Crusader's Lady

Excerpt from Crusader's Lady
by Lynna Banning....

Jerusalem, 1193

     A whisper of sound brought Marc’s head up, every nerve on edge. Something--instinct or training, or perhaps the voice of God-- made him twist back toward the dead Arab. A small form flitted out of the shadows and threw itself over the body, sobbing like a girl. So, the Arab had a loyal servant.

     Again Marc turned away. The words of regret that sprang to his lips died the instant he opened his mouth. He need not apologize to a Saracen, much less to a Saracen’s servant. Besides, the boy would not understand Norman French.

     He turned away, toward the fire, and suddenly a warm weight dropped onto his back. One thin arm crooked about his neck and the blade of a dagger pressed into his throat.

     “Qaatil!” shouted a thin voice, choked with hatred. Before Marc could throw him off, the knife nicked his skin; a dribble of warm liquid ran down the neck of his tunic.

     “Taraka.” He spoke in Arabic, but the boy did not let go. Instead he clung to Marc’s back, the hand gripping the dagger flailing to find a vulnerable spot. He grabbed the servant’s upper arm and twisted, hard.

     With a yelp, the slight figure tumbled off and sprawled on the ground. The dagger skittered out of his fingers. A skinny hand grabbed for it, but Marc stomped his boot onto the blade, pinning it to the hard ground.

     “Go.” He gestured toward the shadowy edge of his camp. “I will not harm you.” Without thinking, he spoke the words in the Frankish tongue.

     “I will kill you.” The low voice replied with a tremor. “I will take revenge if it is the last thing I do on this earth. God knows I speak truly.”

     A servant boy who spoke Norman French? “Who are you?

     The boy darted a glance at the dagger caught under Marc’s foot, flicked his gaze to the body of the dead Saracen and dropped into a crouch, his forearm still imprisoned in Marc’s grip. Tears streaked the lad’s dirty face.

     Marc bent and scooped up the knife. The hilt was silver, beautifully incised, with a single jewel embedded into the metal. A ruby, big as a sparrow’s egg.

     “Where did you get this?”

     The hunched figure twitched but said nothing.

     “Answer me!” He slid his fingers down to the boy’s wrist and squeezed. “Where did you get this blade?”

     The trembling servant glanced down at the dead Arab. “It belongs to me.”

     “And I am the prince of Samarkand. Speak the truth!”

     “I am no thief.”

     “So you say, boy. Where did you get this blade?”

     “It is mine, now.” He glanced again at the body.

     So, the Arab had been armed. A spy? It mattered not, since death now sat on the man’s chest.

     But the boy mattered. The boy might be only half-grown, but the wiry young Arab had tried to kill him. Marc reached down, caught the neck of the youth’s dust-smeared tunic and yanked him upright.

     “Who are you?” He expected the boy to cringe, but he straightened and looked boldly into Marc’s face.

     “I am...Soray.”

     “And who is that man on the ground?”

     “That is my lord. His name is Khalil al-Din.”

     Marc tightened his grip on the tunic. “A servant? You are his servant?”

     “I am his servant.”

     Marc released him. It made no sense. Was a Saracen servant so devoted to his master that he would commit murder on his behalf?

     “You are lying.”

     The boy tensed. “No, lord. I do not lie.”

     Marc shook his head. He knew a lie when he heard one. Still, he could not linger; the king awaited him.

     “Leave this camp, boy. I will see to the body of your master.” He tramped out of the circle of firelight, the dagger still clenched in his fist, to the tent where Richard waited.

* * *

     Soraya crossed her arms over her waist and watched the tall knight stride off into the dark. He had a cold, hard look about him, a darkness in his face that frightened her. Not one word of regret, not even a prayer for the man he had struck down with his thoughtless blow.

     Shaking with sobs, she knelt at Khalil’s side and bowed her head. “Uncle, I swear to you I will avenge your death. I will complete your mission. God willing, I will do it this very night.”