All Things Are Lights – Day 130 of 200

“Alezan!” he cried.

He could see now that there were four horses lying in the courtyard, and the biggest, the nearest to him, had a familiar chestnut coat. Blood was oozing from countless stab wounds. The long, broad back seemed motionless. He could not see the flanks rising and falling. Cold with dread, he raised his head a little higher.

Then he screamed.

From a huge slash in Alezan’s throat a pool of blood was spreading rapidly over the muddy tiles.

“Oh, God, no!” Roland shouted, and fell back to the pavement in despair.

Alezan, my friend, I loved you. And you loved me. You saved my life a dozen times. And I brought you here to die in agony.

“Does he lament for his horse?” said one of the Egyptians curiously. “Or for his friends?”

Another shock went through Roland. Not Perrin, not him, too. Oh, dear Heaven, if it be so, give me the strength to hurl myself on these men’s swords.

“Perrin!” His voice was shrill with dread.

“I live, master.” The response came, tight with pain, from another part of the courtyard, beyond the dead horses.

Roland uttered a groan of relief.

“Why do we spare these two Frankish dogs?” an Egyptian voice said. “We should have killed them and kept their horses alive. The Mamelukes pay well for the great Frankish horses.”

A voice directly above Roland said, “That reddish-colored horse, the one this was riding upon, killed my cousin Jamal. Its meat will feed Jamal’s children, at least.”

Roland lifted his head to look at the speaker, an Egyptian who stood over him holding Roland’s saber to his throat. The man’s face was dark brown and his ears stuck out on either side of his bald head. He was so small and thin the sword seemed as big and heavy as he was, but he held it unwaveringly. He glared at Roland.

Slowly and distinctly, Roland said in Arabic, “He who killed my horse, I pray that his father and mother and his grandparents and his wife and children may all sicken and die, and may his family and the very name of his family disappear from the earth. Hear me, God.”

The small Egyptian looked back at him stonily and said, “Allah does not heed the prayers of Christians.”

Another Egyptian said, “The Mamelukes want us to save any Franks we capture, so they can hold them for ransom.”

“What is that to us?” said another. “We will not see any of the money. What do we care if some Mameluke gets richer? Kill the dog now. Silence his evil tongue.”

“Yes, kill me,” said Roland. A laugh forced itself up from his chest, a laugh that had nothing of mirth in it, only bitterness. “That I may haunt you ever after.”

One of the Egyptians pointed two fingers of his right hand at him, a magical warding-off.

“So you managed to kill some Franks and capture some,” said another voice, deeper and more commanding. “Good for you, my brave little men.”

In spite of the warning prod of the saber point, Roland sat up to see who had spoken. It was an officer, his spiked helmet swathed in a bejeweled yellow turban. His accent was strange. Like many Mamelukes, he had pale skin.

Roland felt a stirring of hope in his breast. The Mamelukes might let him live.

But his heart sank again. When they find out I have no money to ransom Perrin and myself they will cut our throats.

The emerald! The gems on the Mameluke’s turban reminded him of it. I do have something to give for ransom, if these common folk have not already stolen it. He moved his thighs and felt the lump at his crotch.

The men in the courtyard bowed to the Mameluke. He walked over to Roland, his red boots with their pointed toes falling lightly on the tiles.

“I heard you speak our tongue just now.”

“Yes, effendi, I speak Arabic,” Roland said courteously.

“Let him up,” said the Mameluke. “Take this one and the other to the eunuch Sahil at the house of Lokman. You will be rewarded when you deliver them. All of you had better go with him. He is of great size, even for a Frank. But first take off their mail shirts and give them to me. Their armor will be my reward.”

He smiled at Roland. “Does it not shame you to know that you were overcome by a flock of servants? The rich men who lived in this quarter fled with their families. The servants they left behind helped defend the city better than many a warrior could.”

The chests of the ragged Egyptians around the courtyard swelled at the praise.

“It does not shame me to be captured by servants,” said Roland sadly. “These are honorable men who did their duty. Not like a great nobleman on my side who betrayed me.”

His eye fell on his charger’s bleeding body, and he turned away, filled with grief. At least my dear Alezan will feed poor children. Good-bye, Alezan, good-bye.

He raised his arms to let them strip off his hauberk.

It was late afternoon, after a long wearisome walk through twisted, dusty streets, when Roland stood before a mansion as big as a palace, surrounded by a high, blank white wall. Before it a crowd was gathered.

“Your mother couples with pigs!”

“We will hang your skin from our walls for banners!”

A small stone stung the back of Roland’s head. He turned to see who had thrown it. Something soft and vile-smelling hit him on the cheek. He felt as if he might vomit. With the sleeve of his surcoat he wiped away the dung as best he could. The servants who had captured him hurried him past the shouting crowd.

If all these people are in the streets, Roland thought, the only Franks left in Mansura must be captive or dead.

Roland’s escort was admitted through gates of black wrought iron by stolid Saracen guards in green turbans. Proud of their accomplishment in capturing a Frankish knight and his equerry, the little Egyptians swaggered as they marched Roland and Perrin into a large reception hall, its walls decorated with black and white mosaic tiles forming interlacing patterns, its floor of black marble that reflected Roland’s image to him when he looked down at it.

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