The Champion (III): Blood and Faith
By David Pilling
Publication Date: 1 December 2021
Publisher: Amazon KDP
Page Length: 203 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Amazon KDP
Page Length: 203 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
“I am En Pascal of Valencia, the Adalid, the Champion, the Leader of Hosts, and this is my tale...”
1300 AD: the armies of Edward Longshanks and the Guardians of Scotland confront each other. The final battle for control of northern Britain looms. Meanwhile Robert de Bruce, the young lord of Carrick, waits in the background to seize his opportunity. Bruce dreams of taking the Scottish crown for himself, and will stop at nothing to seize it.
En Pascal of Valencia, the poor knight of Aragon, tells the tale of these bloody wars. After surviving the carnage of Göllheim and Falkirk, he now serves the English as warrior, spy and assassin. Pascal stands high in the king's favour, but knows all too well how quickly the wheel can turn...
The CHAMPION (III): BLOOD AND FAITH is a short novella and historical fiction thriller by David Pilling, author of the Leader of Battles series, Caesar's Sword, The White Hawk, Longsword and many more.
Pilling is also the author of two nonfiction works: REBELLION AGAINST HENRY III 1265-1274 and EDWARD I AND WALES 1254-1307, both published by Pen & Sword.
The shame was too oppressive to bear. César knelt over the body of his old friend, and wept at the death of Perelada. All his delusions faded into the clouds of black smoke billowing over the city. He had convinced himself that this was a just war, the defence of his native soil against heretical foreign crusaders. Where was the justice here? Where was God? Why did He allow such an abomination?
César crept away. He found a tavern down an alley, already picked clean by looters. The door was stoved in, the innkeeper and his wife lay in a sea of blood. César stepped over their bodies and made his way down a ladder to the cellar. By some miracle, there were a couple of bottles left untouched. He stayed there for the rest of the night, drinking to forget.
When dawn came, he groped his way out of the dark hole, into the light. César made his way through the stinking, burnt-out ruin of Perelada. Fires still burnt in some parts of the city. Everything was covered in a fine layer of ash. Bodies lay scattered about. Murdered citizens and dead-drunk soldiers, lying in pools of gore and vomit.
A few of the slumbering Almogavars were his own. César made no effort to wake them. They were no longer his responsibility.
The western gates of Perelada hung open. After looting and firing the city, most of the Almogavars had fled. Probably into the mountains, where none would dare look for them. The French could now walk in and take possession of Perelada, if they had any use for it. A place of death and shame, where the honour of Aragon drowned in the blood of innocents.
There were a few riderless horses wandering among the ruins. One was still nosing at the charred body of her late owner. César, who had a way with horses, seized the reins. Once outside the gates, he climbed into the dead man's saddle and urged the beast into a trot.
It took him half a day to reach King Peter. The royal host had withdrawn south, deep inside the borders of Aragon. Tracking the line of retreat was not difficult. French outriders had harried the Aragonese all the way. The parched fields and roads were littered with dead men and horses, abandoned carts and bits of equipment.
The army had crossed a river and halted on the opposite side. Workmen, stripped to the waist in the roasting sun, were feverishly throwing up a timber palisade along the riverbank. Here, César guessed, the king intended to make a stand. If he retreated any further, the French would drive into the very heart of his kingdom.
César dismounted and led his horse towards the royal pavilion. It was unmistakable, a flimsy palace of red and gold silk, looming above the rows of humble white tents. King Peter sat outside in full armour, helm at his feet, drinking from a silver goblet.
The king spotted César labouring up the muddy slope, and signalled at his guards to stand aside.
“Well, César,” said Peter. His voice was slightly slurred, handsome features flushed with too much wine. “You cut a very lonely figure. Where are your friends?”
César, kneeling in the dirt with his head bowed, decided to risk honesty. “I lost control of them, lord king,” he replied. “They laughed at my orders and ravaged Peralada. The town is all but destroyed.”
It was all true. After consulting his barons, King Peter had given César command of the Almogavars and sent him to garrison Peralada. César could not refuse without angering the king. He had to forget Theresa, for the moment at least, and his mission to steal the Crown of Thorns. Duty came first.
Where had duty led? Disaster. Shame. The Almogavars had run wild and attacked their own people. César could do nothing to stop them. The failure hung about his neck like a lead weight.
“If you wish to take my head, lord king,” he said, “it is yours. I offer no excuses.”
Peter looked over César's head, cradling the goblet in his mailed hands. When a page stepped forward with a pitcher to refill it, the king waved him away.
“I was advised to trust you,” he said at last. “Against my better judgement, I agreed. Such folly. To put a peasant in charge of peasants. It isn't your fault. Some men are born to command, others to follow. Now I have lost Perelada, as well as Elne and Volnó.”
The mention of Volnó made César look up. His heart skipped. If the French had stormed the town, what of Theresa? He went cold at the image of her lifeless corpse, stripped naked and defiled by French soldiers.
“When was Volnó lost, lord king?” César dared to ask.
“Three days ago,” came the reply. “The convent was sacked, the town stormed and burnt. Swept away. All the gates of the kingdom are battered down.”
César could not speak. Peyr, the young Almogavar, had warned of God's punishment. Now it had come to pass.
I should never have left Volnó, he thought. If he and his men had stayed to defend the convent, instead of haring off on some crackpot mission to steal a holy relic, Theresa might still be alive.
He had no doubt she was dead. The French had shown at Elne they would not take prisoners. César could only hope she went down fighting, instead of...he refused to even think of it.
The king was speaking to him. Somehow César found the will to raise his head.
Kill me, he silently begged. Take my head, and let me go to her.
“We have one hope left,” said Peter, raising his finger. “Just one. I cannot stop the French pouring into Aragon. They are too many. But I can hit them in the belly.”
“Indeed, lord king?” César asked, without much interest. His mind was full of Theresa, and the future they might have shared.
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David is a prolific author and has written and published a number of series and stand-alone tales. These include his first published novel, Folville’s Law, which chronicled the adventures of Sir John Swale in the last days of the reign of Edward II of England. This was followed by The White Hawk series, set during the Wars of the Roses, a six-part Arthurian series, and many more. David has also co-written two high fantasy novels with his good friend, Martin Bolton.
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