H. Rider Haggard
Part 5 out of 8
present you are in favour with Sinan, who believes you to be the
brothers of the lady Rosamund, not her lovers; but from the
moment he learns the truth your doom is sealed. Now what the
Frank Lozelle knows, that the Al-je-bal may know at any time--and
will know, if these should meet.
"Meanwhile, you are free; so to-morrow, while you ride about the
garden, as you will do, take note of the tall rock that stands
without, and how to reach it from any point, even in the dark.
To-morrow, also, when the moon is up, they will lead you to the
narrow bridge, to ride your horses to and fro there, that they
may learn not to fear it in that light. When you have stabled
them go into the gardens and come hither unobserved, as the place
being so far away you can do. The guards will let you pass,
thinking only that you desire to drink a cup of wine with some
fair friend, as is the custom of our guests. Enter this
cave--here is the key," and she handed it to Wulf, "and if I be
not there, await me. Then I will tell you my plan, if I have any,
but until then I must scheme and think. Now it grows late--go."
"And you, Masouda," said Godwin, doubtfully; "how will you escape
"By a road you do not know of, for I am mistress of the secrets
of this city. Still, I thank you for your thought of me. Go, I
say, and lock the door behind you."
So they went in silence, doing as she bade them, and walked back
through the gardens, that now seemed empty enough, to the
stable-entrance of the guest-house, where the guards admitted
them without question.
That night the brethren slept together in one bed, fearing that
if they lay separate they might be searched in their sleep and
not awake. Indeed, it seemed to them that, as before, they heard
footsteps and voices in the darkness.
Next morning, when they had breakfasted, they loitered awhile,
hoping to win speech with Rosamund, or sight of her, or at the
least that Masouda would come to them; but they saw no Rosamund,
and no Masouda came. At length an officer appeared, and beckoned
to them to follow him. So they followed, and were led through the
halls and passages to the terrace of justice, where Sinan, clad
in his black robe, sat as before beneath a canopy m the midst of
the sun-lit marble floor. There, too, beside him, also beneath
the canopy and gorgeously apparelled, sat Rosamund. They strove
to advance and speak with her, but guards came between them,
pointing out a place where they must stand a few yards away. Only
Wulf said in a loud voice, in English:
"Tell us, Rosamund, is it well with you?" Lifting her pale face,
she smiled and nodded.
Then, at the bidding of Sinan, Masouda commanded them to be
silent, saying that it was not lawful for them to speak to the
Lord of the Mountain, or his Companion, unless they were first
bidden so to do. So, having learnt what they wished to know, they
Now some of the dais drew near the canopy, and consulted with
their master on what seemed to be a great matter, for their faces
were troubled. Presently he gave an order, whereon they resumed
their seats and messengers left the terrace. When they appeared
again, in their company were three noble-looking Saracens, who
were accompanied by a retinue of servants and wore green turbans,
showing that they were descendants of the Prophet. These men, who
seemed weary with long travel, marched up the terrace with a
proud mien, not looking at the dais or any one until they saw the
brethren standing side by side, at whom they stared a little.
Next they caught sight of Rosamund sitting in the shadow of the
canopy, and bowed to her, but of the Al-je-bal they took no
"Who are you, and what is your pleasure?" asked Sinan, after he
had eyed them awhile. "I am the ruler of this country. These are
my ministers," and he pointed to the dais, "and here is my
sceptre," and he touched the bloodred dagger broidered on his
robe of black.
Now that Sinan had declared himself the embassy bowed to him,
courteously enough. Then their spokesman answered him.
"That sceptre we know; it has been seen afar. Twice already we
have cut down its bearers even in the tent of our master. Lord
of Murder, we acknowledge the emblem of murder, and we bow to
you whose title is the Great Murderer. As for our mission, it is
this. We are the ambassadors of Salah-ed-din, Commander of the
Faithful, Sultan of the East; in these papers signed with his
signet are our credentials, if you would read them."
"So," answered Sinan, "I have heard of that chief. What is his
will with me?"
"This, Al-je-bal. A Frank in your pay, and a traitor, has
betrayed to you a certain lady, niece of Salah-ed-din, the
princess of Baalbec, whose father was a Frankish noble named
D'Arcy, and who herself is named Rose of the World. The Sultan,
Salah-ed-din, having been informed of this matter by his servant,
the prince Hassan, who escaped from your soldiers, demands that
this lady, his niece, be delivered to him forthwith, and with her
the head of the Frank Lozelle."
"The head of the Frank Lozelle he may have if he will after
to-morrow night. The lady I keep," snarled Sinan.
"Then, Al-je-bal, in the name of Salah-ed-din, we declare war on
you--war till this high place of yours is pulled stone from
stone; war till your tribe be dead, till the last man, woman, and
child be slain, until your carcass is tossed to the crows to feed
Now Sinan rose in fury and rent at his beard.
"Go back," he said, "and tell that dog you name a sultan, that
low as he is, the humble-born son of Ayoub, I, Al-je-bal, do him
an honour that he does not observe. My queen is dead, and two
days from now, when my month of mourning is expired, I shall take
to wife his niece, the princess of Baalbec, who sits here beside
me, my bride-elect."
At these words Rosamund, who had been listening intently, started
like one who has been stung by a snake, put her hands before her
face and groaned.
"Princess," said the ambassador, who was watching her, "you seem
to understand our language; is this your will, to mate your noble
blood with that of the heretic chief of the Assassins ?"
"Nay, nay!" she cried. "It is no will of mine, who am a helpless
prisoner and by faith a Christian. If my uncle Salah-ed-din is
indeed as great as I have heard, then let him show his power and
deliver me, and with me these my brethren, the knights Sir Godwin
and Sir Wulf."
"So you speak Arabic," said Sinan. "Good; our loving converse
will be easier, and for the rest--well, the whims of women
change. Now, you messengers of Salah-ed-din, begone, lest I send
you on a longer journey, and tell your master that if he dares to
lift his standards against my walls my fedais shall speak with
him. By day and by night, not for one moment shall he be safe.
Poison shall lurk in his cup and a dagger in his bed. Let him
kill a hundred of them, and another hundred shall appear. His
most trusted guards shall be his executioners. The women in his
harem shall bring him to his doom--ay, death shall be in the very
air he breathes. If he would escape it, therefore, let him hide
himself within the walls of his city of Damascus, or amuse
himself with wars against the mad Cross-worshippers, and leave me
to live in peace with this lady whom I have chosen."
"Great words, worthy of the Great Assassin," said the ambassador.
"Great words in truth, which shall be followed by great deeds.
What chance has this lord of yours against a nation sworn to obey
to the death? You smile? Then come hither you--and you." And he
summoned two of his dais by name.
They rose and bowed before him.
"Now, my worthy servants," he said, "show these heretic dogs how
you obey, that their master may learn the power of your master.
You are old and weary of life. Begone, and await me in Paradise."
The old men bowed again, trembling a little. Then, straightening
themselves, without a word they ran side by side and leapt into
"Has Salah-ed-din servants such as these?" asked Sinan in the
silence that followed." Well, what they have done, all would do,
if I bid them slay him. Back, now; and, if you will, take these
Franks with you, who are my guests, that they may bear witness of
what you have seen, and of the state in which you left their
sister. Translate to the knights, woman."
So Masouda translated. Then Godwin answered through her.
"We understand little of this matter, who are ignorant of your
tongue, but, O Al-je-bal, ere we leave your sheltering roof we
have a quarrel to settle with the man Lozelle. After that, with
your permission, we will go, but not before."
Now Rosamund sighed as if in relief, and Sinan answered:
"As you will; so be it," adding, "Give these envoys food and
drink before they go."
But their spokesman answered: "We partake not of the bread and
salt of murderers, lest we should become of their fellowship.
Al-je-bal, we depart, but within a week we appear again in the
company of ten thousand spears, and on one of them shall your
head be set. Your safe-conduct guards us till the sunset. After
that, do your worst, as we do ours. High Princess, our counsel to
you is that you slay yourself and so gain immortal honour."
Then, bowing to her one by one, they turned and marched down the
terrace followed by their servants.
Now Sinan waved his hand and the court broke up, Rosamund leaving
it first, accompanied by Masouda and escorted by guards, after
which the brethren were commanded to depart also.
So they went, talking earnestly of all these things, but save in
God finding no hope at all.
Chapter Fourteen: The Combat on the Bridge
"Saladin will come," said Wulf the hopeful, and from the high
place where they stood he pointed to the plain beneath, across
which a band of horsemen moved at full gallop. "Look; yonder goes
"Ay," answered Godwin, "he will come, but, I fear me, too late."
"Yes, brother, unless we go to meet him. Masouda has promised."
"Masouda," sighed Godwin. "Ah! to think that so much should hang
upon the faithfulness of one woman."
"It does not hang on her," said Wulf; "it hangs on Fate, who
writes with her finger. Come, let us ride."
So, followed by their escort, they rode in the gardens, taking
note, without seeming to do so, of the position of the tall rock,
and of how it could be approached from every side. Then they went
in again and waited for some sign or word of Rosamund, but in
vain. That night there was no feast, and their meal was brought
to them in the guest-house. While they sat at it Masouda appeared
for a moment to tell them that they had leave to ride the bridge
in the moonlight, and that their escort would await them at a
The brethren asked if their sister Rosamund was not coming to
dine with them. Masouda answered that as the queen-elect of the
Al-je-bal it was not lawful that she should eat with any other
men, even her brothers. Then as she passed out, stumbling as
though by accident, she brushed against Godwin, and muttered:
"Remember, to-night," and was gone.
When the moon had been up an hour the officer of their escort
appeared, and led them to their horses, which were waiting, and
they rode away to the castle bridge. As they approached it they
saw Lozelle departing on his great black stallion, which was in a
lather of foam. It seemed that he also had made trial of that
perilous path, for the people, of whom there were many gathered
there, clapped their hands and shouted, "Well ridden, Frank! well
Now, Godwin leading on Flame, they faced the bridge and walked
their horses over it. Nor did these hang back, although they
snorted a little at the black gulf on either side. Next they
returned at a trot, then over again, and yet again at a canter
and a gallop, sometimes together and sometimes singly. Lastly,
Wulf made Godwin halt in the middle of the bridge and galloped
down upon him at speed, till within a lance's length. Then
suddenly he checked his horse, and while his audience shouted,
wheeled it around on its hind legs, its forehoofs beating the
air, and galloped back again, followed by Godwin.
"All went well," Wulf said as they rode to the castle, "and
nobler or more gentle horses were never crossed by men. I have
good hopes for to-morrow night."
"Ay, brother, but I had no sword in my hand. Be not over
confident, for Lozelle is desperate and a skilled fighter, as I
know who have stood face to face with him. More over, his black
stallion is well trained, and has more weight than ours. Also,
yonder is a fearsome place on which to ride a course, and one of
which none but that devil Sinan would have thought."
"I shall do my best," answered Wulf, "and if I fall, why, then,
act upon your own counsel. At least, let him not kill both of
Having stabled their horses the brethren wandered into the
garden, and, avoiding the cup-bearing women and the men they
plied with their drugged drink, drew by a roundabout road to the
tall rock. Then, finding themselves alone, they unlocked the
door, and slipping through it, locked it again on the further
side and groped their way to the moonlit mouth of the cave. Here
they stood awhile studying the descent of the gulf as best they
could in that light, till suddenly Godwin, feeling a hand upon
his shoulder, started round to find himself face to face with
"How did you come?" he asked.
"By a road in which is your only hope," she answered. "Now, Sir
Godwin, waste no words, for my time is short, but if you think
that you can trust me-- and this is for you to judge--give me the
Signet which hangs about your neck. If not, go back to the castle
and do your best to save the lady Rosamund and yourselves."
Thrusting down his hand between his mail shirt and his breast,
Godwin drew out the ancient ring, carved with the mysterious
signs and veined with the emblem of the dagger, and handed it to
"You trust indeed," she said with a little laugh, as, after
scanning it closely by the light of the moon and touching her
forehead with it, she hid it in her bosom.
"Yes, lady," he answered, "I trust you, though why you should
risk so much for us I do not know."
"Why? Well, perhaps for hate's sake, for Sinan does not rule by
love; perhaps because, being of a wild blood, I am willing to set
my life at hazard, who care not if I win or die; perhaps because
you saved me from the lioness. What is it to you, Sir Godwin, why
a certain woman-spy of the Assassins, whom in your own land you
would spit on, chooses to do this or that?"
She ceased and stood before him with heaving breast and flashing
eyes, a mysterious white figure in the moonlight, most beautiful
Godwin felt his heart stir and the blood flow to his brow, but
before he could speak Wulf broke in, saying:
"You bade us spare words, lady Masouda, so tell us what we must
"This," she answered, becoming calm again. "Tomorrow night about
this hour you fight Lozelle upon the narrow way. That is certain,
for all the city talks of it, and, whatever chances, Al-je-bal
will not deprive them of the spectacle of this fray to the death.
Well, you may fall, though that man at heart is a coward, which
you are not, for here courage alone will avail nothing, but
rather skill and horsemanship and trick of war. If so, then Sir
Godwin fights him, and of this business none can tell the end.
Should both of you go down, then I will do my best to save your
lady and take her to Salah-ed-din, with whom she will be safe, or
if I cannot save her I will find her a means to save herself by
"You swear that?" said Wulf.
"I have said it; it is enough," she answered impatiently.
"Then I face the bridge and the knave Lozelle with a light
heart," said Wulf again, and Masouda went on.
"Now if you conquer, Sir Wulf, or if your fall and your brother
conquers, both of you--or one of you, as it may happen--must
gallop back at full speed toward the stable gate that lies more
than a mile from the castle bridge. Mounted as you are, no horse
can keep pace with you, nor must you stop at the gate, but ride
on, ride like the wind till you reach this place. The gardens
will be empty of feasters and of cup-bearers, who with every soul
within the city will have gathered on the walls and on the
house-tops to see the fray. There is but one fear--by then a
guard may be set before this mound, seeing that Salah-ed-din has
declared war upon Al-je-bal, and though yonder road is known to
few, it is a road, and sentries may watch here. If so, you must
cut them down or be cut down, and bring your story to an end. Sir
Godwin, here is another key that you may use if you are alone.
He did so, and she continued:
"Now if both of you, or one of you, win through to this cave,
enter with your horses, lock the door, bar it, and wait. It may
be I will join you here with the princess But if I do not come by
the dawn and you are not discovered and overwhelmed--which should
not be, seeing that one man can hold that door against many--then
know that the worst has happened, and fly to Salah-ed-din and
tell him of this road, by which he may take vengeance upon his
foe Sinan. Only then, I pray you, doubt not that I have done my
best, who if I fail must die- most horribly. Now, farewell, until
we meet again or--do not meet again. Go; you know the road."
They turned to obey, but when they had gone a few paces Godwin
looked round and saw Masouda watching them. The moonlight shone
full upon her face, and by it he saw also that tears were running
from her dark and tender eyes. Back he came again, and with him
Wulf, for that sight drew them. Down he bent before her till his
knee touched the ground, and, taking her hand, he kissed it, and
said in his gentle voice:
"Henceforth through life, through death, we serve two ladies,"
and what he did Wulf did also.
"Mayhap," she answered sadly; "two ladies--but one love."
Then they went, and, creeping through the bushes to the path,
wandered about awhile among the revellers and came to the
Once more it was night, and high above the mountain fortress of
Masyaf shone the full summer moon, lighting crag and tower as
with some vast silver lamp. Forth from the guest-house gate rode
the brethren, side by side upon their splendid steeds, and the
moon-rays sparkled on their coats of mail, their polished
bucklers, blazoned with the cognizance of a grinning skull, their
close-fitting helms, and the points of the long, tough lances
that had been given them. Round them rode their escort, while in
front and behind went a mob of people.
The nation of the Assassins had thrown off its gloom this night,
for the while it was no longer oppressed even by the fear of
attack from Saladin, its mighty foe. To death it was accustomed;
death was its watchword; death in many dreadful forms its daily
bread. From the walls of Masyaf, day by day, fedais went out to
murder this great one, or that great one, at the bidding of their
For the most part they came not back again; they waited week by
week, month by month, year by year, till the moment was ripe,
then gave the poisoned cup or drove home the dagger, and escaped
or were slain. Death waited them abroad, and if they failed,
death waited them at home. Their dreadful caliph was himself a
sword of death. At his will they hurled themselves from towers or
from precipices; to satisfy his policy they sacrificed their
wives and children. And their reward--in life, the drugged cup
and voluptuous dreams; after it, as they believed, a still more
All forms of human agony and doom were known to this people; but
now they were promised an unfamiliar sight, that of Frankish
knights slaying each other in single combat beneath the silent
moon, tilting at full gallop upon a narrow place where many might
hesitate to walk, and-- oh, joy!--falling perchance, horse and
rider together, into the depths below. So they were happy, for to
them this was a night of festival, to be followed by a morrow of
still greater festival, when their sultan and their god took to
himself this stranger beauty as a wife. Doubtless, too, he would
soon weary of her, and they would be called together to see her
cast from some topmost tower and hear her frail bones break on
the cruel rocks below, or--as had happened to the last queen--to
watch her writhe out her life in the pangs of poison upon a
charge of sorcery. It was indeed a night of festival, a night
filled full of promise of rich joys to come.
On rode the brethren, with stern, impassive faces, but wondering
in their hearts whether they would live to see another dawn. The
shouting crowd surged round them, breaking through the circle of
their guards. A hand was thrust up to Godwin; in it was a letter,
which he took and read by the bright moonlight. It was written in
English, and brief:
"I cannot speak with you. God be with you both, my brothers, God
and the spirit of my father. Strike home, Wulf, strike home,
Godwin, and fear not for me who will guard myself. Conquer or
die, and in life or death, await me. To-morrow, in the flesh, or
in the spirit, we will talk-- Rosamund."
Godwin handed the paper to Wulf, and, as he did so, saw that the
guards had caught its bearer, a withered, grey-haired woman. They
asked her some questions, but she shook her head. Then they cast
her down, trampled the life out of her beneath their horses'
hoofs, and went on laughing. The mob laughed also.
"Tear that paper up," said Godwin. Wulf did so, saying:
"Our Rosamund has a brave heart. Well, we are of the same blood,
and will not fail her."
Now they were come to the open space in front of the narrow
bridge, where, tier on tier, the multitude were ranged, kept back
from its centre by lines of guards. On the flat roofed houses
also they were crowded thick as swarming bees, on the circling
walls, and on the battlements that protected the far end of the
bridge, and the houses of the outer city. Before the bridge was a
low gateway, and upon its roof sat the Al-je-bal, clad in his
scarlet robe of festival, and by his side, the moonlight gleaming
on her jewels, Rosamund. In front, draped in a rich garment, a
dagger of gems in her dark hair, stood the interpreter or "mouth"
Masouda, and behind were dais and guards.
The brethren rode to the space before the arch and halted,
saluting with their pennoned spears. Then from the further side
advanced another procession, which, opening, revealed the knight
Lozelle riding on his great black horse, and a huge man and a
fierce he seemed in his armour.
"What!" he shouted, glowering at them. "Am I to fight one against
two? Is this your chivalry?"
"Nay, nay, Sir Traitor," answered Wulf. "Nay, nay betrayer of
Christian maids to the power of the heathen dog; you have fought
Godwin, now it is the turn of Wulf. Kill Wulf and Godwin remains.
Kill Godwin and God remains. Knave, you look your last upon the
Lozelle heard, and seemed to go mad with rage, or fear, or both.
"Lord Sinan," he shouted in Arabic, "this is murder. Am I, who
have done you so much service, to be butchered for your pleasure
by the lovers of that woman, whom you would honour with the name
Sinan heard, and stared at him with dull, angry eyes.
"Ay, you may stare, "went on the maddened Lozelle, "but it is
true--they are her lovers, not her brothers. Would men take so
much pains for a sister's sake, think you? Would they swim into
this net of yours for a sister's sake?"
Sinan held up his hand for silence.
"Let the lots be cast," he said, "for whatever these men are,
this fight must go on, and it shall be fair."
So a dai, standing by himself, cast lots upon the ground, and
having read them, announced that Lozelle must run the first
course from the further side of the bridge. Then one took his
bridle to lead him across. As he passed the brethren he grinned
in their faces and said:
"At least this is sure, you also look your last upon the moon. I
am avenged already. The bait that hooked me is a meal for yonder
pike, and he will kill you both before her eyes to whet his
But the brethren answered nothing.
The black horse of Lozelle grew dim in the distance of the
moonlit bridge, and vanished beneath the farther archway that led
to the outer city. Then a herald cried, Masouda translating his
words, which another herald echoed from beyond the gulf.
"Thrice will the trumpets blow. At the third blast of the
trumpets the knights shall charge and meet in the centre of the
bridge. Thenceforward they may fight as it pleases them, ahorse,
or afoot, with lance, with sword, or with dagger, but to the
vanquished no mercy will be shown. If he be brought living from
the bridge, living he shall be cast into the gulf. Hear the
decree of the Al-je-bal!"
Then Wulf's horse was led forward to the entrance of the bridge,
and from the further side was led forward the horse of Lozelle.
"Good luck, brother," said Godwin, as he passed him. "Would that
I rode this course instead of you."
"Your turn may come, brother," answered the grim Wulf, as he set
his lance in rest.
Now from some neighbouring tower pealed out the first long blast
of trumpets, and dead silence fell on all the multitude. Grooms
came forward to look to girth and bridle and stirrup strap, but
Wulf waved them back.
"I mind my own harness," he said.
The second blast blew, and he loosened the great sword in its
scabbard, that sword which had flamed in his forbear's hand upon
the turrets of Jerusalem.
"Your gift," he cried back to Rosamund, and her answer came clear
"Bear it like your fathers, Wulf. Bear it as it was last borne in
the hall at Steeple."
Then there was another silence--a silence long and deep. Wulf
looked at the white and narrow ribbon of the bridge, looked at
the black gulf on either side, looked at the blue sky above, in
which floated the great globe of the golden moon. Then he leant
forward and patted Smoke upon the neck.
For the third time the trumpets blew, and from either end of that
bridge, two hundred paces long, the knights flashed towards each
other like living bolts of steel. The multitude rose to watch;
even Sinan rose. Only Rosamund sat still, gripping the cushions
with her hands. Hollow rang the hoofs of the horses upon the
stonework, swifter and swifter they flew, lower and lower bent
the knights upon their saddles. Now they were near, and now they
met. The spears seemed to shiver, the horses to hustle together
on the narrow way and overhang its edge, then on came the black
horse towards the inner city, and on sped Smoke towards the
"They have passed! They have passed!" roared the multitude.
Look! Lozelle approached, reeling in his saddle, as well he
might, for the helm was torn from his head and blood ran from his
skull where the lance had grazed it.
"Too high, Wulf; too high," said Godwin sadly. "But oh! if those
laces had but held!"
Soldiers caught the horse and turned it.
"Another helm!" cried Lozelle.
"Nay," answered Sinan; "yonder knight has lost his shield. New
lances--that is all."
So they gave him a fresh lance, and, presently, at the blast of
the trumpets again the horses were seen speeding together over
the narrow way. They met, and lo! Lozelle, torn from his saddle,
but still clinging to the reins, was flung backwards, far
backwards, to fall on the stonework of the bridge. Down, too,
beneath the mighty shock went his black horse, a huddled heap,
and lay there struggling.
"Wulf will fall over him!" cried Rosamund. But Smoke did not
fall; the stallion gathered itself together--the moonlight shone
so clear that every watcher saw it--and since stop it could not,
leapt straight over the fallen black horse--ay, and over the
rider beyond--and sped on in its stride. Then the black found its
feet again and galloped forward to the further gate, and Lozelle
also found his feet and turned to run.
"Stand! Stand, coward!" yelled ten thousand voices, and, hearing
them, he drew his sword and stood.
Within three great strides Wulf dragged his charger to its
haunches, then wheeled it round.
"Charge him!" shouted the multitude; but Wulf remained seated, as
though unwilling to attack a horseless man. Next he sprang from
his saddle, and accompanied by the horse Smoke, which followed
him as a dog follows its master, walked slowly towards Lozelle,
as he walked casting away his lance and drawing the great,
Again the silence fell, and through it rang the cry of Godwin:
"A D 'Arcy! A D 'Arcy!"
"A D'Arcy! A D'Arcy!" came back Wulf's answer from the bridge,
and his voice echoed thin and hollow in the spaces of the gulf.
Yet they rejoiced to hear it, for it told them that he was sound
Wulf had no shield and Lozelle had no helm--the fight was even.
They crouched opposite each other, the swords flashed aloft in
the moonlight; from far away came the distant clank of steel, a
soft, continual clamour of iron on iron. A blow fell on Wulf's
mail, who had nought wherewith to guard himself, and he staggered
back. Another blow, another, and another, and back, still back he
reeled--back to the edge of the bridge, back till he struck
against the horse that stood behind him, and, resting there a
moment, as it seemed, regained his balance.
Then there was a change. Look, he rushed forward, wielding the
great blade in both hands. The stroke lit upon Lozelle's shield
and seemed to shear it in two, for in that stillness all could
hear the clang of its upper half as it fell upon the stones.
Beneath the weight of it he staggered, sank to his knee, gained
his feet again, and in his turn gave back. Yes, now it was
Lozelle who rocked and reeled. Ay, by St. Chad! Lozelle who went
down beneath that mighty blow which missed the head but fell upon
his shoulder, and lay there like a log, till presently the
moonlight shone upon his mailed hand stretched upward in a prayer
for mercy. From house-top and terrace wall, from soaring gates
and battlements, the multitude of the people of the Assassins
gathered on either side the gulf broke into a roar that beat up
the mountain sides like a voice of thunder. And the roar shaped
itself to these words:
"Kill him! kill him! kill him!"
Sinan held up his hand, and a sudden silence fell. Then he, too,
screamed in his thin voice:
"Kill him! He is conquered!"
But the great Wulf only leaned upon the cross-handle of his
brand, and looked at the fallen foe. Presently he seemed to speak
with him; then Lozelle lifted the blade that lay beside him and
gave it to him in token of surrender. Wulf handled it awhile,
shook it on high in triumph, and whirled it about his head till
it shone in the moonlight. Next, with a shout he cast it from him
far into the gulf, where it was seen for a moment, an arc of
gleaming light, and the next was gone.
Now, taking no more heed of the conquered knight, Wulf turned and
began to walk towards his horse.
Scarcely was his back towards him when Lozelle was on his feet
again, a dagger in his hand.
"Look behind you!" yelled Godwin; but the spectators, pleased
that the fight was not yet done, broke into a roar of cheers.
Wulf heard and swung round. As he faced Lozelle the dagger struck
him on the breast, and well must it have been for him that his
mail was good. To use his sword he had neither space nor time,
but ere the next stroke could fall Wulf's arms were about
Lozelle, and the fight for life begun.
To and fro they reeled and staggered, whirling round and round,
till none could tell which of them was Wulf or which his foe. Now
they were on the edge of the abyss, and, in that last dread
strain for mastery, seemed to stand there still as stone. Then
one man began to bend down. See! his head hung over. Further and
further he bent, but his arms could not be loosened.
"They will both go!" cried the multitude in their joy.
Look! A dagger flashed. Once, twice, thrice it gleamed, and those
wrestlers fell apart, while from deep down in the gulf came the
thud of a fallen body.
"Which--oh, which?" cried Rosamund from her battlement.
"Sir Hugh Lozelle," answered Godwin in a solemn voice.
Then the head of Rosamund fell forward on her breast, and for a
while she seemed to sleep.
Wulf went to his horse, turned it about on the bridge, and
throwing his arm around its neck, rested for a space. Then he
mounted and walked slowly towards the inner gate. Pushing through
the guard and officers, Godwin rode out to meet him.
"Bravely done, brother," he said, when they came face to face.
"Say, are you hurt?"
"Bruised and shaken--no more," answered Wulf.
"A good beginning, truly. Now for the rest," said Godwin. Then he
glanced over his shoulder, and added, "See, they are leading
Rosamund away, but Sinan remains, to speak with you doubtless,
for Masouda beckons."
"What shall we do?" asked Wulf. "Make a plan, brother, for my
"Hear what he has to say. Then, as your horse is not wounded
either, ride for it when I give the signal as Masouda bade us.
There is no other way. Pretend that you are wounded."
So, Godwin leading, while the multitude roared a welcome to the
conquering Wulf who had borne himself so bravely for their
pleasure, they rode to the mouth of the bridge and halted in the
little space before the archway. There Al-je-bal spoke by
"A noble fray," he said. "I did not think that Franks could fight
so well; Say, Sir Knight, will you feast with me in my palace?"
"I thank you, lord," answered Wulf, "but I must rest while my
brother tends my hurts," and he pointed to blood upon his mail.
"To-morrow, if it pleases you."
Sinan stared at them and stroked his beard, while they trembled,
waiting for the word of fate.
"Good. So be it. To-morrow I wed the lady Rose of Roses, and you
two--her brothers--shall give her to me, as is fitting," and he
sneered. "Then also you shall receive the reward of valour--a
great reward, I promise you."
While he spoke Godwin, staring upward, had noted a little
wandering cloud floating across the moon. Slowly it covered it,
and the place grew dim.
"Now," he whispered, and bowing to the Al-je-bal, they pushed
their horses through the open gate where the mob closed in on
them, thus for a little while holding back the escort from
following on their heels. They spoke to Flame and Smoke, and the
good horses plunged onward side by side, separating the crowd as
the prows of boats separate the water. In ten paces it grew thin,
in thirty it was behind them, for all folk were gathered about
the archway where they could see, and none beyond. Forward they
cantered, till the broad road turned to the left, and in that
faint light they were hidden.
"Away!" said Godwin, shaking his reins.
Forward leapt the horses at speed. Again Godwin turned, taking
that road which ran round the city wall and through the gardens,
leaving the guest-castle to the left, whereas their escort
followed that whereby they had come, which passed along the main
street of the inner town, thinking that they were ahead of them.
Three minutes more and they were in the lonely gardens, in which
that night no women wandered and no neophytes dreamed in the
"Wulf," said Godwin, as they swept forward, skimming the turf
like swallows, "draw your sword and be ready. Remember the secret
cave may be guarded, and, if so, we must kill or be killed."
Wulf nodded, and next instant two long blades flashed in the
moonlight, for the little cloud had passed away. Within a
hundred paces of them rose the tall rock, but between it and the
mound were two mounted guards. These heard the beating of horses'
hoofs, and wheeling about, stared to see two armed knights
sweeping down upon them like a whirlwind. They called to them to
stop, hesitating, then rode forward a few paces, as though
wondering whether this were not a vision.
In a moment the brethren were on them. The soldiers lifted their
lances, but ere they could thrust the sword of Godwin had caught
one between neck and shoulder and sunk to his breast bone, while
the sword of Wulf, used as a spear, had pierced the other through
and through, so that those men fell dead by the door of the
mound, never knowing who had slain them.
The brethren pulled upon their bridles and spoke to Flame and
Smoke, halting them within a score of yards. Then they wheeled
round and sprang from their saddles. One of the dead guards still
held his horses's reins, and the other beast stood by snorting.
Godwin caught it before it stirred, then, holding all four of
them, threw the key to Wulf and bade him unlock the door. Soon it
was done, although he staggered at the task; then he held the
horses, while one by one Godwin led them in, and that without
trouble, for the beasts thought that this was but a cave-hewn
stable of a kind to which they were accustomed.
"What of the dead men?" said Wulf.
"They had best keep us company," answered Godwin, and, running
out, he carried in first one and then the other.
"Swift!" he said, as he threw down the second corpse. "Shut the
door. I caught sight of horsemen riding through the trees. Nay,
they saw nothing."
So they locked the massive door and barred it, and with beating
hearts waited in the dark, expecting every moment to hear
soldiers battering at its timbers. But no sound came; the
searchers, if such they were, had passed on to seek elsewhere.
Now while Wulf made shift to fasten up the horses near the mouth
of the cave, Godwin gathered stones as large as he could lift,
and piled them up against the door, till they knew that it would
take many men an hour or more to break through.
For this door was banded with iron and set fast in the living
Chapter Fifteen: The Flight to Emesa
Then came the weariest time of waiting the brethren had ever
known, or were to know, although at first they did not feel it so
long and heavy. Water trickled from the walls of this cave, and
Wulf, who was parched with thirst, gathered it in his hands and
drank till he was satisfied. Then he let it run upon his head to
cool its aching; and Godwin bathed such of his brother's hurts
and bruises as could be come at, for he did not dare to remove
the hauberk, and so gave him comfort.
When this was done, and he had looked to the saddles and
trappings of the horses, Wulf told of all that had passed between
him and Lozelle on the bridge. How at the first onset his spear
had caught in the links of and torn away the head-piece of his
foe, who, if the lacings had not burst, would have been hurled to
death, while that of Lozelle struck his buckler fair and
shattered on it, rending it from his arm. How they pushed past
each other, and for a moment the fore hoofs of Smoke hung over
the abyss, so that he thought he was surely sped: How at the next
course Lozelle's spear passed beneath his arm, while his,
striking full upon Sir Hugh's breast, brought down the black
horse and his rider as though a thunderbolt had smitten them, and
how Smoke, that could not check its furious pace, leapt over
them, as a horse leaps a-hunting: How he would not ride down
Lozelle, but dismounted to finish the fray in knightly fashion,
and, being shieldless, received the full weight of the great
sword upon his mail, so that he staggered back and would have
fallen had he not struck against the horse.
Then he told of the blows that followed, and of his last that
wounded Lozelle, shearing through his mail and felling him as an
ox is felled by the butcher: How also, when he sprang forward to
kill him, this mighty and brutal man had prayed for mercy, prayed
it in the name of Christ and of their own mother, whom as a child
he knew in Essex: How he could not slaughter him, being helpless,
but turned away, saying that he left him to be dealt with by
Al-je-bal, whereupon this traitorous dog sprang up and strove to
knife him. He told also of their last fearful struggle, and how,
shaken as he was by the blow upon his back, although the point of
the dagger had not pierced his mail, he strove with Lozelle, man
to man; till at length his youth, great natural strength, and the
skill he had in wrestling, learnt in many a village bout at home,
enabled him to prevail, and, while they hung together on the
perilous edge of the gulf, to free his right hand, draw his
poniard, and make an end.
"Yet," added Wulf, "never shall I forget the look of that man's
eyes as he fell backwards, or the whistling scream which came
from his pierced throat."
"At least there is a rogue the less in the world, although he was
a brave one in his own knavish fashion," answered Godwin.
"Moreover, my brother," he added, placing his arm about Wulf's
neck, "I am glad it fell to you to fight him, for at the last
grip your might overcame, where I, who am not so strong, should
have failed. Further, I think you did well to show mercy, as a
good knight should; that thereby you have gained great honour,
and that if his spirit can see through the darkness, our dead
uncle is proud of you now, as I am, my brother."
"I thank you," replied Wulf simply; "but, in this hour of
torment, who can think of such things as honour gained?"
Then, lest he should grow stiff, who was sorely bruised beneath
his mail, they began to walk up and down the cave from where the
horses stood to where the two dead Assassins lay by the door, the
faint light gleaming upon their stern, dark features. III company
they seemed in that silent, lonely place.
The time crept on; the moon sank towards the mountains.
"What if they do not come?" asked Wulf.
"Let us wait to think of it till dawn," answered Godwin.
Again they walked the length of the cave and back.
"How can they come, the door being barred?" asked Wulf.
"How did Masouda come and go?" answered Godwin. "Oh, question me
no more; it is in the hand of God."
"Look," said Wulf, in a whisper. "Who stand yonder at the end of
the cave--there by the dead men?"
"Their spirits, perchance," answered Godwin, drawing his sword
and leaning forward. Then he looked, and true enough there stood
two figures faintly outlined in the gloom. They glided towards
them, and now the level moonlight shone upon their white robes
and gleamed in the gems they wore.
"I cannot see them," said a voice. "Oh, those dead soldiers--what
do they portend ? "
"At least yonder stand their horses," answered another voice.
Now the brethren guessed the truth, and, like men in a dream,
stepped forward from the shadow of the wall.
"Rosamund!" they said.
"Oh Godwin! oh Wulf!" she cried in answer. "Oh, Jesu, I thank
Thee, I thank Thee--Thee, and this brave woman!" and, casting her
arms about Masouda, she kissed her on the face.
Masouda pushed her back, and said, in a voice that was almost
harsh: "It is not fitting, Princess, that your pure lips should
touch the cheek of a woman of the Assassins."
But Rosamund would not be repulsed.
"It is most fitting," she sobbed, "that I should give you thanks
who but for you must also have become 'a woman of the Assassins,'
or an inhabitant of the House of Death."
Then Masouda kissed her back, and, thrusting her away into the
arms of Wulf, said roughly:
"So, pilgrims Peter and John, your patron saints have brought you
through so far; and, John, you fight right well. Nay, do not stop
for our story, if you wish us to live to tell it. What! You have
the soldiers' horses with your own? Well done! I did not credit
you with so much wit. Now, Sir Wulf, can you walk? Yes; so much
the better; it will save you a rough ride, for this place is
steep, though not so steep as one you know of. Now set the
princess upon Flame, for no cat is surer-footed than that horse,
as you may remember, Peter. I who know the path will lead it.
John, take you the other two; Peter, do you follow last of all
with Smoke, and, if they hang back, prick them with your sword.
Come, Flame, be not afraid, Flame. Where I go, you can come," and
Masouda thrust her way through the bushes and over the edge of
the cliff, talking to the snorting horse and patting its neck.
A minute more, and they were scrambling down a mountain ridge so
steep that it seemed as though they must fall and be dashed to
pieces at the bottom. Yet they fell not, for, made as it had been
to meet such hours of need, this road was safer than it appeared,
with ridges cut in the rock at the worst places.
Down they went, and down, till at length, panting, but safe, they
stood at the bottom of the darksome gulf where only the starlight
shone, for here the rays of the low moon could not reach.
"Mount," said Masouda. "Princess, stay you on Flame; he is the
surest and the swiftest. Sir Wulf, keep your own horse Smoke;
your brother and I will ride those of the soldiers. Though not
very swift, doubtless they are good beasts, and accustomed to
such roads." Then she leapt to the saddle as a woman born in the
desert can, and pushed her horse in front.
For a mile or more Masouda led them along the rocky bottom of the
gulf, where because of the stones they could only travel at a
foot pace, till they came to a deep cleft on the left hand, up
which they began to ride. By now the moon was quite behind the
mountains, and such faint light as came from the stars began to
be obscured with drifting clouds. Still, they stumbled on till
they reached a little glade where water ran and grass grew.
"Halt," said Masouda. "Here we must wait till dawn for in this
darkness the horses cannot keep their footing on the stones.
Moreover, all about us lie precipices, over one of which we might
"But they will pursue us," pleaded Rosamund.
"Not until they have light to see by," answered Masouda, "or at
least we must take the risk, for to go forward would be madness.
Sit down and rest a while, and let the horses drink a little and
eat a mouthful of grass, holding their reins in our hands, for we
and they may need all our strength before to-morrow's sun is set.
Sir Wulf, say, are you much hurt?"
"But very little," he answered in a cheerful voice; "a few
bruises beneath my mail--that is all, for Lozelle's sword was
heavy. Tell us, I pray you, what happened after we rode away from
the castle bridge."
"This, knights. The princess here, being overcome, was escorted
by the slaves back to her chambers, but Sinan bade me stay with
him awhile that he might speak to you through me. Do you know
what was in his mind? To have you killed at once, both of you,
whom Lozelle had told him were this lady's lovers, and not her
brothers. Only he feared that there might be trouble with the
people, who were pleased with the fighting, so held his hand.
Then he bade you to the supper, whence you would not have
returned; but when Sir Wulf said that he was hurt, I whispered to
him that what he wished to do could best be done on the morrow at
the wedding-feast when he was in his own halls, surrounded by his
" 'Ay,' he answered, 'these brethren shall fight with them until
they are driven into the gulf. It will be a goodly sight for me
and my queen to see.' "
"Oh! horrible, horrible!" said Rosamund; while Godwin muttered:
"I swear that I would have fought, not with his guards, but with
"So he suffered you to go, and I left him also. Before I went he
spoke to me, bidding me bring the princess to him privately
within two hours after we had supped, as he wished to speak to
her alone about the ceremony of her marriage on the morrow, and
to make her gifts. I answered aloud that his commands should be
obeyed, and hurried to the guest-castle. There I found your lady
recovered from her faintness, but mad with fear, and forced her
to eat and drink.
"The rest is short. Before the two hours were gone a messenger
came, saying that the Al-je-bal bade me do what he had commanded.
" 'Return,' I answered; 'the princess adorns herself. We follow
presently alone, as it is commanded.'
"Then I threw this cloak about her and bade her be brave, and, if
we failed, to choose whether she would take Sinan or death for
lord. Next, I took the ring you had, the Signet of the dead
Al-je-bal, who gave it to your kinsman, and held it before the
slaves, who bowed and let me pass. We came to the guards, and to
them again I showed the ring. They bowed also, but when they saw
that we turned down the passage to the left and not to the
right, as we should have done to come to the doors of the inner
palace, they would have stopped us.
" 'Acknowledge the Signet,' I answered. 'Dogs, what is it to you
which road the Signet takes?' Then they also let us pass.
"Now, following the passage, we were out of the guest house and
in the gardens, and I led her to what is called the prison tower,
whence runs the secret way. Here were more guards whom I bade
open in the name of Sinan.
They said: 'We obey not. This place is shut save to the Signet
" 'Behold it!' I answered. The officer looked and said: 'It is
the very Signet, sure enough, and there is no other.'
Yet he paused, studying the black stone veined with the red
dagger and the ancient writing on it.
" 'Are you, then, weary of life?' I asked. 'Fool, the Al-je-bal
himself would keep a tryst within this house, which he enters
secretly from the palace. Woe to you if he does not find his lady
" 'It is the Signet that he must have sent, sure enough,' the
captain said again, 'to disobey which is death.'
'Yes, open, open,' whispered his companions.
"So they opened, though doubtfully, and we entered, and I barred
the door behind us. Then, to be short, through the darkness of
the tower basement, guiding ourselves by the wall, we crept to
the entrance of that way of which I know the secret. Ay, and
along all its length and through the rock door of escape at the
end of which I set so that none can turn it, save skilled masons
with their tools, and into the cave where we found you. It was no
great matter, having the Signet, although without the Signet it
had not been possible to-night, when every gate is guarded."
"No great matter!" gasped Rosamund. "Oh, Godwin and Wulf! if you
could know how she thought of and made ready everything; if you
could have seen how all those cruel men glared at us, searching
out our very souls! If you could have heard how high she answered
them, waving that ring before their eyes and bidding them to obey
its presence, or to die!"
"Which they surely have done by now," broke in Masouda quietly,
"though I do not pity them, who were wicked. Nay; thank me not; I
have done what I promised to do, neither less nor more, and--I
love danger and a high stake. Tell us your story, Sir Godwin."
So, seated there on the grass in the darkness, he told them of
their mad ride and of the slaying of the guards, while Rosamund
raised her hands and thanked Heaven for its mercies, and that
they were without those accursed walls.
"You may be within them again before sunset," said Masouda
"Yes," answered Wulf, "but not alive. Now what plan have you? To
ride for the coast towns?"
"No," replied Masouda; "at least not straight, since to do so we
must pass through the country of the Assassins, who by this day's
light will be warned to watch for us. We must ride through the
desert mountain lands to Emesa, many miles away, and cross the
Orontes there, then down into Baalbec, and so back to Beirut."
"Emesa?" said Godwin. "Why Saladin holds that place, and of
Baalbec the lady Rosamund is princess."
"Which is best?" asked Masouda shortly. "That she should fall
into the hands of Salah-ed-din, or back into those of the master
of the Assassins? Choose which you wish."
"I choose Salah-ed-din," broke in Rosamund, "for at least he is
my uncle, and will do me no wrong." Nor, knowing the case, did
the others gainsay her.
Now at length the summer day began to break, and while it was
still too dark to travel, Godwin and Rosamund let the horses
graze, holding them by their bridles. Masouda, also, taking off
the hauberk of Wulf, doctored his bruises as best she could with
the crushed leaves of a bush that grew by the stream, having
first washed them with water, and though the time was short,
eased him much. Then, so soon as the dawn was grey, having drunk
their fill and, as they had nothing else, eaten some watercress
that grew in the stream, they tightened their saddle girths and
started. Scarcely had they gone a hundred yards when, from the
gulf beneath, that was hidden in grey mists, they heard the sound
of horse's hoofs and men's voices.
"Push on," said Masouda, "Al-je-bal is on our tracks."
Upwards they climbed through the gathering light, skirting the
edge of dreadful precipices which in the gloom it would have been
impossible to pass, till at length they reached a great table
land, that ran to the foot of some mountains a dozen miles or
more away. Among those mountains soared two peaks, set close
together. To these Masouda pointed, saying that their road ran
between them, and that beyond lay the valley of the Orontes.
While she spoke, far behind them they heard the sound of men
shouting, although they could see nothing because of the dense
"Push on," said Masouda; "there is no time to spare," and they
went forward, but only at a hand gallop, for the ground was
still rough and the light uncertain.
When they had covered some six miles of the distance between them
and the mountain pass, the sun rose suddenly and sucked up the
mist. This was what they saw. Before them lay a flat, sandy
plain; behind, the stony ground that they had traversed, and
riding over it, two miles from them, some twenty men of the
"They cannot catch us," said Wulf; but Masouda pointed to the
right, where the mist still hung, and said:
"Yonder I see spears."
Presently it thinned, and there a league away they saw a great
body of mounted soldiers--perhaps there were four hundred.
"Look," she said; "they have come round during the night, as I
feared they would. Now we must cross the path before them or be
taken," and she struck her horse fiercely with a stick she had
cut at the stream. Half a mile further on a shout from the great
body of men to their right, which was answered by another shout
from those behind, told them that they were seen.
"On!" said Masouda. "The race will be close." So they began to
gallop their best.
Two miles were done, but although that behind was far off, the
great cloud of dust to their right grew ever nearer till it
seemed as though it must reach the mouth of the mountain pass
before them. Then Godwin spoke:
"Wulf and Rosamund ride on. Your horses are swift and can outpace
them. At the crest of the mountain pass wait a while to breathe
the beasts, and see if we come. If not, ride on again, and God be
"Ay," said Masouda, "ride and head for the Emesa bridge--it can
be seen from far--and there yield yourselves to the officers of
They hung back, but in a stern voice Godwin repeated:
"Ride, I command you both."
"For Rosamund's sake, so be it," answered Wulf.
Then he called to Smoke and Flame, and they stretched
themselves out upon the sand and passed thence swifter than
swallows. Soon Godwin and Masouda, toiling behind, saw them enter
the mouth of the pass.
"Good," she said. "Except those of their own breed, there are no
horses in Syria that can catch those two. They will come to
Emesa, have no fear."
"Who was the man who brought them to us?" asked Godwin, as they
galloped side by side, their eyes fixed upon the ever-nearing
cloud of dust, in which the spear points sparkled.
"My father's brother--my uncle, as I called him," she answered.
"He is a sheik of the desert, who owns the ancient breed that
cannot be bought for gold."
"Then you are not of the Assassins, Masouda?"
"No; I may tell you, now that the end seems near. My father was
an Arab, my mother a noble Frank, a French woman, whom he found
starving in the desert after a fight, and took to his tent and
made his wife. The Assassins fell upon us and killed him and her,
and captured me as a child of twelve. Afterwards, when I grew
older, being beautiful in those days, I was taken to the harem of
Sinan, and, although in secret I had been bred up a Christian by
my mother, they swore me of his accursed faith. Now you will
understand why I hate him so sorely who murdered my father and my
mother, and made me what I am; why I hold myself so vile also.
Yes, I have been forced to serve as his spy or be killed, who,
although he believed me his faithful slave, desired first to be
avenged upon him."
"I do not hold you vile," panted Godwin, as he spurred his
labouring steed. "I hold you most noble."
"I rejoice to hear it before we die," she answered, looking him
in the eyes in such a fashion that he dropped his head before her
burning gaze, "who hold you dear, Sir Godwin, for whose sake I
have dared these things, although I am nought to you. Nay, speak
not; the lady Rosamund has told me all that story--except its
Now they were off the sand over which they had been racing side
by side, and beginning to breast the mountain slope, nor was
Godwin sorry that the clatter of their horses' hoofs upon the
stones prevented further speech between them. So far they had
outpaced the Assassins, who had a longer and a rougher road to
travel; but the great cloud of dust was not seven hundred yards
away, and in front of it, shaking their spears, rode some of the
best mounted of their soldiers.
"These horses still have strength; they are better than I thought
them," cried Masouda. "They will not gain on us across the
mountains, but afterwards--"
For the next league they spoke no more, who must keep their
horses from falling as they toiled up the steep path. At length
they reached the crest, and there, on the very top of it, saw
Wulf and Rosamund standing by Flame and Smoke.
"They rest," Godwin said, then he shouted, "Mount! mount! The foe
So they climbed to their saddles again, and, all four of them
together began to descend the long slope that stretched to the
plain two leagues beneath. Far off across this plain ran a broad
silver streak, beyond which from that height they could see the
walls of a city.
"The Orontes!" cried Masouda. "Cross that, and we are safe." But
Godwin looked first at his horse, then at Masouda, and shook his
Well might he do so, for, stout-hearted as they were, the beasts
were much distressed that had galloped so far without drawing
rein. Down the steep road they plunged, panting; indeed at times
it was hard to keep them on their feet.
"They will reach the plain--no more," said Godwin, and Masouda
The descent was almost done, and not a mile behind them the
white-robed Assassins streamed endlessly. Godwin plied his spurs
and Masouda her whip, although with little hope, for they knew
that the end was near. Down the last declivity they rushed, till
suddenly, as they reached its foot, Masouda's horse reeled,
stopped, and sank to the ground, while Godwin's pulled up beside
"Ride on!" he cried to Rosamund and Wulf in front; but they
would not. He stormed at them, but they replied: "Nay, we will
Masouda looked at the horses Flame and Smoke, which seemed but
"So be it," she said; "they have carried double before, and must
again. Mount in front of the lady, Sir Godwin; and, Sir Wulf,
give me your hand, and you will learn what this breed can do."
So they mounted. Forward started Flame and Smoke with a long,
swinging gallop, while from the Assassins above, who thought that
they held them, went up a shout of rage and wonder.
"Their horses are also tired, and we may beat them yet," called
the dauntless Masouda. But Godwin and Wulf looked sadly at the
ten miles of plain between them and the river bank.
On they went, and on. A quarter of it was done. Half of it was
done, but now the first of the fedai hung upon their flanks not
two hundred yards behind. Little by little this distance
lessened. At length they were scarcely fifty yards away, and one
of them flung a spear. In her terror Rosamund sobbed aloud.
"Spur the horses, knights," cried Masouda, and for the first time
they spurred them.
At the sting of the steel Flame and Smoke sprang forward as
though they had but just left their stable door, and the gap
between pursuers and pursued widened. Two more miles were done,
and scarce seven furlongs from them they saw the broad mouth of
the bridge, while the towers of Emesa beyond seemed so close that
in this clear air they could discern the watchmen outlined
against the sky. Then they descended a little valley, and lost
sight of bridge and town.
At the rise of the opposing slope the strength of Flame and Smoke
at last began to fail beneath their double burdens. They panted
and trembled; and, save in short rushes, no longer answered to
the spur. The Assassins saw, and came on with wild shouts. Nearer
and nearer they drew, and the sound of their horses hoofs beating
on the sand was like the sound of thunder. Now once more they
were fifty yards away, and now but thirty, and again the spears
began to flash, though none struck them.
Masouda screamed to the horses in Arabic, and gallantly did they
struggle, plunging up the hill with slow, convulsive bounds.
Godwin and Wulf looked at each other, then, at a signal, checked
their speed, leapt to earth, and, turning, drew their swords.
"On!" they cried, and lightened of their weight, once more the
reeling horses plunged forward.
The Assassins were upon them. Wulf struck a mighty blow and
emptied the saddle of the first, then was swept to earth. As he
fell from behind him he heard a scream of joy, and struggling to
his knees, looked round. Lo! from over the crest of the rise
rushed squadron upon squadron of turbaned cavalry, who, as they
came, set their lances in rest, and shouted:
The Assassins saw also, and turned to fly--too late!
"A horse! A horse!" screamed Godwin in Arabic; and presently--
how he never knew--found himself mounted and charging with the
To Wulf, too, a horse was brought, but he could not struggle to
its saddle. Thrice he strove, then fell backwards and lay upon
the sand, waving his sword and shouting where he lay, while
Masouda stood by him, a dagger in her hand, and with her Rosamund
upon her knees.
Now the pursuers were the pursued, and dreadful was the reckoning
that they must pay. Their horses were outworn and could not fly
at speed. Some of the fedai were cut down upon them. Some
dismounted, and gathering themselves in little groups, fought
bravely till they were slain, while a few were taken prisoners.
Of all that great troup of men not a score won back alive to
Masyaf to make report to their master of how the chase of his
lost bride had ended.
A while later and Wulf from his seat upon the ground saw Godwin
riding back towards him, his red sword in his hand. With him rode
a sturdy, bright-eyed man gorgeously apparelled, at the sight of
whom Rosamund sprang to her feet; then, as he dismounted, ran
forward and with a little cry cast her arms about him.
"Hassan! Prince Hassan! Is it indeed you? Oh, God be praised!"
she gasped, then, had not Masouda caught her, would have fallen.
The Emir looked at her, her long hair loose, her face stained,
her veil torn, but still clad in the silk and gleaming gems with
which she had been decked as the bride-elect of Al-je-bal. Then
low to the earth he bent his knee, while the grave Saracens
watched, and taking the hem of her garment, he kissed it.
"Allah be praised indeed!" he said. "I, His unworthy servant,
thank Him from my heart, who never thought to see you living
more. Soldiers, salute. Before you stands the lady Rose of the
World, princess of Baalbec and niece of your lord, Salah-ed-din,
Commander of the Faithful."
Then in stately salutation to this dishevelled, outworn, but
still queenly woman, uprose hand, and spear, and scimitar, while
Wulf cried from where he lay:
"Why, it is our merchant of the drugged wine--none other! Oh! Sir
Saracen, does not the memory of that chapman's trick shame you
The emir Hassan heard and grew red, muttering in his beard:
"Like you, Sir Wulf, I am the slave of Fate, and must obey. Be
not bitter against me till you know all."
"I am not bitter," answered Wulf, "but I always pay for my drink,
and we will settle that score yet, as I have sworn."
"Hush!" broke in Rosamund. "Although he stole me, he is also my
deliverer and friend through many a peril, and, had it not been
for him, by now--" and she shuddered.
"I do not know all the story, but, Princess, it seems that you
should thank not me, but these goodly cousins of yours and those
splendid horses," and Hassan pointed to Smoke and Flame, which
stood by quivering, with hollow flanks and drooping heads.
"There is another whom I must thank also, this noble woman, as
you will call her also when you hear the story," said Rosamund,
flinging her arm about the neck of Masouda.
"My master will reward her," said Hassan. "But oh! lady, what
must you think of me who seemed to desert you so basely? Yet I
reasoned well. In the castle of that son of Satan, Sinan," and he
spat upon the ground, "I could not have aided you, for there he
would only have butchered me. But by escaping I thought that I
might help, so I bribed the Frankish knave with the priceless
Star of my House," and he touched the great jewel that he wore in
his turban, "and with what money I had, to loose my bonds, and
while he pouched the gold I stabbed him with his own knife and
fled. But this morning I reached yonder city in command of ten
thousand men, charged to rescue you if I could; if not, to avenge
you, for the ambassadors of Salah-ed-din informed me of your
plight. An hour ago the watchmen on the towers reported that they
saw two horses galloping across the plain beneath a double
burden, pursued by soldiers whom from their robes they took to be
Assassins. So, as I have a quarrel with the Assassins, I crossed
the bridge, formed up five hundred men in a hollow, and waited,
never guessing that it was you who fled. You know the rest--and
the Assassins know it also, for," he added grimly, "you have been
"Follow it up," said Wulf, "and the vengeance shall be better,
for I will show you the secret way into Masyaf--or, if I cannot,
Godwin will--and there you may hurl Sinan from his own towers."
Hassan shook his head and answered:
"I should like it well, for with this magician my master also has
an ancient quarrel. But he has other feuds upon his hands," and
he looked meaningly at Wulf and Godwin, "and my orders were to
rescue the princess and no more. Well, she has been rescued, and
some hundreds of heads have paid the price of all that she has
suffered. Also, that secret way of yours will be safe enough by
now. So there I let the matter bide, glad enough that it has
ended thus. Only I warn you all--and myself also--to walk warily,
since, if I know aught of him, Sinan's fedais will henceforth dog
the steps of every one of us, striving to bring us to our ends by
murder. Now here come litters; enter them, all of you, and be
borne to the city, who have ridden far enough to-day. Fear not
for your horses; they shall be led in gently and saved alive, if
skill and care can save them. I go to count the slain, and will
join you presently in the citadel."
So the bearers came and lifted up Wulf, and helped Godwin from
his horse--for now that all was over he could scarcely stand--and
with him Rosamund and Masouda. Placing them in the litters, they
carried them, escorted by cavalry, across the bridge of the
Orontes into the city of Emesa, where they lodged them in the
Here also, after giving them a drink of barley gruel, and rubbing
their backs and legs with ointment, they led the horses Smoke and
Flame, slowly and with great trouble, for these could hardly
stir, and laid them down on thick beds of straw, tempting them
with food, which after awhile they ate. The four--Rosamund,
Masouda, Godwin, and Wulf-- ate also of some soup with wine in
it, and after the hurts of Wulf had been tended by a skilled
doctor, went to their beds, whence they did not rise again for
Chapter Sixteen: The Sultan Saladin
In the third morning Godwin awoke to see the ray of sunrise
streaming through the latticed window.
They fell upon another bed near-by where Wulf still lay sleeping,
a bandage on his head that had beer hurt in the last charge
against the Assassins, and other bandages about his arms and
body, which were much bruised in the fight upon the dreadful
Wondrous was it to Godwin to watch him Iying there sleeping
healthily, notwithstanding his injuries, and to think of what
they had gone through together with so little harm; to think,
also, of how they had rescued Rosamund out of the very mouth of
that earthly hell of which he could see the peaks through the
open window-place--out of the very hands of that fiend, its
ruler. Reckoning the tale day by day, he reflected on their
adventures since they landed at Beirut, and saw how Heaven had
guided their every step.
In face of the warnings that were given them, to visit the
Al-je-bal in his stronghold had seemed a madness. Yet there,
where none could have thought that she would be, they had found
Rosamund. There they had been avenged upon the false knight Sir
Hugh Lozelle, who had betrayed her, first to Saladin, then to
Sinan, and sent him down to death and judgment; and thence they
had rescued Rosamund.
Oh, how wise they had been to obey the dying words of their
uncle, Sir Andrew, who doubtless was given foresight at the end!
God and His saints had helped them, who could not have helped
themselves, and His minister had been Masouda. But for Masouda,
Rosamund would by now be lost or dead, and they, if their lives
were still left to them, would be wanderers in the great land of
Syria, seeking for one who never could be found.
Why had Masouda done these things, again and again putting her
own life upon the hazard to save theirs and the honour of another
woman? As he asked himself the question Godwin felt the red blood
rise to his face. Because she hated Sinan, who had murdered her
parents and degraded her, she said; and doubtless that had to do
with the matter. But it was no longer possible to hide the truth.
She loved him, and had loved him from the first hour when they
met. He had always suspected it--in that wild trial of the horses
upon the mountain side, when she sat with her arms about him and
her face pressed against his face; when she kissed his feet after
he had saved her from the lion, and many another time.
But as they followed Wulf and Rosamund up the mountain pass while
the host of the Assassins thundered at their heels, and in broken
gasps she had told him of her sad history, then it was that he
grew sure. Then, too, he had said that he held her not vile, but
noble, as indeed he did; and, thinking their death upon them, she
had answered that she held him dear, and looked on him as a woman
looks upon her only love--a message in her eyes that no man could
fail to read. Yet if this were so, why had Masouda saved
Rosamund, the lady to whom she knew well that he was sworn?
Reared among those cruel folk who could wade to their desire
through blood and think it honour, would she not have left her
rival to her doom, seeing that oaths do not hold beyond the
An answer came into the heart of Godwin, at the very thought of
which he turned pale and trembled. His brother was also sworn to
Rosamund, and she in her soul must be sworn to one of them. Was
it not to Wulf, Wulf who was handsomer and more strong than he,
to Wulf, the conqueror of Lozelle? Had Rosamund told Masouda
this? Nay, surely not.
Yet women can read each other's hearts, piercing veils through
which no man may see, and perchance Masouda had read the heart of
Rosamund. She stood behind her during the dreadful duel at the
gate, and watched her face when Wulf's death seemed sure; she
might have heard words that broke in agony from her lips in those
moments of torment.
Oh, without doubt it was so, and Masouda had protected Rosamund
because she knew that her love was for Wulf and not for him. The
thought was very bitter, and in its pain Godwin groaned aloud,
while a fierce jealousy of the brave and handsome knight who
slept at his side, dreaming, doubtless, of the fame that he had
won and the reward by which it would be crowned, gripped his
vitals like the icy hand of death. Then Godwin remembered the
oath that they two had sworn far away in the Priory at Stangate,
and the love passing the love of woman which he bore towards this
brother, and the duty of a Christian warrior whereto he was
vowed, and hiding his face in his pillow he prayed for strength.
It would seem that it came to him--at least, when he lifted his
head again the jealousy was gone, and only the great grief
remained. Fear remained also--for what of Masouda? How should he
deal with her? He was certain that this was no fancy which would
pass--until her life passed with it, and, beautiful as she was,
and noble as she was, he did not wish her love. He could find no
answer to these questions, save this--that things must go on as
they were decreed. For himself, he, Godwin, would
strive to do his duty, to keep his hands clean, and await the
end, whatever that might be.
Wulf woke up, stretched his arms, exclaimed because that action
hurt him, grumbled at the brightness of the light upon his eyes,
and said that he was very hungry. Then he arose, and with the
help of Godwin, dressed himself, but not in his armour. Here,
with the yellow-coated soldiers of Saladin, grave-faced and
watchful, pacing before their door-- for night and day they were
trebly guarded lest Assassins should creep in--there was no need
for mail. In the fortress of Masyaf, indeed, where they were also
guarded, it had been otherwise. Wulf heard the step of the
sentries on the cemented pavement without, and shook his great
shoulders as though he shivered.
"That sound makes my backbone cold," he said. "For a moment, as
my eyes opened, I thought that we were back again in the guest
chambers of Al-je-bal, where folk crept round us as we slept and
murderers marched to and fro outside the curtains, fingering
their knife-points. Well, whatever there is to come, thank the
Saints, that is done with. I tell you, brother, I have had enough
of mountains, and narrow bridges, and Assassins. Henceforth, I
desire to live upon a flat with never a hill in sight, amidst
honest folk as stupid as their own sheep, who go to church on
Sundays and get drunk, not with hachich, but on brown ale,
brought to them by no white-robed sorceress, but by a
draggle-tailed wench in a tavern, with her musty bedstraw still
sticking in her hair. Give me the Saltings of Essex with the east
winds blowing over them, and the primroses abloom upon the bank,
and the lanes fetlock deep in mud, and for your share you may
take all the scented gardens of Sinan and the cups and jewels of
his ladies, with the fightings and adventures of the golden East
"I never sought these things, and we are a long way from Essex,"
answered Godwin shortly.
"No," said Wulf, "but they seem to seek you. What news of
Masouda? Have you seen her while I slept, which has been long?"
"I have seen no one except the apothecary who tended you, the
slaves who brought us food, and last evening the prince Hassan,
who came to see how we fared. He told me that, like yourself,
Rosamund and Masouda slept."
"I am glad to hear it," answered Wulf, "for certainly their rest
was earned. By St. Chad! what a woman is this Masouda! A heart of
fire and nerves of steel! Beautiful, too--most beautiful; and the
best horsewoman that ever sat a steed. Had it not been for
her--By Heaven! when I think of it I feel as though I loved
"No," said Godwin, still more shortly.
"Ah, well, I daresay she can love enough for two who does nothing
by halves, and, all things considered," he added, with one of his
great laughs, "I am glad it is I of whom she thinks so
little--yes, I who adore her as though she were my patron saint.
Hark! the guards challenge," and, forgetting where he was, he
snatched at his sword.
Then the door opened, and through it appeared the emir Hassan,
who saluted them in the name of Allah, searching them with his
"Few would judge, to look at you, Sir Knights," he said with a
smile, "that you have been the guests of the Old Man of the
Mountain, and left his house so hastily by the back door. Three
days more and you will be as lusty as when we met beyond the seas
upon the wharf by a certain creek. Oh, you are brave men, both of
you, though you be infidels, from which error may the Prophet
guide you; brave men, the flower of knighthood. Ay, I, Hassan,
who have known many Frankish knights, say it from my heart," and,
placing his hand to his turban, he bowed before them in
admiration that was not feigned.
"We thank you, Prince, for your praise," said Godwin gravely, but
Wulf stepped forward, took his hand, and shook it.
"That was an ill trick, Prince, which you played us yonder in
England," he said, "and one that brought as good a warrior as
ever drew a sword--our uncle Sir Andrew D'Arcy--to an end sad as
it was glorious. Still, you obeyed your master, and because of
all that has happened since, I forgive you, and call you friend,
although should we ever meet in battle I still hope to pay you
for that drugged wine."
Here Hassan bowed, and said softly:
"I admit that the debt is owing; also that none sorrow more for
the death of the noble lord D'Arcy than I, your servant, who, by
the will of God, brought it upon him. When we meet, Sir Wulf, in
war--and that, I think, will be an ill hour for me--strike, and
strike home; I shall not complain. Meanwhile, we are friends, and
in very truth all that I have is yours. But now I come to tell
you that the princess Rose of the World--Allah bless her
footsteps!--is recovered from her fatigues, and desires that you
should breakfast with her in an hour's time. Also the doctor
waits to tend your bruises, and slaves to lead you to the bath
and clothe you. Nay, leave your hauberk; here the faith of
Salah-ed-din and of his servants is your best armour."
"Still, I think that we will take them," said Godwin, "for faith
is a poor defence against the daggers of these Assassins, who
dwell not so far away."
"True," answered Hassan; "I had forgotten." So thus they
An hour later they were led to the hall, where presently came
Rosamund, and with her Masouda and Hassan.
She was dressed in the rich robes of an Eastern lady, but the
gems with which she had been adorned as the bride elect of
Al-je-bal were gone; and when she lifted her veil the brethren
saw that though her face was still somewhat pallid, her strength
had come back to her, and the terror had left her eyes. She
greeted them with sweet and gentle words, thanking first Godwin
and then Wulf for all that they had done, and turning to Masouda,
who stood by, stately, and watchful, thanked her also. Then they
sat down, and ate with light hearts and a good appetite.
Before their meal was finished, the guard at the door announced
that messengers had arrived from the Sultan. They entered,
grey-haired men clad in the robes of secretaries, whom Hassan
hastened to greet. When they were seated and had spoken with him
awhile, one of them drew forth a letter, which Hassan, touching
his forehead with it in token of respect, gave to Rosamund. She
broke its seal, and, seeing that it was in Arabic, handed it to
her cousin, saying:
"Do you read it, Godwin, who are more learned than I."
So he read aloud, translating the letter sentence by sentence.
This was its purport:
"Salah-ed-din, Commander of the Faithful, the Strong-to-aid, to
his niece beloved, Rose of the World, princess of Baalbec:--
"Our servant, the emir Hassan, has sent us tidings of your rescue
from the power of the accursed lord of the Mountain, Sinan, and
that you are now safe in our city of Emesa, guarded by many
thousands of our soldiers, and with you a woman named Masouda,
and your kinsmen, the two Frankish knights, by whose skill in
arms and courage you were saved. Now this is to command you to
come to our court at Damascus so soon as you may be fit to
travel, knowing that here you will be received with love and
honour. Also I invite your kinsmen to accompany you, since I knew
their father, and would welcome knights who have done such great
deeds, and the woman Masouda with them. Or, if they prefer it,
all three of them may return to their own lands and peoples.
"Hasten, my niece, lady Rose of the World, hasten, for my spirit
seeks you, and my eyes desire to look upon you. In the name of
"You have heard," said Rosamund, as Godwin finished reading the
scroll. "Now, my cousins, what will you do?"
"What else but go with you, whom we have come so far to seek?"
answered Wulf, and Godwin nodded his head in assent.
"And you, Masouda? "
"I, lady? Oh, I go also, since were I to return yonder," and she
nodded towards the mountains, "my greeting would be one that I do
"Do you note their words, prince Hassan?" asked Rosamund.
"I expected no other," he answered with a bow. " Only, knights,
you must give me a promise, for even in the midst of my army such
is needful from men who can fly like birds out of the fortress of
Masyaf and from the knives of the Assassins--who are mounted,
moreover, on the swiftest horses in Syria that have been trained
to carry a double burden," and he looked at them meaningly. "It
is that upon this journey you will not attempt to escape with the
princess, whom you have followed from over-sea to rescue her out
of the hand of Salah-ed-din."
Godwin drew from his tunic the cross which Rosamund had left him
in the hall at Steeple, and saying: "I swear upon this holy
symbol that during our journey to Damascus I will attempt no
escape with or without my cousin Rosamund," he kissed it.
"And I swear the same upon my sword," added Wulf, laying his hand
upon the silver hilt of the great blade which had been his
"A security that I like better," said Hassan with a smile, "but
in truth, knights, your word is enough for me." Then he looked at
Masouda and went on, still smiling: "Nay it is useless; for women
who have dwelt yonder oaths have no meaning. Lady, we must be
content to watch you, since my lord has bidden you to his city,
which, fair and brave as you are, to be plain, I would not have
Then he turned to speak to the secretaries, and Godwin, who was
noting all, saw Masouda's dark eyes follow him and in them a very
"Good," they seemed to say; "as you have written, so shall you
That same afternoon they started for Damascus, a great army of
horsemen. In its midst, guarded by a thousand spears, Rosamund
was borne in a litter. In front of her rode Hassan, with his
yellow-robed bodyguard; at her side, Masouda; and behind--for,
notwithstanding his hurts, Wulf would not be carried--the
brethren, mounted upon ambling palfreys. After them, led by
slaves, came the chargers, Flame and Smoke, recovered now, but
still walking somewhat stiffly, and then rank upon rank of
turbaned Saracens. Through the open curtains of her litter
Rosamund beckoned to the brethren, who pushed alongside of her.
"Look," she said, pointing with her hand.
They looked, and there, bathed in the glory of the sinking sun,
saw the mountains crowned far, far away with the impregnable city
and fortress of Masyaf, and below it the slopes down which they
had ridden for their lives. Nearer to them flashed the river
bordered by the town of Emesa. Set at intervals along its walls
were spears, looking like filaments against the flaming, sunset
sky, and on each of them a black dot, which was the head of an
Assassin, while from the turrets above, the golden banner of
Saladin fluttered in the evening wind. Remembering all that she
had undergone in that fearful home of devil-worshippers, and the
fate from which she had been snatched, Rosamund shuddered.
"It burns like a city in hell," she said, staring at Masyaf,
environed by that lurid evening light and canopied with black,
smoke-like clouds. "Oh! such I think will be its doom."
"I trust so," answered Wulf fervently. "At least, in this world
and the next we have done with it."
"Yes," added Godwin in his thoughtful voice; "still, out of that
evil place we won good, for there we found Rosamund, and there,
my brother, you conquered in such a fray as you can never hope to
fight again, gaining great glory, and perhaps much more."
Then reining in his horse, Godwin fell back behind the litter,
while Wulf wondered, and Rosamund watched him with dreaming eyes.
That evening they camped in the desert, and next morning,
surrounded by wandering tribes of Bedouins mounted on their
camels, marched on again, sleeping that night in the ancient
fortress of Baalbec, whereof the garrison and people, having been
warned by runners of the rank and titles of Rosamund came out to
do her homage as their lady.
Hearing of it, she left her litter, and mounting a splendid horse
which they had sent her as a present, rode to meet them, the
brethren, in full armour and once more bestriding Flame and
Smoke, beside her, and a guard of Saladin's own Mameluks behind.
Solemn, turbaned men, who had been commanded so to do by
messengers from the Sultan, brought her the keys of the gates on
a cushion, minstrels and soldiers marched before her, whilst
crowding the walls and running alongside came the citizens in
their thousands. Thus she went on, through the open gates, past
the towering columns of ruined temples once a home of the worship
of heathen gods, through courts and vaults to the citadel
surrounded by its gardens that in dead ages had been the
Acropolis of forgotten Roman emperors.
Here in the portico Rosamund turned her horse, and received the
salutations of the multitude as though she also were one of the
world's rulers. Indeed, it seemed to the brethren watching her as
she sat upon the great white horse and surveyed the shouting,
bending crowd with flashing eyes, splendid in her bearing and
beautiful to see, a prince at her stirrup and an army at her
back, that none of those who had trod that path before her could
have seemed greater or more glorious in the hour of their pride
than did this English girl, who by the whim of Fate had suddenly
been set so high. Truly by blood and nature she was fitted to be
a queen. Yet as Rosamund sat thus the pride passed from her face,
and her eyes fell.
"Of what are you thinking?" asked Godwin at her side.
"That I would we were back among the summer fields at Steeple,"
she answered, "for those who are lifted high fall low. Prince
Hassan, give the captains and people my thanks and bid them be
gone. I would rest."
Thus for the first and last time did Rosamund behold her ancient
fief of Baalbec, which her grandsire, the great Ayoub, had ruled
That night there was feasting in the mighty, immemorial halls,
and singing and minstrelsy and the dancing of fair women and the
giving of gifts. For Baalbec, where birth and beauty were ever
welcome, did honour to its lady, the favoured niece of the mighty
Salah-ed-din. Yet there were some who murmured that she would
bring no good fortune to the Sultan or this his city, who was not
all of the blood of Ayoub, but half a Frank, and a Cross
worshipper, though even these praised her beauty and her royal
bearing. The brethren they praised also, although these were
unbelievers, and the tale of how Wulf had fought the traitor
knight upon the Narrow Way, and of how they had led their
kinswoman from the haunted fortress of Masyaf, was passed from
mouth to mouth. At dawn the next day, on orders received from
the Sultan, they left Baalbec, escorted by the army and many of
the notables of the town. That afternoon they drew rein upon the
heights which overlook the city of Damascus, Bride of the Earth,
set amidst its seven streams and ringed about with gardens, one
of the most beautiful and perhaps the most ancient city in the
world. Then they rode down to the bounteous plain, and as night
fell, having passed the encircling gardens, were escorted through
the gates of Damascus, outside of which most of the army halted
Along the narrow streets, bordered by yellow, flat-roofed houses,
they rode slowly, looking now at the motley, many-coloured
crowds, who watched them with grave interest, and now at the
stately buildings, domed mosques and towering minarets, which
everywhere stood out against the deep blue of the evening sky.
Thus at length they came to an open space planted like a garden,
beyond which was seen a huge and fantastic castle that Hassan
told them was the palace of Salah-ed-din. In its courtyard they
were parted, Rosamund being led away by officers of state, whilst
the brethren were taken to chambers that had been prepared,
where, after they had bathed, they were served with food.
Scarcely had they eaten it when Hassan appeared, and bade them
follow him. Passing down various passages and across a court they
came to some guarded doors, where the soldiers demanded that they
should give up their swords and daggers.
"It is not needful," said Hassan, and they let them go by. Next
came more passages and a curtain, beyond which they found
themselves in a small, domed room, lit by hanging silver lamps
and paved in tesselated marbles, strewn with rich rugs and
furnished with cushioned couches.
At a sign from Hassan the brethren stood still in the centre of
this room, and looked about them wondering. The place was empty
and very silent; they felt afraid--of what they knew not.
Presently curtains upon its further side opened and through them
came a man turbaned and wrapped in a dark robe, who stood awhile
in the shadow, gazing at them beneath the lamps.
The man was not very tall, and slight in build, yet about him was
much majesty, although his garb was such as the humblest might
have worn. He came forward, lifting his head, and they saw that
his features were small and finely cut; that he was bearded, and
beneath his broad brow shone thoughtful yet at times piercing
eyes which were brown in hue. Now the prince Hassan sank to his
knees and touched the marble with his forehead, and, guessing
that they were in the presence of the mighty monarch Saladin, the
brethren saluted in their western fashion. Presently the Sultan
spoke in a low, even voice to Hassan, to whom he motioned that he
should rise, saying:
"I can see that you trust these knights, Emir," and he pointed to
their great swords.
"Sire," was the answer, "I trust them as I trust myself. They are
brave and honourable men, although they be infidels."
The Sultan stroked his beard.
"Ay," he said, "infidels. It is a pity, yet doubtless they
worship God after their own fashion. Noble to look on also, like
their father, whom I remember well, and, if all I hear is true,
brave indeed. Sir Knights, do you understand my language?"
"Sufficiently to speak it, lord," answered Godwin, "who have
learned it since childhood, yet ill enough."
"Good. Then tell me, as soldiers to a soldier, what do you seek
"Our cousin, the lady Rosamund, who, by your command, lord, was
stolen from our home in England."
"Knights, she is your cousin, that I know, as surely as I know
that she is my niece. Tell me now, is she aught more to you?" and
he searched them with those piercing eyes.
Godwin looked at Wulf, who said in English:
"Speak the whole truth, brother. From that man nothing can be
Then Godwin answered:
"Sire, we love her, and are affianced to her."
The Sultan stared at them in surprise.
"What! Both of you?" he asked.
"And does she love you both?"
"Yes," replied Godwin, "both, or so she says."
Saladin stroked his beard and considered them, while Hassan
smiled a little.
"Then, knights," he said presently, "tell me,which of you does
she love best?"
"That, sire, is known to her alone. When the time comes, she will
say, and not before."
"I perceive," said Saladin, "that behind this riddle hides a
story. If it is your good pleasure, be seated, and set it out to
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