Congratulations to author J.K. Knauss on the release of her historical fiction novel, Seven Noble Knights. I’ve had the honor of previously interviewing this author about her contemporary fantasy novel, so it’s fun to revisit and look at how the same author can have inspiration for completely different projects. Keep reading after the jump for more information about the book and purchase links.
Vengeful Ladies and Bloody Cucumbers: J.K. Knauss on Seven Noble Knights
Spain is not a common location for European historical fiction, considering the proliferation of fiction set in medieval/renaissance England and France. What drew you to tell a story set there instead?
I’ve inexplicably loved Spain since I was about ten years old. The four years between that and when I was “allowed” to start learning Spanish were the longest of my life. Some people say I was born in the wrong country. Something about the beauty and uniqueness of Spain latched onto me and never let go. If I start talking about what’s great about Spain, I may never stop!
You’ve previously published a contemporary fantasy novel, Awash in Talent. What inspired you to make the switch to historical fiction?
It’s funny how life works out. I wrote Seven Noble Knights first—Awash in Talent arose as a break from historical accuracy. Yet Seven Noble Knights is being published second.
I’ve always been a writer, and I also started an academic career in medieval Spanish literature. When I finished my PhD, I came up with a way to combine my great passions: historical fiction! I think the historical aspect was an inevitable bridge between those two worlds, because being an academic and being a writer have quite a bit else in common. (Need for solitude, need for readers, the need to be insane to try it…)
In addition, you’ve also now published works with both male and female protagonists. How much does gender inform your characterization as you write?
While Awash in Talent focuses on the female experience, Seven Noble Knights is told from the points of view of three female characters and three males. The three females get 6 ½ chapters, while the males have 16 ½ chapters between the three. In other words, yes, it’s a masculine story set in a masculine world engaged in constant warfare. However, the plot moves forward with Doña Lambra’s wounded pride and thirst for vengeance (traditionally masculine attributes). Perhaps in order to make her mark on her medieval world, Doña Lambra has to act a little bit “like a man”?
Seven Noble Knights presented many other challenges to characterization. Medieval Christians, even women, saw the world in a completely different way than I do, and religion was a huge factor in characterization of the Muslims. I hope I’ve been able to portray all the characters sensitively even while pointing out their commonalities.
According to your website, Seven Noble Knights is based on a medieval epic poem. Can you tell us more about how that piece of literature inspired you?
While I was studying for my PhD, my advisor gifted me an article she’d written about the legend of the seven noble knights—specifically, the meaning of the bloody cucumber (more about that below). The poem would have circulated orally as minstrels traveled from town to town, and if it was ever written down, it’s been lost. A lost medieval poem with a mysterious vegetable! You can see how it might become a years-long obsession.
What was the most interesting fact you learned while doing research for this book?
That people in medieval Spain threw bloody vegetables at each other often enough to warrant a law against it. It’s startling that anyone would think of soaking a vegetable in blood and throwing it at someone else even once, but there it is in Latin in the twelfth-century Code of Cuenca: Whoever does it has to pay a giant fine. This odd occurrence was the single feature that drew me to the legend, so when I found evidence that it wasn’t really that strange—well, it’s every researcher’s dream come true.
And finally, leave us with an excerpt from Seven Noble Knights that shows us why we should read this book!
Excerpt from Part One, Chapter V: The Bloody Cucumber: Maidservant Justa witnesses her lady Doña Lambra’s grudge against Gonzalo and his brothers take a bizarre turn.
Their cheeks rosy with exertion, the hunters returned jubilant to the house. With help from one of the squires who had also been on the hunt, smiling and panting, Justa took the birds to the kitchen and passed on the brothers’ instructions for the cooks to prepare a feast right away. She came out of the farmhouse to see the seven knights laughing and splashing around the fountain, attempting to slake the thirst they had worked up.
Gonzalo held Suero’s goshawk. He’d stripped down to his breeches in order to bathe the bird. Justa watched them from a hundred feet away, unable to extract her gaze. She had never seen such a beautiful man in such detail. Steam rose off his skin. He left her breathless, too distracted to consider whether she would need to confess her voracious eyes the next time they met a priest.
Doña Lambra emerged from the slaughterhouse and came to stand next to Justa.
“He’s doing that so we’ll fall in love with him,” Doña Lambra said.
The maid didn’t answer, too enthralled with the vision before her.
“Well, he has no right to take advantage of us out here with almost no other men around. I won’t let him get away with it. Justa, find Little Page for me.”
When they arrived, Doña Lambra held his shoulders and murmured. “Go to the kitchen and find a vegetable of some kind. I think they’re using some old cucumbers today—the bigger, the better. Soak it in as much blood as you can, then go to the brothers over there by the well and hit Gonzalo—the one holding the falcon—hit him with it as hard as you can.”
Little Page stared at her dumbly. Doña Lambra erased all doubt about what she intended: “Don’t worry. I’ll protect you if they come after you. I’ll have my vengeance for my cousin Álvar Sánchez and no one will be harmed.”
Still Little Page hesitated. “But, my lady, where can I find blood?”
She snapped her fingers in the direction of the slaughterhouse. “They drained an enormous hog yesterday. Some of the blood has been left in the collection bucket. Hurry!”
Propelled by his lady’s intensity, Little Page’s stumpy legs carried him into the kitchen and then to the slaughterhouse. More quickly than Justa expected, he darted out again holding a cucumber in front of himself so as not to stain his fine tunic with the sludgy, reeking red-brown blood. The cucumber had been peeled in the kitchen and become engorged when Little Page scraped it along the inside of the bucket. The brothers saw him approaching and stopped their playing. Their voices carried to where Justa was standing with Doña Lambra.
“Do you suppose Doña Lambra’s sent us something to eat?” asked Suero.
“I hope so,” said Gonzalo. “Food can’t come too soon for me.”
Before their expectant eyes, Little Page ran. When his aim was true, he hurled the cucumber with all his might and hit Gonzalo squarely in the chest with it. Little Page didn’t wait for the reaction, but turned and ran back toward Doña Lambra. The six brothers howled with laughter and the goshawk flapped its wings and squawked until Suero took it back. Blood had splattered over the bird and Gonzalo’s chest and breeches, ruining them.
“You shouldn’t be laughing. If this had happened to any of you, I wouldn’t rest until you were avenged. He was proving he could wound and kill me if he wanted to. Stop laughing!” Gonzalo splashed water in a vain attempt to clean himself.
Diego González brought his younger brothers into a circle and murmured to them for some minutes. Then Gonzalo pulled his tunic over his bloody undergarment and, with the rest of his brothers, headed toward the house with his sword unsheathed, but under his belt.
Little Page trembled violently. Doña Lambra motioned him toward her, and when he knelt at her feet, she threw her skirts over his head, covering him completely. At that, the brothers sprinted.
Diego was first to arrive. “Aunt,” he demanded, “don’t protect this man.”
“Why not?” she retorted. “He’s my servant and my responsibility.”
Diego González pointed his sword at her skirts. “I respectfully advise you not to get in the way. The fact that he shows fear means he threw that cucumber with malice, and we can’t let it go unpunished. Just a slap or a tear in his tunic will do.”
Doña Lambra was unshaken. “His tunic was a gift to me from Count García at the same time he was. If this page has done something to offend you, then he will make amends in due course.”
Justa stared at Little Page’s hidden bulk while her lady smoothed the fabric over his quivering head.
“While he’s under my care, I advise you not to touch him,” said Doña Lambra.
Gonzalo erupted. He dragged Little Page kicking and screaming out from under her skirts, ripping and tearing as he went. She pulled against Gonzalo by Little Page’s ankles, but in his confusion the little man kicked at his savior. Surprised, Doña Lambra released him and clapped her hands to her face.
By the time Justa screamed, “No,” it was over. There at his lady’s feet, Gonzalo inserted his sword into Little Page’s gut. A whimpering cry punctuated the blade’s withdrawal. Justa and Gotina went to the victim and held his head up. Gonzalo backed away while the other brothers sheathed their swords and bowed their heads.
Little Page choked and gurgled. Justa patted his smooth face, saying, “Hush, hush. We’ll take care of you.” She said the Latin prayers she knew and tried to keep him awake, but he blinked and then opened his eyes wide to give his last rattling breath up to God.
A Saga of Family, Betrayal, and Revenge in Medieval Spain
Spain, 974. Gonzalo, a brave but hotheaded knight, unwittingly provokes tragedy at his uncle’s wedding to beautiful young noblewoman Lambra: the adored cousin of the bride dead, his teeth scattered across the riverbank. Coveting his family’s wealth and power, Lambra sends Gonzalo’s father into enemy territory to be beheaded, unleashing a revenge that devastates Castile for a generation.
A new hero, Mudarra, rises out of the ashes of Gonzalo’s once great family. Raised as a warrior in the opulence of Muslim Córdoba, Mudarra must make a grueling journey and change his religion, then chooses to take his jeweled sword to the throats of his family’s betrayers. But only when he strays from the path set for him does he find his true purpose in life.
Inspired by a lost medieval epic poem, Seven Noble Knights draws from history and legend to bring a brutal yet beautiful world to life in a gripping story of family, betrayal, and love.
Born and raised in Northern California, J. K. Knauss has wandered all over the United States, Spain, and England. She has worked as a librarian and a Spanish teacher and earned a PhD in medieval Spanish literature before entering the publishing world as an editor. Her acclaimed novella, Tree/House, Kindle Scout–winning paranormal adventure Awash in Talent, and short story collection, Unpredictable Worlds, are currently available. Her epic of medieval Spain, Seven Noble Knights, is debuting on Kindle today! The softcover edition comes out January 16, 2017! Learn more about the Seven Noble Knights Grand Book Launch Blog Tour and the Facebook party (win prizes) at JessicaKnauss.com. Feel free to sign up for her mailing list for castles, stories, and magic.