Authors: Roberto Calas
The characters and events portrayed in this book, while based on history, are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Copyright © 2014 Roberto Calas
All Rights Reserved
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the express written permission of the author.
Published by Westmarch Publishing
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To our children, Cesar, Lucia, Drew and Charlotte.
And to the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School.
This book would not have been possible without the help of my readers, many of whom contributed directly to the expense of its production. Most notable among those readers is Jay Bidwell, who stepped in when Sir Edward was faltering. I would also like to thank Chris Pourteau, Mary Wikswo and Joseph Finley for their generous support of Edward’s campaign.
I should, of course, offer my gratitude to my beta readers: Jeff Fuller, Robert Duperre, Patie Polczyk, Kathy King, Randy L. Johnson, and Susan Johnson Crowe. This book would be a shadow of what it is without their help.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my lovely fiancée, Annabelle Page, who is my editor, art director, project manager and counselor. She is my Elizabeth, so it is only fitting that I used her image as Sir Edward’s Elizabeth on the cover of this book.
I would like to thank the Knights of Calas for your hard work and brilliant suggestions. Together we will conquer the world.
Lastly, I would like to thank my parents, Nick and Rina, whose eternal support keeps me from the ditches of life.
Table of Contents
Episode 1 Map
Men will follow anyone. I have watched fools lead battalions and cowards command armies. I have met lecherous bishops who guide flocks upon the paths of morality, and madmen who rule entire kingdoms. And I have learned in my days upon this earth that it is not the wisest or bravest or even the most sensible who lead; it is the loudest.
And Sir Gerald of Thunresleam is loud enough to wake the dead.
His shouts echo through the sparse forest. “No!” he screams. “In a line!
Stay in a line
Sir Tristan and I pause at an ivy-draped alder to recover. I unsling the leather sack from my shoulder, and Tristan does the same. Each breath I take sears my lungs, echoes in my helm. I am too old to be running in armor. Hounds howl, and the deep thud of hoofbeats sound behind us. The rain applauds on the leaves above.
“Tell . . . tell me that lovely story again, Edward,” Sir Tristan pants as he speaks, one hand on his thigh, the other holding a crossbow against his shoulder. “You had a . . . a cannon pointed at Gerald . . . a flame . . . inches from the touchhole. I . . . I forget the next part. Tell me again what you did?”
I take great gulps of air and grunt at Tristan. He knows what happened next; I lowered the cannon and let Gerald escape. I have run from Sir Gerald from the time his master, Sir John of Muckinge, died in battle. Sir John was torn apart by the mindless victims of this new plague that has rotted England. I suppose Sir John’s death is my fault—I led the plaguers to the battlefield where he died—but neither apologies nor denials will sate Sir Gerald’s lunatic thirst for revenge. The madman has tried to kill me more times than I care to recall. And when I had him in my power, I let him go. I thought it my finest act as a human. But I think now it was my worst.
Sir Gerald does not seem to appreciate my act of mercy. Tristan and I left St. Benet’s Abbey two days after capturing it, and we caught sight of our old enemy after less than three miles of traveling. Ten horsemen and two dozen footmen appeared on the horizon, every one of them sworn to Sir Gerald.
Men will follow anyone.
Father Aubrey, a priest back home, once told me that men are like wolves. He said we hunt in packs so we can slaughter more lambs, and the man with the loudest howl leads us all. I smiled and asked if women were the lambs in his metaphor. A peculiar look came over him as he shook his head. “No,” he replied. “A woman is the hunger that burns in the belly of the wolf. The hunger that makes him slaughter the lamb.”
Father Aubrey is a strange man.
My woman, Elizabeth, lies plagued in the cathedral of St. Edmund’s Bury, and my belly rages with hunger for her. I have slaughtered an countless number of innocent lambs while trying to get her back, and I fear there will be more butchery before my journey is done.
And I will not give Sir Gerald another chance—he will be the first on that butcher’s block.
A stocky man in ring mail and a flat-topped nasal helm stumbles through shrubs and draws up only a few feet away. His eyes grow wide when he sees us. “They’re here!” He draws his sword. “Sir Gerald, I have them! They’re—”
Tristan’s dagger catches the man in the throat and the shout becomes a gurgle. I sigh.
Sir Gerald will have to be the second on the butcher’s block.
The man’s body relaxes and Tristan lets it fall to the sodden earth. I notice a red ribbon tied around the soldier’s arm. His lady’s favor. A sign of the hunger that burned in this man’s stomach.
I catch a strong scent of lavender—an odor I have detected several times on our journey. But I do not have time to question it. The wailing of hounds grows louder from the east. Horsemen bob through the trees, and footmen crack branches with their footfalls as they shuffle through dead leaves.
Tristan cleans the blade of his dagger on the wide, red ribbon. He squints at the oncoming men and tries to smile. “I have an overwhelming urge to visit the west side of this forest. Now, really.”