Ten years ago, Odo the Great, Duke of Aquitaine repelled the invasion of Abdul Rahman al-Gafiqi, keeping Gaul and the rest of Europe safe from the Islamic Caliphate. But al-Gafiqi is back with an even larger army and this time Odo may have no choice but to turn to his bitter rival, Charles Martel for help.
Join Adrian, Odo’s loyal bodyguard, as they scramble to defend their lands from two enemies at once and search for their true allies in a tumultuous time. Get started with the beginning of the first chapter below then subscribe to read the entire book for free. I’ll send you one chapter at a time until the book is complete!
Adrian Bernard drove the tip of his sword into the stomach of his foe then wrenched the blade upwards until it ripped free just below his throat. The man collapsed without ever making a sound and Adrian was already whirling toward another enemy.
His next target was closing in on his lord, Odo, Duke of Aquitaine, from behind. Adrian brought the pommel of his broadsword down on the man’s head and stepped over his crumpled body without breaking stride. He reached Odo’s side and announced his presence with his habitual grunt.
“Where have you been?” Odo demanded between slashes. “I’ve cut down three of these Frankish buffoons without seeing so much as a glimpse of you.”
Adrian didn’t answer the question, and the Duke didn’t expect one. Though Odo often spoke to Adrian in a casual manner, as though they were friends, Adrian was his bodyguard. A servant, not a friend. True, they had known each other for many years and Odo confided things in him that he shared with no one else. But they were not peers and never would be.
That was why Adrian didn’t bother explaining that in the time Odo hadn’t seen him, he was defending the Duke’s rear from twice the number of Franks that had assaulted him from the front. He simply continued blocking the openings that Odo left exposed as he lashed out at the enemies that were all around them.
A pair of hulking Franks came at Adrian together, roaring in rage as they charged. The ideal course of action would have been to dodge and let their momentum carry them past him. But Odo was at his back.
So he rushed forward to meet their assault head on.
One of the men wore his blond hair in a long braid while the second appeared to be bald under his helmet. Both were tall and broad shouldered, with massive arms wielding huge broadswords.
Adrian was just as large and just as powerfully built. No doubt that’s why they had elected to attack him together, thinking they could overwhelm him with their combined strength. In the instant before their blades met, Adrian allowed himself a small smile at the thought.
He caught the braided man’s blade on his own, knocking it low and wide, then dove under the sweeping blow of the bald Frank to drive his shoulder into the man’s stomach.
He dumped that enemy onto the dirt then spun and straightened to meet the counter-attack from the blond one. The man came at him with another overhanded strike, identical to his first. Adrian locked blades with him this time so their eyes met for a split second. In that moment, Adrian knew the man wouldn’t last much longer. He saw the fear, the uncertainty in his gaze, and uncertainty meant certain death on the battlefield.
Adrian shifted all of his weight forward and shoved the man backwards. He staggered and barely got his sword up in time to stop Adrian’s next swing from taking off his head. But his parry was clumsy and Adrian still connected with the muscle of his left shoulder. It wasn’t a killing blow, but it would keep him down long enough for Adrian to deal with—
He turned again, expecting to find the bald man rushing in for another attack. But he was nowhere to be seen.
Adrian’s head snapped back and forth, scanning the battlefield until he saw Odo. The Duke was almost thirty meters away, down the hill from where Adrian now stood. All around him, the Aquitaine soldiers were breaking and fleeing before the Franks.
Adrian cursed Martel under his breath and sprinted for Odo. The braided man was on one knee, struggling to stand and block his path, but Adrian decapitated him without a glance and kept running. He cleared a path to his lord with several wide swings of his broadsword.
“Where did you get off to this time?” Odo asked. He was breathing heavily now and Adrian was reminded that the man was well past his prime. Not that pointing that out to him would do any good.
“My lord, our men are breaking, we need to—”
“If you’re going to tell me to retreat, you can save your breath,” Odo said, yanking his sword from the chest of an impaled Frank. “Charles isn’t going to get away with raiding my lands. We fight on.”
Odo stepped forward to meet a charging enemy and Adrian was forced to intercept another that came in at his flank. They fell into the rhythm of battle, attacking, defending, advancing, pulling back. But defending more than they attacked and pulling back more than they advanced.
Coming out to meet Martel had been necessary, Adrian did not question that. But it was a lost cause from the beginning. The Frankish ruler had the largest army in Europe and standing against it was no small task. Even for Odo the Great, hero of Toulouse and repeller of the Muslim hordes.
As much as Odo liked to think that great victory made him invincible, Adrian was all too aware of his lord’s humanity. Especially in moments like this. Moments when he refused to back down despite insurmountable odds.
“They’re circling around behind us, my lord,” Adrian called out over the din of battle.
Odo turned to glance toward the rear and Adrian saw his eyes narrow as he took in their predicament.
Martel’s forces were forming a circle around them and would soon cut off any hope of escape. If they didn’t retreat now, there would be no retreat.
For an agonizing heartbeat, Adrian feared that Odo wouldn’t give the order, that he would turn back to the fight and press on until his last breath. If he did, Adrian knew that he would die by his master’s side. As a loyal soldier.
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