The infidel deserved to die. He had sullied the holy lands with his presence. A sense of fulfilment washed across the sword’s bearer as it buried itself to the hilt in his opponent. It was done. Around him lay the bodies of a horde of the infidels: those who had dared attack the Almighty’s soldiers, and paid the ultimate price. The sands of the desert were stained crimson, as the blood of the dozens of attackers seeped between the gaps in the sand. Already flies had begun to gather. The air was filled with them, getting in everyone’s eyes as they sought the best place to lay their eggs.
Thousands of tiny wings hummed at those who’d survived the bloody melee. Gradually the survivors limped toward the oasis they’d been protecting, leaning on each other for support. Dying men lay stripped of their armour in the slight shade provided by palm trees, wounds oozing blood, and already caked with sand. The wounded continued to moan in pain, a chorus of fear, anger, despair.
A preacher wandered the shade, stopping every now and then to offer comfort to those in pain. One man who had lost his arm to the vermin lay watching his life pool at the foot of a tree. The preacher leaned over him, said a quick prayer and moved on.
Camp was set. Night came. The watch fires burned bright. The metallic scent of blood drifted on the wind from the field of battle. The bodies had already been piled into a large hole where they would not smell: only God’s people were worthy of burial. Every now and then the fire, fed by the possessions of the enemy, would send up a shower of sparks and a brief fiery glow would light the dirt-covered, haggard faces of the watch. The night dragged on, the pre-dawn chill fell across the camp, and the fire began to burn low. Guards huddled together for warmth, and many of the wounded surrendered to the cold. They were weak.
Dawn roused the commander, and the pained whimpering of an infidel woman followed him from his tent. An infidel whore ran from the preacher’s tent, blood pouring from her face, mixing with a stream of tears. A sickening thud-crunch of metal against flesh and bone, and the woman lay motionless on the ground. The guard wiped the weapon on the woman’s clothes and waved for one of the sobbing servant boys to take the body away.
A camel swore at the sky not far off, and before long a messenger had handed a folded note to the commander. A quick once over, and the order to lift camp was made. By midday the troops were on the move again, the wounded dragged along on crude wooden stretchers. The sun glared down on the procession, shining off what little armour the troops still wore. Most sat in the saddlebags of camels, too hot from the sun to wear. The servants complained of thirst. Soldiers took water skins from their packs and drank deep, spilling much of the contents on the sand, where it evaporated almost instantly.
Days passed. The procession plodded along slowly. Behind them lay the desiccated bodies of the servants the Almighty did not favour, those who’d been abandoned as useless. Days dragged on into weeks. The injured were abandoned to the sand and the sky. Relief at last; the mud brick buildings of the city were sighted.
Approaching the city gates, tall spears were planted in the ground, each with the head of an infidel atop it. The city gates opened to the greetings of fellow soldiers, and spirits lifted. The troupe passed into the city, toward the centre of the city. The marketplaces were filled with broken stalls. As they passed, the soldiers eyed the infidel women chained together, faces swollen from beatings and blood caked in their hair.
The group dispersed as they reached the city barracks, many heading back to the markets with plundered coin in hand. The commander washed himself, donned his armour and headed for the temple. A banner of a prancing lion hung from the temple roof. The city was theirs again. Working his way through the corridors, he came to the main hall. Crossing himself, he bowed and kissed the feet of the crucifix. As he waited, his thoughts strayed to the months before.
All in the name of God.
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