Published in 1942, this collection of twelve stories illuminates various events and eras during the time we call the Middle Ages. The first story takes place in Roman Britain about 400 A.D., when the Romans were withdrawing their legions from their colonial possessions in order to defend Rome itself from the barbarians. In the story, a ten year old Celtic boy, Gaius, is awakened in the middle of the night when his village is attacked by Northern pirates, Picts and Scots. He attends a meeting of the Celtic chieftains in which they learn that the Romans who have been their defense are leaving, and they decide to accept help from the friendly Angles and Saxons, many of whom have made their homes in Roman Britain.
The rest of the stories in the book are just as exciting and just as informative as the first:
“A Blackbird Sings” (about 800 A.D.)
The monastery where the peasant boy Remy is going to school receives a visit from the Emperor Charlemagne.
“The People Remembered” (about 870 A.D.)
Just after the Danish invasion of Britain has been stopped by King Alfred, Cedric, a young Saxon, meets the brave king.
“Hail, Normansland!” (about 900 A.D.)
Astrid, in Norway, awaits the return of her father who, with other Vikings, has been attacking the northern coast of France.
“The Conqueror” (about 1075 A.D.)
Edith , a Saxon girl, and Alix, a Norman girl, become friends when they are both attending a convent school in Normandy in the time of William the Conqueror.
“The Great Journey” (1095-1099 A.D.)
Denis, a young squire, accompanies his master on the First Crusade and is rewarded for his part in the taking of Jerusalem. (This one is a bit dated in its perspective, maybe correct but definitely not in tune with contemporary attitudes about the Crusades. The Christian crusaders are described as “as shrewd as they were bold and fearless” and “young, valiant and keen for battle”; the Turks are “unspeakably cruel”, “without mercy”, “infidels”, and “heathens.”)
“Twelve Bright Trumpets” (about 1150 A.D.)
At the death of her mother and father, Rohais is left alone to protect the castle until her brother from the Crusades. (My favorite of the twelve stories and the story from which the book’s title is taken. I thought the ending was clever and memorable.)
“Echo Over Runnymede” (1215 A.D.)
Geoffrey, page to an earl who objects to King John’s tyranny, is present at the signing of the Magna Carta. (Watch Disney’s Robin Hood, which features a greedy King John, after reading this story?)
“Town Air Is Free Air” (13th century A.D.)
Jacques, a young serf, runs away from the feudal manor village to escape the terrible anger of the baron’s game warden. (My second favorite story in the collection. Jacques finds a home, and the story could lead to much discussion of slavery, freedom, human rights and dignity, and similar topics.)
“Marco and the Marble Hand” (14th century A.D.)
Caught by a reawakened enthusiasm for art in Florence, Marco, a peasant boy, finds something to show the artist, Master Antonio.
“A Noble Magic” (about 1450 A.D.)
Karl, a copyist’s apprentice who is tired of copying books by hand, finds at the establishment of Master Gutenberg a noble magic.
“Queen of the Sea” (about 1500 A.D.)
Camilla, at home in Venice while her brother is on a voyage with Vasco da Gama, almost misses the great water festival.
These would be wonderful read aloud stories to accompany a study of the Middle Ages and leading into Early Modern times and the age of exploration. I recommend the book ages seven to twelve, if you can find a copy. (I see that Amazon has used copies, and Rainbow Resource has it in stock.)
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