Balian was woken by Lucas stubbing his toe on a chest and cursing softly. “How many times do you have to go out in the middle of the night?” he growled irritably at his squire.
“There’s a dog in pain out there!” Lucas hissed back. “Can’t you hear him?” Balian rolled over and sat up, frowning in the darkness. Just when he was about to say “No” and tell his squire to go back to sleep, he heard it too: a faint whining sound. “It must be some stray,” he dismissed it and lay back down again.
“That dog is in pain,” Lucas responded indignantly.
“And? What if he is?”
“He might be caught in a trap or injured in some way.”
“Lucas, your job is to look after me, not every stray dog that gets himself injured.”
“I do look after you, sir,” Lucas responded stubbornly, “but that doesn’t mean I can’t try to help that dog.”
“Lucas, in case you haven’t noticed, it is the middle of the night.”
“Yes, sir, but I can’t sleep with the sound of that dog begging for help.”
“Try,” Balian ordered.
For two or three seconds neither of them moved. Then Balian cursed and sat up again. “Alright. Bring me my boots.”
Lucas eagerly complied. Balian was sleeping in his shirt and braies. He shoved his bare feet into his boots and grabbed a cloak. Together they ducked out of his tent into the crisp air of early dawn. The stars were only just starting to fade as the eastern sky lightened. Still, there was enough light for them to see the other tents sleeping under the dew of night. The horses nickered at the sight of men moving. The baker was up moving around the oven.
Lucas whispered, “This way, sir!”
With a sigh, Balian followed his squire and the sound of the dog. As this took them closer to the outer walls of St. Hilarion’s lower bailey, he scanned the ramparts for some sign of life. There appeared to be a couple of sentries slowly shuffling along their sectors of the wall, but that was all.
“There he is!” Lucas called out in a loud whisper and ran forward. Sure enough, a long-eared, tailless dog was dragging himself through the underbrush. He was all skin and bones and he had a broken hind leg.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” Balian exclaimed. “That’s Harry—the King’s dog.” He went down on his knee beside Harry, stroking the dog’s head instinctively, but his gaze went back toward the castle.
“The King’s dog?” Lucas asked, disbelieving.
“Yes, I gave Harry to him about eighteen months ago,” Balian informed Lucas, looking again at the miserable bundle of bones before him. Harry was licking his hand in a plea for help. “Come on!” He bent and collected Harry into his arms. Even as the dog yelped in pain at the jostling of his broken hind leg, he tried to lick Balian’s face in gratitude. Balian found himself talking to the dog. “It’s alright, Harry. You’re safe now. We’ll set that leg and get you something to eat.”
Lucas was content to follow behind Balian, asking only, “Should I wake the surgeon?”
A surgeon had arrived well after dark to attend to Novare. He had pushed the lance tip out the underside of his arm, then cauterized the wound to stop the bleeding. Because Novare was feverish, the surgeon had remained to keep an eye on him.
“I’m not sure the learned surgeon will help a dog,” Balian reflected, “but I dare say he’s more likely to do so if he’s not woken prematurely. Look, Harry’s half-starved. Let’s get him something to eat and water. You can see the surgeon later.”
Inside the tent, Balian sat down on one of his chests, Harry still in his arms, and Lucas brought first a bowl of water and then went in search of leftovers from yesterday’s feast. Balian was left stroking the little dog and trying to imagine what King Henry was going through. Had he thrown the dog over the wall himself, or had someone else done it? Was there really so little food left that the King would let his beloved dog starve near to death?
He scratched Harry under his floppy ears and muttered to him. “I’m sure Henry didn’t want to hurt you, Harry.” He curled his fingers in the dog’s long hair over his shoulders and froze. There was something tucked under the collar.
Balian tugged it free. It was a wood-shaving, the type sometimes used in stables instead of straw bedding. He frowned. Something seemed to be scratched on it, but the lighting wasn’t good enough to read. He would have to light a candle or lamp, but he didn’t have the heart to disturb Harry, who was cuddling in his arms with so much relief that it almost unbearable.
Lucas returned with bread soaked in the leftovers of the lamb stew and a little bowl of bones and gristle. “The cook says not to give him too much all at once.”
“Very wise,” Balian agreed. “Can you hold him while I look at something?”
Lucas happily took Harry onto his lap and hand fed him, while Balian went to the door of his tent where the daylight was rapidly increasing. Something was scratched on the wood shaving but it was very hard to read. He turned the shaving this way and that. It said: something (which he couldn’t read)—“am”—another unreadable scratch—“J.”
Johnny! He felt his stomach turn over. Johnny had sent the message. Maybe he had even thrown Harry over the wall? Maybe he was trying to tell them Henry was as close to death as his beloved Harry! Maybe, maybe, maybe…. He tried again to read the other scratches but impatiently gave up. Whatever it said, Johnny was trying to get a message to them. He had to send word to his father immediately.
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