Sample Chapter

Darkness Engulfs the Knight

Odo was the first to hear the distant cries. It appeared to come from off in the woods on their left. The screams sound like a woman in distress. Without waiting for the rest of the men in the party, Bertrand drew his sword and spurred his horse into the trees. He moved the horse at a walk due to the unfamiliar footing and to allow the rain to cover the sounds of his approach. As he wound his way along a deer path, he noted a small clearing and could see ghostlike human shapes through the rain and trees. The three men were so intent on trying to hold the girl down that Sergeant Bertrand was only a few feet from them before they knew of his presence.

“I don’t think the lady is of a mind to lie in the mud,” Bertrand said in a voice that was little more than a growl.

All three of the men let go of the girl, who disappeared in the surrounding brush. Each man had their weapons close at hand, and they quickly retrieved them while Bertrand watched them in an unconcerned manner. One man had a bow, another an axe, and the third a pair of short swords or long knives, Bertrand really couldn’t tell. The way they stood and spread out showed Bertrand these were not just ruffians, but men whose trade was murder and robbery.

“Gentlemen don’t be fools. You have lost a few moments of fun, don’t add your lives to the bill.” He held the sword hilt in his right hand and let the blade rest across his saddle, but other than that Bertrand showed no sign of being concerned by the men spreading out in front of him.

The man with the swords said, “There are three of us and only one of you. I dare say that your sword, armor, and horse would bring the three of us enough to live easily for a year. If only two or even one of us survives then that means fewer to divide the spoils with.”

With practiced speed the archer nocked an arrow to the bow string, drew and loosed, aiming at Bertrand's chest. The man with the axe charged straight at Bertrand while the man with the swords moved further to Bertrand right to attack from the side.

Although these tactics would likely have proved successful with a merchant or even a local Lord, they were misdirected when dealing with a man of Bertrand’s experience. The arrow should have been fired at the horse, but of course, you don’t get much money for a dead horse. Bertrand’s chain mail could stop an arrow with the usual field point from most bows even at this close range, and this bow and string were wet which significantly decreasing the power of the bow. The man with the axe had clearly never attacked a man on a war horse. Although the average horse would panic and rear-up and possible unhorse the rider, a destrier was trained to charge and trample on men with their sharp and deadly hooves.

Bertrand’s response to the attack was a reaction controlled more by muscle memory then conscious thought. As the arrow chinked harmlessly off his armor, he gave the horse its rains allowing it to collide head long into the man with the axe. The axe-man also made the fatal error of attempting to attack rider rather than horse and had the life crushed out of him by 2000 pounds of horseflesh. As the horse leapt forward Bertrand sword rose and came crashing down on the head of the archer to his left before the man could fire a second arrow. He jerked his sword free before the gore of the man’s head could grasp the blade. Bertrand quickly checked the horses advance and spun him to the right to face the man with the swords.

The man so confident that he would eat for the next year by just killing one man now seemed to be in shock as his two partners in crime died so rapidly. To the highwayman’s horror, two more armored men on horseback appeared behind him. Like a rabbit who has realized it has waited for danger to get too close, he bolted headlong into the forest.

Bertrand without a word swung down from his horse wiped the blood from his sword on the shirt of the archer. He then inspected his horse for any harm it may have received from trampling the axe man. Finding no injury to his horse, he began to rifle the bodies of the two dead thieves.

Henry said “What are you doing? Those men are dead. You’re no better than a common highway-man yourself.”

Without looking up, Bertrand said “This is part of what happens when soldier’s fight, the lofty goals to rescue the Holy Land or kill the infidel are matters for the Lords. Soldiers like me who are not gentlemen search the bodies of the slain, friend and foe, to get something of value that might buy us a drink or whatever comfort we can purchase. The dead don’t need their valuables. Gentlemen, like yourself, won’t settle for small pickings such as these, your booty comes in the form of land, estates, castles, or entire countries. I won’t call you a thief for stealing a kingdom from another man, and you don’t call me one for liberating a few coins or a trinket from a man who has no further need of it. Don’t worry, if I find anything of ‘true value’ I’ll turn it over to the Order as my vow of poverty requires. But if I find enough coin to cover a drink, I’ll keep that for myself, so I won’t have to use any of the Templar money the Grand Master gave Sir William for that evil brew.”

Henry replied, “We have all taken a vow of poverty and therefore own nothing, land castles, countries or even a few coins.”

After inspecting the archer's bow and tossing it back to the ground, Bertrand said, “Don’t lecture me boy about things you know nothing about.” Henry clearly angry at being reproved by a Sergeant that he felt was beneath him turned and rode back to the road in silent anger.

Bertrand finding nothing of value mounted his horse and said as if to woods themselves “Young lady, you had better come with us we’ll see you safely to Vezelay. One of your suitors is still among the living.” He then trotted his horse back to the road.

William was still looking at the trampled remains of a man in the mud as the girl slowly came out of hiding. He did not notice her until she tentatively touched his leg. William flinched at the touch. On seeing the bruised, and bleeding young lady, he quickly dismounted and helped her onto his horse. She tried to protest, but William would have none of it. “What is your name lady?” Williams asks as he helps her into the saddle.

“Mary” was the soft reply

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