King's Man

King's Man by Angus Donald Read Free Book Online

Book: King's Man by Angus Donald Read Free Book Online
Authors: Angus Donald
Tags: Fiction, Suspense, Historical, Action & Adventure, History, Medieval
of my sight! Go!’
    And so with a heavy heart, I went. I had failed my master.Because of my stupidity, the crassness of my appeal to Edwinstowe, there was a very good chance that Robin’s assault would fail and all my friends, facing overwhelming odds, would be cut down in the darkness. Because of me.

Chapter Three
    The first hint that the attack was beginning came in the form of a spark of firelight, high on the brow of the hill; a red blinking eye in the darkness. Then came another, and another. They began to move – and grow. And the night air was ripped apart by a series of screaming wails, a clutch of different notes but blending together in a strange and disturbing way, an unearthly devilish sound that seemed to rise up from the very bowels of Hell itself. Even I, who knew the source of this weird, howling music, and had heard it several times before, was struck by its power to bring horror to the night. I had first heard the sound at the battle of Arsuf on the road to Jaffa in the Holy Land, where it presaged an attack by the fearsome cavalry of Saladin. It was the sound of Turkish trumpets, of massed clarions and shrieking fifes, of booming gongs and clashing cymbals and ear-scalding whistles; an infernal din designed to strike terror into any Christian heart – even when played rather poorly bya gaggle of Yorkshire villagers recruited specially for the task by their newly returned lord.
    When I heard that hellish din, I was standing on the walkway behind the palisade on the north-eastern side of Kirkton Castle. I was in full war gear, which had been supplied by Marie-Anne: conical helmet with a nose piece, kite-shaped shield and long spear, a sword at my waist, the misericorde in my boot; knee-length chain-mail hauberk to protect my body over a big padded jacket known as a gambeson or aketon, leather gauntlets on my hands and stout boots sewn with strips of steel to guard my ankles and shins.
    Within a few heartbeats, the first shouts of alarm were sounding from Murdac’s camp. And out of the darkness, down the gently rolling hill, the spots of flickering orange light grew and took shape and revealed themselves. Out of the black night thundered three wild moorland ponies, eyes rolling in terror, shrill neighs torturing the darkness, hooves madly churning the damp turf – and the source of their terror was firmly harnessed to them: for behind each wild pony was a wooden cart, piled high with wood and straw and soused with oil and pig fat, and burning like the infernos of the Devil’s own demesne.
    The noise from the camp in the field below me was enough by now to wake the dead from their slumbers. But above the yells, and the hellish music, I thought I could make out a lone woman’s voice, with a slight Norman-French accent, shouting in English over and over again: ‘It is the horse-demons, the steeds of Satan – run, run. They are coming; the horse-demons are coming to steal your souls.’
    The wild horses, maddened by the fiery carts they could notescape, charged straight down the hill into Murdac’s camp sowing destruction in their flaming wakes. They charged into the outskirts of the camp, trampling tents and crushing half-sleeping men beneath their hooves and the wheels of the heavy wooden carts. Many tents and shelters of the men-at-arms were burning by now; flags and pavilions set alight, pyramids of stacked spears collapsed and snapped like twigs beneath the wheels. The camp was humming like a kicked ants’ nest, half-dressed men running hither and yon, screaming in rage and fear and confusion. And the lone Frenchwoman’s voice continued to shout: ‘The horses of the Devil are coming; the steeds of Satan; they are coming for your souls,’ adding her mad shrieks to the bounding chaos. And the wild, eerie Saracen music wailed, boomed and screeched on, its hideous sounds adding eldritch notes of terror to the night.
    Then the arrows began to hiss out of the darkness.
    Men silhouetted by the leaping

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