Beasts of the Seventh Crusade (The Crusades Book 4)

BOOK: Beasts of the Seventh Crusade (The Crusades Book 4)
11.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Beasts of the Seventh Crusade

 

Mark Butler

 

Copyright 2014 Mark Butler

 

All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced in any form, in whole or in part (beyond the copying permitted by US Copyright Law, Section 107, "fair use" in teaching or research, Section 108, certain library copying, or in published media by reviewers in limited excerpts), without written permission from the author.

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

Contents

Part 1 The Road to War

 

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

 

Part 2 The Seventh Crusade

 

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

 

Historical Note

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Other Novels
by Mark Butler

 

Part 1
The Road to War

 

 

Chapter One

Troyes, Paris

March 1248

 

CONDEMNED MEN OFTEN LOOK to the woods for refuge. There is darkness, hiding places, anonymity and most importantly, no boundaries. Once a condemned man reaches the woods, with sufficient skills and will, he can disappear. Go anywhere.

            This particular bandit was named "Leaf." He had taken at least three girls from their homes and ended their lives in the woods of northern France, and now he was running through those same woods, seeking shelter.
Not while I still have breath,
Francois thought,
and not while my kin and I hunt him down.

Francois Coquet was eighteen years old, smart, and ambitious. He had high, hard cheekbones and blue eyes. His long legs and slim frame helped him keep pace with his older brother, Artois, who was running alongside him. Their father was a few paces behind, but he was forty years old and not as fit as his sons. Angry barks were audible ahead, echoing through the dense woods and eliciting a grin from Artois.

"Leaf will be tired soon; he'll need to climb a tree if he wants any rest tonight," Artois said.

"Unless he can find a cave," Francois answered. The woods ahead were hilly with light undergrowth, and Francois knew Leaf would find no peace among the reeds, not while their dogs were out. On cue, the bloodhounds barked again.

"Get them back here," Francois' father hissed from behind. His name was Raul Coquet, and he was the only hunter in Troyes who used the stocky bloodhounds for fugitive tracking. He had trained his two young sons to trust the animals and to train the bloodhounds' supernatural senses to pick up on any trail. Leaf was moving fast, but the dogs would find him and hold him until the small family laid rough hands on him.

It was simple after that. Bind him, take him to the constable, and collect the ten gold pieces that were on Leaf's head. He would go to Paris next for a routine trial and eventual execution. As far as Raul was concerned, the dogs barking in the distance would ensure that his own family survived the winter, and that the victims' families would have closure on the darkest chapter of their lives.

"He loosed his bowels nearby," Francois said, crinkling his nose. He glanced at Artois, who nodded, keenly aware of the sweet, pungent odor that was permeating the air.

"I don't care; bring the hounds in. Leaf hasn't eaten in three days, and we haven't eaten in one. He'll rest tonight or he'll die of exposure. Either way, we'll get our gold."

Francois put two fingers in his mouth and whistled, and the dogs began to return. Francois, Artois and Raul stopped running, counting the bloodhounds as they came back from the ridge. Six, seven, eight . . . that was it . . . eight bloodhounds and three men to capture one criminal. Artois immediately began setting camp, pulling a lumberjack axe from his pack and knocking limbs off the nearby trees. Francois used his hands to clear away a swath of snow, and they started piling the wood. Raul pulled a small piece of flint from his own pack, and soon they had a warm blaze in the frozen woods.

"I hope the bastard doesn't freeze tonight. I want him to face the fathers of those girls he killed," Artois said.

"That's not our job, boy. We're just catching him, and that's all there is to think about," Raul answered, settling himself to the ground. "Don't let your emotions ruin the job. Don't think too much about those little girls who died, it won't change a damn thing."

"I'm going to hunt," Francois said, leaving his pack at the fire and only taking his bow. "We crossed a frozen stream two miles back. If I travel against the wind, I might kill some game taking water."

"Leaf is out there, Fran, be careful," Raul said.

"Okay, Father."

The darkness came slowly to the woods. Wolves howled in the distance and the shadows of night multiplied quickly, lending urgency to Francois’s hare coursing. First, he killed two rabbits. They were together, crouching by a cold stream and alert to their many predators. They didn't detect Francois, though, and his first arrow flipped the poor bunny in the air, killing it instantly. Its friend dashed off immediately, but Francois was ready with another arrow, and he took that rabbit in its haunches, not quite killing it. He had to break its neck before he was able to remove his arrow from the lifeless flesh.

A great, ugly black bird screeched at the top a tree. Francois considered putting an arrow through its worthless beak, but thought better of it. Why make more commotion than absolutely necessary? His father had taught him that, back when he was a bright-eyed youth who had never hunted a man down before. Now, Francois was as obsessed about the hunt as Raul was and definitely more than Artois, who really just loved gold. Well, Artois loved the things gold could buy him, mainly female attention. That vice didn't plague Raul's loins yet, and he decided not to kill the black bird in the tree.

Francois gave up hunting when he could scarcely see his own hand in front of his face. He returned to his father and brother with a total of three rabbits, and they cooked and ate them quickly before settling for the night. The bloodhounds formed a protective circle around the three men, awake and vigilant.

False dawn woke them. Francois got up first, gazing at the purple and pink sky. And then he realized that he was not up
first
. The bloodhounds were watching him expectantly, and he let out a sigh of annoyance.

"Father, are the dogs eating this morning?" he asked.

"Not until the job is done, sorry. Send them out, I'm getting up. Artois!" Raul said, nudging his older son with his foot, "Get up."

Artois rolled over and yawned, looking at the camp and the hungry dogs with disappointment, as if he expected to be waking in some brothel surrounded by women and drinks. "Why won't Leaf just give up? He knows he's doomed," Artois complained.

"You answered your own question, now get up," Francois said.

"Oh, so you're the leader now, huh?" Artois said, grabbing Francois' ankle. The younger brother tried to pull back, but Artois had an iron grip and huge strength, and he pulled Francois right off his feet.

"You'll pay for that, you lazy bear," Francois bellowed, diving on top of Artois and pinning his hands with his knees. Artois deftly kicked Francois off him and spun his brother around, landing on top of him.

"Get some meat on your bones, little brother," Artois said, holding Francois down and laughing. "You're not in Italy anymore!"

That was Artois' favorite thing to say. He was referring to the country where Francois grew up with his mother, before he was sent to live in France with his male relatives. He was twelve when he went to live with his then-nineteen-year-old brother and father. They had taken care of him, though, and he doubted his mom would recognize him if they ever met again.

"Stop wrestling and get up, daylight is wasting," Raul growled at his sons, although the sun was still hiding behind distant mountains. The brothers separated and Francois sent the dogs out, giving them a sniff of one of Leaf's shirts before they tore off into the countryside.

"There's a huge valley a few miles ahead, with steep cliffs all around. If we can corner Leaf against the cliffs, he'll have nowhere to go," Raul said.

They were moving within three minutes of waking up. A stream of snot froze between Francois' nose and lips, and his feet ached from running for the past few days. This should not have happened. Leaf was arrested and shackled in Troyes's jail after two different farmers said they saw him going into the woods with the girls. Francois could still picture Leaf being dragged before the magistrate and thrown to the cold ground, bleeding and crying. He had begged for his life, claiming that he knew nothing about any young girls.

The magistrate didn't have the authority to execute him, so he was held in the town jail until he could be taken to Paris. Leaf had used that one night to burrow under the walls and escape into the woods. The constables came for Raul then, and he gladly accepted the proposed reward. Leaf had a six-hour start, but they were closing the gap. And now Francois was running through the hills at an ungodly hour, with sore knees and tasting snot.

"Spread out," Raul commanded. His sons silently fanned out, always aware of the nearby bloodhounds straining to find Leaf's scent. Francois knew that Leaf was strange the first time he saw him. Leaf almost seemed slow, unable or unwilling to talk with other adults. He shuffled his feet when he walked, too, as if he was making himself smaller, less likely to attract attention.
It's strange,
Francois thought,
Some men prefer the company of children.
It was an unsettling thought.

"I've got something!" Artois yelled. Francois and Raul rushed toward his voice, and they found Artois standing in a clearing, looking at a tall elm. The bark was scraped around the lower branches, like a man had climbed the tree by making his own footholds. A shred of blue cotton was also there, torn from Leaf's shirt during his panicked climb.

"This is where he slept last night, but when did the bastard leave?" Raul asked. "Look for footprints."

Francois found them first. They were not easy to find in the slowly melting snow, but the evenly spaced indentations on the ground, coupled with another blue piece of Leaf's shirt, sent the men east.

"The fool's going straight toward Paris," Artois remarked, as they followed the trail.

"He'll never enter the city, not with the bounty on his head. No, at the first sign of those tall walls, he'll go right back to the wilderness. Probably try to find a farmstead with kids, and their blood will be on our hands," Raul said.

"You're losing focus, Father," Francois gently chided him. "You're exhausted; we all are, including Leaf. We'll get him today."

The trail disappeared in a tangle of thorn bushes and brambleberry. The dogs were already there, worrying at the edge of the vegetation. One of the hounds was jumping excitedly at one of the bushes.

"What is it, boy?" Francois went to the bush and found what was making the dog's heart race. Blood. Leaf had reached this impasse and turned south, but he cut himself on a thorn, giving them a new direction to follow.

"I've got blood here, Father," Francois said. Raul went to the bush and nodded.

"Send the hounds back out, we're less than an hour behind him."

Francois and Artois found new energy in their legs. Leaf, that miserable bastard, was not far off now. He had a six-hour start, but they had closed that gap in two days. Raul didn't have the endless energy of youth anymore, but he remembered the lessons of his own father, so many years ago.
Keep breathing, just breathe. Breath is life.

The thorn tangle ended at the valley Raul had spoken of. The cliffs were high and trying to descend that rocky precipice, with loose gravel and protruding plants, would be suicidal. The three men stopped at the cliffs, suddenly able to see for miles.

BOOK: Beasts of the Seventh Crusade (The Crusades Book 4)
11.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Strontium-90 by Vaughn Heppner
Asunder by Aridjis, Chloe
Loving Monsters by James Hamilton-Paterson
The Amish Bride by Mindy Starns Clark, Leslie Gould
Crecheling by D. J. Butler
Nightshade City by Hilary Wagner
Seattle Puzzle by Gertrude Chandler Warner