Splintered Dreams, Blades of Truth, Shafts of Sunlight
I am a knight of Normandy, Sir Godric de Villehard. Eat now, and rest. In time the princess Yulita will come to you.
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So Godric ate the curiously spiced rice, the dates and candied meats, and drank the colorless rice wine brought him by a flat-faced girl slave who wore golden bangles on her ankles, and soon slept, and sleeping, his unquenchable vitality began to assert itself. When he awoke from that long sleep he felt refreshed and stronger, and soon the pearl-inlaid doors opened and a slight, silk-clad figure entered. Godric's heart suddenly pounded as he again felt the soft, tender gaze of those great dark eyes upon him.
He drew himself together with an effort; was he a boy to tremble before a pair of eyes, even though they adorned the face of a princess? Long used was he to the veiled women of the Moslems, and Yulita's creamy cheeks with her full ruby lips were like an oasis in the waste. You are brave as Rustum. When the Hians rushed from the defiles and cut down my guard, I was afraid. You answered my screams as unexpectedly and boldly as a hero sent down from paradise.
I am sorry your brave men died. Godric might have answered as would nine out of any ten knights in his position -- with the repeating of the vow of chivalry, to protect all weaker things. But being Godric de Villehard, he shrugged his shoulders. I should have known it was death to us all to charge that horde. I have seen too much rapine and outrage since I turned my face east to have thus thrown away my men and expedition in the ordinary course of events. Perhaps I saw at a glance you were of regal blood and followed the knight's natural instinct to rush to the aid of royalty.
We have ridden through hell for more than a year.
Now they are beyond the sun's heat and the Turk's saber. His senses swam momentarily.
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Her eyes traversed his mighty frame to return to his face. Thin-lipped, with cold gray eyes, Godric de Villehard's sun-darkened, clean-shaven face inspired trust and respect in men but there was little in his appearance to stir the heart of a woman. The Norman was not past thirty, but his hard life had carved his face into inflexible lines.
Rather than the beauty that appeals to women, there was in his features the lean strength of the hunting wolf. The forehead was high and broad, the brow of a thinker, and once the mouth had been kindly, the eyes those of a dreamer. But now his eyes were bitter and his whole appearance that of a man with whom life has dealt hardly -- who has ceased to look for mercy or to give it. I was a boy and full of high ideals of chivalry and knighthood -- and I hated that Saxon-French pig, King John. A wine-bibber named Fulk of Neuilly began ranting and screaming death and damnation because the Holy Land was still in the possession of the Paynim.
He howled until he stirred the blood of such young fools as myself, and the barons began recruiting men -- forgetting how the other Crusades had ended. Boniface and Baldwin were our leaders and they plotted against each other all the way to Venice. They promised us ships at last but they set such a high price we could not pay. None of us had any money, else we had never started on that mad venture. We wrenched the jewels from our hilts and the gold from our buckles and raised part of the money, bargaining to take various cities from the Greeks and give them over to Venice for the rest of the price.
The Venetians got the cities and we got the glory. A quick glance told him the girl was sitting spellbound, eyes aglow. Somehow he felt ashamed. This time we sacked it and split the empire up. One day he called me to him, and said he: 'Godric, the Turkomans harry the caravans and the trade of the East dries up because of constant war. Take a hundred men-at-arms and find me this kingdom of Prester John. He too is a Christian and we may establish a route of trade between us, guarded by both of us, and thus safeguard the caravans. I saw through his design and understood his wish for me to conquer this fabulous kingdom for him.
These are enow. Gain ye to Prester John and abide with him awhile -- aid him in his wars for a space, then send riders to report your progress to me. Mayhap then I can send you more men. By Satan, we hacked our way through!
Splintered Dreams, Blades of Truth, Shafts of Sunlight
Once past Trebizond we had to fight almost every mile. We were assailed by Turks, Persians and Kirghiz, as well as by our natural foes of heat, thirst and hunger.
A hundred men -- there were less than a score with me when I heard your screams and rode out of the defiles. Their bodies lie scattered from the hills of Black Cathay to the shores of the Black Sea. Arrows, spears, swords, all took their toll, but still I forged eastward.
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It makes my blood burn! You too are a hero such as all men were once in the days of our ancestors, with your courage and loyalty! Do you think I intended giving up my life to carve out a kingdom for him? He had naught to lose and all to gain. He gave me a handful of men, expecting to receive the rewards of what I did. If I failed, he was still winner, for he would be rid of a turbulent vassal.
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The kingdom of Prester John is a dream and a fantasy. I have followed a will-o'-the-wisp for a thousand miles. A dream that receded farther and farther into the mazes of the East, leading me to my doom. Godric shrugged his shoulders. It was not the Norman way to flaunt secret ambitions to any chance-met man or woman, but after all, he owed his life to this girl.
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She had paid her debt to him and there was something in her eyes Godric's eyes gleamed suddenly with the conquering spirit of the true Norman -- the born empire-maker, whose race had carved out kingdoms with their swords in every land of the West and Near East. Does his city loom among the clouds with golden spires thrusting among the stars? And does the deathless monarch, who learned at the feet of our fair Lord Christ, sit on an ivory throne in a room whose walls are carved of one great sapphire dispensing justice? His people are the Keraits -- Krits -- Christians; they dwell in cities, true, but the houses are mud huts and goatskin tents, and the palace of Wang Khan is as a hut itself compared to this palace.
The days passed and slowly the giant frame of the Norman knight regained its accustomed vigor. In those days he sat in the chamber with the lapis lazuli dome, or walked in the outer courts where fountains tinkled musically beneath the shade of cherry trees, and soft petals fell in a colorful rain about him.
The battle-scarred warrior felt strangely out of place in this setting of exotic luxury but was inclined to rest there and lull the restlessness of his nature for a time. He saw nothing of the city, Jahadur, for the walls about the courts were high, and he presently understood that he was practically a prisoner. He saw only Yulita, the slaves and You-tai. With the thin yellow man he talked much. You-tai was a Cathayan -- a member of the race who lived in Greater Cathay, some distance to the south.