All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
The long, winding, never-ending country road slipped by the headlights of the 2008 Lincoln
MKZ. The seven year old sedan purred along the empty country highway at a steady speed of
ninety kilometers per hour, breaking the law by ten. The solid double lines twisted around the
eternal corners like snakes, appearing and vanishing as the vehicle sped by in the beautiful spring morning under a cloudless, bejeweled sky. Richard Allen Serrad commandeered the all-wheel drive black beast, gripping the leather wrapped wheel with large, calloused hands attached to thick, scarred, and darkly tanned forearms which told of numerous incidents involving sharp objects. What connected these forearms to his shoulders may have been stolen from a Greek statue for they seemed to have been chiseled from stone; the iron biceps threatened to rip his thin white dress-shirt at any moment. Not only were his arms built so heavily, he had a bull's neck and a torso of steel, the body of a hard working man- rare for any young man of twenty-three.
He contemplated what had just happened to him. To him it was common knowledge that the unearthly hour of 3:06 a.m. was generally not such a good time to think about anything but getting to sleep. This, however, was not a normal night. Especially not for the former Mari Montaigne and himself. He had known her for eight years now, three of which they had dated each other and in the last year they were engaged. Now he drove his beautiful bride home to his ranch in the majestic, wild, forested country of the Canadian Shield outskirts. He had worked hard to establish his business as a successful beef rancher and horseman to provide a good solid income for his wife and eventual family. Few people had thought such a venture would be profitable but he proved them all wrong with his hard work and even greater commitment. But he was more committed to the twenty-two-year-old who sat beside him asleep; her beautiful dark hair spread across her shoulders and partially concealed her soft, angelic face as she slept soundlessly with a faint but beautiful smile on her lips. He knew exactly why that smile was there and the feeling was mutual. They both had had the best day of their lives- their very own wedding. It all seemed to be so perfect. Too perfect. Fantastic. Unreal. Yet it happened; it was very real. And Richard was feeling like the luckiest guy that had ever lived. It had been a long day though, and the lack of sleep was very quickly catching up with him as the rumble strip on the roadside reminded him he was not in bed yet but still driving home. Mari didn't stir. She must be so tired... All the planning and preparation she did.. Man... She's such an awesome gal.. And she ain't just any gal.. She's mine. And I'm hers. We are one. Dear God, thank You so much for her! I don't deserve this much and yet You gave it all to me... Thank You.
The growl once again reminded Richard to stay on the infrequently traveled paved path and not to try and blaze one through the dense forest on either side of the road. Almost home, just a little while yet... Fifteen more minutes.
His mind strayed to one of his favorite topics: medieval history. Well, mostly the crusades, but the entire era was of great interest to him. So great that he studied it thoroughly in his history classes whenever he had the opportunity and even took hundreds of hours of his time to make his own chain-maille hauberk, a great helm, shield, and sword. The exact amount of time he spent on it, he did not know. But he did not allow it to interrupt his higher priorities of establishing a firm business stronghold and an even greater relationship with Mari.
He pushed his long brown hair back. It was inhibiting his already blurred view of the road. Ahhh.. I need to have a good long sleep tonight.. Or rather this morning... I suppose the animals can wait for a few hours... Just this once I won't feed them at 6:30... Just this once... He thought again about the great conquests for the Holy Land. How he wished he could have been there to see what it was really like.
Idle thoughts and wishes of things I will never get won't get me home... At least, not in one piece. Better concentrate on getting home.
His dark brown eyes searched for a land mark, his sleep-skewed vision just barely revealing to his brain a shabby business sign indicating his nearest neighbor's farm. Okay, two more curves and then my road. Man, this road is so curvy it could get anyone lost if they didn't live here their whole life. And even someone who's lived here that long would have trouble if it's really dark.
His eyelids suddenly turned to lead weights and dropped. He was asleep. His strongly featured head drooped down; his noble nose pointed to the horn on the freed steering wheel. The trustworthy sedan wandered. Left. Right. Left. Right. And farther right as the road curved again to the left. The rumble strip failed to wake Richard. As did the sign indicating the hazard of the rather steep hill parallel to the road. The vehicle roared over the flimsy barrier as it lost its grip on the asphalt and contacted the face of the hill in an offset nose-dive and began its descent in a nauseating roll. Nauseating that is, for any viewer; never mind the passengers of the wrecked vehicle. He did not stir. And neither did the beauty he loved more than life itself, Mari.
Richard Allen Serrad woke with a start. Immediately he felt a great throbbing in his head and felt very faint. He slowly lowered his head onto the brightly ornamented pillow.
Where am I? This can't be a hospital... It's too colorful... Not sterile and white... It's like... A king's room or something... No... Can't be... I must be dreaming, but that can't be because my head feels as though it will explode... And in dreams you don't feel pain, at least, not physical pain like that. Everything is too real. It must be real. But where is Mari? Is she here too? Is she safe?
"Mari?", Richard tried to whisper. "Mari? Are you there?" The throbbing intensified as he tried to elevate his voice.
He heard soft footsteps come slowly at first. Then they became louder as they rushed towards him. He tried to turn his head but his neck was too stiff to move all the way around. He caught a glimpse of someone dressed like a rich medieval woman.
What on earth is this! Some joke!
"Who are you?" Richard asked the stranger as she rushed to his bedside.
"I am your sister, Richard", she replied. "I am Isabella. Do you not remember?"
Richard slowly replied, "No, I don't remember. I don't remember any of this. Where am I?"
She looked surprised. Her young face gawked at him. "You don't remember? My, my, your head must have been hit hard! You are in the castle of the King of Spain."
My head? That must be why it feels so terrible.
He felt the bandages wrapped around his head. They were soft, except for one spot where it felt somewhat crusted. Must be blood... King of Spain?
"Louis VII?" he asked.
She chuckled at him. "No, no! He died twenty-one years ago when you were only two!"
Okay so this is after his time.
"Who am I?"
His question stunned his sister.
"You don't remember anything at all?", she queried.
"No, nothing at all," was the decisive reply he uttered.
"All right. I suppose I shall have to start from the beginning. This will take time. Perhaps you should rest some more before I tell you." As she left the room she turned and said, "Oh, and your wife, Mari, is coming to see you all the way from Milan."
Good. She is safe. Now I can rest in peace.
And rest he did.
This time when he woke, the throbbing in his head was much less than before. He sat up straight in his bed and looked around. He felt slightly faint and his neck was still rather stiff but not nearly to the same extent as before. He saw that he was in a spacious stone room with a cavernous fireplace across the room from his veiled bed. Hot embers glowed in the hearth like many small suns in the sky. On either side of the hearth were windows. Or rather huge holes in the thick granite walls. He swung his legs off the bed slowly and eased himself onto his feet. He felt a soft animal skin on the floor. He looked down at it and saw the floor was covered with skins of many different animals - mostly being deer and bear. Some were more exotic skins such as leopard and a variety of other African creatures and hung from the walls. There were few small spaces left on the walls which were richly decorated by tapestries and banners as well as a few weapons obviously belonging to a great knight or nobleman. He slowly rose to his feet, took a few steps and quickly grabbed the bed pole to steady his stiff legs and back. He stood there for a minute or two. As he regained his balance, he studied the scars on his arms. All the same. Except for a recent one he'd never seen before. It was on his left arm. His sword arm.
I really wonder what happened to me. Was I in a battle? And if I was, who was I fighting? Am I the one who owns these weapons? Am I some great lord?
He stood up straight and slowly made his way to the window on the left side of the massive hearth. What he saw was like nothing he had ever seen before. The sheer size of the castle was astounding. He saw the stables and the horses peering out of their stalls to see the bustling and excitement of the town. He could hear the ringing of a blacksmith's hammer.
I know that sound! Wait. The pings are too close together. There must be two working.
He couldn't tell where the sound came from but saw a thin plume of black smoke rising from a structure behind the stables. That must be the smithy there. A very practical place; near the horses so they can be shod without the difficulty of moving them around.
His eyes continued to scan the scene below him. He saw a baker's shop, butcher's shop, vegetable vendors, a carpenter, tanner, and other craftsmen. He also saw the tavern. The place was packed full of men who appeared to be soldiers. The majority of the noise came from that place. They must be having a good time. He laughed to himself as he thought. I'm sure their brewed barley drinks help put them in a better mood.
Richard noticed a group of men who didn't seem to be as cheerful as the rest. They seemed to keep to themselves and did not talk loudly like the rest. They seemed grim, worried, tense; as though they were waiting for something. Something like news. Good news or bad news.
The sun was high in the sky and its radiant beams shone down on the walls of the castle. There was little shade available except inside the various shops and stalls. It was midday. He wanted to get out and explore the castle and the keep and all the different things inside. This is just what he had wished for; to see exactly what life was like in this era. He had read many different stories and accounts and had studied the histories of the crusades and the many battles between France and Britain and the numerous wars. He always wanted to know what it was really like but he knew that any firsthand experience was impossible. And now he seemed to be living in this reality.
Reality? How can I be sure this is real? Well... I suppose I did feel pain and such when I first tried to sit up. And I was feeling quite dizzy a few minutes ago. I suppose it isn't a dream. But how is it possible? It's like those stories I've read in a few of those odd books.
He heard the soft footsteps on the bare granite stones coming from his left. Isabella must be coming back to tell me what is going on.
Indeed she was coming back. But not with tales of what he was or what had happened to him.
She came with servants carrying platters of food. The gold platters were filled with meats and vegetables and rare spices and herbs. There was boar, venison, beef, fresh fish, crab, lobster and shrimp. He knew that this was very expensive and rare meat to be had. On another platter there was a very large variety of vegetables including beans, peas, potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, onions, beets, and even a small dish of rice. A third platter was piled with bright, colorful fruits including pomegranates, lemons, limes, oranges, pears, grapes, apples, plums, figs, peaches, and others he didn't even recognize. And lastly came a tray with some of the finest French wines. Only after seeing all this food did he realize how hungry he actually was.
How many days have I been without food! I feel as though I could actually eat all this and a little more!
Try as he might, he could not finish all of it. He hardly knew what was best. The boar was remarkably juicy, but the vegetables and fruit were so fresh it was as though he had just collected them himself. Everything was superb. Even the wine, which he seldom enjoyed, tasted wonderful.
That was the best meal I have had in my life! Never have I felt more satisfied after a meal. But why do I get all this fancy food?
"Isabella? Why am I given all this food and such a room as this?," Richard asked out of sheer ignorance.
"Because of who you are", she replied. "You are the Baron of Milan."
"So what happened to me? How was I hurt?" he wanted to know.
"Nobody knows exactly what happened. A few of your knights said that the Moors suddenly reorganized and charged back at your men and caught a number of them off-guard. But you've never been taken by surprise before." She continued, "One said that your horse was shot from underneath you and you were slow getting up again and by that time a Moor had managed a good swipe at your head."
Moors... Okay... So they are still in Spain. And I just fought them.
"Did we win the battle? How did we fare?"
"Well, aside from that little surprise I mentioned, you did well. You lost four knights and eleven men-at-arms and managed to kill all of the Moors except for a handful that managed to sneak off when they saw that the battle was hopeless for them." She proudly said, "Your army drove them all the way down near the northern outskirts of Castile."
That's pretty good... That means they're almost out of Spain altogether.
"Okay, that's excellent." His curiosity began to get the better of him and he pointed at the sword and shield on the wall. "Is that mine?"
"Of course it is! It's about the finest in the world," she assured him, "It most certainly is yours. And the rest of your armor and weapons are over there." Isabella pointed to the farthest corner of the room that Richard had not noticed before. "There is your chain-maille hauberk and coif, your mace, and a new great helm the blacksmith just finished for you yesterday to replace your old one. And your black surcoat is in the chest in the next room." She indicated the doorway from which she had come.
Everything is so well put away. I must have been stone cold for a while.
"Hey, Isabella, how long have I been out?"
"It's been more than five days now. Six I think... No. It's been a week now. The physicians didn't think a man could live that long unconscious; they thought you were hopeless and that making that heavy helm for you was a waste of time."
Seven days? Wow. I don't blame the doctors for thinking I wouldn't make it. But I'm amazed at how well I feel now. Almost as though I just woke up from a good rest. Okay, so I know I'm a great military leader who drove the Moors nearly off the European continent. And I'm also a baron. Of Milan? Yes, like Isabella said. That makes sense. Dear Mari. She must be getting near here by now. Maybe a day or two more. I certainly can't wait to see her again and kiss those soft pink lips and look into those dark eyes that tell a tale only I know. A tale only I can read when I gaze into her eyes. Her beautiful eyes that match her hair perfectly. If only I could just stroke her long brown hair. She's such a beautiful thing.
"You're thinking about her aren't you," Richard involuntarily jumped slightly in surprise.
"Huh? Oh. Yes... I was thinking about Mari," he replied.
"It was kind of bad timing, wasn't it.", was Isabella's question.
"What was bad timing?" Richard didn't have a clue what she meant.
"Your marriage. Just before the war started," she explained, "I remember seeing you two sitting together under a great oak enjoying the wonderful spring weather shortly after your wedding and you two were so close. So happy. So serene. And I remember the messenger who came running up, shattering the crystal of peace with the hammer of war. He told you that the King of Spain was calling knights, lords, and barons from all over Europe to help him drive out the Moors." she paused. "I saw that day turn from the sunniest, warmest, most beautiful spring day to the ugliest, blackest, cloudiest, most unfriendly and wretched time. The tears that flowed that day made the great Rhine and the Rhone rivers ashamed. You didn't want to leave. And Mari wanted you to stay. But there was no way you could refuse the people who were being massacred by the Moors all over Spain. Or so the messenger said about their treatment."
I remember this... Now that she tells me... I can remember that day. It was so terrible. But Mari is coming back. Everything will be fine. I can just feel it. She'll be safe. We'll be together. I know we will.
"Am I still needed with my men to fight the Moors? Or is the king confident he can finish driving them out himself?"
"He sent a message saying that you had served well and would no longer need to fight after your injury. He also sent a large sum of money as payment, all of it in gold. He is very grateful for your service you know."
I sure can tell! This certainly isn't a time for Spain to be sending money to just anyone. If I hadn't studied this part of history, I don't know what I'd do. It helps me understand the situation so much better. Although, I still don't know why I'm here... Something doesn't seem to make sense in my mind... Like something is missing.
By this time it was getting near to dusk. Richard felt exhausted after feasting and talking with Isabella so long.
"I think I'll rest some more. I feel quite tired. I suppose I'll see you in the morning and maybe then there will be news about Mari. Thank you for everything you've done for me sister."
He walked slowly towards the bed and when he reached it he gently eased himself onto it. He lifted the covers, slid under them and laid his still-bandaged head on the soft feather pillows. He listened to the sounds around him. He heard Isabella command a servant to put a couple of logs on the fire; the night, she said, was going to be quite cool. He heard the sounds from outside his room slowly die down. As the light left the town, the life also left. Soon everything was silent except for the crackle of the fire. Richard slept deeply and dreamt of Mari. Dear beautiful Mari...
The next morning he did see Isabella. But she was not happy and jovial like she had been yesterday. Richard Serrad of Milan woke to see his sister standing in the door way watching him and weeping softly to herself so as not to disturb him. These, he could tell immediately, certainly were not tears of joy in any way. Something terrible had happened. Deep inside Richard knew something evil had happened to Mari. His dear Mari. He would not accept it. Impossible. So he asked Isabella, "What's wrong? What is it?"
The four words he heard next were the worst words he had ever heard in his life. Only four words. But those four words changed his life forever.
"It's Mari. She's dead."
"NO! She is NOT DEAD!" Richard screamed the words out as loudly as he could, vainly, in hope of them changing reality.
"She is NOT DEAD! She's still coming! She'll be here anytime! She's NOT DEAD!"
"You're wrong Richard. She was ambushed by the Moors."
"IMPOSSIBLE! SHE CANNOT BE DEAD!" Rage and sorrow filled Richard and it poured out of his mouth. His heart was broken. He could not accept this. It could not be.
She's not dead. No. It's impossible. She's still alive. She's Okay. She can't die. It's a lie. A trick! She'll come today. I'll see her. She's safe!
Deep down he knew this wasn't true. But no matter what. he could not believe it. The concept of his beloved Mari being dead was not acceptable. His mind and heart rejected it and yet he knew it was too late. There was nothing he could do. That was it. She was gone.
NO! She's still alive! She's safe!
"I'm so sorry Richard. I don't know what to do...," the soft voice trailed off.
The great Baron Serrad of Milan did not know if he heard those words or not. All he knew was that he wanted to die. Without Mari there was nothing left for him to live for. She was all he loved. Dear Mari! You're the only one I truly know in this world! Please come back to me! If you can't come back, call me home. I will find you and never leave you again.
"She's all right. She'll come back. I know she will. She will be here soon. I know she will." Richard said aloud as if it would make it true and change reality. Isabella moved towards the bed post and put one arm around it and leaned on it as she watched Richard gaze out the window looking for Mari as though at any moment she could be seen with her guard on the eastern horizon.
"She won't come back Richard. She is dead. They killed her in the mountains of northern Spain," she said softly, trying to destroy the illusion in Richard's mind.
"NO!!!" Richard screamed, shattering the silence as his dagger splintered the wood of his bedpost, very narrowly missing his sister's head. The blade buried itself in the oak post; half the blade embedded six inches into the hardwood and the sharp tip jutted out an inch on the opposite side so that it shattered the post making it resemble a porcupine's back. Isabella was shocked and did not move or breath for a full minute. And neither did Richard. Isabella regained her senses first and quickly left the room where she had come so close to death. Never before had she seen her brother so angry and violent. Not once before. He had lost all control. He never had before. Which is why he did not recover from his shock nearly as quickly as Isabella. Even Richard's mind was slowly analyzing what had just happened.
I'm sorry, Isabella. I can't believe what you say. I'm sorry... I lost my temper. Please don't tell me again... Why? Why! Why did you take her from me! WHY!
He began to question the meaning of his life. What am I to do now? I have nothing to live for now that she is dead. There is nothing! No point at all! I might as well be dead. Then I won't feel the pain I have now. This terrible pain. It hurts too much...
His depression again turned to anger as he thought about those who killed his wife. He wanted to know why and how they did it. And he was determined to get answers. But he didn't want to talk about it. Not now. He would just think about it for now. They must have hidden in the mountains unseen when we drove them out. A small band... Maybe one hundred men. They could easily overpower the guard, especially with their advantage of the mountainous terrain that makes ambush child's play. Why didn't she take to the sea? She should have taken a ship! She knows the mountains aren't safe to travel through! Another why. It would have been much faster, too. I swear I will find those who did this to her and I will slaughter them with my own two hands! All of them! I will make them feel what I've felt. I will rip their hearts out! I will torture them all! They will wish they never had been born! I will tear their limbs apart! I will subject them to fire! Burn their eyes out! Scorch their faces! And one by one I will torture them to their death! Not one of them will live to see the sun rise! I will take my revenge! I will kill every last one! Blood will flow from those mountains. The streams will be polluted with their bodies and blood. The fish will be well fed. The birds and beasts will feast on their flesh as it bakes in the sun! Their bones will be gnawed upon by the wolves and wild dogs! They will be destroyed by my own hand. They will taste steel.
He returned to the window and his gaze crossed over the castle. He saw the streets were mostly empty. Only a stray dog wandered the street, following a peasant on some errand who seemed to try to get home as quickly as possible as he rapidly shuffled along with his heavy basket of freshly picked apples. The town seemed to still be asleep even though it was easing on to midmorning. A pigeon suddenly fluttered down and landed on the window ledge and began to coo loudly and strut about as though it had something to show off. Richard's large, calloused hand shot forward and grabbed the bird and violently snapped its head back with his thumb. The wings flapped violently for a full five seconds and then began to slow down as the muscle spasms ceased. He held the limp body in his hand and stared at the awkwardly bent neck of the gray bird.
That felt good! Death will soothe my anger and nurse my pains. I will kill!
He nonchalantly tossed the bird to the ground far below and watched it crumple into a small gray pile. He continued to stare at it as though he expected it to perform some miraculous trick. A calico cat appeared and nervously crept up to the pigeon and after giving it a sniff, snatched it up and quickly ran off with its plump prize to devour in privacy.
This is an omen. A sign from God. I will do to those Moors as I have done to this bird and the wild beasts will feast upon their rotting corpses.
The great Richard Allen Serrad, Baron of Milan, straightened up and strode to the door that led to the hallway. It was dimly lit only by a few torches.
He bellowed into the darkness, "BRING ME WINE!"
His deep voice echoed through the castle. That ought to do it. He turned around and looked again at his dagger implanted into his bed pole. That actually looks attractive. It's a beautiful thing... something that can so easily kill and look so elegant at the same time. He turned to the wall against which his bed was positioned. And that sword. Yes, that sword is very pretty indeed. The hilt itself is a work of art; so finely decorated and well balanced. And yet it is so deadly. Capable of severing a man's shoulders and chest from his waist and legs. It can slice through any armor that a man has ever worn or will wear. It's not some illegitimate, hand-and-a-half bastard sword. No, this is the great sword, a two handed sword. Too large and heavy to be wielded by a normal man without two hands. And even then he would have immense difficulty parrying any blows or landing some himself without being killed first. But not me. Ha! Certainly not me! To me it is as light as a feather! But then again, what do you expect. I'm bigger than any other man that I know. I'm at least a head and shoulders taller than the tallest man here. And I bet I easily outweigh that burly blacksmith even though I'm so young. I could beat him in an arm wrestle any day! Right-handed too! Nobody comes close to my strength and sheer size. Maybe I'm an easier target for archers, but they can't just penetrate my armor. And even if they do, I've still got that good padding underneath. Even if they could possibly penetrate that too, it'd only give me a scratch. They need a lot more than an arrow to kill me! But they won't have that opportunity. Not when I kill them first!
"M'lord, here is your wine," Richard heard the unmistakable voice of Mari. He could not believe his ears as he whipped around, expecting to see his wife standing in the door way. Who he saw certainly was not Mari. He could tell by the clothes she wore and her tied back hair that she was just a servant girl. A servant girl who resembled the one whom he loved. The one he would have died for if it had made a difference. He didn't move; he could only stare at the girl who stared right back. Richard could sense she was slightly nervous.
Can't blame her, the way I shouted for wine... And my size probably makes me a little more intimidating. But she looks so much like Mari. Dear Mari. She looks exactly like Mari. "Oh Mari. Oh Mari... Please come back." He whispered, "Please"
"Sir?" The servant asked; implying that she did not understand what he said.
"I'm sorry," Richard's temper had been quickly appeased upon seeing the girl. He tried to explain to her, "It's just you... you look just like..." He could hardly say her name. "You look just like my dear Mari. You sound just like her too."
The girl looked somewhat stunned. Richard could see a very slight tremble in her hand that held the silver cup of wine. "Like... like your wife?" she stuttered. "Mari Montaigne?"
"Yes, like Mari Montaigne"
She didn't speak.
"Please, come closer."
She slowly walked towards Richard.
He motioned to the bed and said, "Please, sit down." There were no chairs in the room.
She slowly did as he requested as she tried to control her shaking hand.
"Don't be afraid. I won't hurt you at all. I just want to talk to you," Richard tried to calm her as he took the decorated cup from her hand. He noticed her glance at his dagger embedded in the oak bedpost. "Please. It's Okay." He sat down beside her and took a sip of the wine. "This is excellent. Thank you."
She showed no acknowledgment of his comment except for relaxing slightly.
"Tell me, what is your name?"
She sat still for a moment as though she had to think about what her name was. "Esther," she said it so softly Richard could barely hear.
"Please, call me Richard."
"Richard." He corrected her.
"Sorry, M'l... Sorry, Richard."
"It's Okay. Don't worry about it."
She was silent. The trembling in her hand was hardly noticeable any more.
"How old are you?"
"Ah, I don't remember when I was that age. I was injured recently and have lost my memory."
"Yes, there has been gossip in the kitchens of your memory loss. You must have loved Mari very much if you remember her but nothing else."
"I did. I still do. I love her very much. And it's because you look just like her that I wanted to talk to you." When Richard mentioned Mari he spoke softly and dreamily. "Have you ever loved someone?"
The question caught Esther off guard. She did not reply immediately as she thought about the question. "No. I have not."
"Not even your parents?"
Her dark brown eyes moistened and Richard knew he struck a soft spot.
"I never knew my parents. My papa was crushed by a massive stone when they built this very keep. That was just before I was born. My mama died when I was seven. She was killed by the Moors. They left me for dead but your sister found me when she came here from the north. I was nearly dead from starvation and sadness but she took me and fed me. She didn't make me work but I insisted that I be her servant in payment for saving my life."
"I'm sorry. I know what it's like to loose someone for nothing. Mari was killed for nothing. And now I will go and kill those who did this to her. I will kill them all!" His anger returned as he shouted, "They will taste my wrath and my steel!"
Esther cringed and drew back.
"I'm sorry. I lost my temper."
"I know. I do too sometimes. But not quite like that. Nobody else knows about my past except for Isabella."
"So there is more reason to kill all of them. And kill them I most certainly will!"
"No! Do not try such a thing. Too many have been killed already. There is no need to kill more. If you go you will be killed too... Don't risk your life for revenge. It will not make a difference. It won't help you. It will only bring your death."
"No! I will fight again. I will kill! I will have my revenge!" Richard nearly exploded. His face was beet red and his eyes flashed. "I will kill all of them! No one will stop me!"
Esther was stunned. She hardly knew what to do. Never had she seen someone so agitated by a little bit of advice other than a drunk once. It wasn't like she said something offensive. Or had she? She didn't know for sure. But something made him livid. Perhaps it was best to leave him alone for a while. Maybe he would calm down. She'd give him some time.
"I need to go."
"You sure do. Get me some more wine." Richard ordered her as his craving for something to calm him increased. "Get me more than just a cup. Get me a small keg!" All friendliness seemed to have vanished. Or was it banished? The Baron Serrad of Milan wanted to be sure he would get his revenge. It will make a difference! I know it will! I will KILL! Esther disappeared into the dark hall.
The sun shone brightly. The morning was hot. By midday it would be even warmer. Richard Allen Serrad was already sweating heavily enough as he sat in his high-backed saddle atop his black stallion. His maille armor and his great helm glistened in the morning sunlight. His black surcoat absorbed all the heat like a black hole. His huge, somewhat triangular shield too was black, save the large white Maltese Cross in its center towards the broader top. The heavy oak shield hung over his back. The same white cross was on his long, ebony surcoat. His great two-handed sword was strapped to his saddle underneath his armored right leg. His maille hauberk hung halfway to his knees with a split in the center from the waist down. His horse, Sama'El, Angel of Death, was covered with the same black material and the same white cross on the flanks. The leather bridle of Sama'El was black also; accented with silver. What was not black was silver. What was not silver was white. No color. Only blackness. A blackness that Richard felt. Not only did this black hole suck in the light of day, it sucked in the light of good. It absorbed reason. It wanted to take many lives. None of these things could fill the void. Nothing would ever return. It was hopeless. Utterly futile. Change was pointless. Only death filled the hunger that consumed him. His lust for Moorish blood must be quenched. That was his quest. His quest for revenge for the blood that was spilt. The blood of Mari Montaigne. Soon the blood of Moors would quench his thirst. It would fill the seas. Very soon. But for him, it certainly was not soon enough. He had waited long enough. His excessive drinking was a mistake that delayed him several weeks. He did not remember anything from those five weeks. All he had done was remain in his room and drink. Each day he was more intoxicated than any had ever seen before. He could not tell the difference between day and night or the difference between good wine and waste water. He had no observance of time either. It's a good thing that they finally quit sending me wine. He barely remembered ordering more wine and then not having it fulfilled. He didn't even realize it didn't come until much later. Then he attempted to walk down the dark hall to deal with it. He ended up smashing his head on the low door post and nearly tumbling down a seemingly invisible flight of stairs. After receiving the blow he decided to return to his room and just wait. The next morning his head throbbed so terribly he hardly knew if it was from his hangover or if it was from smashing his head. He concluded it was both. Later in the day a servant came with a large jug of water. He took it and drank deeply from it. A few hours later his mind was feeling much clearer and he decided once again to go down the dark hall. This time he remembered to duck lower and he carefully negotiated the circular stairs that went down into darkness. After a few rotations, he saw a faint light. He continued on and came to another hall. This one was much better lit than his and also much larger. On either side of the hall were a dozen doorways leading to different sleeping chambers. At the end of the hall was a large, heavy oak, double door studded with iron that reinforced the thick wood and held it solidly together. Brackets were placed on the double door and in the granite on either side of it so that it could be easily braced by placing a beam on the brackets. One of the massive doors was ajar and Richard approached it and found himself going down another stairway. When he came to the bottom of this stair he looked over the great hall of the keep from a wood balcony. He proceeded down the wood stair adjacent to the stone wall as he scanned the huge room for another doorway. He saw two. One clearly led to the kitchen and he saw another door that was much more impressive than the oak double door he had seen. This one must have been at least twice the size and three times the thickness of the oak door. He quickly strode to this door, opened it and found himself peering into the bright midday sunlight. He slowly walked out onto the large stone platform and descended the stone steps. There were many peasants, tradesmen, and soldiers all about and as he walked out every head turned, every man, woman and child stopped what they were doing, watching him as though he were a god. He walked slowly, heading towards the stables and blacksmith. The people made way for him, dipping their heads in respect and submission to him. As he passed them, some followed and others watched from where they stood. Every eye was fixed on him and he did not know why. Later he asked Isabella and she told him that it was the first time most of the people had ever seen him and they knew that he had quite possibly saved their lives from the Moors.
Man, I don't remember doing that... Nothing at all... I only remember my dear Mari... I miss her so much... So, so much... And I'll never see her again... But I will have my revenge. I will spill the blood of those who spilled hers... I will spill it into my cup and drink it in toast to their death. And they will drink their next drink with the dead. Every last one of them will. Every Moor that crosses my path will die. I will leave none alive. No man, woman, or child. They will all pay! I will not rest until their blood has stained the soil and fertilized the grass. Soon. Very soon I will leave this place and begin. Perhaps this very afternoon.
He looked to the west and saw small white clouds forming.
It looks as though the weather will be good for traveling but it may turn grim if I wait a few days. Perhaps I shall summon my men and have them properly prepared for the journey and the slaughter.
He left his room and commanded a servant to find all of his men and tell them to meet in the great hall immediately. He gazed at the various and colourful tapestries that hung all around the hall from the bleak stone walls. The decoration made it much cheerier. But Richard was not cheerful. He continued to stare at the different tapestries- one in particular. It had a large cross on it that was in a shape he had never seen before. It was like four spear heads or broad arrow heads arranged with their tips in the center making an eight pointed cross. Something about it intrigued him and he knew that this was to be the mark he would bear from now on. He was no longer a man who loved. He was now a man who hated. But whatever it was about this cross, it was something he liked. His attention was diverted when some of his men entered the hall through the massive oak door. They all had neatly trimmed beards and wore maille hauberks underneath darkly colored surcoats with bastard swords strapped to their waists. They were all heavily built but certainly not as tall or muscular as Richard was. Several, he could see, had scars on their faces. Each stood shoulder to shoulder silently, waiting for their next command.
These are certainly tough and disciplined men, Richard thought to himself as he examined the six men.
Shortly after ten more men walked in. They lacked the maille hauberks and had more unkempt beards. Fewer of them bore scars and lacked the heavy, bull-like appearance. It seems as though their appearance coincides with their discipline. The best appear first. The weaker come later.
Just as he was about to speak, two more men stumbled in through the doorway. They were both clearly intoxicated on ale. One had nearly smashed into the door while the other tripped on the oak threshold. They both lacked nearly everything the others had. They only carried daggers and wore soiled tunics. They had no maille hauberk, sword, or surcoat. No beards, no scars. Nothing to indicate they were some of the finest soldiers in Spain, not the town drunkards.
These cannot be my men. They are fools- irresponsible and unprepared.
"Guards! Remove these men immediately!" Richard roared out the command.
The two armed and armored guards immediately grabbed the two men and half-walked, half dragged them out of the building and threw them on the ground at the bottom of the stone steps of the keep. The two weak men both fell to the ground like sacks of potatoes. These are no soldiers! Especially not mine. They are hardly fit to hold a sword! The two men rolled on the ground and moaned loudly. Richard commanded, "Shut the doors." Instantly the great oak doors were shut.
"You all know my condition and everything that has occurred to me. You also know that I have vowed to kill every Moor I meet. And indeed I will!" He spoke to the men. "All of you now face the decision of whether or not you will go with me or stay here and rot away. You will not find any battles to fight if you stay here for I will win them all before you have a chance to even hear about its occurrence! If you want to fight and to kill, join me and you will! You will, that is, if you manage to get to the enemy before I do! Join me or put down your swords and let their blades rust and your maille disintegrate and your shields rot." He paused for a moment and then said, "Who will join me?"
All six of the grizzled men shoved up their fists and bellowed, "We will!"
Three of the men remained silent as the other seven joined the tough knights in their agreement with Richard. As the roaring continued, the trio slowly stood and walked to the door and left. Nothing was ever heard of them again. The men that remained settled down and listened.
"Soon we will leave for the mountains where my wife, Mari Montaigne, was killed. There are Moors hiding there and we will slaughter every single one of them." He added, "And we will bear a new crest. We will wear black surcoats. They are to be blacker than coal. And each will bear that cross." He pointed to the tapestry with the eight-pointed cross. "It will be white. Each one of you will bear it on your surcoat and your shield. No colour at all." He stared at his followers. They all nodded their heads. One turned his head to the kitchen. Richard followed his gaze and saw a servant boy peering out from the kitchen doorway. "You there!" He shouted at the boy, "Tell the tailors, spinners, seamstresses, everyone who can sew to make me and my men our surcoats. Tell the armory to paint our shields black and to place that white cross in the center. Also, be sure they get me a massive, black horse and make a blanket for it that is black with the white cross on its flanks. Have the bridle and saddle black too, with silver hardware." He turned back to his men and announced to all present, "All this is to be done quickly. On the morning of the third day we ride north!" Each man saluted and dispersed. Preparation commenced. The beginning of the end drew closer.
Now, as he sat atop Sama'El, he knew he would get his revenge. He knew absolutely nothing would or could stop him. There was no chance of it. Not even the slightest. Whatever might try would not succeed. I am invincible! No one can kill me. No one can stop me. I will take my revenge. Soon. Very, very soon I will kill them all. I will plunge my sword through their pitiful, heartless bodies. The crowd that surrounded him and his men was not loud and exuberant as it would have been had the departure instead been a victorious return. The people only stared in silence at the men they did not expect to return. Hushed whispers were hardly audible in the crowd. "Who had ever heard of fourteen men defeating an entire encampment of at least eighty Moors!", and "Are they insane?", and "These men are suicidal!", ran throughout the assembled townspeople. The Baron of Milan could hear some of the whispers. Fools. They know nothing of what drives me. I know we will slay them. Slaughter every one of them. They will not survive. Sure, the odds are against us, but we will defeat them nonetheless. His men were now all mounted; each one cloaked in the same black as Richard Allen Serrad. Overlooking his small company, Richard turned and faced forward in his saddle and looked on towards the large gate, its portcullis looming above as its teeth threatened to drop on any poor soul who passed through it. It was time to leave. Richard swung out his great sword and dug his silver spurs into the horse's flanks as he pointed his blade threateningly to the sky. Sama'El reared high in the air, pawed the empty air and whinnied as Richard yelled at the top of his huge lungs, "FOR MARI!!!"
His men imitated him as he galloped on through the gate way. "For Mari!"
Those present also joined in as they watched the fourteen black riders gallop away through the massive gateway. The only thought in their minds was, "Will they ever return alive?"
Sama'El showed little weariness but Richard could see that the other horses were tiring. He surveyed the landscape. It was terribly rough and unfriendly. In the valleys was inviting green grass but as the terrain elevated it turned treacherous, rocky and barren. The sun's heat radiated from the exposed ground. Fortunately the heat was not so intense now that the sun was beginning to edge under the horizon. This was the sixth time he had seen the sun die since he charged into this bloodthirsty excursion. The path they followed wound between large rock impediments. Massive boulders were strewn all around. The hill was inhospitable and forbidding, especially in light of the lush green grass of the valley below and the small, clear stream that flowed through it. A few of his men questioned him as to whether or not they should camp in the valley for the night for the horses would have good grass and fresh water but Richard insisted on pressing on. When he had made the final decision he overheard one of his men noting his character. The rest ignored the remark as they plodded on single file up to the top of the hill.
'He is relentless!' He better believe it! I will not stop until they are all dead. I will not rest until every one of them is slaughtered.
They reached the peak of the rock covered elevation and Richard saw immediately just what he wanted to see. His eyes were greeted by a mountain. Not another rock strewn pile of soil. A mountain. These were the mountains where the terrible deed was committed. Murder was done. Innocent blood was spilt. And blood would be spilt again. Tomorrow.
"HALT!" Richard shouted. "There is our enemy. There are those whom I have come to kill." He paused and thought for a short moment. "Let us turn back and head down this hill back into the valley. We will stay there for the night and let our horses rest and be well nourished. They must be well prepared for the battle tomorrow. Come, let us set up camp there." He pointed to a place that was naturally protected by the rocks. They reversed their course and proceeded down the hill, the red sunset to their right. The red light filled the valley and the boulders cast shadows across the path.
Later that night he gazed up at the stars. A clear night. No wind. Tomorrow will be a warm day. A beautiful day to die. Everyone will die. I know they will... I will make sure of that! He looked at his tents all set up around a large central campfire. His men were sleeping soundlessly inside their tents, deep in sleep. Or so it would be thought by the enemy if their scouts lurked near there in the night. His men really were sleeping on crude mats beside the large boulders so as not to be found but quite prepared in case of an attack in the night. A perfect trick. Once they gallop in and light fire to the tents they will end up being surrounded by my men. They will not escape alive.
No such attack occurred. It seemed as though the Moors were completely oblivious to their presence. All the better! When we meet them in the morning they will not be prepared at all. We will take them by surprise and slaughter every last one! Ha! They thought the odds were completely against us... Not any more! The tables are turning. I will succeed in wiping them off the face of the Earth! But first I must rest... Richard adjusted his head and his legs into a more comfortable position, not that it was easy on the hard ground. He looked up at the stars one last time and closed his eyes. He dreamed of his dear Mari. Dear, dear Mari...
"Sir. . . Sir. . . Sir!" A distant, husky voice woke Richard. He opened his eyes immediately and saw one of his men stooping down near him trying to wake him.
"Yes, what is it?"
"It is morning. The men are ready to ride." The short answer came to Richard as he tried to let his limbs recover from the horrible way he was sleeping on the ground. I sure wish I didn't have to sleep in such an uncomfortable position like that! Now my arms and legs are completely numb! This will not do!
"Tell the men I will be along soon." Richard got up off the fine gravel he laid in and walked towards the green grass and the crystal-clear stream.
Rock rose high above on either side, narrowing the path so greatly that there was only enough room for two or maybe three men to stand side-by-side. Fortunately the terrain did not allow a person with ill intent to easily perch upon the hill and rain arrows down from above on some unsuspecting traveler. The grade was simply much too steep. A greater concern would be that the passage in front might become blocked off and then an enemy could easily come from behind and there would be no way out alive. The past twisted around so many times that it was extremely disorienting. Richard could not see the sun but he could tell the day was beautiful. A beautiful day to die! A beautiful day to spill blood and provide fresh flesh for the beasts and the birds! They will feast today! They will gorge themselves on the flesh of those I hate! I will kill every single one! Crush their skulls! Grind their bones into dust and cast it in the wind so that it is carried across the land. The ground will be red and muddy from the blood I will spill on it! Very soon I will have my revenge. Shortly I will give to them what has been expected by them for killing my Mari! Very soon! I can almost smell the blood in the air. The scent of death.
The knights were all on foot. Richard had ordered them all to dismount when they reached the narrowing of the path. He knew if they were to keep riding along they would provide much easier targets for archers for not only were they a much larger object when mounted on a horse, they also would have more difficulty using their shields. Also, if they were to be ambushed, they would not be able to dismount very quickly and form a defensive tortoise. He knew that the horses would be most disagreeable and uncooperative if they were to be suddenly rained upon by Moorish arrows. We may be a little slower this way but we will be able to defend ourselves from missiles much more easily like this.
No sooner than he thought of missiles, he saw a very large clearing in front of him. The sun shone brightly on it from behind him and he could see green grass on the fringes of the surprisingly flat field. The rest, he could see was torn up by horses' hooves. They seemed to revolve around the center of the field. Richard could clearly see what it was in the center. A black, charred pile of rubble was the centerpiece of the battle field. Remnants of some sort of cart or wagon could be seen; a wheel was identifiable, protruding up out of the heap, broken. The company of knights moved out onto the field and stopped where the grass was trampled into dirt. Only Richard kept walking, hypnotized by the black pile before his eyes.
Oh Mari! My dear, dear Mari! How could they do this to you? Such a beautiful person. So care free... So peaceful... So harmless... How? How can they do this and LIVE! I will KILL THEM! The baron's mind twisted and warped by the intense pain he felt and the anger that burned in him. I MUST KILL! NOW!
He rushed into full sprint. He charged for the pile of black rubble. It was nearly as black as his heart now felt inside him. As he got closer and closer he noticed some things had been strewn about and were not scorched by fire. They must have stripped the bodies and searched the luggage for valuables. He nearly tripped over a small leather satchel of sorts. That looks vaguely familiar. Richard stopped and picked it up. I'm sure I've seen this before. Somewhere. I don't know where or when, but I know I've seen it before! He studied the lines carved into the leather, a very beautiful floral design. He saw a name underneath it. "Mari." This is Mari's! I knew it! Its hers! The great man sunk to his knees. I knew I had seen it before! She would keep her paper in this case and some ink and quills. She would keep it with her so she could write letters or poems or stories... Any time she wanted to write something she had the tools necessary to do so... Dear, dear Mari... He opened the flat leather bag and saw Mari's papers and quills. Many of them were covered with her beautiful writing. He gently took the papers out and read them.
'How can a person feel this sad?
How can they feel this pain?
How can they say good-bye to someone they love?
Someone they love so much
Someone they'll never forget?
How cruel this world is.
How treacherous this life.
A woman is married to the love of her life
Only to find out that her lover must leave
Only to hear he must go fight.
When will this pain end?
When will he come back?
Will he come back?
Will this pain leave?'
Richard shuffled the papers. He could hardly bear to read her writing. His eyes swelled with tears of anger and sorrow. The next paper looked like a letter. A letter addressed to me? He read.
My dear husband whom I love more than life itself. I've heard about what has happened to you and will be there shortly. I would have taken a boat like you would have suggested were you here but the weather on the sea has been such the past week that no sailor was willing to take me. I insisted but not one would go. I don't blame them though, the sea did not look very inviting, being so dark and rough. I'm now riding with my guard as well as a few merchants who said they needed to come as well for they needed to trade with some cities to the south. I'm just coming through some mountains. I wish you could be here. They are so beautiful. The night is so clear. You can see every star in the sky, twinkling like jewels. I'm camped in a large open area deep in the mountains. I would have liked to have continued on through and stopped for the night in the valley I'm told of just beyond these rocks but the horses were growing weary and the men were getting hungry so I decided to stop here instead. I will be there soon my dear Richard. Very soon. I'm told it will only be a few days more. I will see you then.
Richard looked closely at the end of the letter. It's unfinished. An ungainly black line streaked across the page. She was startled while she wrote this. Could it be she was attacked in the middle of the night? It must be. Just wait until I find those who did this! I will kill them who dared raise a hand against my wife! My beautiful Mari... He tenderly put the papers back into the leather satchel and closed it. His eyes stung from the tears that came from them. He softly wept to himself. Mari. Mari, please, please call me home! I only want to see you one last time... I want to tell you how much I love you... Dear, dear Mari...
Richard's men had quietly ambled closer to where he was. They had stopped about five yards away and silently waited for him. Anger and hatred filled him and he stood up. He roared into the mountains, "COME OUT! Everyone of you who did this! COME OUT! I am Richard Allen Serrad, Baron of Milan, and you killed my WIFE! COME OUT NOW AND FACE ME! I WILL KILL ALL OF YOU!" Only silence filled the air along with the smell of death. His black-cloaked knights looked around, searching for any sign of the enemy coming to take up their commander's challenge. They did not see or hear a thing. Not a sound could be heard, not the faintest breeze felt. The field they were in was beginning to feel like an oven as the heat beat down upon their black surcoats. One by one, they shed their surcoats and bared their shining maille armor and made their bastard swords more visible than before. A few of them had also brought along short bows, similar to those used by the Moors but slightly larger and more powerful. Their quivers were filled with arrows. Nothing happened. "COME FIGHT ME NOW!" Richard's voice echoed through the mountains. The men began to get slightly nervous for other than Richard's voice there was no sound. Not of beast, bird, or air. Nothing. They grouped together, forming a circle with their shields in front of them, prepared for whatever might come at them. They kept scanning the hills around them and saw nothing.
Richard spun around, instantly recognizing the sound of an arrow hitting a shield. As he expected, he saw a wood shaft buried in the shield of one of his men. They are here! He called out to his men, "Steady! We will let them come!" He turned and faced the rock face nearest to him just in time to see more arrows fly into the air. "TORTOISE!" he shouted, commanding his men to assume the defensive position first effectively used by the Romans over a thousand years before. "TORTOISE!" Instantly every knight tightened the circle and closed in several inside the circle. Those on the outside of the circle formed a solid wall of black shields while those inside formed a protective roof to shelter the soldiers from the torrential rain of arrows about to hit them. They were not quite fast enough. One man of less experience screamed out in pain as an arrow struck his neck, piercing the maille coif and sliding through his flesh as though it were a stick through butter. He vainly grabbed at it as though he could pull it out and save his own life but they all knew he was done for. The body collapsed on the ground and a small pool of blood formed around his head, staining the ground and muddying the dust. Thhhwak! Thhhhok! Thhhhhhunk! Arrows poured down on the small company from all angles. Every where there was an arrow. Soon, the wall of black shields no longer resembled a tortoise but appeared more like a hedgehog; each arrow protruding from the shields like quills. The ground all around the men was covered with arrows that had missed the shell. This will not do! We cannot stay like this! They must come and attack us! Hand-to-hand combat! Not this ridiculous business of shooting arrows from a safe distance! Let them come face me like the men they think they are!
And as though they had heard what he was thinking the rain of arrows began to decrease. No longer was it torrential. Instead the ground shook as the hooves of dozens of horses pounded the earth. The mounted Moors charged at the tortoise, hoping to break it up by scaring the men. Ha! They are foolish! Thinking they can scare my men and make them run! Fools! That is what they are!
Richard failed to notice the spears that they carried. Spears designed by the Romans to be thrown at those hiding behind shields. Instead of a wood shaft with an iron head at the end, it had a small but sharp point connected to a long, thin iron rod, making the weapon capable of not only penetrating the shield, but also harming the man holding it.
The Moors charged straight at the black shell and prepared to hurl their spears at the men. Richard saw the spears and made a quick and short order, "FIRE!" Three of his men inside the protective wall of shields drew their bows back and released their arrows as those in front cracked open their tightly overlapped shields, making it possible for the archers to shoot without being at risk of being shot themselves. The arrows flew true and three riders toppled off their mounts into the dust; their spears fell harmlessly to the dirt But three was not enough. Six riders came from behind them and threw their spears into the mass of shields. One buried itself deep into a shield and the man behind it. He fell out of his place in the circle and the ring quickly tightened to close the empty space. A spear dug into the ground right at the feet of one man while another struck the shield of the man, nearly setting him off balance. One man had the cold steel bite into his shoulder. Two down, one injured. "FIRE!"
The archers once again released their iron tipped arrows. One missed. Two drew screams. One connected with a rider's neck, the other plunged into the back of a well dressed rider very near the spine. Both tumbled onto the ground and stirred up the dust as their limp bodies rolled. When the latter hit the dirt, all those mounted drew up to a halt. They seemed to be in a state of shock. That must have been their leader. Such fools. Thinking he's invincible... HA! I'll show them who will die today! And it will be every one of them!
One of the Moors shouted something and then the entire horde erupted with yelling. They regrouped, on foot, and drew their scimitars. Finally, they come to face me as they ought to! The same man again shouted something and the multitude roared. Richard could not count them quickly enough to be sure how many there were, but it was certainly more than he had expected. There were at least three hundred and it appeared that they were preparing to attack on foot, hand-to-hand instead. Excellent. They will come to us and I will slaughter them. I will kill! There will not be a single one of them left alive! "We will wait for them to be close enough so that their archers won't fire as readily for fear of hitting their own men. Then we will draw swords and break the tortoise and simply form a wall, expanding the circle and leaving the center empty except for our archers who will continue firing at will. We must keep any Moor from entering the circle!" He continued on, "WE WILL KILL THEM ALL! LEAVE NONE ALIVE!" Their front line continued to advance on his small force of twelve. His men had felt completely invincible before, but now that they faced such a large number, they began to lose hope. Even the most seasoned of the group began to question themselves as to whether or not this was the way they really wanted to die. Yes, they wanted to die fighting in a glorious battle, but they didn't want the battle to be a foolish one. As they waited for the enemy, every one of them broke their oaths. Their oaths that they would not question their leader.
The two forces collided and the sound of steel clanging against steel rang out and filled the air alongside the screams of men being skewered by spears and slashed by swords. One of Richard's men fell, a huge gaping gash in his leg crippled him. Blood spurted out of his artery as his life drained away. He tried in vain to stop the Moor but only parried a blow before yielding to a slash that opened his skull to show the world his brain. The Moor advanced on the three archers who were taking down soldiers faster than the Moors could handle. Their men hardly have a chance to get to my men before taking a large risk of being shot. They don't like to see so many of their men die. I do. I like to see all of them die! They will pay for what they did to Mari!
"Take him down!" One of the men beside the dead body with the cracked open skull yelled at the archers. Richard glanced back to see an arrow strike the man in the chest but it didn't seem to hurt him badly at all but just bounced off the scale armor. In fact, the only reaction Richard noticed from him was that he was put off balance. The next unusual aspect was the man's size. He was not as large as Richard but he was still very big. Big and well dressed. Must be a great warrior or something. But not as great as I. I'll take him on. He