The old man 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.’
‘We have English pennies,’ John said.
The old man nodded. ‘That is good. The English know how to make a coin.’ He spread his hands. ‘I have to say that the older the better. Since the Normans conquered the country the coins are not quite so fine.’
‘But still good?’
‘Oh yes, still good. Better than Frankish coins or German or Saracen.’ He leaned close towards them. ‘But not as good as those from the Empire of course.’
‘Alexius’ ancestor was an Emperor,’ Claude-Yusuf said.
‘Vespasian,’ Alexius said. ‘A long time ago. My people moved from Rome to Constantinople six hundred years ago.’
John and Simon exchanged glances, not knowing what to make of the old man.
‘You doubt that I am honest?’ he asked.
‘No,’ said Simon. ‘I’m sure you are.’
‘More honest than the relic sellers, at any rate.’
He leaned close once again.
‘In the Street of the Palmers you will find only one honest shop,’ he continued. ‘The rest will sell you a part of a sheep’s fleece and tell you it comes from John the Baptist’s wild and woolly head. They will sell you a dried up old thorn and say it came from Christ’s crown. They will sell you a rusty nail, or even maybe all three and claim you know what. Why I have even seen one sell a rock and claim that it was used to stone Saint Stephen.’
Simon laughed. ‘We shall watch out for them. I have heard that an Abbot in France has a golden casket where he keeps the fore-skin of Christ.’
Alexius threw his hand in the air. ‘I can purchase half a dozen of the same, in the one street.’
‘You say there is one honest shop?’ said Simon.
Alexius rose from his stool and bowed. ‘The shop belongs to he with whom you now speak.’
‘Of course. I should have guessed.’
Alexius sat down once again. He sniffed, deciding what his next move should be. ‘In the meanwhile, you want to change some money?’
‘I would like something smaller than a penny,’ John said.
Alexius produced a small scale as if from nowhere and placed three of John’s pennies in one pan and adjusted a small lever on the scales. He opened a bag and poured tiny copper coins into the other pan until the scales balanced.
‘This is the current rate,’ he said. Then he poured more copper coins into the pan, causing it to sink to the table. ‘And this is the rate for friends of friends.’
The noon bell rang and the old man plucked up his bags and scales and pulled down a shutter on his booth.
He turned to the cousins. ‘Do you plan to stay long in Jerusalem?’ he asked.
‘We think so.’
The old man stared at them for a long time. ‘Forgive me for saying, but I think that both of you should not stay here for long.’
The novel will be published shortly on Kindle.
- Poor Knights and Princes Part 4 #SampleSunday #HistNov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)
- Poor Knights and Prince. Part 3. #histnov #SampleSunday (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)