Part 5: V. Roadside Romance: An Interlude, 1229 A.D.
Almost. Almost! Another few weeks and the little bird would have been eating out of his hand. Pancrazio sighed. To cuckold the priggish King of Jerusalem. That would have been a feather in his cap. He would have been remembered in bawdy stories and songs for all times. A sort of Lancelot of the east, if you would. He grinned, as he trudged along the road leading south, and gave his donkey, Charles an affectionate scratch behind the ears.
Perhaps he would head to Egypt. Duke Gauthier was said to have a lovely wife and several young daughters. That might be a fun diversion. Then, in a few years, he might go back to Jerusalem. He could wait until King Charles was on campaign. He had friends in the court. It wasn't impossible. Third time was the charm, right?
Idly dreaming as he walked, he didn't notice the dismounted knights until he nearly bumped into them.
"Why, hullo," said the lead knight, a huge burly man with a black beard. "Who have we here?"
"Little Pancrazio, looks like," said another.
"He don't look so little to me," said the leader. "Looks well fed."
The knights all laughed and suddenly there were swords drawn, blades orange in the sinking twilight. For an instant, Pancrazio thought about running, but the knights were moving into a ring around him. He thought about drawing the little knife at his belt, but surely that would bring instant death.
"Leave me be," he said, as loudly as he could. "My brother Massimo is the Governor of Ferrara. He is a powerful man and would not take kindly to you impeding my travels."
"Shame he ain't here then, innit?" The big knight put a gentle hand on his shoulder and led him off the road into the brush. The others followed, smirking.
"If it's money you're after, you'll have it." He looked up at the knight and tried to sound confident. "Ferrara is rich. Massimo is rich. Let me write to him. I assure you, you won't be disappointed."
"Oh, no time for that," said the big knight. A couple of his compatriots caught Pancrazio by either arm. Another extracted his dagger.
"See, we hear you're real fond of other men's wives. That's made you mighty unpopular back in Jerusalem."
"This is all a mistake," said Pancrazio, "Please, please, please let me go." Tears began to run down his face. It wasn't supposed to end like this. The Lancelot of the east. "Don't hurt me."
The big knight began to unbuckle the belt of his tabard. "Now, me? Me? I'm fond of fat little Italians." He grinned like a shark, all yellow teeth.
For a while, odd, high pitched screams could be heard drifting over the dry, dusty hills of southern Judea. As night fell, and the moon rose, they stopped.