The Crusader ("The Crusader" Prequel to "Kingdom Come")

BOOK: The Crusader ("The Crusader" Prequel to "Kingdom Come")
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The Crusader

 

By
Kathryn Le Veque

 

Copyright 2001 by Kathryn Le Veque
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any
manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Printed by Dragonblade Publishing in the United States of America

Text
copyright 2001 by Kathryn Le Veque
Cover copyright 2001 by Kathryn Le Veque

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER
ONE

 

Year
of our Lord 1192

The
Holy Land

 

The moon
had long since disappeared behind the gathering storm clouds. Smoking torches
lit the muddied street, a dank avenue smelling of urine and sweat. Shouts could
be heard in the distance as a figure in the shadows turned his head in the
direction of the clamor, listening intently. Staying to the recesses, he moved
away from the uproar that was following him.

A heavy
mist began to fall, washing the blood from his boots and leaving a clear path
for his enemies to follow. As the man struggled down an alleyway and emerged onto
a larger avenue, the shouts of urgency and the clink of armor seemed to be
growing more distant.

A small
ray of hope filled his dying heart as he succeeded in losing his adversaries
for the moment. But soon enough, he knew, they would discover their folly and
retraced their tracks - tracks that would lead them in the direction of their
crippled quarry.

The
injured man refused to ponder his eventual capture. His interest at the moment
was in locating the healer he knew to be located along this avenue.  Considering
his life was draining with each step, he knew his time was running short to
find him.

His
breathing was coming in heavy gasps by the time he reached the end of the
street, stumbling as he veered to the right. Recapturing his balance, albeit clumsily,
his fading eyesight struggled to locate the door emblazoned with a carving of a
flaming candle. A door, the bleeding man had been told, identifying the finest
healer in Nahariya.

By the
time he reached the end of a long row of mud-brick housing with still no
carving in sight, the man began to wonder if he would live long enough to find
it. Had he missed the symbol? Mayhap. It would not have been difficult
considering death was claiming his eyes as well as his body. Mayhap he simply
hadn't seen it.

Meanwhile,
the mist had turned into a steady rain. The man licked his lips, quenching his
dry mouth. Stumbling over the gutter, he fell heavily against a bricked wall,
grunting with pain. Slouching against the hard stone, struggling not to
collapse completely, he realized that he was angry with the turn of events. He
wasn't ready to die and resented the fact that he was being forced to accept
his demise prematurely.

Aye, he
had come to the Holy Land to fight the Muslim insurgents and was fully prepared
to meet his death on the field of battle. But not here, dying like a common
villien on the streets of a dirty town without his armor and weapons to verify
his importance. Dying before he could complete the task he had started.

The
warrior drew in a heavy breath, glancing down at the massive hand covering the
wound in his torso. Noting the fingers covered with rich red blood and the
deepening crimson stain on his hose, he knew the prognosis was grim and found
himself wondering why he was wasting his time in search of a physic. He was as
good as dead. Still, it was not in his nature to accept defeat. He had to
continue or die trying.

Sighing
again, he lifted his gaze to make another attempt at locating he physic's hovel
when he abruptly caught sight of a small, uneven door several yards away. And
beneath the rain-soaked tarp, he could vaguely make out a crude carving of a
candle.

With a
renewed surge of strength, the knight pushed himself away from the wall and
staggered across the street, ignoring the driving rain as he pounded on the
crumbling door. Pounding again, he didn't wait to be ushered inside when the
panel finally opened; using both his strength and his weight, he propelled
himself forward and collapsed heavily on the mud-packed floor.

The room
was foggy, faint, and blissfully cozy. He could hear a soothing voice and then
felt liquid to his lips. Tasting the sharp tang of alcohol, he drank greedily
until the cup was removed.

"Rest
easy, Englishman," a heavy accent met his ears and he could feel gentle
hands pulling the torn, stained tunic away from his torso. "Ah, so you
have been gored like a goat on a spit. Most unfortunate."

Barely
conscious, aluyuthough lucid enough to understand the uttered words, the knight
grunted weakly. "I was told... told you could help me."

"By
whom?"

"The...
innkeeper named Hut. I am lodged at his hostel by the bluff overlooking the
waterfront."

"I
know this man. Has he a wart on his forehead?"

"The
same."

The tiny
old man with skin as brown as leather examined the wound carefully; it was
deep, puncturing a major organ and he knew his time to save the English knight
was growing scarce.

"You're
dying," he commented, almost casually.

The
knight struggled to open his eyes, focusing on the frail old man. "Your
powers of diagnosis are as...astounding."

The
healer continued to probe at the gaping wound. "Who did this to you,
Englishman?"

The
warrior didn't reply for a moment, swallowing hard as his strength faded.
"A... man. A man I believed once to be my friend. A man with piercing blue
eyes that are surely a window to his darkened soul," he tried to lift his
head and failed miserably. "Can you help me or do you resign my fate to
God?"

The old
man stood up, moving for a cedar table flanking the wall. A table ladened with
a variety of mysterious devices, potions, and medicaments. He rummaged about
with urgency as he spoke.

"There
is but one true God, Englishman. But Allah does not accept English into his
Heaven. Therefore, I must save you from the fires of your pagan-made
Hell."

Wet and
bleeding on the floor, the knight closed his eyes wearily. "I've not come
to debate the differences in our religions. For what I have witnessed within
the past two years, it would be quite easy to question the existence of any
god, Mohammed's or Abraham's."

"But
you do not question," the old man said softly, casting the English knight
a long glance. "You believe fully, 'else you would not be here in an
attempt to save your life."

The
warrior's clear brown eyes opened, slowly, to focus on the wrinkled old man.
"Why... why do you say this?"

The
Muslim smiled faintly. "Because I sense your work on this earth is not yet
complete."

He
turned back to his table, leaving the Englishman staring after him, pondering
his words. As the old man busied himself at the cluttered table, the knight
slowly turned his focus to the ceiling above.

"There
is much yet to do," he mumbled. "Much... yet to live for."

The
healer lit a wick dipped in fish oil, heating the contents of a small glass
vial suspended on a metal frame. "A wife, Sir Knight? A lover,
mayhap?"

Dark
blond hair, closely cropped, dried soft and bright in the warmth of the room.
The knight's breathing calmed, growing more unsteady as his physical state
deteriorated. Still, his mind struggled through the cobwebs of approaching
death to concentrate on the old man's question.

"Nay,"
he whispered, the heavy lids closing. "No lover. No wife. Only...
secrets."

Hands
full, the healer made his way back to the fading knight. With a sharp slap to
the stubbled cheek, he managed to bring his patient around.

"No
sleep, my English lord," he said quietly, with the gravity dictated by the
situation. "There will be time later to sleep a-plenty."

The
knight's eyes rolled open again, muddled by pain and depletion. "I... I
brought no money with me. My possessions are still at the inn. You have my
permission to seek my purse and collect your fee."

The
healer eyed the young knight, surely handsome by English standards. In fact, he
had heard the rumors of dark-skinned Muslim women fighting over the
white-fleshed Christian warriors from across the sea. But for Kaleef, the war
between the Christians and the Muslims was of no particular significance. His
religion had always been his work and at the moment that work included a dying
Christian knight.

"What
is your name, Sir Knight?"

"Sir
Kieran Hage."

"How
many years have you seen?"

"Thirty-two."

Kaleef
nodded faintly, swirling the heated liquid in the small glass vile. "You
understand, of course, that I must do all I am able to save your life."

Kieran
nodded faintly. "I wo...would expect so."

"Good,"
the healer said softly. "Just so you understand the potential
consequences."

Kieran's
brow furrowed slightly. "Wha... what does this mean?"

"It
means that in order to save your life, I must allow your body time to heal. And
you do not have any time left."

Kieran's
frown deepened. "I still do not understand."

Kaleef
put his hand under the knight's head, bringing his lips to the warmed vial of
liquid. "Drink this and you shall."

Kieran
obediently downed the contents; bitter, oddly metallic tasting. Licking his
lips, he found he could scarcely move his massive body as death drew near. And
the feeling was increasing with each passing moment.

"What
did you give me?"

Kaleef
grasped another potion, a cold concoction in a fluted pewter flask. "A
medicine to suspend your bodily functions."

The
knight didn't reply for a moment. The clear brown eyes were remarkably focused
for a dying man, the voice unusually strong. "What does this mean?"

Kaleef
lifted a sparse eyebrow. "A medicine to suspend your bodily functions. And
the potion I now hold in my hand will heal your wound internally."

Kieran
stared at him. "You... you plan to give me an elixir to heal me from the
inside? You do not plan to sew my wound conventionally?"

The old
man smiled faintly. "Of course not. Why would I?"

"Because
you are a physic. You must sew the wound in order to halt the bleeding."

Kaleef
leaned over the massive Englishman, his black eyes filled with a piercing
intensity. "I am not a physic, Sir Knight. I've never sewed a wound in my
life."

The
brown eyes widened with confusion and, Kaleef thought, horror. "You've
never... then what are you?"

"An
alchemist."

Kieran
blinked. "An alchemist?" he repeated, the confusion in his voice
evident. "Why... why did the innkeeper send me to you?"

The
alchemist's expression was steady. Frighteningly sincere. "Because I am
the only one who can save you."

Kieran
continued to gaze into orbs as black as a moonless desert night. Not a
particularly skittish man, he realized there was nothing he could do against
the alchemist's attentions and he furthermore realized there was little reason
to resist; clearly, he was dying. And mystic care was better than bleeding to
death, alone and feeble, on the mud-hewn avenue outside.

He had
no control over his fate. He hadn't since the day he boarded the ship bound for
Acre. In the past two years, Kieran had found himself committed to a mission so
enormous, so hazardous, that he could scarcely believe God had chosen him for
such a task. A mission that had taken him on a wild ride of emotion and
adventure, ending with an assassin's broadsword lodged deep in his gut.

A
resulting wound that continued to ooze even as Kieran and the alchemist locked
gazes, each man deliberating the other. After a moment, Kieran simply closed
his eyes; he had not the strength to oppose the old man's concern. He simply
wanted to be done with it all, to sleep away the pain and injury. And if the
alchemist was convinced he could heal the mortal wound, then Kieran would allow
him the faith of his conviction.

BOOK: The Crusader ("The Crusader" Prequel to "Kingdom Come")
7.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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