I am busy editing my new novel which is set in the days following the fall of the Frankish Kingdom of Jerusalem to Saladin. So, I thought I’d post the first few pages for today’s sample.
CHAPTER 1 THE ARMY OF JERUSALEM
John and Simon climbed up the steep track towards the city. John felt he might die at any moment. The sun poured out of a clear blue sky, an intense, implacable heat which seemed intent on beating him to his knees. He uncorked his flask and sipped at the water. It tasted of iron and gave no relief to the desert of his mouth.
‘Nearly there,’ he gasped to his cousin.
Simon gave him a blank stare.
The last mile was the worst. John forced his eyes to peer through the glare but no matter how often he looked he appeared no closer. It seemed the city would stay forever beyond his reach.
Could that be, he wondered? Was Jerusalem so holy a place that those who were unworthy would never attain its bliss?
The two men lurched together. The contact gave them renewed purpose and their pace quickened. Finally, they reached the city and stumbled into the deep shade beneath its walls.
‘At last,’ said Simon.
‘Ten months,’ John said. ‘Ten months. But we’ve got here.’
Just outside the gate to the city a cistern had been placed for the relief of pilgrims and their horses. The water was brackish and oily, strewn with wisps of straw and dead insects. They plunged their heads into it and swallowed down great draughts. In England it would have been too warm to drink; now it was like water from an icy stream.
Eventually they drunk their fill and slumped down before the gate. John’s eyes filled with tears. ‘We’ve done it, Simon,’ he said.
‘I knew we would,’ said Simon, ‘but I began to doubt.’ He sighed and rubbed his eyes.
They looked at each other and gave a weary smile. They climbed to their feet, hoisted their packs upon their backs and took up their staffs. Hearts hammering with excitement they strode into the city.
No sooner had they stepped through the gates than they saw crowds of people lining the road, jostling for position. The sheer numbers pressed them back until their legs were slammed up against a stone shrine.
Two small boys had clambered onto the shrine and were shouting to each other in excitement.
‘What’s happening?’ John asked them.
‘King Guy,’ cried the youngest boy, ‘King Guy is going to war.’
Almost immediately a trumpet sounded from deep within the city. A heavy and regular beat sounded in the distance. It got louder and louder and soon the reverberation jarred the ground beneath their feet.
A huge cheer rose from the crowd and the children shrieked with delight.
John and Simon followed their gaze. Riding down the cobbled street came two lines of armoured knights, pennants high, bright armour glistening in the sun. The knights closest to them wore red surcoats with white crosses emblazoned upon them. The knights in the far column wore white coats emblazoned with stark red crosses.
‘Who are they?’ John asked.
‘Knights of the Hospital and of the Temple,’ cried the youngest boy. ‘I am for the Templars but Claude-Yusuf is for the Hospitallers.’
‘Gerard is too young to know better,’ explained the older boy with what he thought was a condescending look.
Behind the last of the knights there was a gap of ten yards before two men on great horses rode alone, side by side.
The older man was a red-head with rough beard and close-cropped hair. He sat forward in his saddle as if hoping by his stance to make it go faster. His eyes were wide and shining, and he glanced about him with an exultant look.
‘Who is that?’ asked John. He did not say but he was disturbed by the look of the knight.
‘Raynald of Châtillon,’ said an old man in the crowd. He leaned closer. ‘If you are wise you would make no comment about him, no matter what anyone says, good or ill.’
John and Simon exchanged wary looks.
‘And the other?’ John stared at the man who rode beside Raynald.
He was tall and slim, with thick, flowing hair and neat trimmed beard. His face seemed carved from stone. He was handsome and dignified, with regular features and a strong chin. His eyes were bright and imperious and he glanced about him at the crowd and acknowledged their cheers with a courteous bow.
‘That is Guy of Lusignan,’ said the old man.
‘King Guy, King Guy,’ cried Gerard. ‘Hooray for King Guy.’
The king, hearing the cry, searched out the owner of the voice and held out his hand. Gerard gasped and reached up for the king’s hand. Guy took it, shook it in a sign of triumph and smiled.
Delighted, Gerard grinned at Claude-Yusuf. ‘King Guy has shaken my hand,’ he cried, ‘King Guy has shaken my hand.’
The king was followed by long lines of knights and foot-soldiers. The boys became even more excited and Claude-Yusuf began to yell at the top of his voice.
One of the soldiers heard his voice and turned, searching the crowd. His face lit up and he waved with wild enthusiasm. He called to the boys but could not be heard.
‘Goodbye, father,’ Claude-Yusuf cried, ‘goodbye.’ But his voice was lost in the tumult.
Eventually, the last company marched through the gate and disappeared down the road that had brought John and Simon to the city.
I plan to publish the book in December.