John returned to the entrance and climbed up the stairs which led to the place of the crucifixion. With each step his heart felt more deadened, his burden of guilt more heavy.
At the top of the stairs he paused, his hand upon the door.
Dare I go in? Am I so reviled, so lost that I cannot sully this holy place?
He closed his eyes and tried to calm his heart. He took a deep breath and stepped into the chapel.
To his left was a small rock on which it was said the three crosses had been raised a thousand years before. He fell to his knees in front of it.
He cast his mind back to his act of sin and sacrilege. He felt once again his anger, still hot as the blood which swept his veins. He felt once again the sense of shame.
He needed more. He tried to force his thoughts to the sorrow, the contrition he knew he should feel at the horror of his deed. But instead they turned again to those screams of shame and rage.
He knelt in silence for a long time, his hands pressed to his forehead. It was useless. Salvation would stay forever beyond his reach.
Could this be, he wondered? Was Jerusalem too holy a place for one so unworthy? Was he damned, never able to attain the bliss it promised?
He struggled to his feet and leant his hand against the wall, propped up like a dead thing awaiting disposal.
A familiar blackness settled once more upon him. He made a perfunctory obeisance towards the place of sacrifice and left.
He found Simon and the boys at the foot of the stairs.
‘Are you all right?’ Simon asked.
John smiled wanly. ‘Yes. But what I desire may not prove as easy as I imagined.’
He did not tell Simon his real thoughts. Simon had trod long and weary miles with him on the journey to the Holy Land and it was not fair to even hint that they may have been in vain.
Simon nodded but made no comment.
‘Well I saw the tombs but one of the priests took a dislike to the boys. I thought it best to leave.’
As he said it he glanced at Claude-Yusuf for it was he who had aroused the anger of the priest. By the look on his face he had realised it.
‘Shall we take you round the rest of the city now?’ Gerard asked.
Simon nodded. ‘That would be good.’
They took them back through the maze of alley ways, past the inn and then right along the David Street towards the Jaffa Gate by which they had entered the city.
Close by the gate the city walls continued in an easterly direction to enclose a vast citadel. Two huge towers loomed high above the citadel walls, impregnable bastions designed to throw back the fiercest assault. The cousins crept past the fortifications, feeling like mice trying to scurry past a watchful cat. They felt ashamed, for the two boys were unabashed.
‘This is where King Guy lives,’ cried Gerard with pride. ‘He waved to me once and kissed me on the head.’
‘I don’t believe you,’ Claude-Yusuf said.
‘He did. You can ask my father.’
‘Why would he kiss you so?’
‘Because he knows that I am to be a Templar knight when I grow up.’
‘How could he know that?’
Gerard went to answer then realised he did not know and was forced to shrug instead and try to look superior.
John and Simon looked everywhere as they walked. With every step they appeared to be going deeper into a more foreign world. There were no Europeans here apart from themselves. They could not help but stare at the exotic appearance of the people with their dark faces and strange, bright clothes.
The locals, on the other hand, gave the Englishmen only the most cursory of glances. They were well used to the sight of pilgrims.
‘Are these Saracens?’ John asked.
Claude-Yusuf shook his head. ‘No Muslims are allowed to live within the city walls. These people are Armenians.’
They strolled through streets and markets, past churches and shrines, startled by the bright and vivid colours. Their nostrils were filled with the scent of strange food, startling spices, musky stews and fish both fresh and rotting. The noise was overwhelming for everyone talked at the top of their lungs.
After a few minutes the boys turned left and they entered a quarter of the city which was even more strange to their sight. The people were smaller than the Armenians and even darker of face. They wore clothes of bright and vibrant colours and every man was bearded. Small groups of men clung around tiny squares, locked in fierce discussion, their arms waving until someone said something amusing which made them roar with laughter. But as soon as they saw John and Simon they grew quiet and watched in silence until they passed.
‘Are these Jews?’ Simon asked.
‘They make lots of pretty things,’ he said. ‘Mother and Aunt Agnes come here to buy their clothes.’
They came out onto a larger road. To their left was an open space crammed with people talking in close huddles. On either side of the street were tiny shops, most of them little more than booths. The cousins peered in as they passed. They did not appear to sell anything at all.
‘Gerard,’ called a figure sitting on a stool beside one of the booths. ‘Claude-Yusuf.’
‘Alexius,’ they cried and ran over to him.
He was an old man, probably in his late fifties. He reached out for Gerard’s ear and plucked a little coin from it. He then did the same to Claude-Yusuf. The boys were mesmerised and watched as he made a great show of biting on the coins.
‘They are gold, most certainly,’ he said, passing them to the boys who stood rapt, examining them. ‘You boys have a gold-mine each in your heads. Don’t let the Patriarch know or he will be after you.’
The man looked up at John and Simon and scrutinised them as if he were seeking to remember who they were. Finally, he seemed to have satisfied himself and grinned widely, showing a mouth filled not with teeth but with gold.
‘Tell me boys,’ he said, without taking his eyes from the adults. ‘Who are your new friends?’
‘They are English,’ said Gerard, ‘from France. They are staying at the inn and are my good friends.’
‘Am I not your good friend?’ the old man asked softly.
Gerard looked crestfallen for a moment.
‘Of course you’re our friend, Alexius, of course you are.’
He fell silent, biting his lip. ‘But can’t a person have more than one good friend?’
‘He can indeed,’ Alexius said. ‘But he may, by definition, have only one best friend.’
‘Claude-Yusuf is my best friend.’
‘A good choice, if I may be allowed a judgement.’
He turned his attention to the Englishmen once more. ‘You are pilgrims by the look of it.’ He picked up a bag and shook it. ‘And I am by calling a money changer.’ He grinned and gestured them to sit on two stools next to his own. ‘My name is Alexius Kamateros of Constantinople. I can change any coin from east, west, south or north. As friends of these boys, I give you the best rate in Jerusalem.’
- Poor Knights and Prince. Part 3. #histnov #SampleSunday (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
- Part 2 of my Kingdom of Jerusalem novel #SampleSunday #Histnov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
- The Common Knights of Jerusalem #SampleSunday #histnov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)