Warning: This post contains some spoilers for The River of Time series by Lisa T. Bergren.
My favorite types of stories are filled with large casts of characters. These stories develop each character well and make you feel as if you know each one individually and personally. It's always wonderful to pick up a book series and find multiple characters to fall in love with. Sarah Munson and I agree that one of the best book series that does this is The River of Time books by Lisa T. Bergren.
Filled with high-stakes danger, swoon-worthy scenes, and a plethora of kick-butt characters, The River of Time books have literally swept us away to 14th century Italy. A lot of this has to do with the strong, well-developed male characters: the He-Wolves of Siena. Whether it's fighting a bloody battle for their honor and people, or gently teaching the Betarrini sisters how to live in 14th century Italy, the knights show their worth time and time again. Marcello, Luca, Rodolfo, Fortino, and the many other knights are truly gallant heroes deserving of the title "literary gentlemen."
1. They are loyalThroughout the five-book series, the He-Wolves prove their loyalty. They will go to great lengths for their people. They're ready for battle at a moment's notice in order to defend their lands (Waterfall 110-111). They come to the aid of people in need, vowing to help them in any way (Waterfall 135). And they are loyal to the ones that hold their hearts, such as Gabi and Lia Betarrini.
As knights growing up in the 14th century, the boys take loyalty very seriously. They would never betray a friend or go back on a promise. They are steadfast until the very end. This is why Lord Rodolfo Greco severs his ties with his city in order to stay loyal to his brotherhood--his people. While this decision was not made lightly, he does so out of a bond that goes beyond politics or geography.
"'Say no more. We are brothers, sworn to silence. Our bond goes deep.'
'A bond beyond loyalty to the grandi of Firenze,' I said.
'Or the Nine,' he said unapologetically. 'It was forged long ago.'" -Marcello and Gabi, Cascade 305.
The other knights also prove their loyalty by holding fast during battles and other dangerous times. Fortino, despite being sick, puts others first in order to defeat the enemy once and for all: "He said to carry on the attack. To leave him with a sword, in case they breach this corridor" (Waterfall 259).
When Marcello realizes he is falling for Gabi, he's still locked in a relationship with Lady Romana Rossi--something that has been established since they were children. He proves his loyalty to Romana, even though he doesn't love her, by pulling himself away from Gabi when he's become too drawn to her (Waterfall 161). Instead, he waits to confess his feelings to Gabi until he is sure he can break his relationship with Romana. Sure, it doesn't go perfectly, but Marcello doesn't go back on his loyalty despite his feelings. And he never betrays Gabi either, even when she disappears for months. He holds onto hope that she will return, that she will remain loyal to him as he has remained loyal to her.
"Then, if you love me, Gabriella," he said, his eyes mad with urgency, "as I love you, return to me. [...] Return to me, and you shall find me waiting." -Marcello, Waterfall 366.
2. They are protectivePart of He-Wolves' loyalty influences how they behave toward others. They are protective of the people they care about, including both Gabi and Lia. They will do whatever it takes to make sure the ladies are safe from enemies, disease, or other perils 14th century Italy throws at them.
"I am always amenable to rescuing damsels in distress, especially if it means they will be forever grateful to me." -Luca, Waterfall 239.
When Gabi tries to sneak out to find her sister, Marcello and Luca demand they go with her; they can't fathom her trekking through the woods at night alone, unescorted (Waterfall 91-92, 219). In all they do, the knights make sure Gabi and Lia are protected. They keep an eye on them both inside the castle and outside its gates.
"Again, I understand your warning. It is my life, m'lord. Allow me to live it as I see fit.'
'But that is just it! I endeavor to aid you in living it.'" -Gabi and Marcello, Waterfall 61.
They also protect the girls' reputations. A lot of things Gabi and Lia do--ride horses without sidesaddles, fight in battles, wear jeans, etc.--are uncommon for proper ladies to do in 14th century Italy. Marcello and Luca know this, and they do what they can to uphold the Betarrini girls' reputations. They make sure they have proper clothing, that they don't return to the castle looking like wild woman of the woods (Waterfall 35, 79). They find careful ways to keep the girls in high respects.
They also protect their people and their alliances with the same steadfast loyalty and ferocious bravery. When Siena is under attack by enemies, they don't hesitate to ride out to battle or come to the aid of their allies. They will do what they must to protect their people and the surrounding lands.
"I belong where I can defend all that I love." -Marcello, Waterfall 262.
3. They are supportiveWhile at times their strong sense of protectiveness, as Gabi puts it, come across chauvinistic, they are doing it out of their sense of loyalty and duty (Waterfall 100). The Middle Ages were a different time, different place: the rules of society were different. Thus, it was uncommon for girls to fight or travel without escorts. It was normal for the men to be overly protective. However, the He-Wolves don't let this stop them from supporting the girls. They actually do a good job allowing the girls to be themselves.
Despite it being uncommon, they allow the girls to fight, which is good because Gabi and Lia help get the boys out of more than one scrape (Waterfall 141-142). They also support the girls in anything they choose to be: healers, artists, leaders, she-wolves. At this time, most women were expected to get married and have kids, their marriages usually creating some kind of political alliance. Not every women could choose what they wanted to do with their lives. But these knights are quick to adapt and allow their women the freedom to choose.
“I like having her behind us,” Luca quipped. “No one expects one so beautiful to be a wolf on the attack.” -Waterfall 272.
The knights allow the girls to be themselves--unruly hair, fierce fighting skills and all. They don't let societal rules keep them from supporting those they love.
"You are courageous, Gabriella. And clever. And strong. Remember that, in the thick of battle. You can utilize all three." -Marcello, Waterfall 251.
4. They are braveTo live in 14th century Italy, one had to be brave. War was constantly on the horizon, disease weakened and took many lives, and disaster could wrench away any normalcy at a moment's notice; people were forced to be courageous. And the He-Wolves prove this sense of courage at every turn.
“This was war. It was us versus them. To live or die.” -Waterfall 273.
As the knights protect those they are loyal to, they find themselves in the middle of several battles where swords can cause a lot of damage, even death. Weapons back then were ugly, and death in battle was the norm. But this didn't stop them from fighting. They charge into a battle without hesitation, knowing they must in order to keep the ones they love safe. Even in the most dire situations, they keep up their courage to continue fighting. They are confident they can see through the end. They don't need anybody to validate them, and they don't feel overshadowed by others' abilities or greatness. Instead, their bravery inspires confidence in others, especially Gabi and Lia.
"You shall need to learn how to not fret so over me, m'lady. As you know, a lord's work often entails such danger. Especially in these harrowing times." -Marcello, Waterfall 41.
Even Fortino, who is weakened by disease, proves his bravery. Every single day he lives to fight against the allergies that make it hard for him to breathe and eat (Waterfall 118-121). He knows he could be dead by morning, which is a very brave thing to live with. But he keeps fighting, holding on to hope that he will see another sunrise.
The knights' bravery is astounding. They don't give up, and they don't give in, no matter what they face. Legions of enemies attack and they find the will to swing the swords (Torrent). The plague comes to their doorstep, and they find ways to battle it (Deluge). They experience loss and sickness and tragedy, but they fight hard and they fight bravely to keep going, to live life to the fullest.
"Bliss, I thought, so hard-won. A fable, most times, but scratching the surface in moments like this. Sheer, startling joy. Even though we'd been through agonizing grief. Faced death, over and over again Here, here was life, before us." -Deluge 423.
5. They are compassionate.
The He-Wolves show a lot of manly muscle and ferocity through their actions, but they also have a gentle side. They care for others through simple ways, not just swinging a sword or throwing knives. They help people in need--such as farmers that need a place to stay or people who are hungry (Cascade 67).
When the Black Plague hits Europe, they watch as people they know and love are infected and die. They try to quarantine the castle, hoping to keep the infection out for as long as possible, but they can't watch others suffer outside the gates. Against their better judgment, they go to aid the others.
"I go now and attempt to lend aid, and hopefully live through it, or I remain here, a coward waiting for them to come and retrieve me so they can come cut off my traitorous head. What say you, Gabriella? Which is better?" -Marcello, Deluge 318.
In other instances, the knights show the same kind of compassion and gentleness in their actions. They care for others, not wanting anybody to be unprotected. Marcello in particular shows Gabi comfort when she is separated from Lia.
"'I do understand,' he said, his voice gentling. 'If it were Fortino who was lost, I'd do anything I could. I know it's difficult, but we will not accomplish anything more here, this night. And Evangelia--she'd want you to be safe, would she not? You've seen for yourself what transpires on these lands. Let us return to the castello and pursue a new search for your sister come morn.'" -Marcello, Waterfall 99.
They show sympathy towards their enemies (Tributary), and they immediately show compassion to people in need, even if they are strangers or different than them (Waterfall 34). This gentleness helps offset the more brutal action of the time, giving them the makings of a heart.
"'Gold. The color of straws, long and straight. She has blue eyes and is quite pretty.'
Luca and Pietro rose. 'Permission to go in immediate search of this young maiden, sir,' said the first.
The other knights erupted in laughter." -Waterfall 56.
Bonus: They are swoon-worthy
The knights are literary gentlemen also because they are swoon-worthy. Their loyalty and protective-nature along with their dashing good looks makes them prime candidates to fall in love with. I mean, who can say no to the dreamy guy rescuing you on multiple occasions, the sad bad boy punishing himself, the sickly sweetheart that gives flirty smiles while he coughs up a lung, or the adorable knight making jokes while in the middle of a very serious battle?
“Saints in heaven, I believe I’m in love.” -Luca, Waterfall 284.
Everything that makes up the He-Wolves of Siena stems back to their loyalty. Their support, protectiveness, compassion, and bravery are a result of their steadfast loyalty. Without this sense of loyalty, the knights have no reason to fight, no reason to care for others. This kind of loyalty seems impossible in today's world; it's just not "how the world" is anymore, right? I believe that anybody can show this kind of loyalty to the ones they love; they just need to be brave enough, compassionate enough, supportive enough, and protective enough to show it.
All references are from The River of Time series by Lisa T. Bergren: Waterfall (2011), Cascade (2011), Torrent (2011), Bourne and Tributary (2012), and Deluge (2014).