"This is a delightful series." -- Historical Novel Society Book Review
Marriage matches for the Venetian nobility were not preordained by God in heaven, they were skillfully negotiated by fathers looking to enhance their own prestige and wealth.
A 17th century young lady could overlook petty shortcomings in her future husband, if he were rich, held a title, and was easy on the eyes. Mauro Baric would have been such a desirable match. As heir to a Venetian barony, Mauro had connections to powerful political allies that would please a future father-in-law. As a bonus to the potential bride, he was indeed attractive and desirable.
Mauro did have some quirks, though, perhaps due to his crazy mother's neglect, or his father ruining Mauro's wish to die a hero's death on a battlefield somewhere, or his own lingering guilt over his brother's accident. He was the last male of the House of Baric and must marry soon. But his match was sealed years ago.
Terese Kokkinos—Resi, as her family called her—was not a Venetian lady. She was the daughter of an Ottoman sea trader and was not interested in marrying an aristocrat any more than Mauro wanted a common Greek girl as his bride. But what they wanted was irrelevant.
Betrothed as children to repay Resi's father's debt to the Barics, their paired future together was the keystone to the House of Barics' continued success, as well as proof of her father's pledge to no longer cheat them.
Resi made the best of her sequestered adolescence while she waited to be summoned to the Venetian territory of Croatia to marry. Since her fate had already been decided, she did not need to learn the skills other girls focused on to entice a desirable husband. So Resi used her freedom to read every book she could find. An educated wife was not desirable, but her future husband was to blame for that. Mauro's choice to remain a bachelor, soldiering in his uncle's army until finally called home to Croatia, happily kept her in Thessaloniki—until tragedy struck the House of Baric.
The House of Baric Part One: Shields Down begins in the summer of 1649. The Thirty Years' War was winding down, and Mauro and his small army could finally spend their days at Baric Castle again. A year had passed since Mauro and Resi's marriage, yet the newlyweds still barely knew each other. Her strong will and his stoic nature made for an awkward courtship as they learned more about each other. Through it, Mauro could no longer deny that his complicated and unpredictable wife might be his perfect match after all.
There were many people living with Mauro and Resi—soldiers and servants employed to keep the castle running. Dear friends and unexpected visitors would bring their own troubles to the House of Baric. Bonds of friendship will strengthen and love will bloom that summer, and not just between the Barics.
With humor and drama, the trilogy's story grows like smoldering coals igniting as new kindling is added, bit by bit. You are a fly-on-the-wall in the Barics' intriguing and adventurous world throughout the three part saga. Love, war, hating, and mating were perhaps not so different back in the 17th century. These entertaining and memorable characters only wanted to steer their own destinies in search of a happily ever after, and you will find yourself rooting for them to succeed in their quest.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Baric Castle, 15 August 1637
A strong tide after the summer storm swirled the usually placid water below the children's diving cliff, but Mateo had jumped anyway. The sea gods ruled the watery underworld there — at least that's what Mateo had told his younger brother, Mauro. Mateo had been bold and fearless at fifteen; the gods would have wanted him. Mauro wished he had jumped with his brother on that fateful day and died in the blue depths along with him. They never found Mateo's body in the choppy waters or on the pebbly shore, and Mauro was lost without him.
A year had passed since Mateo's tragic death, and it was decided Mauro would be schooled with other boys his age in the North. On the eve of Mauro's leaving Baric Castle, Idita came into his room one last time. The once happy boy had grown pale and thin in his self-imposed seclusion. She wanted to comfort him again, like she had comforted him after his brother's accident. She knelt next to Mauro, who lay on his bed staring absently at a glittering stone he held. She took his chin gently between her fingers and looked into the brilliant green eyes of the sad boy she had helped raise. She knew what she had to do.
"Mauritius," she said softly. "Today you are thirteen, and your father will take you to foster with your uncle at Toth Castle."
Mauro continued to stare at his rock, not caring what was planned for him.
"Do you want to be brave again, like Mateo wanted you to be?" The boy's eyes moved slightly, now seeing into hers. "I have a birthday gift for you, Mauro, which will make it so. But you must follow what I say."
Idita had been nanny to the two Baric brothers, and their father and his brother before that. She was an old woman who had lived to see many tragedies in the House of Baric. She had an authority in her status that was never challenged; the Barics respected her wisdom and felt her kind spirit.
Idita had brought a small chest with her to Mauro's room, setting it on Mauro's dressing table near the shuttered window. She opened the shutters and let in the remainder of the fading daylight. The room was on the east side, and it was now long past noon. She lit two candles to better see and took out the box's contents: a small, wooden mallet; several thin, sharpened sticks; two jars; and a golden plate. Idita opened one jar, sifted the dark powder onto the plate, and then mixed it carefully with spirits from the other jar.
"Mauro," she said to him across the room, "come sit on the bench by my side."
Mauro frowned but slipped off his rumpled bed. He had shared this room with Mateo, and his brother's matching bed was next to his. Mateo's blue cover was straight and smooth, the same as on the day he had died. Mauro walked slowly to his nurse, looking cautiously at the crowded tabletop.
"You will train to be a soldier, Mauro, and for that you must be brave. Mateo would have wanted you to be strong without him. I can pass his strength onto you today, but you must remain still. Can you do that?" He looked into her brown eyes with his cheerless, green ones and nodded that he could.
She assessed her young ward. "You will need to take off your shirt, Mauritius. Reach across the table and hold tight until I am done." He did as she required, resting his chin on his chest as he held fast to the other side. He wanted what she offered. He wanted to be brave.
Idita proceeded to ink a sharp stick, then transferred the black ink with the tiny hammer into the boy's pale skin. Somehow, Mauro managed to stay perfectly still, even as tears ran down his cheeks. She chanted a soothing song but did not speak to him while she continued her laborious, shallow taps on Mauro's narrow shoulder. When she had finished the design, Idita handed him a cloth to wipe his silent tears while she found his small looking glass.
Mauro's arms and shoulders ached from his clenched hold, and he sat up with effort to use the cloth she had offered. Idita smiled at her plucky boy, then tilted the mirror near his arm.
Mauro inhaled sharply — how could she have known? On the back curve of his left shoulder was the outline of his brother's resting palm and fingers, just as they had touched him before Mateo dove into the sea. Beautifully scrolled in the middle of the small handprint was the letter M. Mauro looked in the glass at the black markings for several moments until Idita interrupted his thoughts. "Are you ready to go to your uncle's now, Mauritius?"
He spoke for the first time in a year. "Yes."CHAPTER 2
Thessaloniki, 10 October 1644
It was already dark outside when Demetrius and Castor Kokkinos walked up the torch-lit pathway to their walled courtyard in a quiet corner of the rambling city. Demetrius smiled at the sound of the family dog's welcome bark. It had been a twenty-minute walk to their small villa from the harbor, where Demetrius moored his three merchant ships, but it had not been enough time for Castor to tell his father all about his two weeks away, his first voyage fully in charge of his father's ship.
Castor had sailed to meet a Venetian ship in a designated spot in the southern Adriatic waters. His detailed recap of what had happened was interrupted when Alexis, Castor's wife, opened the front door and eagerly embraced her husband. The rest of the story could wait, Demetrius thought. He cheerfully made his way past the young couple as Castor warmly kissed his pregnant wife. Demetrius hung up his cape and bag on the pegs near the doorway, and the two followed him hand in hand into the house.
Demetrius Kokkinos handled special services for wealthy clients around the Aegean. He shipped their goods across the sea to the Near East, south to Africa, west to the Republics in Italy, and beyond to the Kingdom of France. Along with his Turkish clients, he had several foreign customers, including Baron Lorenc Baric, whose ship Castor had met with on this last journey. Demetrius had been Lord Baric's middleman for fifteen years, if one counted the six years he had been away, imprisoned.
Lorenc Baric was a Venetian aristocrat, a baron of the old Croatian line of royalty, and his monthly shipments were a valuable part of Demetrius' business. Demetrius had two other ships that sailed steadily as well. He captained one himself, and he had taught both his oldest sons to navigate the waters and learn his customers, so they could one day inherit his successful trading routes. Baron Baric had finally agreed to allow Demetrius to send his firstborn son in his place for the monthly rendezvous, and Demetrius was pleased that it had gone well.
Drawn by the delicious smell of their dinner roasting, the three went through the sitting room and into the kitchen, where his wife was waiting for him at the cluttered dinner table. Their younger children had already eaten their supper, but she had no appetite, and her plate lay empty in front of her. The smile left Demetrius' weathered, handsome face when he saw her grave expression. "Celine, my love, what has happened?" he asked.
She met her husband at the threshold. She kissed his cheek, then handed him the letter she had been holding the last hour. "A courier came a little while ago," she answered.
"Is it Patricius?" Demetrius asked. "Is there finally word about him?"
Their missing son was the first thought on Demetrius' mind. Patricius was the Kokkinos' second-born, barely a man at eighteen. He was strong-willed and had forsaken his father's offer to learn the family shipping business. He had left almost two months ago for Athens to join the Ottoman Army and become a solider instead. They had been informed by the army a few weeks back that Patricius had not arrived to finalize his enlistment, and the family had received no news from him.
"The letter is not from the authorities, Demetrius. It is from the Barics."
Demetrius looked at the sealed envelope. This correspondence was just as unwanted. "Why haven't you opened it?" he asked with a forced calmness.
"I was afraid of the answer," she replied.
Demetrius' only daughter, Terese, was promised to Mauritius Baric, the second son of Lord Lorenc Baric. It had been arranged long ago that she would be sent to their castle in the Venetian Republic when she came of marrying age. Demetrius had finally acknowledged in a letter to Baron Baric earlier in the summer that his only daughter was ready to marry. This letter today would explain their instructions.
Castor looked from parent to parent with his sympathetic, gray eyes. They had just lost one child to the Ottoman Army, and now they would lose another to this contracted arrangement. Demetrius opened the outer seal and looked at the sharp lettering of his name on the inner envelope. He handed it to his son. "You read it, Castor. I cannot bear it."
The short message was in a clear hand in Latin, and Castor read it through quickly before he reread it aloud with a smile. "I have received your letter and inquiry for a wedding date," he translated. "My son, Mauritius, has taken a commission as a captain in the Toth regiment of the Venetian Empire's Army. Please accept my regret that a definitive date cannot be planned for the wedding while he is on active duty in foreign lands. Upon his return, a marriage date can be finalized. I will send instructions at that time. It is signed Lorenc Baric, the 20 of August 1644."
"Another soldier," Celine said quietly to her husband. "Why do all these young men want to go fight wars?"
Demetrius tried to console her. "War has been going on all around them their whole lives, Celine. I suppose every young man must prove himself in some way. I went to sea to do that."
"Patricius did not have to go to war," Celine exclaimed. "He could have gone to sea like you. He should have gone to sea with your ship, and then he would not be dead."
"We don't know if he is dead, my love. The army may have found him. We will wait for that news as well. But you still have your daughter. Be glad that these wars will keep her here." Demetrius squeezed her hand across the table.
She smiled lovingly. "Yes. We still have our sweet Resi."
Demetrius looked across the room and saw Terese standing in the shadows of the doorway leading to the children's sleeping quarters. He could see by the expression on her young, pretty face that she had heard the good news. She was only sixteen and was too young to leave her family, he thought. He had talked about the love for his children during his time as a prisoner, and in the end that love had been used against him to leverage a deal. So now his daughter was to bravely fulfill her father's debt to the Barics.
Demetrius smiled over at his daughter. Resi, as she was called by her family, smiled back at him. She heard her little brother call out for her, and she quietly turned to go down the corridor to him. She was still free, for a little while longer at least.CHAPTER 3
Habsburg Territory, 15 August 1647
The afternoon air was sticky and sultry on the shadeless edge of the woods. It could have been any other day of the three-week siege, but today was the Day of Assumption in the Catholic faith. It was a Holy day; a time to pray and feast for the blessed Virgin Mother meeting her son in heaven. But there would be no feasting for the Toth troops without the food wagons, and no praying, except the usual prayer for rain to cool them and fresh water to quench their thirst. So the men sat in the dust, as they had yesterday and the day before, waiting for something to change.
Something had changed for Mauritius Baric — he was a year older. The Day of Assumption was also Mauro's birthday. His mother had told him he was lucky, that Saint Mary would watch over him throughout life because of his special birth. His mother, the Baroness Johanna Baric, had sneaked out of her confinement in the manor house those many years ago to spend the day praying for her favorite saint in the family chapel. That is where they had found her, on the floor giving birth to her only child in front of the Virgin Mary's altar.
His mother always wrote to him in August to remind him of his fortunate birthday. Her unsettling correspondence usually arrived months late, but always managed to find him. He dutifully read the tedious letters, hoping she had something happy to write him from home; but they were always the same, always filled with her grief.
Mauro had another lucky charm tattooed on his shoulder from another birthday, which he put more faith in. From time to time, he thought of this special gift that Idita had given him, especially just before a battle. Whether it was the Holy Virgin Mother or his lost brother protecting him, Mauro Baric had survived five years of war to now turn twenty-three.
The letter Mauro was contemplating just then was not from his mother but from his uncle, who was just a few miles away and had been too busy to tell him the tragic news in person: his father was dead, the funeral had been arranged, and he was excused from his service as a captain in the Toth Army. That letter had arrived two weeks ago, and Mauro was still commanding his squad.
He sat against a downed tree in the shade of the woods and pulled out his uncle's letter from the pocket of his tattered military jacket. Mauro had not been close to his father. He had only seen him a handful of times since leaving home ten years ago. With his father's sudden death, Mauro was to be the new baron of Baric, and there was little chance of delaying the inevitable.
He looked around at his men cleaning their weapons, oiling their armor, and gambling at cards. Each attempted to find some distraction while insects feasted on their exposed skin in the late-August heat wave. Mauro decided he would tell his uncle his allegiance was to his men; the Barics would have to wait.
The white destrier approached the lounging men in the field. The troops came to full attention as Count Toth dismounted and looked across the crowd of soldiers, spotting his nephew. He walked toward him with a frown. Mauro stood up from the dusty ground and put the folded letter back in its place.
Count Vladimir Toth was not a tall man, but he had a presence that rattled even the fiercest of commanders. He became the Count of Toth through marriage, but had been born a Baric. A proud man, he had an ego as big as the Croatian territories he governed. The count always led his own army against their foreign foes, and he trusted no one else to negotiate the final outcome. Vladimir Toth had become quite powerful as he played the political games, protecting the wealth of the men ruling the Empire from the comfort of their grand villas in Venice.
Mauro walked through the crowd of his delegated soldiers and stood before his uncle. The commanding general was crisply dressed in his blue military jacket, brushed clean of dust and wear. His polished brass buttons were closed against his tanned throat. Mauro's matching overcoat was unbuttoned against the sweltering heat of the day, and he began to fasten it hastily to bring some order to his own appearance. He had left his hat on the tree stump he had been leaning against. Even without it, Mauro was still taller than the feather of his uncle's stiff woolen one.
"What are you doing here, Mauritius?" Count Toth demanded. His uncle called him by his given name when angry. "I wrote to you two weeks ago. Did you not receive my message?"
Mauro met his commander's eyes as he spoke. "Yes, I got your note, sir, but I will not leave my men until I am assured they will not be neglected. They are already half-starved, and without me organizing their rations ..." Mauro looked around at his troops. Most were still at attention, watching their captain with the general, waiting for a sign from Mauro to organize into action.
The count accessed the squad of musketeers. "Are you their nursemaid now, as well as their captain? I told you to turn your command over to Petar."
"With all due respect, Uncle, my cousin already has two hundred pike men under his command, and I would not trust him to worry about the welfare of my extra hundred," Mauro challenged.
The count knew it was true and admired his nephew for his commitment to his regiment of skilled sharpshooters. "When do we attack?" Mauro asked in a quieter voice now. "I will agree to leave after the battle."
"You will leave when you are told," his uncle reminded him. He gave Mauro a stern look for his impertinence. "The battle will go forward in a few days. They have solved the problems with the heavy equipment. Captain Carrera sunk two of my cannons in the swamp, but we still have enough artillery to do the job. At least the gunpowder was not lost."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The House of Baric"
Copyright © 2018 Jillian Bald.
Excerpted by permission of Hillwalker Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.