Crusader's Torch Page 3

"There are some means to win free," said Rainaut. "How far will this take us out of our way?" he asked the sarjeant.

"Not far, I hope," the sarjeant muttered, repeating his words as loudly as possible when Rainaut demanded it.

"There are stalls set up for craftsmen, I remember seeing them." He had to lean almost into the sarjeant's face to hear the response. The noise and the press was alarming, but he had been warned that the streets in Tyre could be volatile.

"They'll have got out of the way by now, sir," the sarjeant said. His face was beaded and his mouth was white "There'll be blood shortly, sir."

"That's no concern of ours, sarjeant, if we are not stopped or harmed. We may pray for them later." Rainaut had eased them a few steps farther away from the riot. "Is there a house or a church where we can take shelter if this gets worse?"

The sarjeant shook his head vigorously. "No, sir. They're shut up, the churches, like the houses. Here, that's what they do." This last ended on a sharp hiss as someone stepped on his toes.

"The churches as well?" Rainaut asked, not expecting an answer. There were elbows and knees pummeling him, and as he tried to ease them further back in the crowd, he found more resistance than before. From one of the close-packed men a sudden punch came that left Rainaut with a bloody bruise under his eye. "For the Saints!"

"Are you hurt, sir?" asked the sarjeant automatically; in fact, at the moment he did not care. The battle around him was troublesome and he sensed that it would worsen quickly.

"You say the churches are closed to us?" Rainaut de-manded, hoping that there would be some respite to this melee.

"Most especially," said the sarjeant. "I don't like to tell you what happens in churches when the streets go mad this way. The monks and the priests all do what they can to save their treasures and guard those within their gates."

Rainaut had drawn them into the slight protection of a doorway, pressing himself and the sarjeant back against the iron-hasped door. It was the only cover he could find the length of the street. "Stay still; I am looking for a way out."

A square-bodied man in Byzantine clothes, a bruise forming on his chin and his hand pressed to his bleeding nose, stumbled against them, cursed them as he gasped, then was pulled away by a lurching Islamite.

"Damnation to them all," the sarjeant burst out, provoked beyond all resistance. "This is supposed to be a Christian city, not one of those godless Islamite camps where—" He stopped, staring at Rainaut, knowing that such words in the presence of a knight were inexcusable.

"In the heat of battle," said Rainaut with a grim twitch of his lips which was intended to be a smile, "a man forgets."

At the far end of the street a shriek went up, and in an instant the crowd changed. Those who had been trying to push forward were now as anxious as the most timorous to escape. Shouts of outrage became cries of alarm.

"What is it?" Rainaut asked, baffled at the abrupt shift.

"Templars," said the sarjeant comprehensively. "We'd better leave as quickly as we're able." He attempted to get away from the shelter of the door. "Hurry. If they catch us—"

"We're Hospitalers," said Rainaut. "We're fellow-knights."

"Say that when you have seen how they do their work," the sarjeant insisted, plucking at Rainaut's sleeve. "Hurry. They will be upon us soon."

At the far end of the covered street there was, impossibly, the sound of iron-shod hooves, and the unmistakable clang of steel. High wails and prayers rose above the rest of the clamor.

"They'll be upon us shortly," said the sarjeant, blessing himself automatically.

"But…" Rainaut tried to see over the crowd in order to learn if what the sarjeant claimed could be true.

"Hurry." This time he tugged Rainaut's arm without apology.

"We ought to await them," said Rainaut, but with less certainty. He stared down at the flagged streets where three men now lay, two of them trying to escape the kicks and blows of those still standing, one of them quite still.

"If we don't leave, they'll have us," said the sarjeant, his plain, hound's face now sagging and pale. "Now, Bonsier."

Reluctantly Rainaut moved into the crowd as if he were entering a swift-running river. He tried to choose his way, to find where there were breaks in the pack of bodies, but even as he moved the crowd shifted, and once again he and the sarjeant were at the mercy of the others, tossed like boats on a flood. Quickly they were separated, the sarjeant all but disappearing in the narrow way: Rainaut, less than two arm's-lengths from him, could neither see nor reach him.

Where the old man with the donkey-cart had been there was now a mounted, armored knight, his sword drawn; his white surcote was blazoned with the red cross of the Knights Templars. As Rainaut watched, the Templar clove a path for himself and his horse with the relentless scything of his sword.

A man in Egyptian garments beside Rainaut began to recite prayers in a monotonous sing-song as he sank to his knees.

Rainaut turned to the fellow but was plucked away from him by the increased flight of the crowd. Now that it was clear that the Templars would maim anyone in their path, everyone trapped in the confines of the street rushed to flee them.

The windows above the street were empty and shuttered.

Rainaut stared in dismay as the relentless knights came nearer. Pride and his schooling told him that no Templar would harm him, but there was blood on the flagstones. He hesitated, then was tugged away by others running from the knights.

The Egyptian had fallen over, and the drone of his prayers were interrupted with a high, brief shriek.

Two broken support rods of a hastily abandoned vendor's stall rolled and clattered under Rainaut's feet. He almost tripped on them, then, more out of habit than inspiration, he bent and picked one up as the relentless mob drove him on. As a skinny man with a scarred face lurched against him, Rainaut fended him off with the short stick. In that moment, he steadied himself against the human tide and turned to face the Templars, the rod held in both hands, angled across his body. This time, as he was jostled, he did not move.

It did not take long for the mounted Templars to reach him; one instant they were five paces away, the next they were within striking distance: four mounted knights, swords reddened, horses blowing.

"Stop," Rainaut ordered, not at all certain he could be heard over the noise.

A muffled, angry burst came from one of the following Templars, and a maul was lifted.

The Templar in the lead motioned for his companion to be still. "A Hospitaler?" he asked, his Norman French flavored with the whispering accents of Burgos. "Stops us?"

Stung by the Templar's amused contempt, Rainaut lifted his makeshift weapon a little higher. "Whatever has happened here now is over."

Two of the Templars laughed, and the leader cocked his head the little bit his armor permitted. "Do you tell me that you protect swine like these cowards?" The gesture with his sword indicated all the people who ran from them.

"That is our mandate," said Rainaut, adding quickly, "Put that down!" to the last Templar who was drawing his mace-and-chain from its holster.

"But to waste your courage for filth…" The Spanish Templar sighed. "A Hospitaler. From?"

"Saint-Prosperus-lo-Boys, sworn vassal of His Grace Henry of England." He did not let go of the broken staff he held to touch the hilt of his sword, although it was proper he do so.

"Ah." The Spanish Templar signaled to the others and they put up their weapons. "No more sport today, my lads. We're answerable to this… fellow." Whatever he had intended to say first, he prudently substituted a less inflammatory word. With obvious disappointment the Templars did as they were ordered, one of them grumbling about milksops in armor. Rainaut pretended to misunderstand. "Tell me," the Spanish Templar went on when he had wiped the blood from his sword and sheathed it. "What would you do with that bludgeon of yours? We have swords and maces and mauls. What would you do with that?"

"I would have smashed your horses' legs with it." He said it bluntly; he knew that for knights in the Holy Land, horses were more rare and valuable than wives, and the damage of one was worse than the loss of armor.

"So." The Spanish Templar regarded Rainaut in the silence of restrained fury. "So. I will not forget you, Hospitaler from Saint-Prosperus-lo-Boys." His accent was stronger and Rainaut had the uneasy sensation that he could see the shine of dark eyes behind the shadow of the heavy cervelliere-with-aventail which effectively concealed his features.

"Nor I you," Rainaut said, but with less certainty. He could not see the Spaniard's face, and aside from the Spanish accent, he had no means to identify the voice.

As if acknowledging this, the Spaniard laughed. "We have done for now." He raised his arm and signaled his men to turn and leave. "God give you good day, Bonsier," he said in mockery, dragging his horse around with a tug on the rein and a jab from one of his long-roweled spurs.

As the Templars clattered down the street, those unfortunate enough to lie in their path were run over with less concern than if they had been dead geese.

Moans, which had been inaudible moments before, now filled the stone street, and those casualties who could cry out for aid entreated every aid they could think of; at least three called for their mothers; one—the Egyptian—continued to beg God. The old man with the donkey cart lay still on the paving stones, blood congealing around him. His donkey, his off-hind leg broken, gave off a series of soft, high squeaks. The Bourgess was huddled against the wall, his garments reduced to rags, his face leaden.

"Sir?" the sarjeant said, and Rainaut jumped at the sound.

"I thought you were—" Rainaut accused, to cover his own sudden lack of bravery. It had happened to him before, this unaccountable nausea and chill that seized him now; as always, he felt shamed by it, and vowed it would not possess him again.

"That was amazing, sir," the sarjeant said with honest humility. "I never saw anyone stand up to Templars that way. Not without full harness on, anyway."

Rainaut tried a ghost of a smile. "It had to be stopped," he said distantly, reaching out as he did to steady himself against the wall. "It went too far."

The sarjeant grinned without mirth. "Well, stop it you did, sir. But you had better be on guard."

"Why?" Rainaut asked, anticipating the answer.

"Because the Templars won't forget. They're the rulers here, for all they tell you otherwise. That devil Saladin is less feared than they are. They're supposed to fight to defend the honor of Christ and the Holy Sepulcher—they fight for the love of battle, not the love of Christ. And they're not all well-born, the way Hospitaler Knights are. There's all manner of graceless sorts who—"

"Yes; I know." Rainaut dropped the broken rod he had been holding, watching it as it hit the flagstones and split down half its length. "Do you know who they were?"

"I can find out. There aren't that many Spaniards in the Holy Land, not with all those Moors in Spain," he scoffed.

"Why are they here, then, if what they want is to fight Islamites? Aren't there enough in Spain for them, that they must come* here to find them?" Rainaut slapped the front of his surcote, noticing for the first time that it was blood-spattered. "I will have to have this washed." The stain would never leave it, but treated with urine, it would fade.

The sarjeant led the way cautiously down the street, taking care not to touch any of those who had fallen to the Templars. "As to that, sir, there's no saying what that Spaniard would do in Spain. If he is a priest's son, he would come here now that the Church has made him a bastard. If he is a bastard already, then he would not be welcome among the company of knights in Spain. They send only legitimate sons to chase out their Islamites."

"Foolish of them," said Rainaut absently. He had stopped beside a man in German dress. "His shoulder is out of its socket. We should lend him some aid."

"It's not wise, sir," warned the sarjeant.

"Hospitalers are mandated to care for Christians, to protect them. This man is a German merchant, from the look of his clothes. He is a Christian and…" He was troubled that he had not rendered more assistance during this fracas, and now he wanted to make amends, if only through something as minor as this token gesture to this one injured merchant.

"There will be a place for him," sighed the sarjeant, knowing that it was pointless to argue with a knight. "We can sling him between us—we haven't far to go."

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