Richard Blackburn was born in England during the Second World War. He grew up in a house built on the site of a 12th Century castle and later lived a few kilometres from Dover Castle. This gave him a strong interest in Medieval History.
Richard emigrated to Australia at the age of 20 and worked at first as a bookkeeper on a cattle station to the north of the Simpson Desert. He then moved to Darwin and worked as an internal auditor in the Health Department, travelling extensively around the Northern Territory. Finding the ‘Top End’ lacking in challenge, he moved on to Papua New Guinea where he worked for thirteen years among the people, as a District Officer.
Since returning to Australia he
gained his degree in Information Technology and has worked for a number of
Government Departments. His interests outside work are now restricted to his
family and scuba diving. He had to give up parachuting and long-distance running
due to a back injury and now has to be content to leave the real excitement to
characters in his stories. For this book, The Gatekeeper and Rudigor’s
Revenge, Richard draws on his interests in the Medieval History as well as
his experiences living in New Guinea villages, in conditions not unlike those of
the peasants in England during the fourteenth century.
Jenny looked relaxed as she drove her Ferrari out of London and onto the motorway. She glanced at her mentor, sitting in the passenger seat.
‘You’re happy now?’
Gwenelda nodded. ‘Yes. We’ve mopped up the warlock’s legacy. Rudigor’s evil won’t be able to extract any more revenge.’
‘The ruby pendant and the black shard no longer belong to the past, then? This is all twenty-first-century crime now? Our man in Interpol can look after Gunther and his gang of crooks?’
‘That’s right. Woody can deal with Die Kompanie and we can take a well-earned break.’ Gwenelda looked over at her trainee with a patronising smile. ‘It’s all in the detail, you see. Once you’ve had the number of years on the job I’ve had, you’ll know what I mean. Every evil sorcerer is known to us with all of their disguises and believe me they all live well in the past. Gatekeepers don’t make mistakes. Trust me.’
A look of absolute horror crossed Jenny’s face. She jammed her foot on the brake. The sound of squealing tyres and the smell of burning rubber filled the air as the sports car skidded straight onto the side shoulder of the highway and stopped abruptly.
Gwenelda looked surprised. ‘You’re not going on like this just because I said “trust me”, are you? What’s the matter?’
‘Did you just say you can never make a mistake about the past?’
‘Then what about Michelangelo’s helicopter?’
‘You once told me there’s proof that time travel has happened for centuries. Like the Dogon priests of Africa who worship Sirius B, a star that can’t be seen with the naked eye. And Mozart who wrote music for a type of flute not invented until twenty-eight years later. And you capped it off by saying Michelangelo drew a helicopter; an idea so far ahead of his time, it must prove time travel is possible.’
‘So you’ve got it all wrong. It wasn’t Michelangelo who drew helicopters and submarines. It was Leonardo da Vinci. Your data has been corrupted.’
Gwenelda looked shocked. ‘What can we do about it?’ she asked in a worried voice.
‘I could return to the past and try to find out what went wrong,’ Jenny suggested hopefully.
‘No thank you. This has to be tackled systematically, with a level head and no mistakes … and I’m the one to do that.’
‘Are you suggesting I’d mess things up?’
‘I didn’t say that, but now you mention it … yes. You do tend to take things into you own, untrained hands.’
‘Then I’ll go back with you. I can help. Really I can.’
‘You’ll be helping alright, but not in the past. I want you to find out as much as possible about the gang Gunther works for, especially the truck driver, Herr Müller, and their leader, a man they call Der Chef.’
‘But that’ll be sooooo boring.’
‘Someone has to do it and it will keep you out of trouble.’
‘Me? Get into trouble? You must be joking.’
Gwenelda smiled but soon became very serious. ‘This is too important to make fun of. I’m not kidding when I tell you to keep out of mischief. Drop me off at Woody’s office and start looking for clues.’
Jenny was not at all happy with Gwenelda’s decision but she didn’t let it show until she was alone in the car.
‘She thinks I’d get into trouble pinpointing a simple error in a data store. Am I going to prove her wrong!’ she muttered to herself. ‘I can be in and out of the past within the one time-warp period and I’ll not be missed for a second.’
Jenny stopped for a quick change of clothes then drove straight past the place where Gunther had been caught and later released. She didn’t stop until she parked at Stonehenge. Her new outfit turned a few heads when the breeze blew her cloak open and exposed the clothes of a medieval knight she now wore underneath.
She slipped behind one of the vast columns and intoned the spell that sent her flying through time, gritting her teeth against the dreadful feeling of hurtling through the ages. When she recovered from the shock of the transition, she was in the year 1356.
Another spell and she was in the woods outside Glenhaven Castle.
‘Welcome back, Sir John,’ Sir Giles’ voice boomed out as she walked across the drawbridge. ‘You must have received the summons to perform your knightly service.’
‘Yes, my friend, I did.’ Jenny hoped she didn’t appear as confused as she felt.
‘Then collect your gear quickly. We’re nearly ready to leave. Everyone’s excited to be getting stuck into it at last.’
Obviously Jenny couldn’t get out of it, whatever ‘it’ was. She was soon back.
‘You’re travelling light for such a journey.’
‘I have enough for me. But … erm … how are we getting to … it?’
‘We’re off to Arundel. The Earl of Norfolk has a fleet of cogs in the river and we’ll ship to France in one of them.’
Jenny said nothing for a long time. It wasn’t the worry about sailing in a tiny tub across the Channel that was causing her mind to spin. That was a very minor matter. It was what she was going to be involved in that thrilled her. She was actually going to fight in the Hundred Years War.
When they arrived at the River Arun, the area was alive with troops, horses, wagons, servants, beggars and thieves. It was a spectacular force that was assembling to cross the Channel and everybody was making the most of the opportunity. Hawkers were everywhere selling anything and everything.
Jenny was looking around in bewilderment when she saw a ragged man being pushed out of a disused section of a decaying friary next to the river.
‘Get out and get yerself a job with ’em,’ a woman’s voice rasped coarsely from inside the dwelling.
The man timidly approached the first stranger he could find: Jenny.
‘I beg pardon, Sire, but as a new knight you’ll be needin’ a servant for the journey, won’t yer?’
‘I’m a knight bachelor of little income. I can’t afford to pay a wage.’ She didn’t add that she especially didn’t want an employee who couldn’t look her in the eye, but Sir Giles took the decision out of her hands.
‘He’ll need no pay. He’ll receive a small share of your gains after each battle. What’s your name, man?’
‘I’m called Thomas, Sire.’
‘Have you had experience as a kipper?’
‘I’ve not been to war afore, but I’m willin’ ter put my ’and to anythin’ I’m asked to do.’
Jenny was confused about the skills expected of her new servant but there was too much happening to raise the question.
‘All right,’ she said. ‘Your first job is to check the food I’ve brought with me. Is there enough for both of us until we get over there?’
‘There’s plenty for our needs and some left over,’ he answered after checking the bag.
‘Then give the excess to any poor soldier who has nothing. As I expected, everything here costs its weight in gold.’
‘But you could make an ’andsome profit—’
Jenny’s black look stopped any further argument.
‘Give it to those in need,’ she ordered.
She watched surreptitiously as Thomas took the bag away, and was intrigued when she saw a ragged woman approach him from the same ruins, remonstrate with him angrily then wrest the food from his hands.
‘That wasn’t exactly what I meant but I suppose it doesn’t matter who I help,’ she muttered to herself. ‘She looks starving. I’ll not begrudge her a feed.’
She was going to ask about the woman when Thomas returned but she was interrupted by a call for the Glenhaven contingent to board one of the tiny vessels. By the time the crew raised the square sail Jenny had turned on her anti-seasick spell and actually enjoyed the journey. Except for the cold, that is. A Channel crossing in September is seldom totally pleasant.
It seemed no time at all before Sir Giles pointed to a ghostly shape in the mist.
‘That’s Calais, we’ve arrived.’
‘The Black Prince is already ’ere and ’is father’s soon to join ’im,’ a sailor told them. ‘The French King, John the Good, is on ’is way to meet them in battle so there’ll be action aplenty in no time at all.’
‘No time at all’ now took on a new meaning for Jenny. By the next day she knew what it felt like to be part of an army of a hundred thousand soldiers who had arrived in more than a thousand tiny ships. She also found out the meaning of the word chevauchée, as the army took on the aspect of a plague of locusts and plundered and destroyed everything in its way.
‘Here,’ she was told. ‘Take this link and set light to that field of wheat down there. There’s a hut on the other side. I’ll get an archer to watch for signs of life – haha – and extinguish them.’ The smirking officer handed Jenny a burning brand and went off to find an accomplice for the murderous plot he’d devised.
After the last of the English soldiers had trooped past, looking for their next deadly business, the bowman joined Jenny. He rubbed his hands enthusiastically as he surveyed the scene.
‘Let’s see what we can do ’ere. Ready for a bit of fun?’
Jenny didn’t join in his laughter.
‘This is my first campaign and I don’t understand why you’re killing peasants.’
‘I’d ’ave thought even a young knight like you would be able to work that out. We’re at war with ’em, so we kill ’em.’
‘But what good does that do?’
‘It’s late in the season. We can’t afford to lay siege to major towns ’cause we’d suffer more than them when winter sets in. We’ve got so many men it would be ’ard to feed us all. So we surge through the countryside killin’ every man, woman and child until the area submits to us.’
‘But poor serfs? Surely you’d do better letting them live. Haven’t you thought about the outcome?’
‘I’ve been told not to question what I’m doin’. What’s the difference, anyway?’
‘If you kill the wretched family down there, what will that do to the hundreds of people living miles away, along the other side of the valley?’
‘It’ll frighten them.’
‘Anger them, more like. They’ll want to kill us out of revenge. They’ll be happy to share their scant food with the French army, just to make sure we’re punished.’
‘What do you think we should do then, Sir Knight?’
‘Burn the land, as we were ordered to do, and burn the hut, but leave the family alive. That means they’ll have nowhere to live and nothing to eat. So they’ll run to the people way across the valley and beg food and shelter. If they get no alms, they’ll steal. Either way, they’ll make life hard for people we’d never be able to touch otherwise. And even more than that, they’ll finish off the scarce food their army will soon be looking for. When their troops march down the valley trying to catch up to us, they’ll be weak with hunger.’
The archer thought out loud, as though trying to understand a difficult concept. ‘So the more French peasants we let live, the more pressure we put on their army.’
‘That’s right,’ Jenny said in encouragement.
When fire reached the hut and a ragged man ran out into the open with his wife and children, there were no English soldiers anywhere near. Not even the knight and archer they’d seen earlier.
‘Come,’ the father urged. ‘We must seek food and shelter across ze river, where ze land ’as not been despoiled.’
 See book two in the series, Rudigor’s Revenge.
 Die Kompanie, the name of the criminal organisation Gunther belonged to, is German for The Regiment.
 Der Chef means The Chief in German.
 Cogs were flat-bottomed boats with a single mast and square sail. They were used extensively in the Hundred Years War.
 A link was a fiery brand used to light the way on a dark night. Samuel Pepys, in his famous diaries, complains about young urchins charging a penny to light his way home using one. Samuel was pretty tight with his money!
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