When he conquered the city of Jerusalem Saladin did not allow his armies to loot and slaughter as the Crusaders had done when they had taken the city a century before. Instead he gave surprisingly lenient terms. But not every one in the city was able to raise the money he demanded.
Agnes remained in her chair when Bernard returned.
‘Saladin has sent his terms,’ he said.
He hurried over to her and took her hand.
‘He demands ten dinars for each man, five for each woman and one for each child.’
She did not answer for a moment, her throat was tight.
‘How much do we have?’
‘A little over one dinar in the safe-box.’
Tears sprang into her eyes. So little; not even enough for both of their children. Her mind whirled, a chaos of thoughts and terrors.
‘I’ve got creditors though,’ Bernard said, attempting a smile. ‘And we can sell the inn.’
She forced a smile upon her lips. Both of them knew that the inn would be virtually worthless now.
‘Saladin has given us time to raise the money,’ Bernard said.
He hurried across to the ledger which was kept at the entrance to the kitchen.
‘I’ll start calling in our debts at once.’
Bernard trekked from house to house, from shop to shop and church to church. Some who owed him money were willing to pay and did so with good grace. As the pennies and solidi were pushed into his hands he allowed his hopes to rise.
But many, those who owed him the greatest debt, pretended they were not at home or refused him to his face.
‘I’ve got to look after my own family now,’ said one of his oldest customers, a man who he had always extended credit to gladly.
‘But that’s my money,’ Bernard answered. ‘You’re buying your freedom with my money.’
‘Go to hell.’
Bernard leant against the wall. ‘Hell,’ he murmured, ‘I’m there already.’
At the end of the day he returned home, his heart heavy and black.
‘How much?’ Agnes asked.
Bernard slid the money onto the table.
‘Almost a dinar,’ she said, forcing a smile to her face. ‘You’ve done well.’
Bernard shook his head.
‘Not well enough. And I fear that I will do less well tomorrow.’
Neither said what they were thinking. That here was enough to buy the freedom of two children but no more.
‘Did you have any luck in selling the inn?’ Agnes asked.
‘One Jew was interested and would have offered three dinars.’
‘Three dinars? It’s worth much more.’
He nodded. ‘It was last month. But not now.’
Agnes took his hands in hers. ‘Then take the money, however little. Go to the Jew now and take the money.’
‘I can’t. He suddenly took fright. He feared that the Saracens would persecute him if he was seen to own a place that once sold wine.’
Agnes put her hand to her mouth.
They remained in silence for long minutes, staring into a pit that neither could ever have foreseen.
Finally, Agnes rose and went to the kitchen. ‘There’s some supper here, my darling. You must be famished.’
Bernard nodded. ‘Tomorrow. I’ll go out again tomorrow.’
He had reconciled himself to the fact that he would not be able to buy his own freedom. He would not give up on buying that of Agnes.
The next day was even worse than the first. The first day he had been met by cooperation or, at worst, by indifference. This day he was met by curses and looks of contempt. One man, a customer who owed him a great deal of money, punched him in the face before slamming the door on him.
When he returned at night he had half a dinar only.
They sat and counted up the money time and time and time again. No matter how many times they counted it, the amount remained the same.
Finally, Bernard said the words neither had wanted to say. ‘Still only enough to buy the freedom of two of the children.’
Agnes squeezed his hand.
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- An extract from my novel Outcasts. #SampleSunday #HistNov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)