Sir Guy de Lanxelle, a French knight, marches to Arabia on a special mission from Rome.
|Sir Guy was elevated above the sand; his huge stallion had found some desert brush to chew on; though it offered little moisture in the course undergrowth. Closing his eyes he saw the face of that Bishop. That so called man of God, plump on the church’s wine and rich on the charity of others. He had laughed as he threatened to excommunicate Guy and his men. The church demanded a pilgrimage to wash away the sins committed by each and every man under Sir Guy’s control. Guy became an outcast. Not welcome amongst even his closest of friends. All, save Planchel. Planchel, down on his knees, had vowed to join the pitiful army on their way to Jerusalem. Men had been told that their expedition was to free their doomed souls from damnation; though all knew that it was a Holy Mission. The church wanted a war with Islam, an attack on “pilgrims” would do. The best way to achieve war was to march armed men on enemy soil, few Saracens would think twice about murdering a fighting Christian in cold-blood. At least; that is what the Pope had bargained for, then as the rest of the Christian army marched Sir Guy de Lanxelle, Lord of Ceret would keep a foothold in the enemy’s domain. Sir Guy mounted and remained vigilant; if he were to die, he would die fighting.
The large war-trained destrier breathed heavily under the strain of intense, Milanese plate armour. Destriers were the pinnacle of all fighting horses; strong, fast and clever. A man needed a clever horse in the heat of battle, a horse can see things that a knight’s visor blocks out. But there was no battle yet, Sir Guy waited for news of such affairs. The sickle moon grinned down over the Count of Ceret; an omen from God, perhaps the almighty would spare this small force. The sand in front of him had a cold blue sheen that chilled the heart as the heat was drawn from the ground and into the heavens above. Guy patted a gauntleted hand on the mane of the large beast that bore his weight. Damned heat, the Lord cursed as he spat what little moisture he had in his mouth into the parched land.
A man-at-arms trotted his large white battle horse over to his master. In his right fist he gripped the leather reins that kept the monstrous charger under his control, his left naked hand held a large deer skin sack that dripped slightly from the seams.
“Only water my Lord, but it’s the best we can do in this God-forsaken land.”
Master thanked his serf with a brief nod of his un-armoured head. The man-at-arms turned the horse on its heels that slid down ever so slightly into the thin sand; “bloody sand,” the soldier said softly “don’t know why we were even sent here.” The voice was meant for no man, but Sir Guy’s hawk-like ears and quick mind picked up on the indignation.
“We are here, Dubois, for the grace of God, for the grace of His Holiness the Pope and because I bloody well told you so!” Guy savagely kicked the white horse’s flank with a pointed steel boot. The horse reared violently, so expelling the rider. Guy’s own horse stood statue like as the other animal bucked in surprise and screamed like a possessed banshee.
Dubois hit the floor with a dull thud, the air was knocked out of him and the weight of his mail and breastplate made it hard to move. The Count slowly dismounted with the grace of a man half his age. Sword drawn, he approached the man squirming on the floor. The count was known for his ruthless leadership and tough training. Besides his cruelty, men from all across Europe had flocked to fight with the legend. There were few men born to lead as Sir Guy was. Smith looked up through fear glazed eyes, he had once before witnessed the ferocity of Sir Guy’s violent temper but seldom did the wrath of France’s champion allow itself to unleash. Today was no exception. Sand was no match for the grace and strength of the man in expensive armour, upon the fallen man in seconds. The Count stood over his man; shit, he’s tall. Polished metal that had been scrubbed with coarse sand from the Flanders and vinegar from Iberia reflected the moon’s rays; its dull blue glow gave Guy’s face a murderer’s aura. Scars covered his face, not from pox or other infirmities but from war. His dark hair fell to his shoulders, kept slick by musk infused duck fat. The sides were greying by his ears and this illustrated the wisdom that years of studying battle scriptures and the bible provide a man. He was not an ugly man; quite the opposite, women flocked like mares on heat. He smiled softly, slowly revealing a set of perfect teeth. Smith’s breath returned as he calmed immediately.
“My apologies, friend,” Guy’s voice was kind and genuine, “I fear for Planchel; it has been too long.” His long arm reached towards Dubois, who in turn accepted the favour and hoisted himself to his feet with the help of Guy de Lanxelle’s pure strength.
“Tis only natural my liege,” accepted Dubois reverently,
Guy turned on his heel and began back towards his horse. “Very well man, back to camp with you. Who is on sentry this night?” He faced back towards Dubois who had recovered his own steed and was inspecting the horse’s flesh wound caused by Sir Guy’s tenacious kick.
“Myself, Sir, I thought it best to give the men a rest they’ll be plenty of burying to be done on the morrow if the Arabs don’t let us past.”
Saladin, Lord of all Arabs, gazed cautiously as the armoured rider approached from the northern road of Nazareth. A coat of arms could be seen on the rider’s surcoat; a mighty eagle that clasped a serpent in its one showing talon on a field of navy blue; the banner of Sir Guy. The rider clasped a white wand that he held high in the air for all to witness; herald’s had immunity from attack; usually. He began weaving elegantly between canvas tents and confused looking soldiers that made up the mass of the army sent to intercept Sir Guy. The messenger slowed as he approached his target; he remained mounted, bowed his head and proclaimed, “As salam o alaikum, I seek your leader!”
Richly dressed guards stayed silent and still in response to the herald; their dark eyes not once leaving the mounted messenger. The guards had their weapons drawn and held unmoving an inch from their noses. The Saif was a formidable weapon against any opponent; sharpened to a hairs breadth the sword could slash through leather and flesh with ferocious speed, a fully armoured knight stood more chances but a skilled swordsman could penetrate any fault that lay in the seams of a man’s protection. They stood to attention, guarding the entrance to a lavish tent of gold and red cloth. The tent more resembled a linen castle than a tent; it was slightly raised from the other hovels on timbers set in the sand. In here, the mysterious rider knew, was where he would find his man.
Saladin received the messenger with a golden chalice of ice, brought in a heavy copper case from the northern mountains. “Your name?” The Arab’s voice was hoarse and deep and his French was poor.
“My name is Robert Planchel,” he replied respectfully, “I serve my master the most honorable Count of Ceret Sir Guy de Lanxelle; warrior and cousin to the king of France,” Planchel recited the title standing to attention throughout the speech, followed by an over-exaggerated and courtly bow in front of his host.
“Speak you briefly, herald.” The Arab struggled to form the sentences; his French was learned by listening to French prisoners of his father’s. A skill few Arabs possessed. “It cannot be seen to have an armoured infidel in my presence for too long, you’ll understand. But it took great courage to pass my men to get this far, I like this.”
Planchel felt a surge of pride at the compliment, “I thank you Lord, my courage reflects my master. We are marching an army to Jerusalem, each man has been ordered by the Pope himself to pray at Calvary and redeem his soul.” Planchel stopped when it became apparent that Saladin was laughing outrageously.
“How can you hope to redeem your souls... when you pray to the wrong God? Allah have mercy on your soul, I shall not. You come to provoke me, this you have done. Your journey to heaven stops now, Hell awaits your puny army. Leave.”