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Tina St. John Discovers History Repeats...

The Old Man of The Mountains

By Tina St. John

BLACK LION'S BRIDE, my new medieval release from Ballantine, started out as a cross between "La Femme Nikita" and "Arabian Nights." Comically, my heroine could have been the perfect picture of a platinum blonde sporting black leather hip boots and an AK-47 under her burqa, but that's not how this story turns out. My heroine is a Medieval assassin, but the other players in this game offer a chilling resemblance to people in our current world affairs.

The basis for my fictional premise became all too real on September 11, when I was putting the finishing touches on the manuscript. It's no longer difficult to imagine a reclusive, medieval madman, masterminding acts of terror from the shadows of his mountain lair. And if history repeats itself, I had found the original Osama bin Laden, tucked away in the recesses of the Middle East in 1192.

The notion of jihad, or holy war, is a very old one indeed. I uncovered information about a group called the Assassins, a radical Ismaili sect in medieval Syria, which first gained notoriety among the crusading Christian armies when they murdered King Richard's sometime ally, Conrad of Montferrat, then King of Jerusalem. The Assassins' leader at that time was Rashid al-Din Sinan, a reclusive man of great power, who commanded his agents of death from a mountain fortress called Masyaf. It was said that Sinan's grasp on his followers was so strong, men would willingly fling themselves to their deaths off the ramparts of the castle upon his command. Perhaps becoming the first suicide bombers?

Some early scholars believed The Old Man of The Mountains (as Sinan was nicknamed) bewitched his agents with hallucinogenic drugs, such as hashish, from which the name "assassin" is purportedly derived. This hypothesis, that Sinan's fida'i agents required strong drugs to carry out their missions, has earned its degree of doubt—skepticism I tend to share. The Ismaili doctrine is essentially one of authoritarianism; to the believer, there is no individual right of choice. He must follow the teachings of his leaders without argument or sway. It is not so hard to imagine—particularly in light of horrific events in our own time—that Sinan's followers, steeped in the fanaticism of his preaching, would be perfectly willing and able to carry out their covert, and often prolonged, missions without the aid (or potential hindrance) of mind-altering drugs.

Like the rest of the nation, I watched in horror as the attacks took place on New York City and the Pentagon. Even today, I am struck by the similarities between Sinan's tactics and those of the terrorists at Osama bin Laden's command. Unlike the uncertainty of the real world, I could content myself with the fact that my story would end happily, and good would ultimately triumph over evil.

That was the journey for my femme fatale. While there is no record that I could find of a female assassin in the history of the clan, the demonstrated stealth and calculation of the fida'i's modus operandi certainly seemed to lend itself well to the idea. What if, I thought, there had been a female agent at Masyaf? Who better to infiltrate an enemy camp and get close enough to kill a king? Ruthless, cunning, and committed to her mission, the veiled beauty Zahirah bint Sinan soon came to life in my mind.

She would meet her match in Sebastian of Montborne, who at the end of White Lion's Lady is heading off to the Holy Land crusades with his king. G
I learned a lot following Sebastian and Zahirah on their perilous journey toward happy-ever-after, and there were many surprising twists and turns in bringing these two passionate, strong characters together. I hope you enjoy the ride when BLACK LION'S BRIDE hits stores on April 30! If you would like to learn more about the crusades during King Richard's time, or the Assassins of Syria, please visit my website at www.TinaStJohn.com for a list of reference sources and links of interest.


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