All Things Are Lights – Day 127 of 200

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


As he rode down the narrow street, sunlight suddenly struck Roland’s face, dazzling him. He looked up and saw that the sun was directly overhead. It is noon, he thought. We have been struggling and dying in this accursed city since early morning.

He rode the trembling Alezan at a walk around a turning. He found himself facing a white plaster wall. A blind alley. He had no one to blame but himself. He was the first in line.

Something hit his mail-covered neck hard and fell to the ground. He saw a dagger gleaming under Alezan’s hooves.

Then a heavy stone hit his helmet and bounced off, stunning him slightly. Alezan tossed his head, rolling terrified eyes at Roland through the holes in his steel chauffron. More rocks fell on them.

Roland looked up and saw Egyptians standing on the rooftops on three sides of him. Men with rage-contorted faces, women in long robes, children with slings. They screamed curses. Not warriors, just people of the town. They stood on the roof and hurled rocks, unafraid, knowing his sword could not reach them.

Why the Devil did we not wait until we could bring archers into the city with us? Why was Amalric so eager to invade the city with such a small, poorly equipped force? Only a thousand of us, on horseback, with no archers. “Drive the Egyptians out of Mansura and capture the city,” he had said. Drive the Egyptians out, when every Egyptian man, woman, and child in this city has become a warrior? Capture the city, when every street of the city is risen against us? How foolish.

Foolishness, or a plan?

Roland raised his shield, and the rocks clattered on it. He tried to back Alezan out of the alley, Perrin was just behind him. In the hours of stumbling, fighting, advancing, and backtracking though the labyrinth that was Mansura, Roland had seen three of his men killed. The others had gotten separated from him.

“Make way!” Perrin shouted. “This is a dead end.” But the crush of riders and horseless knights was too great. Roland could move neither backward nor forward.

Roland saw a boy dart out of a doorway. Before he could shout a warning, the boy had slashed the hamstrings of a horse with a curving dagger. The horse collapsed, screaming. Another mounted knight swung his longsword and cut the boy down.

Roland managed to turn Alezan between the building walls that pressed on both sides. The unhorsed knight struggled free and, with a cry of anguish, cut his wounded destrier’s throat. Now the street was blocked by a dead horse.

“Burn in Hell, Christian dogs.”‘ It was a woman’s shriek.

Roland looked up. A woman in black was holding a smoking pottery jar over her head. Boiling oil. If it hit him it would flow under his hauberk, burning him horribly and killing him, but not quickly enough. He dug his spurs into Alezan’s sides as she tilted the pot.

The golden, steaming oil splashed down. It missed Roland and hit Alezan’s flank.

Alezan gave a shrill scream, jumped over the dead horse, and galloped out of the alley, all his tremendous weight charging at full speed, knocking aside the men and horses blocking the way.

“My poor Alezan,” Roland said when he had brought the chestnut stallion to a standstill in a quiet street. He dismounted and cut away a portion of his own surcoat, using it to wipe down the burnt and blistered hide.

Perrin rode out of the alley, his cheek bleeding from a gash.

“I was right behind you, master, but Alezan bolted like a rock shot from a stone-caster.”

He scanned the rooftops while Roland comforted his horse.

Patting Alezan’s neck, Roland said, “When this battle is over, I will keep you out of any more fighting. I will bring you back home to honorable retirement.” He leaned against the horse’s quivering side. “I swear it, Alezan.” We at least go to war knowingly and willingly, he thought, but what right have we to inflict this suffering on these poor animals?

Roland mounted Alezan again and patted his neck. “I am going to get you out of here.” Alezan was more of a hindrance than a help to Roland in this kind of fighting. A man on foot would be able to move much faster through these winding alleys and to find shelter in doorways from attackers overhead.

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