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The Rescue of Charles de Simpson: Book One in the Dorchester Chronicles

The Rescue of Charles de Simpson: Book One in the Dorchester Chronicles

by J.S. Witte


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It is the spring of 1348, at the start of the 100 Year’s War, just months before the Black Death spreads across Europe and William de Simpson finds himself “twice” orphaned. His father’s death in the Battle of Neville’s Cross was followed closely by the loss of his mother. Adopted by his childless uncle Charles, named his heir and thrust into the world of titles, lieges, Lords, Ladies and court intrigue, William now discovers this last living relative has been captured in France.With no means to pay the demanded ransom, William and his aging Tutor, Robert, set out from England, across the channel, and into French territory, in an effort to free Uncle Charles. It soon becomes apparent there are powers at work beyond just bad luck and ill fate, which may even have designs on the Throne of England itself.Can William withstand the ever growing challenges while mastering the life lessons they present? The fate of his uncle and the safety of the Crown may depend on it.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781595557353
Publisher: Elm Hill
Publication date: 11/06/2018
Pages: 640
Product dimensions: 5.88(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.38(d)
Age Range: 13 - 18 Years

About the Author

The Rescue of Charles de Simpson is based on a short story written by Dr. Witte in high school. He received an “A” and a note of encouragement from his teacher. Dr. Witte kept the story and the note for 35 years. This is his first novel and the first in a series, following the life and lessons learned of William de Simpson. J. S. Witte and his wife call St. Louis, Missouri home, where he pursues his other passion, craft beer, as the Director of Operations at a local brewery and distillery.

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The sudden toss of the ship as it rolled in the choppy waves of the English Channel wrenched William from his thoughts. The cold wind and rain whipped foamy spray into his tightly squinted eyes, stinging them with salt. It seemed ages had passed since he received the letter on that beautiful spring morning in Dorchester, where Crandor Castle stands, and his uncle was raising him, after the death of his parents. So much had happened since that day; so many scars, both physical and emotional. And yet, a part of him wouldn't have wanted things to turn out any differently than they had so far; or at least everything save one.

It seemed an ordinary and simple enough day. It had been one of those "rare gems" as his tutor, Robert Buckley, called it and so it was the messenger found them both outside the stone wall which surrounded their home. Truth be told, although called a castle by those near and far, it was really a large manor house and tower keep, both surrounded by a high wall and iron reinforced, red stained wooden gates. Seated not far from these wide open posterns, William and his teacher were reviewing Latin nouns.

Normally this would have been a tedious and difficult process for William (learning new languages at his age was as difficult a chore as his teacher suggested it would be) but in this instance one word in particular peaked Williams' interest as it was used to train war horses to rear up, prior to striking at someone on the ground: augmentum. The appearance of the stranger and the sound of church bells ringing in the distance pulled him from his day dreaming of battles and cavalry charges. William watched as he dismounted and approached them cautiously. Robert had also been teaching him how much he could learn from studying a person's manners and attire; he did his best to notice as many details as he could.

First and foremost, the man was dressed in a fashion he hadn't seen before. He wore a blue, puffy cap with a pheasant feather stuck in the side. His moustache seemed to be particularly shiny, curling at the tips, and his beard was trimmed to a sharp point. Despite the weather, he wore a full vest, buttoned up over a light muslin shirt. His trousers appeared to be of very fine leather, as did his tall black riding boots; both of which were heavily stained with dark mud and white chalk.

He removed his hat slowly, and his hazel eyes darted between Robert and William before he hesitantly addressed both. "Je cherche William Simpson, le neveu du Lord Charles de Simpson, comte de Dorchester." William sat perfectly still, suddenly understanding the unusual attire. Standing before him, for the first time in his life, was a couriered messenger, speaking French with a discernable accent. And the messenger was looking for him. Before William could answer in broken French, Robert stood and bowed, with his hand on his breast. A quick motion from the elder tutor told his young student to remain seated.

"Vous aves trouvé celui que vous cherchez! Puis-je demander ce qui emmène un jeune lombard si loin de la maison?" The messenger was startled to, not only hear his native tongue spoken fluently, but to also be recognized as a man of Lombardy, the very prosperous and wealthy region in northern Italy. He stood straight and proud and his eyes sparkled as he answered.

"J'ai un message urgent à livrer à William Simpson et à personne d'autre." On hearing his name a second time, William stood. Robert nodded solemnly to the messenger.

"J'ai le privilege de vous présenter William Simpson." William did his best to look grave but he didn't feel lordly at the moment, instead he felt overwhelmed and slightly confused. He was able to follow, for the most part, the simple conversation between his mentor and the messenger. A letter of some importance was to be given to him and no other. A letter from France no less.

William's thoughts immediately turned to his uncle and the day they parted. In May 1347, Lord Charles de Simpson, Earl of Dorchester and Master of Crandor Castle, had sailed with Henry of Lancaster to aid the English in their siege of Calais. The king of England had called and the Simpsons of Dorchester had once again answered their liege-lord. Dozens of ships set sail from Dover and some returned a short time later with great news. The French had surrendered and Calais was taken. The army of King Philip, which had marched north to raise the siege, withdrew and then disbanded with little fighting, allowing a large portion of the coast to be taken and the English were soon pushing their way inland. No news had come from his uncle in several months, outside of a letter in which he had mentioned sitting as a juror at a court of honor with several other men of peerage, including one of King Edwards' closest friends and advisors. But the lack of further letters hadn't worried William until now.

While these thoughts raced through William's mind, the messenger unbuttoned the top of his vest and withdrew a folded note, handing it to William as he bowed slightly. "Mon devoir est accompli. Avec votre permission ..." He straightened, nodded once again to Robert and was soon mounted and riding back the way he had come.

The folded parchment was sealed with heavy, dark wax and an impress William didn't recognize. Upon breaking it open and unfolding it, he realized the message was in French. He didn't understand the French language well enough to speak it, let alone read it written by what appeared a hasty hand, so he handed it to Robert, trying his best to conceal the trembling of his hands. His tutor was fluent in more than just Latin and was kind enough to take no notice.

After scanning the note, Robert closed his eyes briefly and took in a deep breath. "After the victory at Calais, the English began pushing into France, expanding their territory. The Earl of Warwick led a raid on the town of St. Omer. The attack was unsuccessful. Your uncle, Lord Charles de Simpson, Earl of Dorchester, was captured by the French in the attack. Count Jean Libourne Coucy is holding him at Chateau de Coucy. For his return to safety, you, his only heir, will have to pay the sum of £1,000 silver sterling." He handed the note back to William who could only stare at it, dumbfounded. "Your uncle signed this; I recognize his hand."

Finally, with a slightly broken voice, William spoke. "I had hoped that, one day, he would return and we could live a life of peace. When my time came to have my own family I was going to ask him to be as an old father to them as he has become a father to me." He blinked a few times to clear his eyes. "I wish he had not gone ... it is just like when he and father left for ..." his voice cracked with emotion and he lowered his gaze.

"You speak as if he is already passed on, William. Only time will tell. But as for your dream ..."

"My dream?"

"Yes. Your dream, William, your vision of what you hoped life would be like. As your teacher I have to tell you that all dreams, in the beginning, come without cost." Robert crossed his arms and took on the look he always assumed when he taught William on subjects other than language, math and science. His brow was drawn down and his eyes seemed to be trying to pierce William, to see if he truly understood what he was being taught.

"I do not understand." William stated flatly, still clutching the note. Robert watched him for a moment then took a deep breath and let it out slowly. William was one of the best students he had ever taught, but he gave up easily when he didn't want to take the time to think things through. His pupil was wearing his emotions on his face and he could see the pain, anger, frustration and fear, all there beneath the surface. When the time was right he would need to teach William about guarding his thoughts. But now was not that time; more pressing matters were at hand.

"When you first begin to develop a dream there is no cost; dreaming is free. But," and now he held up a finger, to make a point, "there are several things you must understand about that dream." He motioned to William, who sat back down. The bright spring day didn't seem as bright amid the dark thoughts, which were troubling him. It was difficult but he did his best to pay attention to what he was being taught. "The cost of your dream will be more than you thought," his teacher continued, then raised his second finger. "The cost will come sooner than you planned and you will have to pay that price more than once to get to your dream. Finally, it is possible to pay too much for your dream." He paused and waited, knowing William was bright enough to understand.

"You are not talking about the £1,000 are you?" he asked, after clearing his throat and wiping his eyes on his sleeve.

"No my young disciplina," he said, using the Latin noun for student, "I am not ..." His eyes softened as he realized William was close to the truth. Then he saw a hint, just beneath the surface; a softening of the lines around his eyes and his face brightened slightly. Some amount of comprehension had come to his young pupil.

William stood up and took in a deep breath of the fresh Dorchester air. The green spring grass still swayed gently in the breeze and the sheep still grazed or rested lazily about the hillside. The recently sheered ewes were starting to show signs that lambing would soon be upon them. He turned and looked, as if for the first time, at Crandor Castle and nodded.

"You told me yesterday that King Edward has mortgaged his own crown to a group of businessmen in order to fund this war. Most of the banks in England have failed due to the loans they made to him, with the promise of repayment from the plunder of his war, which will, in all likelihood, never get repaid. My own uncle sold all he could afford to part with to finance his own obligations before leaving for the war. We have neither the money nor the ability to raise the funds to pay for his release." William paused to consider where these thoughts were leading him. "My uncle understood this and yet was still willing to sign the ransom and reveal the information needed for the message to arrive here." William paused, crossed his arms and began absentmindedly chewing on his right thumb. He didn't realize it at the time but this was a pose he had seen his teacher take so many times before.

"I will have to go there myself. I will have to leave what I have here, and go to France in order to find a way to bring my uncle home." It felt as though the decision wasn't even his own. This was what his uncle expected of him and what the circumstances required.

"And what price would be too great to pay in order to have this vision come to be, William?"

"To lose all that I have and all that I am and all that I could be, in order to see my uncle free and home with me again." William paused before continuing. "I am not sure how much more I can stand to lose though." He added the last comment so quietly it was nearly a statement to himself. If his tutor heard this, he didn't acknowledge it.

"I do not believe it will come to that. But this I can say for certain," he stood, grabbing William by the shoulders, helping him to stand while turning him so they stood face to face. "You will not return the same man who leaves here, of that I am without doubt." A gleam glinted in his steel grey eyes.


"Do you know, William this road was built by the Romans?" Robert's question shook the young man out of his dark thoughts. They had left late the following morning because it took some time to be sure the fields and flocks were tended while they were away. The duties of the manor were turned over to the porter, who, although partially blind and mostly deaf, could be trusted completely.

It wasn't going to take a force of arms to free his uncle. At least this was Robert's counsel. They would have the best chance of reaching Chateau de Coucy if they appeared to be just two travelers. They packed light, carrying little besides what they could on their backs and the sticks they walked with. William had wanted to be armed, to discourage highwaymen, but again, it was Robert's counsel which prevailed. "If we play the part well, William, we will not have any trouble. Thieves will not try and rob men who appear poorer than themselves." In the end the most dangerous weapon they carried with them was the hunting and skinning knife each had at his belt.

As it was, they set out just before midday. The red and golden sunrise that morning promised a beautiful day ahead. The light, high clouds, which now drifted slowly across the azure sky seemed to suggest the same. The soft breeze from the south still had just a hint of the sea. The only other sound was the occasional bleating of the sheep which dotted the countryside. If his mind wasn't so preoccupied with other thoughts, William might have noticed all of these things. Instead, he lowered his head and did his best to match his stride to his tutors'.

From Crandor they struck north, cross country, making their way for the high road which then ran northeast towards Salisbury. From there they would turn south to Southampton and the sea. For the moment though, their feet still walked on Dorset soil, its emerald green grass springy beneath their leather-soled hose.

They had been walking for over an hour and the sun was well past its zenith when Robert repeated his question. Not long before they had left the grass and were walking on an elevated road, which ran nearly straight before them. Its surface was crushed rock and gravel, it was nearly 15 paces wide and had a trench on either side, which was only partially overgrown with tall grass and wild strawberry bushes.

"It is the first I have set foot on it," he answered, with a slight shrug to his shoulders. The meaning was simple and not lost on his tutor. "Who cares?"

"More than fifteen three score and ten lives have passed since this road was set in its place. When they built it, do you think they did it just for themselves?" He paused in order to let his pupil consider the question.

William stood a moment looking back the way they had come and then forward in the direction they were going. He chewed on the inside of his cheek trying to unravel the significance. "They built this road to last ..." he paused, clearly trying to tie his thoughts together. Not for the first time he wished he could push some thoughts and feelings to the side when he needed to concentrate on others.

"They certainly did. Now, why is that significant?"

"The Romans expected to still be here using it?" It was as much a question as it was an answer, but Robert allowed him to get away with it.

"Exactly, and now we live here and use the road they built. What can we learn from this?"

William stood shaking his head a moment and then a light brightened his eyes and he smiled briefly. "Just because you build something to last does not mean you will be here to enjoy it."

Robert nodded, "yes William." And then added, "All we will ever have is today. Right here, right now" He added emphasis by stamping on the crushed rock surface with each word of his sentence. "Yesterday is gone." Stamp, stamp stamp. "Tomorrow is a promise but not a guarantee. It is here, now, where we live our life; the breeze from the sea, the birds in the hazel thicket, the sun on our heads and the road at our feet." He paused and furrowed his brow a moment, as if remembering something painful. "Great men have wasted much of their lives worrying about what might happen tomorrow."

"Then we should not think to the future and plan great plans?"

"No William, just the opposite. We should plan greater and more glorious plans than we could ever imagine doing on our own. Our ability to dream is the one gift God gave us and no other creature. Our gift back to God is dreaming what may seem impossible without His help, and then trusting Him to provide the help we need. Great men have the desire to accomplish great things. But, in the end, just remember." A slightly crooked, arthritic finger gently poked him in the chest. "It is today, and only today that we have to work with. One never knows what tomorrow will bring." He turned and set off again, his head held high, his face smiling, his eyes taking in all the glory of creation around him.

For a moment, William watched his teacher walk down the road to Salisbury and he murmured to himself. "Dream bigger and greater dreams than you even thought possible, William, dreams so big God has to help, but never forget to live today." He was glad no one else was on the road with them. He felt a little foolish speaking out loud to himself.


Excerpted from "The Rescue of Charles de Simpson"
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Copyright © 2018 J.S. Witte.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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