Read the first chapter of 'Gideon's Angel' FOR FREE!

Roundheads soldiers, Cavalier spies, two plots to dethrone Oliver Cromwell, one plot to replace him with Satan - this is Gideon's Angel by Clifford Beal!

This is a blistering swashbuckler of a novel, set during the turbulent days of the English Civil War, but with a demonic twist that sees some very familiar characters - including Oliver Cromwell and d'Artagnan!

We launched Gideon's Angel last week at Blackwell's in London - check out the video featuring some rather fetching Roundheads!

The plot thickens on February 28th in the UK and March 11th in the US & Canada and we're very pleased to present you with the chance to read the first chapter - ABSOLUTELY FREE AND GRATIS!

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers:
for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
                                                                    Hebrews 13:2

…And no marvel; for Satan himself is
transformed into an angel of light.
                                                     2 Corinthians 11:14

Chapter One

He did not know me from Adam. Yet looking into his eyes, separated by the length of two old and pitted rapiers, there was no doubt that this man was fixed on killing me. It was not the usual expression I saw on those in the heat of battle: wide eyes, confusion, fear, elation. This was very different. It was deep hatred for everything I stood for. You see, for this young fool, I was the embodiment of a rotten and defeated Cause, a cause that had taken the life of his brother just a few weeks earlier. I was a king’s man, a Cavalier. And for the simple purpose of feeding a grieving brother’s revenge, I would do.

Never look too long into the eyes of your enemy. The eyes lie. They deceive you into thinking he will strike one way before he then strikes in another. I knew this, but still I had trouble taking my gaze from his face and putting it where it belonged: upon his legs and his sword arm. The look on him was enough to wither a field of corn. Maybe his friends in the regiment had wound him up tight, feeding his grudge. Telling him I was the one who had spitted his kin at Naseby.

He didn’t need a grudge to give him the advantage. I had been stabbed on the same field that had claimed this fellow’s brother and as I crouched, circling the man, I could feel the deep gash in my thigh splitting open again, the stitches snapping with a pop. This duel could only end one way the longer it lasted. I would falter, my leg would give out, and he would thrust me clean through.

His first attack exploded upon me. A stamp with the right foot and then a time-thrust to try and catch me out. I parried it and drew back on my rear foot, but his move proved he was no country clown with a rapier. He was half my age, well-rested, and filled with righteous rage. I drove in, catching his blade and running mine up along it as I twisted my wrist. He grunted and immediately threw his left leg behind his right, parrying my thrust. I recovered, but the lad riposted in an instant, leaping forward on his left foot and slashing with his dagger. I just managed to catch it with mine. He was more than a match for me with speed, but he was not used to playing against a lefthanded

He came in again fast with a flurry of well-aimed thrusts, leaving me untouched but heaving for breath. The assembled crowd of red-coated soldiers roared at the sudden exchange of steel, cheering the trooper. I tried to lure my opponent in, dropping my guard just a hair, hoping he would take a shot and give me an opening to counter-time him. It worked, but my bad leg seized up just as he struck. I twisted to avoid the narrow sword as it headed for my chest. I caught his blade on my quillons, but he was so fast he lunged in and stabbed my arm with his dagger. I fell back; the sleeve of my shirt instantly turned red in an ever-growing circle of blood. His comrades jeered at me. They screamed for him to slit my belly, rip my guts and then cut my throat for good measure. And I... I had actually asked for this fight. A judicial duel. The first in more than thirty years. Parliament had given me a stark choice: repent and give them names, or be hanged, drawn and quartered. I gave them another option. Let God decide my guilt. And being sanctimonious canting Roundheads, they agreed.
Now, on Tower Hill in the burning sun of a cloudless July day, my strength and blood ebbing away, the whole scheme was looking very stupid indeed. And the appointed champion, the champion of the Parliamentary forces, was beginning to look near as damn unassailable. Maybe God had already chosen the guilty.

He was smart enough to know not to give me the chance for rest. In a flash, he was on me again: thrusting, cursing, slashing. It was all I could do to parry each attack, limping as I moved to flank him, hoping to find an opening. I remember making a high parry out of habit, like the cavalryman I was. It was a fool’s move. The next instant I felt that familiar tugging sensation followed rapidly by the dull deep pain of a sword as it pierced my thigh. I staggered back and found myself on my knees.

This is a charm I have made for you...

My little talisman, worn around my neck these twenty years, flew up out my shirt front and dangled upon my chest. A tiny linen pouch bound with red thread, I never had figured out what it contained. Crushed flowers and stems it seemed, that was all, but it had seen me into a hundred battles,  cheating death a hundred times. And I could never forget how it came to my hand and who had placed it there.

Keep it upon your person—always. It will keep you from harm...

They were all laughing now. I would rather be jeered at than mocked as an incompetent. The boy trooper was sure he had me. He took a few steps to the side, swishing his rapier back and forth, smiling. He wiped his sweating brow with his dagger arm and just stared at me. He was savouring the settling of the blood debt. The crowd began to call out once again, urging him to kill me. I watched as the trooper took up his stance anew, levelling his blade at waist height, his dagger hand low. My breeches were soaked in blood, cool against my thigh. I tried swallowing but my throat closed up, the lump just sticking halfway down like some wedged morsel of beef. I fought back the retching. But I resolved not to offer myself up to his blade without one last flurry. As he came towards me, I leaned back on my heels, raised my sword point up, tip towards his belly, and reversed my dagger, point down. I know why he did what he did next. He was playing for the crowd, performing for the red-coated brethren of Parliament’s army of saints. He was just at striking distance from me; I watched as he raised his hilt to chest height, swirled the blade twice in a wide arc, and then turned his wrist upwards as he came on his guard again. The long thin rapier sloped downwards, the point directly aimed at my throat. I knew that guard. He was going to ram that blade straight downwards, through my chest and out my back, pinning me to the ground. I could see him thinkingthis, marking his time, choosing the moment. And he let his dagger hand drop past his leg. Then he struck, struck like some hunter, ready to finish off this grey-bristled and bleeding boar.

I had let my sword hand fall low. His thrust was well aimed and powerful. I swept my dagger across and outwards, deflecting the rapier and running up the length of his blade as his momentum carried him forward. And as I parried, I dropped my rapier point and leaned in. I felt my sword go deep into his side, and then judder on a rib. He gasped and pulled himself off my blade, then staggered sideways before catching himself. His right hand opened and the rapier tumbled from his grasp. Half a moment later his knees gave way and he fell to the trampled grass. I could hear a slightly strangled cry coming from him, a long and low bleat of pain. And then the redcoats were silent. Not just cheated of their sport but surprisingly robbed of it. I could see the Lieutenant of the Tower approaching and a loud murmur went through the crowd. Somehow, I pulled myself up to one knee, gave a grunt and stood up, leaning on my sword, the tip digging into the earth. I was tottering like a drunkard but I was standing. The officer looked at me, mouth agape, unable to conceal his
astonishment at the turn of fate. “You must finish it,” he said. “You or he. There is no quarter here. This is to the death.”

This got the soldiers roiling again, calling out to the trooper to get up. But he was not getting up anytime soon. I stumbled over to my opponent who was still groaning like a stuck animal. He turned his head to look at me. No fear in his eyes, just burning anger. But I had proved my innocence and I didn’t give a flea’s piss to finish the game. The dagger dropped from my hand. And then I weakly tossed the rapier across the green. “Colonel Treadwell, you must finish the fight,” said the officer. “It is the law.” Someone in the crowd shouted out “Cut down the damned rogue!” and the halberdiers started to force back some of the more wild Roundheads that pushed towards me. I looked at the officer and shook my head. “I will not, sir. Judgement has already been given.”
He stepped towards me. “Pick up a weapon, sir!” “Go to the Devil. If Parliament still wants a life then one of you will have to take it. I am done with it.” And my shaking hand closed on the talisman that swung at my chest. I could feel its little flowers and twigs crackling in my palm as I dropped it back inside my torn shirt. She had saved me once again.

Never take it off...

They half carried me back to my cell. I remember seeing a man step towards me while I struggled to keep my shaking arms tight around the shoulders of the unwilling bearers. He had the face of a goat: long and thin, wispy beard, and eyes that seemed to bulge from his greying head. And as he reached me, he doffed his hat and fixed me with a most curious look. I could hardly keep my head up for loss of blood but I caught him smiling, and nodding at me. I saw his gloved hand place his hat back upon his head and then I was jerked forward once again and into the darkness of the Tower. Two days later they told me my fate. I was exiled, my estates forfeit. This final little gift of Parliament was wrapped with the promise of a traitor’s death if I ever set foot in England again.

But that was a future I thought I would not live to see. Lying in my cell on a broken and sagging rope bedstead with a straw mattress the thickness of parchment, my wounds burned me into delirium. Shadows coming and going, day and night confused, I drifted. I remember sipping water and being fed gruel. At some hour I was awoken by the stab of needle and the tug of horsehair as they stitched me up, the pain strangely distant. By the third day I knew I was to live, for I was again lucid and near mad with agony. My thigh was swollen and red like a joint of gammon and stiff as a tree limb, but there was no stink of rot, thank the Lord. And it was that third day that my keepers thought fit to let in a visitor, seeing that I had not yet expired. I had my cloak rolled up behind, propping me up on the
rope bed, when the bolt shot open and the studded door creaked wide to admit him. It was the goat-faced man. He entered and took off his tall-crowned hat.
“Your brother gave me admittance, sir. He has been a constant angel over you.” I raised my head and shifted my weight on the bed, wincing. The voice was melodious and heavily accented: French.
“I should be grateful given he is a Parliament man,” I replied. “But we’re recently reconciled. Very recently. Do you know—in Paris—the adage about blood being thicker than water?”
The man nodded and smiled. “We say something much the same. And it was by Sir William’s invitation that I witnessed your fight. And why I visit you again today.”
William had risked his own standing in Parliament to get me the gambit of a duel rather than a quick drop from the end of a rope. What was he up to now? I pushed myself further up on the bed, my back to the stones of the wall.
“Will you not introduce yourself, sir?”
Beard waggling, the man grasped his hat before him with both hands and bowed. “My apologies, Colonel. I had not considered that your brother has said nothing to you given your grievous state. I am de Bellièvre, ambassador of His Majesty King Louis of France.”
“And what business does the King of France have with me?”
The ambassador smiled again and gently inclined his head.
“Strictly speaking, it is by Cardinal Mazarin’s authority that I propose to you an offer of employment.”
My laugh turned into a retching cough. “And what service could a broken-down Cavalier on death’s door do for the Cardinal?”
De Bellièvre waved his hat expansively. “Your knowledge of soldiering is considerable, sir. The war here. A few years ago in the German kingdoms and in Sweden. His Eminence would pay handsomely for an officer of your experience. Your brother is most generous in his praise of your skills.”
“I think you’re wasting your time, sir. I may not even walk again, let alone ride.”
The ambassador laughed. “Nonsense. You will heal. My own surgeon will see to you. Besides, you are as strong as a cow!”
“I think you mean ox.”
The ambassador moved to the foot of the bed, one hand toying with the elegant golden braid on his hatband. He gave me a knowing look with his watery pug dog eyes.
“Colonel, you are an exile now and without a penny to your name. Would you go back to the Danes again? They are as poor as you. Hanover and Saxony are barren lands now. Come to Paris. Take the Cardinal’s commission and find your fortune anew!”
One door closes, another opens. And that is how I ended up in the service of a new master, plucked from the viper’s nest to find myself in a different, but no less risky, employ. For eight years I did good honest soldiering under the French. And I prospered. But then, I found myself again facing a man
possessed of Righteousness and Vengeance in equal measure, like that young redcoat on the Tower green. And this time, it was a man guided by the Devil himself.

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