All Things Are Lights – Day 125 of 200

He desperately wanted to believe that this river crossing would bring them victory, and that he could be part of it.

A great yearning for life seized him, and he saw Nicolette, glowing warm like the sun. They will not kill me. Not Amalric, not the whole Saracen army. Nicolette, I am going to get back to you if I have to cut my way through all of Egypt to do it!

As Roland and his men caught up with the main body of crusaders, he felt pressing into his groin the emerald the size of a plum he had secreted in the pouch he wore under his clothing. He had taken the emerald from the turban of a Mameluke emir he had killed in a short, vicious sword fight on the outskirts of Mansura. These Mamelukes wore their fortunes into battle with them. He disliked robbing the dead, but this stone was enough to buy a castle. He could not leave it behind.

The crusaders, still nearly a thousand strong, were lined up in a marketplace before the main gate of Mansura. Above them rose the yellow walls of the city, built of bricks the size of a man’s head. Huddled here at the base of the walls were the flat-roofed, gray houses of the Egyptians. Doubtless the people who lived in those houses had fled inside. As had the Egyptian army.

“God’s bones!” exclaimed Perrin, beside him. “They have left the city gates open. We could ride right in.”

Roland stared at the wooden double doors, reinforced with iron and about twelve feet tall. Thick as they were, they protected nothing, because they were swung wide, and between them the rutted roadway ran invitingly into Mansura.

This is impossible, Roland thought. Yes, we took the Saracens by surprise, but they cannot have lost their wits altogether. This is Damietta all over again — the easy victory, the open gate. But this gate has not been left ajar by accident.

This time I am sure it is a trap.

Roland was trembling with anger, not just at Amalric, but at all the men who were blindly following him. This was foolishness, Roland thought. Deadly foolishness. The King’s plan had been ruined, and the vanguard was riding pell-mell to destruction.

As soon as they had crossed the ford and sighted the Egyptians, they had forgotten Louis’s orders. Amalric and Robert d’Artois, without consulting the other barons, had led an immediate attack on the Saracen camp. In a furious battle they had slaughtered hundreds of Egyptians and driven the rest into the relative safety of the city.

Now Roland saw the leaders of his troop, still on horseback, gathered before the open gate. There was the silver wolf’s head on Amalric’s helmet, and next to it the gold coronet adorning the helmet of Count Robert, and there was William Longsword’s blue shield with the six gold lions.

“Wait here,” he said to Perrin. “I want to hear what they are saying.” He gave Alezan a nudge with his knees and walked the horse over to where the leaders were gathered.

Amalric was addressing Robert d’Artois. As Roland rode up to them, Robert removed his coronet-crested helmet, and his hair, bright blond like that of his brother the King, hung free to his shoulders.

“Monseigneur Robert,” Amalric said, “a greater victory than Damietta awaits us. The Saracens are rooted and have fled into the city, so panicked that they did not even close the gate. We can drive the Egyptians out of Mansura and capture the city. Now is not the time to pause.”

Amalric was breathing like a war-horse after a long gallop. His sun-browned face was deeply flushed. His surcoat and that of his charger were splashed with blood. Blood dripped from the double-bladed battle-ax he held in a mailed hand. He is a happy man, Roland thought. He enjoys killing as much as I loathe it.

“Now you want to enter the city, Count Amalric?” William de Sennac spoke up. “That is sheerest folly. Have you not disobeyed the King’s orders enough for one day?” The Templar grand master’s white beard fell almost to the red cross on the chest of his surcoat. His prominent, hooked nose gave him the face of an eagle, and he glared at Amalric with an eagle’s anger.

“The King is not here to see the situation,” said Amalric brusquely, “The King’s brother is here, and he sees that the orders must be changed.”

William Longsword, brown mustache bristling, said, “I have ridden this far with you, count, but it is one thing to attack when we have surprised the enemy and have a clear field. It is another to go into a city we know nothing about, when the enemy expects us. If we ride in there, I predict we shall not ride out again.”

Roland was sure the earl was right. He remembered street fighting in Florence, during the years when he had served Emperor Frederic — the raids, the ambushes and murders, the special alertness needed and the special dread you lived with always. Most of these knights had no idea what war in city streets was like.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)