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understand, Sir Thomas—I must return,” the Sheriff’s face was flushed as he faced the captain of the Newcastle
guard. “There are matters that must be
Thomas’ eyes narrowed with suspicion, never breaking
his locked gaze with the Sheriff.
he said slowly, inflecting clearly so that the officer would have no trouble
catching the disapproval that clung to each syllable.
The Sheriff frowned, tugging at his gray
beard. “I don’t believe we have much
chance of catching these men. The best
we can hope for is to drive them far enough away so they don’t try to return
and plague us again. So I’ll leave you
in command of six of the men. Your
“Yes, sir,” he breathed through gritted
The Sheriff sighed and stretched before mounting his
gray charger. “If my troop rides
quickly, we can be back at last night’s campsite before all the light goes on
us. Pick your men.”
Thomas nodded and quickly selected his six, the best
men of the guard, then bid the Sheriff farewell. As the troop galloped out of sight on the eastbound
path, he shook his head and turned to the others.
“All right, I suppose we’d better make camp here and wait until morning
to go after them again. Unless they rode
through the rain, we can’t be too far behind.
But Raymond, you’d better go out scouting again just to make sure. If you find them tonight, we may even have a
chance of finishing this by dawn.”
Raymond nodded and turned, stepping quietly out into a
low, bushy growth and disappearing from their view.
~ ~ ~
Michael grimaced, looking down with contempt from
where he sat astride his black horse. The young man gazed back up at him with
“Please, my lord.
That’s all I know.”
“Indeed?” Michael leaned forward, searching the boy’s
eyes with his icy gaze. “And that’s all
you told the others?”
“The knights, boy.
The ones with the white cloaks—they did talk to you, did they not?”
“Oh, aye,” he nodded, his terrified eyes still fixed
on the dark-cloaked figure before him.
“The ones with the cross on their tunics? Yes, they asked me the same questions.”
“Hmm,” Michael mused, glancing thoughtfully at the
rain-soaked land around him. A crow
hovered high overhead, croaking its harsh call to the heavens. “And did you discover any of their
names? Where they were from?”
He shook his head slowly. “They said that they were the Poor
Knights of Christ.”
Michael smiled wryly, nodding as he turned his horse
in a tight circle around the frightened youth.
“And you know nothing about these Poor Knights?”
Again, he shook his head, tears now filling his
eyes. “Please, master, I know
nothing. Can’t I go yet?”
“You were the last one to see that knight before he
disappeared nearly two years ago,” he said, his voice grave. “Many seek the knowledge of what happened to
“But my lord, he returned to York afterward—surely others saw him there.”
“Aye,” Michael nodded, scanning the trees and the
empty countryside. “But we are more concerned with what he left
here—he didn’t stay in York
for long, and now no one seems to know what has become of him. What he did here holds the key to that
secret. Listen, boy, if these Poor
Knights ever come to you again, I don’t want you to tell them anything
more—deceive them if you have to.
Especially if they come from York—the
Poor Knights there seem to be far too interested in this matter for their own
good. They are the enemies of everything
that is good in England. Do you hear me, boy?”
“I won’t say anything about it, sir. I swear it.
Please, can I go home now?”
“Go on, then,” he
growled menacingly. “Away with you!”
The boy needed no further incentive, and immediately
bolted, running as fast as his legs could carry him. He never looked back, but sprinted with all
his might away from his interrogator.
Michael watched him race away, a twisted grin on his
face. “Still nothing,” he breathed
softly. “The trail has been cold too
long.” He glanced up at the sun, now
setting toward the distant western horizon.
“And now, to Newcastle,”
he said, driving his heels into the ribs of his steed, “and may your God
protect you, dear Sheriff.”
~ ~ ~
Edward crouched down behind a low bush, hoping
desperately that he wasn’t visible. His heart
pounded hard in his chest, so hard that he thought the men of Newcastle might be able to hear it. Why didn’t I just stay in Melrose?
He sighed, quickly scanning the little glade before him. Six.
Six knights, all making camp.
With a shake of his head, he drew a deep breath and began to crawl
carefully back the way he had come. He
made his way slowly, cautiously through the dry underbrush until he was well
out of earshot of the soldiers’ camp. Then standing up, he began jogging back over the two miles toward the
caves in the riverbank, praying that he would find them still there. The sun was setting in the west, though, and
he knew they had most likely moved on without him.
It took nearly half an hour before he ran up to their
camp, only a mile or so beyond the caves they had rested in earlier. He burst into the middle of a ring of five
brigands, glancing around breathlessly. The five
outlaws gazed back at him, their expressions revealing silent, mocking
"Where’s Hannah?” he gasped,
whirling to face Jonathan.
The one-eyed brigand scowled at him, spitting at his
feet. “Why should we care what becomes
of a Jewess?”
Edward’s fists clenched and he had to restrain himself
from lashing out at the man.
his eyes and exhaled before responding.
“All right, Jonathan. Please tell
me where she is. Is Alfred with her?”
He nodded, winking maliciously. “I probably shouldn’t tell you this,” he
grinned. “Alfred seems to have an eye
for your wife—went down together to the riverbank a while ago. They’re down there now—all alone.”
Without stopping to
think, he bolted, sprinting full-tilt toward the south, hoping to find them
along the stretch of the benighted riverbank.
“God, protect her,” he breathed as he ducked under a low branch, dashing
toward where the shimmering waters danced along beneath a gentle moon.
~ ~ ~
She bowed her head, not even looking him in the
eye. “What is it you want from me?”
Alfred flashed a cocky smile. “Besides the obvious, you mean?” he laughed as she drew her cloak tighter around her shoulders. “Fear not, Jewess. If I were to do
that, my brother would quickly leave behind all charades of peace and kill me
where I stood.”
“And I would willingly help him,” she whispered.
He laughed again, reaching out to run a hand along her dark
hair. She shoved him away. “Perhaps I should warn you," he said, "that
all of Edward’s romances tend to end in tragedy.”
She shrugged, wondering if she would be able to outrun
him. “I assure you, then—this one will not. Unless by tragedy you mean that we will have to
kill you and your men.”
“You are a very bitter woman, did you know that?”
“There are some things that are worth holding grudges
against,” she replied quietly.
“Well, anyway,” he brushed aside the comment. “Yes.
Actually, I didn’t even know the poor boy loved the girl until after we
had killed her. After that, he decided
to run away,” he sighed, “and so forfeit a place in our glorious re-conquest of
She clucked her tongue sarcastically. “It seems to me you have a long way to go yet
before you ever see the crown in Saxon hands again.”
He frowned and grasped her arm, noticing that she had
begun to inch away from him. “Perhaps,”
he growled. “But if we find success in
our mission here, I will see it within a few short years. That is a promise.”
“And one that I hope you will break,” she said,
glaring hard at him.
“What were you doing down by that cave?” he asked,
cutting directly to his interrogation.
“Surely you knew the cave was there.”
“What makes you think that?”
“A Jewish girl, sitting just outside the cave of a
Jewish usurer? It seemed more than
coincidence to me.”
“What does it matter?” she asked coldly.
“Allow me to explain, my slow-witted friend,” he
replied. “A few weeks ago, my men raided
the house of a minor nobleman in Northampton. We killed the men and began using the manor
as a base of operations. It was only a
few days later, as I was going through the noble’s letters and forms, that I
found some very intriguing correspondence that had taken place between him and
the usurer in this very town. The letters
point to something of great value that was hidden here, which the noble was
preparing to buy. The cave we found you
near contained the other half of that set of letters. So all I need to know is—where is the
priceless object of which they speak?”
She looked at him in silence, trying as best she could
to put on a carefully neutral expression.
“This is all very interesting, but I’m afraid…”
“You know nothing of this?” he pressed, his eyes
She shook her head slowly. “In all candor, I think you’re insane.”
“That’s beside the point,” he growled, and kept his
gaze hard toward her. “I don’t believe
you,” he whispered after a moment.
“I don’t believe you,” he repeated. “You know more than you’re telling me. Perhaps even the location of what we
seek. And do not be fooled.” His voice drew low, deep with warning. “We will find it.”
She sighed, rolling her eyes. “I still say you’re insane. Of course there’s bound to be something of
great value in a usurer’s stash! What is
so special about that?”
He leaned forward with interest. “And yet we scoured the cave and found
nothing. Which says to me that someone
has removed it.”
She tried to remain calm, but a flicker of fear passed
over her features, and Alfred nodded, sensing he was drawing near to the truth
of the matter.
“Yes…you took it, didn’t you?”
“Took what?” she feigned ignorance.
“A robe—a very old robe that you just might have.”
Hannah was silent, staring at him without expression.
“So where could this thing be?” he wondered aloud. “I’ve already searched your saddlebag,
without finding anything. In my mind,
there is only one other possibility.”
She stared at him evenly.
“Tell me,” he smiled slowly, “would you be wearing
it?” So saying, he reached out and ripped the thin cloak from her shoulders. She screamed and began beating him with
her fists. But his iron grip
held her firm, and a grubby hand clamped over her mouth.
~ ~ ~
listening to the frightened scream ring out over the bank. “Hannah?” he shouted, his feet beginning
to fly again over the rough terrain. His
heart was beating fast; a red haze of fury descended over his vision. Raging, he burst from the brush to find
Hannah struggling in his brother’s arms, her riding cloak torn and lying around
Roaring incomprehensibly, he launched himself at his
startled brother. His fists pounded
against Alfred’s face, driving all the impetus of his charge in the
huge man’s broad chest. Alfred was
caught off guard by the flurry of blows from his brother. But soon he was able to regain control, using
his brute force to restrain Edward’s attack. Hannah was weeping, her tear-streaked face
buried in her hands, her legs curled beneath her as she sank to the wet ground.
Edward scowled in utter fury, shaking himself in an
attempt to break free from Alfred’s grip.
“What were you doing to her?” he screamed at him.
Alfred released his brother momentarily, but as soon
as he did, the ready fists began pummeling him again. With a great heave, the brigand sent the
smaller man flying back against the rocks.
Edward lay there for a moment, bruised and aching.
Alfred snorted contemptuously and walked back up the
camp without replying to the incensed query.
As he watched him go, Edward’s mind began to clear, and he
immediately turned to where Hannah was sitting, pouring out her tears
onto the rocks.
“Hannah,” he gasped, running up to where she was
sitting, “I should not have left you with him.”
He sat there for a long moment, letting her cry onto
his shoulder. Darkness descended around
them and the stars had all come out by the time she looked back up at him. He held her gently, afraid she would crumble
in his arms. All of her strength of will
had fled in the terror of the moment, and the memories of the pain of the past
weeks rose back up in that instant to haunt her once again. She prayed desperately for the strength to
compose herself again, but it didn’t come, and she remained there, weeping in
Edward’s soothing embrace.
After a few minutes, she sat up on her own strength
and shrugged her riding cloak back over her shoulders, drying her tear-stained
cheeks with the sleeve. “I’m sorry,
Edward,” she apologized, her breath still coming in the rhythm of dry sobs.
“Shh,” he said, laying a comforting hand on her
arm. “There’s nothing to be sorry for, Hannah. I’m only sorry I couldn’t have returned
She closed her eyes, nodding slightly. “You came just in time. An answer to prayer. It’s just that…” tears sprang into her eyes
again. “When he attacked me like that,
it reminded me of what happened in London.”
He sat quietly, willing to listen as she began to pour
out her heart about the events of the past few weeks. Through her tears, she explained about the
loss of her father and the imprisonment of her uncle and the long, lonely ride
home in a final effort to regain some hope for the future. “I just don’t understand it, Edward,” she
said softly as tears began to spring into her eyes anew. “Why?”
He wanted to look away, to bury his fears, his doubts,
to show her a side of him that he wished existed: a part of him that could
stand up for her and heal her pain, a part of him that could give her the
“I don’t know,” he rasped. “I don’t know.”
She shook her head.
“You weren’t there at London,”
she said softly, allowing the sobs to rise up to wrack her chest again. “You don’t know what it was like. They slaughtered us like—like animals. Why?”
Edward shook his head, trying to hold back his own
tears. “Only God knows, Hannah,” he said
She was silent, but her eyes were cold. “My father believed in God,” she gasped out,
then shook her head. "I'm not sure that I do."
Edward stood and faced her. “We don’t always understand the way He works,
Hannah. But I know this much: His love
She shook her head.
“His love has failed His chosen people,” she replied, her voice
hollow. Edward knew it would do nothing
to press the point while she was still angry and confused, so he let it
They sat together on the bank in silence, trying to
make sense of the pain.
“So anyway, that’s why I have to return to London,” she explained in
a whisper, drying her eyes again.
He nodded, looking deep into her dark, red-rimmed
eyes. “I’m so sorry, Hannah,” he
breathed. “Sorry that you had to be
dragged into this business with my brother.
But I know we can make it out.”
“Tonight,” she nodded, regaining some of the strong
timbre in her voice. “I’m not going back
up there,” she pointed in the direction of the camp.
“I agree,” he said.
“But first—I still don’t understand what Alfred wanted with you down
here. My brother is a terrible person,
but he is not such a base man that he would try to…”
She shook her head.
“No. He was looking for
something—a priceless object he thought I might be hiding from him.”
“The king I serve has left his train in a new castle on the Tyne,”
“It’s from the letter that Alfred sent to lure me down
here. At first I thought he might be
speaking about a relic of sorts that he thought he had found, but I still have
“You’re right,” she said quietly, glancing around to
make certain that no one was eavesdropping on the conversation. “It’s a relic. A knight from York gave it to my father nearly two years
ago, bidding him to protect it. We never
heard from him again, except in a single letter that told us what the relic
was, so my father made preparations to sell it to a nobleman from Northampton named
David. But apparently your brother and
his men killed David and found my father’s letters, and now have come to take
this thing for themselves.”
Edward’s eyes narrowed with concentration. “What exactly is this relic?”
“A robe—a very ancient robe that the knight bore back
from the Holy Land. Apparently he was being chased by someone
else who sought it, so he left it with us.
From his letter, it is the robe that your Christ wore before his death—a
robe given to him by a king.”
“Herod’s robe,” he breathed, nodding slowly. “If it is true, this would be one of the
greatest treasures in all Christendom.”
She glanced at him.
“You don’t believe it’s genuine?”
“There’s a good chance it’s not,” he admitted. “Most likely there are a dozen other robes
all over Europe with the same claim. With all the pieces of the True Cross that
have come back from the Holy Land, one could
build an entire fortress. But the claim
alone might make it great enough to bring the bearer into great power—or great
danger, I suppose. And you know where
She nodded, but didn’t specify anything.
“Did Alfred find out that you know about it?”
“No,” she replied.
“But he suspects it.”
“Then he will not easily let you go.
We’ll have to be careful.”
“He’ll probably expect us to take the river back
toward the city,” she said. “Perhaps we
should strike north and break out of the woods before turning back east.”
“Or we could go and surrender ourselves to the
protection of the men of Newcastle,”
“I’d rather not. For all they
know, we’re part of the band of brigands.
I don’t want to trust my life to them if they wouldn’t even come to the
protection of the Jews when we were being raided."
“All right,” he sighed, rising and offering a hand to
pull her to her feet as well. “Then we’d
better begin before Alfred returns.
North, then east.”
They walked slowly back up the bank, the shadows of
the woods adding a cloak of secrecy around them. They avoided the brigand’s camp, walking
instead past it, and on through the forest, towards the open moors of Northumbria.
~ ~ ~
Raymond crouched silently beside a wide expanse of
bracken. Dawn was coming within the
hour, and he had only located the brigand’s camp a little while earlier. He was only beginning
to grow weary, since he had slept much of the afternoon during the rain. But as the dim shadows of dawn began to seep
into the forest growth, he could feel the gentle urges of his body pulling him
toward sleep. As soon as his ears caught
the sound of careful footsteps, though, his focus snapped back instantly.
He listened, peering into the gloom. There it was again, the sound of several
pairs of feet quietly treading the forest floor. Every so often he would hear a twig snap or a
rustling of leaves, and each time the sounds drew nearer. Trying to breathe softly, he watched intently
as two shadowy forms passed by him quickly, walking north through the
woods. As they passed within a few paces
of him, a single ray of moonlight fell on their faces, and he recognized them as having been with the brigands.
He waited until they had passed by, then began to
trail them. It was best to know what the
adversary was up to at all times. He
might be able to overpower them, but he could also alert the brigands to his
presence by doing so. He frowned,
turning to see a dim, graying horizon through the trees. He would have to try to be back to the camp
by dawn in order for the early raid to commence against the brigands’ camp.
~ ~ ~
Alfred yawned and rose, scanning the campground in the
dim light of pre-dawn. His eye fell on
the empty spaces where Edward and Hannah had laid their gear. He stood there for a moment
uncomprehendingly, still fighting off the last holds of sleep from his
mind. The chill of the river mists made
him shiver violently, as he walked over to their vacant spots, his mind still
Alfred swore and pulled his men to their feet. “Jonathan,” he barked in the brigand’s
face. “Edward and his cur are
gone! Take two men and follow the river
back to Newcastle. I’ll take the other two and circle
north. We have to find them before they
can reach the city!”
Jonathan nodded and sleepily motioned two of the
others to follow him. In a matter of
minutes, the brigands were mounted and riding noisily through the forest, their
wearied eyes peering into the early morning gloom.