I hope you enjoy this snippet from Men of the Cross. I don’t think it needs any set-up.
THE WINDSWEPT CLIFF STOOD like a lone sentinel guarding a gate. The horses pawed the ground nervously. Henry stared across the darkened valley. Lights glimmered on the horizon to the east like a thousand torches guiding them home. Jerusalem.
Henry tightened his grip on Sombre, wound his hands through the reins. For the second time in six months the army lay within reach of the Holy City. Twelve miles. A day’s march, mayhap two. His heartbeat quickened, and he thought he heard the war drums…but it was only the whispers of the knights around him.
King Richard was silent. He wore a white surcoat with the Templar cross over his mail. He’d pushed his hood back to the dismay of his companions. His crimson cloak billowed out in the wind, revealing a gilded scabbard and the jewel-encrusted hilt of his sword. Watching him, Henry could see that Jerusalem might well be a hundred miles away. A thousand. A sudden sadness, regret, tinged Richard’s eyes.
Robin dismounted and drew up beside the king. Richard heaved a heavy sigh. He slid from Fauvel, his Cypriot warhorse. Robin took the reins, handed both mounts to Henry’s care.
“Saladin mocks us.” Richard’s powerful voice carried on the wind. He swept his hand to the north. “He sees us. Knows we grow weak. He might swoop down and cross the plains at any moment. Cut our supplies from Jaffa.”
“But why risk his men?” Robin asked.
Richard stood motionless, a deep frown creasing his face. Henry knew the answer before the words spilled from the king’s tongue.
“He will not,” Richard said. “He needs only to wait us out. I would swear that he whispers into the ear of Burgundy and his French, blotting out all sense of reason. They will not heed the advice of the Templars and Hospitallers. Why should the French believe those who have lived here twenty or more years? What reason would those men have to suggest that laying siege to Jerusalem is foolish?” Richard grabbed the hilt of his sword. “Yet here we find ourselves within a few miles of the Holy City. If we advance, Saladin will poison every watering hole from here to there. Our animals will die. He can strike from the north, from the east and at our rearguard. Then what will we have gained?”
Nothing, Henry thought. Only more dead. Each stronghold the crusaders took, like the one at Darum a few weeks earlier, made little difference in Saladin’s daily raids. The king’s scouts estimated Saladin had fifteen thousand men in the hills and thousands inside Jerusalem’s walls. Keeping the lines of supplies and communications open between the port cities and the casals along the route to the Holy City was a deadly business.
Richard had not expected an answer from Robin. He’d settled it in his own mind. “In the morning, we shall convene the council and put an end to this.”
Henry sat rigid in his saddle. Was this journey truly over? He tipped his head eastward. “The lights of Jerusalem flicker like a candle in this wind.”
“A beautiful sight,” Stephan said. “It reminds me of nights on the galleys when we would see lights from villages along the coasts.”
“A candle?” Richard eyed the Holy City. “Saladin would squash that flame. He could destroy all that is holy to us and we would be left here in complete darkness.” He whipped back into his saddle and spurred Fauvel west towards the army’s campsite. Robin grabbed his reins from Henry, swung onto his horse’s back and galloped after the king.
Stephan scanned the star-studded sky. The waning moon washed the knights in pale golden light. “We can remember we stood here under the same stars that light Jerusalem.”
“And what of the men who died?” Henry asked. “Was all this for naught?”
Stephan shook his head. “They trusted their king. And their God. And, if I am to believe you, they have found heaven.”
“I trust my king. Heaven?” Stephen’s eyes reflected the soft light of the moon. “Is it not here, with friends like you?”
Men of the Cross, a 2014 B.R.A.G Medallion honoree, is available in print and for Kindle on Amazon.