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Infusion of Magic

In Betrayal, the first book of The Crystal Crux series, we don’t see or hear much use of magic or otherworldly occurrences.  There are some.  There are hints of heightened activity in the city of Parthenope of little tiny lizards.  By the end of Chapter 4, we learn there is a sinister giant, a court magician wearing a Bellerophon Crystal.  Neither the giant or the Lord of Parthenope, Gherardus Fabbro, reveal anything more about it – it simply is something they are aware of and respect the power.

And then Chapters 5 & 6 go way off course to focus on the creation of the Bellerophon Crystals themselves.

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Bellerophon is a warrior of ancient Greek mythology.  There are many variations, and many legends as well as storytellers of all the ancients.  I embellished on Euripides tale where Bellerophon rides Pegasus to Mount Olympus.  Zeus does indeed send a gadfly to sting the horse’s backside, sending Bellerophon back down to earth in a heap.  It is said he survived the fall but was crippled, a beggarly figure eating his heart out, his death never recorded.

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I gave Bellerophon purpose.  Before he fell, he grabbed and stole esoteric particles from heaven.  He then took the particles to another fallen “god”, Hephaestus.  Together, they devise a plan to help Bellerophon make the earth his kingdom.  Hephaestus doesn’t really care what happens on earth as long as innocent people keep dying and their blood drips down into his caves.  The more war Bellerophon makes, the better for him.

And then I turned to the constellations of the night sky and pulled down Ophis from Serpens.  Serpens is a unique constellation in that it is split in two halves with Ophiuchus, the serpent-bearer between the head and tail.  Ophis is also, by some accounts, the ancient snake or dragon of the Bible, the one in the Garden of Eden.  It seemed fitting to inject Ophis into the tale, messing up Bellerophon’s plans.

Engraving by Sir James Thornhill

So Bellerophon’s plans get messed up, the five crystal Hephaestus created containing the esoteric particles of heaven were separated and lost during the eruption of Vesuvius, and now one Crystal, the center-stone, the Crux, is being used by the giant Sinibaldus.

And then the magic ends for awhile.  Life goes on as does the “betrayal” of Pero de Alava, a well-respected Spaniard running things in Capua.  All was well for Pero while Emperor Henry VI yet lived.  After Henry dies, however, there is an election for a new emperor which ultimately leads to civil unrest.  Pero is on the wrong side of the battle lines when he foolishly professes his support for Henry’s brother, Philip.  All hell breaks loose after that and Pero doesn’t know where to turn for answers.  He’s rightfully scared of what the Fabbro family has planned for him and his loved ones.

It is at this point, Pero starts having nightmares.  The visions become so powerful and imposing, they affecting him during the day.  He sees only death.  His faith in God wanes.

And during his dive into madness and uncertainty, a letter comes from Parthenope, sending him on a suicidal quest.  Pero sees this as his out, a chance to leave all his problems and ghosts behind him.  He shuns the advice of his best friend, forsakes his bride-to-be, and leaves, a scapegoat taking his sins into the wilderness to save his people.

Sadly, those seeking vengeance often respond in wholehearted measures we can’t often reason or define.  They’ll stop it nothing to punish all usurpers, sending a message to all who may try to oppose them in the future.

A bit a magic begins to rear itself as Pero sees things and experiences things on his quest he couldn’t imagine possible before that day.  Even Francis Whitehall, during a moment of betrayal and terror, is confronted by an otherworldly tranquility he will need in order to persevere.

As one steps into Book Two of the series, Blue Grotto, the magic and otherworldly elements begin to really flow into the story.  The barrier between reality and supernatural is broken, especially in magical places like the Blue Grotto.

Don’t forget, Betrayal and Blue Grotto are adult versions of the story not meant for the young and squeamish.  I did create one young adult volume combining the first two books called The First Three Days.  The whole series will eventually encompass ten days – ten days in the year 1198.  I hope you join us on the quest.  Be sure to leave a review.  Authors need reviews – especially self-published authors.  The more the better!

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Next Up

The Crystal Crux series continues to grow!

Now that I’ve completed Books One and Two, Betrayal and Blue Grotto, as well as the YA edition combining the first two books in one volume, The First Three Days, it is on to writing the third, as yet unnamed, book.

I have the whole structure laid out and started working on the first six chapters.

Is Pero de Alava dead?
Will Francis Whitehall find his old squire before running into more trouble?
Can Gherardus, Rugerius, Talento and Sinibaldus trust one another after all the lying and backstabbing?
What will Anthea do while she waits for her upcoming wedding to the Castellan?
And what will Viridian find when she follows Didian, the black imp’s advice, and heads for Port Hell and a meeting Lord Ophis?

The Crystal Crux series is a ten day adventure.  Book Three should cover days Four and Five.  We should be halfway done with the journey by the end of the year.  Excited?  I am.

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Click Here to purchase the First Book – Betrayal

BETRAYAL

Click Here to purchase Book Two – Blue Grotto

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Good And Evil

One of the core challenges I faced when I started writing The Crystal Crux series is how I would define good and evil.

When you look at life, really look at it, the definition of both can be rather murky.  Good people do evil things and evil people do good things.  So where is the line that defines a good person and an evil person.  How much evil finally makes a good person no longer good?

In The Crystal Crux-Betrayal, we see Pero de Alava professing to be tired of being good.  He doesn’t want to be a good person anymore.  But what does that mean?  He declares it but he himself is not sure what it all entails or if he’s even capable of being it.

His best friend, Francis Whitehall, seems to most to be the epitome of a good knight, a good man.  He seems to bear the burden of goodness differently than Pero.  He seems rather at peace with it despite all the problems he has faced in life, including a father who ruined the family name murdering innocent people and a shrewish wife, not to mention a spirit-crushing poverty forcing him to live day by day, fighting in tournaments to make a living.

The bond between these two is important to the story.  Francis sees the burdens crushing Pero and doesn’t know how to help him, or even if he can help him.  In the end, it seems that only thing he can offer is advice.

Francis wishes Pero to see that good must have its own merit and can’t simply be whatever is reactionary to evil.  If it is, then evil dictates life.  Our emotions and behaviors are only our responses to threats and fears.

Pero rides out on a quest to Eagles Pass to learn for himself what motivates him, truly motivates him.  Is it goodness?  Evil?  Hate?  Anger?  Or is it love?

Pero de Alava decided to throw all his cards on the table.  He cursed God and dared him to show His face, try to kill him.  Was this pride?  Was it suicidal?  There are a lot of things going on in Pero’s head and the emergence of supernatural activities around him is not helping.  He feels he is losing his mind.

The Crystal Crux- Betrayal is available in Paperback, Kindle and Audiobook!
Be sure also to catch the 2nd book in The Crystal Crux series, Blue Grotto.

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Learn More About Book Two

The fifty-year-old former Provost of Parthenope had been nothing short of knightly.  Francis commended the statesman for that.  It was not to be expected.  But Guidus did it.  He had battled bravely alongside the Griffin, cutting down mercenaries with impassioned strokes.

‘Poor Guidus,’ Francis thought empathetically.  ‘I’m sure he has never endured a night such as this.’  Francis felt his compassion for Guidus wane.  ‘Who has endured a night like this?  This has been the worst night of my life.’

“Damn it,” Francis softly grumbled.  He pounded his fist against his thigh again.  The palms and fingers were roped burned and stung but he didn’t care.  He wanted to feel something, anything. – EXCERPT FROM : THE CRYSTAL CRUX – BLUE GROTTO

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The Crystal Crux series is a ten day adventure through Medieval Italy.  The first book in the series, BETRAYAL, began with just that – a betrayal.  The people of Capua were stunned when military forces from their allies in Parthenope suddenly laid siege to the keep, killing nearly everyone.

Francis Whitehall, the Griffin, escaped down a privy pipe with Guidus Salvatore, the former Provost of Parthenope and the courier who brought the orders sending Pero de Alava on a suicidal quest to The Eagles Forest.

Pero, by the grace of God, survived the Pass but is injured and holed up in a sanctuary prison.  He has no idea the calamity that befell his home and friends, including his fiance, Anthea Manikos.

Meanwhile, in Parthenope, the giant Sinibaldus, the wielder of a Bellerophon Crystal, agonizing over his failure to kill Pero with his enchanted creatures.  He lies to his comrades while conspiring to complete his mission.

Dressed from head to toe in a black wool cape, Sinibaldus glided silently through the already open door into Gherardus Fabbro’s study.  The giant’s movements were so fluid, so stealthy and cloaked, the two guards posted at the door to protect the Lord Commander hardly noticed the magician come down the long hall before he was right on top of them, crossing over the threshold.  They couldn’t have warned their lord if they wanted to. – EXCERPT FROM : THE CRYSTAL CRUX – BLUE GROTTO

Book Two – Blue Grotto, takes us into Days Two and Three while exploring more background of the main characters.  It is a deep and enthralling epic fantasy tale, often dark but hopeful.  Join us on the journey.

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Concordat of Worms

“If I may continue,” Bishop Anselm coughed with feigned humility.  “Philip of Swabia has made clear his intentions to revisit the investiture controversy.  Such a claim serves only to undermine apostolic succession.”

Gherardus released a wearisome sigh.  “The Concordat of Worms decided that issue once and for all.”

“My Lord Gherardus, the concordats we draft and the laws we implement are no better than the wind itself, apt to shift this way and that, burst asunder in a storm of passion.  Commandments need roots…”  – Excerpt from THE CRYSTAL CRUX – BETRAYAL by AM WERNER

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For those willing to read Historical Fantasy, a passing knowledge of history often helps the readers understanding.  If you read general Epic Fantasy, you’ll find the authors creating complex histories that never really did exist, and often times they have the characters speak of these things without elaborating on them.  We simply take them as knowledge the character possesses that we don’t need to really understand.

In THE CRYSTAL CRUX series, I will do the same thing with my characters, have them speak and talk of matters that the reader may or may not fully comprehend or understand.  These issues give the characters greater depth and help reveal a big world around them that even they can’t control or manipulate.

Some fantasy, in my mind, tends to go to the extreme, and the powers of the character are too extreme, and there seem to be little to no limitations.  They may face a foe but there aren’t necessary bigger worlds and forces that dictate to them.  I believe that establishing that broader world, makes them more real, more human, and easier to identify with.

In the scene I excerpted above, Lord Gherardus Fabbro is meeting with Bishop Anselm who represents the Roman Catholic Church.  It is a secret meeting and there are two plots being addressed.

First – there is the larger plot, the one that is more universal and will effect all of Europe.  The year 1197 saw the death of both the Pope and the Emperor.  The new pope, Innocent III, tried to influence Europe with Catholicism and used the discord over the choosing of the next Holy Roman Emperor to his advantage.  He convinced many, especially in Italy, that the election of Otto IV or Otto of Brunswick, was necessary.  Most of the Germans supported Philip of Swabia, the late Emperor’s brother and a direct descendant of the much despised Frederick Barbarossa and House Hohenstaufen.  They were sure that Philip meant to re-address the investiture controversy which decided who appointed church officials and lands – the Church or the Emperor.  Both had enormous investments in these.  This was the real power of medieval Europe – land and those who controlled it.  The first plot is minor to the actual story I wrote but it gives my characters motivation for what they do.

Second – the smaller plot, the one the story centers around, is petty greed, jealousy and hate.  It is 1198 and early in the year, Pero de Alava had a physical altercation with Parthenope’s native son, the Castellan of the city, Rugerius Fabbro.  Pero was victorious but his victory came with a price.  He had sworn allegiance to Philip in a room full of people supporting the Church and Otto.  There was an incredible surplus of hate for Pero created in that moment.  This secret meeting, for the characters in my story, is acknowledgement of their plans to destroy Pero, using his support of Philip as a reason.  In truth, they don’t give a damn about Philip or Otto or anything happening on an international level.  They are aware but that is all.

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So the discussion between Gherardus Fabbro and Bishop Anselm tends to disintegrate quite easily.   As I stated, the things happening internationally are secondary to Gherardus, so he mocks the Church officials zeal to bear light and carry forth righteousness.  In fact, Gherardus isn’t all that enthused about their plans to destroy Pero because he actually likes Pero.

When Bishop Anselm brings up the investiture controversy, Gherardus doesn’t want to hear about it.  He remembers the Concordat of Worms which was signed in 1122 – in the city of Worms, that supposedly straightened out the controversy.  Bishop Anselm expresses Pope Innocent’s concerns that Philip won’t uphold the treaty.

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Viridian

One of the greatest challenges of writing an epic fantasy tale is creating unforgettable characters that don’t have to constantly appear in the book in order to be remembered.  Epics must have many characters and no matter what you do, you can’t expand on all of them right away.  Some of them are developed gradually, some much later on.

In BETRAYAL, the first book of THE CRYSTAL CRUX series, Young Viridian only appears in one chapter near the beginning.  I named the chapter after her and I am wholly confident readers won’t forget her even by the time they get to the end.  Even with all the violence and swearing, Viridian is one of the chief reasons THE CRYSTAL CRUX is an Adult fantasy.  Viridian has an unnerving libido, a heightened drive to be pleasured and pleasure.

Make me love you, make me hate you – make me curse your name.” – Viridian

Viridian is actually one of the more central figures in The Crystal Crux series but you might not realize it after reading the first book.  She does, however, have an integral part to play in the outcome.  This is a ten day journey readers have begun and Book One (Betrayal) is only the first day of that journey.

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Viridian is Rugerius Fabbro’s lover, his lady-in-waiting.  She is also his cousin, the daughter of his deceased aunt on his mother’s side.  Viridian’s parents were lost tragically at sea during a shipwreck when she was twelve.  She was distraught and lonely and brought to the palace in Parthenope to become an adoptive daughter to Gherardus and Druda Fabbro.

Unexpectedly, the young girl took one look at her powerful cousin, the Castellan of the great city, and fell head over heels for him.  Her lust erupted.

Rugerius Fabbro was a lout anyway, warring and carousing with anybody and everybody.  His eager young cousin took advantage of him one night in a drunken state.  Once Rugerius’ senses returned to him, he thought he’d have fun with her and keep the relationship alive, thinking she’d fold and run home.

She didn’t.  She rose to meet every twisted challenge he set before her and soon Rugerius found himself a bit smitten by her.  Viridian pleasured in ways few other women could, so he kept her despite his father’s protests.

Viridian is now nineteen and fantasizes incessantly about being seduced and loved by the gods, or demons, or anything supernatural and otherworldly.

Her relentless passion is bound to lead her to places she has yet to imagine.

There will be much more to read about Viridian in forthcoming books.  I promise you that.  She will guarantee that the Adult content in The Crystal Crux series doesn’t wilt.

“Inclined comfortably on one arm, Viridian waited a few heartbeats, staring patiently at the open doorway as if expecting someone else to arrive.”
– Excerpt from The Crystal Crux – Betrayal

Will you arrive?

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Read more about Pero de Alava

Read more about Francis Whitehall

Read more about Anthea Manikos

Francis Whitehall

I give the readers of The Crystal Crux-Betrayal a pretty good look at Pero de Alava’s best friend and estate steward at Capua, Francis Whitehall.

Francis is the quintessential, God-fearing, Christian knight of legend.  He swings his blade like he quotes verse, gracefully, artfully and deadly.  In a fallen world populated by sinners and recalcitrance, he exemplifies true devotion to integrity and faith.  And he has honed these virtues to an unexpected point of alienation and self-destruction.

“There was a time when the Whitehall family name stood for something, something honored and celebrated.  It was respected and had great prestige.”
– Excerpt from The Crystal Crux-Betrayal

The Whitehall family crest is a snarling, orange crouchant griffin.  Francis wears it proudly now, but it was he that restored the prestige.  Francis father, William, had been a knight as well, serving notably for King Baldwin III in Jerusalem.  He returned home from the wars, wed Constance, and settled down to have a domestic life of farming.

When Francis turned seven, William was struck down by a cruel fever that stole his wits.  The poor man went mad, mumbling incessantly about wickedness all around them, the horrors of what he had done in the war coming back to punish him.  William donned his armor one last time and murdered a dozen people in Warwick.  He was subdued and taken.  Constance lost everything.  It was all forfeited to the crown and William was hung.

Impoverished, Constance and Francis would have been left to the streets if it had not been for the kindly considerations of Lord Geoffrey Clayton Wolfe, a devout Templar and long time friend of the family.  He took them in and raised Francis.  The young Griffin was instilled with a devotion for the Wolfe unlike anything he could ever explain to anyone.

When the Wolfe fell on hard times, lost more of his fortune, his castle at Warwick crumbling, around him, his knightly forces recanted and left him for more prosperous lords.  Only Francis, who had recently wed Midonia, stayed loyal.

Midonia was an ogress but Francis had a misguided belief that the cruelest women hid the greatest cache of virtue and love deep in her heart.  After siring Anne, Francis learned that there was no cache beneath it all and life with Midonia would forever be a test of wills.

While the descending Wolfe struggled, Francis led his family on the road, living for months on end in an enormous canvas pavilion, entering every tournament and melee on the continent.

“For Francis Whitehall, these tournaments were not games.  Every waking moment had become a question of life and death.”
– Excerpt from The Crystal Crux – Betrayal

During the Grand Melee in Germany on Whitsuntide, when Emperor Barbarossa brought his sons into knighthood, Francis rode to the rescue of a Spanish caballero he had just met.  Pero de Alava was battling assassins and more than grateful to the Griffin.  He went to England and negotiated with the Wolfe for Francis’ service.

Spending all their time together thereafter, they became fast friends and when Pero received his Imperial commission at Capua, Francis and his family followed.

Francis Whitehall is one of the more stirring characters in the series and I believe many will who read it will feel emotionally attached to him, rooting for him at every turn.

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If you want to read about more characters in The Crystal Crux-Betrayal, check out some of the other postings on this site and my authors page – AM WERNER

Anthea of Greece

Anthea Manikos was born in October 1174 in Sounion, on a rocky sterile plain on the southern most tip of the Attica peninsula in Greece.  The only thing the land there is really good for is mining.  Anthea’s father, Nikitas, owns several mines in the region chiefly Laurion, producing iron ore and silver.  Nikitas is miserly and they live a very Spartan lifestyle.

Penelope, Anthea’s mother died when she was a child and Nikitas brought in the best nannies and teachers he could find to educate her and prepare her to be wed to a nobleman someday.  This is the arrangement that brought Anthea to Italy, to Parthenope.

Pero de Alava first meets Anthea in a small chapel the night before her marriage to another.  Anthea turns his head from the get.  Despite his intoxication and her inexplicable grief shedding involving both tears and hair, Pero is drawn to her, proposing to wed her then and there.

Anthea is very religious, the orthodoxy of the eastern Byzantine Empire.  Francis Whitehall, the Estate Steward of Capua, so swears that Anthea is the kindest human being he has ever met.  He couldn’t imagine her ever thinking evil of others.  She is nearly always smiling and helping others, her heightened awareness seemingly tapping into the quintessence of her surroundings.

Twenty-three, Anthea has been living in her own apartment at Capua for a year now.  She was devastated by the miscarriage of the arranged marriage her father prepared for her.  The city of Parthenope so disappointed her, she has sworn to never return to that city.  She is just beginning to recover from the trauma of that event.

After announcing their engagement in August 1197, Pero swept Anthea off on a whirlwind tour of Spain and his holdings there.  Anthea enjoyed most of the holiday, everything that is except the time she spent with Maria Alava, Pero’s saintly mother.  It seemed the woman was testing her at every turn.  Anthea is still not confident, even to this day, that Maria approves of her.

Despite that misgiving, Anthea continues to prepare for their wedding in a fortnight.  She plans to make her own dress, several prototypes already fashioned in a backroom.  She is involved in every detail of the event.  It is to be her magnum opus.

The chief reluctance still haunting her, however, is Pero himself.  Every since the caballero was expelled from a banquet thrown in his honor in Parthenope after an unexpected dust up with the powerful Fabbro family, Pero has been distant.  His mind wanders and he seems all alone.

‘She started to think her affection for him was not inspiring enough to rouse him from his stupor and fully awake him from his worries.’ (Excerpt)

Anthea didn’t want to believe Pero was having a change of heart but his constant mindless wanderings into dark foreboding shadows worried her.

When Pero shows up at her door wearing his armor, Miriam sheathed at his side, she knows things are truly amiss and their world is about change.  She is frightened and clings to him, rosary beads in hand.  She tries her best to dissuade him from taking this reckless course he seems determined to walk.

For those who have not read the book, be sure to pick up your copy of THE CRYSTAL CRUX – BETRAYAL on Amazon, available in both Paperback and Kindle (soon in audio-book as well).  When you get done reading this book, the first in the series, you will have only gone one days journey on a ten day hike.  It promises to be a long and eventful ride.  I hope you come along.

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PROTAGONIST PERO

While I’m trying to build and reveal the personalities of many characters in my series, THE CRYSTAL CRUX, the character who drives the story and would be considered the protagonist is Pero de Alava.

Pero de Alava was born in Spain in 1164, the bastard son of Blassilo Velez and Maria Alava.

Blassilo is a wealthy caballero with many holdings in Spain including Cielo Diamantes, his favorite horse ranch, located several miles southeast of his military posting at Penafiel Castle.

Maria Alava is a well-to-do socialite of Mozarabic descent.  She prefers the culture and refinement of the big city, especially her birthplace, Valladolid.  She is infatuated by the uncouth cabellero of House Velez but refuses to marry a man who is always warring and cannot control his libido.  She also has no desire to live on a horse ranch in the middle of nowhere.

When Pero is born, they decide to split his time between them.  Pero winters with his mother in Valladolid, receiving a proper education and religious training.  In summer, he is with his father learning about the ways of the knight.

Blassilo and Maria maintain a correspondence by letters.  Although Blassilo cannot read or write, he has scribes who can translate and assist him with this endeavor.  Twice a year, when exchanging parental guardianship, Blassilo and Maria meet at Cielo Diamantes and spend time together as man and woman, husband and wife.  This is enough to satisfy Maria as she spends the rest of the year fending off handsome, willing paramours.  Blassilo, meanwhile, is openly lascivious.  On his deathbed, he expresses his shame in this regard.  He tells his seventeen-year-old son, at that time, how he wishes he had been wiser and more willing to stay by Maria’s side the only woman he had truly loved.  This is why he invested so much into raising Pero and not the other ‘mongrels’ as he calls them.

When Blassilo passes, he orders that Pero be taken to Emperor Barbarossa to be knighted and named heir of everything belonging to House Velez including Cielo Diamantes.  The Roman Catholic Church is already at odds with Barbarossa and the Hohenstaufen line of emperors and sees anyone allied with them as an enemy.

When Richard de Couer, the Lionheart King of England is taken prisoner by the new emperor, Barbarossa’s son, Emperor Henry VI, in 1193, the Church is rendered impotent.  The Hohenstaufens of Germany had long plagued the peoples of Italy, driving troops into their country, forcing compliance with the Empire.  Wielding power and influence, Emperor Henry VI commands that Pero de Alava accept an Imperial appointment to the castle in Capua governing and taxing activity around the Volturno River.

Pero, along with his best friend, Francis Whitehall, an Englishman who once saved his life from would-be assassins at a melee, takes command of Capua in November 1193.  Pero’s administration is just and admired.  He meets a Grecian beauty named Anthea Manikos to whom he proposes almost immediately.

Then, while touring Spain with his bride-to-be, Pero initiates a trade pact with the Almohads bringing unique and exotic goods, as well as more coin to Italy.

The Fabbro family who rule the Campania region where Capua is located, call for a banquet in Pero’s honor at Parthenope.  Things get heated as political allegiances begin to arise.  Pero’s benefactor, Emperor Henry VI has died and there is civil unrest in Europe over his replacement.  Pero, of course, favors the next Hohenstaufen, Philip of Swabia.  The people of Parthenope, including the Fabbro family are friendly with the Church of Rome and despise the tyranny of the Hohenstaufen.  They support of Otto of Brunswick.  Tempers flare.  Pero does the unthinkable and defends himself against the kingdom’s native son, Rugerius Fabbro.

It is war and Pero believes he is alone in this.  He fears his actions will have lasting repercussions on his loved ones.  In a desperate attempt at rediscovering peace, Pero breaks off his engagement, rebukes his best friend’s advice and bolts for Eagles Pass thinking that serving as a scapegoat, the wrath of the Fabbro family will be satisfied.  Sadly, he has miscalculated and failed to see how evil and determined they are.  His friends stand to pay a heavy price even in his absence.

When you get done reading THE CRYSTAL CRUX – BETRAYAL, you will be one day in on a journey that will last ten days.  I hope you all come along for the ride.