Read Alicia Myles 2 - Crusader's Gold Online
Authors: David Leadbeater
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Men's Adventure, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Thriller & Suspense, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Historical, #Thriller, #Thrillers
(Alicia Myles #2)
Copyright 2015 by David Leadbeater
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher/author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law.
All characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
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Thriller, adventure, action, mystery, suspense, archaeological, military, historical
The Matt Drake Series
The Bones of Odin (Matt Drake #1)
The Blood King Conspiracy (Matt Drake #2)
The Gates of hell (Matt Drake 3)
The Tomb of the Gods (Matt Drake #4)
Brothers in Arms (Matt Drake #5)
The Swords of Babylon (Matt Drake #6)
Blood Vengeance (Matt Drake #7)
Last Man Standing (Matt Drake #8)
The Plagues of Pandora (Matt Drake #9)
The Lost Kingdom (Matt Drake #10)
The Alicia Myles Series
The Disavowed Series:
The Razor’s Edge (Disavowed #1)
Threat Level: Red (Disavowed #3)
The Chosen Few Series
Chosen (The Chosen Trilogy #1)
Guardians (The Chosen Tribology #2)
Walking with Ghosts (A short story)
A Whispering of Ghosts (A short story)
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I hope you’re happy, mate. Wherever you are.
Other Books by David Leadbeater:
The young Antonio Rambaldo paused and rested his scarred hands against the rough, damp city wall. Did she still breathe? Was she panicked? Was her great heart quailing at the thought of what was soon to come? By the mood in the camp today, she should.
The weather conditions had finally favored them. Venetian ships were coming close to the walls. Crusaders were already entering the city. It was over six months since they had arrived at this place and the Byzantine Empire was about to feel the full wrath of the Christians. Rambaldo hefted his sword and looked about. Grim-faced men stood everywhere—faces dirty, pockmarked, resolute. Their leader, the half-crazy, blind and heavily-aged Doge of Venice, Enrico Dandolo, led them into this greatest battle of battles.
The wall was breached, the crusaders crawling through holes they could barely fit into. Bloody fighting continued along the walls above. Ragged bodies fell all around. The Varangians would not give up easily. Rambaldo took his turn, angling his body into the rough hole and bending almost double. The sound of battle faded, replaced by the harsh grunting of weary but determined men. Their goal was now but a stone’s throw away.
Swords and helmets grated harshly against the walls. A circle of light, an exit, appeared ahead, filled by blood-covered men readying weapons. Crusaders fell out of the end of the hole, body after body, man after man, until their swelling numbers began to make a difference.
Rambaldo climbed over the still-warm, still-screaming bodies of his Venetian comrades, instantly faced by an axe-wielder, an Anglo-Saxon by the look of him. Rambaldo took the axe blow on his sword, deflected it and sliced at the snarling face. Blood flew. The crusader was able to get his first real look at the city of Constantinople, the city that stood in their way on their march to the Holy Land.
Constantinople had become a genuine museum of ancient art and history; a lavish home of opulent wealth, a Byzantine playground. The Latins were shocked at what they saw and would find, but not as shocked as they were becoming by their fellow French and similar Catholic crusaders who slew indiscriminately, pausing only to drink wine, rape and murder priests.
Rambaldo forged his way further into the city, fighting only when he was forced to, trying to follow the path shaped by his blind Doge, Dandolo, and to stick with fellow Venetians who wanted none of this terrible pillaging.
Toward the great church they strove. The Venetians were themselves semi-Byzantines and wanted to save the greatest art from the rampagers. And other crusaders would not dare challenge Dandolo, a man as shrewd as he was both brave and pious, he had become a leader in his mid-seventies, performing tremendous mental and physical acts and, since the Venetians were funding this, the Fourth Crusade, was well known to be its most influential figure.
Rambaldo reached the great Hagia Sophia some time after the first groups, caught up in battle along the way. The defenders grouped together and launched attack after attack on the invaders even as their walls were breached and began to fall, even as the Blachernae section of the city was captured and used as a base to attack its remainder, even as a great fire began to rage among thousands of homes.
The skies groaned, burning bright, stormy with smoke as the great library was destroyed; other churches and monasteries were razed as the defilers stole all they could lay their hands upon, eyes and brains blinded by the promised rewards of thousands of silver marks.
Rambaldo finally stood in the shadow of the great church. The Hagia Sophia was like nothing he had ever seen before, dwarfing even the image he had kept in his imagination, and over seven hundred years old.
Gnarled fingers tightly gripped the hilt of his sword. The disgrace of it all was—the crusaders had originally been granted safe passage through Constantinople on their way to Jerusalem, a deal changed by the death of its emperor. It was only after this that Dandolo and his generals decided to sack the city itself, in an attempt to set up a new Latin Empire.
Rambaldo approached the steps of Hagia Sophia, surrounded by his fellows, walking through small fires that burned around the concrete, some the remains of art and literature and expensive cloths, others the remains of people.
Rambaldo eyed the destruction, the blatant and often gleeful carnage, with a world-weary eye. Many times during his half-century life he had been called upon to be a soldier, each time inuring him to the excesses of the next. Each return made it harder to reconnect to his wife, his growing children. War and battle changed a man, but twenty five years of it turned him into an entirely different creature. Rambaldo had tried desperately to hold on to his humanity but, until now, had always thought he’d failed.
And yet, the actions of the other crusaders showed that it was they who were no longer human, not the Venetians.
Ahead, Dandolo halted, staring across the way toward the great, awe-inspiring Hippodrome, a large chariot racing track looked over by the four great gilt horses created by the world’s greatest known sculptor, Lysippos, sometime in the
fourth century BCE. Rambaldo noted that his commander appeared rapt, even overwhelmed, and quickly sent a contingent of men in that direction. Rambaldo also reminded himself that his commander was blind. Dandolo had to have known what he wanted—the stare was purely for show.
They crossed the square and made to enter the great religious center of Hagia Sophia; many of the Venetian crusaders almost overawed to be in her shadow, others struggling to stay close to their great commander, Dandolo. It was then that a wave of enemy combatants swept in from the tree line to the right. Rambaldo saw the bloody battle about to erupt and once more hardened his heart, distanced his emotions and narrowed his vision.
Hagia Sophia itself watched over it all like an indifferent deity. Indeed, it had seen it all before. Twice destroyed and rebuilt, it had once been said that ‘God allowed the mob to commit this sacrilege, knowing how great the beauty of this church would be when restored.’ Today however, it was a complex affair and though some crusaders were indeed ransacking and defiling the great church, others were defending its sanctity and still others were stood wondering why those who rampaged seemed to have forgotten that Constantinople was only the gateway to Jerusalem, not the task that Pope Innocent III had first set them upon. Worse, they were plundering the very living treasures of the church. The catastrophic effects would ricochet down throughout history.
Rambaldo stood his ground, taking blows, resigned by now that every battle might be his last. Yes, he wanted to survive this day, yes he wanted to see Jerusalem, and yes he even wanted to return to his homeland where his wife at least awaited him, but a man so jaded as he would not be unwelcoming to the sharp stab of quick release. Some men dropped around him, but the crusaders were a battle-hardened lot and this batch of defenders were not. Soon, Rambaldo turned his attention back once again to the church and entered only to find Dandolo on his knees. At first fearful, but then acutely aware, he stared around at the desecrations that had already been wrought by the defilers.
Silver iconostasis—icons holding the holy books of Hagia Sophia—had been overturned and smashed to pieces. Seated upon the patriarchal throne was a naked whore, singing coarse songs. Crusaders stood around in their wicked bawdiness, drinking wine from the church’s holy cups. Bodies littered the floor and a priest had been draped upon a hanging tapestry, his flesh defiled. They were destroying the holy altar, herding horses and mules into the church to better carry off its holiest of treasures.
And here we stand,
Brave Christians all. Liberating this Christian city from its Christian rulers in the name of Christianity. Religion at its most crazy.
In future years he hoped the world might get better.
The noise inside Hagia Sophia was raucous, riotous. Dandolo appeared to wilt, possibly realizing immediately that even he could do naught to dissuade the crusaders from their damaging path. In another moment the Doge seemed to come to a decision, waving his men away from the hall and toward sparser areas.
“If we cannot save all her history,” he said aloud, “along with the remainder of this great city’s, then we can preserve only its finest.”
Rambaldo thought of the Hippodrome and its famous horses and wondered what Dandolo had in mind for them. How had the Doge come by such secret knowledge? Of course the answer stared him immediately in the face—many years earlier, before becoming the 42
Doge of Venice, Dandolo had been appointed ambassador to Constantinople, charged with the thankless task of settling Venice’s disputes through diplomatic settlements. His many visits would have led to familiarity, acquaintance and the inevitable learning of secrets. Back then, of course, his sight had not been afflicted.
And the siege and final sacking of Constantinople was granted through his direction.
Rambaldo followed his leader deep into the great church, at one point twisting around to the exterior and re-entering through a smaller barred gate until all was in silence and a deep, fetid air permeated the small space in which they were gathered. Before them lay the entrance to a catacomb and the rumbling rush of deep water.
Were there secret passages underneath Hagia Sophia?
Dandolo, though blind, appeared to know exactly where he was going.
Rambaldo followed with thirty other knights, seeking the treasure of treasures.