- Author: James Mercer
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The Crusader’s Crown
Written by James Mercer
ALSO BY JAMES MERCER:
THE TURIN SHROUD TRILOGY:
The Crusader’s Blade
The Crusader’s Revenge
The Crusader’s Honour
In memory of Sir George Moseley
They were said to have been touched by God.
It was believed each one held powers that would make whoever owned them so influential and invincible, they could raise armies and march victoriously into any battle they wished. Such was the faith in their supernatural strength men would follow them without question; each one convinced he himself was indestructible.
They were known by some as The Treasures of Christ, the few tangible relics left by Jesus of Nazareth, believed by Christians to be the son of God. Throughout the following centuries groups of honourable men dedicated their lives to follow the teachings of the disciples and keep the relics safe from corrupt, gluttonous hands. They were convinced the power granted by the Treasures was too great for men to have control of and so they strived to protect and hide them from the world.
One such circle was The Brotherhood of the Turin Shroud. A shadowy, highly secret society, whose members had sworn an oath, willing to sacrifice their lives if needed, to protect the Treasures from those who wanted them for self-gain.
To others however, the relics went by a different name: The True Weapons of Christ.
Those who knew them by this name believed they were a unique gift – a gift left by Jesus Christ to smite those who would do his believers harm. With such Weapons in his possession, a single man could sway an entire kingdom. He could influence emperors, generals and kings and become the master of thousands. But in the hands of such men, war would always follow. The relics would become idols, worshipped for the wrong reasons, containing immense power with men forgetting their honour, hungering only for greatness.
It was by such men that The Order of the Blooded Cross was created. A faction of some of the most powerful lords and knights in Christendom who believed it was their sacred duty to find The Weapons of Christ and take the sword to the infidels who resided in the east.
Over the centuries, many of the Treasures have been believed lost, their resting places hidden and protected for eternity. But some have surfaced and been spirited away by the Brotherhood to continue their safety.
And so The Order of the Blooded Cross continues to hunt for their sworn enemies of The Brotherhood with only one goal in mind and no matter what the cost: To use The Weapons of Christ as they were intended to be – for power.
The County of Shropshire, England, 1211
There was still a gentle mist rising as Robert carefully crept through the undergrowth of the woodland bordering the kingdoms of England and Wales. Its mass of ancient trees and rolling hills had made it uninhabitable, yet Kings and Princes of both kingdoms had fought over this uninviting piece of English land for over a century.
They had been tracking the Welsh raiders for five days now and had finally discovered their encampment. As he placed his foot gently onto the sodden leaves carpeting the forest, the man of twenty five years watched the temporary campsite from behind a tree.
He counted over two dozen men wandering amongst the animal skin shelters. From his position he could see three men, idly playing the part of sentry duty but taking no real interest. Ignorant of what was closing in on them, most of the others were huddled around two fires trying to warm themselves. The canopy of trees offered some shelter from the constant drizzle and their mighty trunks protected the raiders against the harsh wind, but there was still a chill in the air.
That was how Robert of Oldfield and his men-at-arms had found them. The scent and then sight of drifting wood smoke led them slowly but surely towards their prey.
The barbarians had looted three villages before retreating back towards their homeland. All they left behind were burnt homes, dead men, women stripped bare and orphaned children. They hadn’t even the sense to take them as slaves, the carnage was simply to spill blood and steal a few trinkets.
Every time the desperate images flashed across his mind, he was filled with rage. Looking to his right, he could see the hooded figure of his brother-in-law crouching behind a fallen tree, bow in hand with an arrow already notched. When Nathanial looked across to him, Robert gave a jerk of his head, signalling his second-in-command to fall back.
Frowning, Nathanial started to creep back to the troop of men awaiting them. Taking one last look, Robert quickly surveyed the empty trees to be sure there were no sentries placed high amongst the branches. Confident that there was no sign of a danger from above, he too, started to make his way backwards.
Arriving back to where he had left his men, he could hear Nathanial telling them of their findings.
“With only three on sentry duty, a mounted assault will take them completely off guard,” he said confidently.
They had brought twelve men with them, six archers and six men-at-arms. All well trained and all well-armed. Robert could tell they were eager to exact revenge upon the bastards who had committed the atrocities back on the Montgomerie lands.
One of the oldest, Trefor, a veteran man-at-arms who had fought