Travel in the Dark Ages, now called the Early Middle Ages, was difficult whether by land or water.
Radulf noticed his veltres’ (greyhounds) ears perked up, and their heads turned in the direction of the forest. One stopped, whined, and then caught up with his horse. He noticed Leonard observed the canines also.
“But everyone’s lands are so spread out, even the king’s. Will not such unity become too hard to protect?
“We protect wide-spread villae now. Do you think I would let my steward steal from me?” Ogivia would not. Radulf kept watch through the forest. Something was wrong. He sensed it. With a simple hand motion, he warned his men to remain alert and have their weapons ready.
“What is wrong?” Leonard asked.
“Look about you. Hear and sense as well as see.”
Puzzled, Leonard searched the trees.
“What is different?” Radulf asked.
“The normal forest noises...”
“Exactly.” Radulf lowered his voice and he made some signals with his right hand to the men behind him as he spoke to Leonard. “There are rōbon out there, every ready to kill and steal. Be prepared for an attack.”
Radulf drew his blade, heard Leonard and his men slide their weapons from their scabbards. They rode swords in hand surrounded by silence except for their own horses’ hooves
Screams erupted from among the trees, their numbers indicating a force much larger than his small group. Men in leather battle gear ran forward flinging axes in the ancient Frankish manner of battle. Several loud strikes of ax against wooden shields filled the air, alerting Radulf these were no common road bandits but trained soldiers. They threw with devastating accuracy.
His horse tensed beneath him, upset under the tight reign he held. He knew the animal sensed his tension. An ax hit his shield, the thrust throwing him backwards and off-balance. Even prepared, the added weight briefly caused him to lower his shield while he regained his position.
Many years of battle experience took over. “Ride at all speed! Forward! Forward! Run them down.” Radulf yelled, indicating the soldiers standing in the road ahead of his troop, even as he spurred his horse forward and raised his spatha toward the enemy. The men before them also pulled swords, some already holding their weapons. Others ran to the road’s sides. It took courage to stand before charging horses.
Screams followed and surrounded Radulf. His men’s war bellows followed him and clashed with those of their attackers. Cries of the stricken followed him, both those of his own men and those of their foes. The screams added another note to the dissonance of pounding horse hooves, the thuds and crashes of weapons, and the squeal of injured horses.
His horse’s stride quickened. His troop’s mounts barreled through the men in the road. Thrown axes missed him, but the marauders held no shields, no protection from his spatha and he used it dispassionately. Most ducked and rolled to the side before hooves trampled them. By then, his sword often found some part of the foe’s body. His horse, even if cut, galloped on. He swung a last time, killing a man before passing through the line. Blood sprayed in a long arc, trailing his blade.
Radulf spurred his horse. The animal raced from the ambush. Continuing to press his horse hard in its flight, he followed the old Roman road toward Paris. The blood angered and gratified him, brought memories he needed to quash. Riding at full out gallop helped empty his mind. Two markers down the road, he slowed Morlin to a trot. Sweat lathered the horse’s coat. Once he felt it safe, he slowed his thoughts and reined in his emotions.
Morin’s sides heaved between his legs. The scent of his mount’s sweat and his own ran free and filled his nose. He huffed nearly as hard as his horse.
A glance behind him showed fifteen riders followed, and Leonard, thank God, was one of them, riding close on his gray’s left flank. Leonard’s shield was missing, his spatha’s blade darkened with blood.
Leonard pulled up next to him, but from his son’s stricken look, he knew a first killing already haunted the boy. “It is part of saving your own and your men’s lives.”
“Thou shalt not kill.” The biblical Commandment was all Leonard said.
It struck Radulf, until he realized the comment not aimed at him, but something Leonard tried to work out in his own mind. He snorted and looked away. The world was a vile, murderous place, filled with treachery and evil. Leonard had yet to learn this lesson.
He heard Leonard mutter in Latin, “The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.” More learning from Ogivia. He trusted his sister implicitly. He trusted her with his daughter, but more importantly, he had trusted her with Leonard, his heir. He loved his son, but the boy was more monkish than warrior like. His serving Pepin caused his frequent absence from Albrecht. Serving the new Francorum rex was now his duty. Ogivia had raised the boy, loved him, educated him, and kept him safe. Jocelin had seen to his basic training. Last year, Leonard became old enough for him to take over and begin his son’s tutelage as an heir. Since then Radulf had learned that for everything the boy had learned, his faith often outweighed his logic.
He turned his horse to see who still traveled with him and thought it too bad God had not preserved those lost on the road behind, too. Now, however, was not the time to talk with Leonard about the difference of thanking God through prayer and acting to save one’s self from harm. He glanced at the bloody spatha hanging from Leonard’s hand. Obvious Leonard already knew something of this. He urged his horse forward, and they rode a few more makers down the road before he pulled up and dismounted. As Leonard dismounted next to him he asked, “Are you all right?”