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After a Few Words…
by [?]

This is a science-fiction story. History is a science; the other part is, as all Americans know, the most fictional field we have today.

He settled himself comfortably in his seat, and carefully put the helmet on, pulling it down firmly until it was properly seated. For a moment, he could see nothing.

Then his hand moved up and, with a flick of the wrist, lifted the visor. Ahead of him, in serried array, with lances erect and pennons flying, was the forward part of the column. Far ahead, he knew, were the Knights Templars, who had taken the advance. Behind the Templars rode the mailed knights of Brittany and Anjou. These were followed by King Guy of Jerusalem and the host of Poitou.

He himself, Sir Robert de Bouain, was riding with the Norman and English troops, just behind the men of Poitou. Sir Robert turned slightly in his saddle. To his right, he could see the brilliant red-and-gold banner of the lion-hearted Richard of England–gules, in pale three lions passant guardant or. Behind the standard-bearer, his great war horse moving with a steady, measured pace, his coronet of gold on his steel helm gleaming in the glaring desert sun, the lions of England on his firm-held shield, was the King himself.

Further behind, the Knights Hospitallers protected the rear, guarding the column of the hosts of Christendom from harassment by the Bedouins.

“By our Lady!” came a voice from his left. “Three days out from Acre, and the accursed Saracens still elude us.”

Sir Robert de Bouain twisted again in his saddle to look at the knight riding alongside him. Sir Gaeton de l’Arc-Tombe sat tall and straight in his saddle, his visor up, his blue eyes narrowed against the glare of the sun.

Sir Robert’s lips formed a smile. “They are not far off, Sir Gaeton. They have been following us. As we march parallel to the seacoast, so they have been marching with us in those hills to the east.”

“Like the jackals they are,” said Sir Gaeton. “They assail us from the rear, and they set up traps in our path ahead. Our spies tell us that the Turks lie ahead of us in countless numbers. And yet, they fear to face us in open battle.”

“Is it fear, or are they merely gathering their forces?”

“Both,” said Sir Gaeton flatly. “They fear us, else they would not dally to amass so fearsome a force. If, as our informers tell us, there are uncounted Turks to the fore, and if, as we are aware, our rear is being dogged by the Bedouin and the black horsemen of Egypt, it would seem that Saladin has at hand more than enough to overcome us, were they all truly Christian knights.”

“Give them time. We must wait for their attack, sir knight. It were foolhardy to attempt to seek them in their own hills, and yet they must stop us. They will attack before we reach Jerusalem, fear not.”

“We of Gascony fear no heathen Musselman,” Sir Gaeton growled. “It’s this Hellish heat that is driving me mad.” He pointed toward the eastern hills. “The sun is yet low, and already the heat is unbearable.”

Sir Robert heard his own laugh echo hollowly within his helmet. “Perhaps ’twere better to be mad when the assault comes. Madmen fight better than men of cooler blood.” He knew that the others were baking inside their heavy armor, although he himself was not too uncomfortable.

Sir Gaeton looked at him with a smile that held both irony and respect. “In truth, sir knight, it is apparent that you fear neither men nor heat. Nor is your own blood too cool. True, I ride with your Normans and your English and your King Richard of the Lion’s Heart, but I am a Gascon, and have sworn no fealty to him. But to side with the Duke of Burgundy against King Richard–” He gave a short, barking laugh. “I fear no man,” he went on, “but if I had to fear one, it would be Richard of England.”