Ben Kane‘s Crusader, the second book in his Lionheart series, takes the newly-crowned Richard I and his companion Ferdia through intrigue, siege, and conquest to the Holy Land – where Saladin is waiting. Our exclusive extract for Historia comes from the beginning of the book. Ferdia, nicknamed Rufus, is racked with guilt after killing Henry, an associate of Rufus’s bitter enemy, Robert FitzAldelm.
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, sheriff doms, 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.’
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 heart-beat, 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.
We would like to thank Lucy Cameron and Orion Books for generously offering us this extract for Historia readers in advance of Crusader‘s publication date.
If you enjoyed this, have a look at our extract from Lionheart, the first book in this series, which introduces Ferdia.
Richard I of England being anointed during his coronation in Westminster Abbey: via Wikimedia
Drinking and eating scene: via Wikimedia
Figure of Dialetica from Philosophia et septem artes liberales in Hortus Deliciarum by Herrad of Landsberg, c1180: via Wikimedia
The siege of Acre in 1189–91: via Wikimedia
Detail from an edition of the Canon Medicinae by Avicenna: via Wikimedia