All Things Are Lights – Day 131 of 200

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.

The sides of the room were lined with columns of polished green stone supporting pointed arches. The ceiling was painted with gilt inscriptions, lines of Arabic poetry. Under the arches little clusters of turbaned Egyptians stood talking excitedly. They might be the leading citizens of Mansura, Roland thought. They grew quiet when Roland and Perrin entered, and watched, eyes alight with triumph, as the two captives were led across the room. In their silence there was as much hatred as there had been in the shouts of the mob outside.

At the end of the hall, on a marble dais, a pale, thin man wearing a white robe with a dark green cloak over his shoulders lay on a divan with slender, gilded legs. Parchment scrolls were arranged on a low table of dark wood before him, and a heavy gold chain around his neck glittered as he sipped steaming black kahveh, a favorite Saracen beverage, from a small cup.

This, Roland thought, must be Sahil the eunuch.

Sahil threw a small leather bag to the men who had brought them and waved them away. The servants retired, chorusing blessings upon him.

The eunuch’s guards, well armed with bows, scimitars, and spears, seized Roland and Perrin and pushed them down, forcing them to kneel. They locked short chains around their ankles.

Sahil demanded their names and ranks and wrote the answers down on a scroll. His almost hairless brows twitched as Roland responded to him in his language. Then, with his quill, he pointed one way for Roland, the other for Perrin.

Roland and Perrin exchanged a look, and Roland saw despair in Perrin’s eyes. They are going to kill him, Roland thought. He trembled as he tried desperately to think of a way to save his friend.

“Would it be asking too great a favor, effendi,” said Roland, “for us to be permitted to stay together?”

“It would.” Sahil smiled thinly. “We do not let common men live. They can pay no ransom.”

Roland stared into the cold black eyes. He felt the hard stone still there between his legs, and sent thanks to Heaven.

“This man is very dear to me,” he said to the eunuch. “I pray you, let me buy his life.”

The eunuch looked amused. “What do you possess that I could not simply take from you, giving nothing in return?”

Roland, his heart beating fiercely, decided to risk all on an appeal to the man’s pride.

“Truly, I am at your mercy, effendi, but you seem to me a man of honor, perhaps also a generous man.”

“Do not try to flatter me, Christian,” Sahil said. But he looked pleased. “Show me what you will offer for your servant’s life.”

Roland lifted his tunic and slipped his hand into his breeches. The eunuch’s guards immediately pressed in upon him, lest he draw out a weapon. He untied the pouch, took out the emerald, and held it out to Sahil.

Sahil gasped, and his guards leaned forward, wide-eyed, whispering among themselves. Sahil waved them back imperiously.

A tightness in his chest, Roland waited to see what Sahil would do.

“I know this stone,” Sahil said. “There is only one like it in all the world. This is from the turban of Emir Fakr ad-Din, may he rest in Allah’s bosom. He was in command of the army defending Mansura.” His voice rose shrilly. “Did you steal it from his body, Frankish dog?”

Roland remembered the Turkish emir splendidly attired in flowing silks, his hair and beard dyed red, whom he had encountered on the outskirts of the city. They had caught him by surprise as he was emerging from a bathhouse, but he had fought fiercely. So that was who he was!

Roland tensed himself. “I fought him and killed him. This is booty honorably taken.”

“Have you thought, stupid Frank, that it might please us to boil in oil the man who killed Fakr ad-Din?”

Roland forced himself to betray none of the fear he felt. “Yes,” he said. “But I also try to be a man of honor. Therefore I have told you truly how I got this emerald, even if it means my death.”

Sahil stared deep into Roland’s eyes for what seemed an eternity.

Roland held his breath.

Finally, the emerald disappeared into Sahil s white silk robe.

“I shall accept this as ransom for your servant. He may remain with you for now.” He waved them away.

Roland felt his body go limp.

Sahil’s guards, pushing the hobbling Roland and Perrin with the butts of their spears, took them through a series of large rooms with arched doorways, the walls decorated with painted Arabic letters and mosaic designs. The guards’ boots clicked on gleaming floors of black, green, and white marble. Lokman, whoever he was, possessed a vast establishment, but all the furnishings in the chambers through which they passed had been removed. Perhaps he was one of those rich men the Mameluke officer had spoken of earlier who had fled the city with their goods when it was threatened. And now his palace had been taken over by the defenders, to be used as a prison.

They came to a room whose doorway was barred by an iron gate. The guards unlocked it and pushed the prisoners into the room so hard they tripped on their chains and fell.

The guards laughed and locked the gate behind them.

A deep sense of helplessness came over Roland. He could hardly find strength to push himself up from the cold stone floor.

The room, he saw, was large and dim, with light coming only through a narrow, barred window at the far end. Groans and mutterings came from all sides, and Roland, his eyes gradually adjusting to the darkness, discovered that the place was crowded with men, captured crusaders like himself, most of them lying on the floor. A few tried to hobble about, despite the hampering chains.

“Name yourself, Messire,” called a voice. “And tell us what you know. Who has lived through this calamity and who has fallen?”

When Roland spoke his name, a delighted voice sounded from another side of the room. “By Saint Bernard, Roland, I never thought to see you walking on this earth again. Come here to me.”

For the first time that day, Roland felt a leap of joy. It was Guido.

A new strength began to spread through his body. With Guido beside him, he could hope again.

But his mood quickly changed again to grief. Guido here, too?

It was better than learning that the Templar had been killed, but not much better.

Roland and Perrin hobbled across the crowded floor to Guido, who was binding a man’s hand that had been pierced through by a spear. His white mantle, with its eight-pointed red cross on the shoulder, was torn and bloody.

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