All Things Are Lights – Day 126 of 200

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.

Amalric said, “And I predict the Saracens will not defend the town. They will run away just as they did at Damietta.”

Robert d’Artois said, “Whatever you others decide, I shall not hold back from the enemy. I shall chase them all the way to Cairo.”

De Sennac said, “We are greatly outnumbered.”

“The Devil we are!” Amalric snapped. “The King and the rest of the army are on their way across the river right now.” He pointed southward along the riverbank.

Roland looked back. But from here at the city wall it was two leagues to the ford, and the view was obscured by the smoke of burning tents and houses and the devastation where the crusader vanguard had passed. If the army was crossing, neither Amalric nor he nor anyone else here could see it.

“Then let us wait for the King,” said Longsword.

“No need to,” said Amalric. “Now that we have got the Egyptians on the run, we must take the city by storm. If we wait we shall give them a chance to regroup. And they might risk trying to block that gateway.”

Roland stared at the silent gateway. They will not block it, he thought. They want us to go in. They are waiting for us in there. Waiting. He shuddered.

“Let us go forward,” Amalric urged. “Now.”

Must I go, too? Roland asked himself. And lead Perrin and the others into almost certain death?

“The King’s orders are to stand fast!” Roland shouted, thrusting his voice into the midst of the leaders. They turned and stared at him. Until now in their heated debate they had not noticed him nearby.

Glaring at Roland, Amalric said, “Any man who fails to follow me is naught but a crop-tailed coward.”

“Amen to that!” said Robert d’Artois fiercely. His face, like Louis’s but broader, was as full of disdain for Roland as Amalric’s.

William Longsword said, “I have warned against this, but let no man say, Count, that I or my English knights feared to set our feet anywhere that you would go.”

He would rather die, thought Roland, and take all his men to death with him, than let Amalric call him a coward. War makes men mad.

The grand master of the Knights Templar shook his silvery beard. “You give me no choice, Monseigneurs. If the King’s brother rides into disaster, the Templars must ride with him, but truly I doubt whether he or we will return.”

“Follow along, then,” said Amalric with a triumphant smile.

“Forward!” shouted Robert d’Artois, his cheeks bright red, planting his gold-crowned helmet firmly on his head. “For God and the Sepulcher!”

Roland turned his horse and rode back to his little company without another word.

Grief battered at his heart. He could already see the narrow streets of Mansura choked with the bodies of men. Hundreds of good men who did not deserve to die.

This is stupid. This is ruinous. And Amalric knows it. And de Sennac and Longsword know it, too, even if Count Robert does not. Oh, God, if only Louis would come riding up and stop them. If only he were here, and not two leagues away.

And what about me? What about Perrin and Martin and the others? Must we go into that deathtrap? Do we have no choice?

If I refuse to go, surely Amalric will charge me and my men with disobedience in the face of the enemy. With desertion. If he survives, and if I do.

But he and Count Robert are the ones who are disobeying. Disobeying the King. But I have to obey them, do I not?

To the Devil with obedience! It is my life. And Perrin’s, and the rest of them. I promised Nicolette I would preserve my life.

But the King’s brother is going.

Roland looked back and saw the little group of leaders trotting toward the gate, swords held high. Count Robert’s gold coronet led the way. Roland caught a glimpse of the Templar master’s white mantle beside the Count d’Artois.

I feel the same way de Sennac does. I cannot let the King’s brother ride into such peril without going along to fight beside him. I cannot hang back when so many good men are going forward.

He saw Louis’s eyes — grief-stricken, reproachful.

And I could not face the King if I stayed behind.

He shook his head. I must go, and I must take Perrin and Gautier and Horace and Martin and the rest of my good men with me. He looked at the gates hanging open in the yellow walls.

We are like a herd of wild horses, he thought. Where the leader goes all the others must follow, even if it be over the edge of a cliff.

Amalric! he thought with sudden rage. Always Amalric! A black fury blotted out his sight of the gate of Mansura and the crusaders riding bravely and foolishly through it. Again and again Amalric rises up to strike down those I love.

If I get out of this, I will kill him. He will not live to get back to France. I swear it.

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