All Things Are Lights – Day 133 of 200

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.

How lucky that I was able to save Perrin from that.

He hobbled back to sit beside Guido.

“All the commoners suffer that fate,” Guido said. “They are asked if they wish to convert to Islam. If they embrace Islam, they are kept to be sold as slaves. Most of them refuse, because they fear Hell more than they fear the sword. And the Saracens kill them.”

Roland started as Perrin, still at the window, began to shout, “Martin! Martin! God is with you, Martin.”

Not Martin! Roland forced himself to his feet and tried to get through the crowd back to the window. Martin was so young — only sixteen — and the lance he had carried was twice as tall as he. His parents had begged him not to go on crusade. After all, Martin was not even Catholic. Diane had converted him to Catharism, but he looked up to Roland and had longed to go adventuring with him. And this was the end of the adventure.

“You are going back to God, Martin,” Perrin called. “We will all be together on the last —” He stopped suddenly, and Roland heard the chunk of the headsman’s scimitar.

As Perrin turned away from the window, sobbing, Roland put his arms around him and led him back to sit beside Guido.

Anguish and guilt slashed his heart. I could have told Martin I did not want him. If I were ever to meet Lucien and Adrienne again, how would I face them?

He sighed. And if I feel so bad about Martin, he thought, how must Louis feel, knowing he has led thousands of Martins to their death?

“We might as well say our good-byes, master,” Perrin said. “Sooner or later I will be out there, too. You have no more great emeralds to buy my life again.”

“Do not talk that way, Perrin,” Roland said, patting his jongleur on the shoulder. “You heard what Sire Guido said. In this room we are safe.”

Guido held up a cautioning hand. “Not exactly. The Saracens had already decided to kill those poor men out there. They just have not made up their minds about the rest of us.”

Engulfed by despair, Roland sat silent. Of all the men he had brought with him, Perrin alone was left now. If the Saracens had killed Martin, they probably also had killed the comrades who took such care of him at Beziers. All gone.

No doubt the Egyptians will decide I am not worth keeping either.

Nicolette! Dear God, what will become of her? No one to protect her from Amalric now.

“Oh, God!” he groaned aloud.

If only I could write a poem to her, so that she could know I was thinking of her at the hour of my death. But I have nothing to write with and no way to send it.

He sat hunched over, his hands hanging down between his knees. He had eaten and drunk nothing all day, he realized suddenly, but he had not the strength to care.

The light coming through the barred window faded, and the sounds of killing ceased. They have beheaded every man-at-arms they captured, Roland thought.

Reaching Roland’s ears from a great distance, the high, wailing cry of the prayer callers summoned the people to the mosques of Mansura: “Come to prayer. Come to security. Allah is most great.”

Truly, he thought, today was Allah’s day.

A little later he heard gay shouts, music, laughter, the murmur of happy crowds. The people of Mansura have much to rejoice about, he thought. Their city has lived up to its name.

Guido spoke in the darkness. “Roland, there is a great deal I have wanted to tell you. I may not have another chance. Come, let us find a corner of this room where we can speak together without being overheard.”

They had just climbed painfully to their feet when the lock clanked and the iron gate swung open. A flare of light made Roland wince and blink. The eunuch strode in, his white silk gown rustling about his thin legs. He was flanked by two torchbearers and followed by a troop of guards carrying steel-tipped spears.

Roland held his breath as Sahil padded through the room peering into faces.

He came to Roland and Guido.

“Ah, it is you I want. The knight of the emerald.” He pointed a slender finger at Roland.

In an instant a cold sweat broke out all over Roland’s body, and his hands began trembling.

He was astonished at himself. Can I really still feel fear, after all I have been through today? It was his body, he thought, still eager to live when his weary soul was ready to give up.

The guards seized him and started to drag him to the door, not even giving him time to walk.

“God is with you, master!” Perrin cried after him.

“Go with grace, my friend,” said Guido more softly.

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