THE HEAVY POUNDING OF A MAILED fist on the wooden door reverberated through the narrow stone house. The cook was startled from her sleep and grabbed her groggy husband in terror. “Christ’s bones! Who can that be in the middle of the night?”
On the far side of the room by the still-smoldering fireplace, the two scullery boys sat up. “What is it? Who is it?” the boys asked one another in fright.
“Open up!” a gruff voice shouted through the door.
From the floor above came the sound of muffled voices: Lady Eschiva’s voice was alarmed and questioning, Lord Aimery answered with a calming growl. Then a child started crying. Lady Eschiva hurried to the children’s chamber, and Lord Aimery leaned over the railing to call down the stairs: “Answer the door! Find out who it is and what they want!”
The man-of-all-work in the little household rolled out of the box bed with a grumble and padded barefoot to the door. His hairy, unshapely legs protruded naked from beneath his shirt. “Coming! Coming!” he called as the knock was repeated urgently. When he reached the door, he turned the key and pulled back the bolt to crack it open and peer into the street.
The heavy door was shoved open into his face with so much force that it flung him against the wall and smashed his nose. Blood gushed down to his mouth, and his forehead would wear an ugly bruise.
The men who forced their way inside were dressed in chain mail from head to toe. They wore skullcap helmets with heavy nose guards. Most terrifying of all, they wore surcoats with the arms of Jerusalem on them: they were the King’s men.
“Where’s Lord Aimery?” one of them barked at the stunned servants.
“I’m here!” Aimery called from the floor above. Without hesitation the four armored men pushed past the frightened servants to the stairs at the back of the vaulted room. They pounded up to the next floor, and as they emerged out of the stairway, they found the Constable of Jerusalem hastily donning his surcoat while a young squire held his sword ready for him to take.
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