The Wolf & the Witch in Audio

The Blood Brothers series of medieval romances is being narrated by Tim Campbell. The audiobooks will be released as close to the publication date of the ebooks as possible. The Wolf & the Witch is available in audio now!

The Wolf & the Witch, book one of the Blood Brothers trilogy of medieval Scottish romances by Claire Delacroix, audio edition

The Wolf & the Witch

Five Stars! Highly recommended as an excellent series starter of a place to start your love affair with Claire Delacroix books in general!”

Becca – Goodreads reviewer

Five Stars! Delacroix is a masterful storyteller who weaves together a fascinating tale of betrayal, vengeance, wit, fate and love!

Naomi – BookBub reviewer

Buy The Wolf & the Witch in audio:


Poppy Powder

In The Wolf & the Witch, Maximilian gives Alys “poppy powder” which makes her sleep. This is the powder derived from poppies, specifically from opium poppies native to Asia Minor. The Latin name for the opium poppy is Papaver Somniferum, or sleeping poppy. The medicinal powers of the opium poppy have been known since at least 3000 BC.

The Sumerians called it the “joy” plant, and described how to harvest “poppy tears”, a method that is still used today. To harvest the opium, the seed pod is left to ripen after the plant blooms. After about 10 days, the pod is cut so that the milk oozes from it. That sap is left to dry, then the residue is collected and dried even more. The seed pod is distinctively round.

An opium poppy and seed pod

The ancient Greeks used poppy powder as a sedative, and also combined it with poison hemlock for suicide or euthanasia. It may have had ritual use in Egyptian society as a drug of healing power. The Greek gods Nix, Thanatos and Hypnos were depicted with poppies in Greek art. It was known to be a powerful and effective sedative and traded widely, as we can see by its inclusion in pharmacopiae and herbals from China to Europe. Around 2000 years ago, it was included in the Chinese pharmacopia, the Pen Tsao. It is included in the references to healing and medicine by Galen of Pergamon (a Greek physician who died c. 210 AD) and Pedanius Dioscorides (a Greek physician c. 40 – c. 90 AD.). This is an excerpt from Galen’s Alphabet, translated by Nicholas Everett, following a description of the harvesting process.


“The best opium has an extremely pungent fragrance, is slightly reddish in colour, very quickly dissolves and turns white when in contact with moisture, and when ignited emits a flame that burns for a little while and which when extinguished replenishes its fragrance to the same level of pungency as when fresh…Pure opium can be mixed into eye-salves for drying up teary eyes, or can be smeared on around areas that need cooling. It alleviates earaches, reduces all types of fatigue in the body, and for the same reason we find it also induces sleep.”

Pharmacy from Antiquity to the Middle Ages:The Alphabet of Galen, Nicholas Everett, University of Toronto Press, 2012, 2014, page 297

Even though the alkaloids are derived from the sap of the seed pod, there are no active alkaloids in the seeds once they develop.

The powers of the opium poppy were also referenced by the Persian physicians “Rhazes” (845-930 AD) and “Avicenna” (980 – 1037 AD), and the Andalusian surgeon “Abulcasis” (936–1013 AD). Galen shows that it was known in the Roman Empire, but the author of The Old English Herbarium, an Anglo-Saxon herbal from about 1000 AD, appears to be unfamiliar with the differences between the white poppy that grows in England and the opium poppy – although these two plants share some traits, there is virtually no opium in the English poppy, papaver album.

We can take a little tangent here and talk about the transmission of ancient texts like pharmacopiae and herbals. The Roman Empire was divided into the eastern and the western empire by Constantine (Roman emperor 306 – 337), who named the capital of the eastern empire after himself, Constantinople, later Istanbul, was a large and busy city and a trade hub for centuries. The eastern (or Byzantine) empire also held Ravenna, a city in northern Italy. In 390, Rome was sacks by Goths, and in subsequent centuries, the raids by Vandals, Visigoths, Vikings and others saw many literary sources destroyed in Europe and libraries burned. There were copies of all those books in Constantinople, where they were translated into Arabic by Muslim scholars and studied. When the Umayyad caliphate conquered much of what is now northern Africa and the south of Spain CA. 700 AD, those books made their way to Andalusia. Under the Umayyads, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians (known as dhimmis) were permitted to practice their religion but paid a higher tax. In this culture, those texts were translated from Islam to Latin, often by Jewish scholars, and made their way back into Europe from Spain to be rediscovered. In addition, eastern sources previously unknown in Europe were translated and transmitted. Avicenna’s Canon of Medicine was translated from Arabic into Latin in 1175, for example, and his work became known in Europe after that. This contributed to what medieval scholars call the Twelve Century Renaissance, a period of increased literacy and learning in Europe.

It also coincides with the crusades. Crusaders brought opium back to Europe from the 11th to 13th centuries and it became an imported (and important, because of its efficacy) ingredient for European herbalists who could afford to acquire it. The first stories of opium addiction date from the 14th century, although it was known to be an addictive substance before that.

The active ingredients in herbs and plants vary in their power, based on the plant’s growing conditions, the weather and the means of harvest and refinement. Dosage can be a bit of a guess, and relies heavily upon the herbalist’s experience and knowledge of the plant’s source. Morphine was the first plant alkaloid ever isolated, from opium in 1803, which meant that dosages could be measured with precision for the first time. Heroin, which is synthesized from morphine (and was called diamorphine), wasn’t developed until 1893. In 1895, it was marketed as a cough suppressant. Both of these developments meant that opium-derived alkaloids and synthesized versions of them became much more readily available and that addiction became more prevalent.

Pink poppy

Opium poppies can be grown as an ornamental garden plant. They’re perennials in many climate zones and have spectacular flowers. (Other varieties of poppies are self-seeding annuals and have very little alkaloid in them.) Here’s a lovely pink cultivar at right.

Even the varieties of papaver somniferum available at your local garden center may have been bred to be devoid of latex and alkaloids. These are sometimes called Breadseed Poppies, when the intention is that you harvest the seeds for your bagels. In some places, it is illegal to cultivate them so check before you plant.

As for Maximilian’s use of poppy powder, it makes sense to me that the leader of a free company of mercenaries – who regularly engaged in battle and were therefore injured – would be well aware of a sedative and painkiller, and familiar with its use. He also would have had the opportunity to acquire it on his travels – in major cities – and the funds to acquire it. Alys, having been taught by a healer, might well have been taught about it but never have seen any of it herself – until Maximilian’s arrival. It would have been far less refined and less potent, but they still refer to Eudaline’s expertise in its administration.

King Robert II of Scotland

The Wolf & the Witch, book one of the Blood Brothers trilogy of medieval Scottish romances by Claire Delacroix

Robert II, King of Scotland, has a cameo role in The Wolf & the Witch, so I thought we’d talk a bit about him today. He’s an interesting king because he was older when he gained the throne: his sons were adults, and maybe that’s why he was known for being such a delegator.

This is the Author’s Note that appears in The Wolf & the Witch.


This is a work of fiction, but it does include some historical facts and actual figures. Robert II was crowned King of Scotland in 1371 and was the first Stewart king. He had alliances beyond Lothian and is believed to have fostered the increased raiding on the Scottish borders from 1375 – 1377. In 1378, he reclaimed Annandale. I think he would have been very glad to have a mercenary like the Silver Wolf move into that region.


Upon his coronation, Robert granted the earldoms of Fife and Monteith to his son, Robert; the earldoms of Buchan and Ross to his son, Alexander; the earldoms of Strathearn and Caithness to his son David by Euphemia. (Alexander was known as the Wolf of Badenoch for his savagery and cunning.) Robert also wed his daughter Isabella to James, the son of William, Earl of Douglas, as part of a settlement to address William’s protest against Robert taking the crown. Douglas was also name Justiciar south of the Forth as part of that arrangement. Robert’s son-in-laws were James (who became second Earl of Douglas), John Dunbar, Earl of Moray, and John MacDonald, Lord of the Isles.


This last marriage of the Lord of the Isles (also known as John of Islay, Eòin mac Dòmhnuill, and the chief of clan Macdonald) to Robert’s daughter, Margaret, required John to divorce his wife, Amie mac Ruari. John and Amie had three sons—John, Ranald and Godfroy—who also had to be disinherited as part of this arrangement. Upon that divorce, Amie’s dowry of Garmoran (Knoydart, Morar, Moidart, Ardnamarchan and the small isles) had to be relinquished by John, as well. It was returned to the macRuaris and granted to Ranald—after the death of the son, John—and ultimately granted to Godfroy after Ranald’s death. Little is known of the sons other than Ranald, but it seemed likely to me that they might have been dissatisfied with their father’s decision: Alys’ betrothed, Godfroy, is modeled upon him. He was the youngest and I chose to make him an indulged favorite who dealt poorly with rejection.


Kilderrick itself was inspired by the Hermitage, a fortress in Liddesdale (there is a post on my blog about this keep) and Alys’ father, Robert Armstrong, was inspired by Robert de Soulis, who first began to build a keep in the location of the Hermitage. His descendant, William de Soulis, was said to have had a reputation as a sorceror and a redcap as his familiar. Sir Walter Scott recorded a ballad by J. Leyden about him in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders called “Lord Soulis.” The family had a claim to the crown through Margaret, an illegitimate daughter of Alexander II, and that claim prompted William de Soulis to enter a conspiracy against Robert the Bruce. It was foiled in 1320 and his lands were forfeit for treason. He died imprisoned at Dumbarton. In the story, however, he is boiled alive in a cauldron at the Ninestang Ring, a local stone circle, in a revolt by the peasants against his villainy.


Jean le Beau is fictitious but characteristic of mercenaries of the fifteenth century. These warriors joined into armies for hire called free companies (because they were not beholden to any specific king or baron), were sometimes called routiers in the chronicles, and could be of noble background. Scotsmen often traveled to the continent to join these companies in the hope of earning their fortune. One famous free company was called the White Company, led by John Hawkwood and active in the Italian states in the 1360’s, was likely the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s adventure stories of The White Company. The actual company may have been named as much because they wore white tabards in battle. John Hawkwood was an Englishman, who had English archers in his company, and eventually married into the aristocracy. He was not particularly known for his handsome features or his numerous bastard sons, but Jean le Beau, the Silver Wolf’s father, was inspired by him just a bit.


Of course, events of this story did not happen, but I like to tuck my stories into historical events as if they could have happened. I hope you enjoyed The Wolf & the Witch, and will join me for Elizabeth and Amaury’s story, The Hunter & the Heiress.


14th Century Mercenaries

The Wolf & the Witch, book one of the Blood Brothers trilogy of medieval Scottish romances by Claire Delacroix

The hero of The Wolf & the Witch, Maximilian de Vries, is a mercenary and formerly the leader of a free company called La Compagnie Rouge. That free company was formed by his father, Jean le Beau, the bastard son of a baron with a reputation for violence. This is fiction, but based on historical fact. Today, I thought we’d talk a bit about those 14th century free companies of mercenaries.

In theory, medieval kings summoned armies from their vassals, who owed military service—or the service of knights sworn to their service—to the monarch on demand. In reality, this didn’t always work out well. Military training was likely to be inconsistent. Knights might not arrive on time or prepared for battle. Mercenaries, which were warriors paid to take any cause, filled the gap. They were professional fighters who could be hired at a price. In the fourteenth century, mercenaries proliferated in Europe and joined together in free companies: “free” because they weren’t bound to any particular monarch or territory. Philippe Contamine (in Wars in the Middle Ages) defines mercenaries as warriors who are 1/ specialists; 2/ stateless; and 3/ paid.

What’s interesting about these men is that even though they contributed to the course of history, often in significant ways, they are seldom named in chronicles. This doesn’t mean that they all had humble roots—remember that being trained for battle was a privilege of aristocratic society. I suspect there were a lot of bastard sons and younger sons without legacies in these companies. As Jean Froissart notes in his Chronicles (a 14th century account of the Hundred Years’ War), Scottish warriors often journeyed to the continent to seek their fortune as paid mercenaries.

Here’s a wonderful excerpt from Medieval Mercenaries by William Urban, for those of you who like words as much as I do:

“Territorial rules wanted warriors who were young, skilful, ready to obey orders…and numerous. Vassals often failed on all four counts, especially the last one. Therefore, rulers turned to mercenaries. A mercenary soldier is obviously one who fights for pay. Strictly speaking, to say mercenary soldier is a redundancy. Mercenary comes from mercer, meaning to buy and sell. Sold is the German word for money; solde in French. Both have their roots in the word for a silver coin, a solidus, which ultimately goes back to the Latin word for salt, which Romans used for paying salaries (“worth his salt”). Consequently, the word soldier implies an individual who hires out his talents, much like a common workman. We only need the two words together now because the evolution of governmental institutions later transformed irregular hired warriors into a professional class. Warriors who fought because of personal obligations, such as knights, were referred to as one’s men or one’s vassals. Today soldiers are committed to serve a nation no matter whether they are volunteers or in a professional army. A soldier no longer changes employers and rarely goes on strike for higher wages.”

The French word for free companies of mercenaries is routiers, which certainly brings to mind the idea of a raiding company roving over the countryside. When free companies were not employed (or not paid), they pillaged. All the same, their numbers grew during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France—because they were so useful. By the middle of th fourteenth century, several companies were sufficiently large and successful to be known by their names and reputation.

The White Company was composed primarily of English warriors who left France after fighting in the Hundred Years’ War, traveling to Italy in 1361. They were hired by the count of Montferrat to battle the Milanese Great Company employed by the duke of Milan—they won. They wore plate armor, highly polished, which might have contributed to their name (or they might have worn white tabards in battle.) They also had many archers with longbows in their company, an effective weapon mastered by the English. In 1364, the Florentines offered the White Company a ransom to leave Tuscany, the money was accepted. Part of the company moved south toward the Papal States, following Albert Sterz and calling themselves the Company of the Star. The remainder of the White Company followed John Hawkwood and remained in Pisa.

John Hawkwood (1323- 1394) was an English mercenary and longbowman who later led the White Company. He was knighted at some point, married twice, and had five legitimate children as well as many illegitimate ones—two of his illegitimate sons are documented. What is striking is the money he earned as leader of the White Company: he was paid in gold florins, and according to L.W. Mazzeno’s John Hawkwood, “In the 30 years that he served as a captain, Hawkwood’s earnings ranged between 6,000 and 80,000 florins annually (in comparison, a skilled Florentine craftsman at the same time earned 30 florins a year).” He was reputed to have been brutal and cunning, as well as loyal, even though the record challenges that last one. John died in Florence and there is a fresco in the Duomo of him on horseback. You can read more about the specifics of his military career in the Wiki about him.

John Hawkwood was not specifically my inspiration for Jean le Beau, Maximilian’s father (I had already chosen his name by the time I dug deeper into the history of free companies) although his story helped me to add details to Jean’s history and to understand better how free companies functioned. Jean le Beau is much nastier piece of work than I believe John was, and is much more enthusiastic about sexual conquests. When I named Jean le Beau, I was thinking of Philip le Bel (Philip IV, King of France 1285-1314) who was notoriously handsome but so inflexible that he was also called the Iron King.

There were more mercenary captains in Italy—called condottieri—including Giovanni de’ Medici (della Bande Nere), and Cesare Borgia—but these tend to be later, in the fifteenth century. If you watch The Borgias, you can see them in action in that era. If you watch The Tudors, you’ll see how reliant Henry VIII became upon mercenary armies in the fifteenth century. Watching either series, you’ll get to enjoy some wonderful eye candy, too.

One of the things that interests me is how a father’s nature will shape the choices and the characters of his sons, legitimate or illegitimate. All four of the heroes in Blood Brothers struggle with the legacy of Jean le Beau, partly based on how well they knew him and how close they were to their mothers. They all despise their father, but that manifests differently for each one—and they all find it particularly troubling to notice any resemblance between themselves and Jean le Beau. That struggle is something we’ll see more of in the rest of the series.

The Wolf & the Witch in Audio

The Wolf & the Witch audiobook is in production as we speak. It’s being narrated by the fabulous Tim Campbell and I’m hoping it will be available in early June. (It’s hard to predict how long it will take Audible to process the files.) In the meantime, you can listen to a sample on Soundcloud, right here:

I think Tim’s doing a fantastic job – I’m falling for Maximilian all over again! There’s a new item on the Audio menu called Blood Brothers in Audio where the buy links will be posted (although I’ll also do a blog post.)

Doesn’t the sample sound great?