(An excerpt from The Cypriot Secret)
Sir Bouchart leaned back with a final gulp of ale and then slammed the empty mug down on the wooden table. Around him, his fellow knights were also finishing a substantial meal. They were laughing about the haul they had made on their latest raid through the village. The men were fortunate to have found a supply of captured songbirds, which they boiled in wine and honey to make the dish of ambelopoulia. They followed that with grilled pork, boiled greens, goat cheese with mounds of round fresh bread, and sugared almonds. They had been feasting like this for almost a month, ever since their master had left the castle with the rest of the knights and gone off to fight in the Holy Land. The knights that remained were few but they were the toughest of the troops, left to hold the castle.
Just then, Sir Rancout rushed into the dining hall. The look on his face caused the men to turn and cease their frivolity.
“Brothers, I have just overheard a plan to attack us on the morrow.”
Sir Bouchart rose and addressed him. “What do you mean? How do you know this?”
“I was running on my way here to supper from the far side of the village when I noticed a string of men heading for Louka’s taverna. Most of the town’s men would normally be leaving the taverna to go home for their supper, but they were arriving instead. I found it odd so I hid in the shadows across the street as more men arrived. Then Louka came to the door, looked around outside, went back in and locked the door!”
Sir Villiers stood with a serious look upon his ruddy face. “That does bode badly. They are obviously holding a secret meeting.”
“Exactly,” returned Rancout. “So I snuck up to the backside of the tavern and listened at the door.”
“So it is true, then?” asked Sir Albon. “How many men, and did you recognize which men were there?”
“Aye, Sir Albon. Through a crack in the wall I could see that there were three dozen at the least, about half of them with their faces visible.”
Sir Chien turned to Sir Bouchart, “What should we do? Attack them now while they are gathered and teach them a lesson?”
Sir Bouchart paused and thought. He stood and walked toward Rancout at the other end of the table, the knights watching his every move. “I have been daily growing concerned with the temper of the town. We know they have not been happy with our raids. Brothers, I am sorry to say this, but I have seen this coming. We must decide, do we fight or do we depart and seek reinforcements?”
Sir Lille rose with hesitation, “You mean, you fear they will seek to kill us all?”
Sir Pavet next rose and put his hand upon the hilt of his sword. “They surely do not think that they can take us? We can handle three apiece.”
Sirs Poitous and Damase also rose. Poitous was the most sensible of the group.
“My brothers, do not think yourselves invincible. There are surely more that will be brought into their forces. We are just over a dozen knights and there are several hundred men in this village who have reason to retaliate. And there is strength in numbers.”
Sir Damase knew Poitous was right. “But surely we cannot desert our post? We must fight to the last!”
Bouchart was proud of his men and knew they would fight to the very last of them, but he had another plan in mind. “I say we do both.”
Sir LeBlanc was confused. “What do you mean by that? How can we do both?”
Bouchart was no fool. He had felt they were in jeopardy from the moment the rest of their brothers had sailed off. He had seen the looks on the faces of the villagers and the dockhands that had helped load the ship. He knew they were just biding their time for the right moment to fight back, and that time was coming sooner than he expected.
“Here is our plan. Before dawn we will attack the homes of those who have plotted against us and see those men slaughtered, leaving their wives bereft.”
A roar of fortitude rose up with the plan of a good fight, but when their cries subsided, Bouchard continued.
“Then instead of heading north, which they will assume, since that coast is nearer to Nicosia, we will depart through the hills and across the Mesoria plain to our castle in the south and then make our way off this ungodly island. There are many more vessels there to choose from.”
The room went silent.
Sir Norris was shocked. “You mean flee for our lives?”
Bouchart nodded. “We cannot hope to overcome several hundred men, but we can leave them with a blunt message that will give them a shock. Then we will sail off in a small craft for the nearest mainland. We’ll head for Turkey and then on to the Holy Land where we will bring back forces to win this island back again.”
Sir Coulours finally rose up, knowing that Bouchart was right. He had also heard the threats as they had raided each dwelling and taken what they wanted from the market stalls. “Then we have a lot to do before we depart.”
Sir Acquia finished his ale and carefully placed his mug upon the table. “I’ll gather enough food to hold us for at least ten days.”
Sir Frandizzi joined him in rising. “I’ll prepare small barrels of water and wine that we can easily carry.”
Bouchart now had the men mentally ready to face their fight and their journey. “Brothers, pack and make ready your horses. Let us prepare ourselves.”