Today, I’m delighted to welcome Elizabeth R Anderson to my blog, to talk about the inspiration behind her The Two Daggers Series.
I hate flying. But, on a flight from Prague to Seattle in 2018, it was not a fear of dying in a fiery crash that bothered me; it was an idea that had entered my head and would not leave.
What would happen if a Medieval nobleman was falsely accused of being a leper and lost everything?
Some people just watch a few movies and fall asleep until they land at their destination. Oh, to be one of those people!
I had 10-hours of flying time, so I opened my laptop and got busy writing a few exploratory chapters about a knight returning from a stint on crusade in the Levant (the area roughly compromising the Middle East today). Eventually, an evil bishop would poison him, accuse him of being a leper, and seize his property. This was so easy! Knights in shining armor! A ready-made conflict and resolution. A cookie-cutter villain!
Can you spot the problems with this idea already? Hint: Everything about this idea is a problem.
I am so grateful that when I was back on the ground, my research led me to understand how wrong my premise was and how it was time to rethink everything about the way I viewed the Middle Ages, from racism and religion to personal hygiene.
Setting aside the fact that it’s really not easy to fake leprosy (now referred to as Hansen’s Disease), there is ample evidence that people afflicted with the disease were treated with compassion and even viewed as blessed by God because of their earthly suffering. King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem was notable for being a leper. There was even a brotherhood of leper knights living in the Holy Land – the Order of Saint Lazarus. So there went that idea.
I dug deeper. If lepers weren’t as badly treated as I had thought, was that also the case with other people? What about Jews and Muslims? Here is where things became even more interesting. As the pilgrims, fighters, and settlers of the West (France, the Holy Roman Empire, and the city-states on the Italian peninsula) arrived in the Levant, they were indeed bigoted and horrendous to the local citizens. But the more time that these settlers spent with their Levantine neighbors, the more accepting they became. Few of the villages surrounding the large cities of Jerusalem, Tyre, and Tripoli were heavily mixed. But curiously, the towns around the city of Acre on the coast did seem to have a mix of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other religious people who tolerated each other relatively well.
What was it about this place?
This was when I became engrossed in the history of that city – a melting pot of cultures, races, religions, and intrigues. I want to acknowledge that bigotry and racism did exist in Acre (and everywhere else). Jews were still forced to work in jobs considered undesirable for Christians, such as moneylending and tax collecting. Muslims could still be enslaved – and often were – in the homes of Christian nobles. Captives from the territories south of Cairo received the worst treatment – a tragic indication of what was to come later as importing slaves to the Americas became common practice.
Acre. This lively, filthy, cosmopolitan city thrived with wealth and trade that benefitted Muslims, Jews, and Christians in the year 1291. So why was it attacked? How could the peace that existed between the Crusaders and the Mamluk army disintegrate so quickly?
Continuing down the research spiral of broken truces, spies, political plots, and miraculous events that led to the final siege of the city, I came across a line in the account of the Templar of Tyre that referenced a single, unnamed viscount and his disastrous mistake outside the walls of Acre.
That’s when I realized I had found my story.
The year 1291 is when the Christians were ousted from the Levant and no longer held significant territory near Jerusalem. This began the glory of the Mamluk period when powerful Muslim families founded by Turkish slaves started to form, put down roots, and create dynasties. There was so much happening at this time, and yet, sandwiched between the death of Saint Louis and the beginning of the Plague in 1348, the Siege of Acre is often a side note in the historical record.
Two years later, I published The Scribe. The book follows four young people with seemingly opposite backgrounds as they come of age in Acre: a kidnapped slave soldier, a feisty orphan girl, a rising star in the Mamluk army, and a spoiled viscount. The first book builds the history of these characters and sets the scene for the siege in book two (The Land of God, pub August 2021). After that, these characters must make their way in a world where any fleeting tolerance that did exist was snuffed out by fear of disease, economic hardships, and religious extremism.
The fact that this story started completely different from what I had planned is what I love about it. The characters in the books are twisted and molded by tumultuous events that they cannot escape. Their challenges are still ours today; how to think about the world, whether to go along with injustice or fight it, love, lust, hate, family, and friends.
In 800 years, humans haven’t changed all that much.
The Two Daggers series will contain five books in total. Elizabeth wants to get to the end as quickly as her readers do and is researching and writing at breakneck speed!
Sources: The list of sources for The Scribe and The Land of God are available on Goodreads. For this article, the following sources were used:
- Medieval Leprosy Reconsidered, Timothy S. Miller and Rachel Smith-Savage, International Social Science Review, Vol 81, No 1, (2006)
- Frankish Rural Settlement in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, Ellenblum, Ronnie, Cambridge University Press, 1998
Thank you so much for sharing your story with me, and for providing a bibliography. I like that:) Good luck with the series.
The Scribe (Book 1)
All Henri of Maron wanted was to stay with his family on his country estate, surrounded by lemon groves and safety. But in 13th century Palestine, when noble-born boys are raised to fight for the Holy Land, young Henri will be sent to live and train among men who hate him for what he is: a French nobleman of an Arab mother. Robbed of his humanity and steeped in cruelty, his encounters with a slave soldier, a former pickpocket, and a kindly scribe will force Henri to confront his own beliefs and behaviors. Will Henri maintain the status quo in order to fit into a society that doesn’t want him, or will fate intervene first?
The first book in The Two Daggers series, The Scribe takes readers on a sweeping adventure through the years and months that lead up to the infamous Siege of Acre in 1291 CE and delves into the psyches of three young people caught up in the wave of history.
The Land of God (Book 2)
Pain. His sister’s screams. And a beautiful face in the jeering crowd. When Henri of Maron woke, he had only a few memories of his brutal flogging, but he knew the world had changed. He had changed.
Now, as he grapples with the fallout from his disastrous decisions, war with the Mamluk army looms closer. To convince the city leaders to take the threat seriously, Henri and the grand master of the Templars must rely on unlikely allies and bold risks to avoid a siege.
Meanwhile, Sidika is trying to find a way to put her life back together. When she is forced to flee her home, her chance encounters with a handsome amir and a strangely familiar old woman will have consequences for her future.
The Land of God weaves the real historical figures with rich, complex characters and an edge-of-seat plot. Readers who enjoyed the Brethren series by Robyn Young and The Physician by Noah Gordon will appreciate this immersive tale set in the Middle East in the Middle Ages.
Torture, violence, sexual assault, sexual content.
(The Scribe, Book 1) Universal Link:
(The Land of God, Book 2) Universal Link:
Meet the Author
Elizabeth R. Andersen’s debut novel, The Scribe, launched in July of 2021. Although she spent many years of her life as a journalist, independent fashion designer, and overworked tech employee, there have always been two consistent loves in her life: writing and history. She finally decided to do something about this and put them both together.
Elizabeth lives in the Seattle area with her long-suffering husband and young son. On the weekends she usually hikes in the stunning Cascade mountains to hide from people and dream up new plotlines and characters. Elizabeth is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Alliance of Independent Authors.
Connect with Elizabeth