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Authors: Bernard Knight

Crowner's Crusade

BOOK: Crowner's Crusade
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Table of Contents

A Selection of Titles by Bernard Knight

Title Page

Copyright

Author's Note

PART ONE – The Journey Anno Domini 1192

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

PART TWO – The Homecoming Devonshire, July 1193

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Historical Note

A Selection of Titles by Bernard Knight

The Crowner John Series

CROWNER'S CRUSADE *

THE SANCTUARY SEEKER *

THE POISONED CHALICE *

CROWNER'S QUEST *

THE AWFUL SECRET

THE TINNER'S CORPSE

THE GRIM REAPER

FEAR IN THE FOREST

THE WITCH HUNTER

FIGURE OF HATE

THE ELIXIR OF DEATH

THE NOBLE OUTLAW

THE MANOR OF DEATH

CROWNER ROYAL

A PLAGUE OF HERETICS

The Richard Pryor Forensic Mysteries

WHERE DEATH DELIGHTS *

ACCORDING TO THE EVIDENCE *

GROUNDS FOR APPEAL *

DEAD IN THE DOG *

*available from Severn House
CROWNER'S CRUSADE
Bernard Knight

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

 
 

First published in Great Britain 2012 by

SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of

9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.

First published in the USA 2013 by

SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS of

110 East 59
th
Street, New York, N.Y. 10022

eBook edition first published in 2012 by Severn House Digital an imprint of Severn House Publishers Limited

Copyright © 2012 by Bernard Knight.

The right of Bernard Knight to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Knight, Bernard.

Crowner's crusade.

1. De Wolfe, John, Sir (Fictitious character)–Fiction.

2. Coroners–Fiction. 3. Devon (England)–History–

Fiction. 4. Great Britain–History–Richard I,

1189-1199–Fiction. 5. Detective and mystery stories.

I. Title

823.9´14-dc23

ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-348-8 (epub)

ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8221-9 (cased)

ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-458-5 (trade paper)

Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.

This ebook produced by

Palimpsest Book Production Limited,

Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.

Author's Note

Apart from the fact that Sir John de Wolfe is a fictional character, the description given in this book of Richard the Lionheart's disastrous journey home from the Third Crusade is as accurate as can be achieved after an interval of more than eight hundred years. A number of accounts were written soon after the actual event, some taken from men who were with the king at the time, such as his chaplain Anselm, yet details vary considerably from one chronicler to another. The story given here is hopefully a reasonable synthesis of what actually took place on that perilous expedition which, had it ended differently, might have altered the course of English – and indeed European – history. For those readers interested in seeking further details of that fascinating period, some sources are listed at the end of the book.

Historical novelists have to resist the temptation to stuff all the fruits of their research down the throats of their readers. However, though being well aware that novels are meant to be entertainment, not textbooks, the hundreds of comments received by this author after fourteen previous Crowner John sagas, indicate that many readers appreciate ‘an easy way of learning some history', as they often put it. This fifteenth story is a result of suggestions from readers that they would welcome a ‘prequel', an explanation of how Sir John came to be appointed as the first coroner for the County of Devon.

PART ONE – The Journey Anno Domini 1192
ONE
The Ninth Day of October

A
s the evening light faded, the King of England slipped away from the Holy Land like a thief in the night. Though it was quite contrary to his flamboyant nature, which revelled in pomp and ceremony, no trumpets sounded and no flags waved. Neither did any royal pennants stream from the masts of the inconspicuous merchant vessel
Franche Nef,
as she quietly slipped her moorings in Acre's outer harbour and aimed her blunt prow northwards.

Richard the Lionheart stood at the rail of the sterncastle, wrapped in a cloak against the evening sea-chill that could be felt even in the Levantine autumn. He stared pensively at the great walls of the battered citadel as the ship glided past, thinking of the legions of men who had died there in battle or from disease – including more than two thousand Moslem captives that had been beheaded on his orders. His lips moved in an almost silent benediction as the gap widened between the vessel and the shore.

‘O Holy Land, I commend you to God,' he murmured. ‘In his loving grace, may he grant me such length of life that I might give you such help as he requires.' His tall, burly figure stood for some time as he stared landwards, thinking pensively of the greater part of the original crusading army who would never return home – and to such little result.

Eventually he gave a great sigh and turned away from the fading view of Palestine. ‘Is this the last we will ever see of Christ's homeland, Sir John?' His deep voice spoke sombrely to a man almost as tall as himself, who stood protectively at the head of the ladder that led up from the main deck. Though they were now at sea, spies and infiltrators were widespread and, amongst the numerous crew, one could well be an assassin. Sir John de Wolfe, a Devon knight who was one of the king's small bodyguard on this voyage, was having similar thoughts of his own about this bare and bloody land.

‘Sire, you swore you would return for another attempt on Jerusalem, but surely that must now wait upon what you find in England and Normandy when we return.'

De Wolfe was stating the obvious, but he sensed that Richard desired someone to talk to on this day of despondency. His king had spent a year and a half fighting his way up and down Palestine against Saladin's army and though he had twice come within sight of Jerusalem, he had known that even if he captured it, he could not hold it for long. Instead, he settled for a three-year truce, which enraged other Crusader kings, during which Christian pilgrims would be allowed to visit the Holy City. In addition, the shrunken Christian kingdom could keep a narrow strip of land along the coast.

The Lionheart did not respond to his retainer's comment, but turned back to watch the barren coast recede into the gloom. He was wondering what hostile eyes might be searching for the vessel that was taking the leader of the Third Crusade away, so that messages could be sent throughout the Mediterranean to waylay the man who had made so many enemies, both Moslem and Christian.

As he pondered on what may lie ahead on the long journey home, the dusk and a thin mist soon obscured the coast. The vessel was gradually pulling farther out to sea, though the Italian sailing master, standing respectfully in the furthest corner of the quarterdeck, would always keep land in sight for as long as he could, navigation being uncertain on the open ocean.

John de Wolfe stood immobile on the other side of the deck, the hilt of his heavy sword poking out from under his black cloak, ready to be drawn at any sign of trouble. Like that of the other retainers on the ship, his armour was stored below deck, well wrapped in oiled hessian. A hauberk of chain mail rusted quickly enough on land, but salt air and spray would ruin it within days.

He stood bareheaded, his black hair a complete contrast to the fair auburn thatch of the king. Different too were the styles, as Richard Plantagenet's was cropped short below a line running round above his ears, in the usual Norman manner. The maverick de Wolfe wore his long, swept back from his forehead to the nape of his neck. With satanic eyebrows of the same jet black as his hair and the dark stubble on his cheeks, it was easy to see why his nickname amongst the soldiery was ‘Black John', though this was as much from his dour and unbending nature as from his appearance. His hooked nose and long, grim face were equally forbidding, though women somehow sensed that this was a man who could be a passionate lover.

The Lionheart turned eventually and addressed himself to the sailing master. ‘When should we arrive in Cyprus? The wind seems favourable, does it not?'

The Venetian raised a knuckled fist to his head in salute as he answered. ‘God willing, on the third day, sire. This breeze will take us well up the coast, then we must weather across westwards to Limassol. I regret that the
Franche Nef
makes no pretence at being a speedy ship.'

Richard and his advisers had chosen an ordinary merchant vessel for the journey, instead of the usual ship-of-war or a fast galley in which kings and princes normally travelled. The journey back to Normandy and England would be fraught with danger, as apart from seaborne Muslims and Mediterranean pirates, most of Europe's rulers were on the lookout for Richard Coeur de Lion, keen to revenge themselves on him for his real or imagined sins against them. Amongst these, Philip Augustus of France and Count Leopold of Austria hated him most, as they had abandoned the Crusade in Palestine and returned home early, outraged at what they considered Richard's slights against them and now his alleged capitulation to the Saracens. Another who would dearly like to get his hands on Richard was Henry of Germany, whose ambitions to conquer Sicily has been frustrated by the Lionheart. He had recently been elevated to Holy Roman Emperor after his father, William Barbarossa, had died falling into a river in Turkey on his way to Palestine at the head of a huge German and Hungarian army, most of whom had abandoned their mission after his death.

An hour later, King Richard was still staring into the growing darkness, reluctant to lose the last fading glimpses of the Holy Land, until feet clattered up the ladder from the main deck and a man appeared alongside de Wolfe.

‘Go down and get something to eat, John,' he murmured.

‘It's my turn to stand guard over our lord – though it's time he went below, he can't stand there all night in the cold and the dark.'

The new arrival was William de L'Etang, another staunch supporter and close friend of the king. A knight from Le Mans, he was a stocky, red-faced man of about forty, a couple of years older than John, with whom he had fought side by side in many of the campaigns against the Mohammedans.

As part of the king's desire to make his voyage home as unobtrusive as possible, Richard was accompanied only by ten Templar knights and a sergeant, but there were a few others aboard. These included John de Wolfe, William de L'Etang, Baldwin of Bethune, his High Admiral Robert de Turnham, the chaplain Anselm, and his clerk Philip of Poitou. This was a very different journey to the one the previous year, when Richard had set out from Marseilles ahead of a massive convoy bearing his army of thousands of Crusaders.

BOOK: Crowner's Crusade
13.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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