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Vampire Knight (The Immortal Knight Chronicles Book 4), page 1

 

Vampire Knight (The Immortal Knight Chronicles Book 4)
 



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Vampire Knight (The Immortal Knight Chronicles Book 4)


  VAMPIRE KNIGHT

  The Immortal Knight Chronicles

  Book 4

  Richard of Ashbury

  and the Hundred Years War

  1346 - 1377

  Dan Davis

  Copyright © 2018 Dan Davis

  All rights reserved.

  Table of Contents

  1. A King’s Command

  2. The King’s Campaign

  3. Crecy

  4. The Black Knight

  5. Duty

  6. The Lady Cecilia

  7. The Assassin

  8. The Siege of Calais

  9. The Black Death

  10. Pestilence

  11. Land of the Dead

  12. The Black Forest

  13. The Ancient One

  14. Rescuing the Maiden

  15. Becoming the Dragon

  16. Strength

  17. Recruitment

  18. Brittany

  19. Immortal Company

  20. The Prince’s Campaign

  21. Deception

  22. Poitiers

  23. The Great Storm

  24. The Death of the King

  AUTHOR’S NOTE

  BOOKS BY DAN DAVIS

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  1. A King’s Command

  The messenger woke me before dawn. It was Saturday 26th August 1346 and there would be a grand battle that day between the kings of France and England. And, although I did not know it that morning, by nightfall I would discover a new and terrible immortal enemy in the midst of the French army.

  “What was that?” I asked the figure standing over me in the dark. He had spoken before I was fully awake.

  “His Grace summons you, sir,” one of the King’s men said, speaking softly but with some urgency.

  It was dark inside the church in the small village of Wadicourt.

  “Where is the King now?” I asked, rubbing my eyes.

  “His Grace is yet in the other village, sir,” the messenger said. “In Crecy.”

  I climbed to my feet and stretched the aches from my muscles. Over the decades, I had become accustomed to sleeping in my armour, when necessary. The mail hauberks from my youth had slowly been replaced by various other forms of armour. Many of my men wore coats riveted or sewn with small plates to provide protection. Those of us who could afford it though wore larger, close-fitted iron pieces. Sleeping in a breastplate and back plate along with armour on the front of my legs and the outsides of my arms, and armoured feet and gauntlets, took some getting used to. After decades of campaigning experience, along with my immortal strength and endurance, I was capable of getting a fair night’s sleep in it.

  I left my helm with a page and stepped around the sleeping bodies on the floor of the church. It was damp outside and colder than an August morning deserved to be but it would soon warm up once the day got going.

  We traipsed across the ridge following the rutted track between the two villages, walking past thousands of English men-at-arms and archers beginning to bestir themselves. Scores of campfires were being lit along the slope. Few of us expected the battle to start any time soon. Still, many men were eager to arm themselves immediately upon waking and the sounds of steel plate and mail clanging filled the air, along with gruff complaints, coughing and the clearing of throats and the odd bark of laughter. Every man in the army wore a steel helm of some kind and although most were darkened with grime or painted, still they glinted in the gloom.

  I approached the village of Crecy, walking past a windmill at the top of the ridge, its furled sails stationary in the dawn light as if it was some giant sentinel watching over us. In between the thatched houses and kitchen gardens, soldiers and servants busied themselves by fetching water from the stream running at the back of the village. Beyond the village to the south was a woodland, deep in shadow. Young pages led groups of horses to and from the stream, or brushed them down, or walked them to warm them up. Many were led back behind the ridge to the wagon park where they would be both safe and out of the way, assuming the French came at us from the way we were expecting.

  The messenger led me past the King’s pavilion tent into the small church. It was stifling inside and dark despite the candles and packed with men in armour. A priest was concluding a mass and I waited by the door for it to finish.

  “Is that you, Richard?” the King asked as I approached. His helm, with its ring of gold around it, stood higher than almost all of the priests and lords surrounding him.

  King Edward III of England had grown into a very fine man. Already wearing his harness, clad in the finest plate armour and helm, he was ready for the battle and yet appeared relaxed and comfortable. The King’s surcoat was quartered with the red field and three golden lions of England and the blue field and gold lilies of France. His visor was even affixed, though he had it hinged up so that his face was exposed.

  “Your Grace,” I said, bowing.

  “Come closer, sir,” the King said.

  The lords clustered all around him were unwelcoming, begrudging the attention I was receiving. For many of them, it would be a day for them to shine before their enemies and peers, to win renown and solidify their already-glowing reputations as fighting lords of England.

  The King brought me a step further away from the crowd and waved away one of his priests who made to follow.

  “We will fight in three battles, as planned, with most of the bowmen on the flanks and some in front of the men-at-arms. The first two battles will form a line across the ridge, two thirds of the way up,” he said, speaking clearly but softly, so that his words would not carry. When he said battle, he was referring to our formations. A battaile was a semi-independent division and our armies were almost always divided into the van, middle and rear guards, or battles. “My battle will hold behind the main line, on the ridge in the centre, forming the reserve. You will keep your own bowmen with you and the rest of your company at the edge of my battle on the centre of the ridge. I would ask that you stay close by my side. Within earshot.”

  I nodded, and attempted to keep my disappointment from my face at being held in the rear. My men would be frustrated at being so far from the action. Not least because that meant thousands of Englishmen would plunder dead Frenchmen before they could. Assuming we won the field, of course.

  “You have a specific task for me in mind, Your Grace?” I asked. I had known Edward for many years and even though I kept my true strength and speed hidden from mortals, the King knew me as a consummate knight who could be trusted with any task. It would not be the first time he had given me special instructions for swinging a battle in our favour.

  The King lowered his voice further and turned his back on the great lords waiting on him. “The Prince fights in the van on the right, by this village. You will have noted how the slope on that flank is gentler, easier. Our enemies will press him hard. Perhaps, if events necessitate it, you might consider providing him with just a little support?”

  “I understand, Your Grace.”

  He pursed his lips, cleared his throat and punched his fist into my breastplate. “I know, Richard.”

  When he turned back to the great lords of his kingdom, our conference was over and I had been dismissed. Pushing through the priests and lords who ignored me or scowled at me, I went back to prepare my men.

  I was posing as a mortal, as always, and as a somewhat impoverished knight at that. Edward had favoured me ever since I helped him to take control of his crown from the traitor Mortimer sixteen years earlier.

  Yet, I was a man with an invented lineage, pretending that I was the latest in a line of men who had fought fo
r Henry III and Edward I. My pedigree was non-existent. And the great men of the realm disliked my closeness with Edward, from the days of his youth through to that morning in France when he was in his prime at the age of thirty-four.

  More than their needless petty jealousies, though, I was beginning to run into the problem that I always encountered.

  The fact that I had apparently not aged in the sixteen years since I came to prominence was now often commented on, and the young men who had laughed and joked with me over wine when we were twenty years old were now beginning to go grey and bald and fat.

  Eva, who had once been my wife, had told me that I unnerved many men just with my presence. She suspected that they sensed there was something different about me, something wrong. Something dangerous.

  And so it would soon be time for me to move on. To remove myself from England and the English for twenty or thirty years so that most of the men who knew me would die. Then I would return and perhaps once again claim to be the son of the man I had pretended to be.

  The other members of the Order of the White Dagger, especially the former monk Stephen Gossett and my friend the former Templar knight Thomas de Vimory, had urged me to leave before it drew any further attention to me that might endanger the Order itself.

  “You already arouse great suspicion, sir!” Stephen had said at our last meeting in London. “We agreed to this. You agreed, Richard. You agreed!”

  Though he claimed his concern was for the continued secrecy of the Order, I suspected he was more worried that his growing mercantile empire in London would be threatened. He was right that I had sworn to flee when the whispers against me started.

  But I could not leave King Edward. Not when he was poised to smash the French and reclaim some or all of the lands that the English crown had held in my youth, over a hundred and fifty years earlier.

  Not yet.

  It was early morning when my company assembled from the places around the villages where they had slept. There were eighteen men-at-arms and twenty-nine archers in my company and before I spoke to them all I relayed the essence of our orders to the leading men in my company.

  Many in my company were drawn from the few capable men on my estate, along with a few retainers I had picked up over the years. A couple were pardoned criminals and more were already professional soldiers looking for hire when I found them. However they had come into it, they stayed for the money, as well as for the love of it. They were men who made war for their private profit, neither knights nor squires but men of little worth who would not do a thing without their six pence a day and thirty marks a year.

  Together, we had fought for years in Brittany, on the far north-western tip of France. A rugged land in places but a fertile one and a good place for small companies of men to commit mischief. We helped to take towns and win small battles, and we raided and lived off the land.

  “The King wants us in the rearguard?” Black Walter cried. “Don’t he know we can win this battle for him, sir?”

  Walter was one of my best men but he was a mortal who had no inkling that I was anything other than a capable knight. He was a commoner and had such a simplistic and shallow view of the world that for many years I had thought him a halfwit. Even then, I had recognised his unusual ability, strength and courage when it came to feats of arms and so I had equipped him with good armour and commanded him to fight as my squire. He even rode superbly, despite never mounting a decent horse until he was a man grown.

  His father had been from the Welsh Marches in the far west of England, and his hair and beard were shiny as obsidian and his skin somewhat swarthy. Walter denied that he was a Welshman by blood but most of my men liked to doubt him. I trusted him to watch my back in battle and tried to avoid speaking to him otherwise.

  “Hold your tongue, Walt,” Thomas said. “The King will ultimately send the rear guard into the fray to turn the tide of the battle and so win the day.”

  Sir Thomas had been fighting at my side for close to a hundred years and we knew each other like brothers. He so often spoke my own mind that I rarely needed to disagree with him.

  “Come on, Walt, you know this,” said John, grinning. “It is precisely because we are so well regarded by the king that he wishes to use us in the most critical moment.”

  “That is right and true, John,” Hugh said, eagerly. “Surely, our company shall carry the day.”

  John and Hugh were the newest and youngest members of the Order of the White Dagger. Formerly a member of the Knights Templar, Thomas and I had freed Sir John and the squire Hugh from gaol in France when the French King had arrested and prosecuted their order. I had been reluctant to offer them the Gift but allowed myself to be persuaded.

  John was a tall, fair, handsome and chivalrous man who had always fought and acted honourably, despite being a Frenchman on his mother’s side. Thankfully, his father had been one of the Anglo-Normans of Ireland, which meant he was almost a proper Englishman.

  Hugh, a Frenchman by birth, was a squire when we found him thirty years earlier and he remained a dutiful though unimaginative fellow. I found it impossible to think of him as anything other than a young man, even though he was over fifty, because of the wide-eyed earnestness he had somehow retained.

  “Aye, sirs, I suppose you be right enough about that,” Walt said, cheering at the thought of being able to fight by the end of the day.

  “What about my lads, sir?” Rob Hawthorn asked.

  Another mortal, like Walter, he commanded my archers. Once, Rob was a wild youth, much taken with brawling and chasing women. By the time my company left Brittany, he had become as steady and trustworthy as a commoner could be. He was not tall but he had an archer’s build. John had once cried that Rob was built like the Minotaur. Once the myth was explained to the archers, they found it highly amusing. “Can I take my men to join the flanks of the van? Or the middle?”

  “You are all to stay with me throughout the battle and you will hold on to your arrows until we need them,” I said.

  Rob nodded, pressing his lips together. “Right then, you all know what you are about. Get the men some food, make sure they are well watered. Get the weapons sharpened and armour repaired. Make sure the servants keep our horses ready at the rear.”

  “Horses, Sir Richard?” Walt said, scratching his face under the edge of his mail aventail. “Ain’t we all fighting on foot today?”

  “Indeed we are, Walt. And yet one never knows how a battle may turn.” I raised my voice so that the rest of the men could hear me. “Make yourselves ready. John, set my banner on the right of the vanguard, at the front, so that we may advance without hindrance when the time comes. I shall see you all there, men. God be with you all today.”

  “Stick by Sir Richard,” John cried, “and we’ll get to murder a dozen Frenchmen apiece.”

  The entire company cheered, bringing bemused glances from the other men gathering on the ridge.

  While they busied themselves, I glanced at Thomas and we walked a few paces away down the slope, looking down the hill and out across the valley.

  “What is our true task?” Thomas asked when we could not be overheard.

  “The king wants us to protect the Prince,” I replied.

  Thomas narrowed his eyes. “And yet Prince Edward commands the vanguard while we shall be in the rear.”

  “By honouring the Prince with such responsibility,” I said, attempting to gather the strands of my thoughts into what I believed was the truth behind the King’s words, “a victory this day will establish the Prince of Wales as a great warrior. He will be famed across Christendom as a mighty king in waiting. His reputation will be made. All will know that England has a bright future.”

  “Only if we win,” Thomas pointed out.

  “Well, yes,” I said. “And only if the Prince lives through the day, more to the point.”

  Thomas took a deep breath and then sighed. “He will be hard pressed indeed down there. Gentle slope that side. If I was charging
our lines, mounted, with my lance couched and looking for an Englishman to impale, that is where I would do it.”

  We stood looking along the slope, imagining thousands of knights charging our men.

  “Imagine if they took him,” I said. “What would England’s future be then?”

  “So why are we to be held back from him at all?” Thomas asked. “We can protect him from the start.”

  “His victory must not be tainted with my name. Although Suffolk is my lord, all men know that I am the King’s man. The victory must belong to the Prince. If he is in danger, we shall save him for as long as we need to. But we shall not say that is what we have done. We shall deny it. And so shall our men.”

  “A shame.”

  “We will know,” I said. “God will know.”

  He bowed his head and turned to look out once more. “Dear Lord, here they come.”

  2. The King’s Campaign

  The battle we were soon to fight had been a long time coming. King Edward had needed to obtain an enormous amount of money, to raise thousands of men along with purveying the victuals to supply them, and then ship that army across the channel.

  We had been through it before, in 1338 and 1344, when we had relied on our Flemish, Breton and German allies but their endless dithering, fickle nature, and endless petty demands had scuppered our attempts. Now we would invade France properly.

  With Englishmen.

  To find the funds, Edward had forced loans from the Church and from towns all across the country. Foreign clergymen, some of whom were astonishingly wealthy, were fleeced three ways from Sunday, which all true born English folk rejoiced to see.

  But all this was still nowhere near enough and so Edward had borrowed money from a syndicate of London merchants led by none other than my immortal friend Stephen Gosset.

  It was of course not right for the wealth of the Order of the White Dagger to be employed in funding a mortal’s war but finding immortals had proved incredibly difficult and we increasingly expressed doubt that there were any left to be found. Besides, it was the King of England who needed the money, and Edward III had turned out to be rather a good one.

 
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