The first chapter of King Robin

Ides of May 1215

 

 

The candle quivered in the draft from the chancery’s only window. Under its feeble light, King Robert pored over the tax scrolls spread across the table, oblivious to the late hour. A monarch’s need for silver never ended.

A distant voice beyond the door broke Robert’s trance. “Stand back!" one of his Royal Guards yelled angrily. A roar of voices filled the hallway as the guard screamed in pain.

The king rose from the table, kissed the amulet around his neck, and strode across the room rubbing his temples. He’d had too much wine at supper again – and now this. From pegs on the wall, Robert slipped a chain maille tunic over his nightshirt, strapped on his sword belt and opened the door.

About twenty paces down the narrow hallway, a group of armed peasants rushed toward Robert in the torchlight, their faces flushed with rage. “There’s the king!” one of them screamed.

Drawing his sword, Robert charged toward the intruders. Closing quickly on them was his best chance to stay alive. He’d have more room to retreat and buy time until help arrived. There was no other way out of his chancery.

Although outnumbered, Robert knew the narrow hallway reduced the peasants’ advantage. They’d have to come at him one at a time.

The first man he faced jabbed at him viciously with a pitchfork. Robert parried the prongs with his sword then grabbed the wooden staff and pulled. As the peasant stumbled forward, Robert slashed his blade across the man’s neck. His opponent slumped to the floor, jugular vein spurting.  

Another intruder quickly followed, a huge peasant brandishing a sword. Robert noticed the man’s clumsy grip on the captured weapon. This one would be easy.

The big man slowly raised the sword, hoping to strike a crushing blow. Before his blade reached its zenith, Robert crouched and thrust his weapon into the man’s groin. As the peasant screamed in agony, Robert stabbed him again, this time in the chest. The giant collapsed backward, falling into his comrades.

Robert stepped forward, gaining valuable ground.

The next man was armed with a meat hook and moved with menacing grace. He was probably a butcher, Robert realized. The weapon he wielded was a familiar friend. This was not an enemy to take lightly.

Robert feinted a thrust at the butcher’s chest. The man quickly parried with the meat hook, ready to slash with a counter stroke. The move was quick and clever. But Robert knew the butcher was no warrior.

Robert feinted again. This time when the butcher parried, Robert swivelled his sword, slicing deeply into the man’s flesh between wrist and elbow. Instinctively, the butcher grabbed his wound. Robert finished him with a thrust to the heart.

The peasants attacking the palace were no match for Robert’s martial skills. But at sixty-one, Robert wondered how long he could keep up the fight. The answer came with a searing flash of pain. Someone behind the fallen butcher had slashed Robert’s thigh with a pike.

Giving ground now, Robert fought defensively, warding off a rain of blows. Sensing victory, the voices of the intruders grew to a roar again.

As his attackers closed in, Robert’s hopes suddenly rose. Behind the peasants he saw the glint of metal helmets under the torches lighting the hallway. His Household Knights had finally arrived.

Then everything went black.

***

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