All Things Are Lights – Day 159 of 200

“It will be us next,” said the man who had been looking over the wall.

“Not at all,” said a dark-bearded knight who somehow had managed to be better dressed than the rest of them. “That treatment is only for commoners. Surely even the Saracens have more chivalry than to butcher knights as they would peasants.”

Rage clouded Roland’s vision. Fists clenched, he shouldered his way to stand in front of the bearded knight.

“Messire, I shall thank you not to speak scornfully of men who are dying because they have served us faithfully,” he said, keeping his voice soft.

“I do not know you,” the well-dressed knight said loftily, but what he saw in Roland’s eyes put fear into his own.

“I know him,” said the man with the bandage. “And he knows more of chivalry than you ever will, Monseigneur. Good Christian men are being murdered over there, and if you think yourself too grand to grieve for them you can at least show a decent respect.”

“It is true, though, we will have to buy our way out,” said the man who had been looking over the wall. “Monseigneur the Count Pierre de Bretagne has already made an offer to the Saracens on behalf of himself and those of us who are his vassals. “

“My seigneur was William Longsword,” said the bandaged man with a heavy sigh. “There is no ransoming your way out of the place where he is gone.” He gripped Roland’s hand. “Walter of Salisbury. You let me keep my horse and arms at the King’s tournament, remember?”

“Oh, yes,” said Roland. My God, he thought, that was an age ago and a world away. It was sometimes hard to believe that France even existed.

Jean de Joinville took Roland’s arm. Like everyone else in the prison village, de Joinville’s face was all bones. We look like the dancing skeletons in the church carvings, Roland thought, except that we do not dance.

“The King sent me to fetch you, Messire,” de Joinville said.

De Joinville led Roland to a mud-brick hut no better than those occupied by the rest of the knights.

“What a palace, eh?” de Joinville said with a melancholy smile. “Two rooms. But he only has to share it with his brothers and their men.”

A rumor had reached Roland that the Saracens had offered to hold the King and his brothers in a mansion in the city, but Louis had insisted on being with his knights. No doubt, thought Roland, that pleased Charles and Alphonse not at all, since they had to go where Louis went.

“Sire Roland.” Louis’s voice came weakly from the darkness as they entered. “Have you heard? They are killing our foot soldiers.”

As Roland’s eyes adjusted to the dim light, he saw that he was in a bare room with walls of brown plaster and a floor of trampled dirt. The King was seated against the far wall on a blanket-covered pile of straw. The faithful Isambert, as much Louis’s friend as his cook, stood beside him like a pillar. If the barons and knights looked like living skeletons, the King looked like Death himself. All he needed was a scythe.

“I have just come from some men who were looking over the wall, sire,” said Roland, seating himself on the dirt floor at Louis’s gesture.

“We can save lives if we act quickly,” said Louis. His hands were trembling, and his teeth were chattering.

Roland had heard that the Sultan had sent his own doctor into the village to treat the King’s bloody flux, and the worst of the illness was said to be over, but Louis was still terribly weak.

“What can we possibly do, sire?”

Louis held out a hand to Isambert, who helped him up. He stood shakily but without support. At once, Roland stood up, too.

“I am going to the Sultan,” said Louis. “I shall beg him to let me ransom all my men.” He put a hand on Roland’s shoulder, his grip surprisingly firm. “De Montfort is down with the tertian fever. You must come with me to convey my words to the Sultan.”

“No, sire!” de Joinville cried, anguished. “You must not risk your life.”

“Have I not been risking my life all along?” said Louis calmly. “Have I not asked every one of you to do the same?”

The guards at the heavy, makeshift wooden door recognized the King, and after conferring with their superiors let Louis and Roland out of the prison compound. They ushered them to a pavilion just outside the entrance, in which Sahil the eunuch sat on silken cushions, surrounded by his assistants. All the Egyptians rose and bowed deeply to the King, pressing their hands together before their chests.

“What does the thrice-honored King of the Franks wish of us, O knight of the emerald?” Sahil asked.

Not surprising that Sahil remembers me, Roland thought with amusement.

“Tell him I must speak to the Sultan at once, as one monarch to another,” Louis said to Roland.

Sahil’s eyebrows twitched on hearing this, as if to comment on the absurdity of a man in Louis’s position making demands, but he bowed again.

“I shall send word to my lord.”

Roland was grateful for the wait in Sahil’s tent, where the air was cool and clean and smelled of rose petals. Yet his mind kept returning to Perrin. Even now his fever could be getting worse. What if he dies while I am gone? He found it hard to respond to Louis’s attempts at conversation.

Two Saracen warriors with drawn scimitars strode into Sahil’s tent. Their gold-trimmed breastplates and helmets identified them as men of the halka, the Sultan’s Mameluke bodyguard. They spoke to Sahil and motioned Louis and Roland to come with them.

King Louis, Roland noticed with admiration, walked with as regal an air as if he were in his own palace.

The Sultan’s men marched them briskly through the Egyptian camp, whose warriors turned to stare in openmouthed curiosity at the tall, serene figure of the captive King of the Franks. The tents they passed were arranged in orderly rows, not scattered about at the whim of their owners, as in French camps.

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