The Iron Castle (Outlaw Chronicles)

The Iron Castle (Outlaw Chronicles) by Angus Donald

Book: The Iron Castle (Outlaw Chronicles) by Angus Donald Read Free Book Online
Authors: Angus Donald
jug of wine for his comfort, and found Marie-Anne there. She and her maid-servant Constance, a petite pretty girl, had stripped the soiled clothes from his enormous body and were tenderly washing the caked blood away with soap and hot water.
    The sight of his pale naked body was a shock. His face was waxy and the weight had melted off him over the past few days on the road. At first I thought he was dead, there and then, and the two women were laying out his corpse. I choked back a sob and Marie-Anne glanced at me and smiled sadly.
    Then John opened one blue eye and whispered, ‘Do you mind, Alan. A little privacy, if you please. It’s not every day…’ He coughed out a gobbet of blood and his face screwed up with pain. ‘It’s not every day that I can persuade a pair of beautiful youngsters to soap my hairy cock and balls.’
    He coughed bloodily again, laughing weakly at his own wit.
    Constance blushed beetroot. Marie-Anne lightly slapped his naked thigh and said, ‘That’s enough out of you, John Nailor. You lie quiet and behave yourself.’ Then she turned to me. ‘He needs peace and quiet, Alan. Let him rest.’
    I nodded and stumbled away, unshed tears burning beneath my eyelids.
    I walked blindly – we were camped that afternoon in a broad hayfield near a fair-sized hall King John had commandeered for the night – and somehow found myself standing next to a stoutly built ox-cart, roofed and with thick wooden bars on all sides. And a voice spoke to me: ‘Sir, of your mercy, give me something to drink. I am faint with thirst.’
    I looked up and found myself gazing into the face of the young Arthur, Duke of Brittany. The jug of wine was still in my hand and, wordlessly, I passed it to him through the bars. The boy tipped back his head and drank greedily.
    Then he thanked me and said in a puzzled tone, ‘But you were the one I fought, in the square at Mirebeau.’
    ‘I was indeed, Your Grace.’
    He nodded and said, ‘I’m very sorry that I could not accept your challenge for a second passage of arms, but Sir Raymond insisted we try to escape—’
    ‘Hey, you, get away from the prisoner!’ came a rough voice, in Norman French. I turned and saw two young men: the taller man thin, with jet black hair and dark stubble and a sallow, yellowish skin, like some of the men I had seen in the Holy Land; the shorter man, who had spoken, was wider in girth and had copper-coloured hair slicked back from his narrow head. Both had swords in their hands.
    Despite their rudeness, I tried to be conciliatory, for I knew these men as Humphrey and Hugo, the King’s bachelors.
    ‘I merely gave His Grace a drink of wine, what harm is there in that?’ I said, with a friendly smile.
    ‘We will decide when the traitorous brat eats and drinks – and no one else,’ said Humphrey.
    ‘Which is never!’ snapped Arthur. He was standing at the bars of his cage, his face flushed, his right fist gripping one of the wooden poles, the knuckles white. ‘I believe you mean to have me starve or die of thirst. I have had nothing in two days.’
    Hugo swung his sword hard, the flat of the blade cracking against the boy’s knuckles, and the prisoner stumbled back into his cage with a cry, his left hand nursing his right.
    ‘There is no need for that,’ I said. ‘Let the boy alone.’
    ‘You mind your own affairs, sell-sword,’ said Hugo. ‘He is lucky we do not stick him full of holes.’ And he lunged at the boy through the bars with his sword, causing Arthur to scramble to the far side.
    ‘I said, leave the boy alone.’ My voice had hardened. ‘He is the Duke of Brittany, a prisoner of war. He should be treated with respect until he is ransomed.’
    ‘King John himself gave him into our charge and we will treat him as we wish – indeed, like the disloyal dog he is.’ Humphrey was standing at my shoulder. He was half a head taller than me, though not as strongly built, and he looked down at me with black eyes, trying no

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