Castle Roland


by Arthur


Chapter 6

Posted: 9 Nov 15



Both Eventide and Mahmud knew that one of them had to stay behind to watch over the city; Mahmud was only too happy to let Eventide take pride of place at the head of the small army; it was after all, his first chance to lead their troops into a real battle and he would have both his brothers and the elder brothers to help if he needed it.

His little army now numbered 150, they had detailed 30 of the militia to watch over and guard the baggage train of thirty camels and ten wagons; they had enough provisions for two weeks on the hunt; if they had to stay longer they would send a message to Mahmud for more.

On the first night on the road; Eventide changed his fancy garb of the Kahlif, to one of the Bedou; for the days ahead he felt more comfortable mixed in with his brothers and indistinguishable from anyone else.

It took three days for the small army to make it to the sight of the attack; there was little left after the eight days it had taken for them to get organised and finally make the distance.

It took some time for the men to look around and work out what had happened to the caravan. Most of the bodies had already been stripped of flesh by the buzzards and the animals of the night; the sun had completed the work and now there were mainly just piles of white bleached bones and some rags of clothing.

Most of the camels had been taken; although there were a few that were now just drying carcasses and showed how the caravan had been placed to defend itself, After looking at the remains of the battle field for some time; Eventide asked the older brothers about their thoughts on the battle.

After a short discussion, Eventide called for the officer's of the army and militia. Once everyone was together; Eventide issued the orders for a number of scouting groups to go out and find the trail of the attackers; the rest of the small army would make a temporary camp and await the scouts return.

The army moved away a short distance from the attack site and set up camp; they did not expect to move before the next morning when the scouts should have returned with their reports; and so it proved to be.

The next morning all the scouts reported their findings; the attackers had come from the north east and then retreated back in the same direction taking with them their many spoils. The trail had not been easy to find as the eight days since the attack had wiped clean any tracks but the scouts had been able to follow their trail by some of the discarded rubbish along the way.

Eventide; with the help of the older members of the brotherhood, sent out more scouts but this time they were all members of the brotherhood; the rest of the army and the baggage caravan would follow along at the slower pace of the camels and wagons.

On the second night of the trailing; while they were camped for the night; Eventide heard a number of horses galloping into the edge of the camp; at the loud sound of the guards challenge; he heard a reply and then saw the group of twenty one horsemen coming towards his black tent; in the lead was a familiar figure.

Eventide smiled widely when he saw Gerard's older brother along with twenty of the Emir's new long bowmen; all had their new bows over their shoulders and two full quivers of arrows tied to their horses. When the twenty one men stopped before Eventide, he said.

"Welcome Marchant; how are you here?"

"The Emir asked me to come in case you needed bowmen; he thought it would be a good chance for his men to try out their bows in actual combat; I volunteered to come and watch over them."

"Then you are twice welcome; how is your brother Gerard?"

"He is well and working hard on learning about their steel making; they truly have marvellous ways of smelting and the results are almost miraculous. Our twenty one bows are the first with the new metal and we have yet to have to clean them of rust."

"Then if nothing else you have made a good deal with the Emir."

"That's the truth of it; now what do you want us to do?"

"How is your language skill with your men?"

"Rough but we have our own way of communicating by using signs, it works well and no one can hear our orders. Have you had sight of the bandits yet?"

"We have scouts out searching now; I think we are not too far behind them. Do you and your men want to take a rest and food; I can have a tent set aside for you."

"Thank you, yes; we had to travel light and fast to catch up with you so there was no time for equipment."

"I'll ask Mohammad to get one ready for you and your men; would you like to join me for a meal while your men are settled?"

"Yes thank you; I'm a runner not a horseman so the last few days have been hard on my rear end."

Eventide led Marchant to his tent where they joined the six brothers of his personal body guard; it was not long before food arrived and all of them sat around the large carpet to eat and drink.

It was finally decided for Marchant to stay with Eventide and the six brotherhood in his tent for the night; the other bowmen were given a tent of their own to use among the other soldiers.

In the morning the first of the young scouts returned to report the findings; six of the scouts had remained in hiding to watch the camp of the brigands. What they were to report suddenly had Eventide think twice about going forward with an attack.

"My Lord." The scout said "We have found the camp about three hours ahead of us; it appears they are in no hurry but we may have a large problem."

"What is it brother?"

"There are far more men than we thought and they are not what they try to seem. It appears we have come across a small army of Christian knights and their men; they are disguised as brigands but their camp is obviously Christian."

"This does not sound good; how many would you say there were?"

"With their baggage handlers they would number more than one thousand; the camp is set up like all Christian camps with the soldiers ranged around the outside and the knights at the centre. It would appear that there are two or three main groups of knights. One are the knights of the Holy Cross; another is the Templar's and the third I am not sure of but they fly the banner of blue with a white flower of some kind."

"Could you describe the flowers?"

The scout drew a rough design in the sand and Eventide looked over his shoulder; what he saw rang a bell in his head and he finally put one and one together.

"They are the knights of Loraine and Burgundy; what would French knights be doing with the likes of the Templar's and the Holy Order?"

No one spoke as Eventide started to think things through; he had one hundred and seventy soldiers and brotherhood at his command and was facing over a thousand well trained knights and soldiers; by all rights he should retire and send for a larger army but; if he did that there was a good chance of losing all contact and the army would get away to raid another caravan somewhere else.

Eventide called all the brotherhood as well as Marchant and the officers of his small army; it was time to seek help and ask what the others with more experience thought about their present situation.

The meeting went on through the first meal of the day; Eventide sat silently as everyone was given a chance to voice their opinions. Once everyone had said their piece; Eventide sat and thought it all over. No one tried to persuade him one way or the other; he was the Kahlif and his decisions were binding on all of them.

Eventide looked around at the patiently waiting men; it had taken some time for him to think it all through and he finally had come to a decision that would either make him famous or dead.

"We attack; here is what we will do."

Eventide set about telling them all what he wanted and what he expected from his small numbers; the first thing was to break camp and send the baggage caravan up higher into the dunes where they would hide from any exposure to the enemy; in charge of them he set ten of the Kahlif's soldiers and the drivers would be armed to defend the caravan if the others lost the battle that was to come.

Eventide was once again dressed as a Bedou and would go forward to where his remaining scouts were watching over the Christian camp; he wanted to see for himself the layout of his enemy. The others were to ready their arms and armour and be prepared for his return; there would be no more camping out; if they could not finish it between today and tomorrow they would all be buried under the burning sands.

Eventide sent the officers off to ready their men; Marchant was to stay along with all the members of the brotherhood. Eventide's mind was working overtime as he outlined what he had in mind to fight against such huge numbers. Everything he had learnt from his time with Freeman and other older soldiers now came into play.

When he had told Marchant what he wanted from his bowmen; Eventide excused him to make his arrangements; next he told his brothers, both young and old what he planned to do; if all went well they may just come out of the fight with a win but it would take every bit of cunning they all possessed.

Eventide left the camp in the company of his six body guards; moving quickly they soon came upon the remaining scouts. Eventide settled into the sand at the top of the rise; below he could see the large army camped in the bowl of a shallow Wadhi; it was also the only Oasis within a vast distance. Eventide saw that the army of Christians had little intentions of moving in the near future; it seemed the Oasis would be their main camp for some time to come and a base for them to operate from; Eventide looked over the situation for any advantage to his plan of attack.

Eventide noticed there were a number of dying fires higher up the sides of the depression; it appeared they had guards posted out there during the night and it looked like they also had an inner ring of guards closer to the camp.

The larger and more colourful tents of the knights stood in a circle at the centre of the camp; behind the knights tents and well into the rear were where the knight's horse and the captured camels were held; there was enough grass and plenty of water to keep them all docile and healthy.

The camp resembled a cul-de-sac with a high dune at the rear and above the oasis centre. Lower dunes protected the sides and there was only the one way to attack down the narrow defile that led to the camp. After watching for some time; Eventide got the impression that the army below felt secure in its size and defence-able position; he hoped for his own sake that they were wrong.

After some thought, Eventide made a few small changes to his mental plan and then shimmied back down the dune to the others waiting by the silent horses; leaving the original brothers to watch the camp after giving them more food and water; Eventide led the others back to his small waiting army.

The rest of the day was spent readying for the upcoming night; there would be no mad daylight attack; that would mean certain death for them all. Eventide had planned this one to be a battle of stealth and silence; he hoped he could form a sense of fear and terror in the larger army without losing any of his own men; this was a perfect battle for his brothers, both elder and younger.

As the day wore on; Eventide's small army prepared as best they could; those in the most danger would be the members of the brotherhood; Eventide only hoped he had made the right decisions and would not end his days on the blade of a Christian sword in the middle of the night.

The time finally arrived when they had to make their way to their start point; Eventide was now dressed as all his brothers, in the black of the Hashin; he checked all his weapons for the last time and slid off the back of Shaitan; the horse seemed to know to stand silently and wait for his rider to return.

All the other troops were now at the assigned places around the Oasis but below the tops of the dunes. The brotherhood had divided into Elder and younger brothers; they all would fight better in their own age groups as that was how they had all trained.

The younger brothers had been given the job of clearing the outer guards with poison tipped darts that were blown from a small blow tube made of a bronze with a bone mouth piece. When used the mouth piece was removed and the poison dart was inserted into the tube; the mouth piece was then replaced and the dart blown into its target.

The darts were made from a cane brought all the way from the Far East; it was flexible and very strong and could be shaped or sharpened so the edge could cut like steel; it was also fibrous and could soak up the poison to be more effective

The boys could hit a target at twenty paces and, in the dark they were very capable of getting that close; they would all use the concentrated venom of the Indus Krait; it killed almost instantly in that form; the guards would never know what had hit them.

The inner ring of guards would be taken care of by the elder brothers once the outer guards had been taken care of; from that point on it would be up to each group to make as much mayhem within the camp as they could. Eventide had told them all that he and his younger brothers would attempt to raid the knight's tents and do as much damage as they could before sunup the next day.

The attack time was set for the first hours after the middle night change of guards; that was the time when most of the guards were not at their best and would be more inclined to make mistakes or ignore subtle noises in the dark.

The brotherhood watched the change of the guard and then waited another hour; the ten fires of the outer guard were now not burning so bright and the guards were sitting around them in the cold of the desert night; most had their heads nodding as though partially asleep; it was time to move.

The younger brothers slithered over the dune and worked their way towards the guards like silent snakes in the sand; their black clothes melding into the shadows cast by the very fires that were meant to protect the army.

There were ten guard fires around the camp; two brothers were directed to each fire; they would both use their darts at the same time so there would be no alarm to rouse the rest of the army.

Eventide lifted his hand as signal to stop; Salud was by his side and looked out into the dark night; it was only his superior training that enabled him to partially see the other brothers as they got into position; with a nod to Eventide; both teens lifted their blow tubes and sent the deadly darts on their way.

The result was perfect; as the two guards slumped further onto the sand with no more than a small grunt; Eventide looked at the other fire points; it appeared as though there was now a distinct lack of sitting or standing guards; their first obstacle was eliminated; it was now time for the elder brothers to do their work.

Salud sent out a soft call that sounded much like the night lark of the desert; an answering call came back as the two boys watched as more shadows moved like wraths over the dark sands and towards the next line of inner guards. Eventide reloaded his dart tube and made sure his dagger was loose in its sheath; their next objective could not be given a chance to react or they were all lost.

It was not long before the call came again; the inner guard was now out of action and the rest of the camp was at the mercy of the brotherhood; that is all except the standing guards outside the tents of the knights.

Each tent had two guards that stood by the tent flap of the doorway; these guards were changed every two hours unlike the other guards who were only changed every four hours; this left little time for the boys to do their work.

The younger brothers met up with their older ones at the edge of the inner guard ring; from here they would work almost together. The elder brothers would clear the way through the lines of soldier's tents or those who had decided to sleep out on the sand, although there were not many that did that as the desert was a very cold place at night.

The elder brothers moved like ghosts as they went from one tent to the other; in each tent were four soldiers; it took less than twenty seconds to make sure they would never move again; the elder brothers carried a long thin metal spike in their hands; they would sneak up to a sleeping soldier and plunge it into the man's ear and destroy the brain before the man could move or even knew there was an unwanted person in the tent.

Each tent took only seconds to clear and the small party of raiders moved quickly through the camp in the direction of the knight's tents. Once they were close enough; the younger brothers would take over and the elder would move outward among the rest of the camp.

The younger brothers found themselves at the last line of soldier's tents and looking at the guards on the knight's tents; it was time to use the blow tubes again. The boys had even less of a target to hit as the guards were wearing armour and only their heads and necks were free from chainmail.

The need for accuracy was now vital as each boy took aim; a soft hiss in the night air told them all to fire at the same time; as the darts struck sure and true it was almost amusing for the boys to watch as the guards slapped at what they must have thought was a night bug and only seconds later fall over dead.

Eventide hoped the sound of the men falling had not awakened the knights; he had no liking of going into the tent of a well trained knight and finding him on his feet and ready to fight.

Eventide and Salud slipped into their chosen tent; they now had less than one hour before the sun rose and still had to flee the camp before any guard changes were expected.

In the tent, Eventide saw the knight and his squire sleeping in the same cot; Salud moved around the back of the cot with his long thin steel poniard as Eventide moved to stand in front of the sleeping squire; a nod from Salud and both poniards drove deeply into the ear of their target victim; there was no noise or even movement from the sleeping pair; the thrust had been fast and clean and it was now time for Eventide and Salud to head for the rear of the camp.

If all the brothers were successful; they would all meet up where the horses and camels were held; it now depended on who was guarding the animals; during the day they had seen that the guards were all Saracens or those who had been captured from the caravan; this was the most dangerous part of the plan.

Without the use of horses or camels; the army would be at the mercy of the desert and could not stay long at the Oasis before the desert people would find them; Eventide had no intention to allow them to stay there at all.

The stock guards proved to be very agreeable to moving away from the camp along with their animals and to do it silently as they could. The added incentive of dealing with the Hashin also helped to make up their minds. Eventide told them they could keep every animal they took with them; to the desert dwellers that was like offering a veritable fortune.

It surprised even Eventide and Salud how quickly the animals disappeared up and over the surrounding dunes; in the soft sand it was almost silent. It was now time for Eventide's plan to move into its final stages; sunrise was now less than an hour away and he wanted the camp in disarray before the enemy could see clearly.

Eventide and his younger brothers took to the higher dune at the rear of the Oasis while the elder brothers retreated back through the silent camp to where all the horses waited for them; they left behind a scene of death that none of the Christian army would ever forget; and it was not over yet.

Eventide and Salud along with all their brothers, made it to the top of the dune unseen and unheard. At the crest of the dune; Marchant awaited them along with his twenty bowmen. Along with their bows, they carried a full quiver of arrows and in their hands they carried six more shafts that were wrapped in oil soaked cloth; in their free hand they all held a small bronze pot filled with brightly smouldering embers. The camp below was about to be awakened in the worst of ways.

Marchant lined his bowmen up along the top of the ridge while Eventide stood back and watched; at a soft hiss from Marchant; each bowman took one of the fire arrows and touched it to the glowing embers; the oil impregnated cloth caught quickly and another hiss from Marchant had the arrows knocked and ready. With a click of his tongue, Marchant had the bowmen release their arrows high into the early morning air; they were all aimed at the knight's tents below them. They had little worry about retaliation from the army below as they were well out of range of the Persian bows carried by the army of Christians.

While the first shafts were in the air; Marchant repeated his strange signals and a second lot of burning arrows took flight; these were now aimed at the many soldiers tents spread around the Oasis.

As the first arrows struck home on the sun dried tents of the knights a third flight was in the air. When the last of the fire brands had been used and the camp below was becoming a sea of flames and screaming soldiers; Marchant turned to their normal arrows and began to lay down a fire at any targets they could see in the fast approaching dawn.

Below them the camp was in disarray; leaderless soldiers were calling for help and others were screaming in fear as the rain of death continued from the dim light of dawn. Junior officers tried to organise their men but the fear of the fires and the unusual non appearance of the knights only caused more fear and confusion.

The soldiers now knew they were under a full attack and did their best to try to form lines of defence; but the only enemy they could see was the thin line of bowmen. As it dawned on those survivors that they were at a serious disadvantage and the few surviving officers were also now leaderless; the only though was escape.

The army below began to run; some down the length of the shallow valley and others to either the left or right low dunes; they would now face another enemy as yet unseen until they slowly puffed their way to the top of the dunes; it was only then they saw soldiers who were well armed and ready for them.

As the Christians could not form an effective attack and also had to struggle up the soft sandy slopes of the dunes; they were easy targets for the soldiers and militia that awaited them; it became not only a rout but a slaughter of some magnitude.

For those who stayed on the bottom of the valley and tried to escape; they found themselves face to face with thirty black clothed men on fine horses; their flashing scimitars causing mayhem amongst the mostly defenceless escapers; again it was a slaughter.

The early morning sands ran red with blood as none of Eventides men considered giving any quarter for what had been done to a harmless and almost defenceless caravan; this was to be a lesson that others would know not to try attacking one of the Emir's caravans in the future.

It did not take long for the survivors to begin to kneel with empty hands and ask for mercy; Eventide had seen enough blood for one day and so sent out the order to take prisoners; they could always be ransomed off for a profit or sold as slaves at the market.

As the fighting died away; Eventide, followed closely by Salud and his other brothers, began to count the cost for the enemy. He decided that the Christians had paid a terrible price; the fact that his tactics had had more to do with the victory than the fighting abilities of his men, never crossed his mind.

As the new prisoners were grouped together and their hands quickly tied fast; Eventide saw there were no more than two hundred soldiers left; the battle had been a slaughter and among his own men the price had been slight; only two militia and one soldier had been killed and no more than fifteen wounded; for the brotherhood there had not been a scratch.

Marchant had joined Eventide in the Oasis as the young Kahlif sent off a scout to call his camels and wagons in; they would set up their own camp here for one day and then start the trek back to Wadhi Sufaria with their prisoners. Eventide asked for one of the pigeons to be released to carry the message of success back to his waiting brother Mahmud.

It took less than two hours for his caravan to arrive; once it was unpacked his tent was quickly erected and a hot meal was soon on the fires as he went inside to change into his Bedou clothes; the prisoners were left where they sat out in the heat of the day; a bit of thirst would make them more compliant and there was little chance of escape as they had nowhere to go and the twenty guards were alert and well armed.

Those not guarding the prisoners were let loose on what remained of the Christian camp; no one saw any harm in a little booty from a battle although there was little left after the fire arrows of Marchant's men had finished.

The dead were dragged well clear of the camp and the Oasis; only a fool would let water be contaminated in the desert and none of Eventide's army were fools; that and the smell of fast decomposing bodies was not what they all wanted around the camp; even for one night. Tonight the night creatures would dine well and the birds and sun would complete the work over the next few days.

It was the sound of loud voices that caused Eventide, along with his six brotherhood guards; to walk outside his tent; immediately one of his servants found a chair for him to sit on. His dark blues scarf was not covering his face as he looked out to where the prisoners were seated in the sun.

One of the prisoners was demanding to see the leader of the army; a guard was lifting his scimitar to part the man's head from his body when Eventide called out to stop the beheading; the guard bowed low to Eventide and stepped back as the man on the ground turned to see who had given the order.

The sight that met the prisoners eyes made him start with surprise; the last thing he expected to see was another Christian in charge of the very men that had decimated his army and the fact the leader was only a boy even further surprised him.

"What do you want; prisoner?" Eventide called to the man; it did not go unnoticed that the man was wearing the black cross of the holy order on his surplus nor that there were two others sporting the red cross of the Templar's; the most hated of all Christian knights. All three officers of the church also wore the well known tonsure of the warrior monks; sometimes called Jesuits.

"I demand to see your superior; we are Christian officers of the holy church and demand to be treated better than the common soldiers; where is you leader?"

Eventide looked at the man and smiled an evil smile that only a teen could conjour up.

"Then Sir you wish to speak to me and the answer is, No; you deserve nothing for your attack on an innocent caravan and the slaughter you carried out. I was going to consider a ransom for you and your men but now! Well I think a term of slavery is more fitting to your crimes against my people."

"Your people? You are a Christian boy, these are not your people; are you mad or touched by the sun, boy?"

"I am known as Shaitan Bin Izurak, Kahlif of the Wadhi Sufaria; you Sir are now a prisoner of the Emir of the Aramaic lands; I warn you to hold your tongue if you do not want to lose it."

"You are a traitor to your People boy. If you were better born and I were a Knight I would challenge you to duel but I would not soil myself or break my oath to the holy church; not even for a cur the likes of you."

"Then Sir, you are in luck; I am also known as Baronet Eventide Tremaine; heir to the lands of Lancaster and Flanders under the tutelage of Baron Tremaine of those same lands. Should you wish to challenge then you are within your rights as an officer of the holy church; but I reserve the right of electing a champion as I am the sole heir."

"And what is there for me when I win?"

"You and your brother monks will be free to go unharmed and with a signed pass of freedom; your men will remain here as prisoners of the Emir; but, Sir; should you fail then you and your fellow monks will pay the ultimate price and your heads will decorate this very sight for all to see. Do you agree?"

"I do not see your bona fides; how do I know you speak the truth about your lineage; you are in a position to make any claims you like and cannot be verified?"

"My word is my claim monk; it is the only chance you will get; take it or leave it. The decision is yours."

"I cannot and will not take the word of a traitor to the Christian cause."

"Then Sir, you have already lost."

Eventide turned to Ishmael and whispered in his ear; when he finished, Ishmael had a wide smile on his face as he turned to the elder brothers and issued a soft spoken order.

The Elder Brother that led the brother hood of thirty; looked up at Eventide and then bowed low before issuing orders; within seconds the three monks of the cross were kneeling on the ground before Eventide. It took less than seconds for their heads to roll on the ground, much to the surprise of the other prisoners but not one wanted to draw attention to themselves and so; after loud gasps at the sudden and final ending of the three warrior monks; all fell quite; there would be no more challenges to Eventide's orders.

During the rest of the day, the prisoners were made more secure by tying a rope around their necks and fastening them altogether; if one moved they all had to move; it would reduce the number of the guards needed to watch over them.

Eventide set out the minimum amount of water each could receive and a small bowl of food was given to each prisoner at the end of the day; it would be all they received each day on their trip back to Sufaria.

At only one hour after sun rise the next morning, the small victorious army began the return to Wadhi Sufaria; if would take fully five days as they could not go faster than the slowest prisoner although they were all pushed along by the guards set to watch over them.

Eventide was finally happy when; on the mid morning hours of the fifth day he saw the towering walls of Wadhi Sufaria in the distance; another two hours and they would be back home. When they neared the huge gates of the city; it was also not a surprise to see the streets lined with the folk of the city. The cheers for the small army and the derisive remarks for the prisoners were almost heart-warming; it was good to return home with a victory and the minimum of losses.

Mahmud was waiting on the steps of his palace as Eventide rode up at the head of the small force; the cheering from the city folk could still be heard above the clatter of the horse's hooves and the shouting of the soldiers as they welcomed the sight of their homes.

Mahmud gave orders for the prisoners to be taken outside the palace walls and interred in the slave cells; their fate would be decided by both of the Kahlif after Eventide had had the time to bathe and rest. Mahmud told Eventide he had sent pigeons to the Emir to inform him of the victory; tonight would be a celebration for Eventides first victory as Kahlif of Wadhi Sufaria.

Eventide was to learn that as usual; Mahmud made far more of the battle than it truly was; Eventide said little as he could not chastise his brother for being one who could not resist a little fun at the expense of the Christians; although the new titles Mahmud came up with for Eventide, did raise a large smile and a weary giggle. Eventide wanted his bed and a good massage; he had been away too long for his liking.

That night, the dinner and entertainment was held in Eventides Palace; it was organised by Mahmud of course and was the first full celebration that was held there. The guest of honour was of course Eventide himself but; as he looked at all those who had helped him make the victory; he set about calling all of them in as well; including the officers of the militia and his own soldiers.

The elder brothers were also given pride of place at the top table and, as the evening moved along and the wine flowed; Mahmud made a suggestion that would satisfy Eventide's worry over what to do with the prisoners.

"It is a simple thing, my brother." Mahmud told Eventide. "We simply send them to the Emir with our elder brothers as escorts. They raided a caravan under the Emir's protection so: it should be the Emir who decides their fate, You, my brother have already had your fun; what with the great battle and then mounting three warrior monks heads on spears for all to see; what more fun could you ask for?"

Eventide blushed at the mention of the beheadings; he was not truly proud of his actions but it seemed the right thing to do as it caused the other prisoners to obey without question; it was a bloody but good lesson for all those there.

Eventide could only nod as he took another small sip of the wine; he wanted a clear head tonight as he well knew that the party would end with the hookah being brought out at the end of the dinner and this time it would not be the harmless leaf they would all smoke.

The next morning; which for some did not start until the sun was high; saw the Elder Brothers ushering their string of prisoners through the gates of the palace; it would be days before any of them would see a city again and the hot searing desert would take its own toll on the new slaves.

Eventide was one of those who awoke late in the morning; they had all feasted and drank late into the night and; with the advent of the hookah being brought out; the celebrations only got later and later.

Eventide woke to the fresh smell of mint tea; his newly trained slaves were filling his bath and others were inspecting his clothes ready for a new day. The bath slaves waited patiently for him to totter over to the waiting hot water; his head ached and his stomach tried twice to rebel; even the fresh mint tea could not settle the unease his stomach felt.

After his bathing; Eventide was only too happy to lay down on the narrow table for his two body servants to work on his tired and sore muscles; the two boys worked tirelessly as he half slept on the table. The next sound Eventide heard did not endear him to his brother Mahmud.

"Come mighty Shaitan, or should I say, mighty lazy one. The day is nearly over and you sleep in your bed when there are wild places to go and explore."

Eventide looked up with sad eyes at the over exuberant brother. "Shut up and let me die."

"Little brother, this is no time to die; you have a whole city waiting to see the great Shaitan Bin Izurak; scourge of the sandy wastes and defiler of the Christian masses; slayer of armies sent by the gods themselves; come oh favourite of the great Shaitan himself; stir your lazy ass and come ride the city with me and then we can go hunting. The falcons are growing fat and lazy like the great Shaitan Bin Izurak."

"Shut up and let me die in peace; I'm in no mood for crowds today."

The room became silent as Mahmud shooed the two boys away from the table; five seconds later and Eventide was using words he did not even know he knew. The ice cold water from a full jug used as drinking water was now dripping onto the floor as Eventide tried to shake some warmth back into his freezing body; the howls of laughter from Mahmud only went to increase Eventide's bad mood.

"Not funny; brother you will pay a heavy price for that little show of disrespect to the great hero Shaitan Bin Izurak."

It was the sound of the pompous words from Eventide's own lips that finally sent the two boys into gales of laughter; the foulness of the morning was finally broken and both boys relaxed as the servants dressed Eventide in the white dress of a Kahlif.

The rest of that day passed without incident as did the next four days. Notice came in that many of the caravan owners had now named the oasis of the battle in Eventides name; all who stayed there or watered their animals there, now called it Oasis Bin Izurak in his honour.

On the fourth day it was also the second quarter of the tithe gathering for the Emir and the city taxes. This was the first time that Eventide had seen it or been involved in any way.

While he himself had little to do; he along with Mahmud were expected to be present on the day of the payments by the caravan masters and local city officials and merchants. In many ways it was a long and somewhat boring day; for hours they sat and watched as one person or representative came forward with large and small chests of gold coins, jewels, silver or other precious things to pay for the protection on the roads and the taxes of the city.

Eventide was now truly impressed by the sheer quantity of gold and silver that was brought forward as payment; at one stage there were even small gifts in the form of weapons of high quality and smaller chests of coins and jewels that were given directly to Eventide for his destruction of the 'brigands' that had caused so much death.

It was staggering for Eventide to imagine that the quantity of gold and other precious things could be found each and every quarter for the taxes and other payments, but he was assured by Mahmud that this was a normal collection and; in the height of the caravan season, which would start in another month or so when the high passes to Indus and the Far East were open; the collection would almost double; Eventide could only shake his head and wonder.

Eventide watched as the clerics who were to take note of all payments; tapped away on the small squares used for counting; their fingers flashed so fast he found it difficult to keep pace with them; but, at the end of the day they would have a full accounting of every coin or jewel that was paid and from whom each payment was made.

The new treasure would them be divided up for the city, the two Kahlif and the Emir's share which would be transported under very heavy guard to Damascus. By the end of the long day; Eventide could only stand and stare as chest after chest of coin and gold was carried away to the palace treasury for dividing up; he could not even imagine how much was there and; the fact Mahmud said it was a slow time of the year for the silk road only amazed him more.

For the next two weeks the caravans began to increase until there were more than ten a day seeking passes to venture into the vast sandy waste to trade; it was at this time that Eventide began to see new peoples of many races as they came through the now open passes from the Hindu Kush and the far eastern lands of the Sinai and Indus.

The bustle of the city increased as the days got longer and hotter. It had now become his habit to rest during the hottest part of the day unless they were out with their falcons hunting; even then they would erect tents to pass the worst of the heat of the day.

It was fully six weeks later that Eventide got the news he hoped would never come. His new life as a Kahlif had become second nature to him even though he had a continual list of lessons to complete each day so he could further his education and understanding.

It was at the evening meal that word reached him in the form of a royal rider of the Emir. The Emir had received word that Freeman had been attacked by assassins in his manor house in Flanders; while he had beaten them off and killed six of them before the others fled; Freeman had been badly wounded in the exchange and was confined to his bed for some months to come; he had asked the Emir to have Eventide return as fast as possible so he could watch over the Baron's lands until he was fit again.

Within ten hours Eventide was packed lightly and; along with only his six brothers and Shaun and mounted on the best horses he had; was racing for the coast. A message had been sent ahead by pigeon to have a Dhow ready to sail as soon as he got to the port at Damascus.

They had pushed their horses hard but made it to Damascus in three days; by late in the evening of that third day; they were heading out from the port on what they hoped would be a nonstop voyage to the land of Flanders. The dhow was one of the fastest the Emir had and was manned by his best sailors and soldiers.

Unlike the first travel to the new land; this time the dhow was pushed to its limits and there was no long stops for resupply or to avoid rough seas or storms; the Emir had told the crew to go fast and die if needed to get Eventide and his friends to Flanders.

With the dhow being pushed to its limits; there was no small amount of sea sickness suffered by all eight teens; even the horses were not happy about the rough weather or the strain of the fast voyage. The crew of the dhow barely slept as they pushed harder and harder; they were taking chances that no normal voyage would undergo but; they were under the orders of the Emir; failure meant the loss of their heads.

To keep up the pace; if the wind died to a light shifting breeze; the captain would call for the large oars to be put out and the crew would start to row for hour after hour to keep pushing forward or until the wind grew once again; it was not easy for anyone aboard the dhow.

It took a mere seven days to make the coast of Flanders; if there had been record books it would have been noted as the fastest time ever done by a dhow in those times or at that time of the year. The last leg that was up the narrow sea between England and the Frankish lands was the most dangerous as the sea was wild and unpredictable but they conquered it as they had conquered the others and slowed as they came to the landing where they could see the green banner of Tremaine flying on the beach.

The message Eventide had received had said not to land at any Frankish port but to come directly to Freeman's coastal land and unship there; he would have his own people waiting every day for them to arrive and so it proved true.

This was Eventide's first trip to Flanders; he was met by the guards of Freeman's house hold troops; all thirty men helped to unload the few possessions and the horses and; four hours later, in the middle of a blustery afternoon; the entourage left at speed; there would be no stopping until they made the manor of Tremaine.

Fortunately it was less than two hours from the coast but; what surprised Eventide once again was the Manor; it was not a small house as Freeman had described; it was a solid looking castle set high on the small hill top and overlooked large spaces of marsh and farm lands.

Eventide could even see in the dimming light; that there were many large war horses that were roaming around the large open spaces. This was not what he had expected; he was looking forward to seeing his father once again, but it was with trepidation as he did not know how badly wounded he was.

Once they had entered the castle; Eventide jumped from Shaitan and ran towards the large double wooden doors where a servants stood waiting; with little ceremony; Eventide was taken to the bedroom where Freeman was laying while he healed.

Eventide did not wait as he neared the bedroom; he was almost running as he hit the door and ran inside; what he saw made him pause and catch his breath; he did not even consider the state he was in after travelling for more than ten days without washing or a change of clothes. His fine white garb of the Kahlif of Wadhi Sufaria were now not much more than dirty and torn rags but it did not stop him from rushing to Freeman's bedside.

Freeman was propped up in the bed by a large number of thick down filled pillows; around his head was one bandage; around his bare chest was another and one arm was in a sling; Eventide could also see under the covers that one leg was propped up.

Freeman looked pale and wan as he tried to smile for Eventide but it was plain he was in pain. The physician that stood beside the bed frowned at the sudden appearance of the rough looking teen but was soon put at ease when Freeman gasped out that it was his son; the physician then bowed to Eventide and retreated a little to give them space.

Eventide carefully leant forward to try and grasp one of Freeman's hands; he dared not hug him as much as he wanted to; the obvious wounds were not slight and he did not want to make his father's pain any more than it already was.

Freeman watched as tears fell freely from his new son's eyes; the obvious pain and fear in the young boys face told its own story; Freeman tried to find the strength to pat Eventides shoulder and to take away some of the boys fear.

"You made good time, my son." Freeman gasped out in a strained voice.

"Father...." It was all Eventide could find to say as the tears continued to fall freely down his dirty face.

"Don't worry son, I've got through worse than this; just ask the Emir."

Eventide could see how much it cost Freeman to keep talking; he grasped his father's hand tighter but did not try to stop the tears; if nothing else, he had made it in time and he could see his father was still with him.

"Son, I need you to be strong now; you have to keep the estates running until I can get back on my feet; anything you decide I will back up. Now go and get some rest and a bath; you need it badly; tomorrow when you are rested we will talk more."

Eventide could see how much it took for Freeman to talk for so long; like a good obedient son; he let go of Freeman's hand and looked around for someone to help him find his room, as he did so he saw all six of his brothers standing stoically in the outer passageway watching the reunion; their faces were inscrutable but Eventide knew there was much more going on under those young faces than others would see.

It was with great reluctance that Eventide allowed himself to be shown to his new rooms by one of the younger servants; his six brothers never leaving his side as they all rearranged the large bedroom so they could all stay together; their little brother was in pain and they had no intention of leaving him in his hour of need.

Eventide finally succumbed to the rigors of the last ten days; without thinking of washing or changing his tattered clothes; Eventide collapsed onto the bed and was fast asleep before any of the others had time to take notice.

Eventide awoke early in the morning to the sound of people rushing about the passageways. Groaning as he tried to get himself from the bed; Eventide saw that his six brothers were sleeping close around his bed in a protective circle. Eventide almost smiled at the concern of the six teens; with another groan; which awoke Ishmael and then Salud; Eventide stood and looked for a bath tub. It took a few loud shouts before he had a few servants arrive to take his orders; it was another hour before he was sinking into a hot bath.

Many of the servants did not speak either English or Aramaic and so Eventide had to make do with sign language for some of his requests; fortunately for him; the housekeeper and two of the footmen were competent in English and; once he had found them, things went smoother.

By mid-morning, Eventide was ready for the day; After his breakfast he was in the bedroom of his father; there was a lot to talk about and Eventide began to feel a burning desire to find the culprits of the assassination attempt; he was not the only one with those thoughts.

Eventide sat with Freeman for over an hour while the Baron told him about the attempt on his life. Four of Freeman's guards had died in the attempt, but they had slowed the assassins enough for Freeman to get ready for the assault.

Even though Freeman had sustained a number of bad injuries, he and his remaining men had been able to defeat the attackers. Of the ten dead attackers, six of which Freeman took care himself; five were found to be from the Holy Church; three were members of the Knights of the Holy Cross and the other two were Templars.

Although he was still young; the time he had spent with Mahmud holding court at Wadhi Sufaria had taught Eventide to look past the obvious; now he could see a pattern; perhaps the caravan attack had been more than it appeared at the time; coupled with the new attack on his father; Eventide began to see things differently.

Both talked over their own suspicions; Freeman told Eventide that there were those in both the Kings court, and the Holy Church that desired his lands in Flanders; that, and the fact that the Baron stood between many other knights and the throne had always been in contention.

After the physician had once again checked over Freemans wounds and placed fresh dressings on them; Eventide asked what he needed to do. For another hour the two talked as Freeman told him what needed to be done to keep the estate running smoothly; Eventide listened intently and took notes; in the back of his mind was another plan forming but he kept his silence as he listened to his father's instructions.

By Midday they were done; Freeman looked tired and in need of rest; it was now time for Eventide to take up the mantle of Baronet of Flanders.

Eventide called for his six brothers to join him for the midday meal; while they sat and ate they also had a softly spoken discussion on what had been in the back of Eventide's mind; some of the suggestions raised smiles on the faces of his brothers. With the meal over and some plans made; the small group broke up and each brother went his own way to carry out the orders of their Kahlif.

Over the next two weeks, no one noticed the disappearance of Demetrious or that the usual number of personal body guards was now down to four; Ishmael being the other one not seen for some time.

On the fifteenth day after Eventide's arrival at the Flanders estate; the servants saw a large column of riders approaching the gates of the castle; most noticeable were the clothes of the riders. All were dressed in black flowing robes and their faces were covered so that only their dark eyes could be seen; The church and the Templars were about to reap what they had sewn.

The newcomers spoke to no one until they had been sequestered with the young Baronet for some time; when they reappeared, the servants saw them all walk to where the injured Baron was now propped up in bed.

It was only the physician that saw and heard what went on in the bedroom of the Baron; After Eventide had told the guards at the door not to enter under any circumstances; the newcomers entered one by one and spoke in a foreign language that the Baron seemed to understand completely.

The physician had watched each stranger enter the bedroom, walk up to the reclining Baron and then whisper a few soft words; what happened next almost shocked the old physician. Each stranger took a very sharp and dangerous looking, black handled dagger from the sheath at his waist, pricked his finger and let a drop of blood fall on the hand of the Baron.

What was more surprising was that the baron did not object but instead just nodded his head and raised his hand as though offering some sort of blessing.

When all twenty of the strangers had completed the odd ceremony; the Baron lay back and then called for his son. Eventide was quick to enter the room; the physician was then told to leave the two together and not return until called.

Only Eventide and Freeman knew what was said in the bedroom but, when Eventide returned from the room, all the strangers looked at him with their dark eyes and immediately bowed low and salaamed with great respect; even the door guards; men who had been to the holy land on the last crusade with the Baron; could not believe the respect the young Saracens were showing the son of their Baron. The physician; although he had his own suspicions as to who the strangers were; was still at a loss as to what had happened.

Only Freeman and Eventide knew that the twenty brothers of the brotherhood had sworn a blood oath to the Baron; the attempted assassination was to be paid in blood and there would be no place to hide for those who had tried to kill one of their own.

The words of the oath were spoken only when one of their own was threatened.

"My blood is your blood until death and beyond"

There would be no peace for any who may even be remotely connected to the assassination attempt; this oath was even far beyond that given to every brother; it was meant to be until the end of days and the end of time itself.

Later that night; Eventide and all his brothers were enclosed in Eventide's room; the return of Demetrious and Ishmael now meant they could start to lay their plans; the secret meeting would go on into the late hours of the night and early hours of the next morning; what was finally decided was to stay among the small group and would never be known by any outsider.

It was a week before anyone noticed there seemed to be a spate of horrible murders being done. Taken separately, the murders would have seemed unrelated; the scope was far too wide for them to be even remotely similar.

From the far off state of Loraine, six Knights Templar came to a grisly end right in the middle of one of their own castles; no one was seen or heard and only the six bodies stood testament to the act of assassination.

Another in Burgundy saw three Prelates and a Bishop slain in their beds by some mysterious poison that left no other sign but the dead bodies; the seven guards swore they saw no one in the manse of the church.

In far off Rome, inside the Vatican itself; nine Cardinals were slain in their beds; again there was no sign of how it happened and again; none of the guards saw anything.

In the newly forming city of Paris; eleven Knights of the Holy Cross met horrible deaths by strangulation while sitting at a meal together; again there were no witnesses.

In England; a counting house known to watch over the wealth of the Templars was set afire and destroyed; the five Templar guards were found a day later with what appeared to be punctures to their ears; they had all been standing on guard at the time of the fire.

These and many more unrelated acts continued to be heard of; there were never any witnesses but; there were those in certain places that could put the happenings together and were now getting very nervous; the only common factor they could see was the attempted assassination of a Baron in Flanders; even then they were not quite sure but, in the secrecy of their castles and palaces it was the only factor they could come up with; immediately the word was sent out.

'No further action was to be taken against the Baron of Lancaster and Flanders'

The very day that the withdrawal of the threat to Baron Tremaine of Lancaster was issued; six stealthy figures stood on a hillock overlooking a grand Manor house in the barony of Essex. The smallest of the group looked intently at the grand house and then turned to the others; a few soft words were spoken and then the small figure mounted his black horse as the others mounted theirs.

In the grand house below the hill; many important people were arriving; some by fancy carts guarded by a number of well presented soldiers; others were mounted knights with their squires and personal retainers. It appeared to be a gathering of some of the most important men of this land and also the church.

The gathering gained pace as the darkness of the night fell; the grounds were swarming with guards of many of the noble houses and the Manor house was a blaze of light. Inside there was a special meeting taking place in a locked room; in the rest of the house, many servants prepared a great feast to honour the many guests.

It was later in the evening when the many nobles reappeared in the grand ball room of the Manor; the room had been set with a multitude of tables and a great feast was set out for the guests; all that had to be said had been spoken of and all the men were ready to enjoy the hospitality of their host.

Amongst the many large trees of the formal garden; six dark shadows moved amongst the other shadows; one undistinguishable from the other. The many guards around the Manor saw nothing and heard nothing; there were only shadows and night creatures to disturb the peace of the countryside; nothing seemed amiss for the vigilant guards.

At the rear of the Manor, close to the rear door of the kitchens; sat a large stone building; the door had a large heavy padlock on it and the key was held only by the Baron. This was the store house of the Baron's most valuable wines and spirits; they were brought over from the best estates in France;

A shadow flittered among the trees close to the stone building; it was small and slight and clothed entirely in black garb.

At the rear kitchen door sat a young man with a large basket between his knees; he noticed nothing as he pushed more fresh straw into the basket; it would not do to break a bottle of the Baron's best wine.

The young man stood up with the large basket in one hand and a large metal key in the other; it was time to get the wine for the feast; the Baron and his guests would be sitting down to eat shortly and there was no time to waste.

In the deep shadow of the building, the small figure was quickly joined by five others; all moved in total silence and became part of the darker shadows that surrounded the stone building. The young man with the basket strode confidently towards the waiting wine store; he had no reason to suspect anything with all the guards roaming around the Manor.

Placing the large basket on the ground by his feet; the young man lifted the heavy key to the waiting padlock; as the key was inserted, but before he could turn it; he was grasped by two pairs of strong hands while a third hand placed a soft cloth over his mouth to stop any calls for help.

The young man tried to struggle but it was soon proved to be a hopeless task; a soft voice whispered into his ear as he was held tightly.

"You have one chance to live and only one; do you understand?"

The young man nodded his head; the key was turned and he was bundled through the heavy wooden door of the wine store; inside; with a single candle lit for light; the young man saw he was surrounded by six black clad figures; the smallest one seemed to be in charge and it was he that asked the questions of the young man.

"Which are the wines for the Baron's feast?"

Still held fast and with his mouth still covered; the young man used what little movement he had to point to the large stack of wine flasks set aside from the others in the store house.

As he watched the black clad figures; the young man noticed the smaller one was the only one with blue eyes; it was all he could see of his captors. The young man watched as the flasks were opened and something poured into them; the flasks were then re-stoppered and then left as they were for the young man to place in his large basket.

The small figure then turned to the young man and said.

"If you tell anyone about this your life will be forfeit; after you serve this wine it will be best if you are not found on the Manor grounds. Take this, it will help you to get away. If you speak of this to anyone before the wine is served, you will be the last of your family alive before we come for you."

The young man was now very nervous; with shaking hands he took the offered leather pouch; he noticed instantly how heavy it was. With the knowledge of how easy it had been for these six dark figures to enter the heavily guarded Manor grounds undetected; he had little doubt they could find him and his family.

The small blue eyed figure patted him on the shoulder one last time and said.

"Don't forget to be away before the wine is served and don't say one word to any of those inside; we will be watching."

It was as if by magic that the six figures seemingly disappeared into the dark shadows of the night; the young man tried to see them but there was no sound or sight of the ghostly figures. He looked at the heavy leather purse in his hands; by the feel of it he could look after his family for many years as long as he was careful not to be caught this night. The young man began to put the flasks into the straw lined basket.

After the young man carried the wine flasks inside to be served; he was never seen again by any of those that were left in the Manor after the great feast; and there were few of those.

High up on the hill behind the Manor house, six riders led by a small blue eyed shadow; quietly left the scene of their final revenge; they did not need to stay to watch the results of the white powder they had poured into the wine flasks; they already knew what it would do; for now they had a long hard ride to the coast where a boat was waiting to take them to Flanders; three months of hunting and revenge was now over. The price of attempting to take the life of a brother was now paid in full.

In the Manor house behind them; not one of the guards tried to stop one of the young servants from leaving; it was none of their business; they were there to watch for intruders and not staff leaving for the night.

By the time the alarm was raised; a young man was far down the road and heading towards the far off homeland of the Welsh countryside; the heavy bag of gold coins in his pack was a comfort as he spurred his newly bought horse a little faster.

For the guards of the Manor house; it came as a shock to be called by one of the scullery maids as screams and yells went up from the well lit Manor house. When the guards got inside, it was like a scene of horror but it was too late for those who had taken the wine; including some of the staff who had thought it a good idea to steal from the Baron; the toll was extensive.

Seven high ranked clergy; eleven Knights of the realm; two Barons; thirteen Squires; eight wealthy merchants; three cooks; four servants and one scullery maid; all were lying dead either on the floor or at the table and all were frothing at the mouth; the poison had been virulent and deadly and no one had seen anyone or anything; it was to be forever a mystery that was never solved.

Over the years there were many summations but never any proof. As quickly as the scale of murders had started they then stopped just as quickly. In all the fear and death it had caused there was never one shred of evidence or proof of who was responsible; no one was ever brought to the Kings court for justice.

One week after the fatal feast in Essex; no one took any notice of three groups of travellers boarding a ship for the holy land; they were just twenty more young men going to the holy land; while all of them looked to be Saracens, they also looked like any other trader seen in those days; it was nothing really unusual in the ports of France.


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