KING. POLITICIAN. WARRIOR. CONQUEROR.
1189. Richard the Lionheart's long-awaited goal comes true as he is crowned King of England. Setting his own kingdom in order, he prepares to embark on a gruelling crusade to reclaim Jerusalem.
With him on every step of the journey is Ferdia, his loyal Irish follower. Together they travel from southern France to Italy, to the kingdom of Sicily and beyond.
Finally poised to sail to the Holy Land, Richard finds a bitter two-year-long siege awaiting him. And with it, the iconic Saracen leader responsible for the loss of Jerusalem, Saladin.
No one can agree who should fill the empty throne of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and Saladin's huge army shadows Richard's every move. Conditions are brutal, the temperatures boiling, and on the dusty field of Arsuf, the Lionheart and his soldiers face their ultimate test...
Release date: April 29, 2021
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Print pages: 432
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Paul Finch, author of Strangers
‘Ben’s deeply authoritative depiction of the time is delivered in a deft manner. I was immersed in the detail of Rufus’s life, with its heat and cold, its odours, foods, clothing, beats, politics and all the other minutiae of the age’
Simon Scarrow, author of the Eagles of the Empire series
‘Kane’s virtues as a writer of historical adventures – lively prose, thorough research, colourful action – are again apparent’
Nick Rennison, The Sunday Times
‘Lionheart has plenty of betrayal, bloodshed and rich historical detail’
Martin Chilton, Independent
‘Plenty of action, blood, scheming, hatred, stealth and politics here, if that’s what you want in your read – and you know it is!’
‘To read one of Ben Kane’s astonishingly well-researched, bestselling novels is to know that you are, historically speaking, in safe hands’
Elizabeth Buchan, Daily Mail
‘This is a stunningly visual and powerful read: Kane’s power of description is second to none … Perfect for anyone who is suffering from Game of Thrones withdrawal symptoms’
Helena Gumley-Mason, The Lady
‘Fans of battle-heavy historical fiction will, justly, adore Clash of Empires. With its rounded historical characters and fascinating historical setting, it deserves a wider audience’
Antonia Senior, The Times
‘Grabs you from the start and never lets go. Thrilling action combines with historical authenticity to summon up a whole world in a sweeping tale of politics and war. A triumph!’
Harry Sidebottom, author of the The Last Hour
‘The word epic is overused to describe books, but with Clash of Empires it fits like a gladius in its scabbard. What Kane does, with such mastery, is place the big story – Rome vs Greece – in the background, while making this a story about ordinary men caught up in world-defining events. In short, I haven’t enjoyed a book this much for ages. There aren’t many writers today who could take on this story and do it well. There might be none who could do it better than Ben Kane’
Giles Kristian, author of Lancelot
‘Exceptional. Kane’s excelled once again in capturing the terror and the glory … of the ancient battlefield, and this story is one that’s been begging for an expert hand for a long time’
Anthony Riches, author of the Empire series
‘Carried off with panache and Kane’s expansive, engaging, action-packed style. A complex, fraught, moving and passionate slice of history from one of our generation’s most ambitious and engaging writers’
Manda Scott, author of the Boudica series
‘It’s a broad canvas Kane is painting on, but he does it with vivid colours and, like the Romans themselves, he can show great admiration for a Greek enemy and still kick them in the balls’
Robert Low, author of the Oathsworn series
‘Ben Kane manages to marry broad narrative invention with detailed historical research … in taut, authoritative prose … his passion for the past, and for the craft of story-telling, shines from every page’
Toby Clements, author of the Kingmaker series
‘This thrilling series opener delivers every cough, spit, curse and gush of blood to set up the mighty clash of the title. Can’t really fault this one’
Jon Wise, Weekend Sport
‘Ben Kane’s new series explores the bloody final clash between ancient Greece and upstart Rome, focusing on soldiers and leaders from both worlds and telling the story of a bloody war with style’
Charlotte Heathcote, Sunday Express S Magazine
‘A thumping good read. You can feel the earth tremble from the great battle scenes and feel the desperation of those caught up in the conflict. Kane’s brilliant research weaves its way lightly throughout’
David Gilman, author of the Master of War series
(Those marked * are recorded in history)
Ferdia Ó Catháin/Rufus O’Kane, an Irish noble from north Leinster in Ireland
Rhys, orphaned Welsh youth
Robert FitzAldelm, knight, and brother to Guy FitzAldelm (deceased)
Royal House of England:
Henry Fitz Empress*, King of England, Duke of Normandy, Count of Anjou, (deceased)
Alienor (Eleanor) of Aquitaine*, Henry’s widow
Henry (Hal), eldest son of Henry (deceased)
Richard, King of England, Duke of Aquitaine* and second son of Henry
Geoffrey*, third son of Henry, Duke of Brittany (deceased)
Arthur*, Geoffrey’s young son
John*, Count of Mortain, youngest son of Henry, also known as ‘Lackland’
Joanna*, Queen of Sicily, daughter of Henry
English Royal Court:
Beatrice, maidservant to Queen Alienor
André de Chauvigny*, knight and cousin to Richard
Baldwin de Béthune*, knight
William Longchamp*, Bishop of Ely, Richard’s chancellor
Hugh de Puiset*, Bishop of Durham
Geoffrey*, bastard son to Henry, Archbishop of York
William Marshal*, one of Richard’s justiciars
Bardolph*, FitzPeter* and Bruyère*, also Richard’s justiciars
Philip, squire and friend to Rufus
Religious: Archbishop Walter of Rouen*, Archbishop Gerard of Auxienne*, Bishop Hubert of Salisbury*, Bishop John of Evreux*, Bishop Nicholas of Le Mans*
John d’Alençon*, Archdeacon of Lisieux and a former Vice Chancellor of England
Hugh de la Mare*, clerk
Ambroise*, cleric and author of the extant Estoire de la Guerre Sainte, The History of the Holy War
Prior Robert of Hereford*
Ralph Besace*, medical cleric
Nobles: Robert, Earl of Leicester*, Count de Pol*, Count Robert de Dreux*
Knights, Robert de Turnham*, Geoffrey du Bois*, Peter and William de Préaux*, John FitzLucas*, Bartholomew de Mortimer*, Ralph de Mauléon*, Henry Teuton*, Henry de Sacey*, William de l’Etang*, Gerard de Furnival*, James d’Avesnes*, Matthew de Sauley*, Peter Tireproie*, de Roverei*, Richard Thorne
Guillaume de Caieux*, Flemish knight
Richard de Drune, Hugh de Neville*, men-at-arms
William*, King of Scotland
Philippe II*, King of France
Alys Capet*, Philippe’s sister, betrothed to Richard in childhood
Henri of Blois*, Count of Champagne and cousin to both Richard and Philippe Capet
Philippe, Count of Flanders*
Guillaume des Barres*, a famous French knight
Raymond, Count of Toulouse*
Hugh, Duke of Burgundy*, cousin to the French king
Joffroi, Count of Perche*
Peter, Count of Nevers*
Bishop of Beauvais*, cousin to the French king
Drogo de Merlo*, nobleman
Aubery Clément*, knight
William II de Hauteville*, King of Sicily (deceased)
Constance de Hauteville*, William’s aunt and heir, wed to Heinrich von Hohenstaufen*, King of Germany and heir of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa*
Tancred of Lecce*, illegitimate cousin of William
Reginald de Muhec*, a local nobleman
Hugh de Lusignan*, nephew of Guy, Geoffrey and Amaury
Del Pin*, the governor of Messina
Margaritone*, the admiral of Tancred’s fleet
Berengaria*, daughter of King Sancho VI* of Navarre, Richard’s betrothed
Guy de Lusignan*, King of Jerusalem
Sibylla, Queen of Jerusalem*, Guy’s wife (deceased)
Isabella of Jerusalem*, Sibylla’s half-sister
Humphrey de Toron*, her husband
Conrad of Montferrat*, Italian-born ruler of Tyre, cousin to the French king Philippe
Geoffrey* and Amaury* de Lusignan, Guy’s brothers
Robert de Sablé*, grand master of the Knights Templar
Garnier de Nablus*, grand master of the Knights Hospitallers
Balian d’Ibelin*, Lord of Nablus
Reynald of Sidon*
Leopold, Duke of Austria*
Joscius, Archbishop of Tyre*
Saladin*, Al-Malik al-Nasir Salah al-Dīn, Abu’ al-Muzaffar Yusuf ibn Ayyūb, Sultan of Egypt
Saphadin*, Al Malik al-’Ādil, Saif al-Dīn Abū Bakr Ahmad ibn Ayyūb, brother to Saladin
Mestoc*, Saif al-Dīn ‘Alī ibn Ahmad al-Mashtūb, Muslim commander in Acre
Karakush*, Bahā’ al-Dīn al Asadī Qara-Qūsh, Muslim commander in Acre
Reynald de Châtillon*, nobleman (deceased)
Abu, Muslim youth in Acre
William Borrel* and Baldwin Carew*, Hospitallers
Ibn an-Nahlal*, secretary to Saladin
Rashīd ed-Din Sīnān*, the Old Man of the Mountains
Deep gloom blanketed the one-roomed house in which Rhys and I waited, our nerves wire taut. We stood in silence against the wall by the hinges of the rickety front door; that way our quarry, entering, would see us when it was too late. Dagger clutched tight, one eye against a hole in the wattle and daub, I peered into the alleyway outside, trying to keep my breathing slow, measured. Trying to convince myself that this was the right course of action.
Night had fallen some time since over the stews, the poorest part of the town, and there was little activity outside. A pig had been slaughtered in the butcher’s yard soon after our arrival, its high-pitched squeals setting my teeth on edge. A pair of gossiping women, neighbours, had walked by after that, but no one else. Unease pricked me. I could not be sure if my quarry, a spade-bearded man-at-arms by the name of Henry, would return here before his wife. I had no wish to involve an innocent in my dark business. I steeled my resolve. If the woman came back, we would gag and blindfold her, and wait on for her husband. I tried not to think about the babe I had been told of.
I shifted position, rolling my shoulders against a threatening cramp in my muscles. My gaze wandered the room. The dim orange glow of a low-smouldering fire in the central hearth outlined two stools, a trestle table, a wooden clothes chest and a blanket-covered straw pallet in one corner. The dog tethered to the back wall was quiet – it had wolfed down the bread I had brought with me for just such an eventuality and now seemed content with our silent company.
Our wait continued for I do not know how long. I grew cold; more than once, I had to pace about, cat soft, to get the blood flowing again. Rhys did not stir. Only the movement of his eyes, watching me, betrayed that he was not a statue. Faithful heart he was, I thought, my heart warming to have him on this difficult mission.
At last footsteps came, approaching the house. I slipped back to my spyhole, a tiny part of me hoping they would pass by.
They came to a halt outside.
I nudged Rhys, hard.
He nodded. Closer to the door, he was poised; ready to spring.
The hook rattled, and I tensed. I had been unable to fasten it to the staple on the jamb from the inside.
A curse. ‘She left it open, as usual.’
With a creak, the door swung inward. The dog whined and strained at its tether, tail wagging.
A figure hove into sight. He had a beard, although I could not see its shape in the poor light. Rhys leaped forward, wrapping one arm around the man’s right shoulder, and with his other hand, grabbing for the man’s flailing left arm. Blade at the ready, I darted around to the front. Rhys’s grasp slipped, and I took the man’s bunched fist on my cheekbone. Stars burst across my vision, and I staggered.
Thank Christ our victim fought back rather than shouted. While I tried to unscramble my wits, he and Rhys tumbled to the floor, wrestling and trading blows. A flying kick struck the pot hanging from a chain over the fire. Its lid flew off, hitting a wall with a dull clang, and hot pottage sprayed the room. The dog barked.
Head clearing, I drove a punch into the man’s belly. Mouth gaping like a fish in a net, he sagged back into Rhys’s embrace. Quickly, Rhys hooked his arms under the man’s from behind, bringing his hands up and around the back of the other’s neck, where he clenched them together. This vice-like hold was almost impossible to break, but I laid my dagger tip under the man’s left eyeball, nonetheless. Chest heaving, he stared at it, at me, at it again.
‘Shout, and it will be the last thing you do,’ I hissed.
His spade-shaped beard went up and down as he nodded, terrified.
‘You are Henry, a man-at-arms?’
Again he indicated yes.
‘Do you know me?’ I demanded, shoving my face into his.
He shook his head, but I had seen the flicker of recognition. He was lying.
‘You had words with Robert FitzAldelm, a knight, a few months ago.’ The royal party had passed through Southampton before the king’s coronation; my enemy had used his time here well. If there had been any doubt in my mind, the naked fear I saw in Henry was my answer. He was the man I sought, I decided, continuing, ‘FitzAldelm was asking about the death of his brother, seven years ago, outside a nearby inn.’
That night, I had slain one FitzAldelm brother, and earned the lifelong enmity of the other – Robert. I was here to ensure that his witness, Henry, could not threaten my position at the royal court.
I pricked Henry with the dagger tip. ‘Well?’
‘I spoke with FitzAldelm, yes, sir.’
‘You claimed to have seen me – me – near the same inn.’
‘Y-you, sir?’ He could not meet my gaze.
I seized his chin and forced his head up. ‘So FitzAldelm says.’
His eyes flashed to mine, and away. ‘I was m-mistaken, sir. It was a long time ago. My memory is not what it was.’
‘You have never met me in your life, and so you will swear if anyone asks.’
‘Gladly, sir,’ he babbled. ‘Gladly.’
‘This shall be payment for your silence.’ I tugged free the purse that had been on my belt since London and dangled it before him. ‘Three years’ pay for a man-at-arms it holds.’
For the first time, the trace of a smile. ‘Not a word shall pass my lips, sir, I swear it on my soul. Satan take me if I lie.’
The moment was here, the one I had dreaded since deciding to hunt down the only witness – apart from FitzAldelm – who knew or suspected my deep-buried secret. Yet reluctant, I glanced at Rhys. Face dark with suspicion, he gave me an ‘I do not believe him’ look. I moved my attention back to Henry, who gave me an ingratiating smile.
I thought of FitzAldelm, and his burning malice. He would not meekly accept Henry’s changed position. ‘You have a wife and child,’ I said, thanking God that they were not here.
Utter terror blossomed on his face. ‘Yes, sir. The babe is but three months old. Our firstborn, a boy. They have gone to visit her mother.’
‘The other side of the town, sir.’
‘When will they be back?’
‘Not until the morning, sir.’
Relieved beyond measure, I asked, ‘Do you care for them?’
‘Yes, sir.’ His voice shook. ‘They are everything to me. Do not hurt them, I beg you!’
Revulsion filled me, that he thought I was capable of threatening two innocents’ lives. I reached a sudden decision. ‘They shall come to no harm,’ I said. ‘I swear it, by Christ on the cross.’
As Henry sobbed with relief, I exchanged an odd look with Rhys.
Then my dagger swept across Henry’s throat, left to right.
His eyes – bright with shock and pain – met mine. He could not speak. Nor could I. Warm blood showered me. Henry bucked and strained, but Rhys held him fast. The life in him faded, and he sagged towards the floor. There was a soft thump as Rhys let go.
As if it knew its master’s fate, the dog whined.
Now Rhys and I stared at each other over Henry’s corpse. My hands were shaking. ‘I killed him.’
‘You did.’ Rhys’s tone was matter-of-fact.
‘I—’ I looked at my red-stained hands, my blood-soaked tunic. I touched my cheek, and my finger came away sticky. Shame and grief lashed me. ‘What have I done?’
Rhys had never addressed me so. I looked at him, stunned by the ruthless determination in his face.
‘FitzAldelm would have put Henry’s feet in a fire if he had gone back on his word, you know that. He would have sung like a caged bird.’
Miserable, I nodded.
‘The purse of silver was a sop. A pretence.’
I listened, like a child having something simple explained to him.
‘Killing him was the only choice we had.’
Not true, I thought. I could have done nothing. FitzAldelm’s attempt to blacken my name with Henry’s testimony might have failed. Rhys would have made a plausible witness in my favour; he was also known to the king. Henry, on the other hand, was a nobody. A nobody with a wife and baby son, my conscience screamed.
Dragged back to gory reality by Rhys, I did as he ordered. The deed was done, he said, and it served no one if we took the blame. I made no argument as we cleaned up the worst of the blood, and wrapped Henry in the blanket that covered his straw pallet. Then followed the grimmest of times, a wait by his cooling corpse until we could stir abroad without being seen.
Mind numbed by the horror of it all, I continued to let Rhys lead. Never before had I entombed a man in the depths of a midden, and returned, dressed in his spare clothing, to bury my own. Never before had I fed the dog of a man I had murdered. I stood in the little house, watching it devour a hunk of cheese that had lain on the table.
‘We must go.’ Rhys, calm as ever, was at my elbow. ‘Dawn is not far off.’ He handed me my mantle.
This was some small blessing, I thought. We had both taken ours off earlier, accidentally ensuring that our outer clothing was free of tell-tale bloodstains. I swung mine around my shoulders.
Its bread finished, the dog gave me an expectant look.
I thought of Henry’s wife, who with her man dead, would soon go hungry. With a soft chink, I laid the purse on the table. It would last more than three years if she were careful. The coin would not bring her husband back, I told myself, but it was better than nothing.
The knowledge lessened my guilt not a whit.
Richard looked up from the mound of documents on the table before him. His mighty frame was ill-suited to perching on a stool, yet still he appeared kinglike, clad in a dark red tunic, fine hose and leather boots. Weak sunlight lanced in from the windows, burnishing his mane of red-gold hair. He frowned. ‘God’s legs, Rufus, you look terrible! Are you ill?’
I hesitated. In truth, I had been plagued with guilt since Henry’s death. Royal business completed in Southampton – the delivering of important messages from Richard to his ships’ captains there – Rhys and I had ridden back to court. Now all eyes were on me: the king’s, those of William Marshal, one of his trusted advisers, the justiciar William Longchamp, my enemy FitzAldelm, several clerks. Even the pages standing by with flagons of wine were staring.
‘I am well enough, sire, thank you. It is poor weather for travelling – I caught a chill.’ I coughed, realistically, I hoped.
Satisfied, Richard asked, ‘You delivered the letters?’
‘I did, sire, and brought the captains’ responses.’ I handed the rolled parchments to a page, who ran them over to the king.
‘Get you to bed then. I cannot have one of my best knights taken ill.’ Richard’s secretary had cracked the first seal and was already unrolling the letter, preparing to read it to the king.
Since his coronation in September, his only focus had been the raising of funds, and the organisation of his long-planned campaign in the Holy Land. The joke went that everything in his kingdom was for sale: powers, lordships, earldoms, sheriffdoms, castles, towns and manors. Not a day passed without his palace being thronged with lords and bishops seeking to retain what they already had, or trying to better themselves by securing new titles and lands.
Grateful that his attention had moved on, I muttered my thanks and withdrew.
FitzAldelm, fresh-returned from a mission to meet the new Scottish king William, threw me a look of pure spite. My hatred pricked, but not as it had before. Guilt savaged me next. Murderer, I thought. I am a murderer. I was doubly damned, because I had no wish to undo Henry’s killing. FitzAldelm now had no grounds to accuse me of killing his brother.
Richard called after me to rest as long as I needed.
I needed a priest, not my bed, I thought. So great was my burden, however, that I could not contemplate confessing. My guilt was my own, deserved punishment for what I had done. Something to be borne in silence.
For his part, Rhys was unaffected by our actions, but he knew my mind. He guided me to a tavern in the stews, where he bought jug after jug of wine. Southampton was not mentioned. We spoke instead of Outremer – the Holy Land – and the battles to be won there. We sang too, bawdy tunes plucked out by a minstrel on a gittern; these lifted my mood somewhat. Rhys’s steady arm supported me as I staggered back to the palace. I do not remember him putting me to bed, but he must have done, for that is where I found myself the next day with a pounding head. Grateful not to have to attend the king – his command had been to get well, and I was not – I stayed under the blankets and felt sorry for myself. Rhys’s patience ran thin in the end. Leaving a chamber pot and a jug of water by the bed, he left me to my misery. I had not the energy or the heart to call him back, still less issue a reprimand.
I fell asleep again, to be tormented by Henry’s last words, endlessly repeated, ‘They are everything to me. Do not hurt them, I beg you!’ Again I saw him in Rhys’s tight grip, and my knife opening his throat. Jerking awake, my stomach heaving, I lunged for the pot and brought up the water I had drunk not long before. Face cold with sweat, drool hanging from my lips, I remained slumped over the side of the bed, too miserable to stir.
Not even the pad of footsteps entering the room made me lift my head. It would be Rhys, I thought blearily, or perhaps the man-at-arms Richard de Drune, another friend and comrade. He would poke fun, as would Philip, if it were he who had come. Squire to the king as I had been, he was the closest of my friends, someone I shared almost everything with. I wondered if I could tell him about Southampton, but imagining his shock and revulsion, I decided against it. Henry’s murder was my dark secret, and Rhys’s.
‘Drank too much again, did you?’ A soft laugh.
Surprised – Beatrice did not often risk coming to my quarters alone, for to be seen without a chaperone risked her reputation – I lifted my head. ‘My lady.’ I wiped my mouth, and tried to smile. ‘One cup too many perhaps.’
Chestnut-haired, possessed of a voluptuous figure and a wicked smile, Beatrice was servant to one of Queen Alienor’s ladies. I had begun courting her two years before. Despite the periods when we were apart, she with her mistress and I with the king, we had rekindled our passions each time fortune brought us together. Meeting in secret, in stables or rented rooms above inns, we did everything but lie together as man and woman. On this final barrier Beatrice would not budge. ‘When we are wedded, Rufus,’ she had been fond of saying. Her eyes would search mine, and I, God forgive me, would murmur in her ear that if we were to be husband and wife, then we could—
I had not taken in a word of what she had been saying. ‘My lady?’
‘Rufus!’ She stamped her foot. Normally I found this attractive, but now it seemed petulant. ‘You are in no fit state to talk of important matters.’
Her tone reminded me that of recent months, we had argued frequently. She had become obsessed with marriage, and I, the stark realisation that she was not the woman for me loud in my mind, had come up with every conceivable excuse to avoid committing myself.
I sat up, assumed a serious face. ‘I am, my lady. Your pardon.’
Mollified, she said, ‘I said, you will be leaving soon. For the Holy Land.’
To my relief, the nausea was subsiding. ‘Spring at the latest, but probably sooner.’ The king was talking of meeting Philippe of France before the year’s end, to plan their journeys to Outremer and to deal with many other concerns. Once we had travelled to Normandy, it was unlikely we would come back to England. It was by no means certain that Queen Alienor would join us.
‘I will not see you again for at least a year. Or longer.’
Her voice caught, tugging at my heart. ‘That is true, my lady.’
‘There is time for a betrothal and a wedding.’ She continued coyly, ‘As man and wife, we could know each other at last.’
‘We could …’ Bleary-eyed, furry-tongued, I stared at her. Pretty though she was, there was a possessive slant to her expression that I did not like.
‘Do you think the king would attend?’ she asked.
My mind was still fuddled. ‘Attend …?’
Sweet Jesu, I thought. I had previously had the feeling that she valued my relationship with the king, my position at court, more than what we had together. This was proof. My impending departure for Outremer afforded me the opportunity to end our dalliance. The thought of that pricked my heart, not from grief but the memory of Alienor, my first love. Her I would have sworn my troth to, in a heartbeat, and wedded her upon my return from the Holy Land. Sadly, there was no chance of that. She had followed her mistress, Richard’s sister Matilda, to Germany years before, and the death earlier in the year of Matilda made the slim chance of ever tracking her down all but impossible.
‘You do not want to marry me?’
I hung my head, which was of course, exactly the wrong thing to do.
‘Well?’ Her voice was waspish.
Even at my best, I struggled to deal with Beatrice – or any woman – when they became emotional. My head pounding like a drum, I flailed for what to say. Tell the truth, and I would break her heart. Murderer though I was, I recoiled from that. Gently, I lied, ‘I could wish for nothing more, my love, but there is a good chance that I will fall in battle.’
‘Do not say that!’ She sat by me on the bed, and took my hand. There were tears in her eyes.
‘It is true, my lady.’ Speaking the truth hardened my resolve to end things between us, and this seemed a promising way. ‘I would not have you a widow mere months after our wedding.’
‘Other knights are marrying before you leave!’
She was right. I could name two without even thinking. Let her accept it, please, I thought. ‘Are they as close to the king? You know what a lion he is in battle, Beatrice. Wherever the fighting is thickest, Richard will be there, and so will I. Death and I will walk hand in hand in Outremer.’
Her face paled. ‘You are scaring me, Rufus. Do you seek to die?’
How strange it is when someone, unknowing, almost places a finger on the truth, harsh though it might be. ‘If Death should find me, my lady, I shall meet it face-to-face.’ It is what I deserve, I thought.
‘Rufus!’ Now her tears fell.
‘Going our separate ways would be best.’ I patted her shoulder as she began to sob. Uncomfortable with my dishonesty, I could not have been more grateful when de Drune walked in.
Beatrice pulled away. Composing herself, she threw me a venomous glance and muttered something about my wasting her time before stalking out the door.
De Drune began whistling, his face angelic. ‘Did I disturb you?’
‘In a manner of speaking.’ I felt drained, spent.
He handed over a costrel. ‘Hair of the dog.’
I swallowed a good quarter of it ere he stopped me. ‘That cost a pretty penny,’ he protested. ‘It is none of that English vinegar that a man has to drink with closed eyes and clenched teeth.’
‘You deserve to lose the lot for strolling in like that,’ I growled in mock anger.
‘How was I to know you were hoping to make the beast with two backs?’ Like Philip, de Drune knew of my romantic strivings with Beatrice, and my lack of success with the final hurdle.
‘That was not about to happen?’
I sighed. ‘No.’
He made an apologetic face. ‘A shame.’
‘I think not.’ Passions subsiding before my headache, common sense was seeping back.
‘If I had ever lain with her, she would have sunk her claws into me for good.’
De Drune gave me a searching look.
‘Beatrice wanted us to wed. Before we leave for Outremer.’
‘And you are not of the same mind.’
I shook my head as vehemently as the pain would allow. ‘I had just told her so when you walked in.’
‘A wise move. God knows how long we shall be gone.’
‘If we come back at all,’ I said, thinking of Henry, and the release death would grant me.
He scowled. ‘Less of that kind of talk. I for one have every intention of returning from the Holy Land. I shall be a wealthy man, God willing.’
Glad to be taken from my dark thoughts, I asked, ‘What will you do?’
‘Time waits for no man, they say.’ He cast me a look. ‘I have a mind to settle down, open an inn, maybe.’
I grinned. ‘With free ale for old comrades?’
‘I did not say that.’
We laughed, and he made no protest when I reached for the costrel again.
If only relationships with women were as easy as those with sword comrades.
Richard’s preparations continued apace as Christmas drew closer. His attention to detail continued to astound me. He could remember the number of horseshoes ordered from such a town, ‘Fifty thousand from the ironworks at the Forest of Dean,’ and how many wagon wheels another lord had promised to supply. Possessed of a boundless energy, he would pace up and down, reeling off lists of figures, names of ships, their crew sizes and the provisions they needed, while his clerks and officers desperately rummaged through scrolls and parchments to corroborate the information.
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