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A raven wheeled high in the vault of heaven over Palestine. Sir James Greybold, Commander of Knights, watched while he waited for an order he knew would come. He longed to be nearer to God, like the raven, yet he remained with man. He was faithful to both, but caught between the two and bound until death's release.
Without thought Greybold raised his hand to the scarlet Templar cross overlaying his linked mail, the emblem that marked him as worthy in God's sight and in man's. He shrugged his left shoulder to reposition his armor, hot in the scorching sun.
Heat waves shimmered above the desert floor. War-horses stamped and shook chanfrons, anticipating battle. In the distance the shouted commands of the enemy drifted across the plain, excited and eager in tone.
Saracens darkened the hills to the west, thousands of cavaliers and bowmen. Did they, too, wait for an order to come? One he dreaded, but they hoped for?
Greybold's sergeant-at-arms, Anthony of South Wales, leaned close and quietly asked, "Will Gerard send us, sir?"
Greybold dashed sweat from his brow with the back of his gauntlet and gave an honest answer, disheartening but true. "I believe he will. I doubt he will wait for aid. Renaud holds powerful sway."
"Aye, but he shouldn't, sir," Anthony said with resentment. "He isn't Templar."
"No. But I fear Gerard will listen." A truth steeped in the blood of the innocent.
Anthony frowned, an expression contrary to his disposition. "They might as well fling us against stone, sir."
Stone would show more mercy than the Saracen, though Greybold expected no mercy of any kind. His allegiance wasforever pledged to God and to King, his heart to Christ, his hands to war. He would do what was required of him.
A short distance away two ranking men argued. With his knights arrayed behind him Greybold sat his horse and listened.
"Send them!" shouted Renaud de Chatillon, the Prince of Antioch, cunning and mad. His fine bay charger, covered in bright silk and armor, danced and chomped at the bit. "The infidel are within striking distance." He flung his arm in the air. "Send them!"
"We shall wait," replied Gerard de Ridefort, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, a callow man, and heartless. The lives of all present rested in his hand.
"The infidel is gathered." Renaud squeezed his gloved hand into a fist. "Crush him!"
Gerard shielded his eyes against the glare and glanced at the thin rank of knights. On his shoulder the eight-point cross of the Knights Templar shone bright, embroidered in gold.
"Attack! Why do you wait?" Renaud asked.
"You forget yourself, sir!" Color rose in Gerard's pallid cheeks. His manner was fiercely stern, but in his visage lay the signs of a soft, indulgent life. "'Tis I who shall decide their fate."
Renaud laughed, a high, wild sound. He sat back and folded his hands across his saddlebow. "Do you play the coward then?"
Greybold's charger shook his head and pawed the ground. The metallic rattle of shaken chanfron and reins secured by chainwork obscured Gerard's reply.
"Strike!" Renaud shouted. "Strike! Soak the field with heathen blood!"
At Gerard's direction the two reined their horses out of earshot.
Greybold lifted the blue silk scarf tied to his sword belt, a token from the Lady Jane, a love forever lost but still treasured. He touched it to his cheek, the material as soft as her hand. Should he fall today, a likely event, who would mourn him? Certainly not Jane, a bitter truth.
Gerard issued commands to their Marshal, James de Mailly, who obediently bowed his head and backed away.
As de Mailly approached, Greybold read his expression and knew Gerard had succumbed to the urging of a mad prince.
"We have been ordered to engage," their Marshal said, his tone dauntless in the face of certain defeat. "God be with you all."
Greybold gave a curt nod and looked away, the order heavy as lead in his heart. He uttered a quick prayer asking for conviction and courage rather than deliverance. He prepared to take the field and face the massive force awaiting them, skilled infidels whose hands overflowed with death.
Copyright © 2004 E. L. Noel