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Literature / Song at Dawn

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Harmony between humans.

Book One in the Troubadours Series

1150 in Provence, where love and marriage are as divided as Christian and Muslim. A historical thriller set in Narbonne just after the Second Crusade. On the run from abuse, Estela wakes in a ditch with only her lute, her amazing voice, and a dagger hidden in her petticoats. Her talent finds a patron in Alienor of Aquitaine and more than a music tutor in the Queen's finest troubadour and Commander of the Guard, Dragonetz los Pros. Weary of war, Dragonetz uses Jewish money and Moorish expertise to build that most modern of inventions, a paper mill, arousing the wrath of the Church. Their enemies gather, ready to light the political and religious powder-keg of medieval Narbonne.

Song at Dawn sings of these tropes

  • The Ace: Dragonetz is a famous warrior, a popular lady's man, and as a troubadour he's second to none.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Arnaud is in love with Estela who is in love with Dragonetz who is in a relationship with Ermengarda who is in love with him after he falls for Estela.
  • The Beautiful Elite: Inverted. Alienor's high class ladies-in-waiting are more or less parasites in too much make up while Dragonetz' lower class soldiers are all described as handsome and gallant.
  • Big Friendly Dog: Nici is constanly referred to as 'the big dog' and so friendly he could be called Estela's first white knight.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Dragonetz' paper mill is burned down and because he bought the land with a loan he loses the land and is bankrupt. The only way he can avoid poverty is to undertake a dangerous quest for his debtor, Ravaad, that separates him from Estela. On the other hand, he's no longer in the Archbishop's crosshairs, all the paper he's produced had been shipped off before the burning and his reward for the dangerous quest will be the value of the land with the mill on it. If his shipments come back he'll be a wealthy man. As for Estela, she is on her way to the court of her adoring student as a guest of honor and will continue her sterling career as a troubadour but she will be apart from her true love and her first original song is about the death of a dear friend.
  • Broken Ace: Dragonetz, despite his ace reputation, is also bitter, disillusioned and afraid of marriage because he thinks he'll screw it up.
  • Broken Bird: Poor Alis. She's lured into Raymond de Toulouse's clutches with a marriage proposal he never intended to keep, chained in his bedroom, raped, and then put on display before his vassals. After that she's a nervous wreck with failing health and her jealousy of Estela goes up to eleven because she believes herself to be Defiled Forever.
  • Cast Herd: Alienor's Ladies-In-Waiting are often referred to "the Ladies" as if they were a single identity. A Running Gag is Estela and/or Dragonetz failing to tell them apart. For instance '(blah blah) from Mary or Candance'.
  • Catchphrase: Ermengarda is fond of the phrase 'Tort-n’avetz', i.e. "You are wrong." This is acknowledged in-universe.
  • Character Death: Two
    • Alis is killed by an assassin for failing her boss, the Archbishop.
    • Arnaud is killed by assassins who were also sent by the Archbishop but this time by mistake. His true target was Dragonetz.
  • The Chessmaster: A required skill for anyone in this setting: nobles, merchants, bishops, bodyguards, etc. The greatest of them is Al-Hisba who plays everyone to accomplish his own objective while placating his enemies and helping a friend.
  • Chick Magnet: Dragonetz is popular with both genders; Alienor, Ermengarda, all of Alienor's ladies (including Estela) and last but not least the cross dressing "Lady Sanchez".
  • Corrupt Church: The church in Naborne is antagonistic mainly because the Archbishop has a personal grudge against the Duchess. The local church itself also functions much like a corporation protecting its bottom line.
  • Courtly Love: This was its hey day. The Court of Love is all about how it should be conducted.
  • Defiled Forever:
    • Alis believes of herself after Raymond de Toulouse rapes her and puts her naked body on display for his vassals.
    • Estela doesn't believe this of herself after a traumatic first time with a stablehand because Dragonetz is still romantically interested in her and shows sympathy for her.
  • Deuteragonist: Estela and Dragonetz share the spotlight.
  • Did You Just Have Sex?: Everyone can tell that Dragonetz and Estela have had sex because their love ballads are suddenly much better.
  • Double Entendre: Invoked by Alienor to guilt-trip Dragonetz into returning to Paris with her. "Laying your sword in my lap" strikes at both sides of their relationship.
  • Emotion Eater: Estela describes Alienor's Ladies-in-Waiting as feeding off the misery of others (usually each other) and "getting fat on it".
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Al-Hisba betrays Dragonetz by burning down the paper mill they created together. However, he only did it because the Archbishop twisted his arm and had attempted Dragonetz's murder three times thus far.
  • Everyone Can See It: Estela and Dragonetz's relationship does not stay secret long because they're so happy together.
  • Evil Plan: Inverted. It is The Hero Dragonetz who is stirring things up with his paper mill and The Church is trying to stop him. Some of them are business minded but others believe he truly is doing evil because his mill is made from Islamic (i.e. infidel) technology. Other, lesser, villainous plans are as follows:
    • Raymond de Toulouse has the classic take over place X goal but this is a minor plot thread and is treated by everyone like 'business as usual'. Everyone is trying to take over everyone else.
    • Alis's pranks are driven by eny of Estela.
  • Genre Savvy:
    • Estela knows countless love ballads so she knows how the romance genre works. She'll think things like "how would this work in a song" or "following the instructions of a thousand songs".
    • Dragonetz, Estela's music teacher, sees no point in going to the Court of Love because he's already an expert on Courtly Love.
  • God Is Good: He is always shone in a positive light; the criticism goes toward the less than holy church. Dragonetz, for instance, has lost faith in the church but he still prays alone in the chapel.
  • Good Shepherd: While there are many Christian clergy the character that best fits the description of 'caring for the flock and fighting off the wolves' is the Jewish rabbi Ravaad. Other examples include
    • A nameless monk in a Templar base wants to stop the Crusade killing and establish a metaphorical Holy Land in western Europe. He warns Dragonetz against his paper mill idea because he knows how the Church as an organization will respond.
    • Marcabru is better called a 'Good is Not Nice Shepherd' as he's a sourpuss that can't open his mouth without making clear his disdain of everyone but he preaches self-discipline, doing God's work and never steps into Knight Templar territory.
    • The arcbishop can play this role to perfection as the most benevolent, paternal and understanding man in the world, but he's actually a Sinister Minister.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Much is made of Alis' blond hair and "Daddy's little angel" often follows it. She also has a frail constitution.
  • Hands-On Approach: This happens during Estela's music lessons with Dragonetz, "to help her breathe correctly by placing his hand flat across the front panel of her robe and lifting the pressure to remind her when to breathe in."
  • Happily Married: Averted. No one in this story is in love with their spouse. The only exception would be John who claims to have loved his late wife which is why his marriage to Estela is in name only. He married her as a favor to their mutual patron, Emerganda. He didn't even consummate the union. The Court of Love goes further and decrees that marriage is nothing more than "bodily duties" and one should never confuse a "spouse" with a "lover".
  • The Hero: Dragonetz is a goodhearted and idealistic man at the center of the plot and the greatest threat to a set of villains, but he's not The Protagonist. That role goes to Estela.
  • Heroic BSoD: After her traumatic first time Estela's love ballads fall flat because she's disillusioned. Dragonetz 'reboots' her, so to speak, after having sex with her himself.
  • Holier Than Thou: The Sinister Minister is arrogant, but the true attitude can be found in Marcabu, who uses his ballads to scold everyone about how they're failing to live up to God's expectations with their Courtly Love and excess and inability to reclaim the Holy Land.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: Dragonetz left for the Second Crusade as one of these; full of confidence in Christendom and Chivalry.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Dragonetz came back from the Second Crusade as one of these; disillusioned of the Church and haunted by his deeds. If you ask him what he thinks about the knight's oath to protect the weak, he'll tell you it's a "suicide oath". However, he still possesses faith in God and the idealism that he can make the world a better place.
  • Knight Templar:
    • Averted by the templars themselves; they disaprove of Dragonetz's mill but do not try to kill him over it.
    • A straight example is Raymond de Toulose who dresses like a monk and believes his goals are the same as God's goals, and thus fully good and righteous. Others think of him as 'the devil' or 'the demon' because of his cruelty.
  • Lady and Knight: In this setting it should be expected: there are formal oaths of fealty from White Knights to Bright Ladies, play-acting oaths that are nonetheless emotionally binding, and a contrast between the business end of the relationship and the more intimate aspect. Dragonetz, in particular, is a very popular white knight. By the end of the story, he's vyed for by three ladies.
  • Idol Singer: Miss Grill calls Troubadours the "rock stars of the 12th century" and ladies such as Estela and Briez dream of becoming them.
  • Insult of Endearment: Estela's opinion of Nici is initially dismal because he's useless as a shepherd dog and so she calls him "big idiot". She still uses it when she's fond of him.
  • Iron Lady: For Emerganda and Alienor, a 'take charge' mindset is required for them to have any influence at all.
  • Memetic Badass: In-universe. Alienor is so widely known as an Iron Lady that there are ballads of her leading an army of amazons in battle against the Muslims.
  • The Mole: They're everywhere:
    • Sanchez is Dragonetz' eyes and ears among Alienor's ladies.
    • Alis is the same for the Archbishop and Raymond de Toulouse.
    • Everyone working for Emerganda, Alienor or some other authority figure is likely the same for someone else.
    • Dragonetz initially thinks Estela is one of these but determines otherwise.
  • Number Two: Dragonetz has three of them: Arnaud for the battlefield, Al-Hisba for the paper mill and Sanchez in spying.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Alienor's ladies-in-waiting appear to be Upper Class Twits gossiping about fashion and other frivolity but they are actually cunning information brokers mining valuable intel from seemingly meaningless chatter. The trick is telling the faker from the genuine twit.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: "Estela" is not the first musician to hide behind a songstress's name. Even after she's publically married as "Roxanne de Montburn" she still goes by "Estela".
  • The Protagonist: The story begins with Estela and follows her most of the time, but since Dragonetz is more important to the overall plot she is also a Supporting Protagonist.
  • Protectorate: From the first page, Nici has considered Estela's safety to be his responsibility. Dragonetz immediately recognizes that he's not going to bite anyone that is not a threat to his mistress. He also guards her room by laying down in front of the doorway.
  • Relationship Upgrade: Estella and Dragonetz have The Big Damn Kiss while practicing a love duet.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor:
    • Discussed Trope and one of the many conundrums resolved by the Court of Love: if both are equal in all aspects except wealth, then the fulcrum is the lady's own wealth. If she is wealthy she should chose the poor suitor because she could provide for him and "love's greatest joy is providing for a lover's needs". On the other hand, if she is poor then she should choose the rich suitor so he can take care of her.
    • After Arnaud proposes to her, Estela turns him down and tells him to wait for "the heiress of his dreams".
  • Saintly Church: The Pope (Innocent III) is referred to as a "genuine innocent" and blesses Alienor's marriage to the King of France without a hidden agenda. The Church itself is genuine about recovering the Holy Land and some truly believe Islamic ways will corrupt them.
  • Sex Is Evil, and I Am Horny: The narration says this of Raymond de Tolouse, "When you have a priest's mentality about sex and a fifteen-year-old's restless penis, sex with blood and a sackcloth is what you got."
  • Sexual Karma: Dragonetz and Estela are blissfully in love and they have transcendentally good sex. A contrasting example with a villain and even a neutral stable boy are portrayed as traumatic experiences.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Sanchez is a pro at balancing the Proper Lady and Manipulative Bastard. He has everyone fooled into thinking he's a twit when he's really Dragonetz's spy. He later becomes Estela's instructor in subtlty.
  • Sinister Minister: the Archbishop is behind all the attempts on Dragonetz' life and schemes to undermine Emerganda's authority so he can fill his coffers and make himself a more elaborate church to berate people from. Also, he hates jews.
  • Spirited Competitor: Dragonetz hates fighting but he loves competing. Whether it's his Number Two or a visiting viking prince he has to face them and defeat them. The prize, if there is one, doesn't matter. Most likely he won't want it.
  • Take That!: Al-Hisba sends one to the Archbishop. When asked why he saved Dragonetz from belladonna poison he replies: "I am a physician. It is not permitted to me to kill nor to let someone die." A bishop for a Thou Shall Not Kill religion would be keenly aware of this and indeed he winces.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Lots of time alone regulating his student's breathing and practicing love songs....
  • Technician vs. Performer: Maracuba is the Technician and Dragonetz is the Performer. The former has a rigid singing style and his ballads are sermons in lyrical form. Furthermore, Estela reluctantly admits he has greater skill than Dragonetz. On the other hand, Dragonetz's goal is entertaining and he has a much wider range of pitches and actions. For instance, he'll sing a women's part in a duet using a falsetto tone and act out the role.
  • Their First Time: Estela is nervous about her wedding night for this reason. When her husband shows no sexual interest in her she goes to a stablehand in frustration and has a traumatic experience.
  • Token Enemy Minority: Al-Hisba is a Muslim in France during the time of the Crusades. There is much culture clash.
  • Tomboy: As a child, Estela spent more time with the boys climbing trees and knife fighting than inside with other girls knitting and gossiping.
  • True Blue Femininity: When a lady wears blue it is consistently referred to as "(Virgin) Mary's color". When the Archbishop sees Emerganda or Alienor wearing it he scoffs at the hypocrisy because (in his mind) they are anything but "fair and gentle".
  • Tsundere: Oddly enough, Estela is not this to either Arnauld or Dragonetz but to Nici, her pet. She calls him useless and the name she gave him means "big idiot" and yet she is the only one to pet him and she feeds him under the table. In the end he's described as "a dog that think he belongs with her". In other words, Type A.
  • Undying Loyalty: According to Raoulf, all soldiers should have this for their liege lord.
    Raoulf: She’s just a woman. He’s your liege Lord, my boy and if it was you instead that he wanted, Viking fashion, why you’d just have to bend over and take it.
  • Unsettling Gender-Reveal: It happened to Estela and Dragonetz individually concerning the same person:
    • Dragonetz was crusading and saw some thugs about to rape a woman after killing her husband. They ripped open her dress and the surprise they found was great enough for Dragonetz to kill them with ease. That "woman" was Sanchez.
    • Discovering the same thing is part of Estela's initiation, so to speak, into Dragonetz's inner circle.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Most of Alienor's ladies-in-waiting are spoiled, bitchy and otherwise unpleasant to be around.
  • Virginity Flag: It is customary for a bride to wear her hair up after consummating her marriage (i.e. losing her virginity). Estela doesn't do it after her marriage because John isn't interested in doing it with her. Instead, she does it after a traumatic experience with a stablehand that she doesn't want to admit to herself was a mistake.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: "Lady" Sanchez is a man pretending to be a lady.
  • Wicked Stepmother: The reason Estela is hiding in a ditch and calling herself "Estela" is because her stepmother turned her father against her and planned to have her killed.
  • You Have Failed Me: Alis is killed for failing her part in the Evil Plan.