Chapter Two, Part 1
The last Galician bagpiper played gallantly on, as if his music alone could stave off defeat. Blood and corpses choked the Genil River and covered the field. The locals called Ecija “The Frying Pan,” a name that seemed bitterly appropriate to the thousands of men dying there.
Infante Don Fernando had died months ago of disease, taking the army’s hopes with him. His second-in-command had foolishly accepted battle here, on ground that favored only the enemy. Rodrigo and Fearghus’s private estimate of the odds against them seemed confirmed when their squires vanished early in the battle: Fearghus’s squire was killed by a Moorish arrow through his throat, while Diego was swept away in the enemy’s first charge.
Rodrigo had once hoped to be granted a vision of how he’d fare on this battlefield, the visions that were his family’s gift. But they came least often to those most deeply affected by the vision. Now he was bitterly glad he didn’t know his fate in advance.
Surprisingly, the infidels had chosen to butcher the Christians rather than capture them in hopes of gaining fat ransoms later. Now Rodrigo and Fearghus were two of the few knights still standing as they expertly, grimly took advantage of every bit of terrain to kill one more enemy. To stay alive just one more minute.
Blood and guts dripped from their swords, while their muscles burned with exhaustion. His helmet long since gone, sweat burned in Rodrigo’s eyes and under his armor. Blanche and his children were a distant thought, long since consigned to God’s care. He’d been shriven of his sins that morning so his soul was safe. Only his God and his country remained to be fought for.
Then Fearghus slipped on a patch of blood, involuntarily dropping his guard. A Moor immediately took advantage of him, sending him to the ground.
Rodrigo swung his sword like Death’s scythe and beheaded the fellow. He had no time to step astride Fearghus’s prostrate body and guard him before another man sliced the back of his leg. He fell backward and saw the clear blue sky overhead, filling his world with a sudden purity like the Virgin’s mantle or Blanche’s eyes.
A sword came down, like a hawk dropping out of the sun on a rabbit, dazzling his eyes. He flung up his arm but the blow smashed through.
All went black.
Excerpt from Bond of Blood by Diane Whiteside
Copyright © 2006 by Diane Whiteside
All rights reserved