Much Fall Of Blood — Snippet 14
David was saddle-sore, tired and a long way from Jerusalem. Too far for him to run in one night. And that dark-haired son of Baal that had hired him still wanted work from him!
“You want me to do what?”
Kari cuffed him. “Every night. It gets done, see. If I have to chase you to it again, I’ll beat you. Do you know anything about the care of horses? You ride like a bag of corn. You barely know which end bites and which end makes manure.”
David decided right then that running off, with or without something for his trouble, could barely wait until everyone was asleep. Only they didn’t seem tired.
It was a cold and grey dawn when Kari shook him awake. “Get up, lazy boy. There is work to do.” Kari seemed cheerful to be up before the sun. David was not. He must have fallen asleep, and he was so stiff he could hardly move.
Kari looked at him trying to stand up and began to laugh. “You’re not really a horse boy, are you?”
David stared poisonously at him. “No, Lord.”
“Then why did that big fool of a stable-master tell me you were?”
David did not point out that his father was no stable-master, although right now he would agree that he had been a fool to have done this to his youngest son. “Can I go? I will even give you the money back.” He never thought he’d say that. But it would be worth it.
Kari laughed. “No.”
“What…?” David gaped.
“Ha!” Kari shook his head. “And make me have to tell Erik that I messed up? Are you crazier than me? No, you are going to become a great horse boy. Now get moving. The more you move, the less stiff you will be.”
The only direction David wanted to move in was straight down back into sleep. But with Kari standing there he could hardly do anything except to stagger towards his chores.
A few minutes later the Frank, Erik, came in to the stable, still in a quilted jacket and carrying a thin-bladed sword. “No training this morning, Kari?” he asked, setting aside the blade and taking off the jacket.
Kari poured oats into a nosebag. “No. New horse boy to train instead.”
Erik laughed. “I hope he makes your life a bloody misery.”
“Then he’ll be a short-lived horse boy.”
Other Frankish knights began arriving. They had all plainly been hard at some form of exercise, and were sweating freely despite the cool of the morning. David soon realized that he was there merely to care for the spare remounts. The knights had each come to see to their own horses. What kind of Frankish lords were these?
Later he asked Kari. He got a cuff around the ear for his question — but also some answers. “Firstly, I am not a Frank. I am from Vinland. And secondly, these are the Knights of the Holy Trinity. The Knights are a militant order, brat. They may be Frankish lords, but right now they are monks in armor. They also believe a knight must have a close bond with his horse. It is his first and greatest weapon in battle.”
David had heard of the knights. Who had not? It just hadn’t occurred to him that these men with the three crosses on their surcoats were part of that order. They fought up in wild northern parts, which in his limited knowledge of the world, must be at least three days ride from Jerusalem.
Vinland… he wasn’t too sure where that was. A wild land somewhere to the west, full of monsters and barbarians. He took a long look at Kari. Well, that fitted.
“Why are they here?” he asked. “Are the ogres and trolls of the north coming to attack our master the Ilkhan?”
Kari shrugged. “I am just Erik’s blood-retainer, now. Or so he has told me. It is some affair of state, brat. Of no interest to you or me.”
David had heard of affairs of state. Just quite what they were he was less sure. But he suspected high-paid whores. He found the idea very interesting indeed. The Mongol escort’s slaves and servants began trickling into to the stable-area to see to the horses. One had a steaming piece of new bread. David was suddenly aware of pressing need for food. He’d fallen asleep before anyone had eaten the night before. “Do we get to eat?”
Kari looked at him critically. “When you’ve finished with the horses, yes.”
“Chartering vessels for this lot is going to be less easy than it was in Venice,” said Manfred thoughtfully. “I don’t have Francesca to smile at Petro Dorma, and the Venetians are going to look askance at fifty armed Mongols and their horses.”
Eberhart shook his head. “Only nine will be going on with us. This is something of an honor guard. But yes,” he said, his old eyes twinkling, “even I miss Francesca. Although it is her wit and her knowledge of statecraft that I miss.”
Manfred grinned. “Old man, I saw you look at her statecraft, if that is what she kept on her chest. And I’ll bet we miss her more than she misses us. She’ll be breast deep in intrigue already, mark my words.”
“She never got neck deep. Always liked to be able to see above the common herd of players. I’d like her here to watch this emissary.” Manfred began to chuckle. “Mind you, just think what she will drag Eneko Lopez and his friends into.”
“The priest and the courtesan. An unusual pairing,” said Eberhart, smiling.
“That depends on the priest.” said Erik. “But those two are well matched, I would say. She’ll add some worldly wisdom to his saintliness and he will add some his piety to her… uh… breasts.”
Eberhart nodded. “It’s as well that those two are numbered among the Empire’s friends.”
Manfred rubbed his jaw. “I wouldn’t put it that way, exactly. Eneko Lopez is a friend of God. As long as the Empire is on God’s side — at least in his eyes — he will stand by us through thick and thin. But only God will save us if we become like Aquitaine. I’ve heard him on the subject. As for Francesca… she is a wonderful woman. A very, very clever woman. I wonder if I ever saw what really motivated her. It wasn’t just money. She could have become very rich, at least in the short term, by betraying the Empire. She knew who would pay — I know, because she pointed enough of them out to my Uncle. She sees, or at least saw, that her interests aligned to the Empire — when it might have been of short term benefit to see profit elsewhere. Now…” he shrugged. “I know she will be in contact with my uncle’s agent in Alexandria.”
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