Guest Post: Every Hero Needs a Sidekick


Every Hero Needs a Sidekick: Mudarra and Yusuf from SEVEN NOBLE KNIGHTS by J. K. Knauss

Writing a novel set more than one thousand years ago has many pleasures and challenges. The character I had the most trouble adapting to a modern context was the hero, Mudarra. In the medieval source materials, he seems like a mere revenge machine because medieval writers weren’t really into character development. The first thing I did to humanize Mudarra was give him a love interest, and so I wrote my ultra-supportive late husband’s favorite scenes in the book.


Genetically, Mudarra is a balanced mixture of northern “Christian” Spain and southern “Muslim” Spain, but he’s lived all his life in the Moorish capital. When it comes time for him to go north to find his destiny, he needs a guide. Otherwise, how would he know where to go and what to expect in a land that seems like another planet to him?

One sentence in the source material reads: “And the next day in the morning they rode to Salas, and they sent a squire ahead to make the necessary arrangements, and he carried Mudarra’s banners.”

That anonymous squire suggested the solution to Mudarra’s navigation problems. When he’s ready to leave through the grand gates of Madinat al-Zahra, Mudarra meets Yusuf. They haven’t met before because Yusuf has spent most of his life traveling around northern Spain. Because the languages and customs from all over the peninsula are second nature to him, he acts as a professional guide to noble warriors venturing away from the civilization of southern Spain for the first time.

When Mudarra is bewildered, Yusuf is self-assured. When Mudarra has questions, Yusuf can answer. When Mudarra wants to stray from the plan, Yusuf corrects his course. Giving my lonely hero someone to talk to moved the story along beautifully. It was astonishing how quickly the two young men became loyal friends, and how easily some of the other plot elements and character quirks flowed from that extra bit of humanity. I think without Yusuf, Mudarra wouldn’t be half the man he is.

And yes, I got some of Yusuf’s moral correctness and adapted his name from my first boyfriend. My hero, Mudarra, gets his good qualities from my adored late husband.

This scene from Seven Noble Knights, Part Two, Chapter IIII, shows Mudarra receiving Yusuf’s guidance in the strange new land with a high dose of friendship.

There were so many different dishes at the welcoming feast Salas presented to Mudarra and his retinue that his fear of consuming pork waned long enough for him to pick and taste a slice of ham soaked in wine and spices before asking Yusuf, in Arabic, what it was.

“How was it, my lord?” he asked in reply. “Your first taste of forbidden meat.”

Mudarra felt himself blush while the bile rose in his throat. He swallowed hard and paid attention to his stomach. Perhaps he was more Christian than he’d thought. The flavor had delighted his mouth, although he did feel dirty with that bite of flesh inside. “Well, I can see why they eat it. It’s not bad.”

He and Yusuf laughed at their private joke and Mudarra forced down the bile, strengthening his resolve, until Doña Sancha touched his arm. “Speak Christian so everyone can understand you in this, your home.”


Spain, 974. Gonzalo, a brave but hotheaded knight, unwittingly provokes tragedy at his uncle’s wedding to beautiful young noblewoman Lambra: the adored cousin of the bride dead, his teeth scattered across the riverbank. Coveting his family’s wealth and power, Lambra sends Gonzalo’s father into enemy territory to be beheaded, unleashing a revenge that devastates Castile for a generation.

A new hero, Mudarra, rises out of the ashes of Gonzalo’s once great family. Raised as a warrior in the opulence of Muslim Córdoba, Mudarra must make a grueling journey and change his religion, then chooses to take his jeweled sword to the throats of his family’s betrayers. But only when he strays from the path set for him does he find his true purpose in life.

Inspired by a lost medieval epic poem, Seven Noble Knights draws from history and legend to bring a brutal yet beautiful world to life in a gripping story of family, betrayal, and love.

“Let Seven Noble Knights welcome you to historical fiction! …it’s a rich saga populated with characters you will grow to love (and a few you will love to hate). The ancient empires of Spain are a beautiful backdrop to the struggles of humankind across all generations of all lands: romance, revenge, war, and adventure.”

—Pushcart Prize nominee Reneé Bibby, The Writers Studio

Seven Noble Knights will be published on Kindle by Bagwyn Books in two days on December 15, 2016! The softcover edition will follow on January 16, 2017. Preorder it here and enter to win a first edition softcover copy here at Goodreads.


For more about Seven Noble Knights and all the information about its grand blog tour and launch party (win prizes!), visit Feel free to sign up for her mailing list for castles, stories, and magic.

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