King and Emperor by Harry Harrison. Chapter 31, 32, 33, 34

Shef looked down at his left ankle, knew it was broken. The foot stuck out at an impossible angle. No pain there, no feeling at all, but he knew not to damage it further before the pain-warnings came back. He rolled onto his right side, edged free of the jumble of canvas, careful not to knock the damaged foot on any projection, rolled onto his back.

Now. He had seen Hund do this. Set a bone quickly and firmly before the patient had a chance to scream or set his muscles. It was easier if you did not have to bend forward. Legs straight out in front of him, Shef bent forward, feeling an immediate pain in his ribs that told of further fractures, seized the foot sticking out at right angles to one side, and pulled foot and leg firmly straight.

Still no pain, but he felt a terrible grinding deep inside the joint. If Hund were here he would cut me open, set the bones straight with his fingers, cleanse the wound with Udd’s spirit that the Arabs call al-kuhl. Maybe I would walk again. Now I have to crawl from this hillside. At least I am alive.

Shef pushed himself up with his arms. He would reach the wall and hobble along beside it till he could tear down a branch from an olive tree. Make a crutch. Try to get back to the road, find a mount or a cart. And head back to the ships in the harbor, where Farman waited with the rearguard. His fight was over.

As Shef got his hands on the wall, faces appeared on the other side of it. Helmets. Mail. Two men vaulted the wall, came in on either side of him, swords drawn. There was no chance of resistance, he could not even let go of the wall to stand unaided. Perhaps they were Italians, friends of the deposed Pope, he could bribe them with his gold armlets…

“Wi habben den Heidenkuning gefangen,” said one of the men, “den Einooger.”

Close enough to Shef’s own native English for him to follow. We’ve caught the heathen king, the one-eye. Low Germans. Lance-brothers.

They would take him to their Emperor.

If their Emperor were still alive. Shef had been right to think that one side’s weakness is rarely known to the other side. As the day dawned and the Emperor counted his losses, he had realized that while his enemies were in a position that would soon be untenable, he himself had barely enough force left to make his advantage tell. He had begun the battle with three thousand men as the core of his army. Now he had less than two—not all the result of casualties, but also of secret desertion in the night.

Yet he had been clear enough what to do. While the giant catapults of Erkenbert harassed his foe, he had spread out his lower-grade troops in a rough semi-circle outside the wall, Greek marines and French archers, the cowboys of the Camargue. If the Waymen came out they would be decimated again by ambush and charge in the broken ground.

His high-grade troops he had sent inside the wall. Some to form strong barricaded blocks either side of the enemy, on the high walkways. He did not want them escaping to left or right. The rest massed out of sight and in cover, where there was best opportunity for what he meant to be a final escalade, up the broad steps to where the Wayman remnants clung to their parapets. There to finish them for good, and their apostate king with them. The Lanzenbrüder and Lanzenritter were all there, except for the small guard set on the Holy Grail and on His Holiness outside the walls. Such of the Frankish knights as were left alive and still prepared to fight grouped behind them. Perhaps six hundred men all told. The last reserve of the army of Christendom, Bruno thought. But he was prepared to use up his last reserve in what would be the last struggle. He walked through the ranks, dressed in his own fighting gear. The Holy Lance was still inside the cover of his shield, strapped next to the central grip. The Lance-brothers and Lance-knights reached out to touch its projecting head as he passed between them, and he granted them the favor smilingly. At the sound of a bell his entire force fell to its knees, each man took into his mouth a piece of grass, or straw, or even dirt, and swallowed it as a last communion before death while the priests pronounced a general absolution of their sins, gave them the penance of fighting bravely, promised the delights of Paradise to those who fell in battle against the heathen.

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Categories: Harrison, Harry