Pictured above is King Louis IX of France (St. Louis). He was the leader of the 8th Crusade of which this novel begins.
This is the prologue of a novel I wrote many years ago called The Mercenary. It is a historical fiction with a touch of paranormal further into the story. (This is one novel of three). It’s probably got too many descriptions. I was a fluffy writer.
Late August 1270. Somewhere along the coast of North Africa, between the caliphate of Tunis and Carthage.
Clanks and thumps of steel and iron against flesh and leather dissolved the vespertine’s quiet. In the midst of this, a young man lay smothered under date palm branches and stems, clutching the broken handle of a mace to his chest.
Alan le Naper pushed the moans of the dying and wounded to the back of his mind. He squatted beside the boy, frozen with rigor mortise. He bowed his head, crossed himself and murmured a short prayer. After, he whipped out a short sword and cut off two fingers from his squire’s right hand, dislodging the mace handle from his locked knuckles. He removed a ring the same way, then threaded a thin cord through the ring and hung it around his neck. His squire’s tabard came off after some tugging, and he placed that inside a leather bag attached to his saddle.
Alan hoisted himself into the saddle while keeping a firm grip on the reins. He acknowledged the dancing Iberian stallion’s desire to be off with a firm hold on the reins. With a feather-like touch of his golden spurs and a loosening of the reins, he propelled the horse toward the French king’s waving oriflamme and toward Tunis. There siege participants struggled in the king’s absence. Other flags of various colors shimmered from the commotion of battle.
Masters caromed their horses into the opposing side. Horses fell to the ground, thrashed their hooves, injured those unlucky enough to be near. Fidgeting, prancing hooves formed a dense barrier of swirling dust and made visibility nearly impossible for the combating men, that afforded those in opposition a chance for reprieve.
Alan squinted against white sand and dust. Saracens surrounded a tiring Christian. He spurred his stallion toward the enemy.
The enemy might kill him, nevertheless according to the Code of Chivalry, he would die with honor. Alas, he had no right to judge.
Alan met a galloping Saracen head-on. With a firm grasp of the spear shaft of his banner, now used as a lance, he pierced the enemy’s shield. He yanked on the spear, retrieved it with a cracking sound.
The enemy threw his shield to the ground and charged again.
He waited. Ready. His thoughts focused on the task at hand and shook his head at the enemy’s manner of fighting.
Damn the Code. Serves no purpose here.
He tired of the natives’ battling methods — the shoot and run. He preferred hand-to-hand or lance-to-lance combat. In a single, fluid motion, he unleashed his sword and pivoted to slice the warrior below the ribcage.
The Saracen pitched forward, then fell off the side of his mount.
Alan dismounted and wiped blood from his sword onto the enemy’s chest. He replaced the sword into his scabbard. He removed a glove and wiped grit from his eyes. He removed the coif and his fingers found the stitches on top of his head where less than three weeks passed, he had been trepanned. He replaced the coif and wrapped a cloth around his face to filter out dust. His hand rose to block the sun’s glare as he surveyed the land. No sign of his tarpaulin, coffin and supplies. All stolen perhaps, he wasn’t certain.
A community well ascended from the rocky, desert terrain several yards away. He lead the stallion toward it, trudging through sand, stepping over and upon jagged rocks, using the lance with the banner of Thibaut, duc de Bourgés, as a walking stick.
He startled at the thumping of fast approaching hoof beats, and used the stave’s head again on another passing Saracen, managing to wound the horse and knock the rider to the ground before the enemy took a shot with his bow.
Alan untied his conical shaped helm from the saddle’s bow. All the armies’ numbers had dwindled, retreating for the evening for supper or because of the muezzin’s call from the city’s mosque, summoning them to prayer. The voice echoed off the buildings. The hairs on the back of Alan’s neck stood up.
He chided himself as he peered down into the well and quickly stepped back. The stench nearly knocked him to his knees. Blood and gore dripped from the rim on the outside and the inside fared no better.
He put great distance between himself and the well before he drank his remaining hot water remained in his costrel. He forced himself to swallow, then pushed the wooden stopper into the leather water bottle. He reattached it to the saddle.
“What ill-fated luck has befallen us,” Alan muttered as he rubbed the stallion’s neck and checked the saddle’s position, girth and azure haubergerie.
“Dread having to tell his family. Where am I to find another squire?”
He pulled his horse with him toward the coastal area. Along the water’s edge, a young, spiny tailed lizard scurried across the hot land. Fossilized skeletons and broken shell pieces formed permanent waves atop the rippled sand, cracking when stepped upon.
Red-orange rays streamed across the rocky terrain, blinding those who gazed westward. The three-quarter moon, already visible in the east, began its trek across the sky. The vespertine breeze coming off the turquoise sea provided cool, long overdue relief.
Alan’s gaze shifted to the left where the cobblestone village of Sidi Bou Saïd posed high on the cliffs to the north; that being the village where it was said, Good King Louis met a girl on his first crusade, who held a cure for scorpion bites.
To Alan’s left from the silty sand, emerged the ancient Punic ruins, those of the Phoenicians and Romans. To his right, Kermes oak trees spread low along the coast, scattered amongst the broom, tree heathers, myrtle, sages and thyme. Had he not been in the midst of the rescuing the duc de Bourgés and fighting the enemy, he might have enjoyed the location. Had he not had a wife waiting at home, he might remain here, blending in with the natives as others have done.
To his left, eucalyptus branches hung low and shaped like a mushroom. Further inland, cork, pine and juniper groves dotted the fertile soil. Vineyards and citrus orchards grew along the village outskirts. The lemon and orange trees, loaded with fruit tempted passersby. Olives lined both sides of the road leading into town, their leaves shimmered with the rogue breeze. Surrounded by a fence grew spicy scented clusters of evergreen cloves, with their flower buds recently harvested. Ripe pomegranates intermingled with lance-shaped, glossy leaves on an antediluvian tree adjacent to the meandering thoroughfare.
Alan rubbed his face and was about to pull his dented, azure painted great helm over his smaller helm and chainmail coif but stopped in mid action as his foot caught on something. He fell forward with his hands outstretched. Seashells cracked under his weight.
The stallion’s nostrils flared as he danced in place. He snorted and shook his head.
Alan looked up as young Kenneth of the Siol Tormod wrapped a gloved hand around Alan’s bicep and assisted him to his feet.
“I see you well, Sir Alan?”
“I tripped on . . . behold what . . . who might this be?” Alan pointed to a piece of cloth jutting out from the stack of palm branches and dried grasses. He gave Kenneth a sideways glance then chuckled as he reached down to touch the young man’s arm.
“Hail Gilpatrick,” he said. “Not dead yet I see.”
Gilpatrick de Maule of Perthshire opened his eyes and squinted at them towering over him. He shielded his eyes from the sun with a sun burnt hand. “I am not dead?”
“Not yet. Praise God,” Alan said.
“And we have no need of losing another,” Kenneth chimed in. “We lost Sirs Landers and Iain?”
“Found my squire dead. No doubt defending my tarpaulin. Loyal to the end.” Alan eyed Kenneth’s costrel. “Any left? The well’s tainted.”
“A shame this about the squire, Sir Alan,” Kenneth answered as he handed Alan the water vessel.
Alan guzzled the warm water and returned the empty container.
“Aye, a loss to be sure, Sir Alan. I found myself knocked from my horse, trampled underfoot.” Gilpatrick rubbed his back after he righted himself. As he did, white silica mottled with black specks sprinkled downward. He brushed sand from his face. “Seemed a good idea to wait out the battle, and rest a bit. The head’s feeling cloudy.”
Kenneth stretched his arms above his head, massaged his right arm a moment then returned his grandfather’s sword to the worn scabbard attached to his belt.
Gilpatrick rubbed rubbed his eyes. “Sir Alan, your squire saved me. I recall he covered me with sand and palm branches then disappeared. Might well have saved my life, it did.”
“Where is Sir Crinan?”
“Missing,” Kenneth replied.
Alan ‘s eyes skimmed over the dispersed, exhausted crusaders — battle scarred and wounded. Motionless bodies lay in the sand. A rugged Scot stepped over bodies as he walked toward them.
“He is missing nought,” Alan said, pointing to the Scot. “Crinan! Come forth.”
Sir Crinan of Cadder swaggered toward them and eyed Alan from head to toe. “Ye looks are bad, Naper.”
“I am retreating for the eve. We rejoin the battle on the morrow. ‘Twill not end in a day. Rest the horses. Has the king arrived yet?”
“The ransom was paid. Nae, heard it told, the king is ill with the plague.”