An excerpt from Eight Pointed Cross – a Novel of the Knights of Malta, the first in Fenech’s Siege of Malta Trilogy.

Angelica pins a freshly washed blanket to the line, smiling at Katrina’s lively description of the sword Augustine gave Domenicus last night. Angelica just doesn’t know what to make of this girl.

“It’s glorious! Fit for the Grand Master,” Katrina gushes as she wrings dirty water from a sheet, her forearms running with greyish suds, cheeks pink from rising steam. The hospital’s heavy back door whines suddenly on its hinges. Out shuffles Censina, a broad-shouldered laundress with large grey eyes and coarse black whiskers above her lip. She drops a full wicker basket at Katrina’s feet, gives her a hostile once-over.

“You shouldn’t work outdoors. Open air is the breath of the devil.”

Katrina looks at the woman. “It’s a little cold to be the devil’s breath, don’t you think?”

Angelica snickers, earning herself a sharp glance from Censina, whose pale features flush with anger.

Katrina Montesa! Replace your insolence with prayer. And roll down those sleeves! Must you run around half-naked?” The affronted laundress turns on her cracked heel, muttering to herself about exposed arms and the immodesty of it all as she hobbles back inside.

Kat rolls her eyes. “They’re all like her, the ones that work here. You’ll see. Devil this and rosary that.” She shrugs. A moment later, a smile blooms on her face. “Know what? I’m going to learn archery. The Italian will show me.” 

Angelica looks at her sideways. Katrina Montesa sure is peculiar. “Why?”

“Why not?”

“We’re girls. Why would any girl want to learn archery? Why do you?”

“Because. Because I want to,” Kat replies. “Same reason you learned to read.” 

Angelica raises her eyebrows. It is true—for a girl in Malta, reading is no less absurd than shooting an arrow or flying to the moon.

And Angelica learned to read.

In the afternoon, Katrina leaves Angelica alone to finish the last of the bedclothes and disappears with a basket down the corridor. Instead of taking the clean linens directly to the storeroom, she walks on, in search of Florentine knight, Franco di Bonfatti.

The hallway takes her past offices, pantries, and quarters for menial staff, all to no avail. She encounters several of the daytime barberotti, surgical apprentices who mind the wards in shifts, but none questions her presence as she carries a great shield of laundry.

After almost twenty minutes of fruitless wandering, she decides to give up. But on her way to the storeroom, she catches a familiar voice coming from the refectory.

There he is, Franco di Bonfatti, wiping tables alongside other young knights assigned to mess hall duty. She stands quietly in the doorway until he takes notice of her, or rather, until he notices the big basket with legs, and comes over. 

“Katrina? What are you doing here? Is everything all right?”

She peers over the top of the hamper. “Is it true you’re a master archer?”

Franco tilts his head. “I don’t know that I would call myself a master.”

“I want to learn. I want you to teach me.”

He looks at her in surprise. “Why?”

Must everyone always ask why? “I just do.”

“You are brazen and presumptuous,” Franco snaps. “Whatever would your father say?”

Katrina frowns. “He’s the one who told me to ask you.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course I won’t teach you archery. I am a knight, and you are a girl. Now go on, back to work.”

“But—”

“My answer is no.” Franco turns back to the dining hall without waiting for her appeal. The ice in his refusal leaves Katrina cold, and as she walks to the stockroom to drop off the clean laundry, she broods over the situation. If her father doesn’t mind, why should the knight? Why should anyone mind that she wants to learn archery? She will learn. Just as she will read and write, and sail ships if she chooses and marry someone she loves and do everything else they tell her not to.

Marthese Fenech is the bestselling author of historical novels, Eight Pointed Cross and Falcon’s Shadow, set in sixteenth-century Malta and Istanbul. Most people call her Mar. Research for her Siege of Malta trilogy has taken her to the ancient streets her characters roamed, the fortresses they defended, the seas they sailed, and the dungeons they escaped. Obstinate curiosity has led her to sixty-five countries across six continents.She does her best plot-weaving while hiking mountain trails, wandering local markets, paddle boarding cliff-sheltered bays, and sitting at home with her Siberian husky curled at her feet. Learn more at https://marthesefenech.com

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