A Knight With Mercy – Chapter One

Chapter One

Goodmont, England


“For the love of my lord William!”

The words echoed throughout the black darkness. Richard le Breton gripped his sword tightly, knowing what was to come. He wanted to drop the weapon and back away, but his fingers would not open. Suddenly, as he tried to force his fingers open, blood pooled from between them to drip down his arms into the blackness. A balding man with white hair on the sides and an immaculate robe towered up to an unreasonable height.

Richard le Breton tossed in his bed, kicking at his covers. He knew that man. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket.

As Richard watched, horrified, the top the of the Archbishop’s pristine head split open as if from the blow of an axe, the wound growing wider and wider. Blood was everywhere, turning the black around him into red guilt. Richard tried to pull back, but his feet were stuck in the red liquid; the blood-like tar sucking at his booted feet.

Around Richard, flames erupted, the heat singing the flesh from his arms. He pulled back but the fire was everywhere. He looked up at the Archbishop in desperation.

With half of his head gone, the Archbishop pointed a finger at Richard. “You did this.”

Richard sat up, his body slick with sweat. He turned his head, gazing this way and that. When his rapid breathing slowed, he wiped at his brow and inspected the sleeve of his tunic in the moonlight, fearful that he would find blood. But there was no marking on his sleeve. Just his body’s reaction to the dream he had on so many nights before. He swung his legs from the straw mattress and the blanket entwined around his legs fell to the wooden floor. He rested his head in his hands taking a deep breath to calm his madly beating heart before running his hands through his hair and rising. There would be no further sleep this night.

He rose, pulled on his boots and secured his belt to his waist. He moved to the door, throwing it open and emerged into the hallway. Looking down the stairway at the first floor of the inn the flickering glow of a warm fire danced on the walls. He walked down the stairs and stood at the bottom, scanning the room. The hearth light washed over empty tables and chairs scattered throughout. Grateful the room was vacant, he took a seat before the fire. He extended his hands toward the hearth, feeling the warmth against his palms. He couldn’t forget it. The murder weighed heavy on his shoulders even though it happened eighteen months ago. There was no escaping the guilt that followed him like a shadow.

A young girl walked up to him. Richard recognized her as the innkeeper’s daughter. He had seen the innkeeper giving the girl orders. The child rubbed her eyes as if she had just woken. “Is there somethin’ I can get ya?”

“No, lass,” Richard said.

The girl nodded and turned away, disappearing into a darkened back room.

Richard stared into the snapping flames of the hearth, running a hand absently over his long beard. After the death of Becket, King Henry had advised all four of the knights involved to flee England. Richard shook his head. England. His only home. They had killed the Archbishop under King Henry’s orders and he had advised them to run away. He sighed. He couldn’t blame Henry. The King couldn’t risk being excommunicated and losing favor with his people. At least he had not stripped them of their titles and lands. His friend and co-conspirator, Sir Hugh de Morville, had lands and a castle at Knaresborough where the four knights lived until the Pope excommunicated them in March of 1171. It took a long time, but they finally gained an audience with Pope Alexander. The knights had agreed to split up and travel alone so as not to draw attention to themselves.

The door swung open and a group of men, farmers by the looks of their dirty tunics and breeches, entered. One nodded toward him. “There he is.”

Tingles raced along Richard’s spine.

“Is it him?” another asked.

Richard stood. He faced the men as they entered the room. “I want no trouble, friends.”

One of the farmers spit on the floor. “We’re no friends of yers, ya murderin’ giglet.”

Richard turned toward the stairway as one of the farmers rushed to block his path.

“It’s him,” the innkeeper said to the farmers.

“Ya killed the Archbishop.”

How could he deny their accusations? He had been running and hiding from the fact for years.

When he didn’t deny it, the crowd of men murmured unhappily. Dangerously. “It is you! Blackguard!”

“Ya’ll burn in hell!”

He was shoved from behind and fell forward but caught himself on a chair before he could go down to his hands and knees. More unhappy grumbling sounded in the room as he straightened. As he turned to face them, a solid blow to his chin jerked his head back.

“Devil spawn!”

Pain pulsated from his jaw and he put up his hands in submission. When one man with dark hair and crooked teeth came toward him, he brought his hand back for a blow. Suddenly, he froze. These were innocent men. He had sworn to protect the innocent. It was part of his oath as a knight. His hesitation was enough. Another blow to his head knocked him sideways and the room spun. Over their shoulders, his gaze locked on the door. He had to get out. But there were so many of them in the way.

He lifted his arms to protect himself, to block the blows, but they came quickly one after the other. His arms took the brunt of the assault. He heard a hiss and wasn’t sure if it was from one of the men or the fire in the hearth. Another blow landed on his side. Was this what he was praying for all these years? To be put out of his misery? Was this his redemption?

A punch to his stomach sent pain exploding through his mid-section and he doubled over.

Was this his end?

He was shoved again and then hit hard across his head. The room spun. When Richard was pushed again, he fell to his knee, scraping it on the wooden floor. Was this what the Archbishop endured? His head pounded and his mind returned to the cathedral and the image of Becket on his knees. The thought sent mental agony through him, only enhancing his resolve not to fight back. A punch to his face and he tasted cooper. Blood.

“Get him!”

The blows fell about him like rain, each landing a stinging agony. He was knocked to the ground, instinctively curling into a ball to protect himself. The kicks began then. Something struck him in his side knocking the breath from him. He heard men’s voices.

“Evil cumberworld!”

“Murderin’ arse!”

He pulled his arms around his head, uselessly trying to protect himself and secretly wishing they would use a sword to speed it along.

“Stop!” A voice rang out above the clamor of the others. “Stop!”

He lowered his arm from his head, cautiously, angry that someone should stop his punishment. His death.

Faces hoovered over him, twisted with smirks of hate. One even landed another blow to his head before he could cover it again.


He looked out between his arms again. Through a haze of pain and blackness eating away at the edges of his vision, he saw an angel emerge from the throng of hatred and contempt. She had soft skin and a concerned look in her blue eyes. Brown hair tumbled in waves over her shoulders as she bent to him.

Behind her, the men grumbled their discontent. “He deserves worse!”

The word rang in his head as the darkness consumed his vision.

“No,” she said and knelt at his side. “He is our salvation.”



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