All Things Are Lights – Day 198 of 200

Roland walked with Louis as, the Oriflamme cradled in his arms, the King descended the bank of the river to board the Genoese galley that was waiting for him. Mameluke officers accompanied him. Roland heard a whistle on the galley deck, and in an instant the railing was lined with Genoese crossbowmen, their weapons trained on the Mamelukes.

“The Genoese do not wish to risk losing me at the last moment,” said Louis with a smile. “How else can they be sure of being paid for their services?” He stopped at the edge of the plank the sailors had pushed out to shore for him. “I have promised Baibars to wait on this boat until the money is counted. Go back to that tent and help oversee the work.” Roland dropped to one knee, kissed his hand, and left him.

At the tent Roland saw that the counting of the silver was beginning. Such a huge number of coins, he knew, must be counted by weight, or else the crusaders would be here until the Nile flooded. He watched as the Lombard clerks counted the first fifty silver coins into one pan of a large scale, while the Egyptians carefully added weights to the other until the scale balanced. Then the Lombards swept the coins off into a chest and poured more on the empty pan, this time without counting them, till the scale balanced again. Even this procedure, Roland realized, might take days.

Sire Jean de Joinville and Sire Philippe de Nemours were there, and they greeted Roland happily. The three would observe the counting in the King’s behalf, and they settled themselves in chairs behind the Egyptian scribes.

De Joinville untied a scarf and picked out a brightly painted egg and gave it to Roland. “The Mamelukes gave us these before we left the prison ship. They said it would be shameful not to feed us before letting us go, and the painting on the eggs is to honor us. A pleasant custom, is it not?” The egg was hard-boiled. Roland, who had eaten nothing yet that day, peeled away the prettily colored shell with regret — but quickly.

The white-bearded Templar beckoned Roland, then drew him out of the tent.

“I bring you a message from an old friend,” he said in a low voice.


“Our brother Guido.”

Roland’s heart fell as he remembered Guido being taken out to the executioner.

“I was with Guido just before they killed him,” he said.

“He is not dead,” said the Templar solemnly. “That is what he wants you to know.”

Roland shivered. Was this Templar mad or merely uttering a pious commonplace?

“How do you mean that?” he said sharply.

“We have our allies, even among the Saracens,” said the Templar. “It was time for Guido to become a new person. When he left you he was taken to the Ismailites. Do you know who they are?

“Yes, the followers of the Old Man of the Mountain. At his order they kill kings and lords by stealth, and they inflame their minds with foul potions. What would Guido have to do with such debauched murderers?”

The Templar smiled. “You know only what their enemies say of them. They kill tyrants and persecutors. And they do not kill the brothers of the Temple.”

Roland remembered the arrow that had ended Hugues de Gobignon’s life and was silent.

“As for potions, has not brother Guido told you there are many ways to see the Light?”

“Yes,” said Roland grudgingly.

“Do not be quick to judge, then, until you know all,” said the Templar. “I tell you this much because Guido has said you can be trusted. You may repeat it to none, not even your lady.”

“I have already sworn so to Guido. May I see him?” said Roland eagerly. Guido, alive!

The white-bearded Templar shook his head. “He bids me tell you he has much work to do farther to the East. There is knowledge to be passed on and knowledge to be acquired. Perhaps you will go to the East yourself one day and meet him there.”

Roland stood silent, remembering Guido. What a great and good friend he was.

So the Templars were linked to the Ismailites, the so-called Hashishiyya. And the Cathars to the Templars. Would he ever learn all about this web of secrets that seemed to spread under the surface of the world like the roots of a great tree?

“Thank you, brother Templar, for bringing me this joyful news. If you should see Guido again, tell him I am writing the song he asked for.”

“You will hear from us when you return to France.”

Together they went back into the counting tent.

Let this be my last sight of Egypt, Roland thought as he stood beside Louis on the stern castle of the galleass Montjoie watching the brown and green coastline grow smaller in the light of the setting sun.

Louis sighed heavily. “Where did I go wrong, Sire Roland? I thought I had a vision. I believed that if we could restore the reign of Christ to Jerusalem, God would give us a new Earth. I actually thought God had chosen me to turn the world from a vale of tears into a place of happiness. I was a presumptuous fool. Yes, sinful, and God intends for me to suffer as I do. The loss of all those lives must be my punishment for believing that I could change mankind’s destiny.”

Roland was thunderstruck, that the reach of Louis’s vision was so vast. He had never realized that anyone could have such a dream. But then he remembered his vow at Mont Segur and thought, I have wanted to change the world, too.

“Sire, to have seen such a vision is more than is granted most men. To have struggled for it is everything, whether or not you succeed. And you may still be destined to create that new world, not through recapturing Jerusalem, but by working as best you can to build a new Jerusalem in your own kingdom.”


  1. ScottS-M Identiconcomment_author_IP, $comment->comment_author); }else{echo $gravatar_link;}}*/ ?>

    ScottS-M wrote:

    “I was with Guido just before they killed him,” he said.

    “He is not dead,” said the Templar solemnly. “That is what he wants you to know.”

    I was wondering when his death was off-camera (or off-text I suppose).

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