SideQuest Adventures No.1(The Foreworld Saga)(3)
Author:Mark Teppo


    “Such an enormous amount of money would be very tantalizing,” Richard said in the wake of the swan’s interruption. “Henry wants to exchange hostages, both from England and from here in Germany, as assurance that neither side reneges on the ransom terms. However, I have heard rumors around Henry’s court that he is growing impatient. He has sent a delegation of ambassadors to my mother, in hopes of getting his hands on some of the coin sooner than later.”

    Maria nodded absently. Such rumors had been heard at Queen Berengaria’s court as well. Gathering the ransom was taking a long time, and too many people—both high and low—were starting to dream about having such wealth.

    “I do not trust Henry,” Richard said. “Nor my brother John.” He shook his head. “Nor the king of France. Too many men with access to mercenaries who would readily take orders for a bit of that silver.”

    “Aye,” Feronantus said quietly, and Maria glanced between Richard and his servant, wondering what conversation between the two of them she had missed.

    Richard sighed, and for a moment, his shoulders slumped. “This game has to be played,” he said, adjusting his posture and setting aside his weariness. “It serves me little to depart from the emperor’s court without the ransom being paid. My detractors will only increase their incessant braying about my honor, or lack thereof. Good Christian men will begin to doubt what I accomplished in the Holy Land.” Richard shook his head again. “Too many died to ensure access to Jerusalem. I will not let their deaths be wasted. I will abide by the terms of my captivity—that is my chivalrous duty—but I cannot sit by and do nothing while others plot to disrupt my mother and wife’s efforts on my behalf.”

    He flipped over his sheet of parchment and began sketching in broad strokes on the blank sheet. “They’ll follow the river, won’t they?” he said. Maria assumed he was talking to Feronantus, for she had no idea what he was talking about.

    “Aye,” Feronantus said, nodding. “If the emperor convinces Queen Eleanor to part with a portion of the ransom, they’ll come by boat from London. To Walcheren and Middelburg, and then up the Rhine.”

    Richard’s head bobbed up and down as he continued to work. Beneath his hands, a twisting course of a river emerged, along with a coastline that she recognized as England and the continent—France and Normandy. “How far up the river?” Richard asked. “All the way?”

    “It depends on the weather,” Feronantus pointed out. “If they leave England too late, there will be ice. It will slow the boats.”

    “Henry won’t like the delay,” Richard said. “He’ll take the silver off the boats and bring it over land.” Some of Richard’s marks on the page were chevrons, and Maria guessed they were indicative of mountains. “If they travel on the north side of the river, that puts them close to Saxony, and the Lion of Saxony has no love for the emperor right now. On the south side of the river, they are closer to France.”

    “But not that close,” Feronantus said.

    “Close enough,” Richard mused. “The jingling sound of all that silver will carry far, and I suspect the king of France will be listening very intently.”

    Feronantus shrugged, as if to say that such allure was lost on him.

    “If that is the case, why would Philip wait?” Maria asked. When the two men looked at her, she blushed, but continued. “If I were to steal such an amount, I would not decide to do so on a whim.”

    “I would choose the time and place,” Richard said, nodding. “I like your thinking, Maria of Navarre. It is a rare and wondrous gift. No wonder Berengaria sent you to visit me without the slightest inkling of what I am supposed to do with you. A solution presents itself readily enough, though, doesn’t it?”

    “What solution?” Maria inquired.

    Richard finished his drawing and held it up for the pair to examine it. Just past the first major curve of the river, Richard had drawn a series of narrow hills. “Here,” he said. “This is where I would lay an ambush. Plus”—he slapped a finger against the sheet—“I would force the issue. It doesn’t need to be ice on the river; it can be anything at all. Just enough of a crisis that the captain of the silver train decides to go overland.”

    “That is a rather speculative observation,” Feronantus said dryly.

    “I know,” Richard laughed. “Which is why I need to depend on you two to act as my eyes.”

    “Us?” Feronantus and Maria said at the same time.

    Richard grinned. “And if I am correct, you will need to be more than my eyes…”





    TWO





    The Shield-Brethren chapter house in Mainz was located near the ruins of the old Roman castrum, which had been the first settlement in the valley where the Rhine and Main flowed together. There were a number of chapter houses scattered across Christendom, and most were little more than tiny hermitages—temporary housing for members of the order, with one or two permanent residents charged with upkeep. The one in Mainz was almost like a small keep. It had an outer stone wall and several outbuildings around a main chapel, and it comfortably held several dozen Shield-Brethren knights and various support staff. Outside of Petraathen, the mountain stronghold that was the order’s home, the chapter house in Mainz was the largest Feronantus had seen.

    He identified himself at the gate, and after relinquishing his horse to a squire, he made his way to the central building to speak with the quartermaster. On his left was a large training yard, and the initiates were running through a familiar drill. That much never changed: the training master trying to teach the young and the clumsy how not to die in battle.

    To think he had been one of those untrained and untested lads a few years ago. It seemed like a dream. Like someone else’s life. Before his initiation scars had even healed, he had been bloodied in battle.

    As he reached the main building, he was met by an older knight and led inside to a narrow room that contained two long tables. Light streamed in from high slits in the ceiling, and a worn standard of the order’s sigil hung on the wall to Feronantus’s right. This was the communal mess hall, the chamber where the knights held their Kinyen. Seated at the table were several weathered men, and Feronantus judged them to be the chapter house’s quartermaster and his senior knights.

    He bowed, hands out and open, showing the rounded scar on either forearm. “I am Feronantus,” he said, “knight initiate of the order. I joined the crusade with Frederick Barbarossa, but returned with Richard Lionheart.”

    “Greetings, brother Feronantus,” said the man sitting at the near end of the table. His long gray hair was pulled back from his face, and his beard curled in thick strands as it had been plaited recently. “I am Geoffrey, quartermaster of this house, and I bid you welcome. Your name and deeds are known to us.”

    Feronantus dipped his head once more. “They are but minor tales,” he said, slightly embarrassed by the elder knight’s words. “Hardly worth recounting.”

    “Aye, that may be true,” the older man said with a tiny grin, “but that does not diminish them.” He signaled to the man who had accompanied Feronantus to the room. “Come and sit,” he said to Feronantus. “Share your story with us.”

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