An excerpt from Swords of the King
26 March 1199
Châlus-Chabrol was bleak and cold that twenty-sixth day of March. Days of nasty weather and the recalcitrant traitors inside the castle were trying the king’s patience. Hammers beat steadily throughout the day, and siege machines loosed one barrage after another. While the sappers dug ever closer to the walls, messengers from the garrison finally ventured out with a white flag, wishing to offer terms to end the siege.
“Get out of my sight!” Richard’s voice resounded from the command pavilion.
Outside the king’s tent, Henry and Stephan had been warming themselves by the fire. Both knights shot to their feet, hands on the hilts of their swords. Richard’s visitors practically tripped over each other backing out of the pavilion. A squire pitched them the reins of their horses and the two hastily retreated to the castle.
Richard shoved back the flap of the tent to watch them, shaking his head. “Idiots,” he muttered, and then shouted, “Idiots!” A squire handed him a cup of wine which he downed. “Don’t come begging for me to bend. Surrender, else you will all hang.”
The men couldn’t have heard the king’s final shouts, but Henry imagined Richard had not minced words with them. The besieged do not suggest terms to their king. Fight to the death or surrender—those were the only options when faced with the Lionheart. Surrender, and then Richard would show mercy.
“Won’t be long now, sire,” a bent old man called. His cart was piled high with dirt from the tunnel.
“God’s will,” Richard replied.
A rain of bolts and arrows from the battlements began, just a brief show of defiance, but enough that the thumps and pings of strikes against the sappers’ tunnel made Henry cringe. The defenders were spare with shots. There was little to be gained from firing at those who worked safely beneath the wooden tunnel to undermine the castle walls.
Richard signaled one of his commanders up the line and a siege machine groaned. A huge boulder sailed across field and ditch, its shadow like a menacing wraith. It darkened the tower and crashed against it, the noise reverberating through the camp. Shards of rock flew into the air, the choking dust forcing the defenders back from the ramparts. The sounds of rock settling on the ground were buried beneath the cheers of Richard’s men.
The king shouted, “Again!”
The stone thrower’s crew cranked the windlass bending back the beam. Richard watched them, their sweat-streaked faces gleaming with pride. The sergeant checked the firing position and nodded to the king. Richard snapped his head and the siege machine whipped the boulder in the sling towards its target.
Richard paced away from the tent with Mercadier alongside him. Henry and Stephan quickened their steps, shields raised towards the garrison to provide cover for the king. Richard, as was often his habit, left his own shield in his tent and wore only his helm. Mercadier, fully armored, pointed out the sappers’ progress as they walked. “A matter of days,” the captain said. That wall would come tumbling down.
“Then we shall move on the viscount’s castles at Nontron and Montagut,” Richard said with a satisfied smile. “Aimar of Limoges will have nothing when we finish with him.” The viscount had been a thorn in Richard’s side for more than twenty years, and while the Norman borders were quiet, Richard would crush the rebellious baron and his friends.
A bolt slammed into Stephan’s shield and he staggered, pitching into Henry. The other knights and squires scrambled to cover Richard. Henry remained upright eyeing the bolt that sliced into Stephan’s shield, its tip inches from flesh. Heart thudding, he was comforted by Stephan’s crooked smile and helped him find steady legs.
“Stephan?” Richard pressed shields aside despite the best efforts of his men to protect him.
“I am fine, sire,” Stephan said.
Mercadier gaped at the battlements. He chuckled, and Richard and everyone surrounding him followed his gaze. Waving a frying pan in the air, one lone defender blocked bolts fired from the king’s crossbowmen.
“Is he a soldier or a cook?” Richard laughed and gestured for his own crossbow. He took aim and the bolt soared, smacking the iron pan. The soldier dropped his makeshift shield and took aim at the king. Shaking his head, Richard said, “Courageous little sod.”
The words were barely out of his mouth when Richard grunted and lurched backwards. Henry and Mercadier caught him, the others round him oblivious. Henry’s breath caught. The crossbowman’s bolt lodged in the king’s shoulder. “Sire!” Henry cried. It looked deep. A hand’s width away, and Richard might have been killed. Henry’s worst nightmare…
Richard grabbed Henry’s arm to steady himself. “God’s nails,” he muttered angrily.
Sweat broke out on Stephan’s forehead and he blinked rapidly, gaping at the king. William de Braose, another of the king’s barons, realized what had happened and guided Richard back to his tent. Mercadier hurried Henry and Stephan along, ushered them inside to keep them quiet. There was no need for word of the king’s injury to spread. No one need know…yet.
Chalus-Chabrol – by Fonquebure – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5716785
King Richard has their loyalty.
The French would have their lives.
And John, the king’s brother, will never forget how they betrayed him.
Swords of the King is set amidst the turbulent final years of the reign of Richard I of England, the Lionheart. His loyal knights Sir Henry de Grey and Sir Stephan l’Aigle will risk their honor and the trust of the king to protect the king’s nephew, the young Duke Arthur of Brittany. They will fight treachery and brave bloody battles, see war in all its horror, and fight their fears of losing each other, all the while keeping their forbidden love secret.
Warriors. Heroes. Traitors. Spies . . . Lovers.
If assassins’ blades don’t kill them, King Richard’s war to recover his continental domains from France just might. Former enemies, like the king’s brother, are now allies. Can they be trusted?
AWARDS & ACCOLADES for SWORDS OF THE KING
Discovered Diamond – shortlisted for book of the month June 2018 | Chaucer Award for pre-1750 Historical Fiction – 2018 shortlist | Chill with A Book – Readers Award and Cover of the Month – October 2018 | indieBRAG Medallion Honoree