Read Blaze of Silver Online

Authors: K. M. Grant

Blaze of Silver

blaze of silver

K. M. GRANT

Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Also by
K. M. GRANT

For Douglas and Audrey Grant,
who I wish were still here
.—K. M. Grant

Prologue

Hartslove, June 1193

There was no summer chill in the air but Hosanna was restless. The red horse, veteran of campaigns and crusades, raised his head, then shook it as if to ward off an invisible cloud carrying something he did not like. He sneezed and put down his head again to graze on the lush June grass, but though the grass was fresh and sweet, he could not settle. He turned, nipped a fly from his flank and began to move, rustling up all the other warhorses who had been grazing peacefully as they basked in the sun that jeweled the fields between Hartslove Castle and the river. Some objected, grumpily reluctant to abandon their green feast, but Dargent, the big bay who was Hosanna's constant friend, obediently took his usual place behind the red horse's tail. This was where he was happiest and although long blades of grass hung untidily from his mouth and his lips were stained and frothy, he began, like Hosanna, to trot. Soon, all the horses were trotting for they were fit, and although some were tired because it was the middle of
the campaigning season and many had journeyed great distances before being turned out for a rest, their spirits were high. Then they were cantering, making a huge circle around the chestnut tree that sheltered the napping soldiers who had been sent to guard them. One soldier woke, seized his own horse, and shouted. But Hosanna, his tail feathering like an opening fan, just pushed the loose horses faster and faster until, all lethargy abandoned, they were galloping, thundering around the tree as if the hounds of hell were after them.

However, before the soldiers could gather themselves together, Hosanna stopped so suddenly that Dargent bumped his nose and left a dribble of green spittle on the muscled chestnut haunches in front of him. The red tail swung low and the flies, thinking to settle again, were rudely swatted away. When the other horses realized that the game was over, they too drizzled to a halt, some of the older stallions stamping their feet at Hosanna in halfhearted complaint at the pointless interruption. Minutes later, although the soldiers were too rattled to go back to sleep, all the horses were grazing again.

All except Hosanna. The spontaneous gallop had not dispelled his discomfort. In the throbbing of his two crusading wounds he could feel something coming toward Hartslove. To feel this was not unusual, but this time was different for he did not smell the sharp, sour stench of battles to come or sense his master, Will Ravensgarth, calling to him. These things the horse was used to. What he felt now was not so familiar, although he had felt it once before, out in the Holy Land at the height of the crusade. It was a stirring dread, a kind of horror that was quite out of place in this peaceful landscape and on this lovely day.

The red horse walked slowly down to the river but did not drink. The soldiers watched him curiously, his mood infecting them a little. Until it was time to return to his stall inside Hartslove's curtain wall, Hosanna took only snatches of grass and, after carefully looking around in every direction, settled his gaze on the road that ran from the castle gate down the hill and away into the dusty distance.

1

Lebanon, June 1193

Sitting in the throne room of a rugged fortress known as “the eagle's nest” because of its precarious perch on a spike of mountain, Rashid ed-Din Sinan, also known as the Old Man of the Mountain, was juggling with oranges. Up and down went the oranges. Up and down and across and up and down again the oranges rose and fell with pleasing regularity. The Old Man should have rejoiced at the spectacle. In fact, he hardly saw it. He was looking at something quite else. In his mind's eye he could see only the face of a young man. The face was shadowy for it had been a while since the Old Man had seen it in the flesh, but there was no mistaking to whom it belonged: It belonged to Kamil, the young man whom the Old Man had once ordered to play a crucial role in the murder of the Saracen leader, Saladin. Kamil had not fulfilled his role and vanished soon after, leaving the Old Man raging. The Old Man often raged, but normally his rages subsided into festering grudges. However, his rage against Kamil still burned fiercely
every day, fed not only with anger that his orders had been disobeyed but also because he had thought to steal Kamil's love for Saladin and turn it into love for himself. The Old Man had no son of his own, and Kamil, so brave, so impatient of weakness and, above all, so passionate in defense of his own people against their enemies, was the sort of son the Old Man dreamed about. It had been a hideous disappointment when these dreams turned to ashes and Kamil had remained loyal to Saladin. As time passed, this sense of disappointment increased, for the Old Man felt himself growing old. He needed an heir and still he found nobody who could match Kamil. The young man would have been so perfect. The picture of what might have been tantalized and maddened the Old Man until his disappointment turned to a hatred that stung his heart and darkened all his days.

Today the sting was sharper than ever for a spy had arrived bearing news. Kamil, whose whereabouts had been a mystery, had been found in England at Hartslove Castle with the de Granvilles. The oranges flew more quickly as the Old Man's eyes became black smears in the plumpness of his face.
At last
, he thought, concentrating with renewed energy.
At last I shall take my revenge
. One, two, three. One, two, three. He deftly plucked another orange from the bowl at his side. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. All was well for a while; then the Old Man threw up his hands and, in complete silence, watched them all roll away.

The fruit was nervously retrieved by the spy, still in travel-stained clothes. He had glowed briefly in his youth but now his skin had set into the color of
bleached parchment, giving him the appearance of a mournful albino crow. It was this color and his aptitude that had first brought him to the attention of the Old Man, for men of such color could pass in either East or West without comment. He usually used the old spy for matters of state but now he would use him for a more personal purpose. He would turn him into an angel of death.

Feeling his master's eye upon him, the spy scrambled for the oranges, his wide-legged trousers riding up to reveal bandy legs callused from long hours in the saddle. He had hoped to find enough courage to ask if his age and weariness did not merit retirement among the lemon groves in the comfort of the valley. But even as he framed the words, he knew he would never utter them.

“Sit, sit, Amal,” he heard the Old Man click impatiently. Clutching the oranges, the spy hurried to obey, but he could only hover over cushions in the corner. The Old Man was capricious. The penalty for any perceived slight to his dignity was instant execution. Amal remembered clearly that the last time he had been in this very room, a boy who had displeased the Old Man by lolling on a rug had been ordered to leap from the top of the tower. There was no need to look out of the window to feel the boy's breathless drop, the razor-sharp rocks, and the final, appalling crunch. So Amal did not sit. But neither could he stand, for that might be taken as disobedience. So he hovered, half down and half up, very uncomfortable. A small girl came and took the oranges and gave them to the Old Man, who began to juggle again. Again the fruit fell, and when the oranges
rolled his way, Amal collapsed gratefully onto his creaky knees once more and gathered them in.

“Kamil has been with William de Granville, Earl of Ravensgarth, for some time, Excellency,” he ventured in a voice reedy with nerves. “He's helping him raise the ransom demanded for the release of King Richard, the so-called Lionheart. The king is no longer with Duke Leopold of Austria but has been sold to the German emperor and they say the wagon train bound for Speyer will stretch for miles and miles. One hundred and fifty thousand marks is the price. One hundred and fifty thousand!” Amal coughed, knowing it was unwise to allow the Old Man to see how the amount impressed him. He quickly made his voice more matter-of-fact. “If the earl comes to deliver the money himself, surely Kamil will be with him—”

The Old Man got up and his eyes, no longer smears but gimlets shining bright and fierce, made Amal tremble as he put the oranges carefully into the soft, almost womanly hands that were stretched out toward him. The hands were deceptive. Amal had seen them crush a walnut as if it were a fig.

Almost absentmindedly, the Old Man took the oranges back to his throne and sat down. The juggling began once more. Next to the vision of Kamil, he now had a vision of endless wagons stuffed with treasure. He could already see the dull sheen and his nose tickled with the metallic smell of dirty silver. Amal was right to be impressed. One hundred and fifty thousand marks! Richard must be quite a king that his subjects would give so much to get him back. The Old Man glanced briefly at Amal, wondering what price his own people
would give if he himself was captured. But the spy dropped his gaze. A look of genuine sorrow flitted across the Old Man's face. His men would jump out of the window if he ordered it but they would not look at him. If he was captured, they would give nothing for his return. In fact, his capture would be a relief to them. He allowed the oranges to fall again. Kamil would have gazed at him directly. He growled as Amal grovelled; then he began to think and his eyes, changeable as the English weather, lost their gimlet edge and turned coldly beady in their unnaturally round sockets. He would not, for the moment, allow the spy to see how deeply the news about Kamil had affected him. “Forget the oranges,” he commanded, “and tell me more about the silver horse you saw in Damascus. Is it really the one that King Richard stole in Cyprus?”

At last, Amal sat down. “It is, Excellency,” he said, his leathery cheeks twitchy with strain. “I know it is that horse because I have seen it before, racing across the desert. It was so fleet that even the falcons could not keep up. The Christian knight who had charge of it in the bazaar said that King Richard wanted to gift it to William Ravensgarth's brother, Gavin de Granville, for his part in the Saracen wars but that nobody had arranged for its passage back to England. I found it for sale and at half its real value. It looks very sorry for itself, Excellency, but its silver color is quite unmistakable.” The Old Man clicked his tongue again and Amal's palms began to sweat. “I took the liberty of bringing it here in the hope that it will please you.”

There was silence. “But if Richard gave it to Gavin de Granville,” the Old Man said, his voice like ice, “we
must make sure he gets it, Amal. I am not a horse thief.”

“No, no, Excellency,” said poor Amal. “I just thought …”

“You should not think. You are not capable.” The Old Man smiled and his face was suddenly that of an indulgent uncle.

Amal was exhausted, trying to keep up with the Old Man's moods, but he could not allow himself to relax, not for a moment. “No,” he said. “I will be guided by you in everything, Excellency.”

“Good,” said the Old Man, and drew his faithful servant to him as a lion draws a lamb. “Amal,” he said, his voice melting from ice to oil and his painted, curled nails like velvet claws, “you may rest tonight but tomorrow I wish you to resume your travels and take the horse to William de Granville in England. Show him how you bring it in honesty and peace so that he may give it to his brother and they may ride together, William on his red horse and his brother on the silver. William Ravensgarth will trust you. Stay with him. Help him, if necessary, to collect the ransom for the English king.” There was a short pause before the Old Man continued, holding Amal a little tighter. “Commend yourself to Kamil also. Be a brother to him. But be sure, once you have his confidence, to whisper to him that the English king's ransom is to be used by the German emperor to wage war against the Saracens. Even if Kamil has been living in England, he will recognize the Saracens as his brothers. Remind him how Christian knights killed his father. Talk to him of Saladin's wish to rid our land of the Christian scourge and how his people, now in sad
disarray, need a strong leader. Flatter him, Amal, and stay with him. You will learn what to do next in due course.”

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