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When the Heavens Fall

A Winslow Breed Novel

About The Book


Brandon Winslow would rather gamble and frequent taverns than attend church. So how does he find himself at the forefront of the resistance to Bloody Mary’s attempt to eliminate—at sword’s point, if need be—the Protestant faith?

During the reign of Mary I of England—"Bloody Mary"—young Brandon Winslow (son of Stuart, protagonist of Honor in the Dust, the first book in the Winslow Breed series) finds himself in dire straits. After being flogged and then drummed out of the military for seducing the wife of his commanding officer, he sinks into a life of gambling and petty fraud along with Lupa, the fair gypsy woman who nursed him back to health.

After Mary weds Prince Philip of Spain, she begins to work in earnest to establish Catholicism as the only faith in England—and to execute Protestants. When Brandon sees several people burned at the stake in London for their faith, the experience changes him: Even though he has been only a nominal member of the Church of England, he finds himself compelled to stop those responsible for these outrages—and to do so before his uncle Quentin, a pastor, is himself burned at the stake. Unfortunately, the only way to save Quentin and so many others is to make Princess Elizabeth (who is herself in danger of dying at Mary’s hand) queen. And that, of course, would be treason. Punishable by death.

But then, Brandon has always been a gambler . . .



Now, you just behave yourself, Master Brandon Winslow, and keep your bloomin’ ’ands where they belong!”

“Why, Becky, they belong right here.

Becky Elwald slapped his hand and tried to frown, but she was unsuccessful. “You’re a saucy one, you are! Tryin’ to destroy a young woman’s virtue, that’s wot!”

Brandon whispered, “You’re a lovely girl, Becky. And you’re the one who agreed to meet me at such a late hour. Surely you knew what to expect.” Perhaps she needed a few more minutes of sweet talk and then he’d win her heart as well as her willing kisses. At the age of sixteen, Becky had a figure that would tempt a saint

Becky abruptly shoved Brandon back and shook her head. “You said you’d read me poetry. I thought you had love on your mind, not lovin’. Get out of this barn! If my pa catches you, he’ll skin you alive.”

“He couldn’t catch me if he tried. Come on, sweetheart, give us another kiss.” He caught her wrist and pulled it up to his lips for a soft, tender kiss

She stilled, and Brandon sensed her relinquishing the fight. “You ain’t but fourteen,” she whispered, “too young for this sort of thing.”

“I’m old enough. And you are too delectable to ignore.”

Becky’s lips parted as he leaned down, and he knew he had won her. She wasn’t the first girl who had caught his eye, and as the future Brandon Lord Winslow, master of Stoneybrook, he certainly had his pick among the young women of the shire. But her hesitation and reluctance had piqued his interest—that and the challenge of avoiding her stern father. It was rather like plucking a ripe pear from the tree of a curmudgeonly orchard owner. Finding her alone, away from her father’s squinting gaze, it had become a delightful game

Brandon ignored Becky’s feeble protests and continued his quest. He had given little thought to girls until this year, preferring to spend his time in hunting, learning the ways of knights, and mastering the weapons that his father provided for him. But now he wanted to know what the mystery of women was all about. He lowered her to the straw and smiled as he felt her surrender beneath him. He ran his hand”

“What be you a-doin’, girl? And you, boy, you got no right to be here!” James Elwald burst into the barn, his eyes blazing with anger, a staff in his hand

“Brandon just came to—to visit, Pa!”

“You think I’m blind? Get you in the house while I deal with this rascal!”

Brandon rose and moved swiftly toward the barn door, but Elwald raised his staff and brought it down, striking him hard on the shoulder. He raised it again, rage in his eyes, but Brandon was strong for his age and very quick. He caught the staff as it came down and yanked it from Elwald’s hand. Without a second’s hesitation he swung the staff, and the blow struck the older man in the head

Elwald crumpled to the ground. Becky—who hadn’t made it to the door—let out a scream. “You killed ’im, Brandon!”

Brandon’s heart skipped a beat. He well knew what would happen to him if Elwald were dead. All his father’s influence could not help him if he’d killed a man. He leaned over and put his hand on Elwald’s chest

He looked up at Becky with a reckless grin. “Why, he’s all right, Becky. He’ll have a headache, but he’s too mean to die.”

Becky was trembling, and her eyes were enormous. “’E’s a vengeful man, Brandon. You’d better get out of ’ere!”

Brandon laughed, came forward, took her in his arms, and kissed her. “I’ll be back. We’ll finish what we started.”

But there was real fear in Becky’s eyes as she pushed him away again. “Stay away from ’ere if you know wot’s good for you! You don’t know my pa.”

Brandon laughed, then turned and left the barn. Outside the door, a huge yellow dog rose to greet him. Brandon put a hand on his head. “Well, how about that, Eric?” he said. “If the old man hadn’t come in, I would have had Becky. What do you think of that?”

Eric barked, then reared up to put his paws on Brandon’s chest. He was covered with scars from fights with other dogs and even a few with wild pigs and their saber-like tusks

“Ah, well, there’ll come a day! Let’s get back before Father finds out I’m missing.”

Brandon broke into a loping run, and the dog came after him at a gallop. He was not even breathing hard when the shadow of Stoneybrook Castle rose before him twenty minutes later. A huge silver moon threw argent beams on the frozen earth, and a ghostly hunting owl sailed overhead as he and his dog passed through the gate. There was no one stirring at this time of the night, and Brandon loved the silence that held the castle as if in a spell. He’d taken more than one thrashing from his father for sneaking out on midnight forays, but he knew he would do it again. It was not that he did not love his father, but a wild longing took him at times, driving him to find an adventure to break the monotony of daily life. He could bear a beating but not the boredom

He whispered, “Come on, Eric. Let’s go to bed.”

Brandon moved along the stone floor to a winding stair, making no more noise than one of the tiny mice that shared the castle with the Winslows. Stoneybrook was an ancient castle; the walls were almost as strong now in 1546 as the year it took form. It was not as large as many others built during earlier days, but it was home to the Winslows and something to be proud of

Moving quietly, Brandon made his way up the stairs and entered the room on the third floor that had been his place for as long as he could remember. Without bothering to undress, he threw himself on the bed, and the big dog whined and plopped down beside him. Brandon hugged Eric for warmth but was too excited for sleep. He relived the sweet kisses he’d stolen from Becky and already was purposing in his mind how he would find her alone again—in a place where they wouldn’t be interrupted

“Get out of that bed!” Stuart Winslow grabbed his son’s hair and pulled him up and out of his slumber

Instinctively Brandon launched a blow; and his fist hit Stuart in the chest

Stuart shook him, furious now that the boy would not wake. “Why, you dare to strike your own father, do you?”

Brandon groggily said, “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to hit you. You scared me.”

“You were never scared of anything in your life, Brandon! I wish to heaven you were!” Stuart Winslow studied his son. Will he ever grow up? “Get dressed!” he commanded. He stared at his son a long moment, then said angrily, “What kind of blood has come down to you, Brandon? Some northman raider, if not worse.” He was irritated at how long it was taking for the boy to dress. “Come. Quickly.”

“Where are we going?”

“To face your sins,” Stuart said over his shoulder. He left the room, closely followed by his son and the big dog. He took the stairs two at a time. Reaching the ground floor, he found his wife, Heather, waiting for them. She was forty-one but could have passed for ten years younger. She was a woman of quiet spirit, but now there was fear in her eyes. No doubt she saw the anger in his own. They’d had a good marriage and still loved each other deeply, but Brandon had become a problem that neither one of them could solve

“Will you be able to make it right with Elwald?” she asked, following them toward the great hall

“I doubt it.” He stared at Brandon and asked harshly, “Didn’t you know James Elwald would come for you, boy?”

Brandon looked surprised, caught but not overly concerned. Stuart took a firmer hold of his son’s arm, knowing what he was thinking. “I’ve gotten you out of trouble many times, but you’ll pay up this time!”

As soon as the three entered the great hall, Stuart saw two female servants who were replacing the stale rushes on the floor with new ones. He didn’t miss the sly grins they didn’t bother to conceal. They know well what Brandon is like. Has he been sniffing around them, too?

Up ahead, in the middle of the great hall, Stuart’s brother, Quentin Winslow, waited for them. He was thirty-three. With the same blue eyes and auburn hair, he bore a striking resemblance to Stuart and Brandon

“A little trouble, Brother?” He fell into step with them

“A little? This whelp tried lifting the skirts of Elwald’s daughter!”

Quentin had been a rough enough young man himself in his youth, but he had found God and was now preaching the gospel. He said nothing, but there was grief in his eyes as he looked at his nephew. “I’m sorry to hear that, Stuart.”

“Not as sorry as he’ll be!” Stuart snapped. Grasping Brandon’s arm again, he hauled him toward the two men who were waiting for them at the end of the hall. “Here’s the boy, sheriff.”

Albert Fortner, the local sheriff, was a rather small man but well built. He had a smooth face and a pair of watchful gray eyes. “Sorry to disturb you over this problem, Lord Winslow.”

“A problem? You call it a problem?” James Elwald shouted. His face was flushed with anger. He gestured at Brandon. “That’s him! He tried to rape my girl Becky, and when I tried to help her, he tried to kill me. Arrest him, sheriff!”

“Be quiet, Elwald. I’ll handle this,” the sheriff said. He kept his voice soft and said, “As you just heard, Elwald wishes to press charges against your son for certain advances upon his daughter and for attacking him as well.”

“Don’t you deny it, either!” Elwald shouted. “You’ve ruined young girls in this county before!”

Stuart turned to stare at Brandon, his face set in a hard expression. “Did you try to rape that girl, boy?”

“No. I was just stealing a kiss.” Brandon stared with impudence at Elwald. “And I’m not the first to have done it.”

The sheriff had to hold James Elwald back. “Did you hit this man with a staff?” he asked

“Yes, I did. I’d do it again, too,” Brandon said defiantly. “He hit me first!”

Stuart stared at his son and could feel his wife watching him. He knew she wanted him to protect Brandon, but there was only so much he could do or wanted to do this time

“Elwald, the boy’s guilty. I’ll let you decide what to do with him. You’ve always been a good man. I’ve been proud of you and your work, and if you want to charge him, I won’t fight you in court, and there’ll be no hard feelings on my part. But I see no reason for the court or the sheriff to be in the middle of this. If you want to settle this matter between the two of us, I’ll see you get fair play.”

James Elwald’s face softened as he thought over his master’s words. He had worked for the Winslows for several years and most certainly didn’t want to endanger his position. But a man had to stand up for his daughter. Winslow understood that

“The boy deserves punishment, but I’d get no pleasure, sir, in seeing him in jail. You always treat a man fair. I think we can settle this between us man to man, father to father.”

“Good,” Stuart said with a nod. “Shall we discuss this in the next room?”

“Well, that’s best, I think,” Sheriff Fortner said. “I wish you good day.”

Stuart led Fortner and Elwald out of the great hall, leaving Brandon alone with his mother and his uncle

“You’ve disappointed your father, and me too, Son,” Heather said

“Why, Mother, it was nothing. I was just playing.”

“I think it was more than that.”

“Your mother’s right, Brandon,” Quentin said. “I think you’ve gone too far.”

Brandon could rise to any challenge, but he obviously did not want to hurt his mother. He dropped his head, unable to respond

The three waited until the two men came back

Stuart said, “Brandon, apologize to Elwald.”

“No, sir, I won’t do it. He hit me first.”

Stuart stared at his son and shook his head. “But, Son, can’t you see your own wrong? What about Becky? What about—” He paced away and ran a hand through his hair in frustration before turning back. “All right then. It will have to be the hard way. I’m going to thrash you, and you’re going to work for Elwald for one month. If you take one step toward his daughter or show any insolence to Elwald or cause him any other difficulty, I’ve ordered him to tell me. I’ll thrash you again, and your thirty days will start again at day one. Now, come and take your beating.”

James Elwald watched the two go and then turned to face Lady Heather and Quentin. “I’m sorry it came to this. But I got to look out for my daughter. She’s got a wild streak in her, I’m afraid.”

Heather whispered, “And so has my son.” It hurt her to think of Stuart whipping Brandon. He had not done so for some time now but had tried kindness and other methods, all to no avail

When Stuart and Brandon came back, Brandon’s face, Heather saw, was pale as paste, and he moved like an old man

Stuart’s face was set. “Take him, Elwald. Bring him back in thirty days—not before.”

Quentin understood that Stuart and Heather needed no company at this time. “Send for me if you need me,” he said

After Quentin left, Stuart turned to Heather. “Do you hate me for whipping him?”

“No, I love you, Husband, as I always have. We’ve tried everything else. Maybe this will change him,” she said sadly

Stuart chewed his lower lip, a nervous habit he had when he was disturbed. Finally he put his arm around Heather and led her away. As they moved out of the great hall, he said, “I thought having a son would be the joy of my life—as he once was—but he’s a grief to us now.”

Heather stopped, turned, and took his hands in hers. “I gave our son to God on the day he was born. We’ll believe that God will bring him out of this. Brandon will find God! The good Lord will not let his gifts fall to the ground.”

© 2010 Gilbert Morris

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for When the Heavens Fall includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Set in Tudor-age England, When the Heavens Fall tells the epic tale of Brandon Winslow, a devious and troubled young man struggling to find his way and place in the world.

At the same time Mary takes the throne as Queen of England, the mischievous and young Brandon decides to become a soldier, much to the dismay of his spiritually sound and noble parents, Stuart and Heather Winslow. It does not take long after enlisting for Brandon’s womanizing, gambling, and drinking to get him into serious trouble.

Thought to be dead by his parents and the soldiers who knew him best, Brandon finds himself wandering around futilely, struggling to survive among vagrants. He befriends a pair of Spanish gypsies and makes a small fortune moving between towns and playing card games with rich gentlemen. Brandon soon hears of Queen Mary’s zealous and bloody behavior, determined to return England to Catholicism.

When rumor gets around that Mary is beginning to execute Protestants on the basis of their religion, Brandon knows his family is in trouble. He is faced with a serious decision—to return home to protect his uncle, the Protestant preacher Quentin Winslow, or to simply fade away into the vagabond life he has become accustomed to.  

Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. The opening scene of the novel gives an example of Brandon Winslow’s troublemaking ways. How do his parents manage the situation with James Elwald and his daughter Becky? Do you think Brandon is immoral or just naïve?
2. Describe the relationship between Stuart and Heather Winslow. Do you feel their relationship deserves the attention it receives toward the end of the book?
3. What does Heather mean when she repeats to Brandon, “I gave you to God the day you were born” (p. 62)?
4. Discuss the power of prayer in relation to each character. Consider the way the act of prayer brings clarity to those who need it in times of great challenge.
5. What role do Lupa and Rez play in the novel? Do you see them as moral or immoral characters? Does your opinion of them change as you learn more about them?
6. What does Brandon feel when he witnesses the burnings at Smithville? What did he learn from the experience? How did you feel as you read the descriptions, particularly of the smiling elderly woman?
7. Compare and contrast Catholicism and the “new religion” (Protestantism), as portrayed by Morris in the novel.
8. Discuss the differences between Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. Who do they surround themselves with? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How do these characteristics influence the way people perceive them?
9. Why does Quentin refuse to leave the country?
10. What is the dilemma Brandon faces when Lord Fairfax approaches him? Do you think he made the correct decision in his situation? What would you have done?
11. Brandon refers to the Song of Solomon when he is courting Dolores/Eden. What does he feel is the importance of this book? What does Dolores/Eden derive from his description?
12. Is the approach Brandon took in convincing Eden to return to England a permissible or forgivable strategy?
13. Starting on page 94, Quentin delivers a sermon to his congregation. What does he discuss? How does this relate to the characters in the novel?
14. What advice does Quentin give to Eden Fairfax when she comes to his service? How does she make use of this advice?
15. What changes in Brandon when he accepts Jesus? How does he struggle with this decision, and what ends up influencing him above all?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Make a family tree of the Tudor dynasty in England. Compare and contrast the differences in ruling style and religion among the Tudors.
2. Critically evaluate the Song of Solomon, just as Brandon Winslow does when he is in Spain. If this is your first reading, what stands out for you? If you have read it before, do you find anything new or different?
3. Brandon indulges in many regional meals throughout When the Heavens Fall. Make a traditional British recipe—consult for recipes and ideas!

About The Author

Photograph courtesy of author

Gilbert Morris was born in 1929 in Forrest City, Arkansas. He earned a BA and an MsE from Arkansas State University and a PhD from the University of Arkansas. Since 1986 he published 205 novels and has been awarded five Silver Angel Awards and a Christy Award. Dr. Morris lives in Gulf Shores, Alabama, with his wife.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Howard Books (May 11, 2010)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781416587477

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