The Shattered Rose


Chapter 1

Northumbria, England, July 1100

The troop of armed men rode steadily along the rough, wooded road, each heavy hoof-fall spraying mud over already muddy beasts. Travel-worn and weary, they pressed on as inexorably as a river heading for the sea.

Motley patches scattered blowing cloaks, and wind whipped through ragged holes that had not been patched at all. Under dirt and mud, little could distinguish man from master, but three things set two men apart.

They rode better horses.

They wore chain mail beneath the cloaks.

And while their men carried bow or spear, each of these two bore a well- used sword at his side and a shield on his saddle.

The lighter-built of the two men raised a hand and reined in. Without further word, the other eight swung down toward the nearby river to rest and water the horses.

As they dismounted, it could be seen that some limped, and one man had only a stump where his right hand used to be. The leader's haggard face bore a puckered burn mark on the forehead and a blade scar along the jaw, made obvious because the stubble did not grow well around it.

These were men just back from war, and the darkness of their skin suggested they had fought in lands far hotter than this northern comer of England. In fact, faded and obscured by dirt, a red cross remained on some of the cloaks.

These men had been upon the Enterprise of God. They were crusaders.

Perhaps they had seen the Jordan, where Christ was baptized, and Jerusalem, where he suffered and died. They had likely waded through the rivers of blood that flowed through the streets of the Holy City when the Christian forces finally claimed it.

The leader dismounted, stretched, then pushed back his chain mail coif to shake loose damp, shaggy brown hair. It was clear nature had never intended him to be a big man, but now he was fined down to muscle and sinew, his dark eyes sunk deep beneath dark brows.

Galeran of Heywood shivered under the chill of the North Sea breeze on his sweaty nape, but it was a pleasant chill - an English chill. He was in England, and before sunset he would be home.

After more than two long years, he would be home.

The previous day they'd landed at Stockton in a mizzling rain that had set Galeran's companion, Raoul de Jouray, shuddering and wondering that anyone could call such weather summer. Galeran, however, had welcomed it. There'd been many times these past two years when he'd feared he would never feel damp again, never ride through an English morning mist, never touch ice or see the vibrant green growth fostered by the rainy English climate.

He had thought he would die in the searing heat of Outremer.

They could have spent the night in Stockton. In fact, they could have lingered there a twelvemonth, and never paid for board or lodging except with stories of their holy adventures. For Galeran's haste to be home meant they were the first crusaders to be seen in the area.

Galeran, however, had stopped in the port just long enough to buy horses, then had pushed on, heading, like a hart to water, home.

To Jehanne, his beloved wife.

And to his son - a son he had never seen, born nine months after he left for Jerusalem. A son who was both reason for taking the cross, and reason to regret it. And reason to stay even when the bloodshed sickened him. For Galeran had gone on crusade to beg God for a child, and God in His love had been kind.

Jehanne had called the child Galeran, but said in her first letter after the birth that he would be called Gallot, at least while he was little. Gallot had surely been conceived on their last night together, after Galeran had taken the cross and made his vow to free Jerusalem from the heathen or to die in the attempt.

Gallot, his firstborn son, now eighteen months old and doubtless walking, but without any knowledge of his father. That was a bitter sacrifice, but necessary. Christ had never said that his yoke would be easy. . . .

It was only when John Redbeard, his sergeant, took Galeran's restive mount to walk it that he realized he'd been daydreaming instead of taking proper care of the beast. It was part tiredness, for they'd ridden through most of the last night, but it was also the grip of his need to be home with his wife