“And now the end is near and now I face the final curtain…”
I could not have said it better myself Frank.
The final draft of Forgotten Warriors is now complete. Now there’s nine words I was beginning to think I would never say. The story is now in the capable hands of an editor to proofread and sense check. The copy will then be returned to me to go over the changes and send back for a final edit. Hopefully after that Forgotten Warriors will be ready for publication.
It’s been a long, fun, painful, soul destroying and soul uplifting process, getting to this moment but finally the end is finally in sight.
In celebration of this milestone here’s a sneak unproofed peek at the some of the opening prologue, featuring two familiar faces from the climax of Fallen Heroes.
The Holy Lands, Anatolia 1097
The battlefield was a tapestry of nightmares, woven from torn flesh and shattered bone. At this distance the thousands of bodies strewn across the blood soaked earth were little more than dark specks.
So this is victory.
At the head of the battlefield, where the main body of fighting had taken place, a few specks moved. These, Oliver guessed, were looters seeking food or coin in the clothing of the dead. He wanted to hate them but in this unforgiving land he had learnt faith alone would not fill an empty belly.
Oliver ignored the cheers from those around him. There was little to celebrate save that, by God’s grace, they had been spared to breathe this cursed land’s foul air for another day.
It had been here the Turkish horse archers had attacked, their arrows slicing through Oliver’s men with gruesome precision.
Sir Thomas, a friend of Oliver’s father, had fallen in that first skirmish, taking an arrow to the eye. Oliver had tired to reach him but the old knight’s screams were silenced by a second volley of arrows.
Oliver gently ran his fingers through his horse’s mane. It was a ritual he had perfected to keep the horse calm. The beast snorted and shuddered beneath him, its hooves stamping the earth in frustration. Oliver shared the beast’s desire to be away from this slaughterhouse.
The stench of rotting flesh, cooked by the noonday sun, was everywhere. However it was not the smell that made Oliver want to retch it was the sheer absurdity of it all. Where was God’s love in all this reckless slaughter?
On this account I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ’s heralds to publish this everywhere and to persuade all people of whatever rank, foot-soldiers and knights, poor and rich, to carry aid promptly to those Christians and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends.
Trapped here, in this crucible of heat and death, the honeyed words of the Pope brought little comfort to Oliver. Did his holiness think the Turks would see the love of the one true God as they cradled their dead?
After a year of war Oliver Cademus had seen little holy in this crusade. He had answered a blood soaked call to arms to further the ambitions of powerful men. His father, Nicholas had warned him he did not have the stomach for war.
In the holy lands Oliver learnt the truth of his father’s words. Every night those he had put to death would visit him, whispering curses in the darkness of sleep.
Oliver gripped the reins and spurred his horse forward, his thoughts turning to England and home. He used to see his old life as stagnant and unfulfilled but now he would give anything have it again and to see his mother.
“Thinking about home again my Lord?”
Oliver stiffened and turned to the newcomer, who now rode beside him,
“Oh it’s you Jacob,” said Oliver, his hand moving from the hilt of his sword and back to the reins.
Jacob Covenant was tall, his features hawkish in appearance, though his thick beard helped to give the hard lines of his face a softer edge. He was not dressed in knights’ garments but rather those of a common solider.
“I was thinking about my mother,” said Oliver. “She’s a painter and a fine one at that.”
“What does she paint?”
“The last thing I saw her paint was a portrait of me before I set out on this fool’s errand.”
Oliver’s grumbled response had come just as the he and Jacob rode past a detachment of men.
“Choose your words with care my lord.”
“Forgive me,” said Oliver, rubbing his eyes. “I did not mean to speak ill of our faith.”
But rather those who would smother it with their own desires.
“You are a knight, you have no need to seek my forgiveness,” said Jacob. “It is I who should seek yours for forgetting my place.”
Oliver was certain Jacob knew what his place was in the world and it was not as anyone’s lackey. It was one of the reasons Oliver respected the man. Jacob had also saved Oliver’s life, a fact Jacob was embarrassed to be reminded of.
“You never did tell me if you had any family Jacob?” asked Oliver.
“You never asked my lord.”
“Well I am asking you now.”
A vacant expression settled over Jacob face as he spoke.
“I had a wife and two sons.”
The word ‘had’ was meaning enough to Oliver. He stumbled over his words as he sought to sooth the wound he had opened.
“Bear it no mind my lord,” said Jacob, waving away Oliver’s dismay. “It was a lifetime ago and I have made my peace with it.”
“Nevertheless I am sorry for your…”
The sounds of screaming tore the rest of the sentence from Oliver’s mouth. Looking ahead he saw several columns of thick black smoke curling upwards, invoking images of some giant terror unfurling its dark wings.
“Is there no end to this madness?” bellowed Oliver, turning his horse toward the smoke.