Prologue

It was still full dark when Megan whispered in my ear, “It is almost morning, my lord.” She and Terry were pressing their bodies against mine and gently massaging my muscles to wake me. Gradually I became aware of the sounds of a camp waking up. Muffled voices, the sounds of clattering pots, and footsteps filtered into the tent.

Soon they were dressing me in my armor. The golden armor gleamed this morning and under it my muscles were still hard and lean from the months I had spent in slave pit. As my bodyguards dressed me, others were trying to feed me. I ate very little. A too full belly can slow down a sword arm.

I had said my morning prayers, recited my oath and was ready to leave when the false dawn glowed outside. By the time full dawn came, I and my personal squad were approaching the battle lines.

I thought that I would be the first there, since the attack was not scheduled until almost an hour past dawn, but three companies of my men awaited my arrival.

The Africa Corps spread out on my left. They were battle tested, but some of them were only months away from having been slaves in a medieval world. They were outfitted with our standard armor, but some had doffed their helmets, preferring to wear their brightly colored Mohawks into battle. Most held rifles or pistols, but some had drawn their swords instead and a few even preferred lances.

The Christian knights formed the right wing, the “place of honor.” Most held modern weapons, but the profusion of armor styles, helmet plumes, and heraldry meant that they would never be mistaken for a modern army. We kept them as a favor to the pope. Actually, with their lousy training and poor discipline they were the most useless part of the army. All you could do with them was to yell “The enemy is that way. Charge!!” and then get out of the way. They had demanded and been granted the honor of leading the charge today.

A company of Wolves formed the center. Like the knights, they were noblemen trained from birth to be warriors. Unlike the knights, they went on to be trained as professional soldiers. They sat relaxed on their Big People and surveyed the battleground. Each of them held his shield close in front of him and rested his Sten gun or his sword on his pommel.

I didn’t really want to attack Jerusalem, but they left me no choice when they had decided to fight rather than surrender. You would think they would have learned by now that everybody conquers Jerusalem. David took it from Canaanites and slaughtered the inhabitants. Then came the Egyptian Pharaohs, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, Alexander the Great, the Ptolmeys, Romans, Arabs, Crusaders, Saladin, and a bunch of others along the way.

Want to be a Boy Scout? Earn some merit badges. Want to be a scholar? Read some books. Want to be a conqueror? Sack Jerusalem. For extra points, send the inhabitants into exile for a few hundred years. It’s tradition, and now it’s my turn.

I had instructed the artillery to concentrate on the city walls only. If we damaged holy sites like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or the Temple Mount, it would make it harder to govern the city later.

When the smoke from the last artillery barrage cleared, the knights would start the charge. However, Silver and I would be first through the wall, flanked by the Wolves. I reached down, clipped my Sten gun to my saddle, and drew my sword. This would be a historic battle, and history deserved to be written with a blade.

It was the early fall of 1263 AD. I was the Duke of Sandomierz, the Duke of Cracow, the Duke of Mazovia, the Hetman of the Christian Army, a Crusader, and a damned long way from home.

 

 Home