Roger fitzOdo, a cheeky, pragmatic young man adrift in chaotic eleventh century Italy. Fleeing marauders who killed his parents, he begs to join a company of Norman knights. Roussel de Balliol, their commander, takes him in knowing that the boy’s skills with horses and metalwork will be useful. From that moment on, Roger honors and serves Messer Roussel as his lord and hero. Roger, who learned Greek from his mother, becomes the company’s official translator when it goes to Asia. This completes his acceptance as a trusted member of Roussel’s household. He also explains local politics and mores to the Frankish knights, whose feudal outlook is very different from the bureaucratic and commerce-centered Roman mentality. During the years the company fights in Asia, Roger matures and learns the arts of war. Although more slightly built than the full-blooded Normans and not of noble birth, he finally is deemed a knight. He then wears chain mail and rides into battle at his commander’s side. Roger also negotiates with Turks and Roman factions when Roussel is absent or too dispirited to do so. As narrator of the novel, Roger seldom second-guesses his lord’s decisions, but he is a sharp observer of human nature and all levels of politics, and he comments on the foibles of those around him. Roger becomes a monk after Messer Roussel is assassinated and his troop breaks up.
Messer Roussel de Balliol
Messer Roussel de Balliol, the leader of a group of Norman knights who seek fame and fortune in Italy’s local wars. When the Roman emperor offers to hire them as mercenaries, Roussel eagerly agrees. Over the next decade, Roussel leads his company to many victories in the eastern empire. The greatest is at Zompi, where his 530 men prevail over 3,000 led by the recently proclaimed Caesar, John Ducas. By...
(The entire section is 753 words.)