Thursday, 1 February 2007

Crusader by Jennifer Mueller


After 4 years in a Saracen prison Luc L'villebois returns to France to find that the life he knew was gone. Among other things the woman he loves has vanished off the face of the earth. Tracking her down is harder than Luc thought when the man that sent him into the crusades wants him dead....

Chapter 1

For two days they had ridden, the rain never ceasing. As Luc L'Villebois and his party rode, strong winds ripped through the forest. The lowest branches, were some twenty feet above their heads making the going easy, but blocking much of the light that leaked from behind the thick black clouds. In every direction the rain created a thick haze obscuring everything around them as a mass of mud and rotting leaves sucked at their horses’ legs.

“Where the hell are you, Genevieve?” Luc muttered under his breath. He was supposed to be warm and snug in a bed with his wife, not searching in the rain for a place to stay. How much things had changed in five years while on the crusades? Of course he was not supposed to have spent four of them in prison. She may have written him where she had gone but the letter never reached him. As his horse stumbled He spit out a string of curses. Looking back to make sure none of the rest of his ragged group fell in the same hole, he worried what he had dragged them into by searching for his errant bride. They were only three, his squire Jourdain, horse handler Benoit, and a Saracen woman Aissa.

The woman kept her head covered tightly against the cold wind. It was nothing like her homeland. They already had her wrapped in every piece of clothing they could spare. When in Constantinople on his way home, he had acquired Jourdain. The man’s master was dead and Jourdain was left with no way to get back home. While Luc may have been handsome, Jourdain was pretty. Hardly a hair on his chin marred the illusion. They had gotten into quite a lot of trouble when he caught the eyes of the wrong women along the way. Benoit was little more than a boy, fourteen or fifteen, dark skinned from a Syrian mother and a French father both long since dead. It was assumed, since Benoit never knew them. Luc had taken in the starving street urchin who he had rescued from being killed by a bunch of street rats in Damascus. A full belly had turned him into a staunch ally. It was only the two of them to
care for the warhorse and armor. It was the last of his old life, the fur lined cloaks and gold rings he had as shows of favor had all been sold to get him home. Out of the gray dimness, they came upon an impenetrable wall of vegetation that blocked their way. It was made up of ivy and other climbing vines, but something was underneath. They could feel a stone wall whose top or ends could not be seen through the haze.

“Master, I am cold.” The woman murmured, her teeth chattering. Luc nodded and urged them on to try to get around the wall. Finally, they came upon a sharp corner. The wall continued at a ninety degree angle to what it had been. He followed it to see if there was some way inside. Shelter in the storm was preferable to wandering in the rain with little progress. After close to two hundred yards a gaping hole emerged from the vines, like a mouth into hell, even if it was only into a badly, overgrown courtyard. In the center of the immense courtyard, there stood a pool of water that rippled in the pouring rain. A battered statue of Saint Ursula, draped in flowing faded red robes, a crown in her wavy loose hair and a single flower shaped pin at her breast, graced its center.

“See if you can find any rooms that are useable. Aissa needs to get out of this weather.” Luc ordered. They all fanned out. Along the inside of three walls were rooms, everything built of stone going no higher than the outer wall that was twenty-five feet tall. Romanesque columns
held up a roof at the ceiling level of the first floor creating a covered walkway that extended around the remaining three sides. The roof, in turn, created the floor for the walkway that
serviced the second floor, covered by its own roof as well. In the middle of the opposite wall stood the chapel, recessed behind the walkways with round-topped windows and doors. It was a surprise, even with holes in the roof. Its stone, barrel vaulted ceiling extended some fifty feet pushing out one wall they had not seen with a rounded bump. Incised columns formed arches
along the sides holding the walls up, each creating, in the process, small rooms for prayer and reflection. They found rooms that were devoted to baking, brewing, drying fruit, and preserving.

The implements that had been in use in them, still slowly rotting even though they were protected from the weather.

Benoit called, his voice reverberating in the hollow stone walls. “Sire, I have found a few rooms with doors and shutters still intact.”

“Find what wood you can to burn. I will get the horses some shelter. See if there is anything about we can use.”

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