All Things Are Lights – Day 128 of 200

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.

He resolutely turned Alezan’s head away from the center of town and back toward the gate. If this be called retreat or even desertion, I care not. He beckoned Perrin to follow him.

“Do not worry,” he said, at Perrin’s anxious look. “I am not running away. I just want to get Alezan to safety. Then we shall come back on foot.”

Perrin frowned as if he did not understand, but he shrugged and followed on his own horse.

Roland heard the clip-clop of slowly approaching hooves. After another hour of backtracking he and Perrin were now near the city gate. Roland could see some greenery thrusting above the blank, pink-brown walls that lined the street. There must be large houses with gardens in this quarter, he thought. He looked down the street toward the center of the city and saw a large troop of knights.

Leading them was Amalric de Gobignon.

Roland wanted to ride at Amalric and run him through on the spot with his saber. During the morning he had seen dozens of knights die, shot with bone-tipped arrows, stabbed with daggers, lanced with javelins, crushed by huge wooden beams, burned alive with flaming oil. And he himself had nearly been killed a dozen times. Far from taking the city by storm, the vanguard had been torn to bits. And it was all Amalric’s doing.

For every hour of agony in this city, for every man he had seen die, he hated Amalric more. Hated him more than the Saracens who had been raining arrows and hot oil down on him.

Many of the knights following Amalric were wounded, and some were reeling in their saddles. Many more, having lost their horses, trudged along on foot. Amalric himself no longer wore the air of excitement and triumph Roland had seen this morning, when they had destroyed the Egyptian camp. The silver wolf’s head on his helmet was intact, but the nasal bar was dented, and there was dried blood on his upper lip.

But his words rang out, shrill and cruel, echoing off the plastered walls. “Still trying to run from battle, troubadour? There is no safety outside the city now, you know. We are cut off.”

Anger choked Roland. The man who had led them into this deathtrap dared to taunt him? He gripped his saber so hard his hand shook.

“What are you saying?” he snarled at Amalric.

Amalric’s eyes bored into his. “I have had word from guards I posted outside the city. An entire army of Mamelukes has come up from Cairo.”

Mamelukes — the city surrounded by a Mameluke army.

He remembered the calm, competent Saracen officers who had brought the Sultan’s letter to King Louis at Damietta, and their strange, one-eyed servant. All these months he had awaited an attack by the Mamelukes as a condemned man awaits the executioner’s sword. And now, an army of the Sultan’s finest, his personal slave-soldiers, had come to join the battle.

And Amalric had gotten the vanguard trapped here in this city.

“And what does the great Constable of France propose to do now?” he said cuttingly.

Amalric held up a hand. “We can take up our quarrel later. The Mamelukes have cut our army in two on this side of the river, coming between those at the ford and those in the city. We hold the south gate against them, but the city itself has turned into a slaughtering pen for us.”

So, you admit it, thought Roland. If we get out of this alive you will face the King’s justice for this. Or my sword.

“Why are you riding to the gate if the Mamelukes are outside?”

“It is the only thing we can do. If we remain in the city, we shall be destroyed. I intend to try to break out through the gate. The Mamelukes will be fighting the King’s army. They will have their backs to us. We men can dash by the Mamelukes before they realize it.” He eyed Roland with cold hostility. “You can ride with us, if you like,” he said grudgingly.

“You are most gracious,” Roland said sarcastically.

I would rather kill him than follow him, Roland thought. But I will wait till we are out of here before I strike at him.

“Follow along, then,” said Amalric, hefting his bloody battle-ax and spurring his black destrier up the street.

The same words he used to lead us into Mansura, Roland thought bitterly. He fell in behind Amalric’s second in command, d’Etampes. Perrin rode directly behind them.

The street they rode down was wider and straighter than most in Mansura. The balconies and upper stories of the houses overhung the street, just as they did back in France, but here the roofs were flat or domed and the walls were of mud brick or stone rather than wood.

Amalric’s company had to pick their way around dead horses and men. D’Etampes jabbed at the bodies of Egyptians with his lance, making sure they were dead.

Where are our other leaders? Roland wondered as they rode in silence. He was about to ask Amalric how Robert d’Artois, William Longsword, and the Templar grand master had fared, when the Count held up a hand.

“Did you see, d’Etampes? A movement on a housetop. They are lying in wait for us up ahead.”

Roland had seen nothing, but d’Etampes said, “It may take us the rest of the day to find another way to the gate.”

“All ways are equally perilous,” said Amalric. “Perhaps we can fight through here.” He pointed to a heavy gate of wrought iron. It hung open, and beyond was a spacious courtyard paved with red and white tiles. In its center a fountain was flowing.

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