This is an extract from my novel Outcasts. It tells what happens to the ordinary men who were knighted by Balian of Ibelin to help defend the city of Jerusalem against Saladin and his armies.
Ordinary men who were raised so swiftly into a new position would never find it easy to prosper in the hierarchical medieval world. These men, and their families, would find life difficult beyond imagination.
This scene is set just before Saladin arrives at the city. All is peaceful, for the moment. Two pilgrims have just arrived at an inn.
Bernard heaved a barrel of ale onto the counter.
‘Good news,’ he said. ‘The young Englishmen have decided to stay for a month.’
‘Excellent,’ Agnes answered. ‘With the soldiers gone the city feels empty and our coffers are beginning to look the same.’
‘Do you like the English?’ he asked. ‘You might be related.’
‘My great grandfather was English,’ Agnes said. ‘That was a long time ago. In any case, these two are of Norman blood. And my great grandfather was said to be the son of the Normans’ deadliest enemy.’
‘But do you like them?’
She paused before picking up a cloth and polishing a tankard. ‘I like them as much as any other guest. Why do you ask?’
‘They’ve only been here, what, three days and the boys seem to have got attached to them already.’
Agnes looked troubled. ‘Do you think it is a cause for concern?’
‘I don’t know. I think Gerard believes they will stay here forever.’
‘Gerard’s always excitable.’
Agnes came over to her husband and brushed her fingers through his hair. ‘And what about you? Do you like them?’
He grinned. ‘I do. That may be why I am asking the question. I like them a lot, more than an inn-keeper should like his guests.’
‘That is because they come from somewhere far-away and exotic. England sounds so exciting. Jerusalem is boring and you hanker for adventure.’
He grabbed her by the waist and stared into her eyes. ‘I have all the adventure I need just living with you.’
Agnes blushed at his words and a tiny smile grew upon her lips.
‘I like you saying this,’ she said. ‘But I sometimes wonder if you don’t yearn for a little more adventure than I can provide.’
‘Not in the slightest,’ he said, pulling her close.
Later that day John sat in the courtyard enjoying the last of the day’s sunshine. He closed his eyes and turned his face up to the sky, enjoying the warmth bathing his skin. His lips felt dry and hot and he licked them slowly.
He did not hear any noise but he suddenly became aware of a presence in the courtyard. His first thought was that it was one of the boys.
But then he knew. He knew it was Agnes.
He opened his eyes and turned to look at her.
She was leaning in the doorframe, a cloth and a plate in her hand. She must be enjoying the sun as well, he thought.
His heart quickened. Or perhaps she had been watching me.
‘I didn’t mean to disturb you,’ she said softly.
He shook his head.
‘You didn’t. I wasn’t asleep.’
‘You looked very peaceful.’
He thought as if the breath was being squeezed from his lungs.
‘I was just thinking, just dreaming, day-dreaming rather.’
She laughed, a little tinkling sound which almost made him shiver.
‘I do that,’ she said. ‘Or I do whenever I get a minute’s peace. I’m afraid that isn’t often.’
He gazed at her but did not answer. His mind struggled to find something to say but every phrase he formed seemed inane.
The sun had moved so that half her face was in full sunlight and half in shade. The branches of the old olive tree flickered shadows across her face. Almost like a bridal veil, he thought. His gaze was caught by the line where light and shadow met. Her features, normally so bright in his imagination, were dimmed there but more alluring for that.
‘You look red,’ she said.
He touched his hands to his cheek and blushed even redder.
‘It’s the sun,’ he said. ‘My skin isn’t used to it.’
She smiled. He had no idea what the smile meant. He guessed she may have realised that the colour on his face came from within.
‘John,’ called a familiar voice from within the inn.
He ignored Simon’s call, hoping that he would not find him and go away.
‘John,’ he called again. ‘Where are you? I’ve got something to tell you.’
Still John ignored his call.
Agnes smiled and glanced at the ground before looking up at him once again.
‘Aren’t you going to answer your cousin?’ she asked. ‘He sounds keen to find you.’
John nodded and went even redder. He cursed his cousin.
‘I’m in the courtyard,’ he called.
Simon appeared in the doorway and took in the scene. A grin which looked knowing and lascivious broke upon his face.
‘I wasn’t interrupting anything?’ he asked innocently.
Agnes shook her head.
‘Of course not,’ said John quickly. He got to his feet. ‘What did you want?’
Simon put his hand to his mouth as if struggling to remember. ‘Do you know, I’ve completely forgotten.’
He gave a courtly bow to Agnes, winked at John and went back into the inn.
Agnes turned and gazed at John.
‘I’d better go after him,’ he said.
‘I think you had,’ she answered. ‘Before he gets any more strange ideas.’
John mumbled incoherently and walked into the gloom of the inn.
Outcasts is available for $2.99 or equivalent from all ebook retailers.
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