All Things Are Lights – Day 191 of 200

Amalric hurried down and handed his helmet to the guard. He drew the hood of his coat of mail over his head and laced it tight around his face and neck. Best be well protected — you cannot trust the Saracens. Then he took back the conical steel helmet adorned with its wolf’s head and donned it. He undid his battle-ax from his belt where it hung beside the basilard and slung it from the saddle. He put a foot in the stirrup as one of his men held the horse for him, and sprang up.

I am strong as ever. I can still leap on a horse’s back in full armor.

He unhooked his freshly painted shield from its mounting on the saddle and slipped his left arm through the straps. Let the Sultan’s messenger see the three crowns of Gobignon on their royal purple background. The crown of Clovis, the crown of Charlemagne.

And the crown that is yet to come.

He dug his spurs into the horse’s sides, and the huge animal trotted across the courtyard, men scattering to left and right before him.

He slowed the horse with a tug on the reins and walked him into the plaza. The noon sun of Egypt beat down on his head. The glare from the white dust, from the blue and white tiled walls of the mosque across the way, bedazzled him. The only dark spot in the vista before him was the gaping rectangular burial pit. Even now a cart loaded with bodies was trundling into the plaza, the drover cracking his long whip over the backs of two large oxen. It had cost lives to protect those beasts from the hungry. They were carrying to the grave people who would have eaten them.

Squinting, he could make out the eight-pointed red crosses on the surcoats of two Templars standing guard before the mosque, where they held the treasure.

I must warn the Sultan about them. They will fight to protect the silver.

The messenger. Where is he?

Amalric saw a tall man in white Saracen robes enter the plaza out of the street that led from the west gate. Jewels glittered on the scabbard of a scimitar at his belt. His face was dark, shadowed over by a white hood.

Amalric spurred his horse and started to ride toward him. The man saw him and stopped. He stood waiting for Amalric to approach.

Why does he make me come to him? This is not courteously done. Amalric slowed to a walk.

The messenger raised both hands to his hood, dropping it back.

Amalric stared and gasped, his mailed hand falling to the handle of his ax.

De Vency.

A fire seemed to engulf Amalric’s body, and he saw the figure across the plaza through a red glow. Was this a creature of the Devil, risen from the dead? In Mansura, he had seen the troubadour, in his black surcoat on his chestnut war-horse, falling under an avalanche of knife-wielding Egyptians leaping down on him from a rooftop. How could he have survived that?

By joining them, that is how. I always suspected him of loving infidel ways. But can he truly be coming now as the Sultan’s emissary? Or has the Sultan betrayed me?

The effrontery. Standing there, in nothing but robes. No armor, not even a helmet, no horse, carrying one of those ridiculous crooked Egyptian swords.

Amalric’s eyes quickly traveled over the nearby streets and buildings. No sign that de Vency had hidden allies lurking about. He spurred the war-horse lightly, and walked it close enough to speak to the troubadour without having to shout.

“So, Messire, you live. But it appears you have given up your country and your faith to save yourself. Though you never have really had a country or a faith, have you?”

A sardonic smile crossed de Vency’s dark features. “You could teach me much about faithlessness.”

Amalric gripped his ax, tensing himself to ride his enemy down, then stopped himself. What if the Sultan had sent him? Perhaps when all the other prisoners were slaughtered this dog converted to Islam to save his life, and then the Sultan had no one else to convey his message in French.

“Well, traitor, it is evident from your robes and scimitar that the Saracens think highly of you. Do you bring me a message from the Sultan?”

He peered at de Vency. Are my father’s features hidden somehow in that ugly face? Or, he thought with a sudden pang, my son’s?

Messenger or not, I’ll kill this bastard before this hour is out. I’ll throw his head down before Nicolette.

Bastard indeed. My father’s bastard. Can it be?

“There will be no message from the Sultan, Gobignon. He has been sent to Hell, and by his own people. There are new rulers in Cairo. No, I bring you the command of one whose death you sought, one who lives to doom you — Louis, your King.”

Amalric’s mind reeled. Louis alive? And the Sultan dead? And de Vency to tell the whole city what happened at Mansura? People will be gathering at any moment to hear what news he brings. I’ve got to kill him at once.

“The King commands that you surrender the city to the Egyptians now,” de Vency was saying. “And that you surrender your person to me.”

The sight of the troubadour standing there in the Saracen robes gravely making demands was ludicrous. Light-headed from the strain of the past days, Amalric roared with laughter.

“What a jest! That prating fool Louis has never before made me laugh so.”

And now de Vency must die, and quickly. Amalric seized the handle of his battle-ax.

No, from horseback a lance would be easier to aim and have a longer reach. He wheeled his horse with a savage pull on the reins and galloped back to the palace gateway. A small group of his men was gathered there.

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