Excerpt from Men of the Cross

menofthecross

Book II? Well, I can’t buy that because I haven’t read Book I.

Of course, I would love you to read both Battle Scars books, though I think – as does at least 1 reviewer – that For King and Country will work as a stand-alone. But let me entice you with a scene from Book I, Men of the Cross:

From Chapter 5…

THEY’D HAD THEIR ALE to celebrate Henry’s victory and within moments the sky opened sending all the revelers scrambling to find cover. Stephan and Henry retired to the king’s pavilion with a score of other knights. King Richard had not returned from a hunting expedition in the woods nearby, but squires and servants had scrounged up succulent venison and lamb and laid them out on one of the long trestles. The fire had been warm, the food plentiful, and the games exhilarating though Stephan lost at chess—twice.

“Mayhap you should give up the game,” Henry said.

Broad-shouldered William of Abingdon slapped Stephan’s back and laughed. “Listen to Henry. But dice? You’ve not played with me since we left Tours.”

Henry looked between the knights. He’d learned that “play” might have multiple meanings and merely smiled shyly. “I cannot watch you lose another penny,” he said. “I bid you goodnight.”

“Victory!” Stephan shouted as Will turned him round and steered him to the dice table. Will plopped down beside Stephan and fingered the cubes as a crowd gathered. He tossed them with a quick flick of his wrist. Their audience groaned at Will’s first roll, but cheered at Stephan’s pair of fours. Ultimately, Stephan won, but that might have been because Will’s hand was more interested in the muscles of Stephan’s thigh than in the toss of wooden cubes. Stephan thought his own restraint admirable, especially when Robin stopped to talk and Will grew more daring in his exploration. Stephan was more than ready when other knights departed for the evening or bedded down in the pavilion and Will asked him back to his own tent.

Creaking wagons woke Stephan a few hours later. Will snored softly next to him, his hand resting at Stephan’s waist. Stephan rose and shook off his exhaustion. He pulled on his hose and tunic and tugged aside the tent flap. Yawning, he stretched in the cool morning air. He wagged his head to clear it, tried to focus on the hum of activities around him. Where one tent after another lined the road five or six deep in both directions when he’d gone to bed, there now were empty, trampled plots of dirt. Hundreds of tents had been dismantled. A few campfires smoked and sizzled with breakfast but goods had been stowed and the pilgrims were making ready for one more day on the road.

Stephan called over his shoulder. “Will, get out of bed and I shall help you pack up the tent. We’ll be left behind.”

A horse whinnied and Stephan turned. The young thief from Tours came around the side of Will’s tent. He held Tempête’s reins out to Stephan. “I saddled him up for you, my lord.”

Stephan eyed the boy suspiciously—what mischief was this?  Straightening, he walked toward boy and horse, inspecting Tempête from nose to haunches. He stroked the destrier’s neck. He checked the saddle, pleased to see the boy had tightened the straps perfectly. His saddle bag was packed tightly. Had the thief replaced its contents with useless rubbish?

Allan looked wounded. “It’s all there, my lord, including two pennies loose at the bottom.”

An honest thief, Stephan thought. Still, what was he after? “Sorting through my bag, were you?”

“Just to pull the wineskin you’d stuffed there. You’ll need some ale on the march today.”

“I do not remember asking you to see to Tempête.”

“You did not, my lord. Me and Little John saw you speaking with the one they call Sir Robin last night. Heard that you were to ride at the vanguard this morn.”

Stephan slapped his thigh. “Christ!” He gaped at the eastern edge of the valley where wagons were already kicking up dust.

“Sir Robin was looking for you when the sun came up. Told him we’d hurry you along. I talked it over with Little John. We thought it best to retrieve your horse first and then wake you.”

“Little John?”

“My friend.”

“The dark-haired lad?”

“Aye, my lord,” Allan said, pointing to the boy peeking out from behind a nearby wagon. Little John held chunks of bread and cheese out to Stephan.

“Wait right here.” Stephan hurried back into the tent. “Will?” He shook the naked knight and then tossed him a grey tunic carelessly thrown to the ground when they’d come in during the night. He slipped his surcoat over his head and then found his sword belt beneath Will’s cloak. “There are two boys outside,” he said as he secured the belt round his waist. “I shall give them a coin to help you. Mayhap one can find your squire.”

“It cannot be daylight.”

“It is, and Robin is waiting for me.”

“I hardly slept, no thanks to you.”

“Complain, will you? See if I warm your bed again.” Stephan grabbed his cloak. Outside, he handed Allan a half penny. “You heard?”

“We shall help Sir William with his things.”

“Good. Then I shall be off.”

Allan handed him Tempête’s reins and fingered the frayed edge of Stephan’s cloak. “Little John is good at mending, my lord. He knows how to smooth the nicks in a sword, and shine it so bright that it might blind someone who intends you harm.”

“And you know horses.”

“That and much more, my lord. I would be glad to teach you a trick or two at the games.”

“You were watching me at the pavilion last night?”

“Aye. You should be wary playing that knight from Rotherham.”

“Oh?”

“He cheats.”

“You know how to beat a cheater, do you?”

“Aye, my lord.”

“Allan, is it?”

“Aye.”

Stephan encouraged Little John to come forward. He ripped a chunk of bread from the loaf in the boy’s hand. “Thank you.” He bit into the bread, studying the two boys. Rough around the edges. Thin and filthy. But this Allan—he had some useful talents. And a good heart. He could have escaped from Stephan in that chase, but he’d slowed down, concerned about his dark-haired friend. Stephan imagined he’d learn if Allan exaggerated Little John’s skills in time. “Find me when we camp for the night,” he told the boys. “I have a job or two you might help with.” He mounted Tempête and pivoted towards the vanguard. Pressing his heels to the horse, he called back,  “And I just might take you up on those tricks.”

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9 thoughts on “Excerpt from Men of the Cross

    1. If I could wave a magic wand I would give us all more hours in the day. You seem to get an awful lot done – do you sleep? 😉 When you have a chance to read Book II, I’ll look forward to your thoughts on it! Thank you for being a wonderful supporter for me and for so many other authors.

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