First look at chapter 3 of the next volume of Stonehearted. The first volume is By the Sword’s Edge. The second volume doesn’t have a title yet, so I’m going to call it Stonehearted 2 for now. I started writing the second volume towards the end of last year and am making fairly good progress on it at the moment. I thought it would be fun to post here each completed chapter as I write them. They’re only drafts at the moment – no fancy editing, so probably riddled with typos and inconsistencies. Once I have finished this volume I’ll publish it in print and eBook format and announce it on this blog.
Louis propped the arbalest against the wall of the stable, bent over and clutched his aching knees. His breath came in red gasps. Raw like a side of beef. He wanted to stop. To sink to the ground and sit or lie. Like he had in the orchard under the hot sun. But there was no time. As he pulled himself upright he looked across the fields towards the town of Montdidier. Smoke rose across the horizon and tongues of flame licked into the evening sky. It had been a long day and the English had not yet departed after finishing their business. They had burnt houses, set light to the dry wheat in the farms, and worst of all, uprooted Louis’s beloved apple trees and hacked the roots to pieces. Wheat could be sown again. Trees would take years to replace.
Louis felt hot moisture on his cheeks and tasted salt on his lips. He wiped the tears away and smeared dirt and ash and blood as he did so onto the back of his hand.
He didn’t weep for the trees, but for the people of Montdidier. You could not grow new family or friends of neighbours.
As he watched Montdidier burn there was a clatter of wood. He turned, his heart racing. His arbalest had been knocked to the floor and behind stood the mercenary, Wulf, his sword drawn.
“If you want to stay alive, if you want to get your revenge one day, then you need to be more careful. Always watch your back.”
The mercenary returned his sword to his scabbard and strode away. Two horses were tied to a wooden rail nearby.
“I have a horse for you,” he said as he mounted one of them, seemingly unbothered by the weight of his armour. “Will you ride with me?”
Louis nodded, picked up his arbalest, and followed Wulf.
They rode behind the main line of houses, leading their horses behind the gardens of the finer townhouses that had belonged to the merchants of Montdidier. Some of the English were in the town by now and they wanted to avoid them so they could get away. Louis felt like a coward creeping along like that, but he knew that bravery would only lead to his death.
They came to the end of the row of gardens. A narrow alley lead out onto another short street that went over a small stone bridge and then towards Paris. They were nearly out.
Wulf motioned him to stop and in a low voice murmured, “Mount your horse. We’ll need to write like demons when we hit the open.”
“What if there are English in the way?”
Wulf grinned. Louis noticed how white the man’s teeth were. Like pearls. “In that case, we do what God made us for. We fight, and then we die.”
Louis shivered. He wasn’t ready for this. He wanted to find a corner of a garden, soft hay or grass to curl up in and hide, like he had when playing hide and go seek with his brother, when he was a child, in the orchard.
An image came into his head of Oliver leering over him where he hid behind a stack of hay in the family barn, a wicked grin on his face, a fist raised to jab down at Louis’s shoulder. His smug older brother. Where was he?
Wulf lead the way down the alley. The mercenary leant over the neck of his horse, stroking the animal’s neck to calm it, to make sure it walked slowly, ever so slowly. If their horses gave them away they might be dead men. Louis copied Wulf and patted the neck of his horse, which at his touch snickered and bent its head back towards him, its teeth bared. Louis pulled sharply on the reins, and the horse let go a louder whinny of anger as the iron bit pulled back in its mouth.
Wulf’s head snapped back. “Quiet!” he hissed.
But it was too late, and Louis’s horse, panicked by the enclosed space of the alley and the clumsiness of Louis’s horsemanship, put its head down and bit the rump of Wulf’s horse. The surprise on Wulf’s face would have been funny if the situation hadn’t been so serious. Wulf’s horse leapt forwards, hooves skidding and the dry dusty earth of the alley as it bolted into the street in front of them. Wulf clutched the reins tightly and pushed his body weight forward to prevent flying off the back of his horse and Louis just followed. What else could he do? He thumped the horse’s flanks with the heels of his boots, the weight of the hit and the leather having to do the work as he wore no spurs, and he eased the pressure on the reins. With a guttural yell he urged his horse through the alley and onto the street where he could see Wulf’s horse already galloping to the left, towards the bridge, Paris and safety.
As man and horse entered the street, Louis could not resist a glance to his right, even though he knew the head of his horse might well be tugged to the right as well in case he kept careful control of the reins. He knew it was a mistake and that he wasn’t a good enough rider to control his horse unless he was fully determined on his direction. But he couldn’t help him. An impulse of curiosity drew him to look.
And there he saw a cart, and a man that was his brother, Oliver, supervising the loading of it with bales of flour, barrels of wine, sides of meat. Servants worked under his supervision next to a communal warehouse that belonged to the merchant guild of the town. And there were men in armour standing around, some with thin long wooden bows at their sides, laughing and drinking from an opened barrel of wine. They looked up at the sound of the horses down the street, and then Louis knew he must turn away before it was too late. But before he did his eyes, even at the distance of over fifty yards met those of Oliver. The first arrow that whizzed past made him turn. He could hear shouting. He saw it was Wulf. He had reined his horse in just before the bridge, and he was shouting at Louis. Louis dug his heels again into his horses flanks and drove the beast towards the bridge.
Wulf did not wait. He was across and galloping down the tree lined road to the south, to Paris. But Louis knew he would catch him up. The arrows fired at him were wild, and the English soldiers on the street didn’t have their horses.
And he knew that one day there would be a reckoning against the man who had betrayed their country. His brother.
If you want to read the first volume of Stonehearted, By the Sword’s Edge, then click here.