All Things Are Lights – Day 132 of 200

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.

At Guido’s urging, Roland told what he had seen of the day’s battle and defeat. Some of the men nearby gathered around to listen, and then told their own stories. All the tales were much the same. Pent up in the streets and alleys, their little troop had been cut to shreds.

Roland wept again as he raged at Amalric’s treachery and described Alezan’s death.

One man who had been listening told him he must be mistaken about the Count de Gobignon. “Next to the King,” he insisted, “he is the greatest of our leaders. Why, the King has even made him Constable of France.”

“Forget Amalric for now, Roland,” said Guido in a soft, kind voice. “Tell me, how did Perrin get in here with you? Did he manage to pose as a knight?”

“After this day I could not manage to pose as myself,” said Perrin. “It was my master who saved me.”

Roland told Guido about the emerald and added, “Even though the eunuch recognized the emerald as Fakr ad-Din’s, he accepted it and agreed to let Perrin remain with me.”

“Is that what he was, a eunuch?” said Perrin. “God’s bones, if a eunuch here can rise to such a high and mighty post, this is the land for me.”

“How good that you can joke about it,” said Guido, clapping Perrin on the shoulder and smiling in the depths of his black beard.

He turned to Roland, still smiling. “There is much enmity among the Egyptian leaders. This Fakr ad-Din was a favorite of the Sultan, greatly envied, and you may have pleased Sahil by killing him. Have you heard that the Sultan himself is dead of consumption, up in Cairo? The message came through to my superior, Brother William de Sennac, while we were trying to fight our way out of the city.”

“Does that mean there might be peace?” Roland asked. Guido shook his head. “The rumor is he died three months ago, in November. They have done a good job of keeping his death secret and carrying on the war. There will be no peace as long as our army is in Egypt. Which may not be long, if Ash Wednesday’s fighting goes as badly as Fat Tuesday’s did. Many a good man who rode with us this morning is in Paradise tonight. William Longsword, Raoul de Coucy…”

Roland remembered the handsome, merry young baron and how fondly he had spoken of his wife. She will never see him again, he thought sadly.

Guido went on, “Count Robert d’Artois…”

The shock of it struck Roland like a mace blow. His knees folded, and he let himself drop to the cold, rough floor.

“Not the King’s brother!” Perrin exclaimed, sitting beside Roland and throwing a comforting arm over his shoulders.

“He fought his way to the very heart of the city and fell before the central mosque, surrounded by Saracens,” said Guido sadly. “Because he wore his count’s coronet on his helmet, they thought for a time they had killed the King himself. They were wild with joy.”

Roland’s arms and legs turned to ice. Now only the two younger brothers remained to safeguard the throne. Amalric was one step closer.

“The news of Count Robert’s death will break the King’s heart,” Roland said. “Have you any word of how he himself fared in the day’s fighting?”

“The King and his army crossed the ford to come to our aid,” said Guido. “Then thousands of Mamelukes on horseback from Cairo set upon them. They were commanded by the Emir Baibars al-Bundukdari.”

Roland recalled the name. “Baibars. Was it not he who conquered Jerusalem for the Sultan?”

Guido nodded. “He is said to be the best of the Mameluke generals. The Egyptians call him the Panther. He comes of the Tartars of the Golden Horde who rule Russia. He lost the sight of one eye in a duel years ago, but that has not prevented him from rising to the highest rank. After taking Jerusalem he paraded the captured crusaders in Cairo and made them wear the heads of their fallen comrades around their necks.”

Roland shuddered and shook his head to drive that picture out of his mind. A one-eyed Tartar, he thought. That man I saw in Damietta…

“What of King Louis?” he asked.

“The King, as far as I know, fought through the day unharmed. Hundreds of other good knights perished here in the city and out there on the riverbank. Thirty of my brother Templars died fighting. Our grand master was wounded, but I think he managed to escape. I should have happily died with the others, but a Nubian with a mace stunned me, and here I am. Well, I shall join the dead soon enough.”

Roland heard men’s anguished voices through the nearby window — screaming, shouting, and sobbing. Roland and Perrin stumbled to the tall slot in the brick wall and peered through the iron grillwork. Guido sighed and stayed where he was.

Other men quickly crowded up behind Roland and Perrin. Roland felt their breathing on his neck and smelled the acrid sweat of their terror.

Through the window Roland saw an interior garden, its paths paved with marble and its walls ornamented with mosaics. Its pool, lined with blue and green tiles, was dry, and the shrubs were wilted.

“Sweet Jesus,” he whispered, his guts twisting at what he saw. Herded by the eunuch’s guards, a line of tattered crusaders, ankles chained, stood before a black-bearded man, naked to the waist, who raised a huge scimitar over his head. As Roland watched, he swung the glistening blade down on the neck of a trembling man who was kneeling before him. Two other captives, their faces dazed with woe, dropped the severed head into a blood-streaked basket almost as tall as a man. They dragged the bleeding body to a cart standing on one side of the garden and piled it on top of others.

The guards dragged another sobbing man before the executioner, and others with spears prodded the line to shuffle forward.

Roland turned away from the window, sick with grief. He had thought he had seen so much death that day that nothing more could hurt him. But his heart ached with pity for those poor men, who were here only out of duty to the knights they served. All day he had seen men die, but this was much more horrible, the executioner working as serenely as a woodcutter.

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