PART ONE: BOREL
CHAPTER 1: THE RESCUE
The Saracen’s aborted warning cry turns to blood as my arm sweeps around from behind him and pushes my short sword through his throat. The Frankish short sword, or brand as we call it, is a soldier’s secret friend. So small the Saracen had no time to see it coming. On its way in, my brand crushes the heathen larynx with a tiny crunch.
“Likka min brand, Saracen,” I whisper into his ear, shoving it all the way down to the hilt.
“Lick my sword, son of Satan, and savor this Frankish dish on your way to hell!”
The Saracen convulses, then goes limp. I pull back the brand, and wave it once past my nose before wiping it on his tunic and returning it to my belt, on the left side. It slides safely back in its sheath, what we Franks call fodr but what the Latin scholars name vagina. Hoh, there is no sweeter salve for a Frankish brand than the blood of a Saracen!
The body hits the ground with a muffled thump. I stop, crouch and listen.
Not a sound. Saracen fools! There was only this one man guarding the tent. Just enough time, then. My Frankish fellows are all off looking for their precious General Salomon. I can hear them yelling and killing in the dark, brave warriors one and all. At least they’re occupied. Just enough time to help myself to whatever treasures are in this Saracen tent.
Still crouching, I slip in.
At the other end of the tent a single Saracen stands with a spear guarding something, his back to me. Hard to see exactly what he keeps watch over in this penumbra, but even from here I can hear this Saracen breathing heavily. Probably clutching his spear for dear life, looking in the direction of the mounting noise of our Frankish troops outside. Clearly, he’s undecided whether to stay or flee. Whatever he’s guarding, hoh, it must be quite the treasure!
Softly, I creep in, closer, closer. Still he’s not noticed me.
A sliver of moonlight slips through a crack in the tent and now I see what he is guarding. This is no treasure, no! Better than a treasure, this!
It is General Salomon, sitting gagged and bound.
Hoh, by the sacred head of Clovis, what luck! Fate, Fata, Wyrd – call it what you will, here’s my chance! Here he sits, the mighty General Salomon, all wrapped up in Saracen cords. Is it possible that only yesterday he was threatening me with a trial by boiling water for some little thing or other? I’m sure he’s forgotten all about that! Hoh, hoh, we’ll see who’s on trial now!
I am just about to reach the captured Salomon when one of our soldiers bursts in ahead of me on the left, right in front of the Saracen. For a moment, the Frank stands still, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. The Saracen springs towards him, sword raised high.
“La’ana Allah ’alik!”
Hanala of the Goths, help me! This calls for the longer sword, my speot, on the right side of my belt. I unsheath it and yell out.
“Kausja speot mina! – See my sword!”
The Saracen spins round, but too late. With a sideward sweep my speot bites him in the neck, sinks in deep its teeth. Saracen blood sprays my forearm as I pull out for a second blow, but the furious pagan steps back. Miraculously still alive, he tumbles towards the Frankish soldier who has now pulled out his sword.
Quick, while the Saracen is distracted and before this tent gets too crowded, seize your chance, Borel!
Still clutching my bloody speot, I crouch down in front of Salomon sitting next to me. Our eyes meet. His look is cold. The tip of my speot slips under the tightly bound gag around his mouth. For a moment, I hold it, press it to his cheek. Fresh Saracen blood runs down Salomon’s neck.
Our wordless staring continues to the grunts and groans of the two fighting behind us.
I lean in to Salomon’s face, and the tips of our noses almost touch.
“Kausja speot mina, Salomon,” I hiss.
Salomon does not move a muscle, nor does he break his stare. A trickle of pagan blood from my sword reaches his clavicle that is exposed from a tear in his tunic.
“Promise me, General Salomon,” I continue in a low voice, “promise me, my Frankish brother, that you will not seek wadi, that you will seek no payment for the incident with your niece. Promise it! Promise that there will be neither trial by boiling water nor any vengeance from your hand. Promise that I will go free. Promise me this, and I will spare your life right now.”
Salomon stares at me in silence. With a loud cry, the Saracen behind us receives the death blow.
Salomon nods once, lightly.
My speot rips open the gag. His mouth freed, Salomon spits in my face.
“You are a coward, Borel,” he says, his eyes on fire. “You are a coward because you know that if my hands were free right now, you’d be crawling in your blood!”
“But your hands are tied, General Salomon, Whip of the Saracen,” I hiss back, “Whip of the Saracen, Flagellum Sarazeni – isn’t that what the adoring Frankish people call you throughout the Empire? Hoh, hoh, but look at you now! Look now at your poor, helpless hands all tied up in a Saracen’s knot!”
Without giving him time to counter, I press my face closer and poke the tip of my speot into his lower lip. The lip oozes blood that blends with that of the Saracen still dripping from my sword.
Just then, we hear behind us the cries of two more Frankish soldiers who have come into the tent. Time is running out.
“Kausja speot mina, Salomon,” I hiss, “Kausja speot mina! I have one more request, and quickly, if you don’t mind. A second promise, my lord. Promise, my general, that I will have your special protection for the rest of my days. Promise! I want your word, General Salomon, that I will have your protection for life. I want the Pledge of the Franks. Warand Frankisk!”
“So be it,” Solomon answers slowly. “So be it, Borel. You have my pledge. Warand Frankisk.”
I pull my sword away from his lip, twist the speot downwards and shove it in between his arm and the tightly bound cords. I yank my speot once hard. The cords snap open.
“Hoh, you’ll not regret it, my lord,” is my last whisper as I stand up and stretch out wide my arms, holding out my speot as tall as I can. By now, a handful of Franks have entered the tent. Stepping over the Saracen’s body, they approach us cautiously in the near darkness.
“Hoh, hoh, my fellow Franks,” I call out as Salomon gets up and removes his bonds, “my fellow Franks, fearsome soldiers one and all, listen to Borel! Faithful troops of the greatest empire in the world, the Empire of the great King Karolus, hear me, Borel, for I have found our general! Deo gratia, our man is safe and sound!”
“Here he is, Salomon the Whip of the Saracen!”
Raising his chest a little, Salomon wipes the blood from his lip.
“Well done,” says the soldier nearest me, the one who killed the Saracen. He grabs me by the forearms in the Frankish way and leans in to graze my cheeks.
“Well done, Borel!”