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Serena and the Knights of St. John (Part 13)

Dusk was still far off. The enemy had withdrawn for the day. The air was thick with heat and the sickly smell of death when they made their way towards the post of Castile. A crossbow rounded off Francisco's usual gear. Jerome was armed with sword and dagger. He handed the latter to Serena.

"You never know," he said and she took it gratefully.

Nearer the battlements, enemy artillery had damaged many buildings. Francisco, Jerome and Serena hid in a doorway granting a view of the ramparts from where Serena thought she'd seen the pigeon soar.

Time dragged by. Nothing happened. Jerome began to fidget with his sword and shuffle his feet. Francisco looked ever more frequently at the sky to check the progress of the sun. Only Serena sat patiently, convinced that something was about to happen.

Suddenly the squeak and rattle of an approaching cart! They withdrew into the shadows. The man pulling the vehicle was wearing baggy trousers, a long overcoat and a turban. Francisco and Jerome relaxed. Paul, the peddler.

Even as Francisco was about to step into the open, Paul lifted the awning over his cartload, revealing a birdcage with a pigeon. He took it in both hands, looked left and right, then let it fly. Francisco reacted quickly. With a clap and a hum the bolt left his crossbow. The pigeon tumbled to the ground.

Paul gave an astonished cry. Not stopping to see who had shot, he fled. Francisco and Jerome were on his heels. Yet the streets of Birgu were a maze. It was hard not to lose a fugitive.
(To be continued)