Historical fiction villains add the necessary conflict to the story. I am continuing my revision work on my novel Sic Parvis Magna — correcting details, making it more visual, and deepening the characters and sharpening the conflict in the story.
Sic Parvis Magna is the origin story of Francis Drake. It kicks off the historical fiction series by exploring what experiences could have produced the real historical person. Aside from the natural difficulties like storms, learning to sail and leaky boats that Francis needs to face and overcome to become a sailor, the world of that time is not friendly or nurturing, especially for a Protestant in the time of the Marian Restoration.
Sic Parvis Magna has a couple of antagonists. One of these villains is James Reynard, the ship’s purser. While the Northern European folk tale of Reynard the Fox inspired the original idea of Reynard’s character, the original idea was just someone who was out for himself. This is why the hero image of this post features the anthropomorphic fox of the fairy tale, Reynard himself.
However, as I was revising the story, it occurred to me that as a villain, Reynard’s character was rather flat. Yes, he was not a “nice guy,” hated Francis from the start, and did his best to stymie Drake… but there was no real depth, no history, no proper emotional wound, or goal motivating his actions. He was a prototypical “evil” villain. Because I wanted to personalize and intensify their conflict, Reynard evolved into his own distinct and much darker character.
Reynard’s backstory is not a part of the text within the novel, except as flashbacks to color his actions. I hope you enjoy this bonus character sketch of James Reynard, one of the villains of the upcoming historical fiction novel Sic Parvis Magna.
It is my last night in this village before I must move on. I need to drink something to silence my inner voice, which I thankfully hear less and less lately. I enter a tavern which I frequented a few times, often enough for the tavern keeper to recognize me as I enter, despite its shortage of candelabras.
“Meat pie and half a flagon again, Mister Vengier?” he asks.
I nod as I proceed to the far corner. The execrable bastard has an excellent memory, damn him. I forgot that name right after I made it up.
This dark, run-down place suits me. There is a tallow candelabra over the bar stand, and the only other light is from a hearth on the other side of the room. Besides keeping me away from the attention of others, this dimness also coats the squalid floor, which has not met with a broom since the crucifixion. The sooty smoke billows inside as the chimney was neglected for as long as the floor.
I sit, placing my shoulder bag down with a dull thud.
Some runt brings me my food and ale. I look up as the regular noises of furniture knocking above resume — a whore servicing another customer.
The cretin points upstairs with a knowing nod. “The customers come from afar! Would you care for me to send a girl your way, sur?”
I shake my head as I wave him off like the nuisance he is. “I have other things to do.”
I savor a bite of the pie, the scent of which swirls upwards from the crust. The taste of its warm, heavily seasoned meat rolls around my mouth before a long gulp of the ale’s stout bitterness replaces it.
Some shouts outside bring back my memories of five years ago — 1539, the date of the execution of Father Eynon, the only person who cared for me. They executed him as a traitor. I know the conviction was a ruse, concocted as evidence by a Protestant vicar-general to cover confiscation of the wealth of the abbeys in the name of his king. His death also murdered my only hope to learn of my past.
Aye, the wound is still as fresh as if it was done yesterday. I feel my jaw clenching as the bitter memories take over my thoughts.
He had had a secret. I pressed him, and pressed him, and pressed him; he relented a little when I was sick once. He told me he received me when I was a mere infant, that some chambermaid carried me to the church… those years of silence have tormented me since. He knew who I was.
My hand closed about the handle of the pewter mug, and I took a long gulp of my ale, finishing it.
Yes, he kept me well, fed and clothed me, enrolled me in the grammar school at the abbey, and said he would speak with Abbot Hugh about accepting me into the monastery. But what I wanted to know was why was I not good enough, why was I denied of my birthright, and why was I discarded like a pile of clothes worn to shreds by some peasant. I am called Reynard, but what is my real name?
I take another bite of the pie, trying to swallow the bile in my throat.
The door to the tavern swings open with a loud thud, forcing me to glance up as a gregarious trio of sheriff’s men saunter into the tavern. I cast an eye on them without lifting my head. Even in their revelry, they look like murderous hired thugs of a heretic, their dark brown capes secured with livery badges over grey hauberks.
I refill my mug from the flagon. Despite the darkness of this place, my eyes catch my shimmering reflection staring back from the surface of the ale.
I can’t say that I look better.
As I cast another glace at the sheriff’s men, my mind travels back to when a similar gang of thugs arrested the Abbot, dragged him through the courtyard, and threw him into the back of a wagon, all under the guise of law.
“To the Tower,” the driver had shouted.
The noise from the group at the bar stand becomes louder, bringing me back to the present.
I empty my mug again. The ale is starting to do its job… it is time to go.
I throw my two pennies on the counter, my bag over the shoulder, and walk to the place I spied a week ago. The shadows are really long now, the light dim.
I hide myself behind a corner as I planned, breathe in deeply, then exhale through pursed lips. My muscles are tight, anticipating what is to come. The cold dissipates the last of the drowsiness.
There… predictable. The damned Protestant merchant is even better dressed than before. And his personal guard… as stupid as ever.
I silently reach into my bag, my hand tightening on the handle of the mace.
The guard steps past me.
I wait for one more step, exhale, and step out behind him, bringing the mace down with a dull thud.
He collapses without noise. As I turn towards his frozen patron, I meet his terrified eyes, transfixed upon me. This is not the first time I see eyes like this.
Another swing, another thud, and his eyes roll back in his head. He collapses backwards from the blow.
Moments later, I drag both bodies out of sight and quickly relieve the merchant of his purse.
I pause, weighing the purse in my hand. I feel a side of my face sliding into a grin as I mentally calculate its worth. All my schooling… reading of the scriptures and reciting them back… I can sum in one statement: God helps those that help themselves.
My mind wanders back to those events of September 1539 again.
Barely has the wagon left the abbey’s gate as Cromwell’s men began to loot the abbey’s valuables.
“Get busy! Be sure we get all the things on the inventory list, Moyle!” shouts the man from the cart, which already had a mountain of things. He turned to us and read the proclamation of dissolution.
A brother ran up to the men carrying out goods from the church. “These belong to the house of God!” he protested, trying to stop the looting.
No sooner have the words left his mouth than the sheriff smote him down with a club.
“They now belong to the house of Henry,” he said with a smirk.
I look down at the two bodies in front of me.
Indeed. Or the house of Cromwell, or some other sycophanta.
I spit as I look down. Whom have you prostrated before?
It wasn’t long after that the Abbot, John Rudd, and Farther Eynon were executed. That image seared my mind as if by a branding iron.
Terrified as I was, I could not turn away… my eyes were glued to their suffering faces as they were hung, cut down, emasculated, and eviscerated before being butchered into pieces like meat for dinner… all as the crowd cheered as if at a jousting contest.
“Traitors!” they shouted.
It was said afterwards the king was the bountiful benefactor of Abbot Hugh, who has repaid him with the most dastardly treachery — “if he had lived when Christ was betrayed, he would have put Judas out of his office.” I don’t know.
I know too well how betrayal feels.
Right after, the orphanage turned me out; I was told I was old enough…
The heft of the purse in my left hand and its ring of coins bring me back to the present. I shall take back what they took from me.
I throw the mace at the merchant, who seems to be coming to, moaning in pain. He won’t last long, not with the ocean of blood beneath him. I kick him in the head as I step over him.
As the darkness swallows the last of the light, I head towards the docks on the Thames. I need to put some distance behind me.
In this character sketch, James Reynard is a fictional character rather than an actual historical person. Abbot Hugh Cook, Father Eynon, John Rudd, and Thomas Moyle were real people.
The three churchmen were executed for treason because they refused to take part in dissolving the Reading Abbey at the time when Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, as orchestrated by Thomas Cromwell, was coming to an end.
Thomas Moyne was one of three assistants of Dr. London, sent to inventory the Abbey of Reading.
“Houses of Benedictine Monks: The Abbey of Reading | British History Online.” Accessed January 26, 2023. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/berks/vol2/pp62-73.
“Leonard Cox.” In Wikipedia, January 12, 2023. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Leonard_Cox&oldid=1133206209.
“Medieval Education.” Accessed January 26, 2023. https://historylearning.com/medieval-england/medieval-education/.
Reading Museum. “The Last Abbot of Reading,” July 19, 2018. https://www.readingmuseum.org.uk/blog/last-abbot-reading.
If you liked this, please take a look at my character sketch of Francis Drake.