Saladin had given the people of Jerusalem a few days to raise the money to buy their freedom but time is running out. Some, like the pilgrims John and Simon Ferrier, have sufficient money. But the recently knighted inn-keeper, Bernard Montjoy, is struggling to find money to buy the freedom of his wife Agnes, their two children and orphaned nephew. While he searches the city for creditors Agnes waits for news in the courtyard of the inn.
A familiar figure stepped into the courtyard.
‘You look as though your heart will break,’ he said.
She nodded, not able even to make a show of contradicting him.
‘You are frightened for your family?’
‘I’m terrified,’ she said. ‘We’ve been able to raise enough money to buy freedom for only two of the children.’
‘Who will that be?’
She waved her hand at him, not even wanting to contemplate the decision which they knew they must face this evening.
He stepped closer and touched her on the shoulder. She felt his fingers tremble as he did it.
‘It doesn’t have to be that way,’ he said.
‘What do you mean?’ she glanced up and looked into his eyes.
He pulled a purse from his belt and upended its contents upon the table.
Her quick eyes counted the money.
‘Eight dinars,’ she said.
‘Enough to buy your freedom and that of the children. Including Claude-Yusuf.’
‘We have two dinars already.’
‘You will need that when you start your new life. Take all I offer.’
Her hand reached out for the money and then she paused.
‘Are you certain about this?’ she asked.
He smiled like a cat who had trapped a bird.
‘It is not a gift, Agnes.’
‘A loan, of course. I will pay you back as soon as I can.’
‘It is not a loan, either. It is for a purchase.’
Agnes blinked. ‘For the inn?’
He laughed and ran his fingers through her hair.
‘No, Agnes, it is to purchase you.’
She sat upon the bed and stared blankly at the wall. She pulled the sheet over her knees. She felt dirty. Dirty and disgusting.
As he left he had thrown the eight dinars upon the bed and she had startled herself by scrabbling for them and clutching them close to her breast.
‘These are desperate times, Agnes,’ he said. ‘Be sure to put it inside your safe-box.’
She nodded bleakly at him as if he were her husband who could instruct her to do something.
‘I thought our coupling would be good,’ he said. ‘But it far exceeded my expectations. So full of passion, so full of lust.’
He laughed as he walked down the stairs.
She sat there for an hour, his final words beating time after time upon her heart.
No, she kept thinking, it couldn’t have been, it mustn’t have been.
She knew the act had not been like that. It had been a feat of desperation, a trading of her body for the lives of the children. There had been no passion, no lust on her part. But his very words began to poison her soul.
Bernard came home later that evening and she held out the coins for him.
He shook his head in disbelief.
‘How did you get it?’ he asked.
She shook her head and placed her fingers on his lips.
A thought slithered into his mind but he thrust it away.
‘It’s enough to buy freedom for the children and for me,’ she said. ‘But not for you.’
He stared at her and thought his heart would split. Tears filled his eyes and she kissed them away.
She put the coins in the safe-box and held out her hand for him.
They climbed to their bedroom. They made love, tenderly, in an agony of fear and desire.
They sat awake all that night, talking and talking.
The next morning they went to get the strong-box. It was gone.
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- Saladin’s Terms #SampleSunday #HistNov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
- An extract from my novel Outcasts. #SampleSunday #HistNov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)