twice the length of Pietro’s forearm, he’d tried it out before the duel. It was slightly point-heavy, the better to bring a blow down onto an opponent’s head or neck. Brandishing it in his gloved right hand, he shifted in his saddle. Carrara was behind him, spurring hard to close the gap and bring the halberd to bear again. Swinging the weapon from the very end of the shaft, the Paduan had a long reach but poor leverage.
It was an impossible situation. So long as Pietro allowed himself to be chased in circles around the Arena, Carrara had the upper hand. But the moment he stopped, he would be eviscerated by the spike or axehead.
An image suddenly appeared in Pietro’s mind. The Scaliger, facing a spear on one side, a sword on the other, and a morning star behind. He recalled the Capitano’s leg snaking out to grasp the spear. Pietro couldn’t do that with the halberd. But he could remove the halberd from play, if he was willing to sacrifice... Yes. But first, he had to build Carrara’s confidence.
Pietro recalled Cangrande’s lesson as they looked at the walls of Vicenza. Show the enemy what he expects to see. Yanking his reins inward, Pietro cut across the Arena floor in a close facsimile of panic.
“What’s he doing?” demanded Antonia.
“I’m not sure,” her father breathed.
They saw Pietro twist the reins again, cutting south instead of west, and Ludovico Capulletto roared in outrage. “He’s running away!” His two sons were silent, for different reasons. Antony was rigidly watching the duel unfold. Luigi, silently rooting against his brother’s champion, hoped Carrara’s weapon would find its mark. Their feelings horribly conflicted, Mari and Gianozza were unable to turn away.
“He’s a coward,” sneered young Mastino della Scala, inviting a clout from Guglielmo del Castelbarco.
“Kill him, Carrara!” cried someone. Antonia twisted around to see a short fellow seated beside Ser Bonaventura. They looked related. She gave him a frosty glare, then returned to covering her eyes.
Down in the Arena something drifted across the slit in Pietro’s helmet. A snowflake. Calm and gentle, snow had begun to fall. If it got any heavier, it could be an aid, obscuring his actions from view. But he couldn’t wait for the weather. Pietro touched his mount’s left flank, turning it north. He’d lost all sense of where Marsilio was. Hopefully he’d gained a few steps. If not, his next move would see him killed.
Turning his horse left once more, he yanked back on the reins. His horse was now almost broadside to the approaching Paduan, with Pietro’s round shield protecting his body. Behind it, Pietro raised his blade and hacked down. To the crowd, it looked as if he were cutting off his own arm.
“What is he doing?” shrieked Antonia again.
Eyes fixed on the battle, Dante just shook his head.
Pietro peered over the top of his shield. His opponent was approaching fast, and Pietro could almost hear the options register in Carrara’s brain. Pierce the shield with the spike, drag the axehead across it, or hook it again in the hope of stripping away Pietro’s best defense.
Carrara veered his horse to the right. He’d chosen the hook. It made sense. If Carrara dragged the shield away as he rode past, the strap on Pietro’s shield would yank him out of the saddle, cutting him at the same time with the spike. A mollinello over Marsilio’s head would then bring the axehead around into Pietro’s chest, finishing him.
          Carrara choked up on the halberd’s shaft, gaining a finer measure of control. A thousand voices shouted warnings at the boy cowering behind his shield, awaiting the blow that would eviscerate him.
Flexing his grip on his sword, Pietro prayed he was dexterous enough to pull off the move he’d conjured from his own pure brain. He heard the hooves and saw the snow rise in a gust of air created by the legs of Carrara’s horse. There was a flash of steel as the hook swept in. Here it comes. Oh, God, please don’t let me fail.
The halberd’s hook caught the edge of the shield. Riding from right to left, Carrara used his mount’s momentum to heave, expecting Pietro to be dragged uncontrollably forward along with his shield, opening him up for the spike and axe.
But Pietro did not jerk forward. The shield came away from his arm easily. Severed by Pietro’s own sword, the loose ends of the strap fluttered in the chill air.
Pietro’s blade was already in motion, beating away the halberd’s spike with a clanging parry. Carrara felt his trailing halberd head leap up of its own volition, his right arm dragged up with it, exposing his side....
“Look! Look!” cried Antonia.
The stroke started on Pietro’s left side and rounded his head in an arc that ended in a smashing blow to the Paduan’s ribs.
Carrara was almost past his adversary when the sword impacted. The armour prevented Alaghieri’s blow from severing flesh but it almost didn’t matter. The force of it cracked several of Carrara’s ribs. Marsilio retched and the crowd cheered as he spat blood.
“Clever,” breathed Guglielmo del Castelbarco in admiration.
Nico da Lozzo slapped Dante on the shoulder. “Quite a son you’ve got there!” At the center of the balcony Bailardino and Morsicato were cheering loudly. The doctor roared, “Never seen anything like it!” The short fellow next to Bonaventura was booing loudly.
In the front row, Cangrande watched with a carefully imposed air of impartiality.
If Pietro had hoped to end the fight with that surprise move, he’d failed. His second stroke, a roversi at Marsilio’s helmeted head, sliced only air. Marsilio’s left hand involuntarily went to clutch his dented armour as his horse pulled him away from Pietro’s next stroke. In his right hand Carrara kept hold of the halberd, dragging it along behind him.
Pietro cursed. He’d thought only so far and no further. Now he faced a halberd with only a sword to defend him. His shield lay uselessly on the ground, far out of reach. No clever moves left, he would have to rely on straightforward fighting.
But Carrara hadn’t turned his horse yet, was just now gripping his weapon with his second hand to brandish it anew. Spurring forward, Pietro took up position behind Marsilio, hoping to give chase as he himself had been chased just moments before.
Now it was Pietro who was lured into position. Marsilio was a practiced rider, well used to tricks of the saddle. As his horse trotted away from the point of last impact, seemingly without direction, Carrara glanced back and said, “Poor fool! One lucky blow and you think you actually stand a chance?”
Head encased in his padded helmet, Pietro couldn’t make out the words. Doubtless another taunt. He spurred harder, drawing closer, but not yet within his sword’s reach.
          Ahead, Carrara slipped his right foot out of its stirrup. With a skill that bespoke years of riding, he stood upright in his single stirrup. At the same time he dragged the spur of his right boot across his horse’s flank. The horse turned into the cut, angling right. Instead of being pursued, Carrara’s horse suddenly was at right angles with Pietro’s.
Hitching his right ankle on the wooden arcione at the back of his saddle, Carrara brought the halberd around, the axehead driving in for Pietro’s breastplate.
Pietro’s sword was high, ready to release a vicious downward stroke. In desperation he drove the point down to catch the axehead whistling towards him, but nothing could parry the blow’s force. The curved point of the axehead cracked against Pietro’s shoulder, trapping his sword between the halberd and his chest. Pietro’s forward momentum was stopped. His stirrups snapped. His horse rode on while he toppled through the air, heels towards the sky. He landed on the dirt with a resounding crash that drove the air from his lungs.
Dante was on his feet, screaming. Antonia was too breathless to echo him. Blessedly the nature of Carrara’s move made it impossible for him to turn his horse quickly, preventing him from delivering the killing stroke. He was halfway across the Arena floor before he was settled in his saddle once more. Antonia watched him heft his halberd and start back to where Pietro lay, unmoving.
Though Dante did not, several people turned to the Capitano to plead with him to halt the combat now. Carrara had unseated Pietro. He could be declared the victor.
          Cangrande said nothing. All eyes returned to the fray.
          On the Arena floor, Pietro gasped for air, his head ringing inside his helmet. His left shoulder ached, but he was able to lift his arm and wrench his head free from the metal bucket. He gulped at the cold air that burned his bruised lungs. Blinking away the lights dancing before his eyes, he focused on breathing.
A calm, resigned voice said, Lie still. The end will be swift.
He agreed. There was nothing he wanted to do less than move. Yet he found himself turning his head. He saw the horse pounding across the dirt floor. Even if Carrara’s halberd didn’t spear him to the ground, its path would trample him.
Don’t move. Just relax. It will be quick.
Pietro rolled onto his right shoulder and tried to stand, but his weak knee buckled under the weight of his armour. He fell forward, his left hand barely stopping him from crashing face-first into the dirt.
See? You’re just prolonging the inevitable. Don’t move. It will only hurt for a moment, then you can rest.
        Over last night’s bandage, Pietro’s hair was damp with sweat and new snow, making it cling to his eyes, obscuring his sight. I should have shaved my head. Through the haze Pietro could just discern Carrara’s horse tossing up chunks of snowy earth a dozen yards away.
His fingers found the helmet and suddenly the voice in his head started shouting, Do it! Don’t think! Do it now!
         Discarding pain, Pietro pitched the helmet. Easily ducking the missile, Carrara took his eyes off his foe for a split second. In that instant Pietro rolled across his good shoulder, propelled by his good leg, his blade rising in the montante sotto mano, an upward backhanded slash. He’d never done it, only seen pictures. Having no hope of damaging the armoured horse, instead he wanted to invoke the horse’s training to leap upward and drive its hooves into an attacker.
This the horse did. But Pietro had already checked his blow and was rolling again, clearing himself to the right of the deadly nailed hooves. Carrara’s horse landed on empty ground.
Pietro staggered to his feet. He’d succeeded in slowing Carrara’s horse and confusing the Paduan, who now saw Pietro standing with brandished sword at the ready. Carrara brought his horse around again for another pass. The crowd booed him for remaining mounted against an unseated foe.
         At the far end of the Arena, Jacopo called frantically to his brother. He held a second shield in his hands, unscarred and ready. As tall as a man, with a spearhead at either end and a long pole running north to south, this shield was meant to be used on the ground, two-handed for defense and offense both.
Jacopo was furiously debating whether or not to rush out into the center of the Arena and pass it to his brother, who clearly needed help. He saw Pietro glance over at him. That was all the encouragement he needed. He dashed forward, into the fray.
Pietro’s glance backward was to be sure that Poco wasn’t doing something foolish. Pietro felt he was in pretty decent shape, all things considered. His breath was coming back, he was armed. Carrara was still on his horse, but Pietro had an idea about that. The halberd wasn’t too much of a worry, as long as Pietro didn’t lower his guard.
But here came his brother playing the good little squire. Only there wasn’t time! Carrara was beginning his next charge. There was no way Jacopo could get out onto the field, pass off the shield, and get clear in time.
“Pietro! Pietro!” shouted Poco, though in greeting or in warning Pietro couldn’t know.
Carrara was closing in. With his free left hand Pietro waved Jacopo off. “Down! Down! Get back!”
Jacopo ran faster. Pietro mentally cursed his little brother. They were both going to die. Carrara could trample them and claim it was a terrible mistake, the boy shouldn’t have been out there.
The savvy crowd redoubled its jeers for Carrara. Swearing aloud, Pietro did the single thing he knew he shouldn’t – he turned his back on his attacker and ran to meet his brother. He heard Marsilio’s sour laugh behind him as the Paduan spurred in pursuit.
Pietro and Poco now had a single chance, one that hinged on Pietro reaching his brother before Carrara removed his head from his shoulders. Pietro’s right leg was trembling and weak, ready to collapse at every step. Come on, damn you! You can hold up a little longer! Why couldn’t Poco run faster? Remembering the split skin at the soles of his brother’s feet, remnants of last night’s Foot Palio, Pietro thought savagely, I should have asked Antonia to be my squire!
Antonia was watching the scene on the Arena floor in absolute terror, no longer able to turn away. The crowd made more noise than ever, most calling foul on Carrara. Behind her, Bonaventura’s friend was mocking the idiot squire that was running into a duel at the wrong time. She sent another withering glance his way, then silently urged Pietro on. Don’t die, big brother! Do something!
Pietro reached Jacopo barely five yards ahead of the charging horse. He was screaming something to Jacopo and waving his hand in the air. Apparently Jacopo understood, for he lifted the shield in both hands and flung it forward. In one move Pietro dropped his sword, caught the shield, and pivoted. Driving the spearhead at the bottom of the tall shield into the earth, he dropped to his knees as Jacopo slid across the dirt to shelter himself with his brother behind the shield’s protection.
The nobles on the balcony went hoarse crying their praise. Even Mariotto stood to cheer as Carrara’s horse balked at the obstacle, veering to the side instead. Pietro caught the spike of Carrara’s halberd on the shield and deflected it easily.
“Oh thank God,” breathed Antonia. The twerp behind her was booing again. She whipped around, unable to contain her annoyance any longer. “What is wrong with you?”
The short fellow looked surprised. “What?”
“Why are you rooting for a Paduan?”
“Why shouldn’t I? A Paduan fighting a Florentine? Neither one is Veronese.” He gestured to Bonaventura, hooting and cheering beside him. “My cousin married a Paduan, so I’m supporting the family. Besides, Florence is a cesspit. Have you read what Dante said in his Inferno?”
         Antonia stared at him in disbelief. All she could think to say was, “That’s my brother.”
Bonaventura’s cousin shrugged. “Then you cheer for him.”
Petruchio Bonaventura smacked his cousin across the back of  of his head. “Ferdinando, show some manners!”
“What, to her?”
Resisting the impulse to hit the oaf, Antonia turned away. Down the balcony Nico da Lozzo was proclaiming,
“This is the best fight I’ve seen in years!”
          Guglielmo del Castelbarco agreed. “After this, I’ll back Alaghieri in any tournament he chooses!”
Bailardino turned to address Giacomo da Carrara. “Your nephew likes his advantage.”
“He always had an eye for the easiest course,” agreed the elder Carrara. “To my shame, if not his.” He looked back towards the field of battle. “Not that it seems to be doing him good now.”
Under the deafening cheers, Pietro panted behind the shield’s protective cover. “How am I doing?”
Jacopo grinned back. “Getting your ass kicked.”
        Pietro took a swipe at Poco’s head, then gestured towards the far wall. “Get out of here!” He peered over his shield to where Carrara was pulling around again. “Now!”
As Jacopo ran, Pietro looked for where his sword had gone. It lay to his left, between himself and Carrara. The Paduan saw it too. He was slightly slumped after that last charge. Hopefully his ribs were hurting him. Seeing Pietro’s discarded sword he jerked his reins, urging his horse forward. Pietro took a step, then saw it was hopeless. Carrara hadn’t overshot him by much on that last charge, and he’d easily reach Pietro’s lost weapon first.
That might not be a bad thing. Pietro had the shield to defend himself, but more, this shield was designed to be a weapon as well. Gripping the haft in both hands he held it longways across his body. If Carrara wanted to charge again, he would have to leave the sword. If he wanted to grasp the weapon, he’d have to dismount and face Pietro on foot. Either was better than the current circumstance. Pietro had one weapon left on his body, the eight-inch-long silver dagger at his right hip. Valuable only if he could close enough distance to use it.
Surprisingly, Carrara chose to dismount. Perhaps the jeers had stung his pride. Holding the halberd in his left hand, he dropped to the ground directly over Pietro’s lost sword. Reaching up, he drew his own sword from his saddle scabbard and fitted it into his gloved right hand. He swung it at the halberd’s haft once, twice. The shaft splintered in two. Now the head of the halberd was a hand weapon.
Sending his horse off to his waiting squire, Carrara advanced towards Pietro, brandishing both sword and halberd head. The helmet hid all Marsilio’s features except the flash of teeth that emerged in the darkening glow of the winter evening. Puffs of white breath escaped the steel helmet like a dragon’s breath.
Pietro planted his feet, the right ahead of the left. That put his wounded shoulder at the back of the driving force, but that couldn’t be helped. Besides, he’d always been told the power lay in the hips, not the arms.
Carrara’s first blow was, predictably, with the sword. The halberd head was awkward to use this way, unbalanced without the haft. Pietro caught the downward stroke easily, then beat the shield’s right side forward to block the halberd’s hook.
But the clumsy hook was a feint. Pietro saw the sword driving down, trying to slip over Pietro’s guard. Twisting hand over hand, Pietro spun the shield around and sent the thrust into the dirt. There was the hook again, coming up under the shield this time. Now Pietro understood Marsilio’s plan – attack with the sword and use the halberd to strip the shield away. Pietro would never have the opportunity to lift the shield to drive the bottom spearhead forward.
Beating the hook away a second time, he was already moving to block the sword stroke. He knew where it would fall and caught it easily. If I can’t use the spearhead I can still use the shield to attack. He glanced right. Yes, there was the hook again. Pietro caught the hook with a spearhead and flicked it upward. Before the next sword stroke could descend, Pietro pushed off his back foot and rammed forward with the shield, slamming into Carrara’s body with all the force he could muster.
Staggering backwards, Carrara tripped over Pietro's sword, yet managed to keep his feet. Before he could recover, Pietro drove forward again, this time with the spearpoint at the bottom of his shield. Marsilio sidestepped, bringing his sword around to beat the point away. But the force of his own blow brought the other end of the shield into play. The side of the tall oval struck Marsilio in the shoulder above his wounded ribs. He staggered again, dropping the halberd to clutch at his metal-sheathed side.
        Expecting a counter-attack, Pietro stepped back and picked up his sword. He hadn’t expected Carrara to be so thrown by a single hit. When he looked up he knew he’d missed a chance to win the duel outright. Pietro thought about the sword in his hand and the tall, ungainly shield that would be impossible to manage singlehanded. He tossed it aside. He and Marsilio would face off sword to sword, point to point.
To the crowd, Pietro’s gesture of discarding his shield seemed the perfect act of chivalry. To the soldiers in the crowd, it was the practical action of a smart soldier. But Antonia was confused.                   “Why did he drop his shield? The spear on it has a longer reach!”
“Too heavy,” grunted Guglielmo del Castelbarco, eyes on the fray.
“Good, mi filio,” whispered Dante.
Down in the pit, Marsilio and Pietro were circling each other. Each panted for breath, glad of the brief respite. Keeping his right shoulder low to ease the pressure on his ribs, Carrara pulled off his helmet as Pietro had done. “Are you – ready to finish – this, boy?”
“Yes,” hissed Pietro through gritted teeth. His right leg was shaking and he’d just noticed the blood seeping from the dent in his shoulder plate. “But you won’t like – how I end it.”
“What do I care – as long as you die!” Marsilio’s sword rose high, stabbing forward in the ‘thrust of wrath.’ Pietro parried with an upward stroke, the force of it resounding through his body. His blade came immediately down, cutting the space occupied a moment earlier by Carrara. Sidestepping, Marsilio was already bringing his sword around for a second blow. Pietro caught this too, beating the strike away. Marsilio was focusing on Pietro’s wounded shoulder, directing his attacks at Alaghieri’s left side. Pietro returned the favour, parrying Carrara’s next blow and immediately riding his blade in a glissade towards the Paduan’s wounded ribs.
Broadsword fighting was not a matter of finesse. It was more a question of bashing your opponent enough to crush a bone or drive the wind from them. Broadswords were not even particularly sharp. They were, in effect, huge metal clubs to beat each other with.
Alaghieri and Carrara hacked and slashed at each other, trading blow for blow. Their attacks brought them closer to the Scaliger balcony in movement that resembled a crescent. Pietro would block a strike to his left that would stagger him sideways. He’d then deliver a blow to Marsilio’s right that would have the same effect, returning them to even footing.
After seven minutes with no decision, both men pulled back, desperate for air. The duel had to end soon. Both felt it. They were past the first rush of battle, the excitement and fear that made the humours flow and wounds easy to ignore. Fatigue was setting in, and fear was causing little hesitations. The falling snow had thickened, the sun was setting. Soon it would be too dark to see. Cangrande had refrained from sending torchbearers into the Arena, probably to force an early end to the duel.
But both were determined to finish it with a victory. Carrara was the first to return to the attack. Drawing a long breath, he ran forward, his broadsword spinning in his grip, flicking this way and that in a skillful series of mollinelli, the windmill attacks.
Pietro could only watch and retreat, unsure where Carrara’s blade would fall. His hands shook, his vision blurred, his stomach tightened. He might faint soon. He had to end this. For a deadly moment his mind froze. He couldn’t think what to do.
Again an image came to Pietro’s mind. Cangrande, mace in hand, using the handle to block while he spun and struck. The Murder Stroke. Gripping his sword near the point with his gloved hand, he used his guard to beat aside Carrara’s arcing blade and spun around. With a hand at either end of his weapon, he intended to put all his weight behind the naked tip above his left hand and drive the tip straight through Carrara’s breast.
Carrara blanched, instinctively bringing his blade down to parry. But too late. There was the tip of Alaghieri’s sword, inches from his chest.
Then the traitor in Pietro’s body made itself known. His weakened leg buckled, and Pietro’s sword merely scraped across Carrara’s breastplate, sending sparks flying into the snowy air. It was Marsilio’s luck that it didn’t pierce the metal, but that was all the luck he had. Sheer chance had trapped his sword’s cross in Pietro’s own guard. The force of Alaghieri’s strike sent the Paduan’s sword flying.
Pietro’s vision was so blurred he didn’t see it. He’d wagered everything he had on this thrust. When it failed to drive home, he thought he was finished. Then, blinking, he saw his opponent was disarmed before him. It was as if the Virgin herself had descended to kiss his hands.
He extended his swordarm, aiming the point at Carrara’s throat. He barely had the breath to say, “Yield.”
        “Never!” Carrara turned. Ducking low, he threw out a hand to balance himself on the cold dirt of the Arena floor. His armoured leg shot out, driving into the fold of Alaghieri’s right leg, just above the knee.
The pain seemed to start from the ground, rising through Pietro like water through a geyser. From the elation of victory, Pietro’s world turned to agony. All he knew was pain. The snowflakes seemed to hold still in the air, as if time had ceased to flow. Each flake drifted into his sight, unique creations of a benevolent God who would surely now call Pietro to his bosom.
Then the ground hit him, face first, slamming his forehead with a stunning blow.
As one the crowd was on its feet, howling. To strike a man’s wound received in the duel was an accepted practice. To strike a cripple’s bad leg was decidedly unchivalrous.
        Pietro struggled to rise, but his body no longer answered. He felt himself being rolled onto his side, and something was dragged out of his belt. Carrara lifted Pietro’s wounded shoulder to drive a long, thin blade through his armpit and into his heart. Pietro recognized the weapon as his own silver misericordia. The one that had been a gift from Montecchio and Capulletto. The one with his own name etched on it. An exquisite contrapasso.
On the very edge of consciousness, Pietro’s breathing was laboured. His left arm was numb. Carrara was about to murder him and he was helpless to stop it. He saw the arm draw back, ready to drive in the killing stroke. Pietro’s right hand fumbled towards his own dropped sword, but the Paduan slapped the hand away with scorn.
This is it. I'll die in battle. A battle over love. One jilted amour. How stupid.
A whistling sound pierced the air above him and something thudded into the ground nearby. The hand gripping Pietro’s arm faltered. Carrara was looking away from his victim, up towards the Scaliger’s balcony. Pietro was more interested in the little snowflakes that fell across his face, the feel of them as they melted into his skin.
         Shaking his head angrily, Carrara pulled back the silver knife again. A second whistling sound, followed by a second thud at Pietro’s feet. Cursing, Carrara stumbled backward. Denied his chance to finish the fight, the Paduan collapsed in a heap, eyes closed. Carrara’s breath had a strange rattle to it as he breathed in and out.
Pietro lay still, feeling his own breathing grow easier. Rolling slightly he could make out two fletched arrows sticking out of the ground at his feet. From this angle, the Scaliger’s balcony looked very tall. One leg perched on the stone edge, Cangrande was lowering a bow.
The duel was over. And, though with questionable honour, Carrara had won.

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you as a writer to write?  And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? I do theatrical fight direction for a living. This was a joy to stage, and kept me honest about how it’s not the moves, it’s the motivation. All good combat is about character.

Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? And can you please include a photo of your marked up rough drafts of this excerpt. I’m sure there are “cut-scenes” from this, but I have no idea where to find them these days. Likewise, if I have mark-ups of this, they are buried deep in a box somewhere.

Other works you have published? Four more books in this series so far. Two books in a series of the Roman/Jewish wars of the first century. A ridiculous Shakespearean spy novel. And three novels so far about American undercover reporter Nellie Bly. 
Also a play and a few non-fiction works, as well as contributions to short-story anthologies (the latest is, ironically, about the Black Death. It’s entitled We All Fall Down).

Anything you would like to add? While I’m deep in Nellie Bly’s world right now, this series remains the heart of who I am as a writer and storyteller.

Author David Blixt's work is consistently described as "intricate," "taut," and "breathtaking." A writer of Historical Fiction, his novels span the Roman Empire (the COLOSSUS series, his play EVE OF IDES) to early Renaissance Italy (the STAR-CROSS'D series) through the Elizabethan era (his delightful espionage comedy HER MAJESTY'S WILL, starring Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe as hapless spies) to the Victorian age with his series following daredevil journalist Nellie Bly. His novels combine a love of the theatre with a deep respect for the quirks and passions of history. As the Historical Novel Society said, "Be prepared to burn the midnight oil. It's well worth it."
"New readers, beware! Once you start reading one of David Blixt’s books, real life comes to a screeching halt until you finish it." - Sharon Kay Penman
Repeated Editor's Choice from the Historical Novel Society (VOICE OF THE FALCONER, FORTUNE'S FOOL, THE FOUR EMPERORS) and 2015 Finalist for the M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction (THE PRINCE'S DOOM). 
David continues to write, act, and travel. He has ridden camels around the pyramids at Giza, been thrown out of the Vatican Museum and been blessed by John-Paul II, scaled the Roman ramp at Masada, crashed a hot-air balloon, leapt from cliffs on small Greek islands, dined with Counts and criminals, climbed to the top of Mount Sinai, and sat in the Prince's chair in Verona's palace. But David is happiest at his desk, weaving tales of brilliant people in dire and dramatic straits. Living in Chicago with his wife and two children, David describes himself as "actor, author, father, husband. In reverse order."


001   11 15 2018 Nathaniel Kaine’s
Thriller Novel
John Hunter – The Veteran

002   11 18 2018 Ed Protzzel’s
The Antiquities Dealer 

003   11 23 2018 Janice Seagraves’s
Science Fiction Romance
Exodus Arcon

004   11 29 2018 Christian Fennell’s
Literary Fiction Novel
The Fiddler in the Night

005  12 02 2018 Jessica Mathews’s
Adult Paranormal Romance
Death Adjacent

006  12 04 2018 Robin Jansen’s
Literary Fiction Novel
Ruby the Indomitable

007  12 12 2018  Adair Valerez’s
Literary Fiction Novel

008  12 17 218 Kit Frazier’s
Mystery Novel
Dead Copy

009 12 21 2019 Robert Craven’s
Noir/Spy Novel
The Road of a Thousand Tigers

010 01 13 2019 Kristine Goodfellow’s
Contemporary Romantic Fiction
The Other Twin

011 01 17 2019 Nancy J Cohen’s
Cozy Mystery
Trimmed To Death

012 01 20 2019 Charles Salzberg’s
Crime Novel
Second Story Man

013 01 23 2019 Alexis Fancher’s
Flash Fiction
His Full Attention

014 01 27 2019 Brian L Tucker’s
Young Adult/Historical

015 01 31 2019 Robin Tidwell’s

016 02 07 2019 J.D. Trafford’s
Legal Fiction/Mystery
Little Boy Lost

017 02 08 2019 Paula Shene’s
Young Adult ScieFi/Fantasy/Romance/Adventure
My Quest Begins 

018 02 13 2019 Talia Carner’s
Mainstream Fiction/ Suspense/ Historical
Hotel Moscow

019 02 15 2019 Rick Robinson’s
Multidimensional Fiction
Alligator Alley

020 02 21 2019 LaVerne Thompson’s
Urban Fantasy
The Soul Collectors

021 02 27 2019 Marlon L Fick’s
Post-Colonialist Novel
The Nowhere Man

022 03 02 2019 Carol Johnson’s
Mainstream Novel
Silk And Ashes

023 03 06 2019 Samuel Snoek-Brown’s
Short Story Collection
There Is No Other Way to Worship Them

024 03 08 2019 Marlin Barton’s
Short Story Collection
Pasture Art

025 03 18 2019 Laura Hunter’s
Historical Fiction
Beloved Mother

026 03 21 2019 Maggie Rivers’s
Magical Mistletoe

027  03 25 2019 Faith Gibson’s
Paranormal Romance

028 03 27 2019 Valerie Nieman’s
Tall Tale
To The Bones

029 04 04 2019 Betty Bolte’s
Paranormal Romance
Veiled Visions of Love

030 04 05 2019  Marianne Maili’s
Lucy, go see

031 04 10 2019 Gregory Erich Phillips’s
Mainstream Fiction
The Exile

032 04 15 2019 Jason Ament’s
Speculative Fiction
Rabid Dogs

033 04 24 2019 Stephen P. Keirnan’s
Historical Novel
The Baker’s Secret

034 05 01 2019 George Kramer’s
Arcadis: Prophecy Book

035 05 05 2019 Erika Sams’s
Rose of Dance

036 05 07 2019 Mark Wisniewski’s
Literary Fiction
Watch Me Go

037 05 08 2019 Marci Baun’s
Science Fiction/Horror
The Whispering House

038 05 10 2019 Suzanne M. Wolfe’s
Historical Fiction
Murder By Any Name

039 05 12 2019 Edward DeVito’s
The Woodstock Paradox

040 05 14 2019 Gytha Lodge’s
She Lies In Wait

041 05 16 2019 Kari Bovee’s
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Peccadillo At The Palace:  An Annie Oakley Mystery

042 05 20 2019 Annie Seaton’s
Time Travel Romance
Follow Me

043 05 22 2019 Paula Rose Michelson’s
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Rosa & Miguel – Love’s Legacy: Prequel to The Naomi

044 05 24 2019 Gracie C McKeever’s
BDMS/Interracial Romance
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045 06 03 2019 Micheal Maxwell’s
The Soul of Cole

046 06 04 2019 Jeanne Mackin’s
The Last Collection:  A Novel of Elsa Schiaparelli and
Coco Chanel

047 06 07 2019 Philip Shirley’s
The Graceland Conspiracy

048 06 08 2019 Bonnie Kistler’s
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The House on Fire

049 06 13 2019 Barbara Taylor Sissel’s
Domestic Suspense/Family Drama
Tell No One

050 06 18 2019 Charles Salzberg’s
Short Story/ Crime Fiction
“No Good Deed” from Down to the River

051 06 19 2019 Rita Dragonette’s
Historical Fiction
The Fourteenth of September

052  06 20 2019 Nona Caspers’s
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The Fifth Woman

053 06 26 2019 Jeri Westerson’s
Paranormal Romance
Shadows in the Mist

054 06 28 2019 Brian Moreland’s
The Devil’s Woods

055 06 29 2019
Epic Fantasy
Wings Unseen

056 07 02 2019 Randee Green’s
Mystery Novel
Criminal Misdeeds

057 07 03 2019 Saralyn Ricahrd’s
Mystery Novel
Murder In The One Percent

#058 07 04 2019 Hannah Mary McKinnon’s
Domestic Suspense
Her Secret Son

#059 07 05 2019 Sonia Saikaley’s
Contemporary Women’s Literature
The Allspice Bath

#060 07 09 2019 Olivia Gaines’s
Romance Suspense Serial
Blind Luck

#061 07 11 2019 Anne Raeff’s
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#062 07 12 2918 Vic Sizemore’s
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#063 07 13 2019 Deborah Riley Magnus’s
Dark Paranormal Urban Fantasy

#064 07 14 2019 Elizabeth Bell’s
Historical Fiction

#065 07 15 2019 Lori Baker Martin’s
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#066 08 01 2019 Sabine Chennault’s
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#067 08 02 2019 Margaret Porter’s
Historical Biographical Fiction


#068 08 04 2019 Hank Phillippi Ryan’s

069 08 08 2019 Diana Y. Paul’s
Literary Mainstream Fiction

070 08 10 2019 Phyllis H. Moore’s
Women’s Historical Fiction

071 08 11 2019 Sara Dahmen’s
Historical Fiction

072  08 19 2019 Carolyn Breckinridge’s
Short Story Collection

073 08 21 2019 Alison Ragsdale’s
Emotional Women’s Fiction

074  08 22 2019 Lee Matthew Goldberg’s
Suspense Thriller

075 08 23 2019 Jonathan Brown’s
Mystery/Amateur P.I.

076 09 02 2019 Chera Hammons Miller’s
Literary Fiction w/ suspense, concern with animals & land management
Monarchs of the Northeast Kingdom

077 09 09 019 Joe William Taylor’s
Literary Mystery
The Theoretics of Love

078 09 15 2019 Linda Hughes’s
Romantic Suspense
Secret of the Island

079 09 19 2019 Max Elliot Anderson’s
Middle Grade Adventure/Mystery
Snake Island

080 09 22 2019 Danny Adams’s
Science Fiction
Dayworld: A Hole In Wednesday

081 09 24 2019 Arianna Dagnino’s
The Afrikaner

082 09 29 2019 Lawrence Verigin’s
Seed of Control

083  10 05 2019 Emma Khoury’s
The Sword And Shield

#084 10 07 2019 Steve McManus’s

#085 10 08 2019 Sheila Lowe’s
Mystery/Psychological/Suspense with Scientific Bent

#086 10 10 2019 Jess Neal Woods’s
Historical Fiction

#087 10 11 2019 Karen Odden’s
Historical Suspense

#88 10 14 2019 Kate Maruyama’s
Love, Loss & Supernatural

#89 10 17 2019 Sherry Harris’s

#90 10 18 2019 Linda Mooney’s
Science Fiction Apocalyptic/ Post Apocalyptic

#91 10 19 2019 Jayne Martin’s
Flash Fiction Short Story Collection

#92 10 22 2019 Janice Cole Hopkins’s
Inspirational Romance

#93 10 29 2019 Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s
Short Story Collection

#94 11 01 2019 David Henry Sterry’s
Fiction: Sexual Violence

#95 11 03 2019 Jay Requard’s
Dark Fantasy/Horror

#96 11 04 2019 Caroline Leavitt’s

#97 11 06 2019 Kelsey Clifton’s
Science Fiction

#098 11 13 2019 John F Allen’s
Urban Fantasy Tale

#99 11 16 2019 Damian McNicholl’s
Historical Novel
“The Moment of Truth”

#100 11 19 2019 Stacia Levy’s
Mystery/Suspense Novel
“Girl Crush”

#101 11 24 2019 Charlotte Morgan’s
Fiction Novel
“Protecting Elvis”

#102 11 26 2019 T. L. Moore’s
Children’s Christian Fiction
“Ed On My Shoulder:  Maria & The Candy Trail”

#103 11 27 2019 Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg’s
Coming of Age Literary Novel
The Nine

#104 11 29 2019 Charlotte Blackwell’s
Adult Paranormal

#105 12 07 2019 Mike Burrell’s
Satire Novel

#106 12 09 2019 Phil McCarron’s

#107 12 11 2019 Wendy H. Jones’s
Crime Fiction/Police Procedural Novel

#108 12 13 2019 Sandra Arnold’s
Historical Literary Fiction
“The Ash, the Well and the Blue Bell”

#109 12 16 2019 Amalia Carosella’s
Historical/Contemporary/Duel Timeline/ Women’s

#110 12 19 2019 Laura Bickle’s
Weird Western/Contemporary Fantasy

#111 12 27 2019 Brian Pinkerton’s
Science Fiction Thriller

#112  12 28 2019 Sandra de Helen’s
Lesbian Thriller

#113 12 29 2019 Jo Wilde’s
Vampire Thriller

#114 12 30 2019 Sam Richard’s
Short Story Collection of Weird and Transgressive
“To Wallow In Ash and Sorrows”

#115 12 31 2019 Duncan B Barlow’s
Literary Fiction Novel

#116 01 02 2020 Allison Landa’s
Young Adult Novel

#117 01 03 2020 Pablo Medina’s

Literary Satire Novel

#118 01 06 2020 William Trent Pancoast’s
Historical/Literary Novel

#119 01 07 2020 Jane Bernstein’s
Contemporary Novel
“The Face Tells the Secret”

#120 01 09 2020 Terry Kroenung’s
Young Adult, Historical and Fantasy
“Brimstone And Lily”

#121 01 12 2020 Melissa Yi’s
Fiction Thriller

#122 01 15 2020 Marcie R. Rendon’s
Crime Thriller

#123 01 16 2020 Tori Eldridge’s
Multi Genre Novel

#124 01 17 2020 Kristen Joy Wilks’s
Christian Romantic Comedy

#125 01 20 2020 Susan C. Shea’s
Cozy Mystery

#126  01 22 2020 Phong Nguyen’s
Improvisational Fiction

#127 01 23 2020 Kate Thornton’s
Mystery Short Story In Its Entirety
“Ai Witness”

#128 01 24 2020 Phil McCarron’s
Semi Fictional Essays
“The Great Facepalm: The Farce of 21st Century

#129  01 27 2020 Kenneth Weene’s
Historicized Literary Fiction
“Red And White”

#130 01 28 2020 Graham Storrs’s
Science Fiction Thriller

#131 02 08 2020 Angela Slatter’s
Short Story “Terrible As An Army With Banners”

#132 02 11 2020 Joan Joachim’s
Just One Kiss

#133 02 16 2020 Kelsey Clifton’s
Science Fiction

#134 02 17 2020 Soraya M Lane’s
Women Historical Fiction

#135 03 07 2020
Linked Fiction
BLEACHERS Fifty-Four Linked Fictions
By Joseph Mills

#136 03 15 2020
Science Fiction Romance
By Marie Lavender

#137 03 17 2020
Crime Fiction
12 Bullets
by O’Neil De Noux

#138 03 18 2020
Flash Fiction Piece
by Kelle Grace Gaddis

#139 03 20 2020
By Jamie Sheffield

#140 03 21 2020
Character Driven Novel
By Jamie Lisa Forbes

#141 03 23 2020
Literary Murder Mystery
By Russell Rowland

#142 04 01 2020
By Kim Cormack

#143 04 02 2020
Western Noir Short Story
“Night Rounds”
by James Reasoner
#144 04 03 2020
Southern Fiction
By Claire Fullerton

#145 04 04 2020
Mainstream novel with elements of crime, mystery, and magic
by Karen Hugg

#146 04 07 2020
Historical Fiction
by Sophie Perinot

#147 04 08 2020
Dark Urban Fantasy with elements of Paranormal Romance
by Stephanie Reisner aka AUDREY BRICE

#148 04 13 2020
Mystery With A Fantasy Twist
By Shoshana Edwards

#149 04 14 2020
Historical Fiction
by Sharon Glogal Friedman

#150 04 19 2020
Vampire Horror Novelette
Blood Thrasher:  The Devil’s in the Metal
by Adam Messer

#151 04 25 2020
Historical Fiction
Charis in the World of Wonders
by Marly Youmans

#152 04 29 2020
Historical Fiction
The Master of Verona
by David Blixt

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