At Agnes’s insistence, John and Simon accompanied Bernard to the citadel. They walked in silence, Simon still angry, Bernard fearful, John trying to quell the voices which rained down insults inside his head.
The citadel was crammed with men: Franks, Armenians, Syrians and Jews. To one side was a pile of swords, spears and cudgels. A line of men received weapons from one of Balian’s sergeants before shuffling to where a churchman stood, his hand held high in blessing.
Bernard turned his head away. He had glimpsed Balian of Ibelin in a corner of the citadel talking with a veiled woman and half a dozen children.
At that moment the gate of the citadel was flung open. To the astonishment of the crowd a dozen Saracen horsemen rode in followed by four men carrying a litter. Balian kissed the woman goodbye and helped her into the litter. The bearers made swiftly for the gate, followed by the children and last, the Saracen escort.
‘What’s happening?’ Simon asked. ‘Where are they taking that woman?’
‘She is no ordinary woman,’ said Bernard. ‘She is the wife of Balian. More to the point she is grand-niece of the Emperor of Byzantium, as Saladin well knows. Saladin has no wish to antagonise the Empire. Maria Comnena could dance naked through the Saracen army and none would dare to look upon her.’
‘Somebody is looking at you though,’ John said.
Balian’s comrade, Jerome Sospel, was beckoning to them.
Bernard turned a worried gaze upon his friends and gestured them to come with him.
As they approached they saw Balian force his gaze from the gate where his wife and family had just departed and turn instead to examine the walls of the city.
Jerome placed his hand upon Balian’s shoulder for a moment, the briefest of moments. Then he turned to the three friends as they approached. ‘Bernard Montjoy,’ he said. His voice pretended surprise.
Balian turned at his friend’s words and stared at the three men.
Bernard flung himself upon the ground, arms prostrate. ‘My lord, Balian’ he pleaded. ‘You summoned me.’
Balian kicked him in the side. ‘Get up, Montjoy’ he said. ‘Stop making a fool of yourself and of me.’
Bernard rose, dusting himself down, and stood abjectly, his head to one side. ‘Mercy, Lord, upon your former servant,’ he pleaded.
Balian considered Bernard. ‘I seem to remember that I once ordered a whipping for your insolence. I have no need to repeat it now. I do, however, have need of you. In your youth you were a good soldier; a sergeant, I recall.’
‘I have need of every man who can bear a weapon.’ Balian put his hand upon Bernard’s shoulder. ‘Most of the citizens will be good only to stop a Saracen arrow. It is men like you who must make a fight.’
Bernard swallowed. ‘I have a family, my lord. A wife and two children.’
‘Then even more reason to fight. If we hold on long enough then succour may come from the west. And if it doesn’t arrive, yet we fight bravely, Saladin may agree to honourable terms.’
He gave a shrewd look at the Ferriers. ‘Are these family?’
‘Friends, my lord.’
‘Can you fight, friends of Bernard?’
‘Just give me a weapon,’ said Simon.
John did not speak. Balian stared into his eyes. ‘Will you fight for the City?’
‘I am a pilgrim,’ answered John. ‘I am a wrathful man. My penance for an act of violence was to come to Jerusalem and never harm another.’
Balian turned to his comrade. ‘What a delicious irony, Jerome,’ he said. ‘The peaceable are lining up for weapons and this wrathful, violent man has sworn never to fight again.’
‘Perhaps he can be persuaded,’ Jerome said.
‘I can absolve him of his oath,’ said the Archbishop. ‘Much good it will do though.’
Balian turned to him sharply. ‘What do you mean?’
‘These are just common men,’ said Eraclius. ‘We need knights to win battles.’
‘You think this too?’ Balian asked.
‘Yes, my lord,’ Jerome said. ‘The people may be brave but they need knights to command them. Only knights will be able to inspire them.’
Balian’s shoulders slumped. Jerome’s words confirmed the enormity of the task he had taken on. Then he straightened. His lips closed as tight as a scar.
‘You three, on your knees,’ he cried.
Terrified, Bernard, John and Simon scrambled to obey.
Balian drew his sword, making them flinch. He touched them on their shoulders. ‘Arise, Sir Knights,’ he said.
Astonished, the three men climbed to their feet. Simon looked ecstatic, Bernard full of doubt. John looked mortified.
‘There,’ Balian said. ‘Now we have three more knights, which makes seven in the whole city. It’s a start.’
Outcasts is available on all e-book readers including Kindle, Kobo, Nook and Tablets. It is available from Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, WH Smith and other retailers.
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