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From Inside the Flap
"... These first few chapters lead the reader ? alongside Dante and Iago -- into the company of a capitalistic slaver, a fortress overrun with barbarians, a search for treasure, the hunt for a witch, the zealotry of a priest, and the wrath of a king. To say anything more is to risk spoiling the suspense which happens at every turn of the page....
...Nothing is clich?d. Everything stands alone as a brilliant work of prose akin to any of the classics. All lovers of great literature should know of this masterpiece that weaves the honor of the knight, with the responsibility due family, into the love for a woman, through the cultural milieu of warring religions, at the pursuit for truth, with the hands of brotherly friendship at one’s side. DANTE’S CROSS is a burden to bear and a triumph in which all can rejoice. "
Reviewed By Wendall Sexton for Roundtable Reviews
When I was a child, I spake as a child...
Dante de Montcada pondered the words, their truth absolute. There was little else to occupy him for the moment, while he awaited a return to battle.
...I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things....
And so he had done on the bloody fields of Palestine. He had taken up the sword, a weapon of war that fit his hand and suited his disposition. He reckoned himself good for little else.
He sat his fine Spanish charger in expert fashion, honored every knightly vow he had taken, but in his dark eyes lay a shadow of discontent. Hidden deep in his heart was a temperament that ran to recklessness, a trait that would cost him mightily.
He turned in his saddle and scanned the plain, then let his gaze fall heavy upon the fortress.
Around him thousands more fought to retake the mighty St. Jean d? Acre, a Crusader fortress on the coastal plain of Outremer, lost to the infidel three years past. The bastion now suffered continuous assault by Crusading men-at-arms, as well she should for her deception and disloyalty, blood being the cost of their ambition and the fee for their claim. A great prize demanded great payment.
Less arrogant in her position now after two long years under siege, she sat in stone-faced silence, her fortifications marred by the constant pounding of siege engines. St. Jean d? Acre’s bulwarks challenged the sea on three sides, and on this side her magnificent stone curtain drew a straight line across the arm of land upon which she rested. Her battlemented wall reached skyward, fingers outstretched toward Heaven as though pleading with God for mercy. Her vast walls and spires and loopholes, her breastwork and towers and grand galleries, gates strengthened with iron, were at once a gem and a scar on the coast of Outremer.
The sun shot glints from sword and shield and polished link, from bowmen and foot, from siege engine and mantlet. During the brief lull in the fighting, Dante removed his fine Spanish gauntlets, then raised one hand to shield his eyes from the glare.
To the inland east and on the outlying edge of the fighting, tendrils of smoke curled from a charred wooden barricade near him. With his back to the fortress curtain, he along with hundreds more guarded their flank against attack.
Beside him sat Iago Calderon, a young lion among many occupying the plain, a man trained to war. Dark hair, a piercing glance and a nervousness that spoke of both an extraordinary courage and a depthless fear marked him among men. Possessed of a sober spirit, he laid claim to a powerful gift of which he rarely spoke and a hidden past about which he refused to speak at all.
Iago crossed both hands on his saddlebow, his reins loose on his horse’s neck. He nodded toward the plain. "It seems they are not of a mind to withdraw and shall come at us again."
Dante nodded, certain the enemy would once more sling forth their minions to unleash havoc upon the faithful of Christendom. After being thrown back yet again, the Saracens were regrouping. "There’s time enough left in the day." He pushed against his own chest to reposition a spaulder, then shrugged his linked mesh up higher onto his shoulders, hot in the sun’s relentless burn.
In the momentary calm he silently crafted a prayer for Sakeena, his forbidden love -- heathenish some would say -- inside St. Jean d? Acre. He had loved her all his days and dreamt of her each night.
"You think of her," Iago said, as though he read Dante’s thoughts. "You court disaster if you do not let her go." There was sternness in the warning, an aspect that grew each time the caution was uttered and that was often.
Though Dante loved his friend as a brother, Iago’s intrusive remarks aggravated an already tender wound. "I invite no such disaster, but if it should befall me then I shall gladly fight it." He could not afford the distraction but was rendered helpless before the power of her memory.
"She should have been away long ago," he added, the remark strained with worry.
Iago turned, gazing over his shoulder toward St. Jean. "Perhaps so. But she has power beyond what you see. And," he added cautiously, "she loves her brother."
"But why did Asad not send her away?" A question he asked of himself more than of his companion. Of a certainty she loved her brother. As did Dante, though they now were called enemy rather than friend.
"He is not devoid of scruples and does little without reason, generally good reason." Iago grasped his friend’s arm. His dark eyes reflected the gravity felt in his grip. "There are many things, Dante, that require your attention and your skill. Leave this preoccupation that may well cost you your life. And perchance hers, as well."
Dante pulled away and focused on the activity at St. Jean’s feet.
Hundreds of Franks again stormed the fortress, their voices raised, weapons poised. Trebuchets sat loaded, fat stones in their slings and counter weights raised, ready at the command. As Dante gazed at the montage of men and horses and tents and weaponry, an expression of grim determination deepened the character easily seen in his face. The day would yet yield up much blood and suffering before the sun disappeared into the sea and, he hoped, took its great heat with it. Such was the price of arrogance and foolish pride.
He massaged his right arm, flexing his hand, his sword sheathed for the moment and gauntlets at rest on his saddlebow. He wiped dust and sweat from his face with the tail of his crimson and gold surcoat, the colors of Don Sabiano de Montcada’s house, one that grew more and more foreign to him. Though a Spaniard, bone and blood, at twenty-nine years of age he had never seen Spain and so felt little allegiance to his country. He motioned for a squire to bring him a water flask.
After nine years of hard fighting he longed for a respite from war, from the hostility that ravaged this land. He tipped the flask to his lips and allowed the tepid water to track down his chin and throat, refreshing against the sweltering July heat. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
"He comes!" A man stood in his stirrups and pointed toward the sea. The shout echoed along the line and rose above the heads of men and horses gathered at St. Jean d? Acre’s feet. Standards hung limp in the sun’s mighty heat, exquisite Templar crosses, red on a checkered field of black and white, beside those of the Knights of St. John. King Guy’s silken insignia and the ensign of King Phillip’s men rippled long and extravagant, a field alive with splendor, brilliant color and majesty, with bloodied steel and the shouts of the brave.
A roar rose from those gathered, rippled as a tidal wave across the floor of the plain and flayed the clouds with its volume. Weapons spiked the air as warriors raised their blades in salute. Dante’s stallion shook his head and danced away from the clamor.
The brilliant blue of the Mediterranean, a smooth line that scored the horizon beyond St. Jean, was broken by a mast. A tall ship swayed in the distance under full sail, and soon another and more ships followed.
After two long years under bitter siege, St. Jean must tremble in dreaded expectation. With this much anticipated arrival the Franks were sure to have her soon, and pay she would for her insolence.
Xavier galloped up the hill, often glancing back at the sea and its favored passengers. Dante watched his brother approach until he reined in close by, his face flushed, blue eyes alive with excitement, dark tendrils clinging to his damp brow. "He comes, Dante! He has arrived at last!" The voice of youth and all its innocence, the voice of one who knew not the ways of war.
Dante smiled at his younger brother with genuine affection. "He does, indeed." It was a joyous moment for those who had held their ground, suffered the afflictions of illness and baneful weather, often with barely enough to eat. A Godsend, this fleet and its royal passengers.
"You have good reason to leave your post?" Dante asked.
"There’s little danger," Xavier answered, as if that judgment were his to make. "Now that he’s here, please say you?ll ask for me."
Such hope radiated from his beautiful and beloved expression and such craving lay in the words he spoke. Xavier had entered his twenty-first year last winter, and he was fired with the enthusiasm of youth. His hand begged for a sword, his chest for plate, his zeal for the blood of the Saracen -- commendable aspirations -- but he lacked the heart of a warrior.
"Give me the chance to enter St. Jean d? Acre beside you!" Xavier pleaded.
Dante shook his head and braced for an argument repeated often of late. "You possess a great gift. Give it to the world in place of hurt." A request that fell upon ears deafened by false shouts of glory. He again tipped the water to his parched lips, then handed the flask to a waiting squire. "Render beauty rather than death."
"Bah! I long to taste the sweetness of victory! I yearn to fight, to feel the rush of battle --"
"You don?t belong here," Dante said as much to himself as to his younger brother.
"I do belong here!" Xavier’s color heightened.
Dante leaned from his saddle and grabbed his brother’s arm. "Then feast your eyes upon the harvest you shall reap." He pointed to the field where blood and bile and terrible groanings told the tale of war.
Xavier glanced toward the battleground and quickly averted his gaze, paling at the sight.
"I do belong," he insisted, but the words lacked their previous force. "Outremer is my home, Dante. I must have the chance to defend it!"
"Defend? We are not defending, brother, we are in constant retreat," Dante snapped.
"Sakeena and Asad are inside," Xavier said, trying another approach.
"I know where they are," he answered more forcefully than he intended. Not a moment passed that his thoughts did not turn in their direction, Sakeena and her brother.
Xavier clenched his fist. "Let me help get her out."
"You can?t get her out." He looked toward the fortress and the impossibly constructed stone. "None can." Though voiced at a whisper, it had the power of truth and birthed paralyzing fear in his heart.
The three watched the flagship tack into port, her sails trimmed, her cargo more precious than gold. The French fleet sailed on, set to array beyond St. Jean d? Acre, and a more beautiful sight they had yet to behold. Now she would fall. Now in the throes of defeat she would spill her treasures into Christian hands and bring to an end the bitter siege.
"You shall need me," Xavier pleaded, this time with respect. "Ask for me."
"Return to your post, brother, one you should not have abandoned." Xavier was safely assigned to his father’s guard, a post that held little danger and one that suited him well.
Anger brightened Xavier’s eyes and heated the words of a threat. "If you will not ask for me, Casado will."
Dante looked at him sharply and answered with the same heat in his own voice. "And if he does, you shall refuse."
Xavier spat on the ground and spun his horse, put spur to flank and galloped down the hill.
"The sooner you ask for him the better it will be for you." Iago yanked a gauntlet on tight. "Xavier is right. If you do not ask for him, your elder brother will. In the end your father shall see him placed, either with you or with Casado."
An honest prediction perhaps, but one Dante refused to consider. He shook his head. It would not happen that way.
With a knowing inflection, Iago added, "Casado is a dangerous man who fears his brothers and loves his rank."
"And he is also wise enough to leave Xavier alone." A talented man of exceptional skill, Xavier waged his war on canvas, his best weapon the stroke of a brush. He fought to conquer true form, the deepening of shadow and the perfect choice of color, a gift he naively neglected in favor of a call to arms that would either see him dead or ruined.
A flurry of activity below and a chaotic rush for the dock captured Dante’s interest and replaced dark conjecture with the shining glare of hope, the prospect of unity which perchance might herald victory. At least here at St. Jean d? Acre, if nowhere else.
Though the distance prevented clarity of detail, from the ship a man appeared with a spring in his step, graceful of movement, lean of body, a deportment that made plain his royal birth. Dante shouted with the others, a roar of celebration, his heart filled with gladness and pride.
At long last he had arrived, the Duke of Anjou, Duke of Aquitaine, the King of England, Richard I, the Lionheart set foot on Outremer’s precious soil.
Blood Moon Publishing is an imprint of Double Dragon Publishing