MOST DANGEROUS MEN
Saladin watched as Jerusalem
emptied of its people. They walked past
his tent in two columns. Those who were rich enough to raise the money to buy their lives hurried past, sliding their eyes towards the Muslims, fearing treachery and death.
The second column, that of the poor, walked with heads bowed, contemplating the long
days of slavery, knowing their lives had been stolen. Amongst them were Agnes and the children.
At the rear of the column walked the thirty commoners who Balian had made knights.Their heads were not bowed. The spirit Balian had poured into them still survived, despite the surrender.
A man standing slightly to the rear of Saladin stepped forward at the sight of these men. ‘Brother,’ he asked Saladin, ‘who are these who bear themselves with such courage?’
Saladin shook his head. ‘I do not know.’ He gestured for Balian to join them.
‘My brother al-Adil and I are curious about the men at the rear,’ he said.’Those who, alone of all my captives, do not seem to feel themselves defeated. Who are they?’
‘They are my men,’ Balian answered. ‘The commoners who I knighted in order to resist you. The ones I told you of earlier.’
Saladin nodded. He remained silent and his face grew thoughtful.Balian watched Saladin for a while, hoping for some sign. But there was none.
Balian bowed towards Saladin who now smiled and clasped him by the arm.
‘Go in peace, Balian of Ibelin,’ he said. ‘You were the most worthy of adversaries.’
Balian mounted the horse Jerome held for him and the two trotted off towards the rear of the column.
Al-Adil stared at the thirty knights. He tapped his forefinger upon his lip thoughtfully for a while and then turned to Saladin. ‘I have served you well in these wars, my brother,’ he said, ‘and never asked favour or gift. I ask one of you now.’
‘I would have these men to be my possessions.’
Saladin’s eyes turned towards the thirty commoner knights.’They are men of new-found valour, brother,’ he said. ‘As such they are most dangerous.’
‘I understand. I would still have them.’
‘As you wish. Is that sufficient?’
Al-Adil gazed upon the line of captives.‘Perhaps a thousand more captives, as slaves.’
Saladin commanded that the knights and a thousand of the people be given at once to al-Adil.
By the time they had been gathered together the departed columns were far distant, Agnes and the children at the rear of the line.
BOUGHT AND SOLD
North of Amman
Agnes stumbled as she walked. Eleanor was heavy in her arms. The little girl had walked hand in hand with her mother for miles but in the end fell to the ground, exhausted.Agnes gazed down at her as she slept. This should not be happening, she thought as she wearily gathered the child in her arms.
A few steps ahead trudged Gerard and Claude-Yusuf. Both were kept going only by their pride and by the desire not to be beaten by the other. They were strong lads but for how much longer would they be able to keep up this relentless pace? She did not have the strength to carry them.
She glanced up at the sun. Here on the plains it burnt hot and she pulled a cloth over Eleanor’s face.
Her heart was bitter and hard. She had failed to protect them. All her hopes, all her soft thoughts had come down to this. All her deeds. The only thing she could do now was to keep on walking.
Thoughts of Bernard haunted her mind. Where was he now? He might be dead or undergoing some dreadful torture. She did not know which was worse. She could not stop herself contemplating
Her thoughts floated back to those last, lost days.
Agnes reddened as she recalled the final day of freedom allowed to the citizens by the Saracens. Bernard had raced from the inn the moment they discovered that the strong-box and all the money had been stolen. She had slumped down on the table and stared at the wall. Everything had been
for nothing then. Her sacrifice, her degradation, her act of betrayal.
A foot-step sounded beside her and she had whimpered in fear.
‘What’s happened?’ he had asked.
Her face burned in shame as she recalled what she did next.She told John everything, all the things
she could not have possibly said to her husband.
He had listened in astonishment, his face growing ever more stern, ever more disgusted.She saw this but she could not stop herself. She told all in a torrent of shame and fury and ended with the fact that the ransom she had bought so dearly had been stolen from them.
He turned his face away from her and she felt even more degraded. Then he turned back, his face steaming with tears.He had been unable to speak but he touched her on the neck, plucked up his sword and rushed out of the inn.
She sighed heavily as she thought back to that moment and her eyes filled with tears.
‘Are you all right, Mama?’ Gerard asked anxiously.
She brushed his wayward hair.’Of course, I am,’ she said. ‘It’s just some desert sand in my eyes.’
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- An extract from my novel Outcasts. #SampleSunday #HistNov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
- Saladin’s Terms #SampleSunday #HistNov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
- Buying Yourself and Your Children. #SampleSunday #HistNov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)