Books and My Life: Part 4

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

This blog outlines my life, seen through the lens of the books I have read.

I think I came across Alfred Duggan while looking for more Henry Treece books, but once I got hold of one of his historical novels, I devoured as many as I could find. The first one I remember reading is ‘Cunning of the Dove’, a story of Edward the Confessor and the intrigues surrounding his succession. I read this novel just as I was getting to know the music of Jethro Tull, and it was weird how Aqualung seemed to fit the story and feeling of the book. Thinking about this time, I can picture myself sitting with my back to my newly painted bedroom wall (Summer Blue) in summer 1975.

(I may reveal a bit too much of the plots of these novels below. I recommend them all and, if you plan to read them watch out for spoilers.)

My most powerful memories of Alfred Duggan books, though, are from ‘Knight With Armour’, a story of an impoverished English knight fighting his way through Europe on the First Crusade. The knight, Roger, returns to his camp after an abortive attack on a fortified city. His servant was part of the attack on the other side of the town and Roger tries to relax as he waits for Bill to return and help him out of his armour. Gradually it dawns on him that Bill won’t ever come back. The second memory is at the end of the book where Roger is one of the knights packed into the great timber towers constructed to deliver the attackers to the battlements surrounding Jerusalem. The drawbridge descends and the knights look out over the defended parapet. But they don’t move. A duke stands before them and orders them to charge. They don’t stir. He gets angry and insults the knights. He calls them cuckolds, and this inflames Roger (who got married on the trek through Europe and was then abandoned by his wife when a wealthier knight showed an interest in her). He stirs and pushes from his position at the rear of the crush of men, and the movement is taken up by those around him. The knights rush out from the tower and overpower the more lightly armed defenders. Roger rushes out, but he is ill. He slashes at a turk, misses, his adversary slices through his back and he falls off the wall into the city. ‘Ville gagnee’ is the cry of the crusaders (the town is won) as they race past the stricken knight and Roger’s spirit takes flight. A powerful ending, I thought.

Duggan’s stories were immensely interesting, both from a storytelling perspective, and from a historically curious one. There was always a human dilemma to solve that I could relate to or something to learn. I remember reading Count Bohemond, and meeting a leader called ‘Tancred’ (what a great name for a medieval lord) and being amazed as I absorbed information about the Norman influence in Italy and ‘Winter Quarters’ where a Roman auxiliary, fighting in the Syrian desert bought a magic stone from a peddler. ‘Whoever has this stone will never suffer thirst again.’ His friend remembered that, after the battle that the Romans lost, and had to acknowledge its truth. His friend never lived to be thirsty again.

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